So, last week I got a call on Thursday afternoon from a new research partner asking if I’d like to take their place on an upcoming trip to Africa. Kenya and South Africa specifically. He didn’t even get to finish his sentence before I said yes. I feel a little guilty because it (a) throws the plant work off schedule and (b) I’m replacing the ecological ethicist who threw out his back. However, it puts me in a position to do some pilot research for a new project that could lead to something else in the conservation/climate research nexus. This new research project, Saving Africa’s Vultures, synthesizes what is known about why vulture populations are declining in eastern and southern Africa to develop tools to improve vulture protection through societal/behavioral and legal means.
I hadn’t intended to instigate a whole new project this summer but that is exactly what is happening. This afternoon I drafted questions for a semi-structured interview with social network questions. My next step is to get feedback from my research partners and write my IRB application. Based on the overarching research goals, my interviews will be aimed at (1) building/strengthening the current vulture conservation network; (2) identifying/ranking known vulture species stressors; and (3) identifying tools for vulture conservation education. This last one will be interesting as vultures are definitely not the first thing people think of in terms of conservation despite their important ecosystem role as scavengers/decomposers. They are not pretty or cute or cuddly. My work will also focus on interviewing conservation experts; learning about their environmental knowledge and networks for sharing knowledge and resources.
I expect the next month or so to be a mad scramble as I read up on vultures and prepare for new interviews with experts. I don’t want to sound like an idiot. At the same time I will forge ahead with my plant data. In all it completes the circle of life – from primary producers to consumers to decomposers.
In foraging online, I’ve discovered a number on links to plant identification and information sites. In the effort to share I have posted these links below. As you can see, it isn’t an exhaustive list. These are materials that I and my student research assistants use regularly to check spellings of scientific names, determine if native or not, and verify growth form. Some of the sites give additional information about range, habitat, and use value to humans and other species.
World Collections Websites
- Kew Gardens – Plants of the World online – robust use section, particularly for medicines. Not a big focus on common names.
- Global Plants on JSTOR – digitized global collections, historic materials, specimens, herbaria
- iDigBio – Integrated Digitized Biocollections Homepage – more than just plants, although plants dominate the media records
- iDigBio Portal – online specimen record access
- Pl@ntUse – online wiki with over 50,000 plant species
- Botanic Garden Meise – BR Herbarium Catalogue – the herbarium has three main geographical divisions, the African (Central Africa focus), Belgian and General Collections
- Missouri Botanical Gardens
Southern Africa Focused Websites
- South African National Biodiversity Institute
- Flora of Mozambique
- Flora of Zimbabwe
- Flora of Botswana
- Plants of Namibia (Oxford)
- Flora of Zambia
- Swaziland’s Flora Database
- Dressler, S., Schmidt, M. & Zizka, G. 2014 + [continously updated]. African Plants – A Photo Guide
If you know of or regularly use other related websites, please send along. I would be happy to add to our list.
Last summer I challenged myself to use Twitter’s social media platform (@jin_verde) to get more information out about the work I do as an ecological & environmental anthropologist. I’m not sure I did a great job promoting my own work – mainly focused on climate change and biodiversity conservation. But I have been consistent in highlighting what scientists in my field do and how they contribute to supporting the well-being of individuals and communities. (And the work of scientists in related fields.) I love finding and sharing success stories, useful links, and serendipitous findings. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of bad news when it comes to climate change and biodiversity conservation. Finding these bright points I like to share is a little more difficult, but so necessary.
It is needed as part of our larger efforts as scientists to share our knowledge and results more publicly. If the federal government is no longer willing to promote science to the public, then we need to do so ourselves. Many already are, but more of us need to be involved because federal agencies are wiping important public information off their websites under orders of their new heads. My goal then this summer is to publish a short essay every two weeks about my research, ideas I’m working on, ecological anthropology methods and processes, and environmental/climate information. I posting this here so that I can shame myself when I don’t follow through.
But there are other ways for scientists, science teachers, and science supporters to get involved, be heard, and make our scientific work known for the benefit of all living beings on this planet. Last Saturday I Marched for Science with my husband and another scientist friend, a marine ecologist, in the cold rain. Yesterday, I braved record-breaking heat (91F, plus humidity) to participate in the People’s Climate March. It’s 2017. Why do I need to do this? The GOP-led Congress and Trump Administration are pushing our shared planet America first into a dystopic nightmare in the name of Free Market Capitalism. Or Capitalismo Brutal as my husband would say. Resisting actions that place our life support systems – land, air, water – at risk is important. For years we’ve been told to take personal action to reduce those risks at the individual level (e.g. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), but standing together as a public, as a community, and resisting short-sighted ignorance is equally important.
Last weekend, scientists around the world took the fight for science to the streets. We can also call our legislators, run for office, hold teach ins and give public lectures. Most importantly we can keep doing science. #ScienceNotSilence
There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest base of public happiness.
-President George Washington, 8 Jan 1790, 1st State of the Union Address to Congress
Earlier this week a fellow anthropologist from Australia posted a suggestion to our environmental anthropology listserve that we “consider ways to move our posts and conversations online to Twitter. I am serious about this.” I giggled. Not at my colleague, because I think she’s absolutely right about the need to take our work to the people, but at the idea that anthropologists could condense their thoughts into 140 characters. Despite our ability to craft pithy interview questions and participant observe quietly for hours on end in far-flung communities, members of our chatterbox tribe tend to pontificate when provided the opportunity. We are a long-winded and multi-syllabic people. Yet a challenge had been issued. And that’s when I found myself reopening a Twitter account from 2009 to see how it had evolved.
My fellow environmental anthropologist raised some great points about how Twitter could be used by us all to reach a wider audience.
- Are you worried about the public understanding of how environmental anthropology can help respond to pressing regional and global issues?
- Would you like more people to know about your recent publications, job announcements, or call for papers?
- Would you like to expand your network of colleagues, potential collaborators, and co-authors?
- Is your university placing increased emphasis on rewarding scholars who seem publicly visible and engaged?
- Would you like an open-access forum to debate topics about environmental anthropology, one that includes public participation?
- Would you like to help build a database of searchable resources that secondary, higher education, and continued education learners could access on their smartphones and tablets within seconds of following a hashtag?
As a whole we are an invisible tribe. That is not to say that exceptions don’t exist. Margaret Mead, Temperance Brennan, and Indiana Jones are the most likely candidates for household recognition (well, at least those are ones my mom could name quickly), and two of them are fictional characters. Those of us who work at the human-environment interface should really be making our work more widely known. Sure a virus or an asteroid could wipe out life as we know it, but the majority of environmental problems we face as a species have their roots and solutions in human behavior and decision-making.
Engaging the public by relating what we do, how we do it, and what it means requires that we actually put something out there for consideration, recognize that people will respond, and commit to civil conversation that may take us in unexpected directions. Public environmental anthropology might not get counted towards tenure (if that’s your goal), but it takes a step towards building scientific literacy, public trust, and a community that works together to make the planet a more sustainable place for all living beings.
So, I accept the challenge and will give Twitter a try for the summer. #environmentalanthropology
For more information:
- Five ways in which Twitter can be useful in academic contexts, Raul Pacheco-Vega
- Twitter for academics, The Online Academic
- The academic benefits of Twitter, Carole McGranahan, Savage Minds
One of my husband’s favorite reminders of his culture versus mine is that the Spanish work to live, while Americans live to work. I cannot really argue the point with him. It’s true. We Americans are a culture of doers. And in such a culture, that harmless Monday morning question between colleagues – “So, what did you do this weekend?” – takes on a slightly more competitive and sinister meaning. As one old proverb states, idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.
But what about loafing? Daydreaming? Being lazy as my dad used to chide me? It seems that recent studies are showing that downtime from doing boosts creativity. And creativity is absolutely necessary for good science. A group of researchers at Leiden University found that meditation helped people come up with creative solutions to experimental problems, even when people didn’t really have much experience meditating. In the experiment, people meditated for just 25 minutes – practicing either open monitoring meditation, letting their minds wander and being receptive to thoughts and sensations in the moment, or focused attention meditation, where individuals concentrated on a particular thought or object. Open monitoring meditation assisted with divergent thinking, or coming up with multiple solutions to a given problem; focused attention meditation had no effect. Chilling out in the name of creativity backed by science. Breathe in.. 2..3..4.. Breathe out.. 2.. 3.. 4..
Being bored has its creative upside too. I could have told you that by age 10. I spent a lot of boring snowy no-school days making artwork or writing stories after a couple hours sledding or skating. Scientists at Penn State looking into why boredom is good for creativity found that people get creative because they’re bored. In the study, people watched video clips that influenced them to feel relaxed, bored, elated, or distressed. Then the researchers gave people three words and asked them to come up with a fourth that linked the first three words together. The bored study participants did the best at this convergent thinking task to find a single, correct solution to a problem.
So why the focus on being? It is a topic that came up in recent conversations with a friend of mine. We were talking about how the mad rush to produce as a non-tenured assistant professor leaves me feeling empty and ultimately unmotivated. However, over the holiday break I didn’t work. Well, okay I did about 4 hours worth of work over a 2 week period in reviewing graduate applications for our department. But back to the no-work. I hung out with my husband. I watched Spanish TV without subtitles – they have some very interesting talk shows that skewer politicians and make fun of dating. Pequeño Nicolás! I drank good wine and ate amazing bread and cheese. I connected with real people in a non-work context – family members and new friends. I enjoyed being. For the first few days, I was chomping at the bit to do stuff. Anything. By the end, I was extremely reluctant to come back to the United States and jump back into work. I was relaxed, maybe a little bored, and my creativity battery felt recharged.
This spring term, I have been given an opportunity. A semester without classroom teaching. In the past I’ve funneled my creativity into student learning but now I need to focus it into my research program – research, grant writing, and article publishing. So now, as my friend reminded me, the challenge is to continue this relaxed feeling while forging ahead productively.
- Knight, Anamaria (2009 October 27) Doing and Being Cultures. Small Planet Studios blog. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
- Leiden University. (2014 October 28). Meditation makes you more creative, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
- Colzato, L. S., Szapora, A., Lippelt, D., & Hommel, B. (2014). Prior Meditation Practice Modulates Performance and Strategy Use in Convergent-and Divergent-Thinking Problems. Mindfulness, 1-7. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0352-9
- Burkus, David (2014 September 9) The Creative Benefits of Boredom. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
Mann, S., & Cadman, R. (2014). Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?. Creativity Research Journal, 26(2), 165-173. DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2014.901073
Gasper, K., & Middlewood, B. L. (2014). Approaching novel thoughts: Understanding why elation and boredom promote associative thought more than distress and relaxation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 52, 50-57. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.12.007
by Maria Sharova
As the end of the semester draws to a close, I am once again sitting down to try to map out my progress and figure out next steps. Over the course of the semester I have had meetings with a variety of amazing faculty who have told me about their research, I have selected my own methods for comparison, and I have selected my photos.
My methods for comparison include change in land use, change in sea level, erosion, and industry development. These speak to visual changes in environmental processes. Additionally, many pictures in the African photo database I accessed have descriptive metadata that provides, specific dates, photographers, and locations that could be further researched to locate a more specific modern photographic example.
I will compare the 8 historic images to pictures taken within the last 5 years to assess environmental change. My project will explore the applicability of using images collected from social media sites like Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram for citizen science of environmental change. Pictures posted online could be used in a variety of manners in future research endeavors. For example, there is potential to link social media to remotely sensed images or ground truthing. If changes in sea level could be tracked in pictures taken by tourists and supplemented with remotely sensed images taken over time, this could provide a more accurate and holistic view of change occurred. The potential to use photographs as a dataset in citizen science research projects is realistic, cost effective, and could provide valuable information.
Before the start of Spring Semester I will also need to finalize a list of committee members that will proof read my thesis, be present at my thesis defense, and finally provide final suggestions for edits that I will make to my paper.
I’m feeling really excited (and nervous) about my project! It’s coming together nicely, and I have to credit Dr. Shaffer with being the most amazing advisor ever! She’s been so patient with me and I definitely would not have gotten as far as I have without her expertise. I still have a lot of work to get through. I have to finish selecting my modern photographs, complete my background research on each photograph, actually write up my findings, and start thinking about future directions for the research (is there potential to use Landsat images of erosion and coastlines to study visual change in the environment over time?) Here’s to health, happiness, and getting this project done in the New Year!
Maria submitted this on 15 December 2015. My apologies for the late posting. ~J.Shaffer