Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Cataloguing species

Many students are surprised to find that there is no central record keeping body for species in the same way that there is for, say, Astronomical bodies. It isn't that the magnitude of the task is that much different - the Catalogue astrographique (Astrographic Catalogue) for example lists over 4.6 million stars.

Fortunately there is now an attempt, Species 2000, to centralize species listings into a single database. The task is large but the sixth (2006) edition of the Annual Checklist, contains 884,552 species, approximately half of all known organisms. Species 2000 is a "federation" of database organizations working closely with users, taxonomists and sponsoring agencies. The goal of the Species 2000 project is to create a validated checklist of all the world's species by bringing together an array of global species databases covering each of the major groups of organisms.


Monday, September 11, 2006

The heat is on

The cover story in the Economist magazine this week is global warming. The subhead says it all:

The uncertainty surrounding climate change argues for action, not inaction. America should lead the way.

Global warming, a serious environmental issue (perhaps the environmental issue of our time) is also a really nice way to link together the different subjects and lectures in Bio1B: Evolution; plants and ecology.

From the always entertaining Wikipedia:
In one episode of The Simpsons, Homer is travelling by air in first class and says "Look at me, I'm reading The Economist. Did you know Indonesia is at a crossroads?" Four days later, with its customary dry wit, The Economist alluded to the quote, and published an article about Indonesia referring to the "crossroads".


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Anemic Phytoplankton

In the science journal Nature this week is a disturbing report that not only are phytoplankton in the tropical pacific limited by the levels of nitrate and iron in the water, but we have been consistently overestimating how much carbon dioxide they have been taking up because they produce a pigment complex that isn't chlorophyll but shows up just as green in satellite images. Doh!


Pope to publish evolution talks

There had been some concern that pope Benedict was going to deny evolution and embrace intelligent design. This was based on his inaugural address where he rejected the idea that humans are a product of evolution. But over the weekend Pope Benedict and his former doctoral students held a seminar on evolution. Preliminary reports suggest that the concerns that Pope Benedict was going to support intelligent design were far from the mark.

The minutes, to be issued later this year, will show how Catholic theologians see no contradiction between their belief in divine creation and the scientific theory of evolution, they said after the annual closed-door meeting ended on Sunday.

"When you look at the world and see what appears to be order and design, the conclusion that there is a designer is not a scientific conclusion, it's a philosophical one."