Natural Selections

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About
Natural Selections

On Natural Selections each week, join a short conversation on the natural world. Topics range from evolutionary biology to geology and wildlife, from climate science to animal and human behavior.

Ellen Rocco
The program is hosted by NCPR news director Martha Foley joined by naturalist Dr. Curt Stager of Paul Smith's College.

Support for Natural Selections is provided by the Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation, dedicated to improving the quality of life for year-round residents of the Adirondack Park, and by Paul Smith's, the College of the Adirondacks.

New Book: Deep Future

"The course we take in the coming decades will affect not just the next hundred years, but the next hundred thousand years of life on this planet." --Curt Stager

Deep Future
In bookstores now

Order at: Amazon | Borders
Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Powell's Books
And please remember your local independent booksellers. Find one near you.

 

Nature features

Curt Stager on On Point

Curt StagerListen to Dr. Curt Stager as the guest on On Point, 3/24/11, talking about his new book, Deep Future: the Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth.

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Natural History
Maybe it was messier than we thought, some scientists now say. Big brains, long legs and long childhoods may have evolved piecemeal in different spots, in response to frequent swings in climate.
 
Passenger pigeons used to be the most abundant bird in North America. But hunters drove them to extinction, and by 1914, only one was left. A century later, that pigeon, named Martha, is on exhibit.
 
This bird likes livers, kidneys, entrails — anything it can pluck that's freshly dead. But what if you served it ... a painting?
 
Museums are filled with dead insects, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles meticulously gathered worldwide in the name of scientific discovery. But some researchers now say scientists should think twice.
 
A secretive, nocturnal species that lives on a remote island off the coast of Mexico had not been spotted since 1936. Scientists have concluded it is genetically distinct from mainland neighbors.
 
more science news from NPR

Natural Selections with hosts Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager airs Thursday mornings during The Eight O'Clock Hour.

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 Recent Natural Selections programs
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The Mangrove rivulus, a species of Caribbean killifish, can survive out of water for months, hiding inside damp mangrove logs. Photo: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mangrove_rivulus.jpg">USGS</a>
The Mangrove rivulus, a species of Caribbean killifish, can survive out of water for months, hiding inside damp mangrove logs. Photo: USGS

What can fish do when the water goes away?

From walking catfish, to snakeheads, to species of killifish, some fish actually survive outside of water for a surprising length of time.

Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss the old cliche "like a fish out of water," and about the strategies some fish use to do just fine out there in the air.  Go to full article
Poison Ivy. Photo: <a href="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/Poison_Ivy_in_Perrot_State_Park.jpg">SWMNPoliSciProject</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Poison Ivy. Photo: SWMNPoliSciProject, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Poison ivy: neither poisonous nor ivy

But you should still definitely avoid the stuff.

"Leaves of three, let it be." Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk about one of the common and annoying menaces to enjoyment of the outdoors.

They discuss whether it's really an ivy, why we call it "poison," and how humans and animals react differently to the plant.  Go to full article
A pair of ravens. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/dougbrown47/8435746289/">Doug Brown</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
A pair of ravens. Photo: Doug Brown, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

How do you tell a raven from a crow?

Ravens were once a rarity in the North Country, but now they are becoming a common sight. They have a similar appearance to crows, but if you see the two birds together the difference is obvious. For one thing, ravens are big. For another, crows caw, while the cry of a raven is more of a croak.

Martha Foley and Curt Stager discuss other ways to tell the two apart, why ravens became a scarce presence in recent times, and why they might be making a comeback now.  Go to full article
Yellow perch. Photo: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_perch#mediaviewer/File:YellowPerch.jpg">Eugene Zelenko</a>, released to public domain
Yellow perch. Photo: Eugene Zelenko, released to public domain

Yellow perch, Adirondack natives after all

For decades, Adirondack resource managers have blamed the yellow perch for the decline of heritage trout strains, believing that perch were introduced to Adirondack waters in recent times and have been displacing the native strains from their historic habitat.

But lake sediment core samples taken by Curt Stager and his students at Paul Smiths College yield DNA evidence showing that trout have been co-existing with perch for at least 2,000 years there. While perch are aggressive competitors and native trout are in decline, the reason for the change in balance likely lies in other factors yet to be determined.  Go to full article
Brown cricket in Hawaii, where some have "learned" to keep it quiet to avoid a predatory fly. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/wahiawaboy/200849410/">Dean</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Brown cricket in Hawaii, where some have "learned" to keep it quiet to avoid a predatory fly. Photo: Dean, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

What happens if you press "reset" on evolution?

When species move into a new habitat, some of the "tricks" their genes have learned no longer work to help them thrive. Some species will pick up new tricks--sometimes the same new trick more than once--and some will fail to adapt.

Martha Foley and Curt Stager look at silent crickets and flightless birds.  Go to full article
Reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina) is actually a lichen. Photo: <a href="http://mushroomobserver.org/image/show_image/205412">Jason Hollinger</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina) is actually a lichen. Photo: Jason Hollinger, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Lichens: living on next to nothing

What we call reindeer moss is nothing of the kind. It's not even a plant; it's a lichen. Lichens, which account for half of the natural nitrogen fertilizer used by plants and animals, are a combination of a fungus colony with algae and cyanobacteria that can live on practically nothing--dust, pollen, rain and snow.

Martha Foley and Curt Stager talk about nature's original minimalists.  Go to full article

Natural deceptions: crime (and punishment) among animals and plants

Social primates are supposed to share when they find food, but some will cheat. If they are caught, the group will punish them. Some plants and fungi use a kind of barter system to swap nutrients, and some of them will also cheat. But they risk being caught and cut off.

Martha Foley and Curt Stager look at crime and punishment in the natural world.  Go to full article
If you want the feeder to yourself, there's nothing like being able to imitate a hawk. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/57974696@N00/8015491794/">pwhellen</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
If you want the feeder to yourself, there's nothing like being able to imitate a hawk. Photo: pwhellen, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Natural Selections: natural deceptions

Birds and other creatures have a sly side and will use deceptive communications to create an advantage for themselves in finding food and finding mates. Blue jays can imitate the sound of a hawk, scaring other species away from the feeder. Some birds mimic the alarm cries of other species, making them think that another of their kind is warning them about a predator.

But they can't pull the trick too often. "Crying wolf" has the same consequences in the animal world as it does in the fairy tale. Martha Foley and Curt Stager discuss the "tricksy" side of birds, and of cuttlefish.  Go to full article
Nylanderia pubens, the tawny crazy ant (worker variety). Photo: <a href="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d4/Nylanderia_pubens_worker.png">Daniel Mietchen</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Nylanderia pubens, the tawny crazy ant (worker variety). Photo: Daniel Mietchen, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

The tawny crazy ant is coming to America

What can take on the big agressive poisonous fire ants that invaded the U.S. decades ago? The tawny crazy ant, also an import from South America. This new "superorganism" is immune to fire ant poison, and they are displacing the previous invaders.

Martha Foley and Curt Stager discuss a new addition to the invasive species list.  Go to full article
Male indigo bunting. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kristi_decourcy/7539738334/">Kristi</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Male indigo bunting. Photo: Kristi, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Well-dressed birds of the North Country

While the North Country is not exactly the tropics, we do have our share of exotically-colored birds. Blue creatures, for example, are rare in nature but we have the bluebird, the blue jay and the indigo bunting.

Then there are the goldfinches and the cardinals, the ruby-throated hummingbird and the oriole. Martha Foley and Curt Stager celebrate a little of the local color in colder climes.  Go to full article

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