Observations by a Backyard Naturalist III: Insects

“Every kid has a bug period… I never grew out of mine.” Edward O. Wilson When we consider biodiversity, no single taxonomic group that we can readily observe comes close to the insects. The estimates of the number of extant species ranges from a low of 1.5 million to a high of 30 million, but the latest estimates point to about 5.5 million species (Stork 2018).   It should be noted that there is considerable uncertainty…

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Observations by a Backyard Naturalist II: Invertebrates Other than Insects

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” Henry David Thoreau For as long as I can remember, insects, spiders and other arthropods have fascinated me. My typical pose as a kid. Some of my earliest memories include watching huge European fishing spiders (Dolomedes fimbriatus) at a dock on a lake where my uncle had a cabin. Many years later I kept house spiders (Agelenidae) that I found in the basement…

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Observations by a Backyard Naturalist I: Vertebrates

Winter view from our living room. I am very fortunate to live in a semi-rural part of Nanaimo. From our living room, we look out at Richard Lake, a small, shallow lake surrounded by grass-covered land that gets flooded every winter. Extraction of peat appears to have been done in this area in the past, creating a number of additional ponds, which serve as habitat for various creatures. Our backyard backs onto the edge of…

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The inertia of science

Some of the greatest scientific advances have been made by maverick scientists; people who go off on tangents despite widely accepted existing paradigms. A paradigm is essentially an accepted framework that directs research to advance by an accumulation of solutions to problems. According to Thomas Kuhn, normal science operates within this framework. From time to time, a revolution may occur, which shifts the paradigm to create a more or less different framework. In other words,…

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Times have changed: dealing with dodgy science in the internet age

Important discussion on how to prevent ‘dodgy’ science. Ecology is not a dirty word Dodgy science, dodgy scientists and dodgy humans are not a new thing. And dodgy scientific papers have been published since the dawn of scientific publishing. In 1667 an article on ‘snakestones’, a pseudoscience medical cure with absolutely no basis in truth, appeared in one of the first issues of the oldest known scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (now…

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Harewood Plains – Nanaimo’s flowering jewel!

It has been a while since I wrote a blog. The splendour of Harewood Plains in bloom has provided the inspiration to get one done. I hope you enjoy it! In late April through May, Harewood Plains in Nanaimo puts on a magical show with a bounty of flowering plants. This area, which stretches along the southwest of the southern portion of Nanaimo Parkway, from just uphill from Cranberry Road overpass to Harewood Mines Road…

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The long, burning hot summer: The new normal?

During one week this past summer, I was largely confined inside my home due to extremely poor air quality. The air had been hazy with fine particulate matter from hundreds of forest fires burning throughout British Columbia, including one only 10 km from my home in Nanaimo, BC. The summer weather has been hot and dry, turning our forests into a giant tinderbox, poised to catch fire from the most unlikely sources. The influence of…

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How do you get the most out of a conference (while still enjoying it)?

A few weeks ago I attended the joint annual meeting (JAM) of three Entomological Societies: British Columbia, Canada, and America. I was able to attend because it didn’t require any major travel, and I also was able to keep other costs to a minimum.Socializing is an important part of conferences. This gathering was after a IUFRO meeting in Italy, which followed the 1996 World Congress (which I did not attend). From left to right are…

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Living in Paradise

It is human nature to take our environment for granted. Once in a while we get a reminder of how privileged we are living where we do, particularly if we enjoy being out in forest and field. That is certainly the case living on Vancouver Island. We enjoy a benign climate and we are surrounded by a diversity of organisms that is unparalleled in the temperate regions of the world. Lately I have certainly been…

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Life in space – An earthling biologist’s perspective.

The other day I was listening to a CBC Summer Edition discussion about space exploration, and specifically putting human beings on Mars. The discussion centred on the risk of contaminating Mars with organisms from earth, but also the risk of introducing martian organisms to earth. There was also some discussion of the “Are we alone” question. Mars Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO Based on fairly recent estimates, there are perhaps 300 billion stars in our…

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