Scott's Botanical Links--March 2005


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March 31, 2005 - Lektora - RSS Reader
Critical to using "RSS feeds" (discussed in the March 29 link) is to have an RSS reader, ideally one that is free, compatible with Windows, Mac & Linux, and preferably integrated into a browser! Lektora does all of this almost for free (it displays small context-guided ads unless opt out of adware for US$30). This is a small (1.5M) download, fully functional RSS consolidator that comes with many channels preloaded. Click on the "XML" or "RSS" boxes from sites you select and the "feed" will be added for you in MSIE and Firefox (which are the supported browsers for Lektora). To customize Lektora, the upper left corner of the browser screen has "customize", "archive", "delete", "directory" and "options" buttons depending on where you are. It is easy to add, move and delete feeds, though it requires some getting used to. Still, it is impressive (best I have seen at any price), free, and new. Lektora 1.0 was released on March 18, 2005. (***1/2) -SR
March 30, 2005 - Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is touted as the most complete assessment of world resources to date. Initiated by the United Nations to help meet assessment needs of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention to Combat Desertification, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on Migratory Species, this landmark study released today "reveals that approximately 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth – such as fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water regulation, and the regulation of regional climate, natural hazards and pests – are being degraded or used unsustainably." This site has the full report. The new report creates one of the most complete "global snapshots" of ecosystems. More than 1,300 authors from 95 countries participated in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Indications are that environmental conditions will significantly worsen in the next 50 years. (****) -SR
March 29, 2005 - Weblogg-ed: RSS Quick Start Guide for Educators
Student fascination with technology frequently exceeds faculty ability to explore and implement innovations. Millions of people have "blogs" (short for "weblogs"), where they record fleeting thoughts for the masses. RSS can syndicate them or any message for distribution. Originally an acronym for "Really Simple Syndication", RSS is (in essence) a dynamic web page divided into items, each containing a description [headline style], content sentence(s) [like a first paragraph of a news article], and a link to online content. With orange rectangles that say "XML" (the native language of RSS), one simply drags "XML" via mouse into an RSS reader. How can RSS be adapted for sending out homework assignments? sharing discussion topics? blog entries? a variety of other interactive technological exercises? and how does one do it? These questions and more in this truly techie topic are ably handled by Will Richardson, Supervisor of Instructional Technology, Hunterdon Central Regional High School. (***1/2) -SR [Note: I now subscribe to CNN and NYT science by RSS, and even have my own "feed" for SBLD, updated ~daily; same content as the listserv, different format.]
March 28, 2005 - Online Language Dictionaries and Translators
It does not take long to recognize that it is a small world, and that sometimes important scientific work is outside of one's native language. Today's site provides links to translation engines serving about 200 languages, as well as other language services. The site serves as a consolidator of links, not a translation service itself, yet even this has its place. A warning applies to any of these language services: language translation is difficult and not all programs are equally talented. If you want to know how badly the site mangles language, try translating a sentence and then translating it back. -SR
March 25, 2005 - Plant Anatomy CD Support Site
This site is designed to accompany the "Plant Anatomy" CD-ROM by Richard Crang and Andrey Vassilyev. The chapter links present self-grading multiple choice quizzes that serve as an extensive study aid (10 questions X 24 chapters is pretty extensive). The "student view" links include useful pages on "How to Write a Paper", "Botany Issues Map (essentially Botany in the News on a global map)", "Scientific Names", "Biological Controls", "Useful Plants", "Houseplants", "Metric Conversions" and "Plant Tissues". An instructor view provides links to dynamic cartoons of 12 botanical topics, viewable using the Macromedia Flash Player. Site by McGraw-Hill. (****) -SR
March 24, 2005 - Families of Vascular Plants, BOT307 (U. Toronto)
This is the accompanying website for BOT 307, which is an introduction to the families of vascular plants, with emphasis on morphological variation in relation to identification and significant aspects of breeding systems, dispersal syndromes, and other features of their biology. Contents include: What are plant families? How do we distinguish them? How and why do we study vascular plants? and selected vascular plant families. An interesting site with good depth of coverage, by Tim Dickinson in association with the Royal Ontario Museum. (***1/2) -SR
March 23, 2005 - Bamboo
There are many sites on bamboo available on the Internet. I selected this one simply because it is quite straightforward for making identifications to genus, with Bambusa, Dendrocalamus, Gigantochloa, Guadua, Melocanna, Nastus, Phyllostachys, Schizostachyum, Thyrsostachys and one plant easily confused with a bamboo. This site and an image from Pat Cullinan convinced me that there are more big bamboos than I was aware of! There are also notes on growing bamboos, slide shows, cooking instructions for bamboo shoots & recipes available. Site by Earthcare Enterprises, with nursery & farm based in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland, Australia. (***) -SR
March 22, 2005 - Phyllotaxis
Phyllotaxis describes, in mathematical terms, how leaves originate and the numbers underlying their positioning. This might sound boring, but it is really fascinating to see how this site's collection of applets, illustrations, discussions, exercises and research papers develop this topic into an object of beauty. The depth of links also includes classification (a "must see" page), discussions, electron micrographs and developmental theories of leaf positioning. For the truly dedicated, there are 38 course exercises. This site by Pau Atela or Christophe Golé, Department of Mathematics, Smith College, Northampton, MA, reflects their long-standing research interest on this topic. (****) -SR
March 21, 2005 - Southeastern U.S. Plants
Principally developed as a resource for Tennessee plants, this site features many characteristic Southeast US plants by flowering date, common & scientific name and family. The usefulness of this site is likely to extend outside of the region though, as some of the plants are quite widely distributed. Browser lists have handy thumbnail images in the left margin providing the opportunity to use a very unbotanical approach and still arrive at a scientific name and family--a great advantage for beginners. The home page presents many browsing options, including group comparisons for oaks, hicories, and maples, cedar glade species, common trees and non-seed plants, as well as checklists for some Tennessee natural area and local parks. This is a very well planned and executed site by Steve Baskauf, Vanderbilt University. (****) -SR
March 18, 2005 - Bioimages: Plant Features
"Bioimages: Plant Features" is a well-illustrated introductory site on interesting aspects of plant biology. Links currently focus on: angiosperm sexual systems, pollination syndromes, gymnosperm cones, fruit development, fruit and seed dispersal, non-seed plant groups and identifying some invasive plants. The strong point is the collection of images, some of which are quite rare (e.g., color images of gametophytes of non-seed plants!). The text is well suited to an introductory course, but some of the images may be useful in advanced courses as well! Site by Steve Baskauf, Vanderbilt University. (***1/2) -SR
March 17, 2005 - WWF - Biomes and Biogeographical Realms
"Biomes and Biogeographical Realms" is a truly global website that has been developed by the World Wildlife Fund. The world is divided into Australasia, Antarctic, Afrotropic, Indo-Malayan, Nearctic (North America), Neotropic (South America), Oceania and Palearctic (Eurasia) regions, and these are subdivided into quite detailed ecoregions (sometimes numbering nearly 100). Each distinct species assemblage is recognized for its uniqueness, giving the viewer a powerful impression of the biodiversity represented on our planet. Each region has a "WildWorld" page telling about the especially interesting aspects of the ecoregion and its threats and also a "World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report" page with data on its location & general description, biodiversity features, current status, threats, ecoregion justification, references and links to more photos and information. This is an amazing biodiversity site. National Geographic Society is a partner on the WildWorld pages. (****) -SR
March 16, 2005 - Stacks on Tracks: Plant Endomembrane Research Group
This site presents research on the cell biology of the Golgi body (aka dictyosome) and the control of secretion in plants. The approach is largely microscopic, with liberal use of the modern tools of molecular biology to map the movement of Golgi bodies and vesicles in confocal movies (.avi) and electron microscopy (EM). A high-pressure freezing unit is available to trap these in as close to the living state as possible for EM. On site are discussions of the work, reprints, and excellent images and movies of endomembrane in living and fixed cell systems. The lab and site are under the direction of Professor Chris Hawes, Oxford Brookes University, UK. (***1/2) -SR
March 15, 2005 - Native and Introduced Plants of Southern California
Among the floras in the continental US, probably there are none as complex as those of California. This site began as a checklist to some walking trails and now has expanded to extensive trail guides and checklists covering much of the geography of the southern half of the state. Meticulously recorded, with help of GPS, much of this data could be useful in mapping species change over the years. The site is massive, but the Google search may help locate specific data. There are some images and a lot of phenological data. This shows what dedicated amateurs with a passion for botanical observation can amass. Site by Tom Chester and Jane Strong. (***1/2) -SR
March 14, 2005 - Plants for the People
"Plants for the People" proposes to build and illustrated checklist and identification guide to world plants that will be shared freely on the Internet. So far, there are 28,686 names collected so far. The DiscoverLife site relies on cooperation and has important supporters in the Missouri Botanical Garden, National Biological Information Infrastructure, New York Botanical Garden, and Smithsonian Institution. Much of the data is offsite, but will be a nice metadata collection site. -SR
March 11, 2005 - The Art of Bonsai
Bonsai plants are prized for their ability to simulate ancient trees from nature. Bonsai were first noticed as ancient trees in nature -- the challenge is to recreate this in "captivity". This page presents a brief, but well-written one page introduction to bonsai, including history, suitable plants, potting and plant requirements, culture conditions, shaping the bonsai, seasonal care, and display. For a more in-depth version, or a more commercial one, there are many sites to consult; for a primer, this is not bad. Site by Master Garden Products. (***1/2) -SR
March 10, 2005 - Flowers in Ultraviolet: Arranged by Plant Family
Ultraviolet photography allows colors invisible to humans to be visualized and flowers are an admirable subject. Quite a few floral pigments have interesting UV properties. In fact, in many cases, quite plain-appearing flowers to us, may be striking as viewed by insects, since they can see more UV than we can. This site has about 100 species imaged (in over 25 families) and notes on some species without images. Some flowers may have colors that extend into the infrared, but only one is shown at the current time. An interesting and very visual site. Photography by Bjørn Rørslett. (****) -SR
March 9, 2005 - Biodiversity Explorer: Featuring the Diversity of Life We Encounter in Southern Africa
The "Biodiversity Explorer" visually documents much of the plant and animal diversity of southern Africa by higher groups, families, genera and species. The site is fully browsable and some images are truly striking, although the textual information is not as well developed. From the home page, numerous special links are listed as main features. "Biodiversity Explorer" is a visually rich site to examine, especially for African favorites and endemic taxa. There are some gaps, but the site by Iziko Museums of Cape Town, South Africa, seems to be evolving rapidly. (***1/2) -SR
March 8, 2005 - Figs and Fig Wasps
This site answers the questions of who pollinates fig trees, how fig trees are pollinated, who the fig wasps are, how many species there are, the life cycle of the mutualism, how the mutualism is maintained, as well as local checklist and an encyclopedic reference section. Also located at the site is a 26 minute video, which requires a Real Media Player to view. This site is by Simon van Noort (Iziko South African Museum) and Jean-Yves Rasplus (INRA, France), hosted at Iziko Museums of Cape Town, South Africa. (***1/2) -SR
March 7, 2005 - Endeavour Botanical Illustrations at the Natural History Museum
The Botany Library of the British Natural History Museum holds all of the surviving botanical artwork from the voyage of HMS Endeavour (1768-1771), which was the first voyage devoted exclusively to scientific discovery, and Captain James Cook's first Pacific adventure. Over 30,000 plant specimens where collected, representing over 3,600 species, 1,400 of which were new. This site presents most of the botanical drawings and engravings prepared by artist Sydney Parkinson before his untimely death at sea, and by other artists back in England working from Parkinson's initial sketches. (****) -SR
March 4, 2005 - Iditarod: The Last Great Race
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race of 2005 begins tomorrow at 10 am from downtown Anchorage, if all goes well. The race--a 1150 mile trek from Anchorage to Nome--commemorates a courageous 1925 run to deliver serum to children dying of diphtheria in Nome, which was reachable only by dog sled. The botanical connection is reflected in the headline, "Weather again Forces Changes to Iditarod XXXIII Start and Re-start." The weather is warmer than it has been in the past and they cannot sustain 79 mushers at the traditional start location, given the conditions of the streets and rivers. Dogs get more sleep than mushers on the trail: the record time is 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes and 2 seconds, which is more than 100 miles per day. Although there are strict rules, nothing about this race is easy and it still is the Last Great Race. -SR
March 3, 2005 - Can SETI Succeed: Carl Sagan and Ernst Mayr Debate
On February 3, 2005, Ernst Mayr -- one of the great biologists of the 20th century -- passed away at the age of 100 years. The exchange between Mayr and Sagan in "Bioastronomy News" was held in 1995 and remains as perhaps the most famous discussion of the problem of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Both provide fine performances and thought-provoking arguments on the likelihood that SETI could succeed. Although the chances are slim, Sagan is the optimist. The SETI project is particularly well known for its successful distributed computing effort (the SETI@Home screensaver [featured 7/5/99]), which uses personal computers to analyze radio spectra for signs of life on other planets. This can certainly fuel interesting discussions! (****) -SR
March 2, 2005 - Frog Calls
Frog Calls is "... an evolving webumentary" according to the site. This is a very visual site explaining and documenting efforts being made to study the apparent decline of frog populations in the wild and in our neighborhoods. The site requires that the free QuickTime media player be installed (available at Apple's website: Versions for dial-up and broadband connections are available. This is part of a joint development involving Ravenswood Media who bring the quality of their Academy Award nominated talents to the problem. Don't you wish there was a site like this for plants? (****) -SR
March 1, 2005 - Snow Crystal Photographs
In elementary school in Wisconsin, I was taught that March was "in like a lion, out like a lamb"; the latter was usually an exaggeration as flowers did not start coming out till May. Anyhow, in that light, here is a wonderfully irrelevant site on the microscopy of snowflakes. On the site are an impressive set of links on prior and other work, including William Wergin's site showing spectacular electron microscopy images of snow. All of this work is done on cryostages. The images and technology are impressive, as are the number of prior workers on this visually fascinating topic. -SR

Past, past links (by date):

2006: January
2005: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
2003: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
2002: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
2001: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
2000: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
1999: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
1998: January*, February*, March*, April*, May*, June*, July, August, September, October, November, December   (*Leigh's links)
1997: January, February, March, April, May, June, September*, October*, November*, December*    (*Leigh's links)
1996: February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December
Or search by: Subject Index