Thursday, October 07, 2010

Chainsaw science

I have a review in this week's new-look Nature of Thomas Seeley's book Honeybee Democracy. (I wanted to call the piece 'The politics of dancing') It's a good read, and I think the last chapter on applying bee-rules to human decision making (one of the book's virtues is that Seeley doesn't over-claim in this regard) is worth anyone's time.

One thing I didn't mention in the review is that one of Seeley's early experiments involved roaming the woods with a chainsaw, looking for trees with bees, then chopping them down to measure the size of the cavity.

This made me think of Daniel Simberloff's work testing the predictions of island biogeography by manipulating the area of small Florida Mangrove islands with a chainsaw. E. O. Wilson describes the work in his memoir 'Naturalist'. (Clearly, the late 60s/early 70s were the golden age for chainsaws in ecology, as well as in Texan massacres.)

It made me think - how many other researchers have wielded a chainsaw in the name of science? I tried putting 'chainsaw' and 'chainsaw ecology' into google scholar, but most of the results pertain to studies of the effect of logging, which doesn't really count. There was one paper looking at the effect of chainsaw noise on spotted owls. I'm glad to see they seem to have used a real chainsaw, and not a recording, but again this is a study into the effects of logging. It'd be nice to put together a top ten of experiments that harnessed a chainsaw for scientific good, rather than looked at its evil effects.