Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Why you should participate in the Census

The best reason to participate in the census, I was told, is to keep Anchorage from running the state.

I imagine in Anchorage, people are being told the best reason to participate in the census is to remind everyone else they're half the state's population.



Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Netgunning deer in New Zealand

I haven't used a netgun before (and annoyingly, I haven't been out on any captures in a bit. Grumble.). Most of my critters are either much easier to access, such as Caribou being accessed at Onion Portage by Unit 23's Area Biologist, or are in situations where netgunning is impractical compared to the other options (e.g., darting moose). But in other areas, it's a very viable and efficient way of doing captures. I know the Canadians rely on netguns and helicopters for a large chunk of their caribou captures.

Last night, I was at a small get-together and we were talking about pilots. We were talking about a guy with 4,000 hours as a helicopter pilot doing capture work. Which is quite a bit. One of the guys there was a pilot at one point, and said he (and most people) bug out before 2,000 hours. It's just too dangerous in most of the places in AK people are called to fly.

Abstracts: Body Size Variation in Caribou Ecotypes and Relationships with Demography

One of the bigger arguments amongst Caribou biologists is what is the relationship between the different forms we see, and how important they are. For example, on one hand you have the big migratory herds like Western Arctic, but then you have more woodland herds like the Mentasta. Finally, there are sedentary montane herds. All three look like they have different things going on morphologically too, according to these authors. I'm fairly willing to believe that, and I'm willing to believe their mechanism - that it's habitat induced variation, and not anything genetic. That is to say, they're like that because they live there, and if they didn't live there, they wouldn't be like that.

Here's the abstract
ABSTRACT In many vertebrates size is one of the most influential and variable individual characteristics and a strong determinant of reproductive success. Body size is generally density dependent and decreases when intraspecific competition increases. Frequent and long- distance movements increase energy expenditures and, therefore, may also influence body size, particularly in highly mobile species. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus, also known as reindeer) exhibit tremendous variation in size and movements and thus represent an excellent candidate species to test the relationships between body size, population size, and movements. We analyzed body measurements of adult female caribou from 7 herds of the Que ́ bec-Labrador Peninsula, Canada, and we related their morphology to population size, movements, and annual ranges. The herds represented 3 ecotypes (migratory, montane, and sedentary). Ecotypes and herds differed in size (length), shape (roundness), and movements. The sedentary ecotype was larger and moved 4 to 7 times less than the migratory ecotype in the 1990s. At the start of a demographic growth period in the early 1960s, migratory caribou from the Rivie` re-George (hereafter George) herd had longer mandibles than caribou of the sedentary ecotype. Mandible length in the George herd declined in the 1980s after rapid population growth, while individuals performed extensive movements and the herd’s annual range increased. Migratory caribou then became shorter than sedentary caribou. After the George herd decline in the 1990s, mandible length increased again near levels of the 1980s. Caribou from the migratory Rivie` re-aux- Feuilles herd later showed a similar decline in mandible length during a period of population growth, associated with longer movements and increasing annual range. We hypothesize that the density-dependent effect observed on body size might have been exerted through summer habitat degradation and movement variations during herd growth. Our study has 2 important implications for caribou management: the distinctiveness of different populations and ecotypes, and the correlations between population trajectories and changes in body condition and habitat.
Couturier, Otto, Côté, Luther and Mahoney. 2010. Body Size Variations in Caribou Ecotypes and Relationships With Demography. J. Wildlife Management, 74, pp. 395-404. DOI: 10.2193/2008-384

Totally unrelated, but I met Shane Mahoney last year - I think it as at the Wildlife Soc. 2009 meeting, but I'm fuzzy on that point. He's an entertaining guy, and as smart as it gets. Côté is also very clever, though I been able to meet him directly yet.

Monday, 29 March 2010

A song for dave

For the Australian Tourist Commission:
Come to Australia! (You might accidentally get killed.)

There's another Australia related thing I've been sitting on for a while, about Koala whelping, which I'll write up when I get the time. Or maybe I'll throw it up as an abstract, since I don't have much to add...

Friday, 26 March 2010

Ice Sculpture outside Arctic Health

This one is outside Arctic Health building, and is composed of a moose wading through something, and two squirrels. It's nice, actually. I rather like it. Not as good as the wolf...

Sadly, right after I took this photo, the temp shot up and a lot of the sculptures got melty. So this is the last one I have for 2010.

Thursday, 25 March 2010


I'm reading papers, as always. I don't know how I missed this one from Dave Klein, one of our great emeritus. We're lucky to still have him around the department, with his decades of knowledge. When he talks, it pays to listen.
Here's a neat picture from one of his 1980 papers:

Fig 5. A caribou-reindeer cross trained as a sled deer at the Reindeer Experiment Station, Fairbanks,  June 29, 1926. (L. J. Palmer Collection - Univ. of Alaska).

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


I'm shocked! The internets have failed me! Well, not really. You all were right about the species - it's a moose part. (Though, it should be no shock that I have pictures of moose and caribou parts). But it's a moose toe. These are moose phalanges. I guess it's not as easy as I thought! Or, it's not as easy as it is for someone who spends too much time thinking about game. >.>


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Does DST save energy?

Does Daylight's Savings time save energy?

Unambiguously, no.

And that's in the states. Here in AK, there's almost no energy savings even possible unless you live deep in the Southeast. Southeast AK has some of the best access to power.

Down with DST!

Happy Birthday, Cold Fusion!

It's now been 23 years since Cold Fusion was born, and each year the pseudo-scientific advocates of that discredited piece of anaq troll around and claim that they've made it work. Like clockwork, this time of year, they amble about the media saying that limitless energy is within our grasp, if only we pour more money down the hole. Meanwhile, real fusion makes actual progress.
It was today, 23 March, in 1987 that Stanley Pons of the University of Utah announced the "invention" of Cold Fusion. They didn't do so through scientific channels, but instead by having a press conference before anyone could verify their results. Two years, and 4.5 million dollars later, the government finally listened to the scientific community, who were very sure the results were full of bull. A 4.5 million dollar lesson in why science by press-release is a bad idea™.

I took a picture of the building cold fusion was `invented` in while I was in Utah. I tried to visit the lab itself, but they'd long since torn it out and renovated it. Most of the chemistry faculty were reluctant to talk about that sad bit of history. Behind the building, in this picture, you can see the Salt Lake City Olympic stadium - a project that went considerably better, I might say!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Run for your life!

I might have mentioned I love Barking up the Wrong Tree. Some days, I feel like it should be retitled, "The Blog of Correlation Being Confused with Causation," But today, as always, there's something that strikes my fancy. Like this guy in Stanford talking about Stress:

It has my quote of the day in it: "When you're running for your life, it's no time to ovulate!" :)

Why, I wonder, are our stress responses tied into purely psychological things? When he posed it like that, I couldn't help but go "Yeah, that doesn't make sense." After all, lets say socially, you're a baboon being harassed. Why should your body amp itself up for that? There isn't really anything you can do to alleviate the situation by just tinkering with physiology...  

Random parts

I was asked "What the heck is that?" and I know the answer. But I was surprised other people didn't know. I though in this town, people would probably figure it out. What about the internets? What does it look like?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Just under the waves

I just saw this from another person, and have to pass it on. As neat as my animals (ungulates) are, I have to admit there's a lot cool about what's going on under the waves...

And Attenborough has a dreamy voice. ;)

Friday, 19 March 2010


I'm taking a quick break from reading papers to marvel at the tropics that is my office. The University desperately needs a new building, and the legislature has been dragging its feet for years. Our building isn't equipped to do modern biology, is full of asbestos, and has two exterior walls that literally lack insulation. There are rooms that if you shut the door in the winter, the pipes will freeze. In fact, this building wasn't even finished when it was built. They paid to build half the building, but never found the money to build the other half.

My problem stems from the shoddy construction. See, each block of labs is on its own HVAC system, which cools or warms as needed. This is nominally controlled by a thermostat. The thermostat is in the building plans. The controller is looking for input from a theromstat. But a thermostat was never put in. So right now, my lab and office is heated more or less at random. Sometimes, it's bitterly cold inside here. Other times, like today, it's 30C, which is 87F for the metric impaired. I have a fan on in my office.

It is apparently so hot that I set down an orange on the counter. I inspected this orange this morning. I'm eating healthy these days, see. Fewer doughnuts, less coffee, more balanced lunches. Less salt in general. I read papers, skim over various and sundry things, before I realize 2 hours later that I should eat some atsaq with my kuuvviaq. I reach for my orange. It's rotten. It started rotting in just 2 hours of being in this microchasam of Brazil inside my office.

We really need that new life sciences building.

On a slightly sad note: Don't click on this link if you're sensitive, because it's dead albatross chicks. What did they die of? Islands of trash floating in the ocean, 2000 miles from the nearest continent. As most AKian can tell you, being far from villages or cities doesn't mean there isn't trash out there. And adult Albatros apparently mistake plastic for food, bring it back for the chicks to eat, who then die of starvation or choking.

This is a crime. And we have crime scene photos.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

On the Origins of Polar bears
From PNAS  March 16, 2010   vol. 107  no. 11  5053-5057 "Complete mitochondrial genome of a Pleistocene jawbone unveils the origin of polar bear" Lindqvist et al. 2010.
The polar bear has become the flagship species in the climate-change discussion. However, little is known about how past climate impacted its evolution and persistence, given an extremely poor fossil record. Although it is undisputed from analyses of mitochondrial (mt) DNA that polar bears constitute a lineage within the genetic diversity of brown bears, timing estimates of their divergence have differed considerably. Using next-generation sequencing technology, we have generated a complete, high-quality mt genome from a stratigraphically validated 130,000- to 110,000-year-old polar bear jawbone. In addition, six mt genomes were generated of extant polar bears from Alaska and brown bears from the Admiralty and Baranof islands of the Alexander Archipelago of southeastern Alaska and Kodiak Island. We show that the phylogenetic position of the ancient polar bear lies almost directly at the branching point between polar bears and brown bears, elucidating a unique morphologically and molecularly documented fossil link between living mammal species. Molecular dating and stable isotope analyses also show that by very early in their evolutionary history, polar bears were already inhabitants of the Artic sea ice and had adapted very rapidly to their current and unique ecology at the top of the Arctic marine food chain. As such, polar bears provide an excellent example of evolutionary opportunism within a widespread mammalian lineage.
I've attached a copy of their phylogeny to this post, over to the right there. You can see the clearly 'nodal' (Basal) position of the polar bear they found. My first instinct was that this blew my pet hypothesis out of the water - that polar bears first underwent cultural evolution to adapt to ice based lifestyles, and then subsequently underwent phenotypic evolution. This would explain the the fact that ABC brown bears are paraphyletic to the rest of the brown bears (but only with mtDNA markers!). However, there's something that's... mmm... niggling? I think that's a word.

See, there are two issues. First is that identification is based on morphology. It looks like a polar bear skull, therefore progenitor polar bears looked like modern polar bears. On the other hand, you would see nothing if progenitor polar bears looked like modern brown bears, because we'd mis-classify them as arctos instead of maritimus. Therefore, the study could only find that polar bears were more like modern polar bears in morphology. Connected to this issue is that given the only the left mandible (jawbone) could be recovered. Granted, that's more than what we'd have otherwise, as polar bear remains are rare (As things that hangs out around water tend to be!). Still, it may be premature to state that this is substantial morphological evolution.

My second issue is that bone are far less static than we commonly think of them. Bone is an incredibly dynamic tissue, like muscle, that grows and whithers based on whether it's used, and how it's loaded with stress from the muscles. Look at the bones of people using percussive machines such as jackhammers, for example! In biologist talk, this is what we call "Environmental induction", where your environment causes you to have some feature, not genetics or heredity. To begin with, the differences between maritimus and arctos is subtle, as I've illustrated to the right with skulls from our teaching collecting here at UAFCompare the right skull to the picture of the skull I have below. Ignoring the intra-individual differences (and the differences from differential weathering), the skeletal differences between the two species is incredibly subtle. There's few characters you can use to differentiate them, but it takes a trained eye. No one, to my knowledge, has checked to see if varying brown bear diet varies cranial morphology. Ditto for polar bears.

There are messages I'm taking home, though. First, the date of the split of the species. I'll buy it based on the stratigraphy, the tree they generated, and how well it jives with the rest of the evidence. This makes polar bears a really recent species (not that we had any suspicions to the contrary!), which is interesting. Second, whole mtDNA genome sequencing for ancient remains: even cooler than I thought it was. Third, polar bears had a polar bear diet when they split. Pretty dang cool right there. As for the course of evolution of the polar bear, I remain somewhat sceptical and hesitant to accept their conclusions. 

Edit to add: Oh, wow, am I embarrassed! I posed the wrong skull comparison! The one I have above is arctos and americanus! That's entirely wrong! Here's a proper polar bear skull!

Lindqvist, C., Schuster, S., Sun, Y., Talbot, S., Qi, J., Ratan, A., Tomsho, L., Kasson, L., Zeyl, E., Aars, J., Miller, W., Ingolfsson, O., Bachmann, L., & Wiig, O. (2010). Complete mitochondrial genome of a Pleistocene jawbone unveils the origin of polar bear Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (11), 5053-5057 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0914266107

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Abstracts: Two much?

I picked this up from Barking up the Wrong Tree:
 When two is too many: Collaborative encoding impairs memory
Humans routinely encode and retrieve experiences in interactive, collaborative contexts. Yet much of what we know about human memory comes from research on individuals working in isolation. Some recent research has examined collaboration during retrieval, but not much is known about how collaboration during encoding affects memory. We examined this issue. Participants created episodes by elaborating on study materials alone or collaboratively, and they later performed a cued-recall task alone, with the study partner, or with a different partner (Experiment 1). Collaborative encoding impaired recall. This counterintuitive outcome was found for both individual and group recall, even when the same partners collaborated across encoding and retrieval. This impairment was significantly reduced, but persisted, when the encoding instructions encouraged free-flowing collaboration (Experiment 2). Thus, the collaborative-encoding deficit is robust in nature and likely occurs because collaborative encoding produces less effective cues for later retrieval. 

This goes against my intuition, as I thought the process of teaching things to other people (being forced to explain it) actually improves information retention. 

In general, the best type of studying (in my experience) is a) having a nice lunch and b) learning the information before the night before.


Monday, 15 March 2010

Just stating the obvious

I picked this up from the National Weather Service:
Statement as of 7:22 PM AKDT on March 15, 2010

... A colder and drier than average start to March at Fairbanks...

During the first two weeks of March the average temperature at the
Fairbanks International Airport was 3.5 degrees... which was 2.3
degrees below average. The month started mild with well above
average temperatures on the 3rd through the 6th... including a high
of 40 on the 3rd. It turned much colder during the second week of
March... with a low of 26 below on the 13th.

So far this March a total of 1.6 inches of snow has
fallen... which is 1.4 inches below average. For the season only
24.8 inches of snow has been observed... which is 38.3 inches
below average. The snowfall total for the winter season ranks as
the least amount of snow since the winter of 1952-1953.

For the next several days temperatures are expected to moderate...
with above average temperatures expected Thursday through Sunday.
Little or no precipitation is expected through next weekend. The
average high this time of year at Fairbanks is 25 and the average
low is 3 below.
Yea. 38.4 inches below normal. I'll believe that. Riding over tussocks, you nearly fall apart from the horrible vibrations. It's not to say we can't have a late spring sudden snowstorm, but it'd take 3ft of snow to put us back near the black, and that's a lot of snow, even in Valdez. And we didn't really have any -40, aside from a day or two of it. Not that I'm complaining, it's just odd...

Why is this year so warm and dry? I thought the PDO was going cold... which could explain the dry, if it weren't for the "Warm" part of that sentence. I'm not a meteorologist, but I'm curious why the climate was like it was. And, is this what the Arctic is going to look like in the future with Climate Change. If so, it can keep it!

AWOL with the turtles

Sorry, I've been AWOL for the last few days, and I'll be AWOL a little longer. Hopefully, things will settle down. Instead, have some turtles. I like turtles!


Friday, 12 March 2010

WTF, Austrailian reserachers! WTF!

I subscribe to Barking Up the Wrong Tree, which is a blog of random psych abstracts of varying interest. The blogger is big into behavioural economics, which I like. I like science in general. A lot. :)

Anyhow, I wasn't going to blog anything today - I'm on vacation, and I'm trying to find a cheaper fix for my ex-truck (maybe I should ride my snowmachine into work?). But I glanced at this abstract, and went !!! Read the first bit of the methods:
Tourists at the Koorana Saltwater Crocodile Farm in Coowonga, Queensland, Australia, including 62 males and 41 females, aged 18–66 (M = 34.2, SD = 13.3), were randomly assigned to play a laptop-simulated Electronic Gaming Machine (EGM) either: (1) prior to entry, or (2) after having held a 1-m saltwater-crocodile.
So, either you play slots, or they HAND YOU A CROCODILE, and then you play slots.

Remind me not to gamble in Austrailia! O.O!!


Thursday, 11 March 2010

Squarebanks Mechanics?

My truck is sick. It's sad. I have a big repair needed to get it healthy again. Who's your local mechanic? Recommendations? People to avoid?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Bad Squire

You know, I've had this song on my playlist for a few years now. It's called "The Bad Squire," and it's based on a poem by a clergyman named Charles Kingsley in the 1800s. Chumbawamba - you know, the band that wrote Tubthumping? - did an album called "English Rebel Songs (1381-1984)" where they sing a lot of these old songs with just the acoustic guitar. Anyhow, I actually gave it a deep listen, while I was writing changes to my research manuscript I've been working on for a year now. I knew the song was about how a land owner punished the poor for poaching game, when the the poor were trying to protect their crops so to ward off starvation. But I actually heard some lyrics for the first time, that really brought me to the here and now:
You have sold out the labouring man, Squire
Both body and soul for to shame
To pay for your seat in the House, Squire
And to pay for the feed of your game
You made him a poacher yourself, Squire
When you'd give not the work nor the meat
And your barley-fed hares robbed the garden
At our starving poor little one's feet
(Emphasis my own). That choked me up, when I made the connection between the lyrics with what people still go through today, in the vill. It's no longer a class selling people to wallow in poverty, but urban interests. But is the end result any different?

Here's the song in total:


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Cease and Decist

A list of ads that it does you NO GOOD to show me on TV, in Fairbanks.
  • Dairy Queen
  • Olive Garden
  • Burger King
  • Comcast Cable
  • Applebee's
  • Red Lobster
  • Sonic
  • Travel to Alaska
  • Verison Wireless
  • Best Buy
  • Dunkin Doughnuts
So stop showing me those ad! Honestly! I'm not going to drive to the states just for some Red Lobster...
Though, I do like Tim Hortons. Why don't we have one anywhere in AK? There's a crime...

Funny thing is, at Fred Meyer's, they sell gift certificates to a lot of those places. Why? Why, I ask? What possible use is there?

Risk Analysis

A professor from CMU decided to tackle the question of "Just how unsafe is a recalled Toyota, really?" You're probably going to be shocked, but apparently, not very much...
In the U.S., there is a little more than one fatality for every 100 million miles driven. The average U.S. vehicle logs about 13,000 miles each year. Based on these averages, for the 2.3 million Toyotas being recalled, there are about 340 fatalities every year for causes unrelated to the accelerator. The accelerator problem is adding about six deaths every year to this total — meaning that the accelerator problem is increasing the driving risk by about 2 percent.  
Two percent overall. That's not very much. To put that in perspective,  eating hamburgers carries a risk of mortality of 1.9 x10 ^-7 per hamburger. Or, if 10 million people eat a hamburger today, that translates to 1.9 dead people from food poisoning. It seems we should be more panicked about food handling. Or, we could recognize that either of these activities carry relatively low risk.

And then, in the same article,
Consumers also may want to reconsider parking their recalled Toyotas until repairs have been made. "Replacing driving by walking really increases the risk of dying," Fischbeck said. "Walking a mile is 19 times or 1,900 percent more dangerous than driving a mile in a recalled Toyota. Driving while using a cell phone would increase risk much more than the chance of having a stuck accelerator."
But, we can't have the media putting things in perspective. That would make too much sense. No, shocking stories about horribly dangerous autos sells far more ads than a dispassionate evaluation of the risk. Strangely, the real risks - distracted, drowsy, or drunk driving - get comparatively little coverage.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Sudden outbreak of common sense

In a sudden outbreak of common sense, Swiss Voters decided by a 70 to 30 slide that really, people don't need to appoint lawyers for trout, and other animals. The WHO has commented that this common sense is not contagious, and there's no risk of the common sense epidemic spreading to other countries.

This about says it all...

I might have seen this before. :)

Friday, 5 March 2010

Everything I hate about science reporting...

The BBC has managed to hit just about everything I hate in science reporting in one story. It's about how DNA analysis could predict most effective diet. So, I click on it to read.
A simple DNA test may predict whether someone is more likely to lose weight on a low fat or a low carbohydrate diet, say US researchers.
The results from the small preliminary study of 101 women showed those on the best diet for their genes lost two to three times more weight than the rest.
The results are being presented at an American Heart Association conference.
Experts said the findings tied in with previous studies, but further work should be carried out. 
Who are these researchers? What conference? When? What was the nature of their study? I'm not looking for crazy details, like the metabolic pathways involved... hell, even some credit to the team(?) of people who did it would be great. Some names, for crying out loud.  Who are "researchers?" Stanford is a big university. Saying "Researchers at Stanford" is like saying "Some people in California." It doesn't let me know who the heck we're talking about.

Thank goodness they didn't bring on some quack for false balance...

Where we don't live

A lecture from Dr. Steven Davies, entitled "Locating Ourselves Historically: Why We Are Not Living in Western Civilization"

This was just plain fascinating. Bascially, he argues that Civilizations are units of a) common experience and b) common symbolic (especially symbolics in communication). And that if you take the worldview, and experience of someone in Boston, MA today, and compare it to someone living in Boston, MA 300 years ago, it's fundamentally different. That Americans, Britons, Canadians, Germans etc can suggest that they're the direct cultural descendants of the Greeks and Romans is somewhere between absurd and just plain silly.  Here's the blurb:
A crucial part of the self-consciousness of individuals and the way they define themselves socially is a perception of their location in a historical narrative, however vague. For most people in North America and Europe the narrative in question is that of 'Western Civilization' - this is true for all parts of the political spectrum and includes those who see this narrative as one of triumphant success and others who perceive it as a much darker story. However, the picture that emerges from historical research does not support any of these accounts. Rather they lead us to the conclusion that historic Western Civilization no longer exists but has perished or been transformed. This should make us think about how to understand our historical location and lead us to see past, present, and future in a new way.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

States on Shakey Ground

While eating my lunch (Fruit salad. Healthy, but bleeeeeeh!), I came across this like. Which state in the union is the most quake prone? Well, it's no surprise to you all... but I'm actually pretty surprised that Oklahoma is the 19th most quake-prone state!

Too true!

SMBC is definitely not safe for a general audience, given it's occasionally risqué nature. Luckily, I'm not a general audience, so I find it hillarious. Like today's SMBC:
Unfortunately and hilariously true

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Begich's driving habits redux

I check my traffic with regularity, so I can shamelessly pander to my audience. I was checking the last couple days traffic, when I noticed this visitor to my post about Begich and the Toyota...
:P  Never had that visitor before!


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Begich drives to D.C.

From ADN:
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich had a kind word for Toyota today during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on the Toyota vehicle recalls, reports The Hill.
Begich told his colleagues that he drove his Toyota Highlander hybrid from Alaska to the nation's capital last summer, a distance of more than 5,000 miles, which took him 19 days to complete. ... "I'm here in one piece, and that's great. It's a good car, and I'm very happy about it."
What Begich didn't mention was that he drove the entire trip without stopping. Mostly because he couldn't.

(Actually, I think the Toyota problem is vastly overblown, but I couldn't resist the joke.)

And we're back!

I'm back from things, and phew, let me whine! First, I didn't catch a moose. This is a bigger problem, because I couldn't hunt a Caribou in the winter 40 mile hunt (it was closed), and my efforts at getting a Minto Flats permit were thwarted by a car accident. I'm mentally running through lists of possible sources of fresh meat, and we're a few months out from the next opportunity. I've followed the old wisdom that you should fish your butt off in the summer in case you don't catch anything in the winter, but I'm starting to get very, very tired of salmon.

Other sage advice is to be generous with what you catch. The good person does it because that's the right thing to do. But even the selfish person should, so when they run low on meat, they can go begging to their family and friends. ;)

Part of the problem was how ADF&G divided up the antlerless hunt this year. All the closed zones made it very difficult to get to legal animals, and it forced people to hunt in zones that they knew nothing about. Maybe that wouldn't have been so bad on its own, but ice conditions were horrible. I broke through ice on a small river at one point, and only luck made sure I got the snowmachine out. Other places, the warm weather caused overflow to melt completely through, cutting off access to several trails into the flats. And then there was Salcha.

Salcha has open water everywhere. Ice out there is fragile in places, and has shifted around extensively. It took excess of an hour to find a safe path across the river. Wesst of Salcha I saw my only legal animal, but I couldn't shoot it because I was too busy making sure my snowmachine didn't go into the water to get to my gun before it saw me and went running. Finally, to cap it off, some fragile ice broke behind me (shifted?), and I had to take a very, very long way around back to my truck.

In general, things went wrong. And that's really the last large game in the interior until bears start waking up. There's always the haul road for Caribou, if I can find someone to split gas with, but I'm not sure how that is in March-April. Getting up there is a long process, and an expensive one. Other options include going out birding for ptarmigan. Luckily, I love ptarmigan (both eating them, and I like them alive, too!), so that's an option. It would definitely break up the monotony of salmon-salmon-salmon! Or I could go out for other fish, too. There's some options, but nothing that'll get me red meat.

Well, there is one...
Fred Meyers'.
*shudders* No thanks.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Repost: Beavers and monogamy.

Things are busybusybusy. I'm going to phone it in today. How about a blast from the past: Beaver monogamy!

About two years ago, I decided I would destroy monogamy. That's right, I'm one of those people who are out to wreck family values that the `Focus on the Family` bunch warn us all about. Except I deal mostly with animals, so I suppose I'm who `Focus on the Family Castor Chapter` warned us all about.

See, I, in 2005-06, I first began wondering about beavers - no, not that sort. Perverts. Though, I suppose I could write off a lot of things as business expenditures if I was researching them. (I'm done with the bawdy jokes now, honestly). See, the issue with beavers is that they're stereotyped as good old, monogamous, happy family critter. And it's been my experience that when we think that's so, it simply ain't so bob.

For example, for the longest, we assumed a number of species were monogamous. Take Swift Foxes. Swift Foxes are socially monogamous, and mate for life. However, a study showed 52% of offspring were not sired by the apparent mate of the mother (Kitchen et. al 2006). Among Tree Swallows, 50% of broods studied were extra pair young (Lifjeld et. al 1992). Far from being unique, many other species of birds are apparently monogamous, but only insofar as we tend to not catch them cheating on each-other.

Mr. Beaver Began to suspect his wife was less than faithful when
he read papers in the journal
Animal Behaviour describing
the rarity of monogamy in actual breeding systems.
Also, that she was cooking someone else's log for dinner was a bit of a hint.

In 2007, a book came out called Rodent Societies – An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective, by Jerry O. Wolff(ed) and Paul W. Sherman(ed). It has a chapter written by Peter Busher on Social Organization in the Beaver. In it, he discusses facets of the beaver's social ecology, synthesizing a large amount of work for what would a grand paper. Would be, except for a single line, where he makes a parenthetical statement:
"[...] (although in most cases, this [genetic monogamy] has yet to be confirmed by DNA analysis) [...]" (p.281).
Put another way, it says that the remainder of his chapter is based off of a massive, un-validated assumption.

I was flabbergasted that people had poured so much work into a subject, when it was built on such a shaky premise. Sure enough, when I dug through the literature, I found no one had actually done the genetics (and published them) to show that beavers don't cheat on each other behind their flat little tails (I'm not fond of beaver tail, but I recently found it shouldn't be acridic tasting). This astounded me, and I resolve to study it right away.

Hah. Yeah Right.

Well, I never got resources together to look into the issue, but a group from EIU were wrapping up asking the same questions right around the time I decided `honestly! Really! Any day now!` Crawford et. al (2008) decided to sample colonies from south central and south east Illinois between from 2005-2007 using Conibear traps. The sexed them, weighed them, and then aged them. The took just a tiny bit of skin from each one. For a segment of the beavers, they sampled using live-trapping snares. In the end, they got samples from about 127 beavers, which is far more than I'd have been able to wing (I was looking at ~1/2 that, which would make for a less convincing paper.)

After this, they went home and extracted DNA from the skin samples, and then did parent-typing. This is done by looking at small junk regions we call `microsatellites` that are littered liberally throughout the genome. These microsats are of variable size, and so you can use a technique called PCR to make lots of copies of them, and then analyse them in a jell-o like substance and see which copies of the microsats the individual has. As you get one from mom and one from dad, you can then compare what mom and punative-dad had to see if they match. By doing lots of these microsats (Crawford et al did 7 different ones), you can assign a probability that a random individual could be the pup's mother or father. And if the pup has a form of the microsat that the punative father doesn't have at all, it's indicative of that male not being the actual father.

Actual parent typing is a tad more complex than that, but that's actually a good portion of the broad strokes. It's really, actually, quite simple in totality.

And then comes the figure the everyone's looking for. 56% of litters had more than one father. Zadgooks! This is not what they showed us in the Chronicles of Narnia at all! If that movie was to be biologically accurate, Mrs. Beaver would be spending a whole lot of time down at the gym, or showing the plumber where exactly that pipe's broken in the basement for the 3rd time that week.

And that's how it goes for Monogamy, by-and-large. There really aren't that many species that are strictly so, no matter what romantic notions we saddle them with. And why should they? Humans are scarcely monogamous - Jerry Springer's continued existence is testament to this fact, if nothing else! In most situations, it's in a critter's biological interest to mate with as many other males/females as they can get away with. It's sometimes not in their social interest, however, as Mr. Beaver might try to scratch Joe Beaver's eyes out for playing around with his wife. Humans, in the same vein, have firearms.

Joe Beaver suffers a mysterious log-related accident

after visiting Mrs. Beaver one fine afternoon. Mr. Beaver denied
wrongdoing, but in great detail, and before he'd been accused.

Crawford, J.C., Liu, Z., Nelson, T.A., Nielsen., C.K. and Bloomquist, C.K. (2008). Microsatellite analysis of mating and kinship in beavers (Castor canadensis). Journal of Mammalogy, 89(3), pp. 575-581.
Kitchen, A.M., Gese, E.M., Waits, L.P., Karki, S.M., and Schauster, E.R. (2006). Multiple breeding strategies in the swift fox, Vulpes velox. Animal Behaviour, 71(5), pp. 1029-1038.
Lifjeld, J.T., Dunn, P.O., Robertson, R.J., and Boag, P.T. (1992). Extra-pair paternity in monogamous tree swallows. Animal Behaviour, 45(2), pp. 213-229.

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