Author Archives: Tanya Strydom

Cockatoo Can Play At That Game

Australia is once again at war with the birds – but instead of trying to fight off emus in the outback, this time it’s a bit closer to home(s). The cockatoos of Sydney have taken the saying ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ to heart, and have taken to ‘dumpster diving’ in search of food. Although the challenge of keeping urban wildlife out of rubbish bins is not a uniquely ‘Australia problem’, finding a solution to thwart the brainy cockatoos is proving difficult. For every deterrent that humans come up with, the cockatoos seem to find a work-around – similar to the evolutionary arms race that we might expect between a predator and prey.

Read more: Is bin-opening in cockatoos leading to an innovation arms race with humans?

What makes this really cool is that it is essentially an ‘evolution in action’ scenario happening right in the backyards of Sydney residents! There are different strategies being deployed by both the humans (to deter the the cockatoos) and the cockatoos (to open the rubbish bins). These strategies have costs for both parties as well (how long it takes to secure the rubbish bin vs how long it takes to open) and we expect these strategies to experience different selection pressures that might lead to the selection of an optimal rubbish bin securing strategy (that is until the cockatoos work out how to thwart the humans once again).

I for one am rooting for the birds – if at minimum so that they can claim having defeated humans not once but twice!


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Mis-Smash

Understanding how birds find their insect prey tells us a lot about an ecosystem. It can help us understand everything from bird population dynamics to insect effects on the local plant community. In order to determine what determines which prey birds might be selecting it would require observation of said predation events – which is challenging since we can’t be everywhere all the time.

One way researchers have overcome this challenge is to use clay modelled as insects to see if birds will try and take a bite out of them. They can then look at the clay insects for scratches or missing chunks to indicate possible ‘predation’. Although these clay insects are modelled to look like insects, new research finds that clay prey items might be attractive to birds regardless of their shape. In this case, even clay figurines moulded into the Incredible Hulk (we don’t know if it’s the Mark Ruffalo or Edward Norton version) prey where attacked by birds.

Read more: Do prey shape, time of day, and plant trichomes affect the predation rate on plasticine prey in tropical rainforests?

The has some interesting ramifications for researchers, since what might be interpreted as ‘predation’ of the clay prey might actually be indicative of birds investigating these weird superhero shaped clay items in their environment. Or… alternatively… birds are totally down to throw hands with the Incredible Hulk.


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Dreamweaving

We’ve probably all had at least one dream about embarrassing ourselves at school in some way… which begs the bigger question – do other animals also dream about embarrassing situations?? Note here I said animals, as new research by Dr. Daniela Rößler’s team at the University of Konstanz suggests that not only the usual suspects such as dogs and cats, but other more surprising animals such as octopuses and worms dream as well! It turns out even spiders need that all too precious REM sleep.

Read more: Regularly occurring bouts of retinal movements suggest an REM sleep–like state in jumping spiders

One really cool thing from this study – most animal eyes don’t move like ours so it makes it challenging to actually pick up these sleep cycles. BUT because baby jumping spiders are translucent and have the neat feature of having movable retinal tubes, researchers can actually detect the rapid eye movement associated with REM sleep. This has really cool implications for understanding the evolutionary history behind sleep as well help us to better understand the physiological function of REM sleep.


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Bee-st

There’s no two ways about it – bees are pretty darn smart. The knowledge that they are able to communicate the location of food sources to hive mates through a series of movements (a little dance if you will) is pretty well known. It turns out not only are they capable of complex communication – they also have some mathematical capabilities! Talk about top of the class!

Read more: Numerical cognition in honeybees enables addition and subtraction

Although other animals such as monkeys and even spiders have the capacity to think of things in terms of relative quantities (identifying larger or smaller amounts), bees are actually able to grasp more complex arithmetic such as addition and subtraction. Here researchers used colours to associate with either adding (blue) or subtracting (yellow) and found that bees could not only grasp these concept and but also solve mathematical problems! This means that they could learn, remember, and execute this basic arithmetic. It does bring up the question how many other animals are capable of grasping complex concepts if given the chance?


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Triffids Underground

Carnivorous plants are (to put it bluntly) pretty darn dope. I mean what’s cooler than the idea that ‘boring’ and ‘unremarkable’ plants have upgraded themselves from prey to predator!?! These carnivorous beasties have served as inspiration for an array of scary monsters in the world of fiction, such as the Triffids, Audrey II and more recently the Demogorgon from Stranger Things (I really want to add Bulbasaur and his evolutionary lineage to the list but I don’t think that’s more a symbiotic relationship).

But it turns out that we could’ve made these creatures even more terrifying, but still biologically plausible, by making them capable of haunting not only those living above ground but those below ground too…

Read more: First record of functional underground traps in a pitcher plant: Nepenthes pudica (Nepenthaceae), a new species from North Kalimantan, Borneo

A new species of carnivorous plants from Borneo (described only this year) have been found to have underground (yes you read that correctly) pitchers, the acid-filled tubs into which unsuspecting insects often fall. Not only is this really neat but it also shows we have so much left to discover and learn about the natural world…

But also just imagine carnivorous plant inspired monsters with the ability to move swiftly underground like the sandworms from Dune


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Bee-reaucracy

Fun fact, bees are now officially fish – well at least in the eyes of Californian Endangered Species law anyway. The reason for this is not people having never seen a fish before, instead it’s down to an odd case of semantics. The original legislation that was put in place for the protection of endangered animals in California defined ‘fish’ as to include invertebrates (which is ironic as ‘fish’ in the taxonomic sense are actually vertebrates). This means that as bees have no actual backbones (despite being a backbone to ecosystem function), they can actually be classified as ‘fish’…

Makes perfect sense right?

This little loophole has allowed the Californian Fish and Game Commission to challenge the interpretation of the original species protection law to include bees under its protection. So although bees are still insects I’m sure they would be more than happy to call themselves ‘fish’ if it means that they will be afforded laws that will allow them to be classified as threatened species and be protected under the state’s endangered species act. They might have to take some swimming lessons first though!

Read More: California bees can legally be fish and have the same protections, a court has ruled


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Mommy Issues

This is a general PSA that you should watch Prehistoric Planet if for no other reason to see some really cute baby dinos of all sorts!

But in all seriousness the team behind this documentary series have clearly put in the work from presenting us with some of the most life-like dinosaurs imaginable to presenting us with the most up to date ‘dino facts’. Among this of course is the traumatic separation of the baby Triceratops from his mother – as well as the tough times faced by many of the other baby dinos.

It might seem cruel to put the CGI’ed baby dinos through such trauma. This isn’t a nature documentary in the traditional sense (although I wish it was), so why do the babies have to die?? I mean it’s up there with having the dog die in the film!

Showing us the tough times that we might expect baby dinos to have gone through arguably lends to the realness of the series and is probably the reality of how things really were. Many species (often reffered to as “r-selected”) have large broods or litters to try and compensate for the inevitable death of most of their brood – and we know from the fossil record that most dinos were no different.


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Buzz Show

To start this interview is 100% the Zootopia version of the Graham Norton show – featuring Bunnydict Cumberbatch because why not (we’re pretty sure that’s his real name anyway). On the docket for tonight’s interviews – Graham the Gerbil/Hamster looks into the history of the human-biting ‘London Underground mosquitoes’ – more specifically how they probably did not evolve in London. Check out the lead author’s thread below for a more in-depth take!


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Deerailed

Deer in headlights indeed. When a train is fast approaching, deer often pick up not ont he lights themselves, but the sounds and vibrations a train send out. Naturally a deer’s flight instinct kicks in. Yet when deciding where to flee, the ringing of internal alarm bells can sometimes drown out common sense. Turns out more often than not things get to be a bit too much and deer (and moose) tend to go for the path of least resistance (the tracks themselves), which quickly become the path of most resistance…

Read More: Avoiding Collisions With Trains By Fleeing… Onto The Tracks?


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Attention Drabber

Aaah yes the tropics. The lands of white beaches, palm trees swaying gently in the breeze and exotic animals flitting among the treetrops. Though this image of the tropics may be coloured by the rose tinted glasses of many a tourist posctard, one thing might be true – the tropics are host to a slightly more colourful chunk of global biodiversity. Early naturalists such as Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humbolt were quick to note that the tropical species tend to be more colourful than their temperate counterparts. That being said, no one has been able to sit down and prove this rule of latitudinal colourfullness (more colourful species at lower latitudes) – until now.

A team of researchers has finally been able to quantify colourfulness in passerine bird species and indeed there is a strong latitudinal gradient for both sexes! This is pretty cool since it means that not only are males more colourful but so are the females (who are often more drab in colour than males of the same species). Although the reason for this colourfulness gradient is still unclear, it is pretty neat that researchers have taken a step towards seeing if this rule exists – although if this rule still holds for other species such as insects is a whole other question!

Read more: Latitudinal gradients in avian colourfulness


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

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