Bring back the dead or save the living?

Thoughts For Breakfast

No, I’m not talking about zombies.

This post considers two stories in the news last week.  The first, is a new study in Science Advances by Ripple et al. finally spotlighting what we’ve known for a while: herbivores around the world are collapsing, particularly the large charismatic ones. This is bad news not just because they’re iconic species that people love to love, but because they are major components of ecosystems and their disappearance would have widespread cascading effects.

Columbian Mammoth in the George C. Page museum, Los Angeles

The second is an interview on NPR with Dr. Beth Shapiro at UC Santa Cruz on her new book How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction.  It leads with the question “If science could clone a mammoth, could it save an elephant?”

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Life’s Joys and Sorrows

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I was honored to receive the President’s Award for Scientific Publication on October 31st 2014.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, this is the result of a lot of hard work by many people. I am most thankful to Sameera Weerathunga and T. Kumara for sticking with a very demanding job despite all challenges, Ms. Nisha Suhood for doing all that is necessary behind the scenes and more, and Dr. Devaka Weerakoon, our longtime collaborator at the University of Colombo.  I’m also lucky to have a wonderful and supportive husband, Sergey Kryazhimskiy. And of course where would anyone be without their beloved parents.  Thanks Mom & Dad.

But, in a constant reminder that all good things must pass, I am very sorry to have lost a beloved member of the family.  I cannot write this post without also honoring the memory of Dr. Arkady Kryazhimskiy, my dear father-in-law.  A brilliant mathematician, wonderful father, and gentle human being.  May he rest in peace and may his ideas live on.

~SdS

Jackals and Turtles and Elephants, Oh My!

By Michael Pardo, Cornell University 

Monday, March 3, 2014

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[174], [036] and their calves spotted at Teak Reservoir

Sometimes it’s easy to become so focused on elephants that I forget about the other fascinating creatures that share their habitat.  This afternoon, we were watching [174], [036], and their calves at the edge of the Teak Reservoir when a large gaggle of tourist jeeps frightened them off.

We decided to stay put for a few minutes after the tourists left, in the hope that the elephants might return.  No such luck, but our patience was rewarded with something else. Continue reading

How to study social networks in elephants

Another nice summary of our work by Pleuni Pennings. Don’t forget to join us on December 21st at the Randall Museum if you are in San Francisco!

Being A Better Scientist

Elephants are smart and social, and sometimes they seem very much like humans, for example when they mourn their dead. Long term research by Shermin de Silva and colleagues (BMC Ecology, 2011) showed that their friendships are also very much like ours.

Who is she hanging out with?

Shermin and her colleagues observed 286 female elephants over 20 months in Uda Walawe National Park in Sri Lanka. Every time the field crew saw one of the elephants, they noted who she was with. The data could later be analyzed using tools from network analysis.

How to recognize 286 elephants?

But wait a second, 286 elephants … that’s a lot of elephants to remember. You may wonder how recognizing so many individual elephants is even possible for Shermin and her crew. Well, the answer is twofold. First of all, all elephants have different ears. Second, Shermin and her colleagues…

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First day

Guest post by Michael Pardo, Cornell University

Wild boar

Curious boar.

December 18, 2012

A breathtaking expanse of bushes peppered with trees.   That is my first impression of Uda Walawe National Park as we pass through the entrance gate in the early hours of the morning.  The shrubs grow densely packed on either side of the ochre-colored road, like a vertically challenged forest.  They are interspersed with teak saplings, a reminder of the days when this park was a timber plantation.  Towering banyan trees soar above the surrounding vegetation, peacocks perched in their uppermost branches.  In the distance, I can see the blue mountains and waterfalls of Nuwara Eliya, and above them, a steely sky striated with rain-laden clouds.  A grey mongoose crosses the road ahead of us, stopping briefly to stare at our jeep before disappearing into the wall of greenery.  Flocks of Common Mynas and Spotted Doves spring into the air as we rumble past.

Continue reading

Trackways freeze time to reveal ancient elephant sociality

An artist’s reconstruction of what the ancient herd may have looked like, here showing Stegotetrabelodon

The evolution of behavior is tricky to study for one very simple reason: behaviors usually don’t fossilize.  While anatomy can be reconstructed based on skeletal remains and imprints, how might one glimpse how a living, breathing organism behaved millions of years ago? Continue reading