Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Yellowstone's caldera is still jumping!

Just taking a look at the University of Utah’s seismic station website; Yellowstone is still on the move! More than seven quakes already today, three of which greater than 3.0 in magnitude and all from the same epicenter.

Very interesting...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Darwin Celebration - Florida State University

March 16-28, 2009

Great Speakers!

Schedule (Tentative, check site above)

March 17
Peter Harrison • Professor of Science & Religion, Oxford"The Origins of the Conflict Between Science and Religion"

March 18
Gary Mormino • Professor of History, U. South Florida"The Origins of Modern Florida: From Swamp to Swamped"

March 19
Sean B. Carroll • Professor of Biological Science, U. Wisconsin-Madison"Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species"

March 20
Ira Flatow • From National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” “Science Friday”

March 20
Lisa Randall • Professor of Physics, Harvard University"The Origins of the Universe"

March 21
Science & Arts Fair • Special Feature: The Florida Book Award Winners Showcase An all-day celebration with special exhibits and fun events for all ages!

March 23
E.O. Wilson • Evolutionary Biologist, Author, Harvard University“Darwin’s Four Great Books: The Origins of a Revolution”

March 24
Screenings • Feature: Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus (2006)More films and times: TBA March 25 Eugenie Scott Executive Director, National Center for Science Education The Origins of the Great American Creation Science/Evolution Debate event-->

March 26
Ron Numbers • Professor of the history of Science, Medicine and Religion in America at the University of Wisconsin-Madison"The Evolution of Creationism in America"

March 27
Don Johanson • Professor of Anthropology, Arizona State University "The Origins of Human Development"

March 28
Scotty Barnhart & Friends • Professor of Jazz Trumpet, FSU"The Origins of Jazz: A Tribute to the Evolution of America's Own Musical Art Form

Chinese cheetahs and the foundations of Felidae

The cheetah, probably best known from zoology classes as the archetypical bottleneck species, has made headlines as of recent for a suggested Chinese ancestry. More specifically, recently published research by Per Christiansen and Ji H. Mazák seems to indicate a cheetah lineage from the Late Pliocene of Asia as opposed to one stemming from North America (the N.A. origin currently holding the majority opinion).

Although a tremendous find, the fossil skull serving as the basis for this “out of Asia hypothesis” may already be coming under fire. Professor Deng Tao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences is of the opinion that the skull may not be a member of the modern cheetah genus (Acinonyx), but rather the more primitive genus Sivapanther, described previously by his team.

A felid aficionado I am not; however it seems that any isolated find, such as that described by Christiansen and Mazák, may not possess sufficient substance as to assert a clean delineation of any lineage or origin locale. In the case of the cheetah, or any other felid for that matter, such conclusions could be viewed as even more tenuous due to considerable disagreement and recent taxonomic revision in regards to the cat family in general.

Though admittedly fervent about field work and getting my hands dirty, it’s important to take all descriptive and taxonomic labors in context with other taxa related research. In this instance, a review of work performed mapping felid nuclear mitochondrial DNA (numt) would be essential, as would a quick comparison to fossil evidence used in development of standard reference materials, such as that used in conjunction with more collaborative publications (example Mammal Species of the World).

Taken as a whole, the skull is a great find; however I’m inclined to think that the cheetah's story is far from being complete…

P. Christiansen, J. H. Mazak (2009). A primitive Late Pliocene cheetah, and evolution of the cheetah lineage Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (2), 512-515 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810435106