Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Cauga una?

Here's last week's critter:
It's a wolverine! Dragonfly got it right! Some time, I want to learn how to trap them well, since wolverine is nice.
But trapping wolverine is more art than science. Not many people get it right... when they closed the Chugach, they didn't actually "save" that many wolverines. Wolverines just don't exist at high densities.

I re-learned some German this last week, because there were three really nice Germans helping out.
Was ist das?
Submit your guesses!

Feeling hungover without having drank

My head is doing things that I lack words to explain, but luckily, Thursday and Friday are holidays for the University, and I'm getting out while I can. Add to that I'm owed a vacation day from three weeks ago that I got billed for, but never got to take! The conference is completely over, the guests are gone, the mess is all that remains and (luckily) I don't have to clean any of it. I'm back in my office (for now!). It appears I accidentally left lunch in here before things got busy(er).

Enough about me, though. I want to talk about some of the things I learned at the meeting. That's purpose number one of a meeting - communicate science between researchers. Purpose two is to get to know people, find people to work with, etc. I have people who are going to contact me about mink samples, for example. I need to email someone about how they did something so I can do it too. Anyhow. Here's some things:

Talk 262: Phylogeography of Matschie's Tree Kangaroo
My take home message was that first, expert hunters' contributions should be taken skeptically. The researchers found that something akin to 80% of one set of samples were mis-identified to their species, when they did precise analysis. 80% is worse than randomly putting a label on it! The other sets of samples were around 70% and 70% mis-assigned. The author couldn't find any "conservation units," which is a group that can be protected and encompass a representative chunk of diversity, but this might have been because they were looking at slowly evolving mtDNA, and not other, faster DNA markers.

Talk 23: Winter habitat selection by elk in Wyoming with respect to habitat improvement areas
Model stew. It wasn't the fault of the researcher, but the poor quality of data they inherited. They rarely found any signifigant findings (statistically signifigant, that is - which means unlikely to be caused by chance observation), and their best winter habitat models included more parameters than most scientists are comfortable with, espeically given such low support values. I talked to other management people, and they weren't convinced the findings were robust either. Someone is likely to replicate this experiment...

Talk 31: Hibernation and the Ark
This guy knew how to get a crowd, with that title! Half his talk was poking fun of creationists who used his hibernation research to explain how Noah got every animal + dinosaur onto the ark without drowning in anaq and pee (let me add: ew). The other half his talk was about how species that can enter topor (and apparently Australia has a lot of them - this guy was an Aussie) seem to go extinct less than other groups. This might be a reporting bias, but interesting if true.

And speaking of Aussies... There were a ton of them. I wanted to call them all Bruce.

No, I didn't do it.

Anyhow, I have to wonder what it is about Australia and Alaska that causes so many Aussies to go to AK and so many Alaskans to go to Australia. It's crazy.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

ASM Day 1, bullet point style.

Day one of the conference is over - 6 more to go. I made it a point, yesterday, to meet someone new at the ASM social. Here's some new things I learnt from new people after I had a few glasses of liquid courage:

  • Sin nombre hanta virus prevalence among deer mice in Colorado is currently low.
  • Sin nombre hanta virus prevalence in CO doesn't follow a elevational gradient, either(?!?!).
  • Our niche modelling for wolf lice in AK might be trained by the distribution and abundance of lice in the lower 48.
  • ... but it might also not.
  • The army doesn't like the delta herd bison 100%, because their calving grounds are protected.
  • Bison have calving grounds! And site fidelity!
  • I found someone who studied Sitka Black Tailed Deer dispersal, but one of my co-authors aready knew about him,.
  • The name Thor is pronounced `Tor.`
  • The Army keeps staff wildlife biologists.
  • Germany has a very different university system.
  • Germany's politics are radically controlled by American politics, and American political decisions.
  • The Germans don't know why so many Germans visit Alaska.
  • We've got high hopes for the GMU 20A controlled burn.
  • Sea Otters go straight to hypothermia if they can't groom their pelt for even a short period...
  • ... or even if they can't groom an area the size of a quarter.
That's just what I remember. Today will be... well, maybe better? Maybe not. But definitely longer.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

DIY Science experiments

This was too much fun to pass up. For all of you with children at home (or those of you with an adventurous spirit), I found a neat little science experiment that you can do at home with stuff you'll probably have laying around the house! In this video, this young lady shows you how to extract and see DNA from fruit using nothing but what you have around.

I'd be excited to see if any of you give it a try! What you would be doing at home isn't much different from what I do in the lab.


Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Support group

I saw this picture linked in the Daily News Miner story about re-opening the slaughter house in the Tanana valley. I'm reposting it in case it gets taken down; it's too funny!

Cauga una?

Since we didn't have any specimens last week, there is no answers to post! Instead, here's this weeks:

I won't call it an easy pitch, but I will say I've got a big hint in the background of this picture...

Monday, 22 June 2009

Sneak preview

It turns out I probably will present at the American Society of Mammalogists meeting. I submitted an abstract, so it'd be bad of me not to present. Lucky for you all, you can have an advanced peek at some of my slides (I know! So exciting!).
A slide of our sampling sites. We have to explain where Prince of Wales island is, since a good chunk of our crowd will be from outside...

Statistics. I know those get people's hearts going!

That's really what we talk about. Most presentations will be endless slides of stats interspersed with funny pictures to keep people awake for all 12 minutes. Many folks are challenged to put their whole presentation into such a short time, but it's to keep people who really like the sound of their voice from droning on.

Organic Lunch

I did something I normally don't do. I tried to buy all organic at Fred's. I don't go out of my way to buy organic, typically, but paradoxically, I tend to eat a lot of organic food - wild game is about as free-range and organic as it gets. But what I dress that meat up in tends to be... uh. In-organic? Un-organic? Something like that.

So, I had a short list for yesterday - just around 10 things I needed from the store, and normally, it would have run me about 30 dollars. Most expensive purchase should have been the tortilla chips (mmm. Taco salad!). However, when I went through and got Organic stuff first (I couldn't find a few things as organic foods, like doughnuts. And I love a doughnut with my coffee), the most expensive thing ended up being the salad! All told, I ended up spending 65 dollars on food. Yes, I know buying organic is like anything - shop around - but really, 100% markup is something else!

And on top of that, I forgot to pack my lunch! Oh, well. I have my inorganic doughnut to tide me over.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Or maybe not...

So much for fishing. I remembered that I have a prior obligation. I'll be helping out with the Yukon Quest's event on Sunday, which precludes me being out on the river. Oh well! That'll give me some time to work on the boat. I've got much of the sewing done! And if you have time, swing on by the Midnight Sun celebration!

After this, I've got the American Society of Mammalogists meeting to help set up and co-ordinate (And I'm probably presenting as well), so next week posting might be sporadic. And I probably won't be able to go fishing next weekend either. Boo!

Buddha in Michigan

As I mentioned, I went to the museum of art in Ann Arbor Michigan, and I took some pictures. Here are two pictures with a common theme. I think they both might be even more beautiful back "In context" where they came from and not as static pieces in a museum. Art is nicer when it's all around us, I think. But I could be wrong.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

"Will trade dogsleds for labour..."

Only in alaska:

will trade custom built dogsleds or skin kayaks for manual labor (Fairbanks)

I build dogsleds and skin kayaks and am looking for help building a new shop. If you are looking for a new dogsled or skin kayak and have carpentry skills, maybe we can make a trade. email for more information.
I think I know who it is. Fairbanks isn't that big, and you can count the number of people who have the knowhow on one hand...

Climate Change and Rangifer

Here's a little something I wrote while sipping tea in my brother's home, obviously on vacation (that's why I had so many work related emails open! Because I was on vacation!). As you possibly remember, I have confidence in Global Warming as a actual phenomenon as it's born out by a variety of data sets. I can't comment on the mechanism, except to say I don't second guess nuclear physicists, so why should I treat climatologists any different.

That said, I was somewhat... appalled by the treatment of a finding I've known about for a while:
The scientists were shocked to discover that 34 of the herds were declining, while no data existed for 16 more. Only eight herds were increasing in number. Many herds had been declining for a decade or more.

"We were surprised at the ubiquity of the decline," says Vors.
Surprised? I'm not sure they should have been. The data's been around since 2004ish (more on that in a moment).

"When we delved into the status of European reindeer herds, we were surprised that so many were declining. We expected them to be in better shape than North America herds because reindeer, namely the semi-domestic herds, are closely managed by humans."


"If global climate change and industrial development continue at the current pace, caribou and reindeer populations will continue to decline in abundance," says Vors.
Oh dear. I suppose I should start with the initial statement. Reindeer herding on a whole is on the decline due to human factors. Namely, fewer people are doing it. In North America, little market exists for reindeer meat, and historical factors have sabotaged the development of herding as an industry. In Eurasia, the industry is on the wane for a variety of reasons.

As for the out-of-nowhere statement about Climate Change, I present this graph from Kofinas and Russel:
You can probably see the issue right from the get go.
I'll refrain from begrudging the point. After all, I haven't seen the paper yet (I am writing this while on vacation!), but it would take strong evidence to convince me that the competing hypotheses are incorrect.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Uh-Oh... better update the will..

I have statcounter, which keeps track of how many hits (I average about 50 a day, weekdays).

On the list I found this... you might have to click to see it well.Uh-oh! COORS? And they're reading all the bad things I said about them... If I mysteriously disappear, tell the police to look for my body in the bottom of Molson Coors' brewing vats. I might be wearing concrete shoes!

Name Change, and random things from the trip

I've decided to standardize my blog pseudonym to TwoYaks to be in line with some of my other online handles, as opposed to what it was before. It has the advantage of being even harder to pin to me, since you can count the people who know the reference/joke on... okay, you need a lot of hands to count that high. But it's smaller number than before! ;)

I love/hate the lower 48. Mostly the latter, but you can have some fun there too! I spent a lot of time at a hotel bar trying to pass time before I could get to sleep - evil evil jet lag - and I heard a lot of... "Wisdom." For example, this guy who was throwing back Gin and Tonic all night insisted that North Dakota was colder than Fairbanks, and he ain't gonna be told otter-wise by no al-akan. I shouldn't make fun of how he talks (god knows folks poke fun at me!) but I can make fun of what he was saying. He was, by the way, well on his way through his 7th gin and tonic when I left, and he clearly had more before I came there. Oh, and he was an airline pilot. :p

Other pieces of brilliance I observed include a car shop that, quote, "Specializes in forin cars." Forin. You know, the place where they speak forin. And over there in America, they speak American.

A lady who was wearing two sweaters, and some clothing under that, and kept complaining it was too hot. Really? You don't say. I can't figure out why! :)

A couple who exclaimed that climate change must be real, because Fairbanks was so hot. Well, uh, they got it half right, so I didn't feel inclined to correct them on the half that is oh-so-very-very-wrong.

Other than that, the trip was nice. I've got my yearly reminder why I don't want to live in the lower 48 when I can avoid it, and the wedding went well enough. People would seek me out to talk about Alaska, meaning someone told everyone else that I chased critters for a living. That was great, I suppose, except for the part where I really wanted to talk about someone else's job - he worked with rocket engines for LUNAR LANDERS!!! and only wanted to talk about caribou and moose. I think I informed him he had the coolest job in the whole building, but he wasn't impressed - I suppose we all get used to the neat bits in our life, huh?

I don't have many pictures from Columbus Ohio, but I do have quite a few from Ann Arbor Michigan, where I stayed a few days. Ann Arbor is a very lovely town, and I'll share some of those soon.

To update on the iPhone, I decided to give it a pass. Jailbreaking is nifty, but only works with other GSM carriers. In Alaska, AT&T is the only GSM carrier (whereas outside, they have others like T-Mobile). I'll end up getting one directly from GCI, since they have masts in lots of the places I end up. And for my eon inside airplanes, I bought a 16 gig iPod touch. I watched movies on there until my eyes bled, and then I watched more. I love this little gadget! Also, I put photos on it from around Alaska, a sort of `best hits` which came in handy at the wedding for showing very interested attractive people what I do.
It worked, ahem, well. O:)
I love it. I also used it to take notes on some of the more dumb things I saw or heard outside. And when I got stuck sitting around (since there's often a lot of waiting around between things in big weddings) I played iPod airhockey and other neat little games.
Thanks to everyone who gave me feed back on their iphone/ipod experiences!

Finally, a bit about grilled peanut butter - thanks to your blog replies, and a through investigation around the department, my research has concluded that you're most likely to know about it if one of two things is true:

1) You grew up in the bush, rural area, or your parent(s) did.
2) You grew up in the Midwest.

This is a strange distribution, and clearly merits further `research.` People from AK seem more willing to try it if they hadn't had it before, and people from California seem least willing to even consider it (and some think it's the most disgusting combination they've heard).

I'll treat this as another datapoint that California is just plain weird. ;)

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Grilled Peanutbutter

Here's another quick post for today! Two! Two posts! Ah ah ah!
Sorry, had a Sesame street moment there.

There's a concoction that consists of a sandwich with peanut butter filling, that you butter the outsides and grill like grilled cheese (or toast in the toaster oven, if you're keen on them), and you sometimes add tomato or banana (or maybe honey). I grew up knowing them as "Grilled Peanut butter and Tomato Sandwiches," because my aana liked tomato a lot (I hated them when we had them, growing up).

My question is, have you head of such a thing?
Have you ever had such a thing?
Would you maybe consider eating it, if you hadn't?

I ask, because whenever I talk about it, I find most people think they're disgusting, unhealthy, or both. But almost always from people who have never head of it before.


Home. Landed late last night. I'd make a bigger post, but I'm going to try at least a half-day at work (even though technically I'm still on vacation). This way I can take off half of Friday, and spend it out either actually fishing or climbing some rocks (I'm iffy on the plan because we're winging it).

Sunday, 14 June 2009


Quick post from the land of the midnight... darkish stuff.

1) Dark has been wigging me out this whole trip. Going from 24 hour daylight to this has made my head go pheeeeeeeeew.
b) Like Cabin dweller... Days in lower 48: 4. Palin free days in lower 48: 0
III. Back in Squarebanks soon.
•••• Got iPod. Love it.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Gone Fishin'

No, not really fishing. I'd look forward to that... O:)
Because my sister reads this: I joke! I joke! No killing me in my sleep!

I'm off to a wedding. Be back in about a week!


Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Una avelngauguq.

Last week, I left you with these guys:
This handsome critter (and I use the term loosely) is the Northern Collared Lemming (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus). Yucetun, it's just avelngaq (I took forever to spell that one out. Clearly, I'm not as literate as I hoped. :( ), which covers anything small brown and furry. There's another word for it that starts with ug-, and one that I prefer, but I can't spell it out. It's still `mouse/vole type thing.`

Something I didn't know, but male Collared lemmings scent mark (urinate) on everything, yeah? But they especially like scentmarking bone. We tried to extract DNA from some bony material, and were successful. But when we studied the DNA, we found that it was these guys, and not our species' DNA.

Interesting, there were not supposed to be any Northern Collared lemmings in the area we got the material from. We never quite trust locations people tell us for this sort of stuff, but this is the first time we caught someone blatently lying to us. But not a lot we can do about it! ;)

There's no guessing thing for this week, since I won't be home next Tuesday. So here's an ice age bison (Bison latifrons) from Utah:
Shame these guys are extinct.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Painful things.

I was hoping to have a beer review for tonight, but instead I spent the time tying several thousand small knots. Right know, it feels like I've taken a hammer to my hands for about a half hour of pounding. If you're going to try to tie most of your boat's lashings in one day, take everyone else's advice and wear some leather gloves. It won't make it any easier to tie the knots, but it will help you yank them tight without cutting into your hands. The wax coated line has some bite to it when your hands slip down the length while under tension...

Today, I'm waiting to find out if there'll be a new iPhone (no worries to you other two iPhone readers who didn't reply). We should know by about lunch time, AKDT. If I buy one, I want to buy one today or tomorrow, because I have horrendously long flight outside coming up, and I want to spend my time watching videos to fight off boredom. Another little tradition of mine is to listen to George Carlin's "Airline Announcements" skit either before I board or right after take off, when I'm on a big carrier like North West or Delta. It's my one act of treason in the maddening hell that is modern airlines and post 9-11 security.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Coors recall

It doesn't effect us here, but Coors has a big recall for their product. I bring this up for exactly one reason - This quote:

MillerCoors has recalled a batch of Coors Light in the Southeastern United States after taste tests at the company's Georgia brewery found the beer to be subpar.

Subpar Coors? How on earth would you ever notice? It gets worse? O:)

Two quick stories

I would write an outraged post about how they're thinking about releasing some members of the corrupt bastards club, but I don't think I could write for long without descending into pure profanity. And I can curse like a marine at our graduate students, some of which will even share my sentiments.

Instead, here's a sad story of two ladies who tried to smuggle two moose calves to a reindeer farm after their mother was killed in a DLOP. Their hearts were in the good place, but they really, really turned left from Common Sense Rd. and were seen driving down Crazy Land Dr. I just can't figure out how people think these decisions are good, sensible, logical ones...

Thursday, 4 June 2009

iPhone readers report!

I have a question for my iPhone readers. I know there's a few of you, because of my tracking stats you show up as on `iPhone OS.` I want to hear from you!
I'm thinking about getting one, real soon now (After they announce whether they're going to be a new one or not on the eight). My concerns are a few-fold:

How's the reception around Fairbanks? I'm north of town right now, and I'm looking at a place on the other side of goldstream.

You know anything about jailbreaking them? I'd like to go with GCI. They don't have a great plan, yeah, but they work in a scattering of villages. And they're putting up more masts in other villages. Which is useful to me. AT&T... not so much.

What's the battery life /really/ like? Part of why I want an iphone is to use it as an ipod on flights. I've got a really long flight coming up outside, and I don't feel like napping for 16 hours.

The Herd Concept

Random: Am I the only one who finds the article headline "Palin, gas line supporters dismiss pipeline criticisms" incredibly obvious? Of course they disagree with people who disagree with them. That's the definition of supporter, eh? They support. Next, the DNM will publish a story saying "Critics continue to criticize."

I've got my work on deer off to my coauthors for their review, and I've effectively finished my work on them. I would be going back to the wolf stuff now, except I haven't heard any direction from ADF&G, so that'll continue to get put on the back of the stove. I'm back to caribou work, where we've went and raided our freezer for blood and tissue. So maybe it's a good time to talk about the herd concept.

When we talk about caribou, we tend to talk about caribou in herds. For management purposes, there's 32 recognized herds in the state of Alaska. Don't ask me to name them all. By and large, they're numerically concentrated in 7 herds of 10,000 caribou or greater, with the north slope herds being the largest. As a pure guess, I'd say 90% of the caribou in Alaska are in the Porcupine, Central Arctic, Western Arctic, Mulchatna, Nelchina, 40-Mile or Teshekpuk Lake caribou herds.

One of the defining features of caribou is that they exhibit the prehensity to seasonal movements. c.f. domestic reindeer, who tend to move fairly "randomly" through time. What happens is that we see caribou exhibit site fidelity among females for parturition (what normal people call "childbirth" or "calving"). Because they return to at least roughly the same area each cycle, we tend to treat all the animals who use that same space the same way as a management unit.

You can see site fidelity illustrated off to the right. The figure is from ANWR, based off of a radio collared female in 1987. You can see how she migrated to the calving ground, hung around a while (probably calving), before moving off over the course of a few months. The Western Arctic herd migration is very pronounced - whereas the PCH may migrate 200-300 miles, the WAH will move up to and over 400 miles from their summer grounds on the North Slope to their wintering grounds on the Seward Peninsula. You can see a nice animation of that at this link to the CARMA network's webpage. Beware, the file is about 3 MB, for those of you on slow connections. Here's a link to the PCH's page, where you can click on "Porcupine Caribou Animation."

So, it should be clear that the herds are somewhat demographically independent - that the number of caribou in an area is linked to how well the herd is doing, and not how well the herd nextdoor is doing. This makes herds a very useful concept for management, as we as managers want to manage how many animals there are (abundance). However, although useful for management, the herd concept might not be evolutionarily signifigant - it might not reflect the actual, biological reality of what are important groupings for the animals. This is because caribou occupy different space when they rut and when they calve. Rut is when all the sex is happening, and long term biological processes are chiefly concerend with who has the largest number of successful offspring.

Whether the herd concept is actually rooted real or not, we can't say yet. A previous researcher did a survey of the North Slope herds, and found that they weren't biologically discrete units. However, that researcher's research was filled with problems, and many scientists are reluctant to take it at any value. There's a number of people doing studies across the state, and in Canada, investigating just that. One finished project from Canada found a mixed bag - some herds were legitimate biological entities of evolutionary importance, and some were not. And some herds should have been considered multiple herds. It will be interesting, as time goes on, to see how the North Slope caribou herds are found to be in the future.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

PETA - Plants aren't alive? Crap, someone tell the botanists!

Plants aren't alive? Crap, someone tell the botanists!

PETA, showing their typical infinite-tact-and-grace... well, a quote from this:
Lindsay Rajt, campaign manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the billboards were prompted by the recent shooting death of abortion doctor George Tiller, who was killed Sunday at his church.
Because obviously, discussion of that senseless murder, the cultural divide, our nations values and the role of personal freedom is improved by talking about vegetarianism, too.

Hat tip to Dr. Larry Moran over in Toronto.


Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Counting birds

So, here's a picture of a flock of birds. Penguins, to be exact. How many do you count?
If you can count to 6, you've beat the refs at the last game. Apparently counting on two hands is tricky.

Yeah, Zetterberg might have covered the puck - maybe. Maybe. Other hand, Malkin should have been suspended. You had some just absurd dives by both teams. Tonight's slashing? I'll give it to you. Deserved a penalty. And some of the penalties they have called on either team have been laughable compared to what they let slide. It'd been like arresting jay walkers, while letting bank robers stride on by.

But a half minute of too many men on the ice takes the cake. The CBC broadcasters noticed it after just a few seconds. The officiating offically stinks.

Mike Babcock, when asked about it, bit his tongue:
"What do you want me to say? You know, see you guys tomorrow," he said.
Dang thing is, not much else can be done.

Cauga una?

I know I meant to post again yesterday, but yesterday was really bum. I won't go into it, but after a little bit, I didn't at all feel like writing anything. That said, last week I left you with a grainy video and a picture of this guy!

He isn't a duck, but the Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus. It's rare to see them fishing on my pond or lake, since they tend to like fish more than insects, and there isn't any fish that I know of.

Back to the collection, here's a few skins that came with some skulls I photographed.
Endemic to Alaska, but not all of Alaska. Sorry for the pelage on the side. Someone didn't store this one properly.
For some reason, that picture looks a little... green. The table is supposed to be a hard black.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Hockey and other earthquakes.

I had some grand post in my head this morning, but I got distracted with the ill effects of yesterday's dinner (naulluugua :( ). So I think instead of a big post in the morning, I'm going to make a vague small post about how happy I am with the hockey game. I'm so pleased that the Red Wings got so far. I was ready for them to lose early this year... luckily, they didn't ask my opinion! I liked when Malkin tried to pick a fight with Zetterberg, thinking `he's already injured, he's an older player.` I was at Ivory Jacks, sorrounded by Pens fans, and they thought it was going to be all Malkin. But then Zetterberg proceeded to wallop Malkin bad. So crazy!

Oh, and for the first time, I finally felt one of our earthquakes yesterday. It was a good little shake. They reported 4.0 right after, but now the news is saying 3.8.