Uncommon Ground

Author Archive: kent

Discussing privilege in environmental conservation

I last taught my graduate course in conservation biology in Fall 2015. Holly Brown, my teaching assistant in the course, had to fill in for me a couple of times because of commitments that took me out of town. She designed a creative and powerful exercise for one of the times I was out of town. In written evaluations of the course, almost every student reported that it was eye opening and, quite possibly, the most useful exercise in the course. What was this creative and powerful exercise? Holly’s version of a privilege walk. If you don’t know what that is or you want to know how she used a privilege walk in the context of conservation or both, it’s your lucky day. A paper describing the exercise recently appeared in Conservation Biology. Here’s the citation and a link.

Brown, H.M., A. Kamath, and M. Rubega.  2017.  Facilitating discussions about privilege among future conservation practitioners. Conservation Biology 31:727-730.  doi: 10.1111/cobi.12810

Causes of genetic differentiation in Protea repens

American Journal of Botany Volume 104, Number 5. May 2017.

Protea repens is the most widespread member of the genus. It was one of the focal species in our recently completed Dimensions of Biodiversity project. Part of the project involved genotyping-by-sequencing analyses of 663 individuals from 19 populations spanning most of the geographical range of the species. We summarize results of those analyses in a paper that just appeared in advance of the May issue (cover photo featured above) of the American Journal of Botany. Here’s the abstract. You’ll find the citation and a link at the bottom.

PREMISE OF THE STUDY: The Cape Floristic Region (CFR) of South Africa is renowned for its botanical diversity, but the evolutionary origins of this diversity remain controversial. Both neutral and adaptive processes have been implicated in driving diversification, but population-level studies of plants in the CFR are rare. Here, we investigate the limits to gene flow and potential environmental drivers of selection in Protea repens L. (Proteaceae L.), a widespread CFR species.
METHODS: We sampled 19 populations across the range of P. repens and used genotyping by sequencing to identify 2066 polymorphic loci in 663 individuals. We used a Bayesian FST outlier analysis to identify single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) marking genomic regions that may be under selection; we used those SNPs to identify potential drivers of selection and excluded them from analyses of gene flow and genetic structure.
RESULTS: A pattern of isolation by distance suggested limited gene flow between nearby populations. The populations of P. repens fell naturally into two or three groupings, which corresponded to an east-west split. Differences in rainfall seasonality contributed to diversification in highly divergent loci, as do barriers to gene flow that have been identified in other species.
CONCLUSIONS: The strong pattern of isolation by distance is in contrast to the findings in the only other widespread species in the CFR that has been similarly studied, while the effects of rainfall seasonality are consistent with well-known patterns. Assessing the generality of these results will require investigations of other CFR species.

Prunier, R., M. Akman, C.T. Kremer, N. Aitken, A. Chuah, J. Borevitz, and K. E. Holsinger. Isolation by distance and isolation by environment contribute to population differentiation in Protea repens (Proteaceae L.), a widespread South African species. American Journal of Botany doi: 10.3732/ajb.1600232 

This is cool (if you’re a typography nerd)

A portion of the fontmap of Google Fonts generated by a designer from Ideo (http://fontmap.ideo.com)

Kevin Ho, software design lead at Ideo, created a fascinating tool to explore the 750+ typefaces available on Google Fonts. I’m not a designer,1 and I use only a small number of fonts,2 so I don’t need this tool, but I’ve been fascinated by printing and typography for several decades. I can’t stop playing with this fontmap, and I had to share the fun. There’s a nice article at Fast Company describing the project and how Ho used two open source algorithms to create it. Maybe future versions of Word will provide a fontmap to explore choices instead of vertical lists.
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2017 Graduate Commencement Ceremonies @UConn

The University of Connecticut celebrated its 138th Commencement exercises last weekend.1 The Graduate School now confers so many degrees that we have two ceremonies, a ceremony for recipients of master’s degrees on Saturday afternoon and a ceremony for recipients of doctoral degrees on Monday evening. Stuart Rothenburg, who received his

Stuart Rothenburg, who received his PhD in Political Science from UConn, addressed the graduating class at the master’s ceremony. If you’d like to see his remarks, follow the link below, click on “Graduate School Ceremony: Masters Candidates, May 6, 2017”, and then click on “Commencement Address” at the left.

I addressed the graduating class at the doctoral ceremony on behalf of Elizabeth Jockusch, this year’s winner of the Edward C. Marth Award for Mentorship, and Takiyah Harper-Shipman was our student speaker. If you’d like to see my remarks, follow the link below, click on “Graduate School Ceremony: Doctoral Candidates, May 8, 2017”,  and then click on “Welcome Remarks” at the left. After a brief welcome from Interim Provost Jeremy Teitelbaum, you’ll see me. If you’d like to see Takiyah’s remarks, click on “Commencement Address” instead. If for some reason you’d like to read my remarks, keep scrolling down (or click through if you’re on the home page).

University of Connecticut Commencement Ceremonies 2017 (from Total Webcasting)

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Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

Wildscreen’s photograph of David Attenborough at ARKive’s launch in Bristol, England © May 2003 You are free: to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work to remix – to adapt the work

Today is Sir David Attenborough’s 91st birthday. If you follow me on Twitter or read this blog, you don’t need me to tell you who he is, but just as a reminder, here is some of his biography from IMDb:

Born 8 May 1926, the younger brother of actor Lord Richard Attenborough. He never expressed a wish to act and, instead, studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, graduating in 1947, the year he began his two years National Service in the Royal Navy. In 1952, he joined BBC Television at Alexandra Palace and, in 1954, began his famous “Zoo Quest” series. When not “Zoo Questing”, he presented political broadcasts, archaeological quizzes, short stories, gardening and religious programmes. 1964 saw the start of BBC2, Britain’s third TV channel, with Michael Peacock as its Controller. A year later, Peacock was promoted to BBC1 and Attenborough became Controller of BBC2. As such, he was responsible for the introduction of colour television into Britain, and also for bringing Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969) to the world. In 1969, he was appointed Director of Programmes with editorial responsibility for both the BBC’s television networks. Eight years behind a desk was too much for him, and he resigned in 1973 to return to programme making. First came “Eastwards with Attenborough”, a natural history series set in South East Asia, then “The Tribal Eye”, examining tribal art. In 1979, he wrote and presented all 13 parts of Life on Earth (1979) (then the most ambitious series ever produced by the BBC Natural History Unit). This became a trilogy, with The Living Planet (1984) and The Trials of Life (1990).

I knew about Life on Earth, The Living Planet, and The Trials of Life (obviously). I didn’t know that he’d introduced color TV to Britain and that he was responsible for “brining Monty Python’s Flying Circus to the world. What an amazing set of accomplishments. His contributions are simply astounding.

More at Wikipedia and Biography

Science, doubt, and the need for action

From Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway:

All scientific work is incomplete—whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have, to postpone action that it appears to demand at a given time. Who knows, asks Robert Browning, but the world may end tonight? True, but on available evidence most of us make ready to commute on the 8:30 next day.

“A demand for scientific proof is always a formula for inaction and delay, and usually the first reaction of the guilty. The proper basis for such decisions is, of course, quite simply that which is reasonable in the circumstances.” Or as Bill Nierenberg put it in a candid moment, “You just know in your heart that you can’t throw 25 million tons a year of sulfates into the Northeast and not expect some … consequences.”

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

A thought on science and public policy

From Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway:

if science is about studying the world as it actually is—rather than as we wish it to be—then science will always have the potential to unsettle the status quo. As an independent source of authority and knowledge, science has always had the capacity to challenge ruling powers’ ability to control people by controlling their beliefs. Indeed, it has the power to challenge anyone who wishes to preserve, protect, or defend the status quo.

Amazon.com

Barnes & Noble

A new approach to spam journals?

This is a new one. I’ve received invitations to submit to what appear to be spam journals well outside my field, and I’ve received conference invitations to present at conferences well outside my field. But this is a new one – an invitation to review a paper well outside my field that will (a) make me a member of the Technical Program Committee for a workshop and receive a discount on registration as a result. Keep in mind as you read this that my expertise is in plant evolutionary genetics and population genetics. I know molecular biologists, even some who have worked on membranes, but I am not a membrane biologist, and I don’t even play one on TV.

Dear Kent E. Holsinger,
Due to your innovative findings in the field of Biology, we need your expertise for reviewing one or two papers in a special issue to be published in Molecular Membrane Biology (2015 Impact Factor: 1.983).
This reviewing will entitle you to become a member of the Technical Program Committee of the Workshop on Molecular Biology, and will give you a discount in case you will attend the 6th International Conference on Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology (Oct.17-20, 2017 Guangzhou, China).

You may also send your report there to be published in the special issue. If you are too busy to attend our conference and/or review the papers, we would appreciate if you recommend us your colleagues or subordinates who can represent your honorable institution in our international cooperation.

Please feel free to contact me on this or related issues.

For more information, please visit
www.icbeb.org

or contact
icbeb@icbeb.org

The debate about new conservation and alternatives

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I fall roughly into the camp of New Conservationists. When I took the Future of Conservation survey, I scored relatively strongly on  “means of improving human welfare” and slightly positive on “willingness to embrace markets and capitalism.” In catching up on my reading this weekend, I discovered that the folks behind the survey also surveyed attendees at the 2015 International Congress of Conservation Biology. Here’s the abstract of the paper describing what they found (full citation and link below):

A vibrant debate about the future direction of biodiversity conservation centers on the merits of the so-called new conservation. Proponents of the new conservation advocate a series of positions on key conservation ideas, such as the importance of human-dominated landscapes and conservation’s engagement with capitalism. These have been fiercely contested in a debate dominated by a few high-profile individuals, and so far there has been no empirical exploration of existing perspectives on these issues among a wider community of conservationists. We used Q methodology to examine empirically perspectives on the new conservation held by attendees at the 2015 International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB). Although we identified a consensus on several key issues, 3 distinct positions emerged: in favor of conservation to benefit people but opposed to links with capitalism and corporations, in favor of biocentric approaches but with less emphasis on wilderness protection than prominent opponents of new conservation, and in favor of the published new conservation perspective but with less emphasis on increasing human well-being as a goal of conservation. Our results revealed differences between the debate on the new conservation in the literature and views held within a wider, but still limited, conservation community and demonstrated the existence of at least one viewpoint (in favor of conservation to benefit people but opposed to links with capitalism and corporations) that is almost absent from the published debate. We hope the fuller understanding we present of the variety of views that exist but have not yet been heard, will improve the quality and tone of debates on the subject.

Holmes, G., C. Sandbrook, and J.A. Fisher. 2017. Understanding conservationists’ perspectives on the new-conservation debate. Conservation Biology 31:353–363  doi: 10.1111/cobi.12811