Category Archives: Elology for the Masses

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.

Polarised

Polar bears are the poster child of the Arctic, and under serious threat thanks climate change and the reduction of the polar ice caps. But one person’s loss is another one’s gain, and due to warming temperatures case grizzly bears are able to move further north as the icy conditions (and soft, blubbery seals – the preferred food source for polar bears) recede. This means that grizzlies and polar bears are more likely to come into contact with each other and (interestingly) are able to hybridise and produce a pizzly (or grolar) bear.

Interestingly, and unlike most hybrids, pizzly bears are quite robust (having traits of both parents mean they are likely able to exploit the habitats and food sources of both species) and able to produce viable offspring as shown in a study from 2017 that used genetic analysis to determine ancestry. They found some polar-grizzly hybrids to be 75:25 grizzly:polar bear, which means that one parent (in this case the mother) was a polar-grizzly hybrid to begin with.

As the likelihood of grizzlies and polars coming into contact with each other increases, we expect the number of hybrids in the population to increase as well. This won’t be the first time that these two species interbreed but it does still pose an interesting question of how we view ‘species’, as well as how we would approach hybrids in terms of conservation. Are we okay with polar-grizzly hybrids? Do we see them as a new species or simply an unwanted side effect of species range shifts? Do we view the northward-moving grizzlies as invasive?

Read more: Recent Hybridization between a Polar Bear and Grizzly Bears in the Canadian Arctic


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.

Mainstream

Bird and whale song are a way for males to attract members of the opposite sex, and (as the variety of bird calls you might hear out in the garden indicates) these songs vary between species. Similar to how people can have different tastes in music, there is also variation in the the style of the songs between individuals of the same species. This can lead to ‘cultural revolutions’ where some individuals can influence and change the mating calls of the other individuals in the population if they want to stay relevant.

This poses an interesting question of if and how animals value and appreciate aesthetic beauty and how similar that is to how humans view ‘aesthetic beauty’ – and of course implies that bird and whales must have some kind of Billboard 100 chart floating around!

The idea of cultural evolution in non-human animals is a growing topic of discussion but if you want to know more about how whale songs change check out the link below.

Read more: Global cultural evolutionary model of humpback whale song


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.

Catfished

First, to clear the air, yes we know catfish don’t have cat ears but he’s on his way to a masquerade ball!

Second, it comes highly recommended that you check out the entire thread that inspired this comic (see below) because mussels are absolute legends when it comes to making lures to, well, lure in some unsuspecting fishies.


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.

Un-Movable

Zoochory (the dispersal of seeds by animals) is pretty important for a lot of plant species. Many plants have evolved to depend on it, and it allows them to get their seeds from A to B, especially over long distances. When plants no longer have their animal buddies to move their seeds around, they aren’t going to be going anywhere fast.

With an uptick in human induced extinctions and the general movement of animals in response to climate change (who at least have the option to pack up their things and move to where the grass is greener), a lot of plants could end up getting left behind. This means that not only are they losing out on the normal dispersal processes but they’re also missing out on a potential ride to more suitable areas as their habitat conditions begin to decline – a bit of a double whammy really.

Read More: The effects of defaunation on plants’ capacity to track climate change


Tanya Strydom is a PhD student 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.

Hairy Pawter and the Genetic Mix-Up

Red wolf and coyotes are an interesting conundrum when it comes to thinking of hybrids as ‘good or bad’. Thought to be a product of hybridisation between coyotes and grey wolves, red wolves have a lot of cultural significance in the southeastern United States. Native ranges of captive breeding programmes have worked at trying to re-introduce and establish red wolf populations in their historic ranges.

Yet these wolves have started having hybrid offspring with coyotes. This isn’t ideal, but because the red wolf population is so small, there isn’t a lot of genetic diversity among current red wolves. What if some ‘new’ genetic diversity can be found in wolf-coyote hybrids? There is a population of coyotes-not-coyotes in Galveston, Texas that have red wolf DNA – DNA that isn’t found in current red wolves! This ‘ghost’ DNA could be exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to injecting some diversity back into the wolf population.

So if we were to breed (hybridise) the Galveston coyotes with red wolves we’d be introducing genetic diversity back into the population (yay!) but then also be making more hybrids, which… goes against what we would want – right? This is quite the tricky situation and has caused some head scratching when it comes to how best to approach this situation and really goes to show that we can’t be too black and white in our thinking.

The original research can be found here: Rediscovery of Red Wolf Ghost Alleles in a Canid Population Along the American Gulf Coast


Tanya Strydom is a PhD student 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.

Hippocracy

The idea that we should live in a predator and stress free (for herbivores) has been doing the rounds again these last few days. Apart form it being a very-bad-no-good idea to remove all predators from a system its also easy to forget that herbivores can be just as big of a source of stress for other herbivores as the threat of predation.

I mean we know that herbivores sometimes order off of the meat menu (Omnomnomivores anyone?), can bully smaller species off of/away from resources, and can be a general menace to society ‘just because’. To put it simply there is always going to be something causing an individual some type of stress out there (even from their own species). Saying that predators are the problem is not a sustainable way of thinking, and is also an overly simplistic view of ‘predation’. From the view of a plant herbivores are predators are they not?

For an earlier take on when this issue cropped up last year, check out the link below.

Read More: An Attempt To Understand Painlessly Killing Predators


Tanya Strydom is a PhD student 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.

Wrong Eye-Deer

Much like how we swap out our shorts and sandals for long trousers and boots come winter time, many animals trade in their pelts for a warmer model, or do avoid being seen by their prey (or predators). Reindeer take this one step further. They change the colour of their eyes…

Turns out that reindeer don’t need colour contacts, just a change of season for a whole new look. In summer they have light, golden eyes to help them mange the near constant daylight. Come wintertime their eyes darken to blue to help with the near constant darkness.

And yes, those Arctic foxes are filthy hypocrites. Though they have their own problems.

If you want to get into the nitty gritty of it all (and the physics of the reflection of light) check out the original research article here: Shifting mirrors: adaptive changes in retinal reflections to winter darkness in Arctic reindeer.


Tanya Strydom is a PhD student 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.

PORTFOLIOCEAN

Its always cool when we can marry two wildly different fields to try and solve a problem. In this case researchers took a mathematical framework (Modern Portfolio Theory- originally developed to help investors that are risk-ad verse to maximise returns) and applied it to help identify the coral reefs that are most likely to ‘do well’ under future climate change.

One pretty neat result of the study is that the researchers took into account the various risks and identified 50 areas that are resilient to different risks of climate change predictions – i.e. we wouldn’t be putting all our eggs in one basket, and we’d be ‘diversifying’ our ‘investment portfolio’.

The Guardian did a pretty neat breakdown here: Nobel-winning stock market theory used to help save coral reefs

And those interested in the research article can find it here: Risk-sensitive planning for conserving coral reefs under rapid climate change


Tanya Strydom is a PhD student 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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