Some notes about the Bergmann’s Rule and its problematic children.

Ecology largely consists in the search for natural patterns and the study of the underlying processes. Ecologists have often undertaken a further step by looking for generalities of these patterns and processes, in the search of the fundamental principles and general laws driving ecological systems. The search for generalities can be a great tool for improving our understanding of natural systems, particularly when it is accompanied by an explicit statement of hypotheses and expectations allowing them to be tested, often delimited, possibly falsified.

A possible drawback is represented by the temptation of using generalities to draw universal laws, which often turn into paradigms assumed to be true even if poorly tested ( or worse, proven false; Jeremy Fox calls them “zombie ideas” [1]).

The Bergmann’s Rule is a good example of the risks of over-generalization. Continue reading

About p-values

I stepped into a blog post by Pia Parolin titled “Do all biological processes need to be statistically significant?” ( http://tinyurl.com/nwcq5xa ). It sounds, at moments, the frustrated cry of the field biologist observing cool patterns and building cool theories on it until he/she faces that bloody p-value=0.051. Who hasn’t been there? Yet Pia’s article contains more than that, and it raises interesting issues (also see the article’s comments). Here are some notes of mine. Continue reading

Formica-Euphorbia: ambiguous interactions

ant-euphorbiaI photographed this ant hanging on a Euphorbia flower in Bellwald, Switzerland. The ant probably belongs to the genus Formica, and the plant seems E. cyparissias.
Since my time in Madagascar I pay much more attention to flowers and pollinators than I used to do. I guessed that the ant was probably foraging on the flowers, but the pollen grains on its head and abdomen suggested that it could also act as a pollinator: what was it then, herbivore or pollinator? “Good” interactor or “bad” interactor? Continue reading

The Drop of Water

Tonight I am just too tired to write, but I would like to share this short story Hans Christian Andersen wrote in 1848. It is a protist tale. I stepped into it while browsing pictures from http://www.flickr.com/photos/microagua/, a great, informal reference for desperate protist hunters like me.

(source)

Of course, you must know what a microscope is, that round magnifying glass which makes everything look hundreds of times larger than it really is. Continue reading