Friday, 21 September 2007

Where did all of the chicks go?

A little controversy has been started up this week about The Scientist's vote for favorite life science blogs. The Scientist asked some of the most popular bloggers to give their opinion on the best science blogs and as many people have pointed out, including Chris at Highly Allochthonous, Julia at The Ethical Palaeontologist, and Brian at Laelaps, there are no women on this list.

Well I am sure I would get shot down by many of my female colleagues for saying this but let’s be honest, there just aren’t as many female scientists as male scientists, especially as you climb the ‘academic ladder’. Why not? As an undergraduate I noticed that the ratio of women to men is actually greater in biology and geology was reasonable even. A quick survey of my graduate colleagues shows a ratio of 12 men to 7 women over the last four years. And as you continue, the proportion of women gets smaller, we have 10 men listed in our department as staff and postdoctoral researchers and only 4 women. And check out how many members of the Royal Society are female (5%). So where do all the women go to?

Is it true that many women still give up their careers for a life at home? Is academia still heavily weighted against them and women leave the field because they don’t feel their career advance as fast as those of their male colleagues? I don’t know to be honest. But there is no doubt there are fewer female role models in academia especially in the fields of physics, math, computing and engineering where their ratio often dwindles to less than 10%.

So anyway, back to The Scientist, I am sure they didn’t deliberately mean to exclude female science bloggers. Looking at my own blogroll I realize most of the science blogs I read are written by men, I think it is representative of the ratio of the sexes in academia, something to think about.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

If you like this blog...

If you like this blog please leave a comment about it at The Scientist's vote for favorite life science blogs.


Polar Bears Hunt Belugas

Feeling a little uninspired today, I hope you don't mind a repost from March on an amazing topic that few people believe until they see the footage (the most popular source is David Attenborough's Planet Earth).

Polar bears live a feast and famine lifestyle. They are large animals (an adult males weighs 300-600kg) that live in the freezing tundra so they have huge metabolic needs. They normally prey on ringed seals but will eat almost anything they can catch, including walruses, birds, eggs and occasionally they supplement their diet with a big, juicy, beluga whale!

Beluga whales are distinctive for their pale skin and large melon shaped head. These animals can grow up to 5m (16ft) in length and live in large pods, mainly in the Arctic and Canadian Subarctic. Belugas live close to coastlines and in winter they occasionally become trapped in savsatts, small openings in ice packs. Belugas can find themselves the victims of shrinking savsatts, which they use to breath. Each animal will take a turn coming up for air and in the worst of winter, their movement is all that keeps the savsatt open.

Hence an opportunity that a wandering polar bear may chance by and certainly one he can’t resist. The bear will jump in the water, clubbing the trapped whale with his paw and gorging it with his claws. It may take several attempts but the bear usually succeeds in his catch and drags the whale’s carcass on to the ice for a feast. Other polar bears will share in the prize and any leftover kill will be happily devoured by scavenging arctic foxes and gulls.

If you find this post interesting I encourage you to also check out Darren Naish’s very cool post on Wolf-Hunting Eagles

More information can be found at Polar Bears International.

Blogroll Additions

Thanks for your enthusiastic response and all of your links. Sorry if your blog had fallen off the roll; I may have lost a few when I upgraded to Goggle’s new blogger. The blogroll is still open so if you would like to be added, leave a comment. Enjoy the new additions…

Jon Swift is a reasonable conservative who likes to write about politics and culture. This week he asks "Are We Tasering People Enough?"

Check out Andrew's new blog, The Naked Galaxy, about everything and anything science.

Zach Miller writes When Pigs Fly Returns!, a blog from Anchorage, Alaska on all things palaeo related.

And finally, Jacob Haqq-Misra muses on spirituality and science in Reflections, Ideas, and Dreams.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Announcement: Blogroll Enrollment

Well I haven't been very diligent in keeping up my blogroll. If you would like a link to your site from Fish Feet, please leave a comment on this post with your blog’s name and URL and I will add your link to my blogroll (probably – no spam please). I appreciate links back also.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Oekologie #9

Welcome to Fish Feet, host of 9th Oekologie blog carnival!

Population & Extinction
• GrrlScientist of Living the Scientific Life talks about Bluefin Tuna, will they soon be the Dodos of the sea?

• Jeremy at The Voltage Gate writes about the decline of antelopes in African national parks.

• John at A DC Birding Blog reviews the IUCN Red List 2007 and its implications.

• James at Direction not Destination researches ‘The Tyranny of Power’ phenomenon in white-tailed deer distributions.

Species Interaction
• Corey at 10,000 Birds explains why a blight on conifers can be a boon for certain birds.

• Jenn at Invasive Species Weblog describes the impact of invasive plants in Massachusetts.

• Kevin at The Other 95% explores the fascinating world of jumping spiders and wolf spiders.

• Madhusudan at Reconciliation Ecology contributes a riveting article on the annual commute of the Bar Tailed Godwit, 11,570 km from Alaska to New Zealand.

Microbial Ecology
• Tara at Aetiology imagines the possibility of using E. coli as a cavity fighter.

• Christina at Deep Sea News considers the importance of studying deep-sea coral microbial ecology.

Disease & Disaster
• Christian of Med Journal Watch shares new research on malaria pest control 45 years after Silent Spring.

• Greg at Evolution ... not "just a theory" anymore examines different cultural perspectives on building homes in disaster prone areas.

Humans & Environment
• Eric at the The Primate Diaries investigates the downstream effects of biopiracy.

• Devon at Ask the CareerCounselor gives readers invaluable advice on switching to a career in environmentalism.

• Shaheen at GNIF Brain Blogger relates the biochemistry of genetics and stress.

I’m glad to have hosted the carnival and have enjoyed reading all of the great submissions! Next month visit Oekologie at Laelaps.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Twins: Identical, Mirror Images, Fraternal and Chimeras

Cloning is not a human invention; nature has been creating clones for millions of years, among all organisms including humans. Nature’s clones, identical twins, are born in approximately 1 / 1000 births. Identical twins come in two varieties: identical and mirror images. Both share 100% of their DNA and but in mirror image twins, small differences are ‘reflected’. Examples include skin variations such moles, dental patterns, hairlines and handedness.

The development of a truly identical twins versus mirror image twins comes down to timing. A single sperm will fertilize a single egg and begins development by splitting into more cells. If this group of cells, now called blastocyst splits into two separate parts in the first 9-12 days, identical twins will be born. But if the split occurs after that, they will be mirror-images of each other.

Fraternal twins are an entirely different matter. Fraternal twins are no more identical than any other sibling pair and are the result of two separate sperm fertilizing two separate eggs. This is can occur naturally, the result of the mother releasing more than one egg at ovulation. It may also be the result of medical intervention as many women take fertility drugs to improve their chances of conception. There is also a hereditary link as the incidence of fraternal twins do occur more often within a family.

Many people have seen the popular American television show CSI (Crime Scene Investigators) and may recall the episode with the Chimera, a man who had two sets of DNA. This phenomenon occurs when the blastocysts of developing fraternal twins fuse, resulting in a single individual with two sets of DNA. This condition usually results in a fully functional individual and is not detected unless a clear abnormality prompts testing. Though it has been considered a rare condition, it is found to be more common than originally thought in a variety of animals, including humans. And the condition is more common among children conceived through in vitro fertilization than naturally.

By the way, you can read about the amazing birth of identical quadruplets from my hometown, Calgary, Canada here.