SciBlogs

Archive February 2012

Black-eyed girl (or in this case, #spider) Brendan Moyle Feb 27

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One of our more photogenic native spiders is the salticid Trite planiceps and with the unpacking calming down, I was able to spend some time on macrophotography this weekend. This native arachnid has the large, strong front legs (with downward spines) to grip prey, as well as the large frontal eyes characteristic of the salticids.

For some reason, many people with a fear of spiders don't get the some phobic reaction with these jumping spiders. Some people even find their agility and seemingly curious way they explore their environment appealing.

Anyway, the shots (and yes, the pedipalps show it's a female):







It’s not just heavy, it’s a pigeon Brendan Moyle Feb 23

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The NZ pigeon (kereru) is an endemic, so found nowhere else in the world. It's also reputed to be the heaviest extant pigeon in the world. It isn't of course, anywhere close to the weight of the extinct dodo.

It has an IUCN threat category of near-threatened. Numbers have declined and competition for food from introduced pests remain a problem. The species is protected and benefits from active pest management.

The area I'm in is close to some areas of native bush, and we've got some birds about. More importantly, I've got some spots where I can photograph the birds at tree level. So, my collection of photos of kereru backsides generated by pointing cameras up into trees, can be consigned to the back of my PC.

I got the following shots early Sunday morning





What is wrong with some people? Brendan Moyle Feb 20

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Having made the move to a new place, with a bit of native bush around, the weekend was spent doing a lot of outside tasks. One of those was to just clear the bush area directly around the house of rubbish. We'd spotted some bottles in there, and well, it seemed prudent to not have them there. The kids do enjoy a bit of exploring or playing there.

What I thought was going to be a quick job picking up some bottles, ended up being a major exercise in trash removal. Someone a bit further up the ridge, had a rather filthy approach to garbage disposal. By the time I finished three full trash bags of garbage had been cleared.

The trash including cutlery, ice-cream containers, three pairs of rotting underpants(!) and the usual suspects of coke and beer bottles and chip packets. I of course, am loath to generalise but it seems the perpetrators had a fondness for cask wine, Coruba rum and coke drinks, and corona beer.

So what was an idyllic area of kauri, nikau and other bush, where tuis and kereru were common, was reduced to someone's trash dump. I don't understand the laziness and temperament that would prompt someone to toss these into a bush area, rather than a rubbish bag.

Wasted days and nights Brendan Moyle Feb 14

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I'm currently making the transition into using Adobe Lightroom to manage all my photos. While I can see the advantages to LR, the process of cataloguing 30-40,000 photos is a little time consuming- even with the LR tools. The main lesson I think, is to be a lot more disciplined about what photos to keep. While the cost of storage has shrunk and made it easier to just put everything into folders, the cost of time is still as high as ever.

Photographic fun with NZ parrots Brendan Moyle Feb 14

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I've constructed a gallery of NZ parrot photos, largely based on kaka. That's hardly a surprise as well, it's actually pretty tough taking photos of kakapo (there is one pic). The whole thing about being critically endangered and residing off a small island near Stewart island is kind of a hindrance.

I should have better shots of kea but well, just don't seem to have made it to kea mountain-country for a long time. Possibly this little thing about studying crocodiles gets me heading in the wrong direction.

Anyway, here's some sample shots and please, if you can, visit the main album and maybe leave some comments.



These thumbnails are 'clickable' and will bring up larger versions of the shot.

Darwin Day thoughts Brendan Moyle Feb 13

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February 12 is the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, and there is some momentum to recognise this as Darwin Day. The idea has merit- the Theory of Evolution generated a revolution in biology and forever changed how we viewed our place in the world.

Darwin wasn't the first to recognise that evolution occurred. The period of canal construction in England at the start of the Industrial Revolution had yielded geological stratas showing gradual changes in the marine animals preserved as fossils. The famous French naturalist Lamark had already proposed a theory of evolution.

Over 60 families of trilobites from the Cambrian to Permian are now known- a detailed record of gradual evolution


Darwin recognised however, that natural selection would lead inevitably to evolution. Wallace also reached the same insight, largely through his familiarity with the diversity of life in the tropics. Darwin however had amassed far more evidence for natural selection prior to this. This drew on investigations in geology, human selection for domestic breeds, research into diverse groups of organisms like barnacles, and of course the evidence collected from his journey on the Beagle.

It was this combination of geology with biology that led to one of his first brilliant insights. This was that geographic gradients of species-diversity, would mimic time-gradients. This would show evolution in action.

The second insight was a very straightforward deduction. If populations show variation in traits and natural selection operated to eliminate adverse traits, then so long as there was an inheritance mechanism, evolution was inevitable. This deduction rested on two presumptions. The first was that the earth was very old (for a time, Lord Kelvin's estimation of the age of the earth was an obstacle on this, until the NZ physicist Rutherford proved Kelvin's estimate to be wrong).

The second presumption was that this inheritance mechanism existed. This was part of Darwin's brilliance. In the mid-19th C, the mechanism of inheritance was completely unknown. It was only Darwin's broad knowledge of nature that allowed this prediction to be confidently made. Genetics has long since vindicated Darwin.

Darwin was also able to recognise that the sexual selection- preferences by mates for certain traits- would also yield evolution. In this case it would create sexually dimorphic forms- males and females differentiated by traits the mate selects for. The classic example is the plumage of the male peacock.

For human evolution, Darwin combined his knowledge of the distribution of the great apes with our similarities in form. This led to the prediction, long before genetics, molecular biology or fossils could corroborate this point, that we would have evolved from a common ancestor to these great apes. The geographical distribution of these apes also pinpointed our origin to Africa. Darwin has since been proven correct.

Finger nails, opposable thumbs and forward-looking eyes link all primates


For modern biologists, Darwin did much to launch biology as a proper science. The transformation was significant- rather than trying to manipulate the data to fit the conception that a creator-god did everything, the data was allowed to speak for itself. We followed the evidence and based conclusion on where that evidence led us. And that has created a grand and rich story of life on this planet, one stretching back nearly 4bn years.






The depressing thing about being a conservation biologist Brendan Moyle Feb 03

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The nice thing about mixing with conservation biologists is the enthusiasm they have for the natural world. That's something I do enjoy about meetings on conservation.

Nonetheless, it's also got to be one of the most depressing disciplines within biology. There is kind of a popular view of conservation, one that portrays biologists as struggling against the odds to bring species after species back from the brink of extinction. That's probably what we all aspire to achieve.

The reality is actually a bit grimmer. What we really are doing is recording the loss of biodiversity. A great deal of research is about the loss of more and more populations, the increasing catalogue of threats facing nature. The sudden upswing in extinction rates we've caused is showing no signs that it's abating. Poaching of tigers is still as serious as ever despite three decades of efforts to bring it under control. Poaching of rhinos and elephants is now worse than the horror days of the 1980s.

The reserves that are established aren't sufficient to arrest these declines. There's too much poaching, or too many invasive species, or there's civil insurrection or illegal mining and forestry, or the reserves are actually getting delisted, or the reserves are too small to sustain viable populations, or they're too far apart from others to cope with environmental changes.

It's a pretty depressing time to be concerned about this planet's wildlife.


Stalking Myths Brendan Moyle Feb 01

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While I'm hopeful my stalking problem may finally be coming to an end, it's perhaps appropriate to give a perspective on this. It's now February 2012. I first became aware of my stalking problem in mid-2010.

Here's a few things about stalking you may or may not know :)

1. Men can get stalked too. It's not as common, but it does happen. Stalking is probably an under-reported crime and it's plausible men under-report more often. Men are more likely to have their complaints dismissed by authorities or face more suspicion that they encouraged this behaviour.

2. There are gender differences. Woman are more likely to be violently assaulted by a male stalker, men are less likely to be assaulted by a female stalker. On the other hand, law enforcement agencies are less likely to intervene against female stalkers. If you want to get a complaint registered to your local police, you may have to be persistent. There are no guarantees your first contact will take it seriously. (I'd recommend taking someone in with you to reinforce the seriousness of the situation).

3. Stalking has psychological costs . Despite what people may think, there is no evidence that the psychological harm to a man from a stalker is different or less than a woman. It is seriously going to screw you up. Increased anxiety, lack of trust, withdrawal from social events, insomnia etc are all part of that package. At its height I was compulsively checking the web almost continuously just so I would know what the stalker was up to. Now, there are some things about being stalked that are almost comedic in its absurdity. But there are other things which are very disturbing and very distressing.

Just a reminder- this is what about 24 hours of blogging from the stalker looked like. I suspect most of you could not read to the end of this:
The Blogging
And this is what a mere 48 hours of emails looks like:
The Emails

Multiply that over nearly every day of every week of every month for nearly a year and a half and you get some idea the scope of the barrage.

4. Ignoring it won't make it go away . A lot of advice I got was to simply block and ignore it. This works against people with an agenda who have decided for whatever reason, to be pissed off at you. It doesn't work against a stalker. A proper stalker only stops if they are arrested, if they finally get the mental health help they need or they're dead. That's it. A little thing like you trying to ignore them doesn't stop them.

When my stalker decided to pretend to be a lawyer and make official complaints to both Massey and the Minisyry of Education with a litany of odious accusations of professional misconduct, ignoring her wasn't viable. I couldn't put my hands over my ears, hum loudly, and tell my employer that I was going to ignore this as my response.

5. Stalking isn't caused by lax internet security . I have somewhat remarkably, kept the identity of my direct family off the web. Throughout this whole episode, my stalker never learned the actual names and details of my wife and family. Someone who is stalked doesn't invite this. It's an irrational connection the stalker makes, largely on details they make up. Dawn convinced herself that I was a divorced, cryptic Christian who had an intense, passionate desire for a relationship with her. That's got no resemblance to reality.

6. Being stalked isn't flattering . It's not based on who you are, it's based on a fiction that the stalker has created and seeks to control. It's in fact humiliating and distressing to be reduced to a masturbatory aid to some deranged woman you've never met and are disgusted by.

Moving time Brendan Moyle Feb 01

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I haven't been doing much photo work of late because the family is in the process of shifting. The move isn't dramatic but hey, shifting isn't just a matter of filling a couple of suitcases and driving over to new place.

The point though, is that I haven't been able to do any photo-editing for a while. That should change sometime next week (cross fingers).

The new place also backs onto a bit of bush, and my fast Mark-2 eyeball survey of the place reveals a good spider fauna. I feel like doing some more macro.

One of the other things I am trying to work through though, is just trying to enjoy the internet more. Since the stalking started in 2010 (and this has continued with little abatement right into this month), its hard to shake the feeling that being on the web, being part of the community, sharing stuff- it really isn't as fun as it used to be. I'm a lot warier of making connections to other people, and desire to share photos and the like has waned. If it's not fun, it's harder to sustain.