Friday, 29 October 2010

"Scientist at Work" —NY Times blog

The New York Times website has been hosting a series devoted to scientific expeditions and activity—the "Scientist at Work" blog. Of particular interest are the articles by Chris Filardi. Chris is an ornithologist based at the American Museum of Natural History, but who has done a lot of work on the avifauna of Melanesia. He writes about a trip to Kolombangara Island in the Western Province of the Solomons.

Other contributors to the series are icthyologist Melanie Stiassny and mathematician Ron Eglash with current contributors ornithologist Douglas Stotz and botanist Nigel Pitman currently talking about a trip to South America

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Papua New Guinea plants

There is fairly little readily available information for the native flora of the South Pacific. Thankfully, this has started to change with the advent of the PNGPlants Project. This excellent website brings together descriptions, factsheets and photos of herbarium specimens (such as the specimen of Nothofagus pullei above) to provide a very accessible introduction to the plants of one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Google maps latitude/longitude bookmarklet

Bookmarklets are little strings of JavaScript that reside in your internet bookmark list and can do useful things. In particular, the one I find most useful is this one that retrieves the coordinates of the point at the centre of a Google Maps window:


Thanks to liquidx for writing it!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER)

Sphagneticola trilobata
The Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER) website is an excellent resource to the weeds of importance throughout the tropical Pacific region. The main strength of the site is the extensive list of species fact sheets (including Sphagneticola trilobata, an important lowland weed in Western Viti Levu, Fiji; pictured above) It also includes assessments of the weed fauna of several Pacific Islands, primarily within Micronesia and Polynesia.

While on the subject, SPREP has published some guidelines for the management of invasive species in the Pacific, an important document for those dealing with such things in the region.

Quote: Jules Verne

Been reading Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea lately, and the following quote amused me somewhat:

Truly if this good fellow had had gills instead of lungs, I think he would have made a very good fish.—Chapter 19, "The Gulf Stream"

Monday, 18 October 2010

3 years on...

Three years ago I started this blog to fulfill an assessment requirement for my MSc. It then languished for a while, before I realised it might be of use to me as a place to record interesting websites and to make publicly available any interesting software, R or LaTeX code, or anything else that I cared to post. I've found that this has been the best way for me to regularly post things, though it may not be as reader-focused as it could be. I apologise very insincerely, as though I feel for you, the fact is is that I'm not going to be changing the format anytime soon.

Thank you though, for visiting the site. If you've visited before, even greater thanks. And feel an overwhelming appreciation from me to you if you've commented here or have made other people aware of this blog. It would still happen without you, but its significance would be much diminished.


A Fading Field?

A year or so ago, The Scientist published an article on "A Fading Field: Traditional taxonomists are an endangered species. Could their unique brand of knowledge disappear, too?". The authors talked to a number of leading taxonomists, including Anthony Cognato and Jiri Hulcr (always good to see the Curculionidae represented!), and have produced a very well-written piece on the lamentable state of taxonomy. There is little here that is new for those of us who follow these things, but unlike pieces, this is actually a good read.

The key issues in my view are jobs and communication. The lack of jobs discourage all interested students from pursuing a career in the field, prefering to become competent in other disciplines (often molecular systematics or bioinformatics) that has better employment opportunities. It would be hard enough if the jobs that were available were being replaced, but it is criminal when instutions of the calibre of the Kew Botanical Gardens do not hire new taxonomists when the previous generation retire. As a scientist-in-training I am experiencing this right now, desperately wanting to devote my time to taxonomic discovery, but having to be realistic enough to forsee that I probably won't be able to get work that is full-time taxonomic research. I also know a number of other students that would be extremely interested in taxonomy, if there was the possibility of getting jobs.

Communication is extremely important, but one that many taxonomists are not particularly proficient at. Taxonomy undergirds the remainder of biology, and the applicability of that biological research often stands or falls on how well the taxonomy that supports it has been done. However, you very rarely hear about it. Biosecurity, pest management, and conservation are all heavily dependant on taxonomic expertise. This needs to be publicised much more broadly. We taxonomists reguarly moan about how little we're valued. Possibly if we inspire others with the beauty and value of our work and how excited we are about it, we won't have to suffer our inferiority complex so much.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Google translate now translating Latin

Google Translate is an excellent little tool for converting between languages. Until now though it has not had that mainstay of the early scientific period, latin. While being only an alpha version and therefore not being completely accurate, it still serves to make it much easier to read and understand the gist of old documents like one of Carl Johan Schoenherr's landmark monographs on weevils, Curculionidum dispositio methodica, cum generum characteribus, descriptionibus atque observationibus variis, seu Prodromus ad Synonymiae, insectorum partem IV.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Solomon Island Caddisflies

Caddisflies (order Trichoptera) are one of the major groups of aquatic insects, well known for building cute cases out of sand, grit and other detritus.

While having a fair number of species, relatively little is known about the group in the Pacific, with the exception of some excellent work being done on the New Caledonian fauna. That being the case, it was excellent to see that nine species were described in a paper recently published in Zootaxa, authored by Kjell Arne Johansen, the man behind the current work on New Caledonian Trichoptera. With only 16 species previously described from the islands, this represents a fairly sizable addition to our knowledge of the caddisflies of the Solomon Islands.


Johansen KA, Espeland M. 2010. Description of new Chimarra (Trichoptera: Philopotamidae) species from the Solomon Islands. Zootaxa 2638:25-43

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Asian Beetle Websites

Sphenocorynes ocellatus
Today, I came across a number of Asian-origin webpages that have many beautiful photos of beetles in general and weevils in particular.

The first, the 動物區 blog (which Google translates for me as "Animal Zone") is a photo diary focusing on invertebrates. The author has a keen eye and a good camera, and so manages to capture some excellent images of a wide variety of animals. Even better, they've taken the time to identify all the subjects, providing a very useful and informative site. As always, it pays to treat the identifications as tentative, but I haven't seen any grossly incorrect determinations thus far.

Another site has an excellent gallery of weevils. This site has the nice feature of providing photos of several different views of most species. Click on the picture in the gallery, and you get taken to another page that often has photos of the underside, lateral and dorsal aspects of the creature.

The last is the Taiwan Insect Wiki house, a wiki devoted to insects and insect photos. It has a page for their weevil photos, which has a number of very nice photos, including the photo of the beautiful Sphenocorynes ocellatus posted above.