Google Earth

I’ll be posting later this week about the importance of geo-tagging biodiversity, but for now I just wanted to point out that Google Earth Blog, an independent forum for the discussion of the things you can do with Google Earth, has a section on the environment. Many of the things Frank Taylor posts on under this tag will be relevant to the study and conservation of biodiversity. And here’s a great Google Earth application I’ve recently come across, though from another source. The Malaria Atlas Project is pulling together data on the global distribution of the malaria parasites as a prelude to modelling their spatial limits.

The perils of rarity

It stands to reason that as the cost of finding and an over-harvested medicinal plant, say, increases beyond the market value of the product, people will stop looking for it, hopefully giving the population a chance to recover. Well, yes, but what if the very increasing rarity of the plant – or animal – actually in turn ratchets up its value? The result is a positive feedback loop which can only end in extinction. Or so says a mathematical model described in Nature, backed up by some telling examples. So publicizing the fact that a species may be rare and threatened (for example, in a Red Data List) may actually make things worse! Taking species into cultivation may be one way around the problem.

Fido not a domesticated wolf?

Domestic dogs are derived from wolves, right? Maybe not. There is apparently a minority view that says that a better interpretation of behavioural, morphological and genetic differences between the domestic dog and the wolf is that the dog was domesticated from a now-extinct, pariah-like precursor, with occasional hybridization with wolves along the way. You can read more about this controversial view on Darren Naish’s zoological blog.