Emancipation, Evolution…and Agroecology: Lincoln & Darwin on land-sparing vs. land-sharing

Every year, I get to share my birthday with these guys:

darwinlincoln

I’ve been mildly obsessed with both of them for years, for obvious reasons. But it was only recently that I discovered their early contributions to the land-sharing/land-sparing debate, something directly relevant to my own work. Darwin’s ecological legacy is well-known, but how often do we consider Lincoln’s impact on environmental history? Continue reading

Humanities vs Science. 3. Art History

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.

Studying art is a bit more scientific than simply loitering at gallery openings. The discipline of Art History is the study of how visual art styles and movements have evolved over time. It teaches how to read and interpret art; but it also provides valuable insight into how humanity, society and their values have developed across the ages…insights that are very relevant to science. Here are a few ways that scientists could benefit from studying Art History:

Natural history

In the modern age of Twitter, Instagram and camera-phones, we sometimes forget the natural history we can learn through art of the non-digital kind. Yes, Darwin’s sketches taught us a lot about ecology and biogeography. But he wasn’t the only artist to leave us with a stunning legacy of natural history resources. Continue reading

Ecology on Holiday

There is no better way to appreciate ecological change across landscapes than by taking a road trip.

My partner and I just had one of the best holidays of our life: two weeks driving from our home in Albury in southern New South Wales, to the Sunshine Coast in south-east Queensland, where I grew up. We have done this trip a few times, but have always used the drive (about 1500 kilometres, one way) as a means to an end, i.e. getting to the coast to see friends and family. This trip, we took our time, sacrificing a few extra days at the beach for more time to explore en route. And it definitely paid off!

map
The road trip.

Australia is one of the lucky few countries that include most of the major terrestrial biome types. An interstate road trip is one of the best ways to see them! Ecologically, our trip was well-timed; the end of August signals the start of spring and wildflower explosions all over the country. The wattles were already in full swing around Albury, lifting our damp, grey spirits from a very long winter. Continue reading

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

Foundation stones: connecting cultural heritage and wildlife conservation

Stone walls are central to the rich cultural heritage of human history. Some of the oldest stone walls in the world still stand in ancient Mediterranean lands, and also provide the foundations for Incan architecture (think Macchu Picchu) and the castles and ramparts of feudal Japan. In the UK, Ireland and Europe, stone walls are key elements of pastoral landscapes from a thousand postcards, and numerous regional specialities maintain their own unique cultural and ecological foundations. This colonial heritage is also preserved in the new world, particularly North America’s New England region and Australia’s southern states.

Stone walling is more than simply stacking rocks. A harmonious balance of art and science are needed to keep the wall standing. Each stone is fitted into the negative space around its neighbouring stones, like a jigsaw, so that the final wall holds itself against the pull of gravity. Continue reading

Once Upon a Time: Shoes

Once upon a time…shoes lasted for hundreds of years, yet they left no footprint on the Earth.

The oldest known shoes were found at Fort Rock, Oregon USA, preserved under layers of volcanic ash. They were sandals woven from sagebrush and are around 8-9000 years old, possibly older. The meticulous weaving and shaping of the sole indicate that these shoes had an intellectual heritage much older than this – they certainly don’t look like the experimental result of a “lightbulb” moment for the first ever shoemaker! Continue reading

Ode to Ecology

It’s been over three years since I wrote my first post here. This column started as a creative outlet for my writer’s soul, as I tackled the confines of academic science writing.

I also saw it as a way to champion my new career. When I wrote my first post, I had encountered many people, including family and friends, who were genuinely puzzled over what I actually ‘do’.

I remember my stint in the unemployment queue during the fiscal fiasco. “I’m an ecologist”, I said to the government careers adviser.

She looked at me blankly and replied “Sorry, a what? How do you spell that?” Continue reading