Ruff Around the Edges: The Unconventional Lives of Dogs

Though the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s (SICB’s) 2021 Virtual Meeting is now over, all who attended can agree that it showcased a plethora of interesting science, including an incredible symposium on canine science (s11), entitled “Biology’s Best Friend: Bridging Disciplinary Gaps to Advance Canine Science.” This symposium covered a breadth of information about humanity’s furry companions, from how particular genes may operate differently depending on a dog’s breed, to how sled dogs are capable of pulling heavy loads for 12 hours a day (burning 12,000 calories to do so!). While all the talks were excellent, I found myself particularly fascinated by the descriptions of dogs living lives that would be considered outside of the norm in the United States.

A village dog on a dirt road in Thailand. These village dogs belong to no one, and are free to roam, which can come with various issues regarding the dogs’ health and well-being. Image by Takeaway and licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Domesticated pet dogs in the United States generally have a stable food supply, consistent vet care, and spend more time indoors than outdoors. Most Americans who have a dog (around 98% according to SICB presenter Dr. Caleb M. Bryce) consider their pets to be a part of the family, and want their days to be spent in comfort and happiness. However, outside of the United States, this is not always the case. More than 70% of dogs worldwide are unowned and may not have a warm place to sleep indoors at the end of the day. These dogs wander through villages eating whatever scraps they can find. While many are not aggressive and can be well-known by the humans living near them, they do not have a family to call their own.

In some parts of Africa and Asia with lower-middle income economies, wild dog populations are continuing to rise, prompting conversations about how to best control these increases. Too many wild dogs can lead to disease and starvation for the whole population, which can pose disastrous health effects on both the dogs and the nearby human populations, as some diseases (e.g. rabies) can be transferred from canines to humans with relative ease. The most effective method of population control seems to be capture-neuter-vaccinate-release programs, which ensure that each dog is healthy and that breeding is slowed down on the population level. With lower disease prevalence and less dogs roaming villages, each dog will have more resources, and will live a happier, healthier life.

A forest in Nicaragua. You can imagine it would be difficult to find and capture food travelling through the dense trees and other flora here, so the use of dogs to find and capture prey is invaluable. Image by Mark Hooper and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

In some regions of the world, dogs do have owners, but are put to work to find food. Dr. Jeremy Koster of the University of Cincinnati gave an incredibly engaging talk about the dogs that reside in Nicaraguan forests. These dogs act as watchdogs and hunting companions, actively travelling with their humans through the forest to find small animals to eat. Many of the animals in these forests make burrows to hide from predators, so the dogs will find them by smell and dig the animals out of the burrow. The hunters can then cull the animals to eat. The dogs receive the reward of praise and a bit of whatever animal has been caught. In these forests, the dogs are invaluable to the hunters, as they can help catch up to 600% more animals than when the hunters go out alone. While the dogs here do bond with their humans, it takes many months for them to learn how to hunt successfully, and it can be a very dangerous lifestyle. Nicaraguan forests house some large predators such as jaguars that pose a threat to the dogs, and the threat of disease is ever present. For these reasons, dogs in this region rarely live past the age of six.

While dogs are clearly invaluable to humans outside the realm of the usual household pet, they can also be extremely helpful to other animals. Aimee Hurt of the organization Working Dogs for Conservation spoke about how dogs can be trained to help stop poaching and animal trafficking, find invasive species that could be harming ecosystems, and locate individuals of endangered species. In order to do these tasks, dogs go through an intensive training routine, beginning with being able to follow simple commands and learning particular scents, to being able to find those scents out in the wild. These dogs can come from anywhere (even rescue shelters) and are often dogs that were not suitable for other important jobs (e.g. training to be a service dog).

There are not any particular breed requirements, but the dogs must be highly motivated to play, be brave enough to explore new environments and be exposed to new stimuli regularly, and have the ability to balance the need for human engagement with independence. These dogs are sent all over the world, from Africa to California. They must show interest in this work, otherwise they do not continue with the program, and a vast majority of the animals live very healthy lives – most working until age 13 before they retire. These dogs perform an incredibly important service to their fellow animals and the environments they inhabit. To learn more about Working Dogs for Conservation, you can visit their website here.

A conservation dog, Harry, showcases his skills. Harry works for the US Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. While he did not undergo the same training dogs go through with Working Dogs for Conservation, his job is incredibly similar. Harry is able to detect illegal fish and wildlife that are brought into the country by plane or boat through smell alone. Here, he was able to correctly identify which of the cardboard boxes shown contained a turtle shell. Image by NASA Kennedy and licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

A conservation dog, Harry, showcases his skills. Harry works for the US Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. While he did not undergo the same training dogs go through with Working Dogs for Conservation, his job is incredibly similar. Harry is able to detect illegal fish and wildlife that are brought into the country by plane or boat through smell alone. Here, he was able to correctly identify which of the cardboard boxes shown contained a turtle shell. Image by NASA Kennedy and licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

While many dogs in the United States are considered loving family members who lead simple and fulfilling lives consisting of eating, playing, and sleeping, this is outside the norm for many other dogs around the world. Some dogs have no family of their own, and others may work side-by-side with their family members to find food. Regardless of the lives they lead, dogs have evolved and maintained the amazing ability to live alongside humans, and can elicit a seemingly endless stream of curiosity and affection from their human companions.

In the words of photographer Roger Caras, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

Check out these canine science papers from ICB

2021’s s11 The Physiological Conundrum That is the Domestic Dog by Ana Gabriela Jimenez

2020’s Breed Differences in Dog Cognition Associated with Brain-Expressed Genes and Neurological Functions by Gitanjali E Gnanadesikan et al



& The Evolution of Social Behavior in Dogs and Wolves

written by blogger Francesca Giammona

PhD Candidate at Wake Forest University

Follow her on Twitter @_fishology   

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Podcast highlight- The Nagging Naturalist

interview blog by Stacy Schkoda

Today, I am sitting down with Kristen M., creator and host of the podcast The Nagging Naturalist. After meeting with Kristen, she is the furthest thing from a science ‘nag’ – as her podcast title may otherwise suggest. Her passion and dedication to advocate for the natural world shows in all aspects of her work, and you cannot help but feel inspired after seeing her own motivation shine through. Highlighted here, Kristen’s shares advice on career development, the future of bioinspired devices, how we can navigate the intersection of social justice and science.

Growing up, Kristen had a goal of a future career in investigative journalism. She enjoyed the process of diving into a topic and sharing knowledge with others. During college, she explored other interests outside of academia by volunteering at local aquariums and museums. To date, her work history and volunteer experience are nothing short of a shortlist of major aquariums and conservancies across the continental United States. From the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California to the National Aquarium in Maryland, she has worked in hands-on environments helping others appreciate our natural world. Pioneers in their field such as Ed Clifton served as mentors to Kristen and helped her hone skills in science communication. These collective experiences shaped her outlook on science and inspired her to return to college armed with a new perspective for communication and what it means to translate public-facing science to diverse audiences.

 “I kind of did it backwards”, she says, reinforcing to scholars that there is not one linear path for everyone. To expect everyone to follow the same path undermines the complexity and diversity of our experiences. It is the twists and turns in our journeys which enrich collaborative environments and contribute to the ‘how we got here’ as much as the ‘who we are’.

Kristen dipped her toes in podcasting through an unconventional start inspired by Avatar the Last Airbender. The mid-2000s animated series revolves around four nations and the fantastical animals which inhabit their universe. Some fictional animals resemble existing creatures like a bear or squirrel, but most of the animals are hybrids of two or more existing species such as the koalaotter, flying fishopotamus, and the saber-tooth moose lion. Although these animals are fictitious, they are a conundrum for the curious at heart – how would you even classify such a unique creature in the bounds of phylogenetics and taxonomy as we know it? Kristen sought out to do just that. With the help of her friends in the field, her first experiences in podcasting centered on classifying and describing hypothetical evolutionary history of these mythical animals as they relate to existing species.

Kristen M. host of The Nagging Naturalist

Kristen now runs her own podcast, The Nagging Naturalist, which focuses on themes in wildlife conservation. The title came about to reclaim a word with negative connotations and reframing it to present issues in science and offer alternative perspectives and solutions. “Everyone has a creative medium”, she says, and this podcast is a part of hers. She hopes her podcast can inspire meaningful actions for others to respect and learn about our natural world. People often protect what they love but struggle to care about things they do not understand. Keeping people open-minded to new experiences can help encourage habits in protection and responsible management. Many great podcasts already discuss natural history of animals – some of her recommendations include Life, Death, and Taxonomy, Keeper Chat, Varmints!, and Just the Zoo of Us. Kristen goes one level deeper in her work by illustrating the broader context of conservation through cultural and economic impacts of preservation efforts. Ultimately, she hopes to grow the scicomm community and bridge the gap between science and society.

Hosting a podcast places one at the unique interface of science and society. Social issues such as environmental justice, Black Lives Matter, and climate change have gained attention in popular media.

“Social media changes the way we see ‘small scale’ issues. Often what we thought of as an isolated incident is an example of larger, interrelated theme at a time where we were not able to connect the dots yet.”

Kristen M.

Kristen is fiercely passionate about creating inclusive, diverse spaces both on and off the podcast. “It is unfair to want to bring others into scicomm only to be met by unwelcoming environments”, she shares.

“Making positive change in society involves unlearning bad habits by identifying biases and calling out injustice is always the right choice.” Kristen appreciates the diverse value systems which her audience holds and understands how these systems influence perspectives wildlife conservation. One of her tips in science communication centers on understanding and respecting people’s existing ideas and acknowledging that as a framework from which to build mutual dialogue. 

A strong theme for the community of SICB scientists is biomimetics and living in a world where we are bioinspired by the natural world around us. Studying the natural world is closely linked to development of novel technologies like ultraefficient filtration or nondestructive adhesives. Nature has already figured out the best way for a plant or animal to do its job, and by including biomimetic perspectives in her podcast, Kristen hopes to bring the animals which are often ‘out of sight out of mind’ to the forefront of the conversation by illustrating ways in which animal science has inspired daily technologies. When discussing how studies of the butterfly wings improved optics strategies in HD televisions, she beams, “Make the butterfly a coauthor!”. The animal is as much a part of the science as the engineers or scientists developing ideas from it. Wildlife conservation is an idea larger than any singular person, and by sharing the human-centered and ecological-centered applications stemming from conservation, she hopes to deliver a more meaningful message.

            For those wishing to start their own science communication careers, Kristen advises to start with a central goal. In podcasting, you often have less than an hour to grab and maintain your audience’s attention. It is a small window of time, and delivering consistent, cohesive messages which all relate to your central goal is critical. Whether your own creative outlet be a podcast or other outlet, letting the audience guide the narrative and meeting your audience where they are has led to the most impactful conversations.

Kristen will graduate from the University of Maryland with her Bachelor of Science in environmental science and minor in natural science and is looking forward to a future in science communication and wildlife conservation. Additional information about her and her podcast is available on her website.

connect with the podcast and Kristen via


About the interviewer

Stacy Schkoda is an ICB social media volunteer who runs our Instagram and contributes blogs. Check out her work at NCSU

Invasion inspiration: how spotted lanternflies land on their feet

By Jasmine Nirody

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Dr.Tonia Hsieh (Temple univ)

Locomotion through complex natural environments is important for the fitness of many organisms. A complementary session to the S3 “Physical Mechanisms of Behavior” symposium had a great series of talks on a variety of locomotor adaptations in a variety of organisms, from Dr. Noah Bressman’s work on how armored catfishes move through terrestrial environments to Austin Garner’s talk on gecko adhesion on different substrates.

Just as this session taught us about ways that animals have adapted their locomotive strategies to various changes in their environments, we as scientists have had to adapt our research strategies to deal with a lot of changes in this past year. A prime example shone through in Dr. Tonia Hsieh’s talk on righting behaviors in the spotted lanternfly.

Spotted Lanternfly (Rutgers)

Hsieh, an associate professor at Temple University, has studied a wide range of interesting problems in comparative biomechanics and the physics of animal locomotion, including how basilisks run on water (Hsieh and Lauder, 2004) and fish walk on land (Hsieh 2010). But in early 2020, COVID-19 forced Temple, like most other universities, to go virtual, shutting off Hsieh’s access to her lab – and her normal study systems.

Like many of us, Hsieh reveled in taking daily walks during the long weeks of lockdown, and soon started taking notice of an interesting and ubiquitous sight in her Philadelphia neighborhood: the spotted lanternfly (SLF). This striking planthopper is an invasive species that has been devastating eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey since it was first discovered in Berks County, PA in 2014. (I remember seeing the first warning placards from the NJ Department of Agriculture posted near my parents’ central Jersey home shortly after.)

NJ Department of Agriculture warning signs for the spotted lanternfly.

However, Hsieh, as a curious biomechanist, noticed something else: the wingless nymphs of the SLF often dropped out of trees and were remarkably adept at landing on their feet. Together with Prof. Suzanne Amador Kane and Theodore Bien (Haverford College), she used a series of field observations and, later, high-speed videos of falling nymphs the lab to characterize the anti-predator responses in SLF nymphs at various stages of development.

They found that SLF nymphs do indeed land on their feet more often than would be expected by random chance. It seems like these little pests adopt a similar falling posture to that used by a variety of other species from spiders to geckos to human skydivers to help orient themselves in midair.

Additionally, using a combination of bouncing and adhesion, SLFs were able to reorient themselves if their initial impact didn’t land them on their feet.  Excitingly, Hsieh and team showed that these strategies were successful even on compliant surfaces, like the surfaces of the insect’s host plants.

As evidence of the interdisciplinary nature of this exciting symposium, Hsieh and colleagues have also recently presented this work at the Annual March Meeting of the American Physical Society. Given the incredibly resourceful ways in which Hsieh has found interesting questions to work on under difficult conditions, it will be exciting to see more creative and exciting projects coming out of the Hsieh lab in the years ahead!

Jasmine Nirody is an Independent Postdoctoral Fellow at Rockefeller University and All Souls College, University of Oxford. Her research focuses on the physics of how motile organisms navigate complex environments, and on the interplay between structure/morphology and mechanical function. She is also interested in reproducible practices and open access in research. More info here.


Hsieh, S. T., & Lauder, G. V. (2004). Running on water: Three-dimensional force generation by basilisk lizards. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(48), 16784-16788.

Hsieh, S. T. T. (2010). A locomotor innovation enables water-land transition in a marine fish. PloS one, 5(6), e11197.

The latest buzz on bees

By Amanda Puitiza

image – Russell’s site

Many of us have likely heard or seen videos of the honeybee’s famous waggle dance used to communicate the location of food. For those of us forced to rely on Google maps to find out which way is even North, this sort of skill would be amazing to have. Well, it turns out that finding food can be more complicated than shaking your thorax and can depend a lot on the available food sources.

Dr. Avery Russell

                  Dr. Avery Russell of Missouri State University is trying to figure out the mechanisms behind flexible foraging behavior in bees. In a rapidly changing environment, being able to roll with the punches is your best bet for survival. This means, for example, that when your food options are changed or limited, you can still successfully get some grub. By focusing on food-collecting behaviors in bees and manipulating their food sources (pollen-producing flowers), Dr. Russell and his students were able to learn more about this possible flexibility.

A bee on a colorful flower. (Photo Credit: Russell Lab)

Do “hive” still got your attention?

                Bees use two methods of collecting pollen from flowers: buzzing and scrabbling. Buzzing is generally used to extract pollen deep within the anthers, vibrating their flight muscles to shake the pollen out (Russell, Leonard, Gillette, & Papaj, 2016). Scrabbling involves using the legs and mandible to knock freely-available pollen onto their bodies (Russell & Papaj, 2016).

When the Russell lab exposed flower-naive bees to begonias (flowers with pollen that is tucked away) over several trials, bees switched between the two methods 20% of the time. When the team exposed bees to flowers with and without pollen, they found that pollen elicited scrabbling behavior but suppressed buzzing behaviors.

Using artificial flowers with hard to get pollen, the team also found that when pollen was scarce, buzzing was 52% more efficient at collecting pollen than scrabbling. The endgame is to get the most pollen possible, and bees appear to be experts at doing this right by switching between the two foraging methods depending on what types of flowers are available and their pollen accessibility.

Abilene Mosher

“You can learn a lot of things from the flowers…” Abilene Mosher, Dr. Russell’s student found this out firsthand when she manipulated the chemicals that flowers give off to attract bees. Mosher dosed artificial flowers with tube-like anthers – flower structures that contain pollen –  with various concentrations of anther chemicals from living common flowers and found that some of these chemical cues can generate buzzing behaviors, particularly at close range. It looks like the most fragrant wins this round!

“Pollen” it all together now.

                Bees and flowers are on an evolutionary path together. Since they rely on each other for different things – bees get food from flowers and flowers get pollinated by bees – it makes sense that they have changed with the times simultaneously, or co-evolved. Although researchers are still working on the mechanisms flowers can use to modify bee interactions it is likely that flowers also show signs of flexibility. I am sure we can expect many more interesting discoveries from the Russell lab and others interested in these busy bees and the flowers they feed on!

Amanda Puitiza is a Peruvian-American scientist with a Master’s in Animal Behavior and Conservation from Hunter College. Her interests include the influence of sociality on behavior, behavioral plasticity, and the gut microbiome. She is also a great supporter of citizen science.


S3 (from SICB virtual 2021) Physical Methods of Behavior II: Ecological and evolutionary consequences of flexible foraging behavior for bees and flowers by Dr. Avery Russell; Complementary to S3: Physical Mechanisms of Behavior (Foraging): No trick anthers: buzz pollination behavior is elicited, but likely not manipulated, by anther chemical cues by Abilene Mosher et. al.

Russell, A. L., & Papaj, D. R. (2016). Artificial pollen dispensing flowers and feeders for bee behaviour experiments.

Russell, A. L., Leonard, A. S., Gillette, H. D., & Papaj, D. R. (2016). Concealed floral rewards and the role of experience in floral sonication by bees. Animal Behaviour, 120, 83-91.

Photo credit: The Russell Lab (

Podcast highlight- W.E.E- Women in Ecology and Evolution

Given SICB and ICB’s obvious interest in promoting women in stem along with those who work in all the sciences including ecology and evolution, we wanted to interview Dr. Kirsty MacLeod, host of The Women in Ecology & Evolution Podcast.

Kirsty MacLeod

What inspired you to make this podcast? 

 I’ve always enjoyed listening to science podcasts but sometimes it could feel a little like homework – I realized the part I always engaged with the most is hearing more about scientists and their experiences, and not just the research!

So I wanted to create a podcast that was more about the people behind the science. I also felt there was a lack of women’s voices.

Kirsty MacLeod

I basically wanted to create a podcast I’d like to listen to! I like having a range of experiences represented: master’s students all the way up to late career researchers. 

Who were some of your mentors? 

An important mentor for me has been my postdoc mentor at Penn State, Professor Tracy Langkilde; even though she became the head of our department when I started and was very busy, she was accessible from the start and there was a real flexibility with her style, she was there when I needed yet trusted me to be able to work on my own. She had a great mix of appreciation, accessibility and trust. She was a guiding light in terms of how to be a mentor, and a pleasure to work with. She was also very supportive of passions outside of just research. She was interested in my development as a whole person, not just a researcher. 

Kirsty top right with guests

Are there many women in ecology and evolution or do you feel it’s an area of science that has fewer? 

There are a lot of great women in ecology and evolution! But unfortunately, as in many STEM fields, that still doesn’t seem to translate to equality in terms of numbers of women especially in senior positions. I wanted to highlight some of the women I’ve met in this field. 

What led you to your area of study and who were your inspirations? 

Currently, I work on a combination of stress physiology and behaviour – I guess I’m a behavioral physiologist. I’m interested in the effects of prenatal stress, mostly in lizard species (herpetology), as well as the intersecting influence of social behaviour and parental care on stress. There are reptiles that show rudimentary care, and they can also vary in whether they give birth to live young or not. The broad aim is to take these axes of variations and learn what species are most vulnerable to the effects in the environment. 

I’m currently studying if social species are less subject to drawbacks of stress since they’re not just thrust into the world alone – they can receive food or protection in early life. My inspirations have been many and varied! I was surrounded by senior researchers I’ve really admired early on in my PhD – like Professor Rebecca Kilner, Professor Nick Davies, my PhD supervisor Professor Tim Clutton Brock. But I was equally if not more inspired by fantastic contemporaries and those just ahead of me who helped me figure out how to be a researcher, and more importantly, a person in science: like Dr Alecia Carter and Dr Sinead English.

Dr. Alicia Carter ,

How do you feel Covid is affecting your science community and changing your research? 
I was fairly lucky in that when the pandemic hit “pandemic proportions” my field season in Australia was wrapping up, so I didn’t lose data but I did have to leave there or be stuck. It’s meant that this last year, I’ve had a long period of living back at home with my parents – which was unexpected but nice! I feel for people who have lost a whole field season. It’s been tough to struggle without community during this time in the same way that we are used to. 
The podcast shows that science is hard during this time, people are struggling and an unexpected side effect of starting a podcast during this time is being able to show this and build some community among people who are having these feelings.

Among its various discussions, The podcasts highlights women with varied paths into science;


Carly Anne York (episode 7), grew up in DC, and started out in exercise physiology, then switched into animal physiology and ultimately marine science, working on lateral line systems in cephalopods (among other things). She’s now based at Lenoir Rhyne University in NC (a primarily undergrad institution).

Martha Muñoz (IOB author and AE, SICB Gans Award winner) (episode 6) grew up in urban New York city – as she mentioned in her interview, her love of science and nature developed through visits to the Bronx zoo! She works mostly on lizards, looking at what affects the rate of evolution – which has led to really integrative work on thermal physiology and biomechanics at Yale.


Sara Hermann (episode 8) started out in community college on the law track before switching to biology. She now works on predator prey interactions using a mix of chemical ecology and applied entomology at Penn State.


Priya Nanjappa (episode 9) did an ecology degree but decided academic research wasn’t for her – so has gone on to work for various NGOs and organisations like the United States Geological Survey doing applied ecology. She is now working for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, integrating ecology with policy.

Connect via @the_wee_podcast and with Kirsty via @kirstyjean

latest episode

Academic Circus

SICB has a YouTube channel now where we want members and current or past ICB & IOB authors to showcase their skills.

The content will surround 3 main areas.

  1. Storytelling-shorts about what it’s like to be a scientist, experiences as as scientist, your academic/career journey or how SICB plays a part in your scientific trajectory
  2. Resources- workshops, talks and instructional videos, technology being utilized
  3. Science content- video abstracts, lab research, experiments

As part of our roll out, SICB member Shaz Zamore contributed this artistic storytelling piece as

“This piece is a playful audio-video contemplation of who we are as scientists versus our whole selves and how that restriction often promotes exclusion, despite our best intentions. Structured around a single repeated movement, the film symbolizes a progression through the day as a progression through scientific career: from jilted, clumsy beginnings of learning in the morning, to practiced repetition of what is taught in the day, to mastery that yields agency at night. Paralleled on this timeline are snippets of research as it evolves, always with a mistake in the movement. The dialogue, both written and spoken, suggest thoughts that motivated my change in research focus and academic roles. Who are we, really?”

Shaz Zamore, (SICB divisions- DAB, DNNSB,)

The ATLAS Institute at CU Boulder

Connect via @TheDoctaZ and

“Mythologica” by Ofrin –

to participate in SICB’s YouTube channel, email

Celebrating Art in Bio -1st installment 2021

Last year, during the start of the pandemic, we began highlighting artists who are also scientists as well as artists who appreciate the sciences. We want to keep celebrating the works still being created in the midst of these harsh days that continue.

Below are some of our Twitter followers, and SICB society members who have shared their work and written a bit about how art influences their science and vice versa.

We hope you enjoy this moment of recognizing all the beauty that still remains…

by Tosha Kelly

(SICB member)

“I never grew up thinking I would be a scientist though I was always fascinated by the natural world around us. Art began as a way of expressing my admiration of animals and then inspired me to educate myself about how organisms adapted the wondrous traits I painted (I now have a PhD in Ecology & Evolution). Currently, watercolour painting is an escape that brings me back to my curiosity-driven roots and refuels my passion for science.

Art, to me, is an old friend that reminds me of who I am.”

Tosha Kelly

A full(er) collection of Tosha’s pieces can be found on their website: 

and buy products of Tosha’s leopard at

Phone case of Tosha’s Leopard

Alex Holt

Twitter follower (@AlexJHolt) )

“I feel for many people, their instinct is to assume that science and the arts are somehow at odds, but for me this misses their shared roots.

Alex Holt

Both ultimately spring from a sense of wonder at the world; of witnessing something and feeling the need to understand it in a more meaningful way. For me, my passion for both art and nature started in the beautiful illustrations of the bird books we had at home – art gifting that wonder from naturalists and illustrators on to me. I like to hope that in its own way, my art may have done the same for others.”

Jolene Fox

(wildlife biologist)

drawing inspired by birds

“When I was younger and back before I started drawing seriously as a hobby, all I used to draw were dresses. So it wasn’t too much of a surprise that I started to see designs in a birds plumage when that’s what I was working with 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. I wanted to transform people’s favorite birds into something that could be worn, at least on paper anyways. Art in biology is so important! Its a large field with so much to learn, and rarely the time to learn about it once its not in the curriculum.

By using art, we are able to catch the public’s attention on something they’ve never heard of.

Jolene Fox

Whether that’s an environmental issue, or something that becomes a person’s favorite hobby or subject, art gives people the chance to explore avenues of life they never would have known about if it didn’t crossover to their field of interest in the first place.” 

Part 2 of Filmmaker Kendall Moore’s efforts to advance initiatives around belonging, justice, equity, and inclusion

by guest author, Kendall Moore

Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. 

The dominant culture never intended for Black and Brown participation, much less our leadership. This is apparent in the foundational paperwork and the early and continued laws of the nation (See: redlining, under-resourced schools, Indigenous land dispossession, voter suppression, segregation, medical negligence, police brutality, and the list goes on.) Thus, lack of diversity does not happen “just because” or because Black and Brown people can’t handle the work or “aren’t applying.” The system, from the beginning, was designed to be one big obstacle for us. That is why we have been fighting the long battle to make diversity the law.  

Image result for affirmative action

Affirmative Action was rolled out as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and then an executive order in 1965. The U.S. Department of Labor makes it clear that Affirmative Action is used “to recruit and advance qualified minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and covered veterans” as well as to provide recruitment and other measures to diversify personnel.

The truth is, most programs are lazy in their recruitment, are not using “opportunity” as an option to hire underrepresented people of color as much as they probably should, and more often than not, non-diverse hiring committees are choosing the safe, same choice. Today, laws continue to be proposed that support the recruitment and retention of underrepresented people of color in STEM. The proposed “STEM Opportunities Act of 2019” would support underrepresented people of color because the numbers are so terribly low, and it appears that STEM needs its own legal mechanisms to help diversify it.  

But just because universities and colleges are required by law to diversify, it does not require that they follow inclusive and equitable practices. And frankly, this is where the majority of programs fail. Personally, I was an “affirmative action hire” and my white colleagues would use that fact to make me feel like an outsider, someone who somehow managed to sneak in.

The message, whether implicit or explicit is you are here only because of your race. “We needed to check a box and you won that lottery” and “you should just be happy that you are in here” is what we hear too often. What’s worse is the fact that there is no accountability from upper administration either, even though racial harassment is against the law. 

Kendall Moore

Institutions that do choose to do the right thing are making a concerted effort to take care of their students and faculty of color. They are opting for being intentional about inclusivity, equitability, and a sense of belonging. But with this comes with a special obligation to first educate themselves and their community on the darkness of our origin story.

You have to be willing to understand it both intellectually and emotionally. No amount of reading alone, without dialogue, will get you to a profound understanding of marginalized peoples’ trauma. Together, we must engage in difficult conversations that lead to the heart work that can guide the structural adjustments that need to be made. This is where institutions can discover what policies and practices have hindered and continue to hinder and harm marginalized Others, and they can decide what to do about it on the emotional as well as policy level. 

Every aspect of the institution should be examined through an historical lens, from land acquisition to slave trade endowments. Was the institution funded by slavery and does it sit on land that was grabbed from Indigenous, Native, or First Nation peoples? How does that make us feel? What can we do in response? 

Kendall Moore

What does Science Have to Do with It? 

If you read yesterday’s post as well as this far on today’s and are thinking that science has nothing to do with this, understand that science was used as a mechanism to justify slavery. Science was used to justify racial hierarchy. Science was used to extract parts of Brown and Black bodies for scientific research. Science has been used to extract resources from sacred Native and Indigenous lands for the advancement of white scholarship only.

Racial bias is sewn into many of the scientific methodologies and frameworks that are used throughout STEM. But because we are trained within a supremacist system, we are mostly unaware of these facts. Science is not innocent. Not at all. And the names of schools, the founders of most scientific disciplines, the obstacle-making entrance mechanisms of institutions, are all reminders that we, as Brown and Black people, were never meant to be part of this space. 

Although it will be really hard, together we can acknowledge some of this trauma. Then, moving forward, with a higher degree of intentionality and emotional transparency, we will be able to co-create STEM as an inclusive and equitable space that can respond to the past.

We can achieve so much together, but it absolutely requires that we get to know each other better through having hard conversations. —

Kendall Moore

Kendall Moore(she/her) ,

PhD Professor Departments of Journalism and Film Media

Harrington School of Communication and Media

University of Rhode Island

Guest blog- Filmmaker Kendall Moore’s efforts to advance initiatives around belonging, justice, equity, and inclusion

I am a professor of journalism at the University of Rhode Island. I am also a documentary filmmaker who presented the films Can We Talk? 1 and 2, this year and last, respectively, at SICB.

The Can We Talk films are used to initiate conversations among students, faculty, administrators, and other types of leaders, in STEM. These films are used in an anti-racism, STEM-focused toolkit that uses difficult conversations as its central component to advance initiatives around belonging, justice, equity, and inclusion (B-JEDI.)

Last year, we screened Can We Talk? 1, which focuses on social belonging in STEM. Many of us are still talking about what happened following the film screening. There were personal testimonials shared by people working in all aspects of STEM, that together, illustrated that we have a lot of work to do if we are going to make the practice, teaching, and profession of STEM, inclusive.

What is astonishing is that for many, it may have felt like for the first time, STEM practitioners can intentionally create space for emotionality, subjectivity, identity, and personal experience. At the event, you could feel a collective exhale for so many who have been feeling isolated at their respective institutions. 

This year, we screened Can We Talk? 2, which focused on “white allyship.” The objective of the film is to invite people who have not yet felt comfortable, for whatever reason, to start to participate in B-JEDI work. It illuminates one issue, especially for white faculty members, which is a well-articulated, deep-down fear of “messing up” or “saying the wrong thing.” What is actually being said is: “I don’t feel comfortable risking being seen as a racist.” 

There are two responses to this: First, everyone messes up. It is a learning process, and we all have to start from somewhere. It requires a lot of work, especially this type of work that is constantly evolving. The second point is:

By not doing anything, you are part of the problem.

Kendall Moore

Our work at SICB

 With the help of Dr. Rita Mehta and Shayle Matsuda, SICB created three separate breakout sessions following the film so that we could have conversations centering on different perspectives.

Rita Mehta
Image result for Shayle Matsuda
Shayle Matsuda

One was a general group, the second was for Black, Indigenous, and people with other racialized identities. The third group conversation offered a framework around intersectionality. In this space, we centered on the experiences of members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Again, it was clear how important these spaces are to address these issues, to reflect on one another’s lived experiences, and to offer meaningful support and guidance. Without the possibility of creating spaces like these, institutions are learning the hard way– with low retention rates of marginalized Others– that space, emotions, and identity, matter. 

Difficult Conversations

 If STEM institutions want to address their low rates of recruitment and retention of underrepresented people, you must take a look at how inclusive your institution is. For starters, inclusivity requires that we start talking, sharing ourselves, collapsing hierarchies, and becoming more intentional in the ways that we interact in the workplace.

We have to expect that this type of sharing and being is not meant to be easy. In fact, it may cause you to feel awkward, confused, sad, or angry, but each of these reactions and emotions is necessary for the process towards personal and institutional transformation. Deep conversations put things into perspective, create personal context, encourage humility around differences, and ground institutional evolution in ethics instead of transactional and performative behaviors. 

Think about when your institution made a diversity or BLM statement in the 2020 summer only to slowly de-prioritize some of the agenda items months later. What about that initial passion for anti-racism? Is it still there? 

If deep conversations are consistently happening, then the next time an anti-racism statement is sent out by the head office, it will have real meaning and purpose as opposed to reactions from faculty and students saying that efforts are empty and only take place when the public is watching. 

Universities, colleges, scientific societies, museums, federal agencies, non-profits, and other formal and informal educational facilities are beginning to look inward, and historically, to the point of European colonial arrival in the 1600s. Part of that inward look involves examining the origins of this country, as a settler-colonial nation that has benefitted consistently from violence, extraction, and what I call the never-ending “taking, taking, taking.”

Today, that taking is articulated as supremacy, which has relegated difference to the margins and sameness to the dominant center.

Pathologizing and restricting difference, whether racial, sexual preference, gender, language, ability, or class, is baked into the substructure, infrastructure, and superstructure of the fabric of the United States.

Kendall Moore

Furthermore, it is literally part of the bricks and mortar of science, scientific practice, and science pedagogy. 

Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2 of Kendall’s guest blog

Blog by Kendall Moore (she/her)

PhD ProfessorDepartments of Journalism and Film Media

Harrington School of Communication and Media

University of Rhode Island(401) 874-2642

s2 -How does basic science address environmental challenges in Eastern oyster survival?

Written by: Karen Peralta Martínez

Scientists are interested in understanding the basis for survival and performance, and how the interaction between the genome and the environment facilitate prolonged occupancy and adaptation to an area. For instance, are there genetic and environmental determinants facilitating the survival and growth of the oyster population in certain parts? 

In North Carolina, a group of oyster growers was approached by Dr. Anna V. Ivanina, lead scientist at University of North Carolina Charlotte. Growers had expressed concerns about eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) populations underperforming near the coast of North Carolina compared, but not in other regions of the US east coast. The eastern oyster is native to the Atlantic Ocean, precisely east coasts of Canada, US, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Figure 3. Geographic distribution of the eastern oyster (C. virginica) around the world. Color indicates probabilities of occurrence (Red-High; Orange-Medium; Yellow-Low). Adapted from SeaLifeBase.

Due to the collaborative environment at UNCC, Dr. Ivanina cooperated with Dr. Adam Reitzel, Professor and principal investigator, and talented graduate students in the Reitzel lab who together designed a study to understand how genes and environmental conditions impacted the eastern oyster’s physiology and survival in response to hypoxia and the presence of pathogenic bacteria. 

Dr. Adam Reitzel

I interviewed Dr. Reitzel, whose lab focuses on fundamental questions of evolution and ecology. Dr. Reitzel’s lab is broadly interested in the origin of variation in individuals within a population and in individuals’ variation interaction with the environment impacting whole organism performance. This group of bright scientists work in the laboratory through collaboration and the integration different skills and tools. They can apply their basic questions and versatile techniques to different spheres, as they did with the growers, ultimately helping generate solutions for the currently growing aquaculture industry in North Carolina. “I like to use different windows or approaches to address intriguing questions about the environment and organisms that live in it,” said Dr. Reitzel.

Dr. Reitzel recently participated in Symposia 2 titled “Genomic perspectives in comparative physiology of mollusks: Integration across disciplines” and organized by Dr. Omera B. Matoo and Dr. Maurine Neiman. He discussed how hypoxia and bacterial pathogen loads affect immune responses and survival in the eastern oyster found in NC coasts. To learn more about the observed gene expression and physiological changes in response to hypoxia and in the presence of Vibrio pathogen in the eastern oyster, stay tuned and look for this group’s superb manuscript later in the year.

Check Dr. Reitzel symposia talk, where he also talks about the physiological and gene expression changes associated with variation in geography and tidal location in the eastern oyster. 

connect with Guest blogger Karen Peralta Martínez