Wilderness destinations you have to visit!

I have always suffered from a fairly serious case of wanderlust. Although as of yet I have not had the opportunity to formally pursue many of these cravings… As a result I have taken up living vicariously through others until such time as I can go on adventures of my own (uhm meant to be read as when I develop the ability to grow money!). Don’t get me wrong, I have been incredibly lucky growing up with parents who exposed me to many beautiful places all around South Africa (Thank you Mom and Dad!), wanderlustbut I have always had this urge to see more. Experience the majestic wild of some far off country, be it the rainforests of Papua New Guinea ,Equatorial Africa, or Tasmania. Where you are enveloped by the forest and all around you are ancient trees and wilderness which for the most part is virtually untouched by mankind. That to me is a thrilling thought! Yes these rainforests are usually occupied by a multitude of critters of the spidery and slithering kind- who are often quite dangerous, BUT lets not dwell on those aspects haha. I imagine staring up at the canopy above me, the light creeping in creating shadows wherever I look. I imagine the humidity lapping at my skin and the sounds of the forest orchestra all around, the hum of insects the basetrack.  I smell the damp leaf litter and hear the leaves crack and twigs snap softly under my weight. I imagine the luscious air free of pollution and also staring out across the carpet of green. Trees the units of this puzzle! What I would give to sit and watch the sun rise and the forest wake up, to see the clouds drift gently across the horizon, gently blanketing the canopy. I can picture the stream gurgling by, softly caressing the rocks as the water flows determinedly -imperfectly perfect pebbles evidence of eons of weathering.

Continue reading

Norway rocks!

Amazing pictures!

On top of the world

Norway is never just Norway.

DSC_0966 Lonely rock, balancing on the top

We had to revisit the magnificent views of the north in order to find back temperature sensors that we had left scattered through the mountains. It made for three days of walking, camping and working in one of the most breathtaking landscapes I have ever seen.

DSC_0631 Birch tree surviving on a smooth steep slope

I was in particular impressed by the wide variety of rock formations that defined the landscape. Rocks are truly reigning in the north – at least in the summer season – and the vegetation has to adapt to their moods.

DSC_0593 Meltwater river forcing us to jump

We also had to subject to their power and clamber up and down the slopes to find back our sensors. It made for exciting adventures and some tricky balancing excercices, but it was definitely worth every second of the experience.

DSC_0744 Impressive rock formation in…

View original post 31 more words

0.5 Love…

Something a little different today- a poem, and an expression of emotions. Some people find it therapeutic to write down their feelings. This is something I wrote last year, except the last few verses are new. That is why I feel now it is truly finished and I am ready to share it. I know it is quite gloomy, but life cannot always be full of good. It is the struggles and the hard times that shape who we are. This is just part of the Odyssey that is life… 🙂

Continue reading

You know nothing…Jon Snow and graduate school

Did you finish the title by ending with Jon Snow? Its ok, I forgive you and I am sympathetic to your plight! The series is hard not to get caught up in.

bd2dc8c0-0890-0133-f49f-0e18518aac2f

When embarking on a new degree, in a new field or one which is fairly different to your existing background- this may (probably will if you are human) ignite feelings of inadequacy causing you to doubt yourself and your abilities. You may even go so far as to think, I know nothing…Which is of course not true, but tell that to your over-active, woe-me, the sky is falling brain! But do not despair, everyone goes through these feelings, unless you are blissfully ignorant or in denial or simply have an extraordinarily healthy ego.

Continue reading

A great discovery!

For the past few hours I have been completely absorbed listening to This American Life! A friend posted a link to it and while I will be honest and say that I have never heard of it before I am very much impressed by both the quality and content of each story!

strongly believe that listening to this kind of thing is extremely important! not only because it makes you more aware of what is going on in the world around you but instead of just being exposed to the information it actually provokes some thinking and thus some interaction with what you are hearing. A skill which most people seem to lack in modern times. In science the ability to take in information and process it into something useable is critical.

Plus- it is a great thing to keep you occupied while doing some mundane task such as data analysis or data compilation!

Give it a listen, you will not regret it!

I suggest starting with: The incredible rarity of changing your mind

Wesley 🙂

Co-evolution, the answer to world hunger?

9.5 BILLION- That is likely what the global population of humans will be by the year 2050. Is that not far away? Do I need to be concerned about this?

Well yes, you should be. As much as it would be convenient, there are unfortunately a finite supply of resources on planet earth and these are running out. Scientists warn that ecological systems are approaching critical thresholds or “tipping points” beyond which alterations to these systems due to human induced impacts will result in runaway, irreversible changes (1).

In 1964, Peter Raven and Paul Erhlich published a study which introduced the concept of coevolution (More information on coevolution) and now five decades later, with the science community taking a renewed interest in coevolution we see a return to butterflies and some fascinating work being done on understanding the mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon (2).

Continue reading

How Long Does Your Writing Take?

A very useful trick to overcoming procrastination!

Academic Life

Let me ask you a quick question. Do you normally read in bed before falling asleep every night? If so, how long do you read for?

candleI certainly do. Yet, I only manage to put together five or six pages at most before abandoning myself into Morpheus’ arms. The whole process probably takes me 15-20 minutes every night and, as a positive side effect, I have noticed that the quality of my sleep is far better than if I tried to fall asleep without reading.

But I am digressing…

So, here is my point:

I have managed to read lots of books in my life, just by spending a few minutes every night reading only a few pages!

This is remarkable for me because all too often I have a strong tendency to wait for the perfect circumstances, the perfect settings, the perfect time, before actually getting a start…

View original post 423 more words

Why do we love sunsets/sunrises?

Is it just me or are sunsets and sunrises two of the most beautiful natural phenomena? Together they occur twice daily (unless you are at the poles during certain seasons), and no matter where you are , whether it be in a big city, at the seaside, your favourite bush location or simply sitting in your living room at home you are able to experience this wonderful time of day.

But just why do we enjoy them so much? I have often thought about this and I have my reasons, but perhaps you can share some of yours in the comments below? I would very much enjoy reading them.

Continue reading

The next 3 (and a bit) years….Going walkabout in the mountains

So, given that I have just started this blog, I feel it is only appropriate to introduce (briefly and as interestingly as possible) a basic overview of what my PhD over the next three years will entail-besides I have always loved the idea of science communication. So lets jump right in!

Are you familiar with the term coevolution? Many people have some idea of what it refers to and there is a basic definition which I will explain a little further on, but the interesting part is that despite having had a formal definition for decades we have relatively few examples of exactly how this coevolution between species drives diversification (i.e.increases the number of species). Well, I should rather say we have few convincing examples of co-evolutionary diversification occurring in nature. The fact is that coevolution makes perfect ecological sense- because for all the complexity that exists on planet earth organisms have never, and will never evolve or speciate (the development of a new species over time) in isolation. Much of the variety in species is a direct result of the complex interactions between species, i.e. coevolution. Where coevolution is defined as:

 “reciprocal evolutionary change among interacting species driven by natural selection” (1)

What this means is that when say, a pollinator visits a flower- Its picks up some of the pollen in the process of feeding which it then transports to another flower of the same species. It is obviously of benefit to the plant to have its pollen distributed and it achieves this by producing a sugary nectar or floral oil which attracts the pollinator and is then subsequently fed on by this animal. However, the plant also needs to maximise the number of pollinators it attracts (to be successful and survive) and it does this by developing mechanisms which limit the amount of nectar that can be consumed per visit of the pollinator. Some examples (as you will see later in this post) include the development of modified floral structures such as spurs which house the nectar in difficult to reach places. What then happens is that the pollinators must also undergo adaptations if possible (by the process of natural selection) to still gain access to their sugary reward. Examples include lengthened proboses (feeding mouthparts) and insect foreleg length.

Given that there are millions of species, surely the evolutionary trajectory of one species would have influenced another? and would then, as a result of natural selection improve the rate at which new species are formed in either or both of the interacting taxa. The short answer is yes. The difficulty then arises when you go about trying to test for this as there must be some sort of mechanism which can be used to determine coevolution between two taxa and indeed if these interactions increase the rate at which new species are formed This is where my research comes in.

My research

Creating a “family” tree or Phylogeny

Over the next three and a bit years I will get the opportunity to look at this question by undertaking a study of which the broad aim is, to investigate the ecological drivers of species diversification in Diascia (Twinspurs) species across the Drakensberg Alpine Centre (DAC-Figure 1) and the Cape floristic region (CFR) in South Africa. The Diascia or twinspurs get their name from the extraordinary twin spurs that extend from the base of each flower, creating something quite spectacular!

This work will luckily (YAY!) involve a fair amount of field work where I will have to go out and collect as many species from the genus as is possible (plus they are beautiful little flowers!, see Figure 3-5 below) and then sequence their DNA to create a phylogeny (Family tree of how the species are related and how they split). I do not want to go too much into the details but one of the very interesting components of this work will look at if life history strategy (i.e. perennial -has a life cycle of more than 2 years versus annual-complete life cycle in a year) played a role in how the genus historically dispersed across the landscape and how the different species came to be. In the DAC most Diascia seem to be perennial while in the cape they are annual species.

Continue reading

Why a blog?

Since I can remember I have always loved writing, as I am far more capable of expressing myself with the written word than I can face-to-face, no I am not socially awkward. Would I consider myself shy?… well, yes! most definitely and probably also an introvert. But the problem you see is that society has developed a rather insidious view of what is means to be an introvert. Like most things there is a continuum, with extremes on either end. I just fall somewhere closer to being an introvert, where I enjoy and indeed need periods of time by myself to reflect and internalize my daily experiences. This is not to say that I dislike groups of people or any form of human contact and prefer to stay at home with my cat (I do like cats though…)- in actual fact I LOVE spending time with friends and having a good time. However, after spending time with other people I need a bit of time to myself to set myself “straight”. EVeryone needs some “me” time, except people who display more introvert qualities need a bit more than the average person.

Continue reading