The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
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Ecology

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It seems strikingly obvious that modern humans are a pretty big deal. In Pat Shipman's The Invaders she argues that H. sapiens can be thought of as a top predator which is so efficient that it rearranges the whole ecosystem, wreaking havoc with the conventional trophic cascades. We can see this in the archaeological record.... Read More
The domestication of the dog is a complex and unresolved topic. But at this point I am convinced that this is one domestication event which well predates agriculture. To some extent this is common sense. There are tentative archaeological finds of domestic dogs in the New World almost immediately after widespread human habitation of the... Read More
One of my major gripes with my friends in ecology is that there is a tendency to look at every problem through the lens of ecological models. Garrett Hardin, who popularized the term "tragedy of the commons" is an exemplar of this. People in ecology often get irritated by the public confusion between it, a... Read More
A monkey frog The Pith: The Amazon Rainforest has a lot of species because it's been around for a very long time. I really don't know much about ecology, alas. So my understanding of evolution framed in its proper ecological context is a touch on the coarse side. When I say I don't know much... Read More
Foraminifera, Wikimedia Commons The Pith: The tree if life is nourished by agon, but pruned by the gods. More literally, both interactions between living organisms and the changes in the environment impact the pulsing of speciation and extinction. No one can be a true "Renaissance Man" today. One has to pick & choose the set... Read More
A "cloud forest" The lush image above is of a cloud forest biome. Can you guess where it is? The Arabian country of Oman! How's that for a surprise? I had known of the Green Mountain of northeast Oman, which is ~3000 meters above sea level and receives ~15 inches of rain (enough for shrubby... Read More
On this week's ResearchBlogCast we discussed Adaptation, Plasticity, and Extinction in a Changing Environment: Towards a Predictive Theory (see my post reviewing it). The basic idea was to discuss a simple mathematical model which treated biological populations as something more than simply static constants buffeted by changes in physical parameters. In particular there's often an... Read More
Change is quite in the air today, whether it be climate change or human induced habitat shifts. What's a species in the wild to do? Biologists naturally worry about loss of biodiversity a great deal, and many non-biologist humans rather high up on Maslow's hierarchy of needs also care. And yet species loss, or the... Read More
I'm still a sucker for stories like this, Only Known Living Population of Rare Dwarf Lemur Discovered: Living today is much more awesome than the 19th century overall, but, we've mapped the whole world, and have a good sense of all the large animals (at least the upper bound, unfortunately the number seems to be... Read More
John Hawks has an excellent post rebutting some misinformation and confusion on the part of Colin Blakemore, an Oxford neurobiologist. Blakemore asserts that: * There was a sharp spike in cranial capacity ~200,000 years ago, on the order of 30% * And, that the large brain was not deleterious despite its large caloric footprint (25%... Read More
The Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition in Cova Gran (Catalunya, Spain) and the extinction of Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula: The excavations carried out in Cova Gran de Santa Linya (Southeastern PrePyrenees, Catalunya, Spain) have unearthed a new archaeological sequence attributable to the Middle Palaeoloithic/Upper Palaeolithic (MP/UP) transition. This article presents data on the stratigraphy, archaeology, and... Read More
Is the Hobbit's Brain Unfeasibly Small?: The paper will show up in BMC Biology at some point. The main question I have is in regards to the purported tool use of the Hobbits. I can believe that a local adaptation toward small brains, Idiocracy-writ large, occurred. Brains are metabolically expensive, and it isn't as if... Read More
Modern civilization has extremely deleterious consequences in regards to species richness, primarily through destruction of habitat. Because of these negative aspects of modernity hunter-gatherers have been idealized as a model of humanity at equilibrium with their ecology. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus lays out the revisionist, and to some extent now mainstream,... Read More
Are Antarctic minke whales unusually abundant because of 20th century whaling?: Populations, such as humans, who have expanded rapidly from a small population tend to exhibit a particular
Carl Zimmer has a nice write up of the a new paper in Science which characterizes the nature of the cells which are manifest during devil facial tumor disease. The Tasmanian Devil Transcriptome Reveals Schwann Cell Origins of a Clonally Transmissible Cancer: In Carl's article, he reports: The cancer, devil's facial tumor disease, is transmitted... Read More
Brian Switek, The extended twilight of the mammoths: So, if the team's analysis is correct, both mammoths and horses lived in the interior of Alaska between about 11,000 and 7,000 years ago. This is significantly more recent than the youngest fossil remains of horses and mammoths, dated between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago. There are... Read More
Cool new report in Current Biology, Defensive tool use in a coconut-carrying octopus: No surprise that when we are looking to a violation of an old "human exceptional" character (though tool-use seems to have been violated a fair amount now by any interpretation) that the cephalopod would step up to the plate. I've heard of... Read More
FuturePundit points me to a new paper on the Toba explosion, Environmental impact of the 73 ka Toba super-eruption in South Asia: The cooling effects of historic volcanic eruptions on world climate are well known but the impacts of even bigger prehistoric eruptions are still shrouded in mystery. The eruption of Toba volcano in northern... Read More
Pleistocene Megafaunal Collapse, Novel Plant Communities, and Enhanced Fire Regimes in North America: Ed Yong has the bases covered: What about humans, those pesky slayers of animals? Some scientists believed that North America's Clovis people specialised in hunting big mammals, causing a "blitzkrieg" of spear-throwing that drove
The evolutionary history of the extinct ratite moa and New Zealand Neogene paleogeography: "Subfossil" means that it hasn't totally fossilized and one can extract organic material from the remains.
Cooperation and individuality among man-eating lions.
The Religious Landscape Survey has a lot of data various denominations. Recently I noticed something weird about Mormons; they are very anti-evolution, as well as anti-universalist in their views on salvation, according to this survey. These are notable views because Mormons don't have well established attitudes on evolution from on high (which is why Mitt... Read More
Believe it or not, tigers are not the largest big cat. Ligers are (you might remember ligers from Napoleon Dynamite). Why? It has to do with the weirdness that occurs when you hybridize across two lineages which have been distinctive for millions of years, but not so long so as not to be able to... Read More
Eric Michael Johnson of Primate Diaries has a piece up for Seed, where he reviews Franz De Waal's newest book, The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. Also a post, Misunderstanding Dawkins: The Role of Metaphor in Science is worth a read. I'll respond to Michael at some point in the near... Read More
p-ter points out that selection of model organisms can shape the path of scientific research because of the very nature of model organisms. Normative considerations in science are pretty obvious when you look at the set of disciplines; there's a whole field of biological anthropology which studies one species. There is the rather well known... Read More
Nearly 50 years ago W. D. Hamilton published two papers, The genetical evolution of social behaviour - I & The genetical evolution of social behaviour - II, which helped revolutionize our conception of how social and genetic process might work in concert. It opened up a field of research which was highlighted in Richard Dawkins'... Read More
Where is the rainforest above located? For the answer see below.... It's in Iran, the Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests of Gilan province. Here's a precipitation map of Iran:
Many of you might have seen this video of Japanese bees defending their nest against giant hornets: The Japanese bees swarm and bake the giant hornets. But Ed Young reports that there is more to this story.
Ed Yong has an excellent review of new research which casts substantial doubt on the trivia chestnut that Komodo dragons kill their prey with their extremely pathogen rich saliva. The more prosaic answer seems to be that they utilize poison, not particularly surprising or trivia worthy for a reptile. But the truth is not always... Read More
Sheril's post, Chimpanzees Are NOT Pets!, is good. She notes: There is some more nuance to this. 1) Dog breeds differ in temperament, so not all are equally fluent in the ways of man 2) Dogs can read human faces: The domestic dog has been selected
Nanodiamonds in the Younger Dryas Boundary Sediment Layer: A few days ago I expressed the opinion that climate change alone explanations are a bit suspicious to me. This particular hypothesis has a bit of a skyhook feel to me. The scenario is not logically impossible, and it could be sufficient as a causal factor, but... Read More
A few years ago there were reports of a new great ape in the Congo, perhaps a chimp-gorilla hybrid. As the story unfolded it seemed more and more plausible that this was a local morph of the common chimpanzee, and genetic tests have confirmed that hunch. It is a subspecies of common chimpanzee, though with... Read More
Interesting article in The Boston Globe which profiles researchers who suggest that variation in gut flora (the mix of bacteria) might be the cause of differences in body weight. Interesting fact: there are an order of magnitude more bacteria in your gut than cells in your body. Also, to my knowledge (hearing this from a... Read More
Wired has an article up about urban coyotes: Update: It's been pointed out to me that Seed has already covered this topic.
Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com"