Graphic Art for Science

I am sooooo excited to share this with you! The other day I reached out on Twitter to see if any graphic designers would be interested in helping me create a graphic/logo using one of my lab's camera trap photos of a snow leopard. Fortunately, @mistydyne jumped on the idea and created this awesome graphic! Check it outtttt.


These logos will be used for research posters, website-related visuals, and maybe on some customized, reusable water bottles down the road (plastic free for wildlife, yo). I'm very excited to have these for my current branding efforts, and am so happy with how they turned out. @mistydyne is phenomenally talented, so I'm shouting her out for those of you in need of any graphic art! She's great at missions, logos, vectors, and specializes in animals and science! Talk about #sciart.

This is relevant to science given the rise of the graphical abstract, which is a visual summary of the main findings of an article. Graphical abstracts appear in online search results as a secondary promotion of the journal article itself and is designed to encourage browsing. What's better, using pictorials in your science creates multi and interdisciplinary collaboration, and it helps viewers more quickly understand the goals and results of a given project. Plus, they look cool!

As a science communicator, I'm always aware of how things look. Well-lit photos, perfectly-arranged posters (groan), color-coordinated concepts, and clarity are all very important to me and so many others who want to share their science. Visual representations of your work aren't limited to a graphical abstract- they are also great for website branding, social media, and making your work identifiable to the public. Do you study brains? You need a brain graphic. Are you a salamander researcher? A marbled sally logo would be cool. Are you super hyped about snow leopard genetics? Well, hopefully you can find me more easily to talk about it as a result of this new visual!

Science and art are so intertwined. Science IS art, and vice versa. My mother is an artist, and I grew up painting. As a result I see everything in organized, yet chaotic color. Visual learning is often under-utilized, in my opinion, which makes graphical abstracts, artistic visuals, and logos essential to making science digestible. More importantly, I think it makes science fun!

I'm using one of these visuals in a poster presentation on Monday for my university to summarize my dissertation research and represent our lab. Check back for the photo- I'll add it to this post after the seminar!

If you are a scientist and have worked with a graphic artist, leave their name in the comments so others can find them. If you are a graphic designer/artist and want to connect with more scientists to collaborate, drop your name and links to your site so others can find you!

Stronger Together, For Science

In addition to #strongertogether, our research hashtag #scientistswhoselfie was re-ignited as a result of this op-ed, and many, many scientists were connected to one another as a result!

In addition to #strongertogether, our research hashtag #scientistswhoselfie was re-ignited as a result of this op-ed, and many, many scientists were connected to one another as a result!

On Friday, Science Magazine, one of the most prestigious publications in the science world, published an op-ed that denigrates women who do science communication. I have not linked the piece intentionally. The author of this article, a female PhD student, said that these efforts contribute to superficial views of women, and that participating in science communication takes away from research and makes us lesser scientists.
It’s bad enough that women in science struggle with gender bias and stereotypes on a daily basis, let alone get criticized on a national platform for taking their science to social networking sites. This is awful for several reasons, not least of all that the author called out by name my friend and colleague @science.sam. She punched down by suggesting we stay away from fun photos and engaging content, and instead stick to the research if we want to be taken seriously in science and society. It was bitter, mean, and completely inappropriate for a prestigious magazine to promote.

I share my science because I’m passionate about wildlife and because I really enjoy the kind community here on Instagram. I also share science because it makes me happy and it’s part of who I am as a person. How we choose to share science, or who we are, or what we’re up to should be celebarated as diverse and multifaceted ways to increase awareness of science, or awareness of women in science. Wheher you identify as a woman or not, you literally don’t need an agenda to do #scicomm, and neither do you need permission from anyone if you do.
This kind of rhetoric is why I’m part of a team on a crowd-funded project investigating perceptions of scientists on Instagram. We want to show the warm and friendly side of science in order to increase awareness and participation in STEM. We make science better, stronger, when we work together. Learn more about our project here. We have some preliminary results and are moving into the next phase of the project. 
How do we put a positive spin on all this? Well, we can continue doing evidence-based, innovative work that makes science accessible and inclusive for ALL. It's unfortunate that Science Magazine let this op-ed get published, as it impacts the careers of two female scientists. It also reinforces the precedent that science communication efforts are not worthy of investment, and that those who participate in such activities may be less qualified as scientists than those who do not. By continuing with the efforts seen on my website, social media pages, and for those doing the same across the globe, we can highlight the importance and necessity of such efforts. 

Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants!

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to live-stream an interactive session with 125 students across the US and Canada through the organization Exploring by the Seat of your Pants! This is a great nonprofit that brings science, conservation, and adventure right to the classroom through Google Hangout sessions where experts talk with students right in their own classroom. It was the best! I spent close to an hour with students in 4th and 12th grade talking about what wildlife biologists do as well as the research I focus on. We talked bobcats, snow leopards, tips on becoming a wildlife biologist, frog metamorphosis, making discoveries... you name it! This program is a really great way to help scientists engage with the public, especially the next generation. Students were able to ask me questions, too, and it was so fun to hear what they had to say and see firsthand their curiosity for wildlife. The cool thing about EBTSOYP is that you can either participate in a livestream, like my classrooms, or watch the experience on YouTube! If you're a teacher who is interested in having me, or someone like me "visit" their classroom, check out the link above for EBTSOYP. To watch my session on being a wildlife biologist, check this out:



Wild Black Cats- Halloween Edition

It's October 31st, arguably one of the greatest days of the year (*maybe* second to the winter holiday...which reminds me, as a child I really, really loved the film "The Nightmare Before Christmas" because it combines BOTH EVENTS). Lots of traditions and superstitions are alive and well on All Hallow's Eve, including a staunch appreciation for, or rigid avoidance of, the ever impressive black cat.

Salem, the OG black cat of Halloween from Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Salem, the OG black cat of Halloween from Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Having a black (indoor) cat myself, I'm pro-melanistic-feline, and so are many other people. So much so, in fact, that they spend a lot of time talking about wild black cats! However, there are several species for which there is zero evidence of melanism occurring in the wild (see this guest post by ecologist t Dr. Michelle LaRue on why melanistic cougars are not a thing). This is primarily owed to genetics and evolution. For example, in species like the rock pocket mouse, a light-colored mouse living on light-colored lava rock in the southwestern US, some populations exhibit mutations in a pigmentation gene called Mc1r, and these changes are responsible for the black phenotype. The role of genetics in adaptive evolution- the selection of beneficial alleles given the environment- is traceable in several taxa, including the pepper moth, a European species that exhibited near-total population melanism in under 10 generations in response to industrial pollution (ash, sulfur on trees) in the UK. In most cases, melanism is a recessive trait, meaning both parents must carry the mutation on a pigmentation gene in order for offspring to inherit and exhibit the phenotype of a recessive genotpye (think big A and little a from genetics: AA, Aa, and aa, where an animal must have the aa genotype to be melanistic). For wild cats (your terror of a housecat not included), melanism can occur, but in which species?

Of the 38 species of wild cats, 11 exhibit melanistic coat coloration polymorphism. Surprisingly, there are at least 4 independent genetic origins of melanism in Felidae! Natural selection mediates coat melanism in these species: the jaguar, leopard, jaguarundi, bobcat, serval, Geoffroy's cat, Oncilla, Pampas cat, kodkod, jungle cat, and Asiatic golden cat. While some of these species are not widely known, the term "black panther" (which is actually not a term for a specific species!) is most notably used in reference to a black jaguar or black leopard. Other than National Black Cat Day, I see no better day than Halloween to introduce a few of our world's melanistic wild cats:

Melanistic jaguar. In the right light, you can still see the rosette-shaped spots! Photo by Ron Singer.

Melanistic jaguar. In the right light, you can still see the rosette-shaped spots! Photo by Ron Singer.

Pictured above, the jaguar is the largest of South America's big cats, and black individuals are common in zoos and the pet trade. However, the frequency of occurrence of this color polymorphism is not well understood in wild populations. This cool study successfully used fecal DNA to map wild melanistic jaguars in Brazil using the amino acid deletions in the Mc1r gene.

A melanistic leopard stands in stark contrast to the normal phenotype. Taken at the Kali Tiger Reserve in India by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

A melanistic leopard stands in stark contrast to the normal phenotype. Taken at the Kali Tiger Reserve in India by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Like the jaguar, the leopard exhibits melanism as a recessive trait. For many wild populations, the frequency of occurrence for melanism can become prominent, but this trait is not expected to be fixed within populations due to its Mendelian inheritance (ie, its recessive nature). However, this study found near-fixation (meaning that melanism is the only variant of the pigmentation allele) on the Malay Peninsula. Cool!

This melanistic bobcat was legally trapped in 2016 in New Brunswick, Canada.

This melanistic bobcat was legally trapped in 2016 in New Brunswick, Canada.

Bobcats, one of my favorite species, also exhibit melanism. Few records exist in the continental US, most of which are in southern Florida. Black bobcats have been recorded by fur trappers in New Brunswick, Canada since at least 1983. This is cool, because it means that the polymorphism has persisted across several generations in this area! 

A black serval seen in Kenya. Photo by Sergio Pitamitz

A black serval seen in Kenya. Photo by Sergio Pitamitz

The serval is a medium-sized wild cat distributed across much of southern Africa. These cats share a phylogenetic history with caracals, Bay cats, and Asiatic golden cats (another species that exhibits melanism). I worked with captive servals many years ago at Carolina Tiger Rescue- these cats can jump over ten feet in the air! Melanism is rare in this species, and two white servals exist in captivity in Florida. 

A fellow graduate student in my lab, Hariyo Wibisono, and one of my mentors, Dr. Jennifer McCarthy, documented a melanistic marbled cat in Sumatra, Indonesia, in 2010. The 12th cat! Check this out:

Camera trap image of a melanistic marbled cat in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Hariyo Wibisono and Dr. Jennifer McCarthy.

Camera trap image of a melanistic marbled cat in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Hariyo Wibisono and Dr. Jennifer McCarthy.

Melanistic cat alongside a normal phenotype marbled cat in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Indonesia. Photo by Hariyo Wibisono and Dr. Jennifer McCarthy. 

Melanistic cat alongside a normal phenotype marbled cat in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Indonesia. Photo by Hariyo Wibisono and Dr. Jennifer McCarthy. 

Humans are fascinated with black color morphs. Wild cats are elusive and rare, which makes melanistic individuals all the more exciting. Melanistic cats are  great examples of the diversity and impact of genetics and the role polymorphism plays in natural selection and evolution. The next time you hear someone talk about a "black panther," you can now tell them which one they likely saw (your terror of a housecat included)!

Disclaimer 1: Like any wild cat, never approach a melanistic cat on Halloween, or on any other day for that matter, because wild cats are not pets, and because you could bleed a lot.

Disclaimer 2: If you have a black cat, consider keeping him or her inside tonight (and every day, because this), as some people are unkind to black cats on Halloween. 

Clarke, C. A., Mani, G. S., Wynne, G. 1985. Evolution in reverse: Clean air and the peppered moth. BioI. J. Linn. Soc. 26:1 89-99.

Hedges L., Lam W. Y., Campos-Arceiz A.M., Campos-Arceiz R.D., Laurance W., Latham C. J., Saaban S., and R.C. Gopalasamy. 2014. Melanistic leopards reveal their spots: Infrared camera traps provide a population density estimate of leopards in Malaysia. The Journal of Wildlife Management 79:846–853.

Johnson, W. E., Eizirik, E., Pecon-Slattery, J., Murphy, W. J., Antunes, A., Teeling, E., and S.J. O'Brien. 2006. The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment. Science 311: 73–77.

Kawanishi K, Sunquist ME, Eizirik E, Lynam AJ, Ngoprasert D, et al. .2010. Near fixation of melanism in leopards of the Malay Peninsula. Journal of Zoology 282: 201–206.

Nachman, M., Hoekstra, H., and S. D'Agostino. 2003. The Genetic Basis of Adaptive Melanism in Pocket Mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 100: 5268-5273.

Tischendorf, J. W., and D. F. McAlpine. 1995. A melanistic bobcat from outside of Florida. Florida Field Naturalist 23:13-14.




To Selfie or Not to Selfie- How Can Scientists Foster Public Trust on Instagram?

A few months ago I was contacted by Dr. Paige Jarreau, a science communication specialist at Louisiana State University, to discuss how scientists use Instagram to positively engage with the public. My Instagram is a source for daily wildlife facts and information on how to become a wildlife biologist. I post cool facts about the critters in your back yard and around the world as well as highlight the importance of science and conservation research. Why do I do this? Well, for starters, it's fun! Posting on Instragram is a great way to combine my passions with down time, and I really enjoy talking to so many outdoor and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) enthusiasts! However, social media is also a great way to showcase diversity and trustiworthiness in science, and here is how we're going to test it:

Scientists are often perceived as smart, but stiff. Warmth, friendliness, and receptiveness are not always associated with people in STEM. Recent research testing these concepts found that Americans perceive scientists as competent, but not necessarily warm- and warmth is a key component of trust. Experts in all fields must work to disseminate their research, but also earn (and maintain) the trust of those listening. Sometimes, we fail at one, or both.  Simply put, we've got a public image problem. Fortunately, I, along with many others, are interested in whether we can change the way the public views and trusts scientists.

I was super pumped when Paige reached out to me because she wants to test whether using Instagram can generate trust between scientists and non-scientists. Does showing that we are regular people make the public more likely to perceive us as warm, friendly, and therefore trustworthy? Is information online more believable when accompanied by a friendly face? Do selfies make scientific content more dynamic and trustworthy?

Do #ScientistsWhoSelfie foster a better public image?

These are just a few questions being asked by my team on a project where we are empirically testing whether personalization in online presence fosters a better public image. Using Instagram, our team is going to measure how public perception changes when presented with curated and informative posts on social media. Specifically, do selfies help scientists? Measuring this empirically means we can provide scientists with ways to be more effective disseminators of science and research. While many see science communication as a frivolous pastime, we want to generate information to show that online STEM presence is worth scientists' time. We want to learn how to best earn public trust in order to make science more accessible and useful for all. 

If you're visiting my website, there's a good chance you first found me on Instagram or Twitter. If you enjoy my content, or if you're here because you follow other awesome scientists on social media, this post is for you! To make this project successful, we need your help. We are jumpstarting this research with a crowdfunding campaign. With professional endorsements, a bare-bones budget, and a detailed timeline, our project includes dozens of scientists and STEM enthusiasts who are already generating content that the public will evaluate. If you like my work, or science in general, please consider visiting our experiment's campaign webpage to learn more about the research and how you can contribute: To Selfie or Not to Selfie?

Starting tomorrow, you can also join our #ScientistSelfie challenge! Check out my Instagram tomorrow morning (link at the top of this post) for instructions on how to add to this much-needed experiment! Your attention and assistance can help us be better at our jobs, better describe our fields, and be more likely to encourage others to pursue a career as a trusted scientist. 

Check us out at to get involved and help our experiment!

Conservation Giving- What to Get The Person who Loves Nature and Wildlife

It's the end of the first semester of my PhD, and let me tell you: it happened too fast! I'm back in student mode once again submitting finals and papers and finishing what I think is the last formal statistic class I'll ever have to take (wooo!). FYI, biologists use lots of statistics. All that's left is for me to finish grading mammalogy papers, and then it's time to search for wildlife in Texas- I mean go see my family ;).

It's December 15th, which means a lot of humans are frantically trying to sort out those holiday gifts. We always try to buy local, ecologically-conscious or educational gifts that are useful in the long term, so I thought now might be a good time to promote some conservation and nature-centric options for your gift-giving needs. Conservation is cool year round, of course, and in 2017 our efforts in conservation will be more important than ever (more on that later). If you're looking for unique gifts from reputable organizations, look no further. These are great options for biologists of all ages and skill levels, and these supplies and organizations are trusted by biologists every single day.

Make a conservation donation in someone's name.

1. The Nature Conservancy

2. The Ocean Conservancy

3. The Xerces Society

4. The Orianne Society

5. Panthera

6.  Turtle Survival Alliance 

7. Working Dogs for Conservation 

Get some field guides:

1. SIbley Guide to Birds

2. Peterson's Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians

3. Peterson's Field Guide to Mammals

4. Mammal Tracks & SIgn

5. Peterson's Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North American North of Mexico

Buy some cool books:

1. Wild Mammals of North America; Biology, Management and Conservation. Fedlhamer et al.

2. The Wildlife Techniques Manual; Research (Vol I); Management (Vol II). Nova Silvy.

3. Ecology and Behavior of Amphibians; Kentwood D. Wells.

4. Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. Michael Lannoo

5. Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. Vitt and Caldwell.

6. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Petranka.

7. Handbook of The Mammals of the World (Vol 1: Carnivores). Wilson and Mittermeier.

8. Snow Leopards- Biodiversity of the World: Conservation from Genes to Landscapes. McCarthy.

9. Animal Skulls- Guide to North American Species. Elbroch.

Gift a state or national park membership

Help them help nature with gear:

1. Binoculars

2. Headlamp

3. GPS Unit

4. Infrared camera trap

This is only a partial list of the great things you can do to help and promote stewardship for wildlife conservation! What did I leave out? Let me know! Happy holidays!



Snow Leopards at the University of Delaware (wait a second...)

If you follow me on social media, you likely already know what the post title is about. For those just dropping in, I'm excited to clarify what it means: I'm doing snow leopard research. I recently accepted a PhD position in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware investigating landscape genetics/genomics of snow leopards. I'm working with Panthera, one of the world's premier wild cat conservation organizations. I'm collaborating with some really excellent scientists in both genetics and quantitative ecology, and our efforts will address range-wide questions about what structures populations of snow leopards and how this could change in the future. To say that I am excited for this project, and to complete my PhD, is a gross understatement.

A curious snow leopard. Photo by Panthera.

A curious snow leopard. Photo by Panthera.

Over the next four years I'll be extracting DNA from individual snow leopard scat (that's poop) to process their genotypes- think of this as unique puzzle pieces of DNA- and comparing them with other snow leopards. Identifying genetically distinct populations can be very informative for wildlife conservation and management, and is much needed for snow leopards. If you don't think this sounds too exciting (and I have no idea why you wouldn't- I mean come on, science!), don't worry- I'll be traveling overseas as well. I'll be doing lab work in at least one country and field work in another. I'm excited to traverse the high elevation mountains of Asia, and hopefully spot these elusive cats. 

Getting excited about coyote scat!

Getting excited about coyote scat!

I've been in Delaware for just under a month, and things are going really well. I'm a teaching assistant for mammalogy, which is a class that focuses on the natural history, anatomy, physiology, and evolution of mammalia. Being a student again is actually quite exciting, as I enjoy the fast pace of academia and being part of an environment so saturated with scientific minds. I am actually getting ready to proctor my student's first big exam on bats, shrews and moles, and bones, so be sure to check back soon for more posts on snow leopards, and a recap of my summer with Pacific martens. 

Snow leopards are habitat specialists in that they require areas of high elevation and low temperature. This makes them sensitive to issues like climate change. Photo by Panthera.

Snow leopards are habitat specialists in that they require areas of high elevation and low temperature. This makes them sensitive to issues like climate change. Photo by Panthera.

For those of you interested in learning more about the natural history, conservation needs, and current research efforts worldwide with snow leopards, check out the fantastic text "Snow Leopards: Biodiversity of the World: From Genes to Landscapes."