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Posts Tagged ‘Ornithology

“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

“What mysterious time and place don’t we know?”*…

 

Several years ago we considered the “Antikythera mechanism” (“A Connecticut Yankee in King Agamemnon’s Court?…” and again in “Leggo My Lego…”), an ancient Greek device considered then to be 1,500 years ahead of its time.

In June of 2016, an international team of experts revealed new information derived from tiny inscriptions on the devices parts in ancient Greek that had been too tiny to read—some of its characters are just 1/20th of an inch wide—until cutting-edge imaging technology allowed it to be more clearly seen. They’ve now read about 35,00 characters explaining the device…

The full story at “An Ancient Device Too Advanced to Be Real Gives Up Its Secrets at Last.”

* Ken Kesey

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As we re-gauge our sense of history, we might spare a thought for Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily; he died on this date in 1250.  Frederick considered himself a direct successor to the Roman Emperors; he battled with the papacy, but otherwise practiced religious tolerance, and interacted with learned Jews, Muslims, and Christians.)

A multilingual man of learning, he corresponded with and patronized scholars.  His interests spanned the sciences, but were especially acute in natural history. He kept a menagerie which at various times had not only monkeys and camels, but also a giraffe and an elephant.  His notable contribution to scientific ornithology was with a six-volume work, De arte venandi cum avibus (c.1244-48).  In addition to some treatment of falconry, he presented his own observations (rather than perpetuating accepted hearsay knowledge) with remarks on hundreds of kinds of birds, with generalizations on their behavior, anatomy and physiology.

Frederick II and his falcon. From his book De arte venandi cum avibus

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Written by LW

December 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

The Art of Drawing Science…

Horse Anatomy
From: Anatomia del cavallo, infermità e suoi rimedi by Carlo Ruini, Published in Venice, 1618.

Many more lovely lessons at Scientific Illustration.

As we sharpen our pencils, we might wish a feathery farewell to zoologist Alfred Newton; he died on this date in 1907.  One of the foremost ornithologists of his day, he was appointed (in 1866) the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at Cambridge University. Though he suffered from injured hip joints and walked with the aid of two sticks, he traveled throughout Lapland, Iceland, the West Indies, and North America 1854-63.  During these expeditions he became particularly interested in the great auk– and was instrumental in having the first Acts of Parliament passed for the protection of birds.  He wrote extensively, including a four-volume Dictionary of Birds, and the articles on Ornithology in several 19th century editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

source

 

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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