by Amanda Puitiza , Macaulay CUNY the University of New York
In her debut book, Erin Brockovich focuses on guiding people from all walks of life on how to become their own champions. Her background in clean water activism shines throughout her work as she draws on the many stories of people she has met and interacted with. In addition, she spends time explain certain concepts for newcomers to the water scene, such as the different methods of water treatments in use around the country.
Ultimately, Brockovich aims to expose threats to our water in this country which are not being fixed and deliver the tools and skills for all to take action against these threats.
The book is written in three parts: first, with some background on how Brockovich became a clean water advocate and information about the top toxins found in our water; second, with some inspirational stories from around the country of local citizens observing issues with their water and taking action to solve this problems; and third, with a look at the foreseeable future where water, a limited resource, could be gone sooner than we ever imagined if we don’t take action ourselves.
There are easy-to-follow guides on how you can begin your journey towards taking a stand at the end of each chapter. This helps keep the reader in the mindset that they can do this themselves. The guides range from advice on trusting your senses to detailed information on understanding your water report.
Brockovich makes sure to periodically encourage the readers to understand they do not need a PhD or a scientific background to educate themselves on the issue. We can ask questions, reach out to the community leaders, and create our own community groups. One story that stands out occurred in Hannibal, Missouri. Two local mothers rallied their community and filed an ordinance that aimed to prohibit the use of ammonia to clean their drinking water. Together, the two women created Hannibal to Oppose Chloramines Facebook group and started attending city council meetings, despite being unwelcomed. One woman went on to be elected as a city council member by the community along with bringing awareness to the council and other city officials.
The citizens Brockovich writes about, whether or not they were able to get the change they wanted, are inspirational because of what they suffered through in their efforts to fight for what we all deserve.
It is true that we often wait until we are personally affected to become advocates.
Yet Brockovich’s book gives us the permission and tools to take that step towards advocating for what we are all entitled to: clean water.
Tie in article from ICB on pollution:
Interactions between Oil-Spill Pollutants and Natural Stressors Can Compound Ecotoxicological Effects
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if dogs were able to roam the streets freely without restrictions or a designated owner? To many of us, this idea seems pretty absurd, but for many other countries, this is the norm.
One particular example of this is shown in the documentary Stray by producer Elizabeth Lo. In the film, she follows three stray dogs throughout the streets of Turkey, documenting their day-to-day lives. The more than 100,000 strays, or street dogs as they are sometimes referred to, have a very special relationship with the human residents of Istanbul. Turkey is the only country that allows dogs to roam the city streets freely because it is illegal to euthanize or hold captive any stray animal.
Throughout the film, Lo documents these dogs politely waiting to cross at street lights, sun-bathing in the middle of the busy city streets, marching with protesters and sometimes having some fun chasing stray cats. I found the documentary particularly interesting because I never really considered what the life of a truly stray dog living in a highly developed city might entail. This is mostly because most cities I have visited do not allow dogs to freely roam the streets, as they are usually picked up by animal control and taken to a shelter or rescue.
Stray provides the dog’s-eye view of what city life is like. The three canine stars of the film, Zeytin, Nazar and Kartal, show the viewer an entirely different city experience. Zeytin (shown above) shows us his daily “routine” of making his rounds around the city, playing with other stray dogs and lingering patiently outside of restaurants for scraps of food. People in the city clearly see these dogs as fellow citizens who belong on the streets and in the communities. They appear to see these dogs as dignified individuals rather than a nuisance.
Istanbul isn’t the only place where dogs are allowed to roam freely. Scientist Jeremy Koster (who presented at SICB’s 2021 virtual conference in the Symposium s11 “Biology’s best friend: Bridging disciplinary gaps to advance canine science”) is an anthropologist who studies dogs in the Mayangna community of Nicaragua. Unlike Istanbul’s street dogs, Mayangna dogs typically have owners, who give them names, provide food and water and allow them to sleep in their homes. Koster (2021) provides ample evidence to suggest that Mayangna dogs present a unique opportunity to study the evolution of dogs in environments that have similar characteristics in which dogs have evolved.
Most pet dogs in the United States and Great Britain are what Koster coins NATIVE, that is they are neutered, alimented, trained, isolated, vaccinated and engineered. Consequently, these are usually the dogs that are used in most canine science studies. But the lives of NATIVE dogs are unusual, especially when considering the evolutionary history of canines. Recent molecular evidence suggests that dogs descended from the gray wolf, which was domesticated about 130,000 years ago. However, years of artificial selection have produced many different types or breeds of dogs that have many different purposes. In contrast to these modern domesticated canine breeds, the Mayangna, and arguably the dogs of Istanbul, provide populations that could be used for holistic perspectives on the evolution of domestic dogs.
For example, it is rare for Mayangna dogs to be neutered or vaccinated. In Istanbul, however, street dogs are currently being neutered by the government. Dogs in both communities lack access to commercial dog food. It is common for Mayangna owners to provide food from their household, such as bananas and rice to their dogs: dogs in Istanbul are also fed whatever scraps are leftover from restaurants and will sometimes be tossed bones with meat from trash collectors.
Koster (2021) further suggests that it is likely that domestic dogs relied heavily on table scraps and scavenging, similar to these dog populations, for much of their time. Additionally, training in the sense of formal obedience school is very uncommon among Mayangna dogs and the dogs of Istanbul. However, both populations form bonds with human counterparts. In Stray, Zeytin was continually observed following around and often sleeping with a small group of men living on the streets. Though the bond observed is considerably different than that of a pet dog who has a designated owner with whom they are trained to listen to, it is clear the street dogs of Istanbul form companionships with some of the people of the community.
Both the film Stray and Koster’s review paper provide evidence of current populations of dogs that are substantially different from NATIVE dogs.
“Koster suggests that it is important for canine scientists to consider studying and sampling diverse populations of dogs, as their varied environments may result in morphologically and behaviorally different phenotypes than those of NATIVE populations.”
Regardless of whether or not you live with a NATIVE or nonNATIVE dog, it is clear from the Symposium’s title that dogs truly are “biology’s best friends”. Even my dog Silas was interested in learning about the lives of the dogs from Stray, as you can see below, he was very captivated by the film! I’ll end with a provocative quote that was presented in the film and I think really sums up the research from the Symposium,
“Human beings live artificially and hypocritically and would do well to study the dog”,
Diogenes of Sinope, 360 B.C.
You can rent or purchase Stray on Amazon Prime Video.
Additionally, you can read about the diversity of canine science happening all over the United States and beyond by accessing the Symposium’s publications here.
Most Dogs Are Not NATIVE Dogs
access the full scientific paper (in advanced) “Most dogs are not NATIVE dogs” here.
Studies of dogs have proliferated among canine scientists, aided in part by the logistical convenience of working with owned animals whose care is handled by others. These pet dogs are unlike most dogs that have lived in contemporary or prehistoric settings. In particular, many of the dogs studied by canine scientists are NATIVE dogs: (1) neutered, (2) alimented, (3) trained, (4) isolated, (5) vaccinated, and (6) engineered. The distinct genotypes and unusual environments of NATIVE dogs stand in contrast to the characteristics of dogs who have adapted to lives in other human communities and settings. For a holistic perspective on the evolution of dogs, it is helpful to study dogs in environments that share features of the settings in which dogs evolved.
by Sophia Sordilla , Undergraduate Research Assistant | Brown University | Ecology & Evolutionary Biology , Mangum Participant at SICB 2021 Virtual
SICB’s 2021 annual conference, hosted virtually, included Symposium S5: An evolutionary tail: Evo-devo, structure, and function of post-anal appendages. This symposium brought together diverse research on the structure and function of animal tails. This year, the symposium included research following themes including tail use during locomotion and aerial reorientation, robotic applications of tails, and evolution and diversity in tail morphology.
One of S5’s organisers, Janneke Schwaner, presented research on kangaroo rat tails- kangaroo rats can make incredible vertical jumps to avoid predation. During these leaps, their long tails may aid them in balancing and reorienting their bodies while still in the air.
This research came from a collaboration between two groups working on escape responses in kangaroo rats. One of the groups, from San Diego State University, runs a youtube channel called Ninja Rat which features slow motion video of kangaroo rats making incredible jumps. Schwaner remembered seeing videos on the channel and thinking, “what the heck does that tail do?”
After some email communication the two groups decided to collaborate, and conducted the fieldwork in 2019. It’s an example of what can happen when you see something cool and reach out to the people behind it, Schwaner explained.
Check out the full SICB abstract on kangaroo rat tails here,
The book is set in an apocalyptic world in which a virus has killed much of the world’s population, a setting which felt very relevant to Schwaner during the pandemic.
Documentary:High on the Hog
Favorite SICB 2021 talk/research:
Anthony Lapsansky’s work on swimming in non-aquatic bird species:
This research was a great example of how to make the best and generate interesting findings even with the restrictions of COVID-19. Lapansky’s full abstract can be found here, and twitter account (@PhysicksofLife) here.
by Martha Merson and Allen, Hristov, authors from Volume 58, issue 1 of ICB
Could you use a partner ready to tell thousands of people about your work? Time is tight, especially when it comes to balancing outreach, teaching, and research. Would you spend a few hours in dialogue with informal educators like park rangers and museum docents if they could elevate your work, illustrating the important science that often goes unseen and is underappreciated?
Setting expectations for scientists to communicate with the public does little to solve the dilemma scientists face: how to fit public appearances in among their research, teaching, and obligations to their institutions.
Wildlife biologists and long-time SICB members Hristov and Allen teamed up with informal education researcher Merson (TERC) to pilot an approach to solving this dilemma. The team found willing scientists whose work had park-relevance. With funding from the National Science Foundation for Interpreters and Scientists Working on Our Parks (iSWOOP), the project brought scientists and rangers into direct contact. iSWOOP encouraged interpretive rangers dedicated to fostering connections to natural and cultural resources to interpret the science going on behind the scenes.
iSWOOP answered a felt need: opportunities for interpreters to hear firsthand from scientists and exchange stories and questions are welcome, but relatively rare (Merson et al. 2017). When the opportunity arises, researchers typically give a one-hour lunch talk, a modified version of a presentation aimed at scientific peers, and interpreters mainly listen. These events provide few opportunities for discussing strategies for interpreting the research for broader audiences. iSWOOP proposed a model of professional development where scientists and educators work together. During site-based sessions, they partner to tease out the relevance to public audiences and begin to develop programs about the science (with stories, provocative questions, and visualizations).
At Carlsbad Caverns, Hristov and Allen shared the struggles and technological break-throughs in their research on the Brazilian free-tailed bat and its habitat, while Merson marshalled TERC’s expertise in STEM learning and teaching to infuse the outreach efforts with inquiry approaches. Soon after the professional development experience, participating park rangers began engaging park visitors in conversations about the methods and relevance of the research, as well its findings and implications.
Based on the enthusiastic response among rangers and the public at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, the iSWOOP project team became convinced that scientists shouldn’t shoulder the responsibility for public engagement alone. At the same time, we recognized that the challenges and opportunities presented by partnerships are varied and significant. With the relentless pressure on scientists to balance outreach, teaching, and research, we thought it timely to revisit the articles on partnerships published originally as proceedings from the 2018 symposium, Science in the Public Eye. Below we summarize three articles, supply links to the talks as well as the articles, and supply links to related resources.
Unveiling Impact Identities: A Path for Connecting Science and Society, by Julie Risien and Martin Storksdieck frames the importance of delineating an individual impact identity that takes into account scientists’ individual strengths, their institutional context, the nature of their research, and the desired outcomes of their public engagement activities. The authors argue that a more integrated approach towards research and outreach will not only benefit society, but also improve a scientist’s research success.
The second article is by iSWOOP’s project investigators and external evaluator. It reports scientists’ and participants’ reactions to iSWOOP’s professional development model, and points out missed opportunities. The article describes iSWOOP’s approach to supporting productive collaborations that promote an understanding of scientific research to public audiences. Results from a pair of surveys indicate that both sides of this partnership benefit from extended contact and clear communication. For a condensed version of what we learned about working in parks, see Tips in Words and Drawings: Launching Collaborations in National Parks.
iSWOOP’s pilot showed that national park rangers with responsibility for interpretation and education are trusted by the public, dedicated to science translation, and skilled at crafting stories for multi-age audiences. They are ideal ambassadors for the science that too often gets left out of the public discourse. To leverage their scarce time for public outreach, biologists can also partner with other informal science education experts to reach broader audiences and deepen their impact. The third article, by Carol Lynn Alpert, “So You Want to Share Your Science: Connecting to the World of Informal Learning”, offers practical advice to scientists on how to reach broader audiences and deepen their impact by teaming up with informal science learning organizations like science museums, zoos, and nature centers.
This is the message we wanted to bring to members of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology: that dedicated and talented partners await you in a venue that makes sense for your science.
To read more or to watch the talks
Unveiling Impact Identities: A Path for Connecting Science and Society, Julie Risien and Martin Storksdieck, p. 58—https://vimeo.com/250394739,
Funding Acknowledgement: The symposium and its proceedings were made possible with support from the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology the Divisions of Animal Behavior, Comparative Biomechanics, Comparative Endocrinology, Ecoimmunology and Disease Ecology, Neurobiology, and Vertebrate Morphology and the National Science Foundation [DRL-123030 and DRL-1514776 and DRL-1514667]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the National Science Foundation.
by Sierra Williams, PhD and Mangum student program participant- SICB 2021
“Do you wish you had never gotten sick?” my mother asked me.
The question made me hesitate. My illness had destroyed my childhood and robbed me of my peace of mind. However, I wasn’t sure if I would be the same person sans illness. Would I have made the same choices? Would I still be studying immunology? Would I be in the STEM field at all? My disease had been a part of me for so long, trying to remember a time without it was like trying to remember a dream.
“Tribulation builds character,” I told her. I wasn’t sure if I believed it. “If I was offered a cure now, I would take it.” Taking a cure now wouldn’t erase the past ten years as a student with disabilities.
It wouldn’t erase the fear I felt when I was cornered in a high school bathroom and mocked by a bully while her friends held the door shut, rendering me unable to escape as I was wheelchair-bound. It wouldn’t erase the anger and pain I felt when the person I thought was my best friend told me she didn’t have the time or energy to deal with me anymore. It wouldn’t erase the hurt I had to bite back when skeptical doctors wondered if I really needed to be on that much medication. It wouldn’t erase the outrage at having campus parking services call the state Department of Transportation, twice, to make sure my disability placard was registered in my name. Despite the Hollywood tropes, those experiences didn’t make me strong. I didn’t forgive these people and move on. However, these experiences afforded me a unique perspective on prejudice, and the cost of ignorance is too steep a price to pay if I were to wash the slate clean.
For a moment, imagine you’ve just moved into a house. After a few days, you notice mold growing on the wallpaper and find out it’s in the walls. You hire someone to get rid of it and they discover you also have rats. The rats chew through everything, including the cord to your router, leaving you without internet. Now, you have mold, no internet, and rats. My disability is like that house: not one disease, but a rapid succession of issues that bleed into each other. One diagnosis led to another. Fixing one problem made another more obvious.
I suppose I should start in chronological order. When I was fifteen, I was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), an autonomic nervous system disorder that presents as low blood pressure and rapid heart rate with changing posture. I would lose consciousness every time I stood, so I was confined to a wheelchair for months until I was diagnosed. I was also misdiagnosed with Mitochondrial Disease. It took me eight years to seek out a new diagnosis.
In 2018, I moved to Oklahoma for my Ph.D. I had double-majored in wildlife biology and psychology, so my previous experience with human immunology was limited. Initially, I was preoccupied with many of the normal concerns and responsibilities that others in my cohort shared, like teaching labs, writing grants, coming up with my dissertation design, combatting imposter syndrome, having a social life, and attempting to balance it all. However, the more course material I absorbed, the more I tried to apply it to my diagnosis. I discovered I was a sickly infant and took antibiotics for the first three years of my life before surgery to correct the problem. As someone who ironically studied early life stress, I understood the implications. I was convinced whatever issues I had were not genetic. Eventually I sought out a second opinion from a rheumatologist.
Like many others who suffer from chronic fatigue symptoms, nailing down a diagnosis was a lengthy, painful process. Many women I know had doctors assure them their fatigue was a symptom of a neuropsychiatric illness, not a chronic disease*. My rheumatologist diagnosed me with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder. I was conflicted about the diagnosis because there isn’t really a way to test for fibromyalgia. It’s sort of a fallback diagnosis when all the other options on the list have been crossed out. The treatment had mixed results. It helped with the pain, but it made me so nauseous I lost over 10% of my body weight. I could see the bones on my sternum.
That winter, in the height of the pandemic, my rheumatologist noted my purple, ice cold hands. This usually happened when the weather dipped below seventy. She called it Raynaud’s Disease: the random constriction of small blood vessels in the hands and feet, usually with cold. But I can feel it right now, as I write this, in June in the middle of our triple digit heat wave, simply because I’ve been walking on the wood floor without socks.
With the Raynaud’s I was granted a handicapped placard. I was grateful, particularly when the weather was cold, as I was constantly monitoring my hands and feet for early signs of gangrene. I didn’t anticipate the backlash that would come with the placard. I’d never really thought of myself as disabled. I suppose to most people, I don’t look disabled. A woman stopped me in the produce section a few months back to tell me I didn’t look disabled. I told her exactly what she did look like, which I won’t repeat here.
Last month, I had a rapid deterioration in visual acuity. I was diagnosed with keratoconus, a rare progressive corneal condition. I was presented with two treatment options: wear contacts with changing prescriptions until I inevitably need a cornea transplant or undergo experimental surgery. I chose the latter. My surgery will be in July.
Most of the time, I don’t feel any different from my cohort.
Most of the time, I feel like disabilities are being taken into consideration, at least within my own experience in STEM. However, it’s the times when I do feel unaccounted for that make me realize this field still has a fair amount of growth left to do.
Resources for students with disabilities aren’t included on my own university’s diversity and inclusion website nor is there any mention of them. There are minimal broad scholarships for students with disabilities*. Many of us who are graduate students lack reasonable healthcare, so our conditions go untreated and unmanaged.
Scientists are touchstones for change, and we need to do better. It’s estimated that one in four Americans have a disability. Yet they accounted for only 9.1% of doctorates awarded in 2019. Progress starts with awareness. By writing this post, I hope every person who reads it understands that living with a disability means fighting your demons every day.
We can’t take a break from our bodies, no matter how much pain they cause us. We are limited by our bodies, not our minds. I hope any able-bodied reader will walk away from this post with more empathy, not sympathy.
For those of you who are not able bodied, like me, I hope you know your disability is yours alone and doesn’t need to conform. Those of us who are disabled in STEM have fought against incredible odds to make it this far. So, keep fighting.
My story is only one voice among millions. I encourage you to look into #DisabledInStem stories on Twitter.
Connect with Sierra via (@Livebythelab)
*There are scholarships for students with specific disabilities. Many disease foundations have their own scholarships they award to students
1) The Unwell Woman- Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World- by Elinor Cleghorn
2)National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2021. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2021. Special Report NSF 21-321. Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation. Available at https://ncses.nsf.gov/wmpd.
One in five people in the United States lives with a disability. Some disabilities are visible, others less apparent—but all are underrepresented in media and popular culture. Now, just in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, activist Alice Wong brings together this urgent, galvanizing collection of contemporary essays by disabled people.
by Francesca Giammona, PhD Candidate at Wake Forest University
The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s (SICB’s) 2021 Meeting had many great symposia, but one that struck me as particularly interesting was the symposia on canine science (S11 Biology’s Best Friend: Bridging Disciplinary Gaps to Advance Canine Science for issue 1 of 2021).
In thinking about the current state of knowledge concerning man’s best friend, I decided to do a bit of extracurricular reading on the topic. I found the book Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You, by Dr. Clive D. L. Wynne. This book does an incredible job of laying out what scientists know about dogs’ emotions, and whether they are capable of loving us in the same way that we love them.
Based on the title of the book, you may be able to figure out how Dr. Wynne feels about the subject. Dr. Wynne is a behavioral scientist who focuses the majority of his research efforts on the behavior of dogs and their wild relatives, in addition to being a dog-owner himself. He is particularly interested in the attachments that dogs form with their human companions, and how that bond may manifest itself through the behavior of both dogs and their humans. Dr. Wynne was kind enough to sit down for an interview for the ICB Blog.
When you first started working on animal behavior, you mention in your book that you studied smaller, arguably less culturally important animals like rats and pigeons. Was the shift to studying dogs sparked by a particular event or did it happen gradually?
It was specific, but gradual. I had been in Australia studying marsupials, which was a lot of fun and got me out of the standard animal lab studying primarily pigeons. When I moved to the United States in 2002, I had to give up the marsupials and I had a bit of a mid-life crisis in so far as I was frankly getting bored working with just pigeons. And so, I was looking for some new species to study and I was coming to the realization that I wasn’t just fascinated by animal minds and animal behavior, but I was actually very interested in the interaction between people and other species. It’s sort of embarrassing to admit that it took me a couple of years to figure out that I needed to be studying dogs…half of humanity lives with a dog, and that’s the oldest relationship with any animal species that people have.
You mention in your book that you worked a great deal with wolves, which is something that your audience, even if they are familiar with dogs, might not be so familiar with. I was hoping you could give me just a little bit more detail about how you felt working with them, and how they worked with you.
Working with wolves is tremendously exciting…the sense of coming into the presence of individuals of great power is very strong. You can’t get away from the stories you’ve heard ever since you were a little kid about the Big Bad Wolf and [their] sense of strength, and their social interactions are often quite rough. They’re not trying to kill each other, and yet their growl is intimidating. They’re all rough and tumble and wrestle, and you see them play. I’ve never seen them actually truly fight, but you get this sense of power and awesomeness, in the strong sense of the word…It feels an honor to enter into their space and have them interact with you peacefully and gently and socially.
The actual experience from a scientific point of view was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had, because there were these claims in the literature that dogs had certain kinds of cognition that no other animal shared – that [dogs possessed] specifically human attuned forms of cognition. And so, when we went to Wolf Park [a sanctuary for wolves where Dr. Wynne has conducted research] for the first time, we carried out these very simple tests where you just point at things and see if the animal will go where you point. We found that the wolves are actually fantastic at this, when they weren’t supposed to be able to do it at all. It was…intellectually, one of the most exciting moments in my life.
At the end of the book, you talk a lot about how dogs deserve better from us humans and how we can make their lives a little bit better, particularly in terms of not leaving dogs at home all day where they can get very lonely, and other things of that nature. Given this, I was wondering how you feel about the growing pet luxury industry, where people are getting high-end clothes and items for their dogs.
I’m broadly speaking indifferent really. I mean, I don’t mind, I have no reason to object if people have wealth and they want to spend it on things that they think are good for their dog…It doesn’t, by and large do the dog’s any harm. Some of them do some good…and I’m presuming that you’re paying for veterinary care and you’re getting your dog decent food, and that you make sure your dog has adequate exercise. Then I would look at the question of whether your dog is lonely. I love my dog so much. I’m always tempted to buy her toys and treats, but she’s never very interested. [During the] pandemic, I’m home all day every day. But…when I was out of the house more, I would spend my money on protecting her from loneliness. And there are different ways you can do that. There are doggy daycares, and dog walkers who can come to your house, or whatever you might do personally.
People who study human psychology [say] that experiences are worth more than objects. And that if you have money, you should invest in experiences rather than buying yourself new toys. I would say the same thing for your dog.
And if you have money and you want to spend it to make your dog’s life better, then look to investing in experiences and protecting your dog from loneliness…The other thing I would say is get to know your individual dog. People nowadays will email me or message me, asking my advice about [their] particular situation. What should we do with this particular situation? I don’t know. Your dog is an individual. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense to ask a stranger, even a stranger with some expertise about dog behavior – what do we do with this dog here?
This is an individual, right? It’s just like with human beings, some humans are “huggy” and some humans are less “huggy”. There’s no point making a generalized statement about whether you should hug other human beings. And there’s no point making a generalized statement about [whether you] should hug dogs. You should attend to how your dog reacts when you interact with him or her, and adjust your behavior to make sure that he or she is comfortable. Each [dog] is the unique combination of genetic inheritance and personal experiences – the nature and the nurture come together in each individual to make each individual utterly unique. Obviously there are certain things you shouldn’t do to any dog, you know, painful things, but as to whether hugging is a good idea or not – ask your dog. You should have enough rapport with your dog that you can tell how comfortable he feels he is.
I know that you said your research has slowed down a bit because of [the pandemic], but is there anything that’s particularly exciting that you’re working on or that you feel comfortable talking about – are there any sorts of fun studies that are going to come out?
A lot of our work, [around] 80%, is quite applied. I don’t go into that much in the book, because that’s not what the book is about. But we have been able to keep a lot of that going during the pandemic. Particularly, we’re doing a big project funded by Maddie’s Fund, which is a dog charity, looking at the benefits of fostering. So [the research is about] dogs that are living in shelters, living in kennels. We know that’s very stressful and very negative from every point of view for the dogs. We’ve done studies showing that if people borrow the dogs, even for just a weekend, that that improves the dog’s welfare on all measures you could think of. Their behavior gets better. Their stress hormones go down, and they’re more likely to be adopted. During the pandemic, we’ve been assisting remotely with shelters all around the country, a total of nearly a hundred shelters, helping them to institute these programs, helping them to get dogs out of the door.
Dr. Wynne was incredibly insightful in our interview and throughout his book about how dogs may feel about their lives and relationship to humans, and what we can do to make their lives better. He sums up his sentiment towards man’s best friend perfectly in the finals words of his book: “To be loved by a dog is a great privilege, perhaps one of the finest in a human life. May we prove ourselves worthy of it.” To learn more about Maddie’s Fund, which Dr. Wynne has partnered with to increase the welfare of shelter dogs, you can view their work here. To learn more about Dr. Wynne, his work, and where to purchase Dog is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You, you can visit his website.
connect with Francesca Giammona , PhD Candidate at Wake Forest University | Studying biomechanics of terrestrial locomotion of fishes
See papers from ICB’s upcoming issue 1, due out later in July, already in advanced:
Photo by Ryan Koch: The IUCN Red List currently only recognizes two parasite species, while parasites outnumber their free-living host species.
In a growing world, the conservation of species remains an increasingly challenging issue for scientists. A quick glance at the IUCN Red List helps put things in perspective, with 28% of all assessed species placed in the ‘threatened with extinction’ category. However, this list is heavily biased towards vertebrates. For example, the Red List has only evaluated 0.5% of all arthropods and 4% of all molluscs. Invertebrates have only recently been acknowledged in light of conservation efforts, yet they make up the majority of the world’s biodiversity and are more susceptible to extinction factors compared to vertebrates.
Interestingly, most species of invertebrates are parasitic and depend on a host at some point in their life. Moreover, almost every plant and animal species serves as a host to a parasite. This means that, by default, parasites outnumber their hosts. In terms of conservation, this is important because saving the hosts means saving the parasites. But this also works in the opposite direction – if the host goes extinct, so does the parasite. In fact, these co-extinction events have been suggested to be the most common form of extinction due to their close evolutionary histories.
So if parasites are at such high risk of extinction, why should they be saved? For one, most parasites have actually evolved to not kill their hosts, and most diseases are caused by pathogens that have recently spread to an unnatural host, such as COVID-19 in humans. Additionally, there is a growing body of literature showing that parasites play a critical role in ecosystem function, including balancing food webs and host populations, and serving an important role in energy flow – without them, ecosystems cannot function properly. And this is exactly because of a parasite’s close evolutionary association with its host. Parasites can even act as a buffer in preventing new and more virulent parasites from infecting host populations.
The benefits of parasites are becoming more evident not only to disease ecologists but to the field of medicine. For example, people are more susceptible to allergies if they have reduced their exposure to parasites in their life, termed the hygiene hypothesis. Research has suggested that parasites have played a major role as catalysts in the evolution of host immunity. Parasites are recently being used to treat allergies and even auto immune diseases in humans. Such therapies involve exposing patients to helminth parasites to downregulate a patient’s immune response.
One important aspect towards parasite conservation is the initial understanding of parasite biology. Parasitologist, Dr. Matthew Bolek, at Oklahoma State University is one of the few to make inferences on parasite ecology and evolution by studying their life cycles. Through conducting field studies, laboratory experimental infections, and using molecular tools, Bolek can understand what factors influence parasite transmission from host to host:
“Research on parasite life cycles can teach us about how parasites live out their lives in their world, which is in contrast to how we, as humans, think parasites should live out their lives in our world. This distinction is extremely important and logical but surprisingly difficult to decipher.” –
Dr. Matthew Bolek
Currently, only two parasite species are listed on the IUCN Red List. This underrepresentation of parasites goes hand-in-hand with their understudied nature in most ecological studies but is the start to integrating parasites into future conservation plans. To do so, we must first consider various factors such as parasite vulnerability to extinction, their degree of host specificity, efficiency and mode of transmission, parasite life cycles, effects on human/wildlife health, cost of conservation, and feasibility of artificial maintenance.
Although it seems acceptable to make exceptions to parasites that are highly pathogenic to hosts of high-profile concern, conserving parasites is a means of protecting the greater biodiversity and is a step closer to evaluating all species in an unbiased way.
Cardoso, P., Borges, P.A., Triantis, K.A., Ferrández, M.A., Martín, J.L. 2011. Adapting the IUCN Red List criteria for invertebrates. Biological conservation 144: 2432-2440.
Carlson, C.J., Muellerklein, O.C., Phillips, A.J., Burgio, K.R., Castaldo, G., Cizauskas, C.A., Cumming, G.S., Dallas, T.A., Doña, J., Harris, N., Jovani, R. 2017. The Parasite Extinction Assessment & Red List: an open-source, online biodiversity database for neglected symbionts. BioRxiv 192351.
Communication involves much more than verbal exchange. For people and animals alike, communication involves body posturing, visual cues, tone of voice, and distinct behaviors, where all these elements revolve around relationships to space and time. To describe communication as a simple exchange between sender and receiver undermines the multimodal complexity of cognition, physics, and social structures which must be calculated into the displays we interpret animal communication.
Animal communication is greater than the sum of its parts, and this year at SICB 2021, international researchers present their research perspectives on the topic in a symposium session titled, “Spatiotemporal dynamics of animal communication”. The symposium was created out of an idea formed during the previous annual meeting in Austin, Texas. Researchers realized overlapping interests in animal communication and began developing the idea of a full-fledged symposium. Four working groups were born, and over the course of one year, this symposium took shape to feature twelve cutting-edge international presentations at SICB 2021.
As new technology becomes available, researchers harness these improvements to implement cutting-edge assessments in their work. In this symposium, advanced videography and deep learning algorithms are some examples of new technology which captures dynamics of spatiotemporal communication. Many researchers rely on videography to collect visual and audio data, however high-resolution footage of a small and often fast-moving target is often a technical limitation of this approach.
Dr. Andrew Straw of the University of Freiburg, Germany, presents a potential solution through a novel videography strategy for a “fast lock-on system” (FLO). By manipulating photodetectors, lasers, and mirrors, novel videography strategies can accurately track animals in real time such as Drosophila without sacrificing high-quality resolution. Similarly, Dr. Bob Datta from Harvard University shares Motion-Sequencing “Mo-Seq” analysis to break down complex behaviors into repetitive syllables. Machine learning software like Mo-Seq analyzes video footage and recognizes repeated behaviors as distinct syllables – almost as if you were creating an alphabet with letters of distinct patterns of movement.
Future technological advancements might include crosstalk of AI learning software, such as DeepLabCut featured by Dr. Alexander Mathis of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. This open-source software is a marker-less body positioning analysis toolkit which can create tailored networks for specific tasks.
SEXUAL SELECTION AND SOCIAL NETWORKS
Spatiotemporal relationships in communication are well-illustrated in courtship mating rituals in birds and insects. In birds, elaborate displays of colorful plumage, vocalizations, and posturing are commonly seen in multimodal exhibits during courtship. In the case of the broad-tailed hummingbird, males deliver a “sensory explosion” at the base of their u-shaped signature courtship dive. Males produce a trill as they dive, and according to the Doppler effect, females perceive a shift in frequency of sound as the male approaches and departs. At the same time, the iridescent colors quickly flash from red to green/black delivering a powerful visual signal. The tight coordination of physical, acoustic, and visual communication is highly synchronized to a window of 0.3 seconds.
In the greater sage-grouse, courtship is a negotiation between males and females. Males adjust their courtship display effort in response to how close females are. The more successful males expend energy in large, grand displays when females are nearby, as opposed to unsuccessful males who constantly present at a lower quality of effort regardless of the female’s location. At the University of California, Davis, Dr. Gail Patricelli deploys a robotic female sage-grouse mimic in the field to gain a better understanding on how males respond to female behaviors. These robotic females recapitulate female posturing and test the hypothesis that (1) males directly respond to female behaviors and (2) invest more effort in females who are interested in mating. In this sense, males and females influence each other’s behavior and change the dynamic social and environmental context for communication.
BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR
The brain is the master regulator of decision making. It must interpret environmental cues and quickly respond appropriately. In some cases, interpreting or responding to a signal inappropriately can mean be the difference between life or death. Many of the talks in this symposium appreciate the hierarchical input of the brain in dictating animal behavior and communication and focus on how the environment can modify these relationships.
Often the brain takes short cuts to make quick decisions. These short cuts can be created by recall of previous related experiences, or as researchers featured in this symposium show us, from imprinted cognitive templates. Collaborators from Cornell University and the University of Cincinnati discuss cognitive templates in the form of bird songs. Bird songs may be passed down through generations as an innate blueprint programmed in the brain. This programmed blueprint involves the cooperation of both the memorization and sensorimotor phases. When a bird hears a song, the new auditory input is compared against this programmed blueprint to evaluate the song: Have I heard this before? Is this a call from a friend or foe? Birds interpret and respond to new information quickly, and imprinted cognitive templates is one method of streamlining communication strategies.
Through imprinting and other examples, the brain is the epicenter of cognition, communication, and processing of information – but how does the flow of information move between brain and body? Neuroscientist Dr. Sara Wasserman from Wellesley College discusses the internal state and how bidirectional communication. Taking a top-down approach, the internal state represented in the brain signals to the rest of the body but ultimately originates from this main control center. However, a bottom-up approach considers the brains response to the internal state throughout the body. Integrating these approaches, a bidirectional perspective focuses on how the internal state is both manifested in the brain and how this influence, communicates, and integrates across the whole body.
These modes of brain-body interaction and behavioral responses are not absolute in either extreme but as Dr. Erik Zornik of Reed College would describe “everything in modulation”. Like controlling intensity of light with a dimmer switch, behavioral responses can be tuned up or down by key biomolecules. Biomolecules like serotonin or dopamine tune excitability of the brain which we see in spatial, temporal, and social interactions.
For as many external displays of communication (body posturing, vivid colors and patterns, behaviors, and sounds), there is an equally complex and unseen input from the brain and environment on these communication displays. Animals interpret cues in spatiotemporal relationships which directly influence communication, and implementing new technology allows us to better understand these complex processes.
Created out of a breakout session from the prior year’s annual meeting, this symposium speaks to the creative, collaborative relationships in our SICB community. For more information on any of the authors or topics featured here, abstracts and information is available on our SICB society website.
Joshua Manning conducting a behavioral observation of terminal phase male Sparisoma viride on a fringing coral reef in Bonaire Caribbean Netherlands- photo by Krista Laforest
Parrotfishes are conspicuous members of coral reef communities thanks to their often-brilliant colorations and the unmistakable scraping of their beak-like teeth across the reef substrate as they graze. This grazing is considered important for maintaining healthy, coral-dominated reefs because it creates bare space for juvenile corals to settle and grow. Despite the functional importance of parrotfish grazing on coral reefs, we still know little about how individual behaviors might affect spatial patterns of parrotfish grazing on coral reefs. The goal of my research as a PhD candidate in Dr. Sophie McCoy’s lab in the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida State University is to better understand how territoriality affects parrotfish movement and space-use, particularly as it pertains to grazing, and how these patterns affect the underlying reef community.
In the Summer of 2018, I travelled to Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands to study the effects of parrotfish grazing on crustose coralline algae. While SCUBA diving on Bonaire’s coral reefs to determine how frequently parrotfishes graze crustose coralline algae, I noticed that many of the large, male parrotfishes that I was following around the reef were moving within well-defined areas and defending these areas from other males. I began to review the literature and found that in many parrotfish species, males defend territories containing harems of females from other males of the same species, increasing access to mating opportunities.
As I continued to observe these territorial males, I began to formulate questions that are now the foundation of my dissertation research: How does territorial behavior influence movement and space-use in parrotfishes? What effect does territorial behavior have on spatial patterns of parrotfish grazing? And how are territories maintained? This last question is a major focus of the fieldwork I am currently conducting in Bonaire.
Territory defense can be costly, particularly when defense involves escalated contests (e.g., fights) that lead to injury or death. The ‘dear enemy’ effect, in which territory holders interact less aggressively with familiar neighbors than with unknown intruders, has been observed in many territorial species. This effect can help to reduce the costs of territory defense. I have made several observations that suggest that this effect may also be present in some parrotfishes. Parrotfishes defend their territories using a combination of displays and aggressive chases. Neighboring territorial parrotfishes would not be expected to benefit much from frequent or aggressive contests with each other because they already have priority access to resources within their territories. They should, however, defend their territories more aggressively against non-territorial ‘floaters’ that might attempt to take over their territories and access their resources.
A terminal phase male Sparisoma viride, in Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands- photo by Manning
This appears to be the case in at least some of the parrotfish species I study in Bonaire. For example, territorial males of the stoplight parrotfish, Sparisoma viride, frequently and aggressively chase floaters from their territories. In some instances, floaters are chased from territory to territory, like pinballs, until they are able to find shelter in the complex reef structure. In contrast, there appear to be fewer contests between neighboring males. However, neither the presence of the dear enemy effect nor its effect on territory maintenance have been studied in parrotfishes.
I recently received funding from the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s Grants-in-Aid of Research program to test for the presence of the dear enemy effect in S. viride. During the Summer of 2021, I will conduct GPS tracking and behavioral observations of territorial male S. viride with the help of two interns, Krista Laforest and Lena Kury. The data that we collect on territorial interactions and movement will help me to better understand how parrotfish territories are maintained, with important implications for their effects on the underlying reef community. Territoriality constrains parrotfish space-use, and could concentrate grazing on specific areas of the reef. This may contribute to a patchy habitat mosaic with frequently grazed areas that are more conducive to the colonization and growth of reef-building corals, and less frequently grazed areas that harbor more turf and macroalgae. These spatial patterns of grazing and community assembly may play an important role in the recovery of coral reefs following disturbances. By studying these patterns, we may gain important insights into reef dynamics following disturbance and inform efforts to manage and restore coral reefs.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a model is worth a thousand pictures.” – Todd Siler, Think Like a Genius: The Ultimate User’s Manual for Your Brain
On March 3rd, 2021, NC State University held their annual State of the Sciences event. This is typically an evening seminar that takes an integrative approach, encompassing several different facets of science. This year, that integrative approach was taken even further, and focused on bridging art and science. The speaker was Todd Siler, an artist who has been in the business for several decades, and who became the first visual artist to earn a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Countless accolades aside, Todd is a self-described “Cerebralist,” which means his work transforms and combines everything the human mind can conceive of into something new and creative, from our thoughts and feelings to our technological creations.
This creative transformational process is something that Todd is passionate about sharing with others, which is why he created the ArtScience Program. With this program, individuals from all backgrounds can come together to create art that speaks to a particular subject, usually concerning science or technology, and serves as a way to inspire and educate its audience. For example, Siler discussed how educators, scientists, and dancers could brainstorm how to teach scientific concepts to children through movement. This melding of the minds from different backgrounds can lead to discoveries and ideas that would otherwise have never occurred.
In order to create this joining of art and science, Siler has several helpful philosophies and concepts. The first of these is genius. This genius does not necessarily refer to a very smart individual, but to the many inventions and ideas that have shaped our lives for the better. These ideas can be related to any subject and can be virtually anything, from life-saving medical technologies to popular and portable boxes of cereal.
Siler hopes that by thinking about objects and concepts as genius and admiring their innovation, it will inspire communications between people from wildly different backgrounds to create new artistic ideas.
The second concept Siler uses in his work is what he calls “metaphorming.” This takes “metaphorms,” which are objects or concepts that people can utilize to communicate or make connections, and uses them to generate new ideas, solve problems, and achieve goals. These definitions are incredibly broad on purpose, as Siler believes everything can be a metaphorm; every object or idea relates to other objects and ideas, and can spark a conversation between people. These new conversations and concepts then become new metaphorms, and can give people personal meaning or solve a larger problem.
Practically, what do these concepts, along with ArtScience as a whole, produce and achieve? In Siler’s own work, he tends to integrate concepts of neuroscience and art, creating large showrooms that illustrate how the brain thinks and feels. His work “The Brain Theater of Mental Imagery” is a perfect example of this. The work fills an entire room and depicts a cross section of the brain as it is forming an idea. The canvas on the walls is black, with white and gray lines textured like the neural tissue of the brain painted on it, and holographic projections can be seen within the exhibit. As you walk through the room, you are immersed in the art, and become part of the creative thinking process of this figurative brain.
Siler is not the only person who makes use of metaphorming ideas. He greatly admires the work of Geoffery Ozin, who writes heavily about atoms and invention on a nano scale. The metaphorming idea behind this work is that atoms are the basis for all things on earth, and by putting atoms together, you can create nano-objects and materials that can be built into bigger and bigger things. By joining these natural atoms together, humans can synthesize technological materials that would not otherwise exist, from cellphones to airplanes. This is a combination of man-made and naturally occurring genius. Ozin and Siler have collaborated to combine their passions over the years, with Siler creating artwork depicting how the brain might visualize nano-technologies as Ozin writes about their possibilities. The combining of their talents to inform and inspire the public truly gets at the heart of the ArtScience program.
Siler’s messages are full of optimism, promising great innovation and creativity. He believes that when people from different backgrounds and subject areas come together and communicate, problems can be solved and lofty goals can be achieved. Under the ArtScience perspective, all contributions are valued and anyone is capable of creating great change. Siler ended his talk with a quote from Dr. Fred Alan Wolf, a physicist who shares many of Siler’s perspectives on art and science, and who sums up Siler’s artistic viewpoints well:
“It is time to realize that what science does best is create art, and what art does best is envision new science.”
Dr. Fred Alan Wolf
If you would like to learn more about Todd Siler and his work, you can visit his website here.
connect on Twitter @toddsiler
connect with ICB blogger Francesca Giammona
***See our 3 featured artists/scientists below and read their thoughts on how art affects biology and biology affects art:
SICB journals Twitter follower,
undergrad studying cell and molecular biology, @Mahek_3012
I was always interested in art but due to my studies I wasn’t able to continue it further. But one day my university organized Scitoon competition and I bagged first prize in that competition. That day I realized that how art is crucial in helping us understand our scientific legacy and how science is well served by applying an artistic lens.There are so many wonderful scientists who had mad such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Joyce allan, Robert Hooke, Ernst Haeckal and many more in past years. Also David S Goodsell who is a wonderful scientific illustrator. The reality is that at the intersection of both, science and art are able to influence and shape each other in incredible and valuable ways. Together, art and science help us interpret, study and explore the world around us.
ICB Twitter follower, @_lauren_k__
PhD student studying evolution and mechanisms of regeneration, in particular of the worm Capitella teleta
“Science and art both reward observation and attention to detail. Art is also a universal language that facilitates learning, which is why I so frequently turn to it as a tool for effective science communication. Creating art inspired science is how I express the sense of wonder that biology gives me. One of the greatest honors one can bestow on something is to deem it worthy of art, where it is preserved for all time so it can be thoughtfully gazed upon and pondered.”
IOB Twitter follower
“As someone with a background in oil painting, I think that art is the door to which non-scientists can enter into the world of science. Art gives people a simple and clear way to understand the complexities of the world around us. Science (especially research on deep sea fishes), on the other hand, is what inspires me to create art in the first place. It is what fuels my curiosity and gives meaning and purpose to my art.”
Buy merch with all profits going to SICB STUDENT funds, of the piranha image donated by @JACsciart