Bees: the triple threat of the insect world

Have you ever felt underappreciated? As if people assume you can only contribute one skill to the world, and not much else…?

Imagine how bees feel. Not only do 99.9% of bee species live in the shadow of the European honey bee, most of the time they only get credit for pollinating flowers. And a few make honey. That’s all they do, right?

Actually, no. Bees do a lot of other things in their ecosystems. They have a very active life outside their relationship with flowers.

The stingless bees (Tribe: Meliponini) are some of the most intriguing. There are about 500 species of stingless bee around the world, mostly in tropical and subtropical regions. Like honey bees, they also make honey; albeit in gourmet, rather than commercial, quantities. (Their honey also has a very different flavour to the honey you buy in the supermarket.)

Stingless bee honey pots. (Photo: Tobias Smith)
Stingless bee honey pots. (Photo: Tobias Smith)

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Why I Tweet

I’ve just hit a technological milestone. This month was my 1 year Twitter anniversary, which apparently equates to about 4.3 years in internet time. I can’t believe we’re still together.

I’m pretty old-fashioned when it comes to technological bandwagons. Having left Facebook years ago, swearing on my pencil case never to join social media again, I was a bit suspicious of Twitter. I finally signed up with the intention of trying it for a couple of months to see what I thought. Continue reading

Parliament Meets Science

We all get concerned when politicians don’t care about science or the environment. It affects every one of us.

There is no single ‘best’ way to lessen the gaps in the science-policy-public triangle. Most people think the onus is on scientists to communicate. Yes, scientists should engage outside their peers a bit more, that’s a given (and scientists doing great ‘scicomm’ is happening more than many realise!). But communication is a two-way relationship. To communicate science effectively, scientists need to be met halfway by an audience that understands and respects what they do and how they do it.

In Australia, scientists are being increasingly told that if their work is not commercially relevant, they are a burden on society. Encouraging scientists to find their commercial hidden story is all well and good, and some researchers may genuinely benefit from this. But it doesn’t benefit science overall.

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Earth Songs

Music is one of the greatest storytelling media. Art can lay claim to being the oldest – but only from a human perspective. Birds, insects and animals were sending messages through song long before we started drawing on cave walls.

Music has the euphoric power to move us in a way that rivals a cliff-top ocean sunset. It connects us to environment, warns us of danger, and inspires us to change.

Because it’s World Environment Day every day (and you can only listen to Rip Rip Woodchip so many times), here is some of my favourite earth music to keep you in an ecological mood year-round. Continue reading

Humanities vs Science. 1. Literature & Language

Science and humanities are often segregated in education and professional development. Even as a personal interest, the two disciplines are usually considered incompatible. In reality, they are complementary. Imagine if all science degrees included core humanities subjects in the first year? How would scientists, and science, benefit from a basic humanities perspective? This series looks for answers in some of the most common humanities disciplines.

How can literature benefit science?

Science needs to be written. It’s not science if it’s not shared, critiqued and built on over time. Science communication applies to everything from journal articles to popular science blogs. Ambiguous wording, too much jargon, or bad writing can turn off editors, reviewers and readers. Sadly, developing writing skills is not always a priority in modern science degrees. Graduates are being betrayed when they are packed off into the world of scientific research without a good command of written expression.

Including Literature subjects in science degrees is a good way to address this. Much of the ‘how to write’ advice that scientists can find online is not really useful if they don’t have a context to weigh it against. Top 10 lists of writing tips and ‘A vs B’ arguments are limiting, not enlightening. They teach a ‘one size fits all’ approach to communication. But effective communication is all about contexts and variable relationships, so teaching scientists how to identify, and work with, contexts is much more useful. Teach a man to fish…, as the saying goes. Continue reading

Killer wasps and climate change

We recently got into the Fortitude series screened on the ABC in Australia. (Spoiler alert, if you continue reading). The show started off really well, successfully holding our attention after the incomparable Broadchurch (no mean feat!). Fortitude also had the promise of being truly brilliant. Halfway through, Nordic Noir descended into the standard gratuitous gore that sends a show from well-crafted, thrilling narrative into sensational schlock. Plus some character dead-ends and ambiguous plot-lines loosened the knots holding up a tight story. But it is still definitely worth hanging out for the next series (i.e. not downloading early off iTunes or whatever you cheat with).

From the first episode, I had a theory that the series was based on a pro-environment message. A tiny community (about 800 people) in Arctic Norway, an unconventional setting for standard TV dramas, is plagued by secrets, lies and grisly murders. The community is a mining town, as well as an arctic research station, and the governor is planning to build an ice hotel to boost tourism. Oh, the juxtaposition of ethical quandaries! Continue reading

Single-crop farming is leaving wildlife with nowhere to turn

Rolling plains of wheat, endless fields of flowering canola, row upon row of fruit trees: these agricultural landscapes are the stuff of stunning photographs.

Filling these paddocks with just one crop, known as monoculture, is a relatively easy, common and efficient way to produce food and fibre.

But international research shows that these monocultures can be bad for the environment and production through effects on soil quality, erosion, plants and animals, and ultimately declining crop yields. Research I have published this week in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability shows a possible link between monoculture landscapes and fewer wild pollinators.

Is there a better way to grow our food?

Published today at The Conversation. Read the rest of the story here….