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Biodiversity rocks: a spider named in honour David Bowie, and a worm for Lemmy

With the death of David Bowie yesterday the world of music and art and fashion lost a cultural icon.  As well as remembering his incredible music and ground-breaking visual and social statements, the great man is immortalised in the name of a huntsman spider: Heteropoda davidbowie.  

I’ve not seen the original paper that named it, but it was presumably because the bright orange hair that covers the spider’s body reminded the author of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period in the early 70s, and the name of Ziggy’s band – The Spiders From Mars.

That other recently deceased rock icon, Lemmy Kilmister, also has a species named for him – an extinct polychaete worm called Kalloprion kilmisteri – apparently named “in honor of Lemmy of Motörhead, for musical inspiration during the course of [studying the fossil]”.

I’ll miss them both: biodiversity rocks!


With thanks to my friend and colleague Professor Stewart Thompson for bringing the spider to my attention. 

Building a blog readership takes time revisited; and seven good reasons for academic blogging

Almost 12 months ago I wrote a post entitled “Building a blog readership takes time” and summarised how the audience for my own blog had increased slowly at first and then seemed to rapidly take off after about 18 months.  The post received a lot of interest and more comments/pingbacks than usual, including a comparison with the first year of posting by the Ülo Niinemets’ Lab blog.  So I thought I’d update the figure to look at what has happened in the intervening 11 months; here it is:

Blog stats - January 2016

As you can see the upward course of monthly views has continued, increasing from 1000-2000 on average in autumn/winter 2014 to 3000-4000 on average at the moment.  However the variance has also increased and over this time scale has become less predictable; for example, views for December 2015 were actually lower than for the same month in the previous year.  The >7000 views for August 2015 is clearly an outlier, an anomaly caused by a deliberately provocative post entitled “Who is feeding the honey bee bullshit machine?”  It will be interesting to see if this variability continues and I’ll report back in another year (!)

Meanwhile over at the Times Higher Prof. Pat Thomson from the School of Education at the University of Nottingham, has written a piece on “Seven reasons why blogging can make you a better academic writer“.  The seven reasons are:

Blogging can help you to establish writing as a routine*

Blogging allows you to experiment with your writing “voice”

Blogging helps you to get to the point

Blogging points you to your reader*

Blogging requires you to be concise*

Blogging allows you to experiment with forms of writing

Blogging helps you to become a more confident writer

Those I’ve marked with an asterisk* are the ones that chime most with my experience, but this is clearly very personal and it’s worth reading the whole piece for yourself.  Happy Blogging in 2016!


Breaking news: “Drilling for oil in Alaska necessary to pay for damage caused by climate change”

In an interview with the BBC the Governor of Alaska has claimed that further oil exploration in his state is required in order to pay for the damage being caused by current climate change.


What next for common sense and logic?  Convicted burglars claiming that they have to rob more houses in order to pay court fines?

The Altmetric Bookmarklet – an instant measure of the reach of academic publications [UPDATED]

Academics seem to be obsessed with metrics of all kinds at the moment, and I’m certainly not immune to it as my recent post on the h-index demonstrated.  So I was intrigued by a new (at least to me) browser plug-in that gives you instant altmetrics such as number of times mentioned on Twitter, Facebook or on news outlets, or cited in blogs, policy documents, Wikipedia, etc.  It’s called the Altmetrics Bookmarklet and can be downloaded (or rather dragged from the screen to the bookmark bar of your browser) from here.

I’ve given it a spin and it seems to do what it says it can do, within narrow publisher and time limits (2011 onward for Twitter, for instance).  It’s very, very simple.  Just find a paper that you are interested in, on the publisher’s official website; here’s a recent one by my colleagues Duncan McCollin and Robin Crockett – click on the Altmetric Bookmarklet (circled):

Altmetric 1

That gives you a drop-down of the current summary altmetrics for the paper which tells us it’s been tweeted by 14 people and mentioned on one Facebook page:

Altmetric 2

(As an experiment I’m going to see if it picks up this blog post once it’s live and will update below*).

If you select “Click for more details” you go to a new page that gives you…. more details:

Altmetric 3

And by selecting the different tabs you can see, for instance, exactly who has tweeted the paper:

Altmetric 4

It also gives you an altmetrics score for the paper (in this case 10) but it’s unclear to me how that’s calculated.  Does anyone know?

That’s all there is to it.  Is it possible to waste a lot of time playing around with this?  Yes.  Will it prove to be useful?  Only time will tell.  But it’s an interesting way of tracking the reach (and potential future impact) of your publications.

*UPDATE:  The Altmetric Bookmarklet had picked up the mention of the paper on this blog in less than 24 hours.

Something for the weekend #7 – mangroves, El Nino, the relationship between business and nature, and more

The latest in a regular series of posts to biodiversity-related* items that have caught my attention during the week:

  • Weather around the globe could get very unpredictable later this year if the forecasted “substantial El Nino event” occurs.  Worth keeping an eye on this, some areas could experience extreme weather and the resulting impacts on habitats.
  • For his championing of the cause of pollinator conservation, my friend and colleague Professor Dave Goulson has been named one of the Top 50 “conservation heroes” by the BBC Wildlife Magazine, alongside luminaries such as Sir David Attenborough.  Well done Dave, very well deserved!

Feel free to recommend links that have caught your eye.

*Disclaimer: may sometimes contain non-biodiversity-related items.

My Hooper Moment

Jeff on the beach

Despite the clunkiness of some of the special effects, Jaws is a great movie that influenced a whole generation of organismal biologists into becoming marine ecologists, or at least terrestrial ecologists with a toe in the water.  The movie contains some iconic characters and wonderful lines.  One of my favourite scenes* is the exchange between Hooper, the shark expert, and Mayor Larry Vaughn, the head-in-the-sand local politician:


Hooper:  What we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine.  It’s really a miracle of evolution.  All this machine does is swim.  And eat.  And make little sharks.  That’s all.  [Gestures to advertising sign on which a huge shark fin has been drawn]  Now why don’t you take a long, close look at this sign. Those proportions are correct….

Mayor Vaughn:  Love to prove that wouldn’t you? Get your name into the National Geographic[Walks away, smiling dismissively]

Hooper:  [pause, then slightly maniacally] ….hahahaha….hahahahaha….


Well today I got my Hooper Moment, my name in the National Geographic following an interview about pollination biology with James Owen, one of their writers.  It’s the online version, not the printed magazine, but I’m counting it anyway.  It’s a nice piece and, for once, doesn’t dwell on honey bees, or even bees at all.

In 1975 I was 10 years old and was accompanied to the cinema to see Jaws by my late parents.  Neither were impressed:  my mother watched the whole movie with her hands over her face and my father opined that it “was not as good as King Kong in the 1930s”.  Nonetheless, I’d like to think that they’d have been proud of my Hooper Moment.

[Thanks to Mark for capturing a moment on the North East coast, some years ago]


*With apologies for the crappy music and dumb repeat-edits – scroll forward to 2:25.