During a three-day-long workshop generously supported in part by the Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute, seven natural scientists and five philosophers discussed at length how the accelerated extinction that is currently underway would likely unfold as ecosystems systematically lose resiliency and destabilize into degraded social-ecological states.
Specifically, we examined the temporal (geology), spatial (ecology), and ethical (philosophy) cross-scale processes that not only are currently eroding ecosystem resiliency at an unprecedented rate, but also will accelerate during the forthcoming centuries. Our intent was to initiate cross-disciplinary discourse among paleontologists, ecologists, and ethicists about the intricacies of mass extinction and plausible mitigation strategies and policy recommendations that will minimize the loss of co-evolutionary potential of the geologic future.
We began by examining the connections between slow and fast biogeochemical processes and their associated nonlinear feedbacks that cause regime shifts, ecological cascades, and abrupt biodiversity loss in both managed and unmanaged ecosystems. We focused explicitly on the temporal record of species decline, because the causes, configurations, and consequences of extensive diversity loss are well documented for the deep geologic past by paleontologists and for the present by ecologists. This background proved crucial for imagining an ethical perspective that would allow development of effective adaptive management initiatives to mitigate biodiversity loss and widespread ecological collapse over the long term.
All of us benefitted immensely from the depth and quality of the cross-disciplinary dialogue that transpired during the long-days of the workshop and we have agreed to continue collaboration in the future. Everyone felt that they had participated in a unique intellectual experience that cannot be accessed within the confines of a single discipline. During the workshop, we outlined two papers for publication that will be fleshed out as we continue to do collaborative research.
We discovered that what we do about the current accelerated extinction depends on what matters and what matters depends on both values (various values have different logic) and perspective (temporal and spatial scales). At the moment, we are trying to organize for the spring of 2013 a gathering of the workshop participants to continue our discussion on the natural and moral landscape of the current accelerated extinction. Also, being educators, we are particularly concerned at promoting how humans as both an animal species and moral agent can help mitigate the magnitude of the current biodiversity crisis through ecological education and appropriate behavior modifications of the public in general.
Rebecca Miller Ammerman (Professor of the Classics at Colgate) and Ioannis Iliopoulos (University of Patras, Greece) will undertake An Integrated Approach to the Study of Ceramic Technology at Metaponto, a Greek City-state in Southern Italy.
Rebecca Miller Ammerman, an archaeologist at Colgate University, in collaboration with Ioannis Iliopoulos, a geologist at the University of Patras in Greece will study the technology of a large and diverse set of ceramics recovered by excavations at the industrial site of San Angelo Vecchio in the territory of Metaponto, a Greek colony founded on the coast of southern Italy in the 7th c. BCE. Two sets of kilns produced a wide range of fired clay objects such as loom weights, roof tiles, and terracotta statuettes dating between the 4thand 1st centuries BCE. Ammerman and Iliopoulos, working with an international group of scientists and archaeologists and alongside Colgate students, will match the fingerprints of the ceramics with the local raw materials used to produce them and explore regional patterns of variation by integrating multiple and innovative scientific approaches to ceramic analysis. By combining their expertise in archaeology and geology they will investigate the exploitation of natural resources, ceramic technology, industrial organization, and the exchange and circulation of a wide range of ceramic objects, including statuettes that were commonly dedicated as votive offerings.
Randy Fuller (Professor of Biology at Colgate) will collaborate with six other scientists from Cornell University (Cliff Kraft and Don Josephson), SUNY-ESF (Colin Beier and Mark Dovciak), and US Geological Survey (Barry Baldigo and Greg Lawrence), to analyze Whole-ecosystem Restoration Through Liming of Acidified Tributary Streams in the Honnedaga Lake Basin in the Adirondack Mountains. Colgate students will also participate as research assistants on the project. The research focuses on five tributary streams to Honnedaga Lake that are either chronically or episodically acidic, and this level of acidification limits reproduction of a heritage strain of brook trout in New York. The research team will characterize soil and stream-water chemistry in the watershed of each stream, along with their plant and animal communities, to assess how acidified soils affect both terrestrial and stream communities. This initial effort will be followed by addition of lime to two streams to document impacts on calcium concentrations, acidity and stream-community dynamics. A second phase of the study will involve aerial liming of an entire watershed to evaluate how whole-ecosystem amendments affect both terrestrial and stream communities. They will use the results from these studies to assess the best practices for restoring terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that are negatively affected by acid deposition.
The Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute recently celebrated its 5th anniversary during Family Weekend, with a panel discussion. Invited faculty members whosecollaborative work has been supported by the Institute discussed the challenges andopportunities of interdisciplinary research.
The Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute announces the award of grants supporting collaborative research by faculty who combine their expertise from different areas of study to address otherwise intractable questions in science and mathematics.
— Janel Benson, Assistant Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, will collaborate with Brandon Yoo (Assistant Professor of Psychology, Arizona State University) to examine the mental health trajectories of race-ethnic minority youth, who exhibit lower levels of mental health compared to whites. Existing explanations cannot account for these disparities. Benson and Yoo seek to fill this gap by investigating the link between adolescent developmental contexts and mental health in young adulthood. They will focus on two understudied sources of stress and vulnerability: maturational timing and racial stressors. Their results, which will draw on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and an extensive quantitative survey of 1000 race-ethnic youth in Phoenix, AZ, will improve our understanding of risk factors associated with poor mental health.
— DeWitt Godfrey (Associate Professor of Art & Art History) and Tom Tucker(Professor of Mathematics) have teamed up with Tomaž Pisanski, a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), and architect and engineer Daniel Bosia of London-based Expedition Engineering to apply mathematical methodologies to art and design. The springboard for their project is a body of work developed by Godfrey—a loose grid configuration that can be folded to produce continuous surfaces, in which Pisanski detected certain symmetry properties. Building on this initial discovery, the group will apply the analytical and creative power of mathematics and computer science in innovative ways to generate new forms and sculptural objects, which in turn will provoke new mathematical observations and analyses. In addition to publication of their mathematical findings, they ultimately will present the outcome of their work as a sculptural installation at Colgate.
— In other Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute news, Frank Frey (Biology), Ellen Kraly (Geography) and Peter Scull (Geography) will host their collaborator Dr. Paul Williams, the former medical superintendent of Bwindi Community Hospital in rural Uganda (www.bwindihospital.com) in April. During his visit, Dr. Williams will present his perspectives on HIV/AIDS relative to other dimensions of health vulnerabilities in Uganda, and will meet with students to discuss clinical and public health issues. For details about Dr. Williams’ visit, please contact Frank Frey (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Scientists from Australia, Canada and the USA gathered for an interdisciplinary symposium that focused on how the remarkable diversity of marine invertebrate larvae has evolved.
Funded by the Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute and hosted by Damhnait McHugh (Colgate University), Bruno Pernet (California State University, Long Beach), and Andreas Heyland (University of Guelph, Canada), the participants worked to identify key questions in the field, discuss the application of novel approaches and techniques to addressing these questions, and generate new collaborative interactions among scientists who have different areas of expertise but common interests in the evolution of marine invertebrate larvae.
The group of 18 developmental biologists, morphologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists, geneticists and a philosopher of biology met in the Ho Science Center for three days to work on these issues, and ultimately will publish a manuscript that summarizes the current state of our understanding of larval transitions, the common principles that emerge from across their different fields, and proposals for future research. READ MORE
The institute recently announced support for two new collaborative research projects. One project involves Krista Ingram, assistant biology professor, who is working with Guy Bloch, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Rudolf Meier, National University of Singapore, on examining how ant workers in a nest organize all of their necessary behaviors or tasks when no single ant is in control.
The second project involves faculty members James Watkins, a plant ecophysiologist, and Nancy Pruitt, a comparative cellular physiologist, who are teaming up with Melvin Oliver, a molecular biologist at the University of Missouri, to examine how plants respond to desiccation. READ MORE
The institute-supported work by Dan Schult, mathematics, and Ken Segall and Patrick Crotty, physics and astronomy, was the subject of this article
in Physics World.
This two-day collaborative workshop and public presentation will center around a body of work developed by DeWitt Godfrey, associate professor of art and art history and director of the Institute for the Creative and Performing Arts. Loose grid structures that can be folded to produce continuous surfaces were developed intuitively by Godfrey; they demonstrate certain symmetry properties which will be explored with the mathematical, computational, design and engineering expertise of Tomasz Pisanki and Alen Orbanic (University of Ljubljiana, Slovenia) and Daniel Bosia (ARUP Associates, U.K.). The investigations of these surfaces and their mathematical properties will allow the team to imagine new lines of artistic and structural research, leading to practical applications in new sculptural objects.