A plant trait that affects dispersal distance

26 Jul


Moss spores can travel far–if they get several centimeters up into the turbulent air layer. Researchers find that spore capsules in a moss explode with a specific vortex effect, getting the job done. This is a super cool example linking a physical trait to a behavior that affects dispersal. To complete this example, one needs to link dispersal to fitness, and that could depend on environment, demography, and population genetics. If that’s turns out to be simple, this is a great case.

Mosses are also linked to the topic of the evolution of land plants. This trait could be used to explore balancing selection, since early water-dependent moss that dispersed far could hit dry land. Of course, this would also be true today.

Recent understandings into the genetic basis of obesity

26 Jul


“On the Origin of Tomorrow”

26 Jul


Carl Zimmer discusses the future of biological evolution, especially in humans. He says it’ll keep going on. I have bells ringing from Shin Han’s seminar that human evolution is still debatable. For example, since populations are exploding after bottlenecks, selection (at least K-selection?) may be weak. R selection could be rockin’ our opportunistic species, though.

What do I think of Zimmer’s article?

“Filtering Wildlife”

26 Jul

Science 23 July 2010:
Vol. 329. no. 5990, pp. 402 – 403
DOI: 10.1126/science.1190095

Bird backpacks demonstrate Darwin’s first postulate of Natural Selection

23 Apr

It takes a while to recognize differences among individual organisms of the same species. We all intuit them about humans, but our picture books teach us as kids that a fish is a fish is a fish. Add the fact that these differences fall into three classes, and it’s a lot to take in.

Once this appreciation sinks in, it becomes difficult to see even how twins can be truly identical. Among all those base pairs in the genome, some unruly A has to have swapped out to C. And the thing I love about Natural Selection is that it’s a beautiful syllogism: once you grasp three premises, the proposition is just there.

More than anything else in our paved paradises we encounter differences among automobiles, observing very small sample sizes of living organisms. It always jolts me out of my assumptions when I see students have ah-ha moments with the first postulate of individual variation. For a teacher struggling to grasp why students struggle to grasp selection, smacking into the gap between what students are assumed to know and what they don’t know is humbling but refreshing. I am increasingly finding that nature, not technology, is instrumental in biology classrooms. It is ridiculous to rely solely on students transferring their knowledge of mutation to individual variation. How easily do I transfer the abstract and microscopic to the warm and soft?

So, here’s a nice study of the individual differences in pigeon behavior, measured–essentially–with “critter cams”. I’ve linked below to a 3 minute news radio report summarizing the rationale and findings.

It’s not trivial that Darwin and Wallace arrived at their famous syllogism during years of sleeping under the stars, trying to avoid sleeping with the fishes. Naturalists (and profiteers) in England were great collectors, and inherent to collecting is individual variation. As James Audobon said, “When the bird and the book disagree, always believe the bird.”

NPR: Backpacked Birds Reveal Who’s The Boss