Category Archives: Environmental Systems

Gorillas in the Ugandan Mist

This past weekend, my wife and I were fortunate to travel to Rwanda and Uganda to spend some time with one of the world’s most endangered animals, the eastern mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, in Uganda’s tiny Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

It was awesome.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mountain gorillas are are a subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla and are listed as critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List. Our guides told us there are only 680 individuals left in the wild. They’re found only in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where they live in dense primary, i.e. uncut, rainforest and bamboo forests between 600 and 2,900 meters above sea level.  The IUCN claims that the major threats to mountain gorillas’ survival are poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, civil unrest (especially in the DRC), and climate change.

Unfortunately for the gorillas, growing human populations in the surrounding areas have pushed farms farther and farther up into the mountains, dividing the forest habitat the gorillas depend on into two separate ‘islands’ of montane forest. This human encroachment prevents the remaining gorilla populations from interacting with one another, minimizing gene flow and increasing inbreeding.

Such genetic isolation can contribute to the process of speciation if both populations are large enough and have enough resources to thrive for many generations. However, large mammals with relatively long gestational periods need fairly large populations to ensure sufficient genetic diversity. Mountain gorilla pregnancies last about 8.5 months, and they only have babies about once every 4 years, which is a big part of the reason why the tiny populations found in Rwanda, DRC, and Uganda are critically endangered.

And now for a few words on Rwanda.

During our brief time in Rwanda, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where about 259,000 people are buried in the middle of town. I was working on my undergraduate degree when the Rwandan genocide happened in 1994, and I have clear memories of watching events unfold on television. But that doesn’t begin to do justice to the horrors of a million people losing their lives in the span of 100 days. During the genocide, roughly 10,000 acts of murder were committed Every. Single. Day. Most of those acts were by hand, with machetes, hammers, clubs, and axes, directed against neighbors, coworkers, teammates, classmates, and family members. It’s astounding. Twenty three years later, Rwanda is basically an entire country suffering from PTSD.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial doesn’t only focus on the events that shaped this small East African country – it also explores the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, German atrocities committed in Namibia at the start of the 20th century, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, ethnic cleansing during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, and of course the Jewish Holocaust of World War 2. Overall the museum and the memorial are really well done, discussing the attitudes and actions that lead to genocide, as well as detailing the way Rwanda has seemingly successfully recovered from it. If you have the chance, I highly recommend a visit.

Science Apps for Your Smartphone

I just stumbled across this Slideshare presentation by Stephen Taylor, and I think it’s a fantastic resource. He’s done all the research and written succinct explanations, so I won’t try to improve upon his work. There’s something in here for students and teachers of almost every discipline.

Thank you Mr Taylor!

Elections get in the way of science news

Good evening!

In addition to the professional presence I have on Twitter (@bradleymkremer) and here on my science blog/website, I have a personal profile on Facebook, which I think doesn’t make me unusual in any way. I usually make a fairly concerted effort to keep my personal and professional lives separate. I’m not Facebook friends with any current students (I’ll accept friend requests upon their graduation from university, though), I never tweet about politics or personal events, and I almost never post science articles or thoughts on my Facebook wall.

However, those personal and professional worlds do overlap sometimes. I have current and former work colleagues who have become friends. My personal interest in science frequently spills over into my professional involvement with science education.

Where is this leading us, you may ask?

Today I am sharing a collection of science news and updates from my Facebook feed. These are a few resources I’ve saved over the past few weeks and months because they’re either of personal interest or they’re directly relevant to units I teach – or both! Sometimes, life gets in the way, with things like visits from your mother, presidential elections, and an almost-one-year-old baby at home. So, without further ado, here are the science news items I’ve been following lately:

Elon Musk and Tesla reveal solar rooftops – Bloomberg News. Musk is one of my heroes because I think he’s a visionary who is unafraid to use his considerable funds to push the envelope of scientific innovation for the betterment of humanity and our planet. (Full disclosure: I own stock in Tesla.)

The “Zero Waste” grocery store – A Berlin shop which has developed a sustainable shopping model with the goal of reducing solid domestic waste. IB ESS topic 8.2: Resource use in society and 8.3: Solid domestic waste.

Zero emissions train unveiled in Germany – Not yet in service, but a step in the right direction to meet growing transportation needs. The train uses hydrogen fuel cells in place of diesel engines, and since it’s a public service, economies of scale may help advance more widespread adaptation of the fuel cell technology.

Climate change is having an impact on infrastructure – A story from Wired detailing how rising temperatures, thawing permafrost, and increased precipitation are having an effect on communities built permafrost. A case study for IB ESS topic 7 and IB Biology topic 4.

Captive breeding case studies from National Geographic – Students evaluate the effectiveness of various captive breeding programs designed to conserve biodiversity in this species-based approach to conservation. A solid link to IB ESS topic 3.

Are the water wars coming? – A look at dwindling freshwater resources in the face of growing human population pressure around the world. A good discussion for IB ESS topic 4.2: Access to fresh water.

How what we eat has changed (and will change again) – A short video from the BBC Future project examining the interplay between human population growth, food production, and ecosystem impacts. Relevant for IB Biology option C: Ecology and conservation, as well as IB ESS topic 5.2: Terrestrial food production systems and food choices.

Looking for good news about climate change? This is about all there is – The Washington Post outlines a scrap of good news regarding the rate of planetary warming in the context of the 2016 US presidential election. Useful for IB Biology topic 4.3: Carbon cycling, topic 4.4: Climate change, and IB ESS topic 7: Climate change and energy production.

That’s all I have time for tonight. I’ll post another set of news links soon-ish. And of course, I’ll have more on Twitter.

Happy learning!

Mr K

Ecology resources for students: Part 1

Good afternoon!

I’m back with another set of bookmarks for students and teachers. Because I’ve taught the IB Environmental systems and societies course for several years, this set of online resources is closest to my heart. Some of these links are here simply because I think they’re cool or fun. Many may also be applicable for studying biology and chemistry as well. Let’s get to it:

Happy learning!

Cheers,

Mr K

Biology resources for students: Part 1

Good morning!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been updating various pages within my website, and as I work, I keep encountering all these different websites and digital resources I’ve bookmarked over the years. My bookmarks bar is organized by broad scientific subjects: astronomy,biology, chemistry, ecology, and physics. I’ve also got a folder dedicated solely to scientific games. I will share the resources in these folders in subsequent posts, organized by subject area. Once posted in the blog, I’ll then add all bookmarks to the general science pages in my website, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to share them with the broader global community as well. I have so many of these resources that I’m going to have to split the list into two parts – the bookmarks from my Chrome browser and those from Firefox.

Today: biology resources for students (and teachers!) in no particular order.

  • The Cell: Basic Unit of Structure and Function by McGraw-Hill. Animations, quizzes, flashcards, and other resources aligned with their Human Anatomy textbook. Links to other chapters can be found in the sidebar.
  • Bioman Biology. Interactive biology games on a variety of topics, including physiology, cells, ecology, genetics, evolution, DNA, respiration, and photosynthesis.
  • Carbon cycle animation from the University of Alberta, Canada. A simple but comprehensive flow chart (system diagram) of the global carbon cycle.
  •  InstaGrok interactive concept maps. Pre-made concept maps showing links between a whole bunch of topics in general biology. Click on a term to see links to other biology topics, facts, websites, videos, images, or add your own notes.
  • Cells Alive! This site has been around for years. Good, easy-to-understand interactive cell models.
  •  DNA video from NotCot.org. A beautiful 3 minute animation explaining DNA for BBC Knowledge from Territory.
  • John Kimball’s online biology textbook. This guy has been teaching biology for decades, and he’s amassed an incredible amount of resources on his site around every conceivable topic in biology. It’s kind of an old-school site, but it’s thorough.
  • Learn.Genetics at the University of Utah, USA. I use the tutorials from this site extensively in my genetics and evolution units.
  • Bozeman Science biology playlist on YouTube. 76 videos! 76! This playlist contains videos that could be useful in AP Biology, IB Biology, Biology, and other life sciences, all from the amazing Paul Andersen.
  • Mitosis World Home at University of North Carolina, USA. An aggregate of several other biology resources.
  • Discover Biology animations from W.W. Norton & Co. High-quality animations that can be viewed straight through, step-by-step, or narrated.
  • Interactive transpiration animation from ScienceMag. Adjust plant parameters and environmental conditions to see different effects on the movement of water through plants. With some creativity, you could run a virtual lab from this animation.
  • Understanding Evolution at the University of California – Berkeley. Densely packed with information and thoroughly researched. I use this site as a main reference for my evolution units. The site has been around a long time and is showing its age, but it’s still highly useful.
  • Sex determination video at TED-Ed. One of many useful resources from the TED people. Includes a review quiz and discussion questions.
  • Biology for Life. A great website from Gretel von Bargen at Skyline High School in Washington state, USA. It follows the new IB Biology syllabus. Also linked to her Twitter feed. I use this site a ton.
  • Bioknowledgy. Probably my favorite site for IB Biology. Chris Paine in Shanghai has created an extensive library of resources and materials aligned with the new IB Biology syllabus. Includes presentations, videos, and guided revision questions, among other resources. Awesome!

I hope that’s a good start for now. If you find any helpful resources you think I’ve missed, please send them my way in the comments, and I’ll add them to the second batch.

Cheers!

Mr K

The best of the best

One of the things I love about Twitter is the sheer volume of ridiculously helpful and inspiring resources it brings me every day. With tools like Tweetdeck and Tweetbot, I get the best globally-crowdsourced information on science, education, educational technology, world news, and music – the categories most aligned with my personal and professional interests – on my homepage every single day.

Today Twitter delivered the following gem to my virtual door: “The ‘All-Time’ Best Science Sites on the Web.” The name is a bit misleading because the author, Larry Ferlazzo, links to some great resources in subjects other than science.

My advice: find a snack, click on the link, and spend the next long while exploring.

Mr Ferlazzo, I’ve never met you, but you rock!

I usually love living in Tanzania, but today has been challenging…

Normally, I love living in Tanzania, surrounded by friendly people, amazing coasts, and almost unrivaled biodiversity. But a story recently published by The Guardian really saddens me.

The short and dirty version (and it’s a pretty dirty story, in my opinion) is that the Tanzanian government wants to sell a massive chunk of land near Serengeti National Park to the royal family of Dubai for their use as a personal hunting ground. The government claims the land will be a ‘wildlife corridor’, but President Kikwete’s representatives have told the Maasai – who have lived and died in the designated part of Tanzania for hundreds of years – that they must leave their land by the end of the year.

Tanzania is offering the Maasai $578,000 in total for the 370,000 acres (150,000 hectares) as compensation. That’s about one Pound Sterling per acre, split among the 40,000 people living there. And the government proposes to funnel the payment through ‘development projects’ instead of direct reimbursement! More bluntly: about US$14 per person for getting kicked off their land.

This same scheme was theoretically halted after large protests and a lot of international media attention last year, but the governing party seems intent on seeing it through. Considering the recent news of government officials’ knowing participation in, and even encouragement of, illegal poaching, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this plot become a staging ground for ivory exports on a massive scale.

If you haven’t heard about this issue before now, I’m hopeful that maybe the renewed public interest will put a halt to this process. But I doubt it.