World Environment Day 2015

Today, Friday, June 5 is World Environment Day. Organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the honorary day is hosted by a different country each year. This year the host country is Italy, and the theme is “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care.”

So how is World Environment Day different from Earth Day? Earth Day was established in 1970 as part of a movement for greater environmental awareness in the United States, while World Environment Day was established in 1972 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. While Earth Day is a day to raise awareness for the environment as a whole, World Environment Day is thematic. Last year the theme was “Raise Your Voice Not the Sea Level,” with emphasis placed on the health of our oceans. This year UNEP has placed the focus on consuming resources responsibly.

Here at Princeton University Press, we publish a wide range of titles for those that appreciate our beautiful planet. These include A Pocket Guide to Sharks of the World, Birds of Australia, and Offshore Sea Life ID Guide West and East, among many others.

If you would like to follow along with World Environment Day, use the hashtags #WorldEnvironmentDay and #WED15 on Twitter, and don’t forget to tweet pictures to us @PrincetonNature. We’d love to see them!

Book Fact Friday – African Safari

The Kingdon Field Guide to African MammalsFrom page 369 of The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals by Jonathan Kingdon:

The Ethiopian Wolf is highly vocal. Its calls include group yip-howls, a yelping bark, a two-phase bleating, and an explosive scream.

The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals
Second edition
Jonathan Kingdon
The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals is the essential companion for anyone going on safari or interested in African mammals—no other field guide covers the whole continent in a portable format. Now fully revised and updated, it covers all known species of African land mammals and features 780 stunning color illustrations. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, distribution, habitat, food, behavior, adaptations, and conservation status. Coverage of several of the more complex groups of small mammals is simplified by reference to genera, and there are introductory profiles of each mammal group and more than 500 maps. This new edition includes many newly recognized species, and classification has been fully updated.
Written and illustrated by a world authority, The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals is a must-have guide for travelers and armchair naturalists alike.
• Covers more than 1,100 species
• Features 780 color illustrations
• Describes key identification features, distribution, habitat, food, behavior, adaptations, and status
• Includes many newly recognized species, and classification has been fully updated

Book Fact Friday – Lady Beetles

From chapter 11 of Garden Insects of North America:

Most lady beetles lay between 5 and 30 orange-yellow eggs at a time. They are distinctive, but may sometimes resemble those of leaf beetles. Eggs are laid near colonies of insects to provide food for the larvae.

Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw

Garden Insects of North America is the most comprehensive and user-friendly guide to the common insects and mites affecting yard and garden plants in North America. In a manner no previous book has come close to achieving, through full-color photos and concise, clear, scientifically accurate text, it describes the vast majority of species associated with shade trees and shrubs, turfgrass, flowers and ornamental plants, vegetables, and fruits—1,420 of them, including crickets, katydids, fruit flies, mealybugs, moths, maggots, borers, aphids, ants, bees, and many, many more. For particularly abundant bugs adept at damaging garden plants, management tips are also included. Covering all of the continental United States and Canada, this is the definitive one-volume resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists alike.

To ease identification, the book is organized by plant area affected (e.g., foliage, flowers, stems) and within that, by taxa. Close to a third of the species are primarily leaf chewers, with about the same number of sap suckers. Multiple photos of various life stages and typical plant symptoms are included for key species. The text, on the facing page, provides basic information on host plants, characteristic damage caused to plants, distribution, life history, habits, and, where necessary, how to keep “pests” in check–in short, the essentials to better understanding, appreciating, and tolerating these creatures.

Whether managing, studying, or simply observing insects, identification is the first step–and this book is the key. With it in hand, the marvelous microcosm right outside the house finally comes fully into view.

• Describes more than 1,400 species–twice as many as in any other field guide
• Full-color photos for most species–more than five times the number in most comparable guides
• Up-to-date pest management tips
• Organized by plant area affected and by taxa for easy identification
• Covers the continental United States and Canada
• Provides species level treatment of all insects and mites important to gardens
• Illustrates all life stages of key garden insects and commonly associated plant injuries
• Concise, clear, scientifically accurate text
• Comprehensive and user-friendly

Also by Whitney Cranshaw: Bugs Rule!: An Introduction to the World of Insects

#MammothMonday: PUP’s pups sound off on How to Clone a Mammoth

The idea of cloning a mammoth, the science of which is explored in evolutionary biologist and “ancient DNA expert” Beth Shapiro’s new book, How to Clone a Mammoth, is the subject of considerable debate. One can only imagine what the animal kingdom would think of such an undertaking, but wonder no more. PUP staffers were feeling “punny” enough to ask their best friends:

 

Chester reads shapiro

Chester can’t get past “ice age bones”.

 

Buddy reads shapiro

Buddy thinks passenger pigeons would be so much more civilized… and fun to chase.

 

Tux reads shapiro

Tux always wanted to be an evolutionary biologist…

 

Stella reads Shapiro

Stella thinks 240 pages on a glorified elephant is a little excessive. Take her for a walk.

 

Murphy reads shapiro

A mammoth weighs how much?! Don’t worry, Murphy. The tundra is a long way from New Jersey.

 

Glad we got that out of our systems. Check out a series of original videos on cloning from How to Clone a Mammoth author Beth Shapiro here.

#MammothMonday: What’s Next?

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In today’s #MammothMonday exclusive video, Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction, raises big questions about cloning technology and explains how she feels this controversial technology should be used.

You can also listen to Shapiro’s interview on NPR from this past weekend, where she discussed the motivations for bringing back an extinct species, along with some of the specific risks involved with releasing genetically engineered elephants into the wild.

Read Chapter 1, here.

#MammothMonday: How Does the Science of De-Extinction Work?

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Happy #MammothMonday! Today, Beth Shapiro clarifies the science of de-extinction. As she explains, if scientists possess a tiny bit of living tissue from a species that has gone extinct recently, they can bring back that animal through traditional means. However, if the species has been extinct for millions of years and there is no living tissue, the process of bringing the animal back to life is far more difficult. Beth had a terrific piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently that offers much more info, and geneticists have been sounding off on the discussion as well. Check out today’s original video:

Read about de-extinction, in How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction. Preview Chapter 1.

#MammothMonday: Could We Bring Back the Passenger Pigeon?

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Just days ago, scientists were finally successful in sequencing the full mammoth genome. Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth offered commentary on this exciting and ethically controversial achievement. According to the BBC News, “A US team is already attempting to study the animals’ characteristics by inserting mammoth genes into elephant stem cells.”

For today’s #MammothMonday, Beth Shapiro expresses her doubts and concerns about bringing back the passenger pigeon, pointing out the unique difficulties involved in cloning a bird. Learn more about Shapiro’s reasoning in the video below.

Be sure to pick up a copy of How to Clone a Mammoth. You can read Chapter 1, here. Interested in learning more about passenger pigeons? Check out The Passenger Pigeon by Errol Fuller. Read the Introduction.

Beth Shapiro at Kepler’s

Shapiro at Kelper's

Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth, has begun her book tour across the US and the UK. Last Thursday, April 16, Beth had a wonderful event at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA, where she gave an overview of her intriguing book and fielded questions from the audience. We are featuring content related to How to Clone a Mammoth every Monday on our blog as part of our #MammothMonday series. Be sure to read the first chapter and pick up a copy of the book.

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#MammothMonday: Can We Clone a Mammoth?

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In today’s #MammothMonday post, Beth Shapiro addresses a frequently asked question, “Can we clone a mammoth, if so when is it going to happen?”  In answering, Shapiro brings up a crucial point: What is the audience willing to consider a mammoth? Find out her answer and learn more about How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction in this video:

Be sure to read Chapter 1.

Math Drives Careers: Author Louis Gross

Gross jacketLouis Gross, distinguished professor in the departments of ecology, evolutionary biology, and mathematics at the University of Tennessee, is the author, along with Erin Bodine and Suzanne Lenhart, of Mathematics for the Life Sciences. For our third installment in the Math Awareness Month series, Gross writes on the role mathematics and rational consideration have played in his career, and in his relationship with his wife, a poet.

Math as a Career-builder and Relationship-broker

My wife is a poet. We approach most any issue with very different perspectives. In an art gallery, she sees a painting from an emotional level, while I focus on the methods the artist used to create the piece. As with any long-term relationship, after many years together we have learned to appreciate the other’s viewpoint and while I would never claim to be a poet, I have helped her on occasion to try out different phrasings of lines to bring out the music. In the reverse situation, the searching questions she asks me about the natural world (do deer really lose their antlers every year – isn’t this horribly wasteful?) force me to consider ways to explain complex scientific ideas in metaphor. As the way I approach science is heavily quantitative, with much of my formal education being in mathematics, this is particularly difficult without resorting to ways of thought that to me are second nature.

The challenges in explaining how quantitative approaches are critical to science, and that science advances in part through better and better ways to apply mathematics to the responses of systems we observe around us, arise throughout education, but are particularly difficult for those without a strong quantitative bent. An example may be helpful. One of the central approaches in science is building and using models – these can be physical ones such as model airplanes, they can be model systems such as an aquarium or they can be phrased in mathematics or computer code. The process of building models and the theories that ultimately arise from collections of models, is painstaking and iterative. Yet each of us build and apply models all the time. Think of the last time you entered a supermarket or a large store with multiple checkout-lines. How did you decide what line to choose? Was it based on how many customers were in each line, how many items they had to purchase, or whether they were paying with a check or credit card? Did you take account of your previous experience with that check-out clerk if you had it, or your experience with using self-checkout at that store? Was the criterion you used some aspect of ease of use, or how quickly you would get through the line? Or was it something else such as how cute the clerk was?

As the check-out line example illustrates, your decision about what is “best” for you depends on many factors, some of which might be quite personal. Yet somehow, store managers need to decide how many clerks are needed at each time and how to allocate their effort between check-out lines and their other possible responsibilities such as stocking shelves. Managers who are better able to meet the needs of customers, so they don’t get disgusted with long lines and decide not to return to that store, while restraining the costs of operation, will likely be rewarded. There is an entire field, heavily mathematical, that has been developed to better manage this situation. The jargon term is “queuing models” after the more typically British term for a waiting line. There is even a formal mathematical way of thinking about “bad luck” in this situation, e.g. choosing a line that results in a much longer time to be checked out than a different line would have.

While knowing that the math exists to help decide on optimal allocation of employee effort in a store will not help you in your decision, the approach of considering options, deciding upon your criteria and taking data (e.g. observations of the length of each line) to guide your decision is one that might serve you well independent of your career. This is one reason why many “self-help” methods involve making lists. Such lists assist you in deciding what factors (in math we call these variables) matter to you, how to weight the importance of each factor (we call these parameters in modeling) and what your objective might be (costs and benefits in an economic sense). This process of rational consideration of alternative options may assist you in many aspects of everyday life, including not just minor decisions of what check-out line to go into, but major ones such as what kind of car or home to purchase, what field to major in and even who to marry! While I can’t claim to have followed a formal mathematical approach in deciding on the latter, I have found it helpful throughout my marriage to use an informal approach to decision making. I encourage you to do so as well.

Check out Chapter 1 of Mathematics for the Life Sciences here.

Beth Shapiro Talk, Q&A and Book Signing

Shapiro Image for blog 3.30.15

Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth, will be giving a talk on “Conserving Ecosystems with De-Extinction” on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. This event is presented by Town Hall, Elliot Bay Book Company, and the Pacific Science Center through The Seattle Science Lectures. More information about the event and a link to buy tickets can be found, here.

#MammothMonday: What to Bring Back?

How to Clone a Mammoth

Welcome to another #MammothMonday. Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth, was recently called by Brian Switek of National Geographic, “the perfect guide to the ongoing discussion about de-extinction.” Today, she continues in that role, answering the question, “What to Bring Back?” In this fascinating video, Beth discusses the thinking behind the decision to bring back a large mammal as opposed to passenger pigeons.

What do you think about the debate around cloning mammoths?