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Islands and spiders and arthropods, oh my!

October 30, 2009

Dilettante has been a very busy girl.  What with raising a toddler, falling pregnant again and starting a new research position, her blog activity has been poorly neglected.  However a recent foray into writing some journal papers has inspired her to put her writer’s smock on again and get dilettanting.

When last we met I had spun up Portugal as the country of choice – today I randomly selected an institution of choice.  The lucky (debatable) winner was established in 1976 after the Portugese revolution of ’74.  It is primarily located in the west of Portugal and has three campuses with the main one located in Ponta Delgada.  This institution specialises in a fair amount of the sciences, as well as the social sciences and literature.  One of the campuses focuses on agricultural sciences, while a second focuses on oceanography and fisheries.  The main campus encompasses all other departments.  It is:

Universidade dos Acores (or The University of Azores)

The paper chosen is one of those ‘future’ ones published a few months (in this case November) before the hardcopy issue comes out – I love those.  It is:

Cardoso, P., Borges, P.A.V., Veech, J.A., (2009), Testing the performance of beta diversity measures based on incidence data: the robustness to undersampling, Diversity and Distributions, 15(6), 1081-1090.

And Dilettante now lets out a deep sigh about reviewing a biology type paper – because she is no expert in the area, but then that is what dilettanting is all about!

The paper focuses on studying diversity in spiders and arthropods (Dilettante is already shivering) and asks why many researchers in the area of beta diversity do not typically worry about having a complete list of species in a studied community and how the level of completeness could affect beta diversity levels.  What – questioning the rigour of other scientists – the nerve!!  Well done Cardoso and co. this is what it is all about – questioning what is known and trying to add to the pool of knowledge.  I only wish I had the nerve sometimes – although it comes out when necessary.

Anyway back to the spiders and arthropods (which I must admit is very appropriate for Halloween):


Would not like to meet this in a beta diversity study

Beta diversity apparently looks at the turnover of species between communities, but somehow there is no widely accepted measure of it.  Working with populations I guess it can get quite difficult when you have larger communities.  This study tried to address the problem by evaluating measures of beta diversity that focus on dissimilarity of population compositions between pairs of communities rather than trying to complicate the issue with three or more communities.  Good approach start little, work up to big.

The focus was on incidence data, not on abundance data – I think this means that they were looking at diversity but not the amount by which the community was ‘diverse’ (but then I am no biologist, ecologist, entomologist, whatever you have to be to study this stuff).    Some pretty formulae that aren’t too complicated were used to quantify the beta diversity index and some modifications were used by the authors on existing formulae to allow for problems they felt needed to be addressed.

The upshot of the entire study was to develop a sampling method and quantification of beta diversity that would truly represent the diversity within the entire communities.  Population statistics at its most ambitious.  The authors feel they achieved this and proposed a set of conditions for the use of each of the different types of beta indices (and their relevant formulae).  I am not sure of the quality of this work, but it sounds pretty good to me, as often there is no single answer to the question….


Spinning to South America

July 29, 2009

It’s been quite some time since The Dilettante spun her globe, but she felt it was high time to stop being so slack and just bite the bullet.

The random choice this time is………..Portugal!!  Fantastico!  And sadly that is probably the entirety of my Portugese linguistic ability, but hopefully that will change in my adventures finding research within this beautiful country.

Time to get dilettanting!

Change of criteria

June 17, 2009

Dilettante has decided to have a minor change to selection criteria processes due to a lack of time to carry out dilettante-related activities on a regular basis.

Now instead of committing a week to posting articles from a particular country, I will limit to two posts from different institutions within a country, after it has been selected, with no time limit on when the two posts will be done.

This will allow for my flakiness in relation to dilettante activities due to other more important committments (i.e. making and devouring chocolate chunk mudcake cupcakes, watching trash tv and oh, working for a university).

Aw – get over it!

May 15, 2009

Today’s institution used to make hilarious tv ads when I was doing my undergraduate degree.  Being ‘down south’ in New Zealand and in a very cold winter climate often put students off going here, so they launched the ‘Get over it’ campaign (perhaps some of it is on YouTube?).

The university whose research I am highlighting today is based in the South Island of New Zealand, it has a vast campus and specialises in the areas of Business, Medical Sciences, Arts and Sciences – they also contain one of New Zealand’s Medical schools and Dentistry schools. It is

The University of Otaaaagoooo (i.e Otago)

I actually had to wait for the article I was going to write about since it was coming from ‘elsewhere’ – although that doesn’t explain why it took me so long to write about it….  It is a nice short one and of a format that I personally am not used to seeing in academic databases.  It is:

Tribble, E.B., (2008), Shakespeare, Memory and Performance, Shakespeare, 4(1), 99-101

The first thing that grabbed me was the author’s name – Tribble – how cool is that?!  It engendered images of someone small, warm and fuzzy.  My apologies E.B. Tribble, but you have an adorable surname:

A multitude of Tribbles

A multitude of Tribbles

The second thing I noticed is that this article is a book review, now typically I mostly read book reviews on fiction novels not works of non-fiction so this was a bit new for me.  Although perhaps I sometimes discount scientific book reviews as they are part of work…

Tribble mostly has praise for the author of the original work (Peter Holland) but I cannot comment on their critique as I have not read the work and I feel it may be a bit of a struggle for my dilettantic brain cells.  While Shakespeare was more fun when I was younger, now it is a struggle to find the time to appreciate his prose and other ‘stuff’.  My taste runs more to fantasy and sci fi these days, while non-fiction (outside of work) consists of auto- and biographies.  My latest one is ‘Wrestling the Dragon’ by Gaby Naher about the next Dalai Lama – very interesting read!!

AUT-a know better

May 14, 2009

Today’s institution was ‘over the fence’ when I was doing my undergraduate degree.  It resides in the ‘City of Sails’ and has a proud history.  It started life as a technical college but in this millenium made the change to recognition as a university.  It lays claim to being New Zealand’s newest university.  It is:

Auckland University of Technology

Now I must admit back when I was a University of Auckland undergraduate I had the opportunity to take a workshop course at AUT (it was a course completion thing so I could actually become an engineer).  I had a lot of fun there – being a girl I’d never had many chances to weld or mill or lathe things that much (other than in workshop classes at school) so I loved it.  That being said AUT became a bit more ‘scholarly’ as well as practical over the years and started doing hardcore academic ‘stuff’.

Today’s research paper is:

Alfaro, A.C., Zemke-White, W.L., Nainoca, W., (2009), Faunal composition within algal mats and adjacent habitats on Likuri Island, Fiji Islands,  Journal of The Marine Biological Association of The United Kingdom, 89(2), 295-302

My first thought is “Oh bugger, not biology”.  Now I used to love all sciences, but I am not the type of person who is good at remembering people’s names let alone longwinded latin names for biological species, so I am ill-suited for that field.  This paper does not disappoint with a long list of different marine species.  BUT I will try my best…

First of all the title of the paper is extremely self-explanatory.  The authors or researchers within the group of authors travelled to Likuri Island and studied the fauna within algal mats there.  What a life!  I once knew someone doing their PhD at the same time I was looking at toxicity levels within oysters in one of the local bays, looking at using them as biomarkers for water quality in an ecosystem – some of their experimental work involved rowing around the bay dropping and picking up oysters – I was completely envious!!

The researchers in this work first identified the dominant algal species within the environment which was Gracilaria maramae.  They then recognised two morphologies of the species which were based on what the algae were doing in the environment, the two options were – attached (i.e. stuck to something) and loose-lying (i.e. floating around doing its thing). 

What the researchers found overall is that the floating loose algae supported a larger biodiversity of organisms (as shown by the long lists of organisms present) as opposed to algae attached to soft surfaces (seagrass) and hard surfaces (rocks). 

Cool algae and loner algae

Cool algae and loner algae

The work highlighted the importance of the loose algae in supporting the ecosystems present and the authors suggest that this needs to be taken into consideration for future management of coastal ecosystems within the Fiji Islands. 

I was mostly interested in forces required to remove these things from substrates; apparently they stick nicely to rock but are easier to remove from seagrass – I am sure a true materials engineer would find this fascinating.

The moral of the story – hang loose and live, be uptight and insufferable!

Research from the home country

May 13, 2009

The Science Dilettante has been a baaaad girl (Hey I’m a New Zealander) and been greatly neglecting all her blogs lately, including this one.  If this blog was  a Neopet it would have starved to death or run away by now and I wouldn’t blame it!

Easter happened then mid-semester marking and then I just felt ‘Eh’, you know ‘Eh’ a deep feeling of ennui and lethargy which can’t be shaken easily.  But now I am feeling a bit more refreshed and reading to get back into the fray (which is a great band by the way).

So now it’s time to spin spin spin and see which lucky country will get The Dilettante treatment this week.  And that country is….New Zealand – I kid you not!  This should be very interesting – to me at any rate as I grew up there but haven’t lived there for almost 8 years!

Toronto – Signing off with deaf educators

March 29, 2009

Last week was  a literal pain in the posterior for any procrastinative activities!  Mid-semester hit and it was full of assignments and exams so there was a lot of setting and marking those things, so I kind of missed posting anything.  So to make up for it, THIS week will be Canada week.

Today’s institution is located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Now my geography isn’t so great, but I always thought Toronto and Ontario were in different areas of Canada…..

Anyway!  This institution has a small range of educational areas including health and community, business, arts, design, engineering and hospitality.  They do also carry out research activities, they are:

George Brown College

Now when I first looked at the site I got that Technical College feel, with more practical as well as scholarly activities.  Today’s paper is entitled:

McDermid, C., Social Construction of American Sign Language-English Interpreters, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 14(1), 105-130

The study focuses on instructors within a few selected deaf education programs within North America and Canada and their experiences as educators – a worthy piece of research.  I’m not too good at evalating social scientific research so I may have to go for the warm fuzzy factor here.

The work tends to look at commonalities between the instructors based on background and teaching ethic.  The importance of cultural sensitivity and a particular awareness of deaf culture, as well as the right attitude is emphasised.  (Am I the only one wishing I knew how to sign jokes?).  There are some interesting comments with regards to older students in the deaf education classes, here’s a real pearl “Deaf faculty members in particular felt
that there were some restrictions or limits on their ability to learn, which might have been due to fossilized habits or because they were unable to memorize things as quickly as the younger students.”

I suspect I may have fossilised habits too (Excuse my NZ/Australian spelling) – some things I just like to do a particular way because I always have.  I’m not anywhere near ‘mature age’ yet though, so I find this comment particularly ageist, considering it’s not only older students that suffer from this.

An even better comment is here: “One participant described the ability of older students to learn ASL in this way: ‘‘I’ll use the analogy of a sponge. Their sponge is a bit dry and it is harder for them to absorb the language.’’”  Priceless!  I love qualitative research for the pure entertainment that can be had in some cases.

Ok my attention span is now spent and I have a tired 1 year old to attend to so I’ll leave it there.  Slackness abounds today unfortunately.