Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll 2017

What happened in June 2017? The GE, summer solstice, Lions vs New Zealand…. OK, so various big events occurred in the month of June, but the highlight for me was the creation of a pop-up city with a population of around 175,000 people. I am of course referring to Glastonbury Festival, where people congregate at Worthy Farm in Somerset to watch music, comedy, dance, circus and other arts. I formed part of team of 6 ecologists from around the UK, headed up by Lancaster University’s Emma Sayer, who took ecology to the Glastonbury. Why take ecology to Glastonbury? Aside from the music and vibrant atmosphere, we could engage with hundreds of members of the general public, over the course of just 5 days. This opportunity does not often occur. Based in the Green Futures field, we shared our pitch with campaigners, visionaries, environmentalists and artists with a passion for sustainability.

Glasto_PE

Left to right: Nick Loughlin, Ali Birkett, Emma Sayer, me (Jo Griffin) and Nigel Fisher 

This was the third year the ‘Sex & Bugs & Rock ’n Roll’ tent exhibited at Glastonbury, albeit my first. This year we had a woodland ecology theme. In the tent we had a collection of new and old ecological activities to offer, including the infamous ‘Whose Poo?’ and ‘How gross is your festival kit?’ There were mixed reactions to the latter. When given the opportunity to have a swab taken from an item of their festival kit and have it spread it on an agar plate, some punters shrivelled up their nose in distaste and replied ‘no thank you’! But the vast majority revelled in the opportunity to see the microbes that were present on their wristbands.

We also teamed up with National Trust Scotland, and for every group/individual who participated in ‘Create you Ideal Woodland’, a native tree will be planted. In the tent, you could also learn about the various woodland invertebrate species that we had on display, including earthworms, dung beetles and orange ladybirds. Did you know we have around 60 species of dung beetles in the UK that are dependent on dung? Without them we would have had to wade through ankle-deep cow dung at Worthy Farm, eugh!

While engaging with punters is extreme fun, busking on what was simultaneously the hottest June day since 1976 and the longest day of the year was tough. But fortunately we didn’t have to negotiate the churned mud bath of the previous year. In total we engaged with over 1000 members of the public during the 5 days, and many of these were high level interactions, lasting over 30 minutes in length. What a success! Never before have I been asked so much about, and had so much interest in the research I carry out for my PhD.

None of this would have been possible without Emma, who organised and designed the tent with the aid of collaborators and funding from the British Ecological Society (BES), Bangor University, University of Kent, Wytham Woods (University of Oxford), Lancaster University and Wiley. Not forgetting the rest of the volunteers: Ali Birkett, Nick Loughlin, Hannah Griffiths and Nigel Fisher, who shared their enthusiasm and love of ecology with festival-goers, and provided fantastic company (and dancing) throughout the week. Finally, the biggest thanks goes to the 1000 punters who gave up their time to talk to us.  by Jo Griffin

You can find more information about ‘Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll’ at: www.festivalbugs.org

Glasto_PE2Glasto_PE3Glasto_PE4

Advertisements

Pint of Science – The evolution of feet, the brain and masturbation

Dr Rebecca Jones board picturefrom the School of Life Sciences recently hosted the Pint of Science event on evolution recently at the Shipping Forecast. Here’s what she had to say:

When I was asked to host a night for the recent Pint of Science event in Liverpool I jumped at the chance. I’d been to a couple already, Manchester and Exeter, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Pint of Science aims to bring science to local pubs where the public can listen to researchers describing their work. There’s normally a theme for each city, with Liverpool covering Our Body, Beautiful Mind and Atoms to Galaxies. As a lecturer in the School of Life Sciences I was hosting the ‘Evolution of feet, the brain and masturbation’ at the Shipping Forecast on the 15th May.

Alongside a team of volunteers (Georgia Drew, Amy Eacock, Chloe Heys and Jo Griffin) and a willing photographer for the evening (Lukasz Lukomski), we had our evening planned. As the public entered the venue, the basement of the Shipping Forecast, they had a chance to fill in the three quizzes set by our three fantastic speakers in the hope of winning some Pint of Science prizes. These included matching the footprint to the nationality, guessing which brain belonged to which animal and pairing animal’s with their penises.

 

After the welcome and thanking of the sponsors, eLife, we started with our first talk by Dr Kris D’Aout on the evolution of the foot.

DSC_0283

Kris discussed his work examining locomotion and the use of shoes in various countries, particularly India. Although it seems Kris struggles with volunteers here in the UK!

 

He even showed a video of a robot having to meander around some walking humans! Kris was met with a barrage of questions from the audience, including some asking advice on wearing slippers around the house!

 

Next up we had Dr Tom Butts who spoke on the evolution of the brain and he even managed to rope in some keen volunteers to demonstrate the formation of the spinal cord.

DSC_0309

DSC_0305

 

Tom then received some rather tough and philosophical questions about brain development and dinosaurs which got everyone thinking!

 

We then had a break in which people replenished their drinks but also got to listen to three excellent 2 minute talks from researchers. Jennifer Mitchell, Elinor Chapman and Angela Hackett (L to R) all described their research without the use of props or slides to an enthralled audience who eventually voted Elinor the winner!

 

Our final talk, and headline act, was Dr Tom Price who spoke about the evolution of masturbation across animal groups.

 

Tom mostly spoke about sex and masturbation in birds although had some interesting theories on whether masturbation occurred in dinosaurs!! Tom said, “People seemed to enjoy my speculations on solo sexual behaviour in ducks and dinosaurs.” However, he was more surprised that “Some members of the public were surprisingly good at identifying weird animal genitals.”

DSC_0348

Following some entertaining questions and prize giving, the conversations moved upstairs where people were keen to find out more about feet, the brain and most importantly, masturbation.

I’d like to say thank you to the speakers and all the volunteers that helped on the night! There was a lot of organising but it made for a memorable event!

BES Roadies: Who’s poo?

by Jo Griffin

We busk a little differently to most people. Having assembled from various locations around the UK, warming up with hot drinks in a pokey central London Starbucks, we play our favourite game. When you check out the next BES Annual Meeting (you know you want to), be sure to keep your eyes peeled for it. It will change your life.

As a BES Roadie, I’ve received public engagement training, helped develop busking activities and had the opportunity to attend music festivals and science festivals across the country. The end goal being to better my science communication skills and inform people outside the world of science on diverse matters such as ecology, and the research I conduct for my PhD.

BES roadies

These activities are great for engaging people and spreading the word of ecology, however, there are communities that we are still struggling to reach. As stated in the BES ‘Making Ecology for All’ report from 2013, members of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community are significantly less likely to be in a STEM profession when compared to White counterparts. In 2010/11, BAME individuals made up 16.7% of all biological science students. This is an underrepresentation when compared to both the total for all STEM subjects, 20.1%, and for all subjects, 18.4%. There are no excuses for this gap; in the 21st century I am appalled that recent figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal that no British University is employing a Black academic in a senior management role. This must change.

Now back to our London ‘Poo Game’ trip. The Windsor Fellowship has collaborated with the Royal Society to provide a mentoring scheme for Year 13 Black students living or studying in Greater London, who are studying STEM subjects. This is where we, the BES Roadies, come into the picture. We were given a one hour slot during a day long workshop, to communicate ecology to the students. Jessica opened the session with a brief introduction to the BES and the importance of science communication. We then split the cohort into four groups and took one group each to demonstrate our busking activities. Karen got to play ‘Pollinator Top Trumps’, Arron had ‘Who’s Poo?’ Jessica was on the ‘Mushroom Game’ and I demonstrated the use of taxonomic keys using the ‘Festival Animals’ busk that we took to Wychwood festival back in June. The students rotated around the different activities before reconvening in the seminar room where I then gave a short talk on my research.

I am used to communicating my work to academics back in my University department and at the odd conference. Entertaining a room of A-level students however, was a pretty terrifying prospect. When I asked if anyone had heard of the term ‘symbiosis’ some students nodded their head with a vague look of recollection whilst others shook their heads. Using examples such as corals, the bobtail squid, nitrogen-fixing bacteria in plant roots and deep sea tube worms, I got the students on board with the concept. Explaining the use of fruit flies and their symbiont to study host-shifts was a little trickier, I was nervous that this was where I might lose them. To my surprise, I was bombarded with questions. From the development and maintenance of symbioses and coevolution to the nitty gritty techniques I used to achieve my work and collect data, these students were the most inquisitive and enthusiastic audience I have ever had. It was an enormous pleasure to spend time with them. If I haven’t persuaded them that parasites and mutualists are just about the coolest things to study, then at least they will have left the session with a broader understanding of the term ecology. I hope that we will continue to engage with a diverse range of communities in the BES and look forward to reuniting with the Roadies for more science communication.

If you would like to become involved with the BES Roadies, please see upcoming public engagement and training events on the BES website: http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/learning-and-resources/public-engagement/

Entomophagy at Ness Gardens for British Science Week, 12th March 2016

Entomophagy at Ness Gardens for British Science Week, 12th March 2016

Guest post by Jo Griffin, PhD student in Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour at the Institute of Integrative Biology 

Amy Eacock and I enjoyed a jo and amy at nessgreat day at the Family Science Fair at Ness Botanic Gardens celebrating British Science Week. The theme was ‘feed the world’, and what is more topical at the moment than entomophagy! Entomophagy is the consumption of insects and despite being regarded rather contemptuously in the developed world; it is common in certain cultures and has been practiced since prehistoric times. Due to a growing global population there has been an increased demand for farmable land, fresh water and animal protein. Around 70% of farmable land is used to produce livestock, either directly or for the production of feed. The environmental costs surrounding intensive farming require urgent attention. There are also issues surrounding feed conversion rate, which is a measure of an animal’s efficiency in converting feed mass into animal protein. Although feed conversion rates differ between livestock species, around 6kg of plant protein are required to produce 1kg of animal protein.

A simple answer could be to remove livestock from our human diet and eat an entirely arable based diet, much like our hunter gatherer ancestors did. However, meat is culturally important in some societies and to eliminate it would simply not go down well. So, what are the alternatives? We could eat less meat, to reduce our need for land to grow high-energy cereals to feed livestock. An increasingly attractive alternative is to use insects to provide protein for our projected global population of 9 billion. We could do this by raising livestock on insect diets such as mealworms and fly larvae, or by consuming insects directly. Insects have a much higher feed conversion rate, require less water and space and produce lower quantities of toxic waste and greenhouse gases. For crickets, around 1.7kg of feed is required to produce 1kg of live animal weight. The graphs below compare the edible weight of crickets with different livestock species and highlight the advantages of consuming insects.

Other benefits to eating insects include the range of high quality nutrients they provide, which are comparable or superior to other sources of animal protein. Furthermore, insects have few animal welfare issues which make them ideal to farm.

Amy and I were equipped with live mealworms, crickets and locusts (for display and handling only) and processed insects for eating. These included sago worms, queen weaver ants, crickets, locusts, mealworms, buffalo worms, which are all considered delicacies in countries across the globe. My vote on the tastiest critter had to go to the barbeque flavoured bamboo worms followed by the garlic flavoured chapulines. So how did the crunchy critters go down? Well, overall we received a lot of interest from the general public and had whole families daring each other to eat certain critters. One man decided he liked locusts so much he came back for seconds, and even thirds. Overall, the day was a roaring success. Amy and I attempted to convince the public that insects can be quite tasty after all and should be considered as a food alternative to livestock protein.

entomophagy chart