Thursday, May 23, 2013

Catching Up (Or Trying To)

 So, yeah, I ran just a little behind last week, and didn't get a chance to do my SciFund Challenge homework, and as penance, I'm posting it publicly here.  This might be more punishment for you than for me, and for that I apologize.  But here goes...

Title:  Choose Not the Path of Apathy

Intended Audience: General public, especially those with an interest in the outdoors for recreation of other activities.

I’m sure you’re asking why on Earth one would study the interactions of amphibians and plants, and I don’t blame you one bit.  To most reasonable people, the connection is tenuous at best.  The two groups don’t compete with one another for most resources, neither preys on the other all that often, and they don’t have any parasitic interactions, either.  There’s no intelligent purpose behind looking into the connections of the two groups, any more than there’s any cause to looking at how cell phones impact refrigerators. Unless of course, you're interested in this little frog.

Until you scratch the surface, that is.  And then you start to see the ways this odd couple of the wetland world belongs together perfectly.  Like plants forming the physical structures of the habitat through which amphibians must navigate.  Or amphibians’ appetite for insects that otherwise consume far more plant tissue and spread pathogens among plants.  And there’s the nitrogenous wastes from amphibians that fertilize plants.  Finally the protection that plants give to amphibians from mammalian, avian, and reptilian predators.  The connection totally makes sense now, right? 

That’s the thing about science, the sense is all there, sometimes you simply need someone to explain it to you, or you need to have a few experiments under your belt before you see it first.  In the US we tend to talk about people who “get” science and math, and people who don’t, as if understanding science is some inherent trait in only select people.  Thankfully, that’s not the case, anyone can understand science, and in fact, all children start out as scientists.  Exploring the world and testing to see cause and effect- that’s science.  Observing what goes on in front of you intently, trying to hear patterns in the sounds others make- that’s science.  Trying one step, having it not work out, trying a different step, and repeating this process until you finally get your feet to work and support your weight- that’s science.  It’s all very rudimentary, but it’s science nonetheless. 

Let’s go back to those amphibians and plants that I study, and think about why on Earth they might be important to you.  Whether you engage in science on a daily basis or not, you matter in the scientific process, because some of dollars help to fund research through taxes, through company Research and Development budgets, and through donations to charitable organizations like the American Cancer Society.  You also matter because much of today’s science- the “applied” portion of it- has as its purpose improving your life in some way, shape, or form, and you matter because the people you elect as your representatives help (or hinder) shape science funding and education policy decisions, for better or worse. 

We’ve established why amphibians and plants matter to each other, but why would these things matter to you?  For one thing, both can be used as ways to measure the quality of a habitat, through the Amphibian Index of Biotic Integrity and Floristic Quality Assessment Index, respectively.  Whether or not you live in a wetland like where these organisms are found (and I truly hope you don’t, for many reasons), those habitats benefit you, through water filtration and flood buffering, as habitat for organisms you might enjoy slightly more than amphibians like migratory birds and waterfowl, as recreational places to visit and enjoy the outdoors, and through increased property values because of access to those high quality recreational areas. 

I could go on and on about why to care about the environment, but I’m running short on time this week so I, cutting out at this point.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Is the environment important to you?  Why or why not? 

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