Thursday 20 June 2013

Scientific Nomenclature: Advice for Early Career Scientists

This post is inspired by my good friend and fellow scientist Graeme T. Lloyd. In a conversation today he brought up a great idea for all academia: the idea that a researcher could choose a unique name when they began publishing, much like an actor chooses a stage name. As I considered the idea I began to imagine that the thoughts and feelings of an aspiring academic as they moved through career stages. In particular, from the perspective of someone seeking a new moniker on their way to achieving their mad scientist goals.

Stage 1: Undergraduate / Masters
You are compelled to choose something unique and memorable so people will recognize your great potential.

Stage 2: Doctorate
Having developed a dark sense of humor after several years of grad school, you decide to choose a truely mad scientist name.
SPECIAL NOTE: As this is the career point in which most scientists start publishing, this usually becomes a scientist's permanent Stage Name

Stage 3: Post Doctorate
You wish you had named yourself after someone famous to reflect your great ambition. Then maybe you would have a job.

Stage 4: Tenure Track
Woohoo, you are on track! If only you had picked a more average name to ensure you blend in and continue on the track.

Stage 5: Tenure
Your feelings about your name are influenced by the success of your career. If I your h-index exceeds your IQ you are prolifically published, well respected, and you are proud of your name choice. If however, you are confined to the basement of the Ivory Tower, your self pitying ego convinces you that your poor name choice early in career is the reason you toil in obscurity. It is the also the reason for your colleague's hidden smirks, post-doc whisperings and undergraduate giggles at the the conferences you attend.

Don't stay up all night trying to decide on your scientific name, tune in next time to learn about the method to the madness!

Thursday 30 December 2010

Fish Feet Word Cloud

Word clouds are a simple visualization tool used to display text. Words that appear more frequently in the source text greater prominence in the cloud. This is a word cloud created for Fish Feet.

Word clouds can be easily creating using online tools such as Wordle which allows you to make clouds from text or URLs with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Rainforest collapse: Good for reptiles, bad for amphibians

A quick blurb about a paper published in Geology this week by myself and colleagues, Michael Benton of the University of Bristol and Howard Falcon-Lang of Royal Holloway, University of London.

300 million years ago in the Carboniferous, the Continent of Euramerica (Europe and North America) lay over the equator and steamy tropical rainforests supports a great abundance of life. The primary vertebrates were amphibians, overshadowing recently evolved reptiles.

As the climate changed and became drier, rainforests fragmented, forming isolated 'islands' of forest. The changing climate, specifically the loss of humidity was bad for amphibians since they are tied to waterside habitats. However, reptiles, which have specific features allowing them to live in drier conditions began to dominate communities. Additionally, the fragmented nature of the landscape created endemism, that is unique populations of reptiles which increased their diversity.

Changes in climate and environment through slow earth process gives animals time to adjust and thrive in a new environment, shifting balances and even increasing diversity, but the rapid changes in our environment driven by human impact must be regarded with great caution since animals are often driven to endangerment and extinction before they have a chance to adjust to the change in conditions.

Read more at:By the way, if you are interested in reading the paper for yourself it is available to download at my page.

Sahney, S., Benton, M.J. & Falcon-Lang, H.J. 2010 Rainforest collapse triggered Pennsylvanian tetrapod diversification in Euramerica. Geology. 38: 1079-1082.
Download PDF

Again, thank you to everyone who has provided feedback and some critical thinking towards the research.

Thursday 26 August 2010

This week...

What a week! We hadn't expected for the publicity on our paper in Biology Letters to be quite so extensive and controversial. And we certainly hadn't intended to be cast opposite to Darwin.

On the one hand we have had some unfortunate exaggerations, most notably the Huffington Post which writes Darwin May Have Been WRONG (Seriously does the editor think putting it in all caps makes it true?)

But on the positive end we have had some more fair minded reporting of the research, a few examples:
By the way, if you are interested in reading the paper for yourself it is available to download at my page.

Thank you to everyone who has provided feedback and some critical thinking towards the research.

Sahney, S., Benton, M.J. and Paul Ferry 2010. Links between global taxonomic diversity, ecological diversity and the expansion of vertebrates on land. Biology Letters 6:544-547.
Download PDF

Sunday 22 August 2010

Earth’s biodiversity is driven by more than just Survival of the Fittest

Sahney, S., Benton, M.J. and Paul Ferry 2010. Links between global taxonomic diversity, ecological diversity and the expansion of vertebrates on land. Biology Letters 6:544-547.
Download PDF

Published in Biology Letters today by myself, Michael Benton and Paul Ferry at the University of Bristol. Also an article at the BBC.

New research suggests that biodiversity is closely tied to the niches animals occupy, and the rich biodiversity we see on Earth today has grown out of expansion, not competition. Darwin cited competition among animals, coined ‘survival of the fittest’, as a driver of evolution in his book, On the Origin of Species; since then competition has been considered key to having grown Earth’s biodiversity. But while competition has been observed on a small scale, (eg. between species), there is little evidence of competition guiding large-scale shifts in biodiversity, such as the dominance of mammals and birds over reptiles and amphibians in today’s world. Our new research supports the idea that animals diversified by expanding into empty ecological roles rather than by direct competition with each other.

When vertebrates moved onto land millions of years ago, they filled empty niches further away from the water, and then they continued to invade new habitats evolved by other organisms such as forests, canopies, and grasslands. These animals began to burrow, climb, fly and take advantage of new food sources.

Our research shows that tetrapods (amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds) have explored only one third of habitable ecological space and that without human influence, biodiversity would continue to increase exponentially.

Examining the biodiversity of tetrapods, we realized that their taxonomic diversity (the number families) closely matched their ecological diversity (the number of niches they occupied) through their 400 million years of evolution, and that there appears to be little evidence for competition as the driving factor for their great diversity.

Diversity was driven by the dominant animals at the time, which expanded into empty niches. Competition did not play a big role in the overall pattern of evolution. For example, even though mammals lived beside dinosaurs for 60 million years, they were not able to out compete the dominant reptiles. But when the dinosaurs went extinct, mammals quickly filled the empty niches they left and today mammals dominate the land.

Growing and shrinking biodiversity is closely tied to the niches animals occupy, so habitat destruction is a key aspect of extinction. In Earth’s past there have been incentives for animals to move into new modes of life, where initially resources may seem unlimited, there are few competitors and possible refuge from danger.

However, if niches are destroyed more often than created because of man’s influence on the environment, animals won’t have the opportunity to adapt and biodiversity won’t continue to grow.

Saturday 19 January 2008

Ecosystems took 30 million years to recovery from the Permo-Triassic Mass Extinction

Most people are familiar with the extinction that killed the dinosaurs but another series of extinctions, at the end of the Permian, about 250 million years ago, were far worse, killing off over 90% of life on earth, including insects, plants, marine animals, amphibians and reptiles. A new study, published by myself and Michael Benton in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, indicates that it took ecosystems 30 million years to recovery from this devastating event.

The Permian extinctions occurred in three waves, the largest being at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods, 252 million years ago; an event that was exacerbated by two earlier extinctions. This was the most devastating ecological event of all time, thought to be caused by large scale volcanism in Russia which produced the ‘Siberian Traps’, covering over 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles) in lava. Ecosystems were destroyed worldwide, communities were restructured and organisms were left struggling to recover. Disaster taxa, which are opportunistic organisms filling in the empty ecospace left behind by the extinction, insinuated themselves into almost every corner of the sparsely populated landscape.

Previous work indicates that life on Earth bounced back quickly after the Permian extinctions, but this was mostly in the form of disaster taxa, such as the hardy Lystrosaurus, a barrel-chested herbivorous animal, about the size of a pig. However, this new research indicates that specialized animals forming complex ecosystems, with high biodiversity, complex food webs and a variety of niches took much longer to recover. It is thought that this long recovery was due to the successive waves of extinction, which never gave life a chance to recover as well as prolonged environmental stress which continued into the Early Triassic.

It would not be until the great diversity of the Late Triassic, which included dinosaurs, pterosaurs, crocodiles, archosaurs, amphibians and mammals, some 30 million years after the big event, that diversity in terrestrial communities was restored.

Tuesday 30 October 2007

So long and thanks for the fish!

I have enjoyed writing Fish Feet but unfortunately have not been able to keep up with being a new parent and writing up my thesis. While I won't be writing regular posts please feel free to visit for occasional updates to my research and some shameless self promotion:)

For those of you that are still around, Thanks for reading! Sarda

Monday 1 October 2007

Boneyard #6

Welcome to Fish Feet, host of the 6th Boneyard blog carnival!

Mysterious Fossils
• Visit The Other 95%, where Kevin and Christopher have composed a beautiful melody about Receptaculites, a problematic Palaeozoic fossil.

• Chris at the Catalogue of Organisms, debates the true nature of the same organism, the enigmatic Receptaculites. Is it a plant or an animal?.

Vertebrate Palaeontology
• Neil at Microecos examines the challenges that faced the first vertebrates which crawled onto land, specifically in regards to developing auditory capabilities.

• Julia at the Ethical Palaeontologist describes an amazing find: a Psittacosaurus Dinosaur Nursery from the Cretaceous Yixian Formation in NE China.

• GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life takes a look at features on a Mongolian Velociraptor fossil which reveal that this dinosaur was indeed, feathered.

• Brian Switek of Laelaps celebrates the Golden Age of Paleontology with a comprehensive posting on feathers, nests and dinosaurs.

Human Evolution

• Eric at The Primate Diaries has identifies an original cast member of Survivor, Homo floresiensis, a 3-foot tall hominin cousin that lived on the Indonesian island of Flores 18,000 years ago.

• Kambiz of discusses Early Homo Postcranial Fossils from Dmanisi, specifically, the cranial remains.

I’m glad to have hosted the carnival and have enjoyed reading all of the great submissions! Visit the Boneyard again in two weeks.

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.