Monday, December 31, 2007

Urban Ecology and wildlife watching in the Big Apple

Okay, think of the most populated city in the United States. What images come to mide? Lots of tall skyscrapers. Millions of people huddled and massed, walking down busy side walks? Lots of cars and trucks honking and blaring 24 hours a day? Hardly sounds like a place jumping with authentic wildlife, does it?

But it is! In fact, the Guidebook to NYC Nature is jammed pack with lots of amazing creatures and natural sites to see and observe. Most of the entries live in parks -- yes, a nother reason why urban parks are SO GREAT. Think of them as little wildlife nature refuges or preserves. And you can go on a Safari anytime -- for free.

What an exciting Urban Science Adventure. Go explore your urban nature preserve, too.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Urban Forestry

Think about your last visit to your neighborhood park. Did you notice the green grass and tall trees? Well, depending on where you live, your park may include many trees scattered across the landscape. Here in the Midwest, tree lined entrances are common and several trees all along the landscape. Unlike the woods or forest, trees in an urban park are often more spread apart from each other with a nicely cared-for lawn. In woods, the trees and saplings are often close together and in the summer time the leaves shade the ground. Typically, grass does not grow in the woods. But urban parks are still very nice places - for people and wildlife.

Though most people don't think about it, cities (like those in the Midwest) were built in the middle of the forest. Buildings were put up and many trees were removed. But from the sky, many cities are really fragmented forests - a patch of trees here, a patch there, and most connected by a few lines of tree-lined streets. Your neighborhood IS a forest -- an Urban Forest.

And like any ecosystem, the habitat will attract certain types of wildlife. Depending on your geographic location, you like have wild neighbors that include raccoons, opossums, squirrels, birds such as robins, mocking birds, crows, starlings, pigeons, cardinals, finches, sparrows, woodpeckers, and doves, insects such as bees, butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers, and dragonflies, plus lizards, toads, and frogs. This is a forest ecosystem, but modified because of human occupation. But think about it, we can and do live with the wild creatures and some species are actually very good at living near human populations.

There are things you an do to learn more about the "Forest Where You Live" and help the forest, the wildlife, and the people enjoy it better.

So go on outside and take inventory of your local forest.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Urban Wildlife and Human Interactions

Monday, December 24 2007 USA Today reports:

Anchorage, Alaska - The Army restricted recreational activities at Fort Richardson because of recent wolf attacks on dogs. All training areas west and north of the Artillery Road area are off limits. Three women running with dogs encountered at least seven wolves. A dog on a chain was killed a few miles away. Two other dogs were killed in the area in the past month.

Comment: This are sad and regretable incidents. Wolves are ecologically important creatures. As top predators they serve an important role by keeping populations of deer, moose, and caribou in check. Alaska is a very open and compared to the lower 48 states, is less densely populated. I have a friend and colleague who teaches for the University of Alaska and she says there are parts of Alaska so untouched that some wild animals still haven't really suffered from human interactions. But I do commend the military administrators for taking action. Restricting opportunities for humans (and their companion animals) to interact with wildlife (and I emphasize WILD) is one of the best solutions. Typically, wildlife managers do their very best to avoid a solution that results in removing the problem animals. And by removing I mean relocation or death. And wolf hunting in Alaska is a real and legal activity. I'm not anti-hunting, but I don't like the idea of hunting top predators. I'm biased, I'll admit it. On a final note, I do extend my sympathies to the families of the pet dogs who were killed by wolves. I don't doubt that these animals were trying to protect their families from their wild cousins.

Hartford, Conneticut - Bird lovers are battling over the fate of mute swans in the state. The Connecticut Audubon Society wants the state to remove the swans from critical marine habitats, claiming the graceful birds are invaders that cause environmental harm. But the swans are protected in Connecticut, and defenders say any move against the birds is unacceptable.

Comment: This is hard one because it is two important ecological issues that are in conflict with one another. In this situation ecologists are concerned for 2 important matters. Issue 1: Protect at-risk habitats so that the plant and wildlife that call that place home can establish or keep its balance. Issue 2: There are laws that protect some wildlife species. In this case it is the mute swan. Like many other waterfowl there are laws (federal and state) that make it absolutely unacceptable to mess with an animal almost any circumstance. But the problem is the mute swan is an unwanted animal in this at-risk habitat. The mute swan is actually the problem - in this case. Sometimes (and I hope things work out), exceptions can and have been made. There are cases where wildlife officers will demonstrate that they can safely remove animals and certain times of year so that the habitat can be restored and the birds are not harmed. And since the Audobon Society is a well-respected organization and usually does this in the most proper and scientific and legal way, I feel sure they will work toward a feasible solution to deal with both issues

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What my name means

Okay, I attended a workshop: Certified Interpretive Guide Training. It is training presented by the National Association for Interpreters. The Association and the training is designed for anyone interested in enhancing their skills to present natural resources or heritage programs for the public. In other words for people who present at museums or national parks or tour guides or even historical re-enactors. I'm interested in environment and natural resources.

Anyway, one of the training program's exercises was to come up with an acronym for your name. I couldn't. But now I have.
DNLEE: Demystifying nature, letting everyone experience.

It's a start.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

More on whale ancestry

Here's more coverage about whale ancestors. It's also a quick reader. Content-wise it's better for college students and advanced high school curriculum. This one was posted on the National Science Foundation's News Line. here. The story appears in Nature.

Happy supplemental reading.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fox-sized deer is whale's closet relative

Credit and Larger Version

Okay, I had to share this reader as well. Online (and perhaps print, too) Scientific American announces that the world's largest mammal - the whale - is most closely related to a . No kidding. Check out the quick read here.

Share with others. Perfect for middle & high schoolers - interestning reads OR for college students studying evolution, taxonomy, cladistics, or systematics.

photo credit:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nucleus is for Us

Okay, I'm cheesy and nerdy. But I love this one-page reader all about the Nuclues: Journey to the center of the cell. I came across it in Science Magazine. It's a perfect little punch about what the nuclues is. And it gives teasers and links to other research articles that go more in depth about nuclues function.
I recommend the summary for all science educators (high school and college) to share with students. This is a perfect * short * co-curriculum article. And for the college students, the links to the other articles are perfect ways to introduce them to primary literature and encourage them to test out how well they comprehend some key cellular biology vocabulary.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Social Learning and Promoting Sustainability

I'm sharing information I have come across on ECOLOG - an online ecology listserve.

Dear colleagues,
The policies being used to address ecological issues around the concept ofsustainability increasingly demonstrate how their impact goes beyond theenvironment to influence things such as public health, jobs, workingconditions, and incomes. This means a more multi-stakeholder approach isrequired to the negotiation and implementation of environmental policieswithin and across sectors, and at local, regional, national andinternational levels. Inevitably, the reality is that whatever aims arefinally chosen, implementing the solutions to reach them will involve a longprocess of difficult dealings with a great variety of individuals, groups,and institutions who can make them fail or succeed.

The Learning for Sustainability site - has been substantially revised and updated over the past few months as aguide to on-line resources for government agency staff, NGOs and othercommunity leaders working to support social learning and collective actionaround the environment and sustainability. A central section of this sitelinks the reader to a range of guides, tools and checklists that can bedrawn upon for guidance in this area to address issues such as participationand engagement. Other pages here highlight the lessons that have emergedfrom researchers and practitioners in different sectors. These includelessons from the HIV/AIDS sector, public health, and protected naturalareas. They are shown on their different pages to highlight the fact thateach sector is looking at similar human dimensions practice change lessons,and that the more we can learn across sectors the better. A new page in thissection now covers tools, tips and techniques for facilitators and othersocial engagement specialists.

Other pages provide links to best and emerging practice in social learningareas including networking, dialogue, adaptive management, and knowledgemanagement. Evaluation is given its own section which covers key topics suchas participation, empowerment, logic models and scale. A research methodsand approaches section has links to action research resources, material ondoing integrated and interdisciplinary research, a listing of on-linejournals in these areas, and it hosts the IntSci (Integrated Science forsustainability) discussion network. New pages link to resources onunderpinning social research methods including systems thinking and actionresearch. One page lists on-line resources for both post-graduate researchstudents and their supervisors. Topics include thinking about thesupervisory team, as well as tips for structuring and writing a thesis ordissertation.The The Learning for Sustainability site - - also manages additional pages onfinding volunteering and job opportunities in the environment andsustainability sectors. These are directly accessible from the main siteindexing system. As with the rest of the site these sections bring links tolot of on-line resources together in one easy to access site, each link isannotated to provide a guide to its contents.Please feel free to pass this posting on to colleagues and friends who maybe interested in this content.

Dr. Will Allen

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Who-Who's There? Owls in the City

Yesterday, my charges & I went on an "urban nature walk" in a local city park. We were looking for signs of wildlife in the heart of the city. Well, squirrels obvious. Lots of squirrels everywhere. But there were signs of other wildlife. Lots of hollows in trees, mounded heaps of earth. But it was hard to really locate these signs. But wildlife does thrive in cities. Sometimes, you just have to visit at the right time -- at night or dusk/dawn. At that very same park, I've seen 2 young raccoons. Good thing observing the botanical wildlife keep us busy. There were a variety of grasses, fungi, trees, and shrubs. We're still trying to learn all of them.

In meantime, enjoy this article about owls: Barred Owls respond well to city life. This is good news because owls are top predators. They prey on squirrels, mice, pigeons, sparrows and other small animals. Predators keep the system balanced and especially in urban environments it can be challeging to keep things in check. So look out for owls in your local park.
photo credit:

Keep having Urban Science Adventures!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Arctic Ice decline is modifying animals behavior

Melting Ice Drives Walrus Ashore. Okay this matter of climate change and the ice caps melting is very serious. Things are changing so much that now the movement and seasonal patterns of animals are being modified. Walruses are predators and when the predators move, that signals a pretty big thing is going on in the ecological community.

Think about the typical food chain. As a predator the walrus depends on primary consumers like fish species and mussels. These creatures consume plant material or microbes. This is also another example of how abiotic factors (like weather, climate, land, and water) can influence biotic systems (plants and animals). No doubt the unexpected presence of walrus in Alaska this time of year will have ripple effect on those local ecosystems.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

NC Science Blogging Conference

Okay, I'm really thinking about going to the NC Science Blogging Conference. I really can't afford it and I do have a job. But this sounds SO attractive. Great Professional Development. but who would pay for it. Even more, which friends can I convince to join me there??? Maybe I can convice the job (or the fiduciary agency) to cover some of the costs. After all I am trying to get my subordinates to Blog their learning and service experiences - all of which are science related. A long shot.

Dangit, the Conference Program is terribly attractive, too. And I'm thinking of applying for the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. If I get accepted the job house will so hate me. Oh, well.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Tagged on ScienceBlogs!

I have been Blog Rolled on by A Blog Around the Clock. It is a real treat to be mentioned by anyone, especially a well-respected science site like ScienceBlogs.
Thanks, Coturnix.

ScienceBlogs is a growing online community of science bloggers. These scientists blog about every possible science discipline and society issues that stem from or are affected by scientific enterprise.

Oh, and if I'm not too far off, the community is sponsored by the publishers of SEED Magazine.
SEED Magazine is this century's popular science news magazine. I love it. I encourage everyone to get a copy, especially teachers, youth group leaders, and public libary custodians. It includes thought provoking essays, interviews with scientists and science policy makers, and it even includes science crib sheets! That Rocks!
So, please subscribe. Why? Well of the most popular science news magazines (intended for general audiences) like Discover, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics - the average reader is a white male, age 51, college-educated, with a middle income or better. That means there are a LOT of other people not reading about science. Let's see if we can do something about that.

My next recommendation is to check out and check out some of the essays. The writing style and links may be a little to thick for most of my target audience (teens and young adults) but by all means give it a try. Even I can't make out every word of the blogs about chemistry, space science, and microbiology. So don't feel intimidated.

If you come across something that even remotely touches on something you've covered in class. Print it off. Impress your teachers.

Happy science adventures!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Vote Urban Science Adventures ! (c) as your favorite science blog

Hey there,

The Scientist magazine is accepting nominations for favorite life science blog. Vote this blog as your favorite life science blog and help spread the word about this blog to others!

Thanks so much.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Two scoops please. Arctic Ice is melting, too!

Related to yesterday's post, The North Pole is melting, too. This is very said. I hope there's enough of it left to celebrate International Polar Year until March 2009, when it ends. If you thought those heart-breaking pictures of the polar bears swimming and dying were's sure to get worse.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Antarctic Ice: hurry up and get a scoop before it's gone!

2007 is International Polar Year celebrating the beautiful, complex, and woefully not-fully comprehended ecosystem of the the Poles. But unfortunately our planet's largest continent and most frozen land mass is loosing its character. Antarctic snow is melting as reported by LiveScience, the matter of climate change is altering our entire planet and the most unique ecosystem.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More Cute Stuff

Okay, I like small rodents - microtines to be exact. Why? Well, because I've worked with them for nearly ten years. So, I couldn't help but share this with you all - the British Vole Appreciation Society. I've worked with meadow voles and prairie voles, so I'm quite partial.

Also, the Missouri Department has a blog now - Fresh Afield. I thought I had a blogroll, but I don't. Sorry about that. I'll add one and include MDC's blog in the line up.

Keep having fun outside!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Urban Wildlife Watch - Coyotes

Coyotes conjure up a lot of different images: Wil E Coyote of Looney Toons or evil bandits that attack sheep and other livestock. But the Coyote, scientific name Canis latrans, are a mixed bag. We typically think of predators species like coyotes as living in rural or big open area nature areas (like pasture ranges, national parks, deserts) but they are capable of living in almost any environment. Coyotes have made a tremendous comeback and populations are spreading far and wide. But interestingly coyote populations don't grow as well when their ranges overlap with wolves - a bigger, badder predator. Coyotes live everywhere, throughout the entire North American continent. They even live in cities, and are sometimes regarded as a nuisance. They are opportunistic. They are great hunters, but they will scavenge a cheap or free meal like trash, road kill, or unsuspecting family pets.

Even in very large, dense urban areas coyotes can survive - well. You may have even have seen one. Doubt it? Although, coyotes look alot like German shepards, there are some differnces. For one, coyotes are much smaller. In fact, coyotes usually weight only 35-40 pounds. Second, coyotes are pretty much light in color all over - a mix of grizzled gray and buff; they don't typically have a dark colored back like most German shepards. But one of the best ways you can you tell the difference between a coyote and dog is to look very closely at how it runs. When a coyote runs, its tail sticks out straight so that the tail is not curled or curved. Second, the tip of the coyote's tail is black. German shepards are not only bigger, but have a curved tail and the tip of the tail is buff color.

Keep your eyes open for these 'top predators' in your neighborhood. But be careful. Never attempt to pet or approach any wild animal, especially a smart predator like the coyote. And keep your pets safe and avoid leaving unsued pet food (or any food) out. Remember, coyotes are in the dog family - so being wild animals, they are likely to carry dog diseases that could make your family pets very ill. Plus, it's best to see these great animals from afar.
photo credit:

Keep having Urban Science Adventures! (c)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Cool science articles I wanted to share

Okay, these are some really cool science articles - about everything from hunting eels to mental health, to environmentalism.

Check them out!

Moray eels
Diversity & the U.S. Environmentalism Movement
The Cause & Cure of Nail biting
Schizophrenia Genes may also provide developmental advantages

Monday, June 25, 2007

International Polar Year

It is International Ploar Year! And to celebrate I will periodically share with you all some interesing things about the North and South Poles. I'll include research update, historical events, and snippets about arctic and antarctice wildlife and ecosystems.

Here's the first item, a news release about the AMAZING research at the poles funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Antarctic Icebergs: Unlikely Oases for Ocean Life.

Continue your Urban Science Adventures! ©

Thursday, June 21, 2007

“I can tell by just looking at her.”

"I can tell by just looking at her.”
You may have heard this statement before. It’s often said by older women (mothers, aunties, grandmothers, and the like) in reference to a girl they believe has recently lost her virginity. Though such conclusions can’t be definitively confirmed, there are many in our community who place a lot of stock in such deductions. And according to some interesting research being done on adolescent psychology and behavior, our grannies may have been right all along.

One thing that these wise mothers may be cluing into is how a young maiden who has “lost her innocence” behaves and carries herself upon gaining sexual experience. Sex makes teens feel older; and it seems to be especially true for girls. Plus, a teen girl who is dating an older boy or an adult man, tends to rate herself as much more mature than her peers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Coral Reefs are in trouble

Seems the herp isn't just for humans anymore. Herpes Virus Killing Coral Reefs an article from Live But that's not all that's got Coral Reefs singing the blues. Marine Ecosytems around the world are in some serious trouble. In fact, they're very existence is threatened and it coral reefs are destroyed, then the rest of the marine and neighboring terrestrial systems are in trouble, too.

In fact, Scientists who student marine and coral ecosystems are at high alert and have issued a call to action alert. They need signatures NOW for the Scientists’ statement on the reauthorization of the US Coral Reef Conservation Act. Visit the Marine Conservation Blog for more information or find out how you can help.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Urban Wildlife Watch - The Buzz about Bees

Bees are perhaps one of the most interesting urban wildlife creatures. Bees are invertebrate insects belonging to the order Hymenoptera. Hymenoptera include all bees, wasps, hornets, and ants.

Bees like other Hymenopterans are comprised of female-dominated societies. If you’ve ever been stung by one of these creatures it was a female. That’s because the stinger of a bee is a modified ovipositor – or egg laying structure.

In urban areas, most people occasionally encounter bees at the park, open fields, and flower gardens. They can be pesky and even dangerous if you are allergic to bee stings. But bees are also important environmental engineers. Bees help pollinate flowers, trees, and crop plants. When you observe bees buzzing around a field or flowered tree they are doing an important job. Unlike animals, plants can’t move or travel in order to find mates. Bees carry pollen from one flower to another. Pollen is equivalent to sperm of animals. The bees collect nectar of plans and the yellow pollen attaches to their fuzzy abdomen and prickly legs. When they visit the next flower, some of the pollen gets left behind and they pick up new pollen. It’s like an unintentional delivery service for plants.

This seemingly innocent act of transferring pollen is no light matter. Some species plants depend almost entirely on bees for reproduction. That’s why the news of dwindling native bee species is such an alarm. If there are fewer bees or no bees, then we’re in trouble, too. Farmers who grow important crops like wheat, corn, and other grains depend on this simple act of Mother Nature to keep things going. Plus, honey is an important and delicious agriculture product.

So, the next you're outside enjoying the fresh air, keep an eye out for bees. And let me know about your Urban Science Adventures!©
photo credit:

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Amazing Animal Stories

Check this out! Scientists are learning new info about all kinds of creatures everyday.
Below, is just a little of what we’re learning about animals from all over the world.

Story 1. On the Hoof
Learn more about 4-legged creatures at the Ultimate Ungulate online Activity website:

Story 2: Birds, Bats and Bar Codes
New Bats have been discovered in Guyana, South America. I've visited Guyana annd it is such a beautiful country..Lots of biodiversity and a perfect place for ecovisits. In fact, I'll share some of my pictures and adventures from Guyana on the site at a later date. In the meantime, molecular and genetic research is now being put to use to help scientist identify new and well-known species of animals using Genetic Bar Codes. Yes, you read right. DNA of species can read much like in a bar code for items you purchase at the grocery story.
Science magazine features these 2 short articles about Amazing Animal research: Read here to learn more.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chicago Public School Students to Assist in Archaeological Dig in Kenya

Two ninth graders from the Chicago Public School District were chosen to work along side archaeologists from the Field Museum of Chicago in Kenya this summer. The trip is being sponsored by Ernst & Young, the major benefactor of the charter school the students attend.
Read more.

Now, I know this isn't urban ecology, but it's just as GREAT! These inner-city students will be doing Science and working alongside college students, graduate students, and professors. This program gives amazing and unique opportuntities to under-served adn under-reprsented students to explore a science career.

I wish them much luck and success.
Science Rocks!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Listening for Bird Songs...At Night

Recently, the Washington, DC. Audubon Society reported that many birds are more active at night than they ever have been before. Why? Urban areas are always full of activity, noise and light. Yes, light and noise pollution maybe signalling to birds that the day is longer than it actually is. Read the full account here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Invasive Species - Definitely Foe, no Friend

Invasive species are typically non-native or foriegn organisms that have taken up residence in a new place and environment and their growth and spread are out of control.

Why are invasive species a problem?
No Checks & Balances
Species within a given ecosystem depend on each other for survival & population control. When a ‘new resident’ comes into the system, they may not fit in and can throw the whole system off.

Changes the Natural Habitat
Foriegn species alter the abiotic & biotic environment and changes the ability of some organisms to survive
Examples: new trees that native animals can’t live in or eat from, they lose their homes, die or move away
Examples: zebra mussels taking up too much oxygen in the water.

Out-compete Native Species
The alien plant consumes resources faster or takes up space before similar native species do.

Alien plant species might genetically mix with native species and change the entire make-up and ecological role of the native plant.

Why Should we care?
•Decrease local Biodiversity
–When foreign plants invade a new area, these species displace or may even harm native species. The foreign plant may cause larger environmental problems, including extinction. •
–Impacts natural resources like water, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries
•It costs lots of money to get rid of foreign species and the seeds/pollen from these plants may impact local food chain and food supply dynamics.

What can be done to stop invaders?
Biological Control
–Using Natural Enemies to keep the invade population growth in check.

• Mechanical Control
–Physically removing or destroying the invaders.

What else can be done?

–International, Federal, & State Agencies

What can I do?
• Education
–Community Outreach, Public Service Campaigns••

Action Items:
Tell others about Invasive Plant Species and the problems they cause.
Work to promote planting and gardening native plants, flowers, and trees in your neighborhood.
Create a Public Service Annoucement Poster to educate your neighbors and friends about invasive plant species.

•Tell your audience:
–WHO are the players - the name of the invasive plant species.
–WHAT is the problem - the problems caused by invasive species.
–WHY they should care.
–HOW they can help solve the problem.

When you're done, your WANTED poster might look something the one created by one of my students involved with an After-school Program at Normandy Senior High School in St. Louis, Missouri.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Science news: Lizards are dwindling, too.

Lizards join frogs in rapid decline
The precipitous loss of amphibians in recent years has been blamed on habitat loss, global warming, fungal infections, and pesticides.
Read more about how our we changing our planet -- and not always in a good way.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Urban Parks are great!!

Urban parks an answer to global warming?

Scientists looking at the effect global warming will have on our major cities say a modest increase in the number of urban parks and street trees could offset decades of predicted temperature rises. The University of Manchester study has calculated that a mere 10% increase in the amount of green space in built-up centres would reduce urban surface temperatures by as much as 4°C.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Celebrate Arbor Day

Happy Arbor Day everyone.

With all of the talk about Global Warming and Human responsibility, here's something you can do: Plant a tree. The National Arbor Day Foundation has been encouraging responsible environmental stewardship for over 100 years.
Plant a tree and breathe well.

For more information about the history of Arbor Day click here.
For celebration ideas click here.

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