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April 23, 2012

Male bowerbirds plant and cultivate gardens to attract mates

Birds that garden! Male bowerbirds grow a garden to attract a mate - life - 23 April 2012 - New Scientist
What has green fingers but no hands? The bowerbird, if a new study is to be believed. Males appear to cultivate plants around the structures they build to attract a mate. Male spotted bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus maculates) build structures, or bowers, from twigs before intricately decorating them with objects to attract a female. One of the males' most desirable decorations is the berry of the Solanum ellipticum plant. Joah Madden of the University of Exeter, UK, and colleagues studied the distribution of S. ellipticum in an area of Queensland, Australia, inhabited by the birds. Although the males didn't build their bowers in locations with abundant S. ellipticum, a year after construction there were, on average, 40 of the plants near each. Birds with more plants nearby had more berries within their bowers, which Madden has previously found is the best predictor of a male's mating success. Males may discard shrivelled berries outside their bowers. . . .

April 20, 2012

Do fiction writers have an obligation to ensure the science in their novels is credible?

Or, Jodi Picoult makes up a whole lot of stuff about wolves in her newest novel and pisses off a lot of people who actually know things about wolves. Why Are Wolf Scientists Howling At Jodi Picoult? : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR
Do fiction writers have an obligation to ensure that the science they import into their novels is credible? Or does the creative license that writers enjoy mean that there's no such responsibility? What happens when a novelist explicitly notes that the work in question is based on trusted science, but scientists insist is it not? These questions have been on my mind since I reviewed Jodi Picoult's new novel Lone Wolf for The Washington Post. I was disappointed by Picoult's far-out characterizations of wolves and their relationship to humans. Luke Warren, the book's fictional wolf expert, describes a joyful moment sharing a carcass with captive wolves: "I lowered my face to the carcass and began to rip off strips of raw flesh, bloodying my face and my hair ..." This was bizarre enough, but my limit of tolerance was finally exceeded with Luke's remark that, even before she is pregnant, an alpha female wolf knows the number of pups she will birth, their sex, and whether they will stay with her or go off to live elsewhere. This claim is nonsense, not to mention scientifically untestable. . . .

April 19, 2012

Monsanto buys research firm that revealed how Monsanto is killing all the bees

Monsanto doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt at all, but let's give it to them: is there any good reason for them to buy this research firm (whose work is available publicly in research papers) for any reason other than to silence them? Blamed for Bee Collapse, Monsanto Buys Bee Research Firm | Natural Society
Monsanto, the massive biotechnology company being blamed for contributing to the dwindling bee population, has bought up one of the leading bee collapse research organizations. Recently banned from Poland with one of the primary reasons being that the company’s genetically modified corn may be devastating the dying bee population, it is evident that Monsanto is under serious fire for their role in the downfall of the vital insects. It is therefore quite apparent why Monsanto bought one of the largest bee research firms on the planet. It can be found in public company reports hosted on mainstream media that Monsanto scooped up the Beeologics firm back in September 2011. During this time the correlation between Monsanto’s GM crops and the bee decline was not explored in the mainstream, and in fact it was hardly touched upon until Polish officials addressed the serious concern amid the monumental ban. Owning a major organization that focuses heavily on the bee collapse and is recognized by the USDA for their mission statement of “restoring bee health and protecting the future of insect pollination” could be very advantageous for Monsanto. In fact, Beelogics’ company information states that the primary goal of the firm is to study the very collapse disorder that is thought to be a result — at least in part — of Monsanto’s own creations.