Can fossil mammals help us with our conservation efforts?

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=466

How can the dead help the living? This is a question a lot of fossil-fanatics have bent a lot of time towards over recent years, partially due to a desire to make palaeontology ‘relevant’ as a modern science, and secondly to help guide our efforts in conservation biology. A new series, edited by my supervisor Dr. Phil Mannion and others, focusses on the way we interpret palaeobiodiversity, biodiversity in the fossil record, for different groups and the issues and solutions facing the field. The final article in the volume struck me in particular.

How can fossils help us to protect these now and in the future? Source.

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Gender confusion in Confuciusornis? Not any more!

Among the many issues with the fossil record is the case of gender identification. In modern organisms, it is usually pretty easy to tell which members of a particular species are the males and which are the females. This can either be through consistently perving on them to figure it out during copulation, or some aspect of their morphology, such as antlers, or you know, a penis or vagina. When it comes to fossil though, we often don’t find these typical gender-distinctive aspects of morphology preserved, as they are usually lost in one form or another to the ravages of time and the process of fossilisation.

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Did dinosaurs lactate..?

The fossil record is brutally frustrating; it mostly preserves only vestiges of deaths long past as body fossils, with occasional glimpses of life being gleaned from their surroundings and any trace fossils, or activity fossils that we might find. One question palaeontologists have long been seeking the answer for is how good were dinosaurs as parents? Modern birds are descended from dinosaurs, and are pretty awesome parents in their nesting, brooding, and raising of their chicks from birth until they can quite literally fly the nest. But birds are the only extant group of dinosaurs out of three major lineages.

Partial skeleton of an oviraptorid dinosaur brooding over a nest of eggs. Source.

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Results show that you’re clean, and also something about Twitter functionality

Twitter is awesome. Users tweet over 340 million times a day, and the information load coming through it, and the speed at which it comes from the real world, makes it incredibly addictive as a social media or microblogging tool. In terms of the functions it offers though, how much is really understood? Everyone knows what tweeting, retweeting, and favouriting means on an anecdotal or personal level, but what about more generally. I set up a poll last week to gather data on what ‘favouriting’ a tweet means to different people. The results were pretty interesting, and make for a nice comparison with the results from another similar recent poll, on the ‘multiple personalities’ of the favourite function.

Here are the results from the data gathered on what motivates people to favourite tweets:

Results from 209 votes

The top 3 are pretty obvious:

  1. Bookmarking something to read later
  2. Bookmarking something for future reference
  3. Analogous to the ‘like’ function on Facebook

The other poll had similar results, from 81 votes:

  1. Bookmarking
  2. Highlighting testimonials
  3. Analogous to the ‘like’ function on Twitter

The author of the other post, Sherry Nouraini, suggests that this multiple-use signal is perhaps a flaw in Twitter’s design, based on uncertainty on the unity of its purpose, especially when it comes to community-building. I’d go one step further, and suggest that perhaps some innovative whizz kid out there can capitalise on this data (OK, it’s not an overwhelmingly huge data set) in some way to improve the services Twitter, or one of the multiple platforms it can run through, currently offers. Maybe. Feel free to keep voting on the poll btw, it would be interesting to see whether the pattern changes through time or with more data.

Bookmarking is the shining star of these li’l polls, both for future reference or to either tweet or read later on. I like the idea of it being used as a Facebook ‘like’, and wonder if those who voted for this are part of the ‘Facebook’ generation, as opposed to perhaps a more scholarly older generation who see beyond such a monotonous use. What do these data mean to you? I’m no social analyst, so it would be interesting to see what others think these patterns, and also discrepancies between data sets could possibly indicate.

For those who voted, here’s a pic of two dinosaurs having an apocalyptic bonk. You’ve earned it. No peaking if you didn’t vote.

What does the ‘Favourite’ function mean on Twitter?

Recently, Sherry Nouraini created an intriguing poll regarding the ‘multiple personalities’ of favouriting a tweet on Twitter. From a personal viewpoint, I use it similarly to the ‘Like’ function on Twitter, although anecdotal evidence combined with this poll suggest a wide variety of different uses. However, the sample size for this previous study was quite small, so it would be nice to a) see what happens if more people vote, and b) to have a comparative data set to see if the same trends are detected (I suspect the two of us are associated with different ‘internet crowds’).

So yeah, hopefully this poll below will work, and get a decent enough input so we can begin to see how favouriting is used as a social tool. You can select 3 choices, and I’ll post the results after a week or so (or longer if more people are getting involved). Some of the options do cross-over to various degrees, but I figured this captures pretty much the whole range of possibilities.

Thanks for voting! Please spread the word too – the more data the better any trend can be explained! 🙂