Book: A sting in the tale (D. Goulson)

I don’t even remember why I chose to read the book, but I did. I thought I know quite a lot about bumblebees, and I am familiar with Goulson papers, so I was not expecting much. I was wrong. I learnt a lot about bumblebee biology (e.g. bumblebees has 16 ovaries!). And Goulson explains his research with bumblebees with such a passion that got me hooked for two weeks, devouring all 11 chapters. Things I like include that he explains several failed experiments, and not only the ones that worked, and that he explains stories from which I know the protagonist first hand, so you can perfectly picture Jane Stout, with whom I collaborated, in the middle of Tazmania. But the best part is possibly the feeling you end up with. A feeling that saving bumblebees (and other pollinators) is possible with some effort from the society.

Here in Spain we lack the UK tradition of valuing natural history, but in the other hand we conserve more natural habitats. Today I am encouraged that a generalized love through nature will arrive here sooner than the destruction of the remaining (semi-) natural habitats. I am already thinking on how to encourage bee friendly Spanish gardens.

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Darwin’s autobiography

I read Darwin’s autobiography when I started my PhD and I liked it a lot. I found it by chance last week and I read its less than 100 pages again. It’s simply amazing to be able to read what Darwin thought about himself. I share a few thoughts here, but I recommend its reading insistently. First is cristal clear that part of the success of Darwin was a curiosity driven instinct. But it worths nothing to me that a will to put his name among top scientists also contributed a lot in his endeavour. Do not be ashamed to cultivate both things then! Another thing that I loved is how he puts data always in front and uses a strict scientific method. It’s also cool to se how geology is his main field during most of his life, and not biology. In fact, I think he approaches biodiversity as a geologist (more used to the idea of change) and this is key to think differently. Also note that investing at least 4 years in a given project was the norm. That gave him the chance to refine the theory and get the best of it. Luckily for him, not a publish or perish culture yet. Other passages about his life, how chance is involved in his Beagle enrolment or how he judge his wits are also cool to read.

Happy new year!

Book: Nature’s economy, A History of Ecological Ideas

I had an uneasy feeling about not knowing enough about the history of ecology and after some googling I tried reading Nature’s economy (http://www.amazon.com/Natures-Economy-History-Ecological-Environment/dp/0521468345). I am glad I did. Despite the first 300 pages are a bit slow and deal with the historical process from White and Linneaus, to Thoreau passing through the key figure of Darwin, it’s well written and helps you understanding the different views of nature along our history, which range from “an enemy to tame” to “an entity to conserve”. I didn’t learn a ton from this part, but I enjoyed going through the well connected dots. However, the last ~100 pages were eyeopener and something I highly recommend its read to anyone in ecology. I think this part would do a great lecture to discuss in lab meetings and the like.

Before reading chapter IV, I had a set of snapshots in my head with niche theory, food-webs, Lotcka-Volterra models, the island biogeography theory, Gaia hypothesis, emergence properties of ecosystems, deterministic population dynamics, and so forth… But connecting all this dots through history helped me a lot to understand where we are coming from. It feels that knowing the historical development of the subject helps seeing some historical constrains and even helps re-evaluate the kind of ecology we are doing (e.g. why I am closer to community ecology than to population ecology?). I am not going to try to summarize this last chapter IV here because I would do a poor job, but I think it can be read as a stand alone text, and I encourage you to have a look. If you know any other short-ish summary of the main development of ideas in ecology let me know in the comments. I feel is good to see different viewpoints on this kind of historical perspectives and also is always good to go through it a few times in order to interiorize the story.