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The 2007 AIBS annual meeting focused on the importance of evolutionary biology in many aspects of health science, such as understanding the human genome, the normal functions and malfunctions of human genes, and the origin and evolution of infectious diseases.
Despite concern about the social, economic, and ecological viability of the agricultural Great Plains, a century-long examination reveals that threats to society, economy, and environment are counterbalanced by surprising stability and the potential for short- and medium-term sustainability. Populations in metropolitan counties have grown, whereas rural populations may now be stable; both metropolitan and rural populations are aging. Technological advances in the past five decades enhanced production in the Great Plains despite periodic adverse economic and environmental conditions, and increases in crop yields, animal feeding, and government payments have sustained agriculture and income. Nonmetropolitan counties with irrigated farming have been more successful than those without irrigation. However, overuse of groundwater and rising energy costs for irrigation affect economic margins and the ability to sustain environmental integrity. Long-term projections of agricultural productivity must balance recent stability with the risks posed by reduced irrigation, higher energy prices, disruptive demographic changes, and further loss of environmental integrity.
Fishes probably were the first vertebrate seed dispersers, yet little research has examined this phenomenon. We review evidence of fruit and seed consumption by fishes, and analyze the evolution of frugivory and granivory using South American serrasalmids as a model. Frugivory and granivory are observed among diverse fish taxa worldwide, although most reports are from the Neotropics. Frugivory and granivory among serrasalmids apparently are derived from omnivory, with powerful jaws and specialized dentition appearing as major adaptations. No particular fruit traits seem to be associated with seed dispersal by fishes (ichthyochory). Recent experimental evidence of ichthyochory suggests that fishes can influence riparian vegetation dynamics. Because of deleterious human impacts on aquatic ecosystems worldwide, many critical interactions between plants and fishes have been disrupted before they could be studied. Exotic frugivorous fishes have recently become established on foreign continents, with unknown ecological consequences.
Suburban, exurban, and rural development is a leading cause of biodiversity loss and natural resource degradation in the United States. In response to this threat, conservation development has been advanced as a way to combine land development with functional protection for conservation resources. This article provides a review, analysis, and ecological critique of the four principal types of conservation development: (1) conservation buyer projects, (2) conservation and limited development projects, (3) conservation subdivisions, and (4) conservation-oriented planned development projects. Each approach can contribute to landscape-scale conservation, with benefits that include reducing the off-site impacts of development, buffering and connecting protected areas, and conserving imperiled species and ecosystems. However, the benefits of these approaches depend significantly on project density, design, and context. Accordingly, this article offers a framework for differentiating and analyzing these approaches to conservation development for the purposes of research, land-use planning, public policy, and conservation practice.
Ecological risk assessment is a systematic way to evaluate the likelihood that an environmental accident has caused significant ecological consequences. I apply this framework retrospectively to evaluate a scenario linking the Exxon Valdez oil spill to population effects on harlequin ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) through hydrocarbon contamination of mussels in spill-affected shorelines of Prince William Sound, Alaska. By evaluating the plausibility of each step of this scenario in turn, it becomes apparent that it is highly unlikely the oil spill is having continuing effects on harlequins through this pathway. This case study shows how ecological risk assessment can help clarify potential cause–effect relationships in an emotionally and socially charged situation.
The hypothetico-deductive method, as currently taught, confuses students and distorts their understanding of science. Part of the confusion arises because the dualistic approach of the hypothetico-deductive method conflicts with the inherent probabilism that underlies much of scientific methodology. I identify four weaknesses in the current approach to teaching students how researchers do science. First, most texts and many instructors tend to ignore the early, interesting, and often time-consuming stages of scientific methodology. Second, the hypothetico-deductive method uses counterintuitive logic to describe the relationship between hypotheses and predictions. Third, most null hypotheses are artificial constructs that tend to distance students from their initial biological questions. Finally, educators present an inconsistent message when they teach science as probabilistic and hypothesis testing as dualistic. I suggest a more holistic approach that identifies avoidable pitfalls and preserves the essential ingredients of the hypothetico-deductive method, while removing some of the arcane inaccuracies.