March 22 – Diverse, Diverser, Diversest

Today’s factismal: There are about four times as many species on land as there are in the ocean.

Biodiversity is the hot new term in biology and ecology; it refers to the number of species and the number of individuals in each species in an area. An area with high biodiversity is like a teenager’s room, with lots of stuff strewn about. An area with low biodiversity is like the inside of an empty room, with very little stuff anywhere. And, generally speaking, when it comes to biodiversity, more is better.

That’s because, as the biology wonks would put it, “life enables life”. A region with more biodiversity can create more opportunities for new species to develop and for old ones to thrive. There are more opportunities for ecological success and the failure of any single species isn’t a catastrophe the way it would be in a non-diverse area.

There are fifteen countries in the world that are more biodiverse than we are (Data from Conservation International)

There are fifteen countries in the world that are more biodiverse than we are
(Data from Conservation International)

But not all areas are equally biodiverse. For example, the USA is the sixteenth most biodiverse country in the world. We have more than 600 different species of vertebrates (critters with backbones). We have more than 2,000 different species of plant (that’s a lot of amber waves!). And (not including politicians) we have more than 91,000 different species of insect. Not bad, but there are fifteen countries with even more biodiversity.

The number of different species on Earth has increased over time (After Dragon's Flight)

The number of different species on Earth has increased over time (After Dragon’s Flight)

And any one of those countries is far more diverse than the oceans near it are. Overall, there is about twenty-five times more biodiversity on land than there are in the ocean. In part,t hat is because there are simply more species; an estimated 6.6 million species live on land and just 2.1 million live in the oceans. And in part it is due to the number of critters that live in each area. Swamps have nearly twenty times the number of animals (measured as total biomass) as the open ocean does.

The problem with all of that diversity is that nobody can recognize all of the critters. That’s why iSpot has come together to help folks identify what they’ve found. This citizen scientist powered site focuses on Great Britain but identifies animals and plants that people have seen anywhere in the world. So if you’ve got a question about the name of the critter in your picture, take it over to iSpot!
http://www.ispotnature.org/

October 13 – The Premature Burial

Today’s Factismal: We are at the start of the eleventh mass extinction in Earth’s history.

One of the more interesting predictions of the Theory of Evolution is that there should be a long-term trend toward more different types of life. And, by and large, that is true. Today, there exist more species of life than at any time in the history of the world. Hhowever, those species are dying off faster than ever before; right now, species are dying at somewhere between 100 and 1,000 times the “typical” rate. Thus far, about 7% of all species that were alive in the year 1 AD have become extinct. That’s 600,000 different species!

The number of different species on Earth has increased over time (After Dragon's Flight)

The number of different species on Earth has increased over time (After Dragon’s Flight)

There have been other times when the overall number of species went down. The best known of these is the Cretaceous-Permian boundary, better known as “the death of the dinosaurs” some 65 million years ago, which killed about 75% of all species. Events like this are known as mass extinction events or, more poetically, as “great dyings”. They range in severity from the End-Edicarian event 542 million years ago in which some 20% of species went extinct to the Permian-Triassic event 252.8 million years ago that killed off some 96% of all life on Earth.

These events hold a fascination for both the scientist and the layman. Part of that is the sheer scale of the disaster; outside of a few B-movies, nothing imagined by Hollywood is half so dramatic nor as disastrous as a mass extinction. And part of that is trying to understand why these events happen. Is it asteroid impacts? Climate changes? Disease? Volcanic eruptions? Or could it be some combination of all of these? (Full disclosure: I am in the “all of the above” camp.) But the largest part of the fascination comes from the frisson of fear these events generate: could it happen again?

Today, there are many biologists who believe that we are at the start of another mass extinction event. They note the increased number of endangered species and recent extinctions dating from the Pleistocene. These scientists would like your help in measuring Earth’s current biodiversity. To help them, all you have ot do is join Project NOAH (Networked Organisms And Habitats). On their website, you’ll find missions that seek to detail the level of biodiversity at every level and one every continent.. So why not give them a try? If nothing else, they have lots of pretty pictures to look at!
http://www.projectnoah.org/

November 21 – Eight Legs, Eight Times the Fun

Today’s factismal: There haven’t been any deaths from spider bites in Australia since 1981.

The Sydney funnel-web spider is a fearsome beast. Though it is just about two inches long, it has fangs that are longer than a snake’s and strong enough to piece a toenail! Even more fearsome is its venom; many experts count it as the most powerful spider venom in the world. Once it enters a human body, it can quickly cause paralysis and shut down the heart and other vital organs. And yet, despite the fact that this amazing arachnid lives in and around Australia’s most populous city, it hasn’t killed anyone since 1981.

Oh, sure, there have been plenty of people bitten by the critter in the past 32 years. These spiders like to wander at night (especially the males) and are very aggressive when cornered. They will frequently bite anything that they perceive as an attacker, and will do so several times, injecting a fresh dose of venom each time. So why haven’t they killed anyone? You can thank science for that.

The world's deadliest spider (My camera)

The world’s deadliest spider
(My camera)

In 1981, an anti-venom was developed that keeps the spider’s venom from killing people. The venom is made by milking live spiders (many of which are caught by volunteers {brave ones}) up to seventy times for their venom. That venom is then injected into a large animal, such as a horse; the horse then produces antibodies that attack the venom. A couple of pints of the animal’s blood is then taken and refined to make the antivenom, which is stored and given to people who were bitten.

But creating an antivenom is only half of the solution; the other half is education and prevention. If you’d like to help with that part, then why not take the House Spider Survey? The researchers are trying to learn what people think about spiders and to track common house spiders in order to help keep us safe when we encounter them. To take part, sling a web over to:
https://www.societyofbiology.org/get-involved/hands-on-biology/spider-app

October 5 – We’re Number Sixteen!

Today’s factismal: The USA is the world’s sixteenth most biologically diverse country.

There’s a good reason that one of the most beloved songs about America lauds its fruited plains and amber waves of grain; it reflects the diversity that is inherent to the American way of life. And it turns out that our diversity is more than skin deep – it goes all the way down into our ecosphere!

There are fifteen countries in the world that are more biodiverse than we are (Data from Conservation International)

There are fifteen countries in the world that are more biodiverse than we are
(Data from Conservation International)

Not including the fish, we have more than 600 different species of vertebrates (critters with backbones). We have more than 2,000 different species of plant (that’s a lot of amber waves!). And (not including politicians) we have more than 91,000 different species of insect!

This biodiversity is important because, as the biology wonks would put it, “life enables life”. A region with more biodiversity can create more opportunities for new species to develop and for old ones to thrive. There are more opportunities for ecological success and the failure of any single species isn’t a catastrophe the way it would be in a non-diverse area.

Bison in Yellowstone National Park (My camera)

Bison in Yellowstone National Park
(My camera)

The problem with all of that diversity is that nobody can recognize all of the critters (not even Sheldon). That’s why iSpot has come together to help folks identify what they’ve found. This citizen scientist powered site focuses on Great Britain but identifies animals and plants that people have seen anywhere in the world. So if you’ve got a question about the name of the critter in your picture, take it over to iSpot!
http://www.ispotnature.org/

June 3 – My Space Invaders

Today’s Factismal: Nick Richards caught a five pound goldfish in a lake in England in 2010.

Ever since humans started moving around on this planet, we’ve taken animals and plants with us. And ever since the first rosebush was transplanted by a harried Cro-Magnon, we’ve been creating invasive species. Put simply, an invasive species is like a weed: you don’t want it there (wherever “there” is), it doesn’t belong there, and it is taking over there no matter what you do.

He's going to need a bigger creel (Image courtesy BNPN)

He’s going to need a bigger creel
(Image courtesy BNPS)

Be it rabbits in Australia, starlings in America, pythons in Florida, red deer in New Zealand, or long-tailed macques in Thailand, invasive species are a global problem; there are even invasive species in Antarctica! These species act like the house guests from heck. They eat all of the food, take up all of the room, and leave their crap lying all over everything.

Quick! Find the two invasive species! (My camera)

Quick! Find the two invasive species!
(My camera)

But we can fight back. And the first step in fighting back is knowing what invasive species are where. And that is where you come in. If you see something that you think might be an invasive species, then head over to My Invasive and submit a report. The scientists will use your data to track invasive species and plot our revenge. Bwah-hah-hah!
http://www.scistarter.com/project/525-My%20Invasive

March 21 – Many and Diverse

Today’s Factismal: There have been ten mass extinctions in Earth’s history.

One of the more interesting predictions of the Theory of Evolution is that there should be a long-term trend toward more different types of life. And, by and large, that is true. Today, there exists more species of life than at any time in the history of the world.

The number of different species on Earth has increased over time (After Dragon's Flight)

The number of different species on Earth has increased over time (After Dragon’s Flight)

And yet, there have been times when the overall number of species went down. The best known of these is the Cretaceous-Permian boundary, better known as “the death of the dinosaurs” some 65 million years ago, which killed about 75% of all species. Events like this are known as mass extinction events or, more poetically, as “great dyings”. They  range in severity from the End-Edicarian event 542 million years ago in which some 20% of species went extinct to the Permian-Triassic event 252.8 million years ago that killed off some 96% of all life on Earth.

These events hold a fascination for both the scientist and the layman. Part of that is the sheer scale of the disaster; outside of a few B-movies, nothing imagined by Hollywood is half so dramatic nor as disastrous as a mass extinction. And part of that is trying to understand why these events happen. Is it asteroid impacts? Climate changes? Disease? Volcanic eruptions? Or could it be some combination of all of these? (Full disclosure: I am in the “all of the above” camp.) But the largest part of the fascination comes from the frisson of fear these events generate: could it happen again?

Today, there are many biologists who believe that we are at the start of another mass extinction event. They note the increased number of endangered species and recent extinctions dating from the Pleistocene. These scientists would like your help in measuring Earth’s current biodiversity. To help them, all you have ot do is join Project NOAH (Networked Organisms And Habitats). On their website, you’ll find missions that seek to detail the level of biodiversity at every level and one every continent.. So why not give them a try? If nothing else, they have lots of pretty pictures to look at!
http://www.projectnoah.org/

October 5 – We’re Number Sixteen!

Today’s factismal: The USA is the world’s sixteenth most biologically diverse country.

There’s a good reason that one of the most beloved songs about America lauds its fruited plains and amber waves of grain; it reflects the diversity that is inherent to the American way of life. And it turns out that our diversity is more than skin deep – it goes all the way down into our ecosphere!

There are fifteen countries in the world that are more biodiverse than we are (Data from Conservation International)

There are fifteen countries in the world that are more biodiverse than we are
(Data from Conservation International)

Not including the fish, we have more than 600 different species of vertebrates (critters with backbones). We have more than 2,000 different species of plant (that’s a lot of amber waves!). And (not including politicians) we have more than 91,000 different species of insect!

This biodiversity is important because, as the biology wonks would put it, “life enables life”. A region with more biodiversity can create more opportunities for new species to develop and for old ones to thrive. There are more opportunities for ecological success and the failure of any single species isn’t a catastrophe the way it would be in a non-diverse area.

Bison in Yellowstone National Park (My camera)

Bison in Yellowstone National Park
(My camera)

The problem with all of that diversity is that nobody can recognize all of the critters (not even Sheldon). That’s why iSpot has come together to help folks identify what they’ve found. This citizen scientist powered site focuses on Great Britain but identifies animals and plants that people have seen anywhere in the world. So if you’ve got a question about the name of the critter in your picture, take it over to iSpot!
http://www.ispotnature.org/