Now that I’ve blogging for almost a year and a half, I thought I’d pull together a Greatest Hits page to highlight my favorite posts, or the ones that others seem to have labeled as their favorites. My series on coywolves remain top among my faves. I love how people seem to stumble upon these pages after they see a coyote in the Northeast that is so unusually large they are driven to Google to find out what the heck they spied in the woods. I truly treasure the emails and photos folks have sent me about these canids. As you can see from the list, I write a lot about mammalian carnivores, and wolves in particular. These posts are not listed in any particular order, and I’ll update this page periodically in the future.
More hybrid lovin’: coywolves, wolves and coyotes…
Is it a wolf? No. A coyote? No.
A mixture of the two? Oh, yes.
Northeastern wild canids have been leading biologists on a wild goose chase recently, as science scrambles to catch up with just what, exactly, Mother Nature has been cooking up in Massachusetts. Reports of extra large eastern coyotes have been rolling in for decades, but a certain subset of these animals has really caught people’s attention. (MORE)
Adaptive radiation of “coywolves”
Lately, “coywolves” have been making headlines and raising eyebrows. They are a wild canid that is a hybrid between a coyote and a wolf. It may sound like an urban legend, but coywolves are real… And now, a new study is out offering both a coarse-scale genetic analysis of this new hybrid species, and specific trends in their skull shape. (MORE)
Coywolf encounter in Connecticut?
After writing a post about coywolf research, I received an email from a citizen in Connecticut whose daughter had spotted an animal in her yard that they suspected was different than a normal run-of-the-mill coyote. I asked her to write about her encounter, and told her I’d post her story on Wild Muse. (MORE)
Endpoint of overfishing is now in sight: Firth of Clyde
Seems like any time I read about ecology studies lately, its tales of waste and wanton destruction. And a recent paper in PLoS-One about “Ecological Meltdown in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland” was no different. Sigh. May as well have titled this post “Why we need Hands-Off conservation approaches.” The paper describes commercial fishing in the Firth of Clyde, a small near-shore marine ecosystem nearly due west of Glasgow on the western coast of Scotland, from the 1800s to modern day. The researchers use the Firth of Clyde’s history as a mini-model to assert that the collapse of fisheries there, and poor policies regulating bottom-trawling, provide a snapshot of what is happening globally to the world’s oceans. (MORE)
Genital mimicry, social erections and spotted hyenas
Let’s just get straight to it. Spotted hyena’s have two kinds of erections: sexual erections for reproduction, and social erections for… well, socializing. (Um, yes. This is for real.) The females get them too, by way of an enlarged clitoris masquerading as a penis. I stumbled upon this interesting tidbit as an aside when interviewing a Duke University evolutionary anthropologist, Christine Drea. Before working on this project, I really didn’t know much at all about spotted hyenas or their behavior. But when she mentioned “female clitoral erections” in a group context, how could I have resisted following up on this quirky phenomenon? (MORE)
A new take on necking (in giraffes, that is)
Y’all menfolk will do some wacky stuff for sex, that is fo’ sure. (I get to say “y’all” with authority because I grew up in the South. Honest.) And so it goes in the animal kingdom too. New research published in the Journal of Zoology throws its weight behind a synthesis of the “necks for sex” and “necks for competition” hypotheses. Both have sought to explain why, exactly, giraffes evolved such funky, long, energy sucking necks. (MORE)
Givin’ props to hybrids
Why does the lay public tend to view hybridization in wild nature as a bastardization of the way things ought to be? Why do we favor “pure” species while rejecting hybrid crosses, or treating them like side-show freaks á la pizzlies, ligers and tiglons? I’ve been thinking a lot about hybridization lately, trying to wrap my head around not only how society views hybrids, but what role hybridization plays in diversity and fluffing the leaves and branches of the Tree of Life. And so it was with great interest that I read James Mallet’s review article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution titled “Hybridization as an invasion of the genome.” (MORE)
Mesopredators gone wild
Are we headed toward a world full of foxes, skunks and raccoons — but empty of lions, tigers and bears? Maybe. It’s a fact that many of the planet’s large carnivores are in dire straits. Where I live in the eastern U.S., we no longer have cougars or eastern wolves, top predators that used to range across the East several hundred years ago. Cougars are now geographically restricted to just the southern tip of Florida, where about 100 Florida panthers live in marginal habitat. And eastern red wolves are now confined to a tiny speck of land in North Carolina, where about 100 live in a managed population. Both species are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. In their absence, entire ecosytems have changed. (MORE)
Biodiversity, globalization and shifting disease ecologies
As I was researching a story for the Observer, I had to go poking through the December 2009 issue of BioScience, and I stumbled across an interesting article reviewing biodiversity declines and global disease ecology. The authors assert that multiple factors working synergistically are leaving humans more at risk of contracting infectious diseases — some new and some classical but re-emerging. This is the gist of their paper: “We propose that habitat destruction and biodiversity loss associated with biotic homogenization can increase the incidence and distribution of infectious diseases affecting humans.” (MORE)
Wolf recovery vs. ecosystem health
The idea may be exotic to many wolf conservation advocates, but a group of researchers are floating a proposal to introduce very small groups of wolves to small pieces of habitat as a management tool. The goal has little, if nothing, to do with wolf recovery and everything to do with managing ecosystem health and services. It’s an inversion of the logic that is often used to support wolf recovery. (MORE)
Re-imagining Mexican gray wolf recovery
People familiar with the reintroduction program for the Mexican gray wolf know that the animal’s continued conservation has come only at the cost of great perseverance and a good dose of politics. Mexican wolves are not as well known to most Americans as their cousins, the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves. But within the Southwest, Mexican wolves are high profile animals. Not visibly — there are only 52 individuals wandering in the “wild” – and visitors to their reintroduction area are not likely to spy them on a one-day outing. (MORE)