Tuesday, July 29, 2014

You're the Expert, starring Richard Primack!

Posted by Amanda Gallinat 

A few weeks ago, I had the rare experience of watching three comedians try to guess what my advisor, Dr. Richard Primack, studies for a living. I watched on from the audience of the radio show “You’re the Expert” as the comedians— who didn’t seem to mind being laughed at— asked strange and occasionally insightful questions about climate change.

I highly recommend listening to the whole show, here:  

During the opening game of 20 questions, the comedians determined that Dr. Primack uses a notebook, that the notebook is college-ruled, and then eventually one of them guessed he was an environmentalist-- close enough to end the round! Many games followed, my favorite of which had the comedians guessing whether a comment was written on a website for climate change skeptics or a LOST message board.

As host Chris Duffy pointed out, Dr. Primack demonstrated a real talent for steering the conversation back to useful information, which comes in handy when you are outnumbered by comedians. 

Left to right: Richard Primack crystallizes climate change for host Chris Duffy and comedians Myq Kaplan and Lori Strauss (photo by Liz Shea)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lessons learned in Turkey

Posted by Richard B Primack

From June 15 to 25, I visited Turkey to meet with Ali Donmez, a Turkish botanist and leader of the team that translated the Essentials of Conservation Biology into Turkish. We traveled across northern and eastern Turkey, visiting national parks and other areas of interest with a goal to locating examples from Turkey to be included in a future edition of the textbook.

My colleague Ali Donmez and I have a lunch of small fish while traveling along the Black Sea coast
A highlight of the trip was to observe the rich display of wildflowers associated with this sunny, dry climate, including huge mounds of crown vetch flowers in fields, reddish pink clumps of Saponaria flowers growing on roadside embankments, and alpine flowers amidst rock outcrops on mountain peaks at Ilgaz National Park.  Another highlight was the great abundance of water birds at the Bird Paradise National Park and the surrounding colorful but stark landscape near Baypassir. Many national parks were surprising for their emphasis on picnicking, with a notable absence of hiking trails, biological research and inventorying, and conservation education.

There were many beautiful wildflowers as we traveled through the mountains north of Ankara

Enjoying a picnic is the main activity at the national parks that we visited
The conclusion of the trip was a conference of biology professors in the beautiful northern city of Eskesehir, which included a visit to an ancient Phrygian temple and ruins.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Advancing science through digitization of museum specimens

Posted by Libby Ellwood, Florida State University

"To be admitted to Nature's hearth costs nothing. 
None is excluded, but excludes himself. You have only to push aside the curtain."
H. D. Thoreau

Several research projects from the Primack lab have utilized data from herbarium specimens. One example (Primack et al. 2004) used herbarium specimens to track changes in flowering over time (see Climate Change for article links). Herbarium specimens are plants that have been pressed, preserved and attached to paper, then saved in collections. During Thoreau's time, and up through the 1920's, it was a popular pastime to collect plants and save them as specimens. Even Thoreau saved plants that he collected during his walks. Over the years this fad has fallen out of favor, but collections from the past 200 years remain to provide valuable insight for researchers interested in plant taxonomy, systematics, genetics, range changes and of course, climate change.

Specimen of  Panicum virgatum, switchgrass, that Thoreau collected in
Concord, MA. It is now housed at the UCONN herbarium.

Around the world, most specimens exist as only the physical object and there is limited digital information available. If a researcher needs information about the specimen they must visit the herbarium, find the specimen, and examine it in person. In the US, a newly formed organization, iDigBio, has been working to make information about these and other biodiversity specimens available online. iDigBio works with museums to image specimens and digitize information about species, locality, date and collector. Projects like these rely heavily on help from citizen scientists to transcribe information from the labels into a digital format. Once these data are transcribed, researchers can more easily access this information that spans the globe and two centuries worth of collections.

An example of some of the beautiful specimens
being imaged and digitized.  Morphbank.net

Are you interested in transcribing herbarium labels, expedition notes and other collections information? Notes from Nature is one site where you can take a peek into the past and help liberate specimens from museum cabinets!