Monday, January 28, 2008

"Evidence for declines in human population densities during the early Upper Paleolithic in Western Europe"

In PNAS's first issue of the New Year, Eugene Morin elegantly combines a macroecological approach with archaeological data to investigate forager ecology and the evolution of modern humans. Amongst other things, Eugene Morin finds a strong correlation between hunter-gatherer population density and mammalian species richness (see Morin's figure pasted on the right). Please post any comments you have of this paper on the blog.

"Evidence for declines in human population densities during the early Upper Paleolithic in Western Europe", 2008, PNAS, 105, pp. 48-53.

"In western Europe, the Middle to Upper Paleolithic (M/UP) transition, dated between 35,000 and 40,000 radiocarbon years, corresponded to a period of major human biological and cultural changes. However, information on human population densities is scarce for that period. New faunal data from the high-resolution record of Saint-Ce´ saire, France, indicate an episode of significant climatic deterioration during the early Upper Paleolithic (EUP), which also was associated with a reduction in mammalian species diversity. High correlations between ethnographic data and mammalian species diversity suggest that this shift decreased human population densities. Reliance on reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), a highly fluctuating resource, would also have promoted declines in human population densities. These data suggest that the EUP represented for humans a period of significant niche contraction in western Europe. In this context, the possibility that a modern human expansion occurred in this region seems low. Instead, it is suggested that population bottlenecks, genetic drift, and gene flow prevailed over human population replacement as mechanisms of evolution in humans during the EUP."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Darwin2009: The Beagle Project

I just learned about the Beagle Project from John Hawkes' blog.
As the page for the Beagle Project explains:
"2009 is one of the most significant anniversary years in science: it marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (12 February 1809), and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection."

and then,

Our contribution to this [celebration of this great anniversary] will be to build a sailing replica of HMS Beagle, the ship on which Darwin circumnavigated the globe between 1831 and 1836. It was during the shore expeditions he made from the Beagle that he collected the specimens which would later inspire the theory of Natural Selection and the Origin of Species.

The replica HMS Beagle will be launched in 2009 and will spend the year opening its decks to the public, teachers and scientists and supporting the Darwin200 celebrations."

So they are going to build a replica Beagle and then sail over the same ground that Darwin covered when he participated on this epic voyage. They are going to bring modern equipment and do a number of inspired projects along the way.

What a phenomenal sounding adventure. All I can say is 'take me take me!!'. Don't you think they need an archaeologist? Especially one that is interested in things like island biogeography, primate life history variation, foraging behavior, conservation biology, scaling/metabolic theory, natural history in general, and oh of course -human macroecology- and who is tons of fun to work with? Sign me up. Yeah, there's no way this is a complete voyage without a human macroecologist. Somebody please convince them for me.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Special Feature: Foraging with Charnov

This semester I'll be taking a 1 hour seminar from Dr. Ric Charnov that meets every Friday, in which we'll be going through a new book on Foraging theory that just came out a few months ago. (also available at Amazon).

Foraging: Behavior and Ecology

Foraging: Behavior and Ecology (Paperback)
by David W. Stephens (Editor), Joel S. Brown (Editor), Ronald C. Ydenberg (Editor)

The book contains 14 chapters and we'll be going through each one sequentially, one per week.
Each week after class I'll write a short blog about the chapter and try to summarize any highlight's from our class discussion. I really hope some of you out there who are interested in foraging will read along and chime in on the blog. It should be a good way to get up to date on this challenging and always rapidly expanding field.

I probably wouldn't argue that all things foraging theory are necessarily part of what we call human macroecology but foraging behaviors and the models used to understand them are fundamental to a vast range of ecological and evolutionary questions. Moreover, foraging behaviors may often be part of the rule sets generating complex emergent social/group level/population patterns. That is, they may be part of the simple rules of interaction that generate emergent macroecological trends.

Anyway, starting next Friday for all weeks of the semester except springbreak there will hopefully be a blog about the chapter we discussed that week. Next week we start with chapter 1 ; Foraging: an overview, by R. C. Ydenberg, J. S. Brown, and D. W. Stephens.
see you then,

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"Wallace should hang" ?

The New York Times has just published an interesting opinion piece called "Wallace should Hang" by evolutionary biologist and science writer Olivia Judson in recognition of Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace was an independent 'discoverer' of the process of evolution by natural selection and a founding father of the field of biogeography. He often plays the role of an unsung hero and his contribution to the field seems to be misscharacterized in many settings. He anticipated many of the important issues of and processes of biogeography and was a great thinker although he had some nuances that the story does a good job of presenting. Check out this interesting read!

Friday, January 4, 2008

A couple hits from the blog ('osphere)

Here's some fun reading: has this story about recent work regarding population declines in the Upper Paleolithic.

Freakonomics has an interesting post about the recent hubbub over California's emission reduction program getting blocked by the federal government. And it includes links/ref to a story that attempts to break down the economics behind California's plan. They argue that the costs of their plan have been severely under-estimated and that if California moved forward with it, it would contribute to the state's financial woes. I have to admit that I wish the study were wrong because I like the idea of the states taking the lead on a very lackluster federal government on issues like this. But it is of course a complex matter and we shouldn't endorse any plan that sounds good... We should pay close attention to this and other potential conflicts between state governments and the Feds/EPA on issues of sustainability, emission reduction/energy-use/recycling and the like.

And lastly - are you left or right brained? I see this thing going one way and one way only - I can't imagine it going counter-clockwise. See for yourself.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Course wrap-up: its over now...

Well, the semester is long done now. The papers are in, grades are out, and we've gone on to other things as far as the class goes. Overall, it was a great semester (er at least I thought so...) and we ventured over a lot of territory in the literature. The students were fantastic and taught the instructors a great deal. Thanks. We appreciate everyone's hard work.

The blog has been a bit slow lately but hopefully will pick up steam again here soon as I recover from my xmas break coma. This blog will change a little bit as it won't be specifically a course resource in the following semester, but it will remain active as a hotbed for information, news, and discussion on human macroecology (and other broadly related themes of course). And you all know I'd love to have a few more consistent contributors... I hope those of you who took the class and any who just stumbled onto this blog will continue to check in regularly.

We also really enjoyed doing the 'end oral dialogs.' (Each student met with the instructors for an hour long conversation about the semester during finals week). While a full day of these rendered Bill, Jordan, and I nearly brain dead and certainly less-able-than-usual to speak in complete sentences, we got a lot out of finding out what people really focused on during the semester - and what they retained as the salient themes. Pretty unanimously people liked the structure of the class - having a blog as a resource - focusing on discussion of recent papers.
Most folks really liked adopting the concepts of emergence and the theoretical toolkit of life history theory into human ecology. We did not get a clear consensus for things like the favorite paper but the content of Bettencourt et al (2007 in PNAS) and Moses and Brown (2003 in ecol letters(this link is to a pdf)) sure seemed to stay with people and leave them thinking. These papers are definitely thought provoking and provide theoretical frameworks and findings that should be widely contemplated and discussed. The classic paper by Leslie White (1943) also seemed to leave a lasting impression. Other frequently mentioned papers included those from the week on extinctions and the system dynamics approaches outlines in weeks 10 and 11 (especially papers by Tainter and Holling). Life history theory in general seemed widely appreciated as well.

We hope that as people move forward into different areas that they'll retain some of the approach to science we outlined and maintain a skeptical and analytical view when approaching claims of human uniqueness. We also hope they'll consider those very large-scale patterns and the mechanisms that underlie them - of course not to replace of microecological studies but to compliment them and extend their findings.

More soon.

Best wishes everyone. Thanks again for a great semester.

Happy New Year.


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