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The Mallard Of Diversity

GBIF looks like an acronym that could be scribbled on the inside cover of a schoolgirl’s notebook, representing an expression of earnest affection – some variant of BFF. In fact, it represents a more serious idea: A place to collect data from observations of living organisms – the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility combines information from the observation of almost 1.5 million species from over 14,000 datasets. What’s more, it makes this information available to search, for free.

Even a quick search shows how much can be learned from this resource. Using the species search at GBIF, I searched for the first animal that came to mind: The mallard duck.

I thought of the mallard duck because it’s common. What I discovered at GBIF is that the commonness of the mallard duck is creating uncommon problems.

common duckI think of the mallard as a North American species. What I didn’t realize is that it’s much more widespread than that. It’s common in Europe, Asia and Africa as well, and has been spotted in South America.

There are even mallard ducks in Australia and New Zealand. I was surprised by this, having learned in biology class long ago that Australian fauna is distinct from that of the rest of the world, being separated even from the wildlife of nearby Indonesia by a boundary called the Wallace Line. Mallards, it seems, were purposefully introduced to New Zealand and Australia.

Mallard ducks are able intruders because of their remarkable flexibility. They are wild animals, but are also the ancestors of most of the domesticated ducks that we would expect to find waddling about in a farmyard. Mallards are genetically expansive as well. They are capable of interbreeding with 63 other species of ducks, so that, when mallards arrive in an area, they can infest the genomes of neighboring waterfowl.

On the other hand, GBIF informs me that mallards themselves are often infested by nest parasites. I’m not talking about lice in their feathers, but other waterfowl, who sneak in to lay their eggs in the nests of mallards, much in the way that cuckoo birds lay their eggs in other species’ nests.

Another little tidbit from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility has to do with the expansive boundaries of animal sexuality. Mallard ducks have been observed to engage in homosexual necrophilia.

If a search for the common mallard duck can reveal such surprises, imagine what other curiosities may await discovery within the GBIF.

1 comment to The Mallard Of Diversity

  • Tom

    I couldn’t find any other place to put this Green Man:

    http://www.livescience.com/44635-tar-mat-on-gulf-beach.html

    Tar Washing Ashore Shows Gulf Coast Not Back to Normal (Op-Ed)

    Florida’s Gulf Coast is renowned for its soft white beaches, balmy weather, and calm, clear waters. It’s also infamous for being a mecca of debris from oil-rig related tragedies, which until recently, were thought to have mostly finished their attack on Gulf-Coast beaches. But even after four years, trash from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is still washing ashore and devastating coastal environments and communities.

    In February, a group from the Florida State Department of Environmental Protection discovered an 81-square-foot tar mat cruising the shallows off Pensacola beach. That’s 1,250 pounds of oily garbage that slithered across almost 200 miles of seabed, damaging environments and amassing sand and marine fragments.

    This is only a tiny fraction of the 200 million gallons of oil that spewed into the ocean during the 2010 oil spill, devastating ecosystems throughout the Gulf and blackening the many coastal communities that rely on these waters for their livelihood. Over 1,000 miles of beaches and wetlands were oiled. Thousands of people suffered at the expense of this avoidable tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of animals perished, including marine mammals, fish stocks, seabirds and sea turtles.

    Today, scientists can still see effects of the oil spill on marine ecosystems and seemingly healthy marine life, such as heart defects in tuna and amberjack. And what’s more, Florida recently filed a lawsuit with BP over damages to the state’s natural resources. Along with a past economic lawsuit and $26 billion in Gulf restoration, BP certainly has had to own up for the environmental and human health disaster and will continue to do so: The claim holds BP responsible and liable for past and future costs concerning resources and cleanup. Perfect timing for that tar mat to set an example. [Dolphins Seen Swimming in 2010 Gulf Coast Oil Spill (Video)]

    Luckily, some areas are recovering, but this does not mean the disaster is over. Policymakers, especially many powerful officials in Washington, D.C., are inclined to believe the Gulf has fully recovered and things are more or less back to “normal.” But with tar mats still surfacing, we are awaiting the day the Gulf shines to its past glory. Beaches are no longer black, but the less-obvious environmental complications are still present.

    And with the BP disaster still rearing its oily head, the nation could soon be faced with similar disasters. Recently, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a final proposal to allow controversial seismic airgun blasting for locating oil and gas deposits off the Atlantic coast. The method uses extremely loud blasts of compressed air to test for oil and gas deposits under the seafloor. These blasts could injure or kill thousands of marine mammals.

    [ends with]

    Fortunately, Florida officials were able to clear most of the tar mat, but experts estimate that countless pounds of hazardous material are still poisoning the Gulf. For every tar mat we find on our coasts, there are countless others floating unnoticed in the ocean. Four years clearly has not been long enough to correct one mistake, and yet the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama continues the permitting process to open up the Atlantic Ocean.

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