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Posts Tagged ‘Audubon

“It is a good day to study lichens”*…

 

lichen

Wolf lichen

Science is sometimes caricatured as a wholly objective pursuit that allows us to understand the world through the lens of neutral empiricism. But the conclusions that scientists draw from their data, and the very questions they choose to ask, depend on their assumptions about the world, the culture in which they work, and the vocabulary they use. The scientist Toby Spribille once said to me, “We can only ask questions that we have imagination for.” And he should know, because no group of organisms better exemplifies this principle than the one Spribille is obsessed with: lichens.

Lichens can be found growing on bark, rocks, or walls; in woodlands, deserts, or tundra; as coralline branches, tiny cups, or leaflike fronds. They look like plants or fungi, and for the longest time, biologists thought that they were. But 150 years ago, a Swiss botanist named Simon Schwendener suggested the radical hypothesis that lichens are composite organisms—fungi, living together with microscopic algae.

It was the right hypothesis at the wrong time. The very notion of different organisms living so closely with—or within—each other was unheard of. That they should coexist to their mutual benefit was more ludicrous still. This was a mere decade after Charles Darwin had published his masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, and many biologists were gripped by the idea of nature as a gladiatorial arena, shaped by conflict. Against this zeitgeist, the concept of cohabiting, cooperative organisms found little purchase. Lichenologists spent decades rejecting and ridiculing Schwendener’s “dual hypothesis.” And he himself wrongly argued that the fungus enslaved or imprisoned the alga, robbing it of nutrients. As others later showed, that’s not the case: Both partners provide nutrients to each other…

Gorgeous and weird, lichens have pushed the boundaries of our understanding of nature– and our way of studying it.  Learn more at: “The Overlooked Organisms That Keep Challenging Our Assumptions About Life.”

* Henry David Thoreau, A Year in Thoreau’s Journal: 1851

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As we contemplate cooperation, we might spare a thought for John James Audubon; he died on this date in 1851.  An ornithologist, naturalist, and artist, Audubon documented all types of American birds with detailed illustrations depicting the birds in their natural habitats.  His The Birds of America (1827–1839), in which he identified 25 new species, is considered one of the most important– and finest– ornithological works ever completed.

Book plate featuring Audubon’s print of the Greater Prairie Chicken

 source

Happy Birthday, Dante, Mozart, and Lewis Carroll!

Written by LW

January 27, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Various species grouped together according/ To their past beliefs”*…

 

A page from Constantine Rafinesque’s field notebook

Pranks are meant to be discovered—what’s the point in fooling someone if they never notice they’ve been fooled? But one 19th century prank, sprung by John James Audubon on another naturalist, was so extensive and so well executed that its full scope is only now coming to light.

The prank began when the French naturalist Constantine Rafinesque sought on Audubon on a journey down the Ohio River in 1818. Audubon was years away from publishing Birds in America, but even then he was known among colleagues for his ornithological drawings. Rafinesque was on the hunt for new species—plants in particular—and he imagined that Audubon might have unwittingly included some unnamed specimens in his sketches.

Rafinesque was an extremely enthusiastic namer of species: during his career as a naturalist, he named 2,700 plant genera and 6,700 species, approximately. He was self-taught, and the letter of introduction he handed to Audubon described him as “an odd fish.” When they met, Audubon noted, Rafinesque was wearing a “long loose coat…stained all over with the juice of plants,” a waistcoat “with enormous pockets” and a very long beard. Rafinesque was not known for his social graces; as John Jeremiah Sullivan writes, Audubon is the “only person on record” as actually liking him.

During their visit, though, Audubon fed Rafinesque descriptions of American creatures, including 11 species of fish that never really existed. Rafinesque duly jotted them down in his notebook and later proffered those descriptions as evidence of new species. For 50 or so years, those 11 fish remained in the scientific record as real species, despite their very unusual features, including bulletproof (!) scales.

By the 1870s, the truth about the fish had been discovered. But the fish were only part of Audubon’s prank…

More at “Audubon Made Up At Least 28 Fake Species To Prank A Rival.”

* Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart), “Bills Corpse,” Trout Mask Replica

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As we tease each other with taxonomy, we might recall that it was on this date in 2009 that a man riding his horse across the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin to San Francisco was stopped by the California Highway Patrol.  The CHP, which judged the horse a danger to pedestrians and bicyclists who use the walkway and a distraction to drivers– who did indeed slow to a crawl– had the rider dismount and walk his mount back to the Marin side.

The offending equestrian returning to the Marin Headlands

source

 

Written by LW

May 3, 2016 at 1:01 am

Chicken, out…

One week from today, millions will gather on couches across America (and the world) to watch the Harbaugh brothers’ teams duel in Superbowl XLVII.  And on the coffee tables in front of many– if not most– of them will sit heaping mounds of (now traditional) chicken wings.  But this year those mounds will be both fewer and smaller:  in all, it’s estimated that Americans will consume 12.3 million fewer chicken wings as they watch the 49ers and the Ravens than they did watching the Giants and Patriots last year.

Live Science explains:

It’s not that our appetite for these zesty, protein-rich snacks [sic] has diminished. Quite the contrary, said Bill Roenigk, chief economist and market analyst at the National Chicken Council, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.

“Chicken companies produced about 1 percent fewer birds last year, due in large part to record high corn and feed prices,” Roenigk said.  “Corn makes up more than two-thirds of chicken feed and corn prices hit an all-time high in 2012, due to two reasons:  last summer’s drought and pressure from a federal government requirement that mandates 40 percent of our corn crop be turned into fuel in the form of ethanol.  Simply put, less corn equals higher feed costs, which means fewer birds produced…”

Consumption is estimated to be 1.23 billion wing segments during the 2013 Super Bowl– as noted above, 12.3 million fewer than last year.  Still it’s a hefty number:  laid end to end, 1.23 billion wings would stretch from Candlestick Park, the home of the 49ers, to the Raven’s M&T Bank Stadium 27 times over.

Wings have become the most expensive part of a chicken, having risen over 50% in price (to the highest on record at the U.S. Department of Agriculture), while the cost of a whole chicken is up only about 6%.

What’s a poor host to do?  It appears that, increasingly, he/she will have to revert to the older meaning of “winging it.”

[For a more substantial look at “how food intersects with public health and the environment as it moves from field to plate,” browse this series of lectures from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.]

Sources of the images above:  photo, chart

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As we note that ranch dressing has surpassed the original bleu cheese as the dip of choice, we might spare an avian thought for John James Audubon; he died on this date in 1851.  An ornithologist, naturalist, and artist, Audubon documented all types of American birds with detailed illustrations depicting the birds in their natural habitats.  His The Birds of America (1827–1839), in which he identified 25 new species, is considered one of the most important– and finest– ornithological works ever completed.

Book plate featuring Audubon’s print of the Greater Prairie Chicken

 source

Happy Mozart’s Birthday!

Written by LW

January 27, 2013 at 1:01 am

Audubon 2.0…

Bird of the Week: the Chipping Sparrow

From Cornell, an extraordinary new guide to birds (and birding).

As we smooth our feathers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1754 that the first editorial cartoon– Ben Franklin’s “Join or Die”– appeared in an American (but not yet U.S.) newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia).

source: EarlyAmerica.com

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