Showing posts from October, 2011

Madagascar's Lucky Break and Endemic Invaders

Evolutionary consequences of Madagascar's isolation on extinct and extant vertebrate fauna © O'Reilly, X. (2010) Madagascar lies off the heal of the African continent. The world’s fourth largest island, on the map it is dwarfed by Africa’s shadow – but only in size.  Famous for the immense variety of weird and wonderful organisms it is home to, most of which are found nowhere else, Madagascar’s unique biological catalogue is the result of millions of years of evolution in isolation, as well as its dramatically varied relief. Its most famous inhabitants, by far, are the lemurs – a whole group of endemic primates that come in a variety of forms, each uniquely adapted to specific niches throughout island’s amazing range of habitats.   But lemurs are thought to have arrived on the island after its split from Africa – what was living on Madagascar at the time of its birth? What proportion of its current terrestrial vertebrate fauna actually split away with the island a

"Life" in the USA

DVD cover of original version of the programme... I was rather surprised when I came across this trailer, released some years ago in the US to advertise the BBC/Discovery Channel series Life : DVD cover of USA version of the programme. Despite the current shift occurring in the general format of documentaries, where often we seem to get more about the presenters or theoretical creators of the programmes than the intended subject matter itself, I was surprised just at how much they have needed to portray a documentary series as an action film to get viewings in the USA. (Until I realised, the Americans aren't alone on this: . Although this series isn't one of those "let's film the camera crew filming the animals for an hour", I feel obliged to point out how the public worldwide, Britain and the BBC's audience included, seems to need to get a movie out of a doc

Cold-Blooded Monsters or Warm-Hearted Giants?

Predictions of Thermoregulation in Dinosaurs When we think of reptiles, we think of scaly, cold-blooded creatures, usually relatively inactive between quick darts, often soaking up the sun. When we think of dinosaurs, we tend to think of huge, cold-blooded monsters, more likely feeding or fleeing, hunting or fighting. Dinosaurs were, of course, reptiles themselves; what should strike us about these stereotypic views, however, is perhaps not so much the different life-style we attribute to each, but something even less appreciable than a dinosaur’s habits: the widely shared assumption they were “cold-blooded”. Indeed, the reptiles from which they arose certainly must have been, but dinosaurs gave rise to a fully endothermic lineage – the birds. So where do dinosaurs fit in? Were they cold-blooded reptiles – like today’s snakes and lizards – or warm-hearted pioneers, like their avian successors?    
Azafady conservation volunteer > (Verreaux's sifaka, Propithecus verreauxi)

Comments on the bizarre opposition to "unnatural" reproductive assistance

(Was for a short bioethics essay last year, September 2010) During the last few decades we have witnessed exponential progress in scientific development and watched it grow, sprout new branches, and grow still further – although, in many cases, perhaps somewhat out of proportion. Although there have been enormous advances in just about every field of scientific study, from botany to zoology, from engineering to medicine, ... few areas have caused as much controversy as that of reproductive engineering. Whether it be cloning or IVF treatment, it seems humanity is playing God, creating lives that couldn't have taken place in nature – and not everybody is happy about it. But are we really playing God, or should such progress not be seen as part of our evolutionary path? Could it not therefore be within our right as a species to try and survive and thrive as successfully as possible? Genetically modified crops, cloned livestock, in vitro fertilisation; just a few of many controv

A God in Our Own Image

Then Man said: "Let us make God in our own image, after our likeness. Let him have dominion over that which we cannot justify or refuse to accept." * * Based on Genesis, 1, 26. – " Then God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.' " Without getting into religious debate or theological discussion, regardless of beliefs or faiths, the gods which are worshipped are all in our heads. Maybe there is a supernatural force overseeing all (personally I highly doubt it, but I respect the choice faith of others where and when it does not interfere with  fact s, which science brings us through acceptance of failure, willingness to  re consider, and celebration of proven successes), but whether such a force exists or not, the gods of our religions cannot exist outside our own minds.