What did one ecologist say to the other? That’s my field!

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Last Chance to See… My Messages

I read Last Chance to See… by Douglas Adams (late and very lamented) and Mark Carwardine (who is on facebook) today sitting on a tangled bank on the San Joaquin River, escaping from the Excessive Heat we Fresnoans were warned about, taking the batteries out and putting them back in my phone, which is evidently allergic to water and is performing the cellphone version of a sneezing fit, trying to start up and failing over and over again. I swear I barely dipped it in. The fish in the river seemed mostly to be speckled dace (23 fans on facebook), largemouth bass (7814 fans on facebook) and bluegills (0 people interested in Bluegills on facebook) – I’m not complaining, I’ll take any kind of fish-watching over pretty much anything else. For instance, I spent a good hour the day before yesterday tracing a canal through the Fig Garden neighborhood in Fresno. My first ecology observation in Fresno? The mosquitofish (no facebook fans) that used to live in the canal seem to have been replaced by speckled dace, who seem to like the shopping carts. In my unscientific poll, it’s a mixed correlation between number of facebook fans and abundance near shopping malls, which is a little surprising since I associate facebook with shopping. But I also use facebook on my phone, so there does seem to be a negative association between fish and facebook in general. The fish need to get with the program and I need my phone to be functional.

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Farewell Sharp Park, a Photo Essay

By Kevin (originally posted to Flickr as Pacifica Pano #2) [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Political Activism

Queer Anarchy

A Memorial for Accident Victims

A Lovely Vacant Lot by the Library

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Citizen Salmon and Dance Buddies

Timely. Having just participated in a salmon census in northern california, I find I am part of the citizen science movement profiled in the new ESA Frontiers In Ecology and the Environment special issue. That is, I am a Citizen Scientist. Also, since I am near-sighted, I was able to make a 100% accurate identification every time I saw a fish 😉

In all seriousness, the value of citizen science has been on my mind ever since I started thinking about further ecological study. There is a strong element of volunteerism in the fields I have been in the last ten years, education and dance/theater, and I’m very curious about the connections between the two.

  • What I got out of performing in other people’s work (dramatic): sense of community, sense of achievement.
  • What I got out of participating in citizen science: enjoyment of looking at fish, sense of community.

I put sense of community second in the science one because, well, there’s almost nothing I enjoy more than seeing fish. As a matter of fact, I’ve noted that looking at fish makes me far better able to socialize. The hardest part of the census for me was the initial training session, where I was distracted by the attractive co-participants and also anxious that some of them might be better scientists than me (of course they were).

This might seem weird, but a sense of accomplishment wasn’t a strong factor in my experience of the salmon count. It might be because I had no particular investment in the project or its essential monitoring purpose, which makes it sound like I don’t care about salmon populations. Not true!

The fact is, I am more engaged at this point in developing my own understanding of the fundamentals of ecology and designing my own work than contributing to someone else’s. In performance, your friends, the choreographer, and the audience are there to give you instant validation as well, so you might feel like you really nailed a dance phrase rather more than got a great set of data. Of course, I always have to remind myself that this is my subjective experience. Although I never choreographed a dance for more than a few people, my friends from the performance world have been very successful making this kind of community-oriented and supported work, and I can’t say enough about the positive feedback loops that are generated in the performer/supporter/spectator ecology.

I’m very interested in citizen science, particularly when it involves aquatic organisms, like fish, and I think it’s an indispensable tool for this kind of research. What I think is necessary is to have a passionate engagement with the basic science behind the project and opportunities to talk with more knowledgeable participants, including primary investigators to ask questions and provide feedback. It just doesn’t sound fun to me to participate in a project where I don’t meet people and increase my ability to do science. No comment about online communities except to say that they come with their own set of norms, like grandstanding.

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Pictures from a Vacation

I’ve speculated about the possible connections between aesthetic attraction and biology before. I took some photos on vacation and I’m posting the ones I like best, including one of my former workplace. I think these pictures also illustrate an idea from an article I read a long time ago, that visual art is satisfying when it has an amount of complexity that is much like what is seen in nature (the illustration was a Jackson Pollock compared with a thicket), and the authors discussed a mathematical description of the pictures. Here are the pix!

Crater Lake

At Work

Wood River

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Watching the Grass Grow

Hello, friends. It’s summer and I’m so ready to move on to my graduate program, but I am still making my daily trips to the library to read and write and think. One of the things that I always think about as I make my way around in Pacifica is what the fundamental basis of ecology is. I’m interested in this because of my own curiosity, obviously, but I’m also invested in becoming an educator and I think it’s important to know the basic facts about the discipline that you teach – and by basic, I mean fundamental, like the atomic theory or evolution. And I’m also really interested in how learning a field can give you a new lens with which to see the world. For instance, whenever I hang out with my cousin Brendan, a graphic designer, I start to think about the designed elements of our world and how they are affecting me. After a recent discussion on the Oikos blog, I have been thinking about growth rates. So now, when I walk by a field or by the ocean, I’m thinking in dynamical terms of growth, and wondering about constraints. Growth in population biology is modeled by the exponential growth equation, one of the few basic ecological equations I can remember from my undergraduate years, which has been called (per my memory) one of the few undisputed laws of population biology.” And here’s a picture of a population explosion that takes place every year for the last couple of years: mosquito fern in my uncle’s reservoir.

someone in a canoe – every spring we use a bunch of boards tied together to sweep the mosquito fern to the far side of the lake so we can swim
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