Roadside Science

Exploring science from the roadside and beyond


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On Learning the Flowers

stay together
learn the flowers
go light
Gary Snyder

I’m not the best at pop culture. A friend recently informed me that Game of Thrones is not, as I believed, a miniseries about professional wrestling.

A few months ago, if given the quiz:

Channing Tatum at the ‘Fighting’ press junket at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Channing Tatum is a __________

A) stripper turned movie star
B) wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles
C) celebrity chef
D) PBS news correspondent,

I probably would have guessed B. And I’m from Philadelphia.

I recently learned about Channing Tatum when my husband and I found ourselves faced with a free Friday night and a poor Redbox selection. We rented Magic Mike. Channing Tatum is now everywhere. He is on TV, in the jokes I hear at bars, and on magazines in the supermarket checkout line. He was, of course, in all these places before I rented Magic Mike. But until I put a face and a name together, I didn’t see his face or hear his name.

The same is true with plants. After I take the time to look up the name of a plant—one I believe I’ve never seen before—the plant often starts appearing at the trailhead, on roadsides, and even in my own backyard. Clearly my eyes passed over this plant before, but without a name, the image didn’t register. Continue reading


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Host-Parasite Interactions: Highlights from Evolution 2013

At the Evolution annual meeting in Snowbird, Utah last month, the American Society of Naturalists hosted a symposium on the ecology, evolution, and coevolution of parasites and their hosts. Below are summaries of just a couple of the fascinating stories of host-parasite interactions presented. Check back for more in depth coverage of these and other topics from the Evolution 2013 meeting after the speakers publish their results.

Monarch butterflies medicate their offspring

Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus Milkweed

Monarch butterfly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We humans aren’t the only species to offer medicine to sick offspring. Monarch butterflies commonly suffer from a protozoan parasite. Monarch adults pass this parasite on to the next generation when they deposit parasite spores alongside their own eggs. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars ingest the spores and become infected. Jacobus de Roode from Emory University explained how his lab discovered that certain species of milkweed, a common food source for monarchs, contain a chemical that helps fight off this parasite. Along with his collaborator, Thierry Lefèvre of CNRS-IRD Montpellier and others, de Roode then conducted a series of experiments to test whether infected butterflies would prefer milkweed species with higher medicinal value. He found that infected monarch larvae show no preference when offered medicinal and non medicinal milkweeds.Their mothers, however, know better. Infected monarch adults preferred to lay eggs on medicinal milkweed plants, improving their offspring’s chance at survival. Uninfected adults showed no preference. De Roode is now testing whether monarch adults in populations with especially high risks of infection may always lay eggs on medicinal milkweeds, regardless of whether an individual adult is infected.

Back to the future: Shifting time to show host-parasite coevolution

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What does “chance of rain” really mean?

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By Andy Melton (Creative Commons)

By Andy Melton (Creative Commons)

From October through April I don’t bother much with weather reports. I keep an umbrella in my car and take whatever falls from the sky as it comes.

But in May, as I head north for my summer field research, I join the ranks of the weather obsessed. I wake up each morning and check weather.com before making my tea or even brushing my teeth. I check again ten minutes later, and ten minutes after that. What’s the chance of rain at 3:00 today? What about at 3:15? What about ten days from now?

For many field biologists, a summer rain shower can mean the difference between a day indoors comfortably analyzing data and a day outdoors struggling under the weight of a four-gallon watering backpack while attempting to buffer newly planted seedlings from a dry heat. Continue reading