Get Out and Count: The Great Backyard Bird Count of 2018

2018 has been designated “The Year of the Bird”, and beginning today, Friday, February 16, 2018, bird lovers around the world will grab their binoculars, fill their bird feeders, update their eBird app, and look toward the skies. The 21st Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects, begins today, and you can be part of this grand event of data collection.

All it takes is a mobile device (or computer) to log your results, an account at , and 15 minutes of your time during the four-day event.

Can’t tell a red-tailed hawk from a red-winged black bird? That’s okay. The GBBC web site provides a handy online bird guide.  The web site also provides a guide for tricky bird IDs, including: Which Red Finch is it, Identifying Some Common Sparrows, and Identifying Doves.

I recently spent some time talking to Brian Schneider, one of the educators at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Monona, WI, to get some tips for first-time birders. Continue reading

From White Rhinos to Snow Leopards: Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Offer Hope for Endangered Species

As an animal lover who has been passionate about genetic conservation approaches since I first heard about the “Cheetah papers” over twenty years ago, I am excited at the work highlighted in two papers published in the last year that have begun the process of applying induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technologies to endangered animals (1,2). Continue reading

Giant Panda Genome: Answers About the Carnivore that Eats Plants

They are the cuddly, roly-poly giants that are the face of the wildlife conservation movement. Unfortunately, giant pandas have earned the honor. They are one of the most endangered species on earth. They are also something of an enigma. They are carnivores who subsist almost entirely on a diet of plants. They have opposable thumb-like appendages on their front paws. They look like a bear that wants to be a raccoon (or a raccoon that wants to be a bear?). Their unique characteristics kept scientists debating their classification for years. Did they belong with the bears (Ursidae), raccoons (Procyonidae) or did they belong in a family of their own?

Molecular studies seem to have resolved the classification debate; giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are most closely related to bears. Their ancestors split from the ursid lineage just before the radiation that led to modern bears, and thus have their own subfamily Ailuropodinae. But what of the other puzzling characteristics? Why on earth do they eat bamboo?

In a paper published in the January 21, 2010 issue of Nature, we begin to find answers. The authors have generated and assembled a draft sequence of the giant panda genome (Li, R. et al.;1). Continue reading