Archive for category Mammalogy
Color Catalogue for Field Biologists, by Gunther Köhler, Herpeton (http://www.herpeton-verlag.de/), 2012, 49 pages, € 24.80 (~$32.00).
For years, when it came to describing a species in the field, the gold standard in color standards was Frank B. Smithe’s “Naturalist’s Color Guide”. The Smithe Guide provided a palette of 182 color swatches against which to compare and discern the colors in a hummingbird’s ruby gorget feather or the cobalt venter scales of a “blue belly” western fence lizard. Much like the Munsell color system – familiar to many through the Munsell soil color charts used in the field by soil scientists for, among other things, wetland delineations – the Smith Guide was the go-to-guide for wildlife biologists and taxonomists who needed to record accurate and reproducible species descriptions. When the Smith Guide went out of print in 1981, it left a gap in the suite of references available to scientists.
With the publication of Gunther Köhler’s Color Catalogue for Field Biologists, that gap is once again filled. Picking up where the Smithe Guide left off, the ‘Köhler Catalogue’ builds off the 182 original swatches with an additional 118 swatches that span the spectrum from Kingfisher Rufous and Pistachio to Light Russet Vinaceous and Cinnamon Drab. The Köhler Catalogue boasts many features, amongst them an English/Spanish translation, an introductory glossary of terms (e.g. stipples vs dots), photographic figures illustrating key terms, and a primer on preparing color descriptions in life. The heavy card stock, heavy duty front and back covers, and spiral-bound spine show that the Köhler Catalogue is meant to get dirty.
Although the guide is geared toward herpetologists (the terms and photographs, for example, illustrate the art of describing amphibians and reptiles), even Köhler admits its utility for ichthyologists, ornithologists, entomologists, botanists, and – although he neglects to mention them – mammalogists. But no matter the taxon, nowadays when you find yourself at a loss for words to describe a new species or a new specimen – be it bird or bee – you can turn to the Köhler Catalogue.
In a bid to go green, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW; formerly, the California Department of Fish and Game) is digitizing their 99-year-old quarterly scientific journal, California Fish and Game. In addition to making all issues post-December 2012 available online, they’re also dusting off the stack of journals in the archives. In the coming months, CDFW will be working toward digitizing back-issues dating back to 1914, when the journal was first published.
Back when the journal debuted, California was unquestionably a different place. Among the journal’s opening pages were these missives from the Board of Fish and Game Commissioners:
“The wild game belongs to the people in their sovereign capacity and as such should be enjoyed by the people and cared for and preserved for their benefit. It must not be considered as the property of a class and no class should be permitted to monopolize it… The right of any generation to careless indifference or wanton destruction can not be admitted. Each generation is the guardian of the existing resources of the world; it comes into a great inheritance, but only as a trustee; and there is no recovery or resurrection of an extinct species.”
– Ernest Schaeffle
“So often we lock the door after the horse is stolen. Let it not be so with the game birds and wild creatures of California.”
– Frank M. Rutherford
“Preserved game and fish, like preserved forests or preserved water powers, are of no practical public good. Preserved fish and game die; so do preserved trees; preserved water-powers run to waste. Conserved – that is, used and protected – fish and game, forests, water-powers and all other natural resources are, of course, of practical benefit to the public. And therefore, fish and game conservation – not preservation – commissions are of practical benefit to the public… Our game, however, can not be conserved, or even preserved, if the cover in which and the food on which it lives be not conserved. Our fish can not be conserved, or even preserved, if the waters in which they live be not kept at least free from pollution. If our wild places be permitted to be fire ravaged and destroyed, if our streams and bays be made the dumping grounds for noxious materials, then there will be no use for game and fish conserving laws, no need for a fish and game conservation commission – there will be no fish and game to be conserved.”
– George C. Pardee
During the journal’s first year alone (Volume 1 spanned 1914 through 1915), Joseph Grinnell, Director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, raised the hue and cry concerning the “ravages of the house cat” on native bird populations and the decline of the wood duck; the price of a dozen quail and the bounty on mountain lion “scalps, or skin with scalp attached” were equivalent – $20.00, or $465 in today’s prices; Mr. Edward A. Salisbury was touring the state of California showing moving pictures featuring the wildlife of the west, including the life history of the steelhead trout, treeing and roping wildcats and mountain lions, and hunting geese for the San Francisco market; a game warden’s salary ranged from $720 to $1,500 ($16,759 to $34,915 in today’s prices) a year; and the non-native opossum was confirmed to have been introduced to California from Tennessee by a San Jose jeweler in 1910.
Curiously, the journal’s trademark green cover – a triptych featuring a trout, mule deer, and quail – didn’t make its appearance until Volume 1, Number 2, and has changed very little over the years. Looking backwards, that triptych is perhaps the only constant California has seen in the last century.
Life imitating art, I get. But life imitating parody?
Last week Danish researchers reported in the journal PLoS ONE a new technique to track marine mammals in the open ocean through the use of environmental DNA (eDNA). Their research (which bears an uncanny resemblance to the purported parody master work of renowned thalassohodoscatologist Dr. Ostermund I. Fuhl, Ph.D.’s Marine Mammal Tracks and Scats: A Field Guide to North American Species, featured here on the pages of (bio)accumulation in early April), bears down on the Danes’ innovative use of non-invasive oceanic water sampling to detect marine mammal genetic material from feces, shed hair, or skin suspended in the water column.
Working from 15 ml (1 tablespoon) to 50 ml seawater samples collected in both a controlled natural harbor basin and the western Baltic, the Danish researchers were able to detect the presence of harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), whose occurrence and relative densities were verified through static acoustic monitoring of echolocation click trains. Moreover, they were able to detect species like long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas) rarer to the area – the first confirmed detection of this species in the Baltic following two unconfirmed visual sightings last summer.
As could be expected, their findings demonstrate that species detection via eDNA in a marine environment is not as reliable due to dilution, dispersal, and salinity. (Fuhl met those challenges head-on through his pioneering ephemerality equivalence equation, the “E³ half-life”, a metric based on post-dispersal colloidal phase stability; rate of sedimentation, aggregation, and flocculation; buoyancy quotient; and dietary composition necessary to determine any given species’ poop-permanence, the time between when a killer whale makes a deep-sea deposit and when it clears the Cordell Bank.) But paired with acoustic and visual surveys (E³ half-life!), eDNA shows potential as one of many future tools in the data dump integral to marine mammal monitoring efforts.
REFERENCE: Thomsen, Philip Francis, Jos Kielgast, Lars Lønsmann Iversen, Peter Rask Møller, Morten Rasmussen, Eske Willerslev. 2012. Investigating the Potential Use of Environmental DNA (eDNA) for Genetic Monitoring of Marine Mammals. PLoS ONE 7(8): e41781. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041781
When it comes to wildlife tracking, Mark Elbroch – wildlife biologist, tracker, and proliferate author of such field guides as Behavior of North American Mammals (reviewed here), Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scats of California, Bird Tracks and Sign, Mammal Tracks and Sign, and Practical Tracking – has clearly carved a well-deserved niche for himself. But to call Mark Elbroch’s masterwork Animal Skulls: A Guide to North American Species a field guide is a bit misleading; think of it instead as the dictionary of North American skulls. Carefully researched through visits to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (UC Berkeley), the Museum of Comparative Zoology (Harvard University), the L.A. County Museum, and private collections, Elbroch has painstakingly assembled within these pages an exhaustive skull collection representative of the bulk of North American species (mostly mammals).
Elbroch’s introductory chapters read like Skulls 101: a primer on the different skull bones; insight on how to “read” skulls to understand and interpret their progenitors’ natural history (Was it an omnivore? Was it a predator?); determining the cause of death; and the requisite “How to” guide to collecting and preparing skulls. The rest of the book is head-to-head skulls.
Following a quick visual reference to life-size skulls, the remainder of the guide is devoted to “species accounts” for each representative skull. Although it’s weighed heavily toward mammals, Elbroch includes representative birds, amphibians, and reptiles to round things out. Every account begins with a diagrammatic illustration that includes detailed dorsal and lateral views of the cranium (the “skull”) and mandible (the “jaw”). The full accounts touch on the wonkier greatest skull lengths, the source or origin of the skull “types,” and dentition formulas before plunging head first into an elaborate description of the diagnostic characteristics of every condyle, arch, and crest, each of which is carefully labeled and explained.
For those looking for a quick identification, be forewarned that Animal Skulls comes with a learning curve. Instead of following a traditional dichotomous key, Elbroch has instead organized the species accounts section of the guide phylogenetically, following the order in which species evolved, to encourage browsing. This arrangement requires some applied science, which will call on your skills as a naturalist (and a little help from Chapter 2 – Understanding and Interpreting Form: The Natural History of Animal Skulls) to make the proper identification through comparative observation, logic, and reason.
Given the girth, breadth, and organization of this indispensable reference, Elbroch is clearly not dealing in easy answers, but in enlightenment. In knowing down to the bone not only that the partial skull you’ve uncovered in the woods is that of a mature bobcat, but that you have the skill set and confidence necessary to make that ID again in the future.
Based on 22 years at sea exploring the Arctic circle under the tutelage of a veteran Eskimo tracker, Marine Mammal Tracks and Scats: A Field Guide to North American Species marks Dr. Ostermund I. Fuhl’s premier debut into the field of thalassohodoscatology – tracking marine mammals across the open ocean. Already heralded as a classic, this first-of-its-kind field guide will appeal to oceanographers, marine mammalogists, and sea-faring tradesman alike… [read more]