Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Act for the sake of Love

The Copenhagen summit on climate change in December last year promised much and delivered little. During the talk-fest, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered a sermon entitled "Act for the sake of love". Unfortunately, this talk received very little publicity. This is a shame because I for one think that it details very elegantly why the push for action on climate change thus far has largely failed and turns the

A couple of (what I reckon are) the highlights of the talk:
Love casts out fear. If we begin from the belief that God wants us to rejoice and delight in the created world, our basic attitude to the environment will not be anxiety or the desperate search for ways of controlling it; it will be the excited and hopeful search for understanding it and honouring its goodness and its complex, interdependent beauty. If there is any 'fear' around here, it should be fear of spoiling the heritage given us, of forgetting the overwhelming scale and depth of the gift and of our responsibility and care for it, fear of forgetting that we are called to show consistent and sacrificial love for the created world as we must show towards our fellow-human beings.

The second sentence sums up in a nutshell my motivation for what I do and why I love science. The third sentence grounds this motivation in what really matters---Love.
We are afraid because we don't know how we can survive without the comforts of our existing lifestyle. We are afraid that new policies will be unpopular with a national electorate. We are afraid that younger and more vigorous economies will take advantage of us – or we are afraid that older, historically dominant economies will use the excuse of ecological responsibility to deny us our right to proper and just development.

I think that this is a very insightful quote that sums up exactly what happened in Copenhagen. Archbishop Williams does recognise that these fears may be justified:

There is, in a word, no shortage of excellent excuses for turning away from decisions that will mean real change. But at least let's be honest about where they come from: it is fear – not necessarily irrational fear, not even necessarily purely selfish fear, but fear all the same. And so long as that dominates our calculations, we are stepping back from love – love for the creation itself, which we must look at as God looks at it, love for one another and for the generations still unborn

Unfortunately, although Archbishop Williams outlines the principle, he does not give concrete guidelines as to how this works. He has a precedent for this: it tends to be the primary way God appears to operate. This means that it is up to us to work out how "Acting for the sake of Love" looks like. It's a bit easier at the personal level than at the governmental level---at the personal level you don't have angry constituents on your back if you decide something they don't agree with.

Acting out of Love always involves vulnerability, and making yourself vulnerable is NOT the aim of international relations. However, it is the model that Christ gives us and is what frees us from fear, greed and oppression. While it may have largely fallen under the radar, this speech by Archbishop Williams is a great reminder that Christ's redemption extends not only to us and our personal lives, but to the environment also.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Pacific Island Agroforestry documents

The Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC) teamed up with a number of North American organisations to produce a series of pamphlets to promote agroforestry in the Pacific. These pamphlets take the form of species accounts and are an excellent source on information to the propagation, cultivation, uses and enemies of a number of different plant species. While the hard copy editions went out of print a while ago, PDFs are freely available online.

The species accounts include details on how to propagate species in the the mangrove genera Bruguiera and Rhizophora. With the fear of the effects of climate change on the vulnerable islands of the South Pacific, I believe that these plants should become much more widely planted to protect against shoreline erosion and seawater inundation. The accounts do make the very important recommendation to not plant these species outside of their natural range, as they can be invasive. They are however found naturally throughout the Pacific, so that should not be a problem for the most part. The plants are very easily propagated and propagules can be sourced from local trees. There may be some downsides in terms of coastal access; and they may not grow so readily on the weather coasts of atolls. However, I do think that more research and promotion of the propagation of these trees is one of the most pro-active ways that the Pacific Islands can fight the effects of climate change.

European Weevil photos Part II

In addition to the website mentioned in my previous post about European weevils, there is a stunning site with a whole bunch of habitus photos of German weevils, including the picture of Chlorophanus viridis shown to the left. There are a whole range of genera pictured and it of great value to people wanting to identify or become familiar with the weevils of the country.

Featured insect: Aureopterix micans (Lepidoptera: Micropterigidae)

The moth fauna of the Pacific is still fairly unknown, with most of the work that's been done on the region's being rather old and with few recent revisions. An addition to the literature was recently published by George Gibbs in Zootaxa today on the Micropterigidae of Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. In it, he describes the species pictured:
Aureopterix micans from New Caledonia. This beautiful species is fairly widespread and common throughout New Caledonia at moderate altitudes.

As suggested by the name of the family, the Micropterigidae are part of the microlepidoptera---an informal name for a bunch of families that are small and tend to escape the notice of the public. They also tend to escape the notice of most specialists, and so their biology is not particularly well known. This is true for Aureopterix micans, however, the larvae for some of the other species described in the paper are known to feed on foliose liverworts. This is likely to be true of A. micans also.

It is believed that the distribution of the Micropterigidae may offer insights into the biogeography of the South Pacific region. The distribution of Auropterix offers a fairly standard interpretation of New Caledonian biogeography. While A. micans is restricted to New Caledonia; the only other species currently known in the genus, A. sterops, is found in northern Queensland, Australia. This East Coast Australia---New Caledonia connection is fairly typical of a lot of the fauna of the island. Other species of Micropterigidae however do not show this pattern, being closer to species in New Zealand than Australia. While Biogeography is full of interesting details such as these, going from hypotheses of pattern to process can be difficult to test, and will require greater research into the fauna of each area and underlying geology and ecology of the species involved.


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Fauna of France

Carrying on with the theme of big documents being put on line, here's a link to PDF versions of most of the volumes of the Fauna of France. Naturally, they're in French. They do make you want to learn it (if you don't know it already) because there's some good stuff in here....

Monday, 21 June 2010

Insects of Brazil

All 11 volumes of the substantial 1956 publication "Insetos do Brasil" is available online. Volume 10 is all about weevils with some interesting notes on their biology, and a few very spectacular pictures and photos. Not spectacular in their quality, but of the amazing insects they represent.

Volumes are available as both full volumes and as chapters.

A quick run down of their contents:
Volume 1: "minor" orders---springtails, dragonflies, lice, webspinners, grasshoppers, mantids and the like.
Volume 2: Heteroptera
Volume 3: Homoptera
Volume 4: Neuroptera, Trichoptera etc
Volume 5: Lepidoptera part I---Microlepidoptera mainly
Volume 6: Lepidoptera part II---Macrolepidoptera
Volume 7: Coleoptera---Adephaga and Archostemata
Volume 8: Coleoptera---Scarabaeoidea, Elateroidea, Cleroidea, Cucujoidea
Volume 9: Coleoptera---Tenebrionoidea, Chryomelidae, Cerambycidae
Volume 10: Coleoptera---Curculionoidea. Weevils!
Volume 11: Hymenoptera---non-Apocrita
Volume 12: Hymenoptera---Apocrita

Friday, 18 June 2010

Featured insect: Doddifoenus wallacei (Hymenoptera: Pteromalidae)

Looking through Zootaxa this morning I came across this and couldn't resist putting it up here...

This is a parasitic wasp named Doddifoenus wallacei. It is in the family Pteromalidae, which is part of the superfamily Chalcidoidea. The wasps in this superfamily are ubiquitous, but not many people notice them as they tend to be very small---most of the ones that I've come across don't get much bigger than 2 mm. When you do notice them and get them under a microscope though, they are some of the most beautiful things you'll see. Metallic golds, shimmering wings and usually some pretty cool looking morphological structures. With D. wallacei though, you don't necessarily need a microscope to appreciate it. Not including its ovipositor ("sting"), it measures between 17 and 19 mm. When the ovipositor is included, the thing measures a whopping 34--41 mm. That's massive for a chalcidoid and rightly deserves the "giant parasitoid wasp" in the title. If you're worried about a wasp having a sting that long, please don't. It is believed to parasitise wood-boring insects, and it's long ovipositor is used to bore through wood to get to the victim.

While this species is found in South-East Asia, and so not a South Pacific species, the two other species in the genus Doddifoenus are found in New Guinea and tropical Queensland, Australia. This makes Doddifoenus one of the creatures that crosses Wallace's Line, the famed division which separates the Asian biota from the Australian. Like all of humanity's categorisation of the natural world, it breaks down in several details, however as an overall trend it remains useful.


Wednesday, 16 June 2010

International Code of Zoological Nomenclature

I should've done this a long time ago. The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (affectionately known by zoologists as "The Code" or the ICZN) is THE document that outlines the rules of how the scientific names of species are named and decided. It attempts to control what one could argue is the largest and longest distributed project in the world---the naming and categorising of all animal life on earth. It does not make for stimulating bed-time reading, but it is (or should be) essential for all zoologists to have some familiarity with it, and particularly those who hope to make a living participating in the project.

It's rules concern only those who deal with animals. Botanists are governed by their own code named (logically enough) the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. The two are independent and have some differences. Not many, but enough to mean for botanists and zoologists to both wonder why the other does what they do.

So, if one were to get a copy of this scintillating document, how would they go about it? You could try asking your friendly neighbourhood taxonomist and if they don't have a copy they should hang their head in shame. For those who like to put something on the bedside table, a you can buy a copy for $56 USD (including postage and packaging). If you're too cheap, can't afford it, or just enjoy reading from a computer screen it is available freely online here.

Enjoy the read!