Googling for Ecological Answers: Using the Morphic Web Application

Post provided by Gabriella Leighton

Online Images: A Treasure Trove of Ecological Data

In the proclaimed ‘information age’, where answers are available at the click of a button or a swipe of a finger, we have become accustomed to the ability to get an almost instant grasp of any topic. Other fields are already making use of this wealth of easily accessible online data, but biologists and ecologists tend to let it slip by. However, this attitude is slowly beginning to change. Some ecological and evolutionary studies are emerging that have used the internet to gather data – through online citizen science projects (e.g. Evolution MegaLab) or databases (e.g. using Google Trends) – but few have used existing data, particularly publicly available data from image repositories.

We were curious to apply the concept of using existing images on the internet to a fascinating visual biological phenomenon: colour polymorphism (or the occurrence of multiple discrete colour phenotypes). To do this, we planned to exploit an existing penchant people have for uploading photographs of animals to the Internet.

Our search phrases included the common and scientific name of the species, as well as a location-specific term

Our search phrases included the common and scientific name of the species, as well as a location-specific term

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Study Finds Black Bears in Yosemite Forage Primarily on Plants and Nuts

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Measuring the realized niches of animals using stable isotopes: from rats to bears‘ taken from the University of California, San Diego:

©PLF73 (Click image to see original)

Animal proteins only make up a small part of a black bear’s diet. ©PLF73 (Click image to see original)

Black bears in Yosemite National Park that don’t seek out human foods subsist primarily on plants and nuts, according to a study conducted by biologists at UC San Diego who also found that ants and other sources of animal protein, such as mule deer, make up only a small fraction of the bears’ annual diet.

Their study, published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, might surprise bear ecologists and conservationists who had long assumed that black bears in the Sierra Nevada rely on lots of protein from ants and other insects because their remains are frequently found in bear feces. Instead, the researchers believe that bears likely eat ants for nutrient balance. Continue reading