Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

Chest of jewels

In Evolution on October 26, 2009 at 11:35 pm


Atlanta californiensis

In addition to Wikipedia offspring like Wikibooks, Wikimedia, Wikitravel, and Wikiversity it turns out that there’s also Wikispecies whose slogan is “a free directory of life.” There’s entries for over 200,000 species and random perusing will turn up interesting pages on obscure lifeforms such as Andira anthelmia or Paysandisia. The most useful aspect is probably the “taxonavigation” offered for each species. But it still pales in comparison to the work being done by hundreds of biologists and amateur naturalists on the Tree of Life Web Project, where you can explore the evolutionary relationship of all organisms visually through detailed maps of the phylogenetic “branches” of life. subgroups Whether you start with a single organism (a “leaf”) or an entire branch of species, the act of clicking through the pages manages to give you a sense of evolution through time, or “tree thinking” as the ToL people call it. In a 2007 article about the origins of the project for the journal Zootaxa, the authors wrote: “We now see all life on Earth as intimately connected in a single tree-like structure of flowing nucleotide sequences, housed in the bodies of organisms they help build. This tree is billions of years in age, with myriad branches, and millions of extant leaves. The existence of this tree, and that each of us is part of on of its leaves, is one of the most profound realizations that we as a species have achieved… Biodiversity is a chest of jewels that so few open.”


“asperginis” spray

In Finer Points on October 24, 2009 at 6:55 pm
A Kihansi spray toad in its ark at the Bronx Zoo

A Kihansi spray toad (Nectophrynoides asperginis) in its ark at the Bronx Zoo as its being sprayed with artificial misters meant to simulate a waterfall

From Ovid’s Metamorphoses:

“There is uproar: men shouting, the rigging straining, the sound of the breaking sea from a weight of sea, and the crash of thunder. The waves rise up and seem to form the sky, and their spray touches the lowering clouds. Now the water is tainted yellow, with sand churned from the depths, now blacker than the Styx, while the waves break white with hissing foam. The Trachinian ship is driven in the grip of fate, now lifted on high, as if looking down on the valleys from a mountain summit, into the depths of Acheron: now sinking, caught in the trough of the wave, staring at heaven from the infernal pool.”

(For a remarkable digital library of Latin texts in both original and English translation check out Perseus under Philologic from the University of Chicago.)

World on fire

In Quotes on October 24, 2009 at 5:59 pm

South Sumatra (photo by F. Siegert)

South Sumatra

“…these days, the world itself is on fire; sometimes literally, like the conflagration of Indonesian wildfires consuming rain forest, sometimes with the slow and nearly invisible erosion of habitat that everywhere diminishes the fabric of functioning natural systems. More than once, talking with biologists who have discovered lost species, they’ve made the same analogy–that they felt they’d rescued something from the bonfire of global extinction.”  -S. Weidensaul, The Ghost with Trembling Wings