Who is ready to move? Indicators of when Pycroft petrels are ready for translocation.

Gadfly petrels (Pterodroma species) are amazingly adapted to life at sea, having evolved almost alien-like traits. Spirally twisted upper intestines aid in the digestion of marine organisms. Glands located above the eyes remove excess salt from the bloodstream which is drained from tubular nostrils. The petrel’s keen sense of smell isn’t…

Ecology by the numbers

It is probably safe to say that the job description of an ecologist in 2016 is quite different from that of an ecologist back in the 1970’s or 1980’s. Our work today involves computer programs and fancy technology, some of which make our work much easier. But some appear to make…

Darwin and the Sandwalk: Stay at home Dad

Darwin had a lot of kids (ten, three dying young, Charlie the last in 1858 of scarlet fever aged just two). Darwin also worked at home for most of his life. So he was a stay-at-home dad! I have found that coordinating three sons and getting them all to their…

Identifying the killers’ next of kin: stoats, ferrets and weasels

The title of number 1 killer in New Zealand is a fairly well fought over position. There are numerous introduced species that could enter this competition. Possums, even though not especially big predators, have, through sheer weight of number, a huge impact. Cats, wild and domesticated, are super effective killers…

Habitat invasion in the Southern Alps: why no forest-orcs in Middle-earth?

I guess I was always destined to spend my life in evolution and ecology. I distinctly remember from an early age, as I read through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, worrying about the orcs. Not whether they are scary and nasty, that was a given, but rather how they…

Fishing for possum DNA

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” is a reasonably  well known quote from Theodosius Dobzhansky. It makes the point that we never really understand biology until we see it through an evolutionary filter. In recent years we could play with this quote and say “Everything in biology can make…

Spatial variation, Ithilien and the Old Forest

A strength of Tolkien was that he put so much effort into creating an amazingly detailed secondary world. He did this by adding as much realism, often ecological, as he could to the mix. Despite the presence of dragons, trolls and hobbits there is an overwhelming feeling that Middle-earth is a…

Ecology and the future of universities

Lately I have come across several examples of discussion about the future of universities (or rather the lack of a future for universities). There seems to be a couple of main themes. First, if I can do my degree by distance then wouldn’t I be better to get my degree…

Measuring the burn!

Fire. Even in the 21st century fire remains an important part of our lives. This week I spent several hours stacking firewood ahead of the coming winter. On some of the recent less windy days we have been surrounded by plumes of smoke as farmers burn off their cereal stubble. …

Concerning Hobbit subspecies: Tolkien and the taxonomy of damselflies

Tolkien was a taxonomist. At least, he had thoughts like that of a taxonomist. A taxonomist is someone who thinks about taxa, about how to make sensible groups out of individuals, especially about what constitutes a species. Without taxonomy the world is just a place full of individuals and biology…