The Science of Sustainability

Nick Pyenson

Nick Pyenson

Nick Pyenson is a paleobiologist and PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, in the department of integrative biology and the museum of paleontology. Nick grew up in Canada and in Louisiana before moving to California for graduate school. He received a BS from Emory University and an AA from Oxford College of Emory University.

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Nick Pyenson's Latest Posts

Carving the holiday dinosaur: a phylogeny of wishbones

Carving the holiday dinosaur: a phylogeny of wishbones

A wishbone from a theropod and a turkey.This week, many of us celebrated one of the most American of holidays: Thanksgiving. Following tradition, most of us probably had a bite or two of turkey — if you were one of the fortunate to get your hands dirty, you may have used this New York Times […]

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Science v. Pseudoscience On Trial

Science v. Pseudoscience On Trial

NOVA commemorates the historical evolution trial of 2005. Credit: NOVAIf you tune in or point your web browser to PBS this week, you'll see a whole bunch about evolution. It's not Charles Darwin's birthday, but it's a celebration that may one day carry much more significance: it's the two year anniversary of the Kitzmiller vs. […]

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A Whale in your Backyard

A Whale in your Backyard

Carcass of a Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus Credit: analog chainsawWhen zoologists speak about superlatives among animals, blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) often play a key role at the high end of the scale of organisms. With good reason, too: they are not only the largest baleen whales, but also the largest mammals ever to have lived […]

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Roll over you bears! (Part 2)

Roll over you bears! (Part 2)

Joseph Grinell (center) and team, in 1908Last time, I wrote briefly about the history of grizzly bears in California and how there are no grizzlies in California anymore (an irony, given the animal's image on many of our state's symbols). The story of the grizzly's demise in California is the same narrative for many other […]

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Roll over you bears! (Part 1)

Roll over you bears! (Part 1)

Grizzly bears are iconic Californian mammals — they're on our state flag; many creeks, hills and passes are named after them; and they're the mascot of many UC schools — but you won't ever see one out in your backyard or anywhere else in California. Unlike black bears, which are relatively common in the state, […]

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Champion divers of the deep-sea

Champion divers of the deep-sea

Photo Credit: John CalambokidisChances are, if you've ever been swimming, you understand that it's hard to dive deep. But marine mammals do it all the time — and they dive to depths beyond our imagination. Sperm whales, beaked whales, elephant seals all have an amazing ability for deep-diving, and along with that, fascinating specializations to […]

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Whales in the desert, and vandalizing World Heritage Sites

Whales in the desert, and vandalizing World Heritage Sites

Credit: P.D. Gingerich, Univ. Michigan.This past week, fossil whales made it into the newswires again. This time, the news wasn't strictly about a new discovery or new insight — instead, it has to with accusations of vandalism. About 150 km south of Cairo lies a huge expanse of desert, called Wadi Al-Hitan. Unlike the classic […]

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…and penguin-look-a-likes from the Northern Hemisphere (Part 2)

…and penguin-look-a-likes from the Northern Hemisphere (Part 2)

Credit: NHM, London. With a string of Hollywood smash hits about penguins and polar bears, more people than ever now know that polar bears live near the North Pole, and penguins live at the South Pole. Penguins not only just live at the South Pole–they thrive all throughout the Southern Oceans, from the South Pole […]

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Giant penguins from the Southern Hemisphere… (Part 1)

Giant penguins from the Southern Hemisphere… (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History Earlier this summer, you may have heard about a surprising paleontological discovery from southern Peru. In a paper published in the journal PNAS, a team of paleontologists announced the discovery of two new species of fossil penguins, Icadyptes and Perudyptes, from an area a few hundred […]

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The real Davy Jones locker

The real Davy Jones locker

Laboratory photo of one of the newly discovered bone-eating worms, Osedax frankpressi, which has been removed from a whale bone On the heels of two humpbacks leaving the Sacramento River for the ocean, you may have seen this other news report on a rotting gray whale carcass on waterfront property at Point Richmond. (There's a […]

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Whalesong and underwater noise pollution

Whalesong and underwater noise pollution

Humpback in Sacramento River. Image source: U.S. Coast GuardFor the past 12 days, residents of the Bay Area have been following the day-to-day saga of two humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) swimming far up to Sacramento River delta. Of course, we don't expect fully ocean-going, marine mammals to wander this far up a freshwater river system, […]

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Of Arctic sea cows and Russian fur-traders

Of Arctic sea cows and Russian fur-traders

Drawing of a Steller's Sea Cow circa mid 18th centuryWhen we think about kelp forests, we envision froclicking sea otters, kelp fronds, sea urchins and a suite of other nearshore marine organisms. And, until a few hundred years ago, a 30 foot-long dugong. This isn't a joke: Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) was a North […]

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Bay Area herpetology: salamanders, part 2

Bay Area herpetology: salamanders, part 2

Last post, I introduced one of the classic examples of a ring species: the distribution of Ensatina species in California. Basically, Ensatina species are distributed in a great ring all around the Central Valley, with some species extending along the coastal ranges both north and south, and with other species distributed in the Sierra Nevadas. […]

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Bay Area herpetology: salamanders, part 1

Bay Area herpetology: salamanders, part 1

California newt (Taricha torosa)It is about the time of year when, on a hike pretty much anywhere in the Bay Area, you can turn over a rock or a log and find a salamander. Like frogs, the breeding habits of salamanders coincide with the seasonally wet weather of the spring time; and as amphibians, water […]

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Mammoths, Spears, and Marty Stouffer

Mammoths, Spears, and Marty Stouffer

Woolly MammothTwo years ago, the skeleton of a mammoth was discovered and excavated right near the San Jose airport. That may not change your world, but consider that when that mammoth was alive, there was no San Francisco Bay– global sea level was lower because of massive glaciers that covered the Northern Hemisphere. This time […]

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Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear…

Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear…

Photo by Terry Goss, copyright 2006 Surfers call the area of water enclosed by Ano Nuevo, Point Reyes and the Farallon Island the Red Triangle. This geographic delineation also doubles as an ominous symbol for one of the most famous predatory fish of our coast, the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Known also as the […]

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Gorillas in the mist? Try elephant seals in the fog

Gorillas in the mist? Try elephant seals in the fog

Male Elephant Seal with a harem groupWe don't often think of California as looking anything like Africa, but California biodiversity ranks right up there in terms of evolutionary uniqueness and richness. And that's true both on land and in the ocean, where you find, among other beasts unique to this coast, sea otters, gray whales, […]

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