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Department of Geography
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Department of Geography
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UC Santa Barbara Geography / News & Events / Department News

November 25, 2014 - New Grad Student Fernanda Figueiredo Featured in Noozhawk

Noozhawk, a Santa Barbara online publication, recently featured an article about UCSB by Shawn Warner-Garcia, a PhD student in Linguistics at UCSB. Shawn’s article came out on October 1 and was titled: “Who’s New at UCSB? Meet Several of the Incoming Graduate Students.” One of the incoming students interviewed was Fernanda Figueiredo, a new PhD candidate in Geography. Read on:

Fernanda Figueiredo grew up in Brasília, the capital of Brazil. Brasília boasts the biggest urban park in the world — as well as a plethora of waterfalls, hikes, and biking trails close to the city center — so it’s only natural that Figueiredo, the daughter of a biogeography and ecology professor, would go on to specialize in environmental science and conservation.

Having graduated with her bachelor’s degree in geography from Universidade de Brasília, she comes to UCSB through a Science Without Borders scholarship to study geographic information systems, landscape modeling and remote sensing in the Geography Department.

“I was always interested in environmental conservation since my childhood when my parents took me to visit some National Parks and do some trips so that I could see different biomes and habitats in Brazil,” Figueiredo said.

She also participated in Girl Scouts as a child, where she “learned about protecting nature, [and the] importance of discipline and working in groups.” At UCSB, she hopes to become an environmental specialist and learn conservation techniques that she can take back to Brazil.

Figueiredo is excited not only about the beautiful scenery in Santa Barbara, but also the healthy lifestyle — including eating organic food, practicing sports, and cycling everywhere — that many adopt here. She enjoys cycling, hiking, and photography, as well as music, cooking, and crafting. One of her favorite places here in the U.S. is Yosemite National Park, which she visited recently. Figueiredo said that she fully expects her time here in Santa Barbara to be “awesome.”

Editor's note: Many thanks to Geography Professor Jennifer King for pointing this material out.

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Fernanda Figueiredo
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Fernanda is a keen cyclist (Source: one of Fernanda's Facebook profile photos)

November 25, 2014 - David Lopez-Carr Named AAAS Fellow

Geography Professor David López-Carr joins the ranks of UCSB faculty members honored for their contributions to the advancement of science. The following article on the subject was written by Julie Cohen for The UCSB Current, dated November 24, 2014 and with the title above:

UC Santa Barbara’s David López-Carr has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). One of 20 elected for distinguished contributions to the field of geology and geography, he was recognized specifically for advancing the scientific understanding of the coupled process of human population dynamics and environmental change.

Election as a fellow is an honor bestowed upon scientifically or socially distinguished AAAS members by their peers for efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications. López-Carr, who is the sole AAAS fellow from UCSB this year, joins more than 70 faculty members who have been so recognized since 1960. “I’m honored to receive this award from my peers,” said López-Carr, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Geography and director of the campus’s Human-Environment Dynamics Lab. “I consider it a reflection on the quality of UCSB and our geography department.”

López-Carr also is currently the systemwide chair for the Committee on Affirmative Action and Diversity for the UC Faculty Senate and is an associate director of the UC Global Health Center of Expertise on Migration and Health. He holds affiliate positions in three UCSB interdisciplinary programs: Latin American and Iberian Studies, Global and International Studies, and Marine Studies.

“I am delighted that David López-Carr has been recognized as a fellow of the AAAS, the largest scientific society in the world,” said Pierre Wiltzius, the Susan and Bruce Worster Dean of Science. “Being a faculty member in the Department of Geography as well as contributing his expertise to multiple centers on campus makes David an excellent representative of the quintessential interdisciplinary, collaborative scientists at UCSB.”

In 2012, López-Carr, also director of UCSB’s program in Latin American and Iberian Studies, was one of three UCSB faculty members to share in a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures titled “Sea Change: Integrating the Historical Study of Human Cultures and Marine Environments in Three Pacific Regions.” He was also a lead author of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Fifth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5). GEO-5 represented the United Nations position statement on global environmental change and suggested policy directions for the 2012 Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, a world summit held in Rio de Janeiro.

López-Carr’s work focuses on population dynamics, particularly links between migration and fertility and terrestrial and marine resource use in Latin America and between population and health vulnerabilities to climate change in Africa. His research integrates diverse data sources from United Nations and World Bank socioeconomic and demographic data to remotely sensed imagery with field-based surveys.

López-Carr received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish literature (with a minor in geology) from Bates College and a Ph.D. in geography from the University of North Carolina, where he also held a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship in biostatistics in the School of Public Health and the Carolina Population Center. In addition to Spanish, he speaks Portuguese, Italian, French, and rudimentary Q’eqchí Maya.

López-Carr has received various academic honors, including the 2002 Nystrom Award for outstanding paper based on a dissertation in the field of geography. In 2013, he was one of a select handful of geographers and social scientists chosen as Kavli Frontiers of Science fellows.

This year, 401 members were named AAAS fellows. Each new fellow will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin at the 2015 AAAS annual meeting in San Jose, California, in February.

The tradition of AAAS fellows dates back to 1874. The nonprofit organization includes 254 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Its journal Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science publication in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. AAAS is open to everyone and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs and science education, among others.

Editor's note: Many thanks to Research Staff member Pete Peterson for bringing this material to our attention, and congratulations and kudos to David!

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UCSB Geography Professor David López-Carr. From The Current news article; photo credit: George Foulsham
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David in a tribal area of North India in 2007, while acting as a consultant for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). His task was to evaluate the effectiveness of integrating population and health interventions with environmental conservation efforts in priority ecological “hot spots” in Africa and Asia. In this capacity, he visited the Philippines, Nepal, India, Madagascar, Kenya, Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Ethiopia. “Emotionally, it was difficult to experience places where astonishing natural beauty and abject human suffering coexist. When more than half of newborns die, when endemic malaria, schistosomiasis, and gastrointestinal illnesses are punctuated by occasional Ebola outbreaks, and when most of this misery can be palliated overnight at pennies per capita, our place in the world is challenged.”

November 19, 2014 - Geography Is a Subject You Can Sink Your Teeth Into!

A 1974 article by Professor Rick Church and Dr. Charles ReVelle, titled “The Maximal Covering Location Problem,” has been cited 1,484 times (Church, Richard, and Charles R. Velle. "The maximal covering location problem." Papers in Regional Science 32.1 [1974]: 101-118). It opens by stating: “The belief that mathematical location modeling can identify ‘optimal’ location patterns rests on the basis that some realistic objective can be identified and by some measure quantified,” and the article goes on to discuss the problem in terms of facility siting decisions.

The maximum coverage problem is a classical question in computer science, computational complexity theory, and operations research and is a problem that is widely taught in approximation algorithms (source). While Professor Church’s article has been cited in a variety of contexts, ranging from conservation biology to the siting of emergency services, perhaps the most surprising one is that of dentistry.

In 2009, the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation published an article about determining color compatibility between dental shade guides (Cocking, C, Cevirgen, S., Helling, M., et al. Colour compatibility between teeth and dental shade guides in Quinquagenarians and Septuagenarians. 36; 848–855). The article deals with calculating an optimized shade guide and states, “The problem of designing a shade guide was solved using discrete optimization techniques. The task was modelled as a maximal covering location problem … To solve the optimization problem, it was formulated as an integer linear program according to the formulation of Church and ReVelle and solved to optimality using … a commercial integer program solver.”

“Without geography, you’re nowhere” (Jimmy Buffett). Ain’t it the tooth!

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From “Reserve Selection as a Maximal Covering Location Problem” by Richard L. Church, David M. Stoms, and Frank W. Davis: Many alternative approaches have been proposed for setting conservation priorities from a database of species (or communities) by site. We present a model based on the premise that reserve selection or site prioritization can be structured as a classic covering problem commonly used in many location problems. Specifically, we utilize a form of the maximal covering location model to identify sets of sites which represent the maximum possible representation of specific species. An example application is given for vertebrate data of Southwestern California, which is then compared to an iterative solution process used in previous studies. It is shown that the maximal covering model can quickly meet or exceed iterative models in terms of the coverage objective and automatically satisfies a complementarity objective. Refinements to the basic model are also proposed to address additional objectives such as irreplaceability and flexibility.

November 19, 2014 - Should We Really Save the Devils Hole Pupfish?

They’re an inch long. There are fewer than 100 left. Is it worth the effort? The following is a recent “species watch” article written by Jason Bittel for with the title above:

“Wildlife is and should be useless,” author Richard Conniff wrote in the opinion pages of the New York Times last month, “in the same way art, music, poetry and even sports are useless.” Conniff’s argument, which I encourage you to read in its entirety, is that we should appreciate and care about animals even if we can’t tie a dollar sign to them. Cuttlefish and spiders, he said, have their own value, independent of what military and medical discoveries we might one day be able to tease out of them.

It was an insightful piece that struck chords throughout the conservation and science-writing communities. And it made me take a long, hard look at the ongoing debate over whether we should try to save a little fish at the bottom of a hole in the middle of the desert. I refer, of course, to the Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis).

If you’ve heard of it, it’s because the species is pretty famous (as far as fish celebrity goes). Appearing in nature documentaries, pop-sci magazines, and Hillary Rosner’s award-winning 2012 piece “Attack of the Mutant Pupfish,” the pupfish is no stranger to headlines in the conservation world. And rightly so. It's considered the world’s rarest fish, with fewer than 100 of the inch-long animals left in existence.

In fact, if you scooped up every one of these pupfish left on earth, the whole species would fit cozily into an Igloo cooler. You’d probably even still have room left over for a case of beer. But to be fair, there have never been many Devils Hole pupfish. The species has been trapped in a hot, salty 500-foot-deep aquifer in the Mojave Desert for something like 50,000 years. Though the hole is deep, the fish typically only inhabit the top 25 to 30 feet. Most of their feeding and breeding center around a single, barely submerged rock shelf.

Scientists consider this hole in Nevada to be one of if not the smallest habitats on the planet for a vertebrate. Under the absolute best circumstances, this shallow pool could probably only support a total of some 600 pupfish.

Still, even given those limitations, scientists are concerned the pupfish population is critically low. A study published this August in the journal Water Resources Research showed that rising water temperatures (a result of climate change) have compromised the fish’s optimal spawning habitat since warmer water holds less oxygen. (FYI, at a balmy 92 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit, the water in Devils Hole is already at the top temperature range that most fish can tolerate, so there isn’t much wiggle room.) The scientists also worry this pupfish is swimming in a shallow gene pool, with a millennia worth of inbreeding negatively affecting its reproductive success. Something might also be happening to its food supply of algae, plants, and aquatic invertebrates, though the scientists know not what.

Oh yeah, and every once in a while, earthquakes, from as far away as southern Mexico, cause the water in Devils Hole to slosh like water in a bathtub. Because these fish don’t have enough going against them already. All in all, according to a risk assessment study published last month in PeerJ, there is a 28 percent to 32 percent chance that the Devils Hole pupfish will go extinct in the next 20 years.

Maybe we should let it? Sounds harsh (and I don't really mean that), but at this point, it seems unlikely that the Devils Hole pupfish holds the key to fighting cancer, nor will some vast ecosystem collapse without its presence. I mean, you can’t even enjoy seeing the pupfish in person—a barbed-wire fence surrounds Devils Hole in order to keep them safe.

In other words, one could (and some would) make the argument that the Devils Hole pupfish is, for all intents and purposes, useless. Conniff would say that’s all the more reason we should save it. I tend to agree, and so, in effect, does the U.S. government.

In 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service opened the $4.5 million Ash Meadows Desert Fish Conservation Facility, complete with a state-of-the-art laboratory and a 100,000-gallon tank designed to re-create the conditions of Devils Hole in every conceivable way. (Funding for the facility came from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act and the budget for Death Valley National Park.) There, fish biologists from numerous government agencies and research institutions are desperately trying to maintain a reserve population of pupfish in case something catastrophic should happen to the main population.

All this, I reiterate, for a few dozen fish at the bottom of a hole in the middle of the desert. One is tempted to ask whether we couldn’t use these monetary and intellectual resources for some species a little more worthwhile.

But here’s the thing about nature and conservation—nothing, not even a handful of hole-fish—exists in a vacuum. “The coattails for the pupfish are large,” says Steven Beissinger, an environmental science professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of the recent pupfish risk analysis in PeerJ.

Back in 1967, you see, the Devils Hole pupfish was one of the first species protected by the Endangered Species Preservation Act, which you’ll recognize by its modern name, the (mother cussin’) Endangered Species Act(!), the strongest piece of pro-biodiversity legislation we have. And that hole the fish call home isn’t just a hole in the middle of nowhere. It is connected through subterranean channels to groundwater throughout the American Southwest. So government officials were then given the authority to rein in the rampant overpumping of groundwater throughout the region.

As you might imagine, land developers and agricultural interests got pretty hot when the guv’mint told them to curb water usage because of some fish they’d never heard of. Thus kicked off the water wars of the ’60s and ’70s. Some bumper stickers even read “Kill the Pupfish.” The whole hubbub went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1976 ruled in favor of the fish, the hole, and the environment. If the pupfish’s existence does serve a larger purpose, it’s this: According to Beissinger, aquatic ecosystems throughout the Southwest gained protections thanks to that Supreme Court ruling.

Still, it’s a little hard for some people to stomach the idea of spending that kind of time and money on one school of fish that had the misfortune of getting trapped in a hole during the last Ice Age. To which Kevin Wilson, an aquatic ecologist and the program manager at Devils Hole, points out: The fish might have done just fine if humanity hadn’t come along and mucked things up. “This species is in decline most likely due to anthropocentric impacts. Humans influence this population.”

Long story short, here’s a species that has survived in a tiny pit in the desert for 50,000 years, weathering periods of extreme flooding and drought, and enduring food shortages, earthquakes, lack of genetic diversity, and base temperatures hotter than most other fish on this planet can withstand. And now, in the last three decades, humans have messed up the global climate so much, so fast, that this little Rambo of a fish has finally been forced to put on Semisonic’s “Closing Time” and start shuffling toward the door of oblivion. Are we really going to let that happen? Is that how we want to roll?

“Society has to decide which species we save or do not save,” Wilson says. It’s an easy choice when we talk about wanting to see the savannah shake with rhinos and the oceans teem with blue whales. But the useless little pupfish has as much right as any creature to exist. And the fact that its survival is a longshot should only spur us forward.

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The Devils Hole pupfish, Cyprinodon diabolis, is a species of fish native to Devils Hole, a geothermal (92 °F or 33 °C), aquifer-fed pool within a limestone cavern, in the Amargosa Pupfish Station of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex east of Death Valley National Park. It has been described as the world's rarest fish (Wikipedia: Devil’s Hole pupfish; photo source: species watch article)
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Nearly the entire natural range of the species is visible in this photo. The equipment is used to monitor water level. Wikipedia: Ibid.

November 19, 2014 - UCSB Geography Celebrates GIS Day

GIS Day is the third Wednesday of November in each year, during  Geography Awareness Week. As a global event, GIS day provides a great opportunity for GIS researchers and users to exchange ideas and present works to a wide audience. Accordingly, GIS Day is celebrated by many universities, including Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkley, Penn State University, Ohio State University, SUNY Buffalo, and so forth.

With a top-ranking program, UCSB Geography is no exception, and to celebrate this special day for spatial studies, we held “Lightning Talks” on Nov. 18th, 2014 at the UCSB Center for Spatial Studies. During this year’s GIS Day event, we were joined by a good mixture of faculty, postdocs, visiting researchers, and graduate students. The topics of the Lightning Talks were exciting! Prof. Dan Montello gave a great start for the event with a talk “Like Totally SoCal” which assessed vague cognitive regions, such as “southern California.” Our second speaker, Prof. Krzysztof Janowicz, discussed the important semantic issues in GIS workflows which can facilitate automatic reasoning and knowledge discovery. A number of inspiring talks followed and covered a variety of topics in GIS, including place name disambiguation, urban growth modeling, geovisualization and map generalization, place-based sentiment analysis, real estate information management, spatial optimization, animal behavior modeling, social media search, and spatial diffusion of epidemics. Slides of these talks are available at the UCSB GIS Day website.

We would like to thank our sponsors, the Center for Spatial Studies and Esri Inc., which made this event happen! We would also like to thank all our speakers and participants who made this event great! While this year’s GIS Day lightning talks have ended, ideas and research on GIS will continue. We hope this GIS Day event will be a start for new collaborations which will bring fruitful results.

Just a side note: The official GIS Day in 2014 is Nov. 19th (Wednesday). However, there was an important GIS class scheduled on that day, so we figured a good way to celebrate GIS Day was to attend the GIS class. Accordingly, we moved the lightning talks to Tuesday.

Editor’s note: Many thanks to Yingjie Hu for contributing this article and the accompanying photos.

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The "Lightning Talks" were well-attended. Thirteen talks, each limited to 3 minutes, were given.
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Dan Montello kicked off the event with "Like Totally SoCal: A High-resolution Assessment of Vague Cognitive Regions"
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Krzysztof Janowicz's talk was titled "Getting Out Or Into The GIS Silo?"
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November 18, 2014 - Philae Settles in Dust-Covered Ice

“Before going into hibernation in the early hours of 15 November 2014, the Philae lander was able to conduct experiments and return its data to Earth. In this [ESA Rosetta] blog post we look at the preliminary analysis conducted by the lander’s Multi-Purpose Sensors for Surface and Subsurface Science instrument package, MUPUS”:

MUPUS began observing the environment around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko once Philae was released from the Rosetta orbiter at 08:35 GMT on 12 November (this is spacecraft time; the signal confirming separation arrived at Earth just over 28 minutes later, at 09:03 GMT). The first touchdown recorded by Philae occurred at 15:34 GMT (with the signal arriving on Earth at 16:03 GMT), but it later transpired that the harpoons and ice screws did not deploy as planned and the lander subsequently rebounded, experiencing two further touchdowns, at 17:25 and 17:32 GMT (spacecraft time), respectively.

Because part of the MUPUS package was contained in the harpoons, some temperature and accelerometer data could not be gathered. However, the MUPUS thermal mapper, located on the body of the lander, worked throughout the descent and during all three touchdowns. At Philae’s final landing spot, the MUPUS probe recorded a temperature of –153°C close to the floor of the lander’s balcony before it was deployed. Then, after deployment, the sensors near the tip cooled by about 10°C over a period of roughly half an hour. “We think this is either due to radiative transfer of heat to the cold nearby wall seen in the CIVA images or because the probe had been pushed into a cold dust pile,” says Jörg Knollenberg, instrument scientist for MUPUS at DLR.

The probe then started to hammer itself into the subsurface, but was unable to make more than a few millimetres of progress even at the highest power level of the hammer motor. “If we compare the data with laboratory measurements, we think that the probe encountered a hard surface with strength comparable to that of solid ice,” says Tilman Spohn, principal investigator for MUPUS.

Looking at the results of the thermal mapper and the probe together, the team has made the preliminary assessment that the upper layers of the comet’s surface consist of dust of 10–20 cm thickness, overlaying mechanically strong ice or ice and dust mixtures. At greater depths, the ice likely becomes more porous, as the overall low density of the nucleus – determined by instruments on the Rosetta orbiter – suggests.

Looking to the future, Tilman Spohn says, “MUPUS could be used again if we get enough power. Then we could perform direct observations of the layer that the probe is standing in and see how it evolves as we get closer to the Sun.” While the full analyses of the lander’s multiple touchdowns and the data collected during descent and landing are on-going, the Rosetta orbiter continues its science mission at Comet 67P/C-G. Over the next year it will follow the comet as it draws ever nearer to the Sun, watching how its surface and surrounding environment evolves.

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Focus on MUPUS. About MUPUS: The thermal probe of MUPUS was originally developed at the Institute of Planetology of the University of Münster together with the Space Research Centre in Warsaw and other international partners. It is maintained and operated by an international team led by the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin. Credits: Text from the ESA Rosetta Blog; graphic from the ESA/ATG medialab.
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Illustration of Philae. Philae is a robotic European Space Agency lander that accompanied the Rosetta spacecraft until its designated landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P), more than ten years after departing Earth. On 12 November 2014, the lander achieved the first-ever controlled touchdown on a comet nucleus. The lander is named after the Philae obelisk bearing a bilingual inscription used along with the Rosetta Stone to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. Philae appears to have lost all communication capability, but it is possible that by August 2015, when the comet has moved much closer to the sun in its orbit, the lander's solar panels will receive enough illumination for ESA to reawaken it (Wikipedia: Philae (spacecraft))

November 17, 2014 - Up To 80 Million Bacteria Sealed with a Kiss

“As many as 80 million bacteria are transferred during a 10 second kiss, according to new research. The study also found that partners who kiss each other at least nine times a day share similar communities of oral bacteria.” The Featured Research article in, posted November 16, 2014, and with the title above goes on to say:

As many as 80 million bacteria are transferred during a 10 second kiss, according to research published in the open access journal Microbiome. The study also found that partners who kiss each other at least nine times a day share similar communities of oral bacteria.

The ecosystem of more than 100 trillion microorganisms that live in our bodies -- the microbiome -- is essential for the digestion of food, synthesizing nutrients, and preventing disease. It is shaped by genetics, diet, and age, but also the individuals with whom we interact. With the mouth playing host to more than 700 varieties of bacteria, the oral microbiota also appear to be influenced by those closest to us.

Researchers from Micropia and TNO in the Netherlands studied 21 couples, asking them to fill out questionnaires on their kissing behaviour including their average intimate kiss frequency. They then took swab samples to investigate the composition of their oral microbiota on the tongue and in their saliva.

The results showed that when couples intimately kiss at relatively high frequencies their salivary microbiota become similar. On average it was found that at least nine intimate kisses per day led to couples having significantly shared salivary microbiota.

Lead author Remco Kort, from TNO's Microbiology and Systems Biology department and adviser to the Micropia museum of microbes, said: "Intimate kissing involving full tongue contact and saliva exchange appears to be a courtship behavior unique to humans and is common in over 90% of known cultures. Interestingly, the current explanations for the function of intimate kissing in humans include an important role for the microbiota present in the oral cavity, although to our knowledge, the exact effects of intimate kissing on the oral microbiota have never been studied. We wanted to find out the extent to which partners share their oral microbiota, and it turns out, the more a couple kiss, the more similar they are."

In a controlled kissing experiment to quantify the transfer of bacteria, a member of each of the couples had a probiotic drink containing specific varieties of bacteria including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. After an intimate kiss, the researchers found that the quantity of probiotic bacteria in the receiver's saliva rose threefold, and calculated that in total 80 million bacteria would have been transferred during a 10 second kiss.

The study also suggests an important role for other mechanisms that select oral microbiota, resulting from a shared lifestyle, dietary and personal care habits, and this is especially the case for microbiota on the tongue. The researchers found that while tongue microbiota were more similar among partners than unrelated individuals, their similarity did not change with more frequent kissing, in contrast to the findings on the saliva microbiota.

Commenting on the kissing questionnaire results, the researchers say that an interesting but separate finding was that 74% of the men reported higher intimate kiss frequencies than the women of the same couple. This resulted in a reported average of ten kisses per day from the males, twice that of the female reported average of five per day. To calculate the number of bacteria transferred in a kiss, the authors relied on average transfer values and a number of assumptions related to bacterial transfer, the kiss contact surface, and the value for average saliva volume.

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Rock Hudson and Julie Andrews kissing in the film Darling Lilli (1968; Wikipedia: Kiss). As many as 80 million bacteria are transferred during a 10 second kiss, according to research published in the open access journal Microbiome (from the ScienceDaily article)
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Study design and top 15 abundant genera of the oral microbiota and probiotic yoghurt. (A) Samples of both members of recruited couples were collected of the anterior dorsal tongue surface and saliva prior to (blue) and after an intimate kiss of 10 s (red). One of the partners was asked to consume 50 ml of a probiotic yoghurt drink, and again tongue and saliva were collected of the donator prior to (yellow) and the receiver after a second intimate kiss (green). (B) Relative abundances of the top 15 most dominant genera of the oral microbiota and probiotic yoghurt plotted on a log transformed color-coded rainbow scale from 0 to 12 from black, blue, green, yellow, orange to red. Headers include partner, probiotic yoghurt drink, saliva, tongue, sample IDs, couples, and sample type, as indicated by the same color-coding in the study design (Figure 1 from the Microbiome article).

November 13, 2014 - Giant Tortoises Rebound from Near Extinction

“The famed giant tortoise of the Galapagos Islands has been brought back from the verge of extinction after its population dropped to only 15 by the 1960s. Captive breeding and conservation efforts have allowed that number to rebound to more than 1,000.

'The population is secure. It’s a rare example of how biologists and managers can collaborate to recover a species from the brink of extinction,' said James P. Gibbs, a biologist at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He was lead author of a study that charted the growing success of the islands’ tortoises, published in the journal PLOS ONE.

But Gibbs cautions that the giant tortoise population is not likely to increase further on the island of Española until the landscape recovers from the damage inflicted by now-eradicated goats. After the imported goats devoured all the grassy vegetation and were removed from the island, more shrubs and small trees have grown. The report says the vegetation hinders both the growth of cactus, which is a vital piece of a tortoise's diet, and the tortoises' movement” (source).

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“Keeper Grant Kother measures a giant tortoise during the annual weigh-in at London Zoo. It was one of many facilities around the world that used captive breeding to increase the tortoise population” (from the Earthweek article, op. cit.; photo credit: Oli Scarff). The largest recorded individuals have reached weights of over 400 kilograms (880 lb) and lengths of 1.87 meters (6.1 ft) (Wikipedia: Galapagos tortoise)

November 10, 2014 - Rooftop Research Collaboration Off to a Good Start

The premiere of the UCSB “Rooftop Research Collaboration” was successfully held on Wednesday, November 5 on the rooftop deck of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. The event was designed to address requests to increase collaborations between faculty, professional research colleagues, and postdocs, and the initial group (and sponsors) included Bren, Geography, Earth Science, and the Earth Research Institute.

This event was the first of several such receptions to be held throughout the year, and it is hoped that this series of events will provide participants an opportunity to connect with colleagues in related departments and expand research connections across the campus. The reception was attended by over 60 people, including Tim Cheng, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, who emphasized that the UCSB Office of Research is highly supportive of efforts to build new collaborations.

The Department of Geography hosted this kickoff event, and the original plan was to have it on the third floor roof of Ellison Hall. That plan got shot down at the last minute, but Bren allowed us to move the reception to their deck/rooftop. A big "thank you" to their team for allowing us to move and for providing logistical support (BJ Danetra, Events Manager) and photographs (James Badham, Media Liaison). Mo Lovegreen, Geography’s Executive Officer, did a bang up job of decorating the reception area with a fall theme and coordinating the catering. Geography Professor Oliver Chadwick provided the opening welcome speech in which he challenged the participants to meet at least one new person and find out about their research during the reception.

Editor’s note: More photos of the Rooftop Research Collaboration have been posted on Geography’s Event Photos page.

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Oliver Chadwick (Geography faculty) launched the series with a welcoming and challenging speech
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Susannah Porter (ERI faculty) and Greg Janee (ERI Specialist)
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James Frew and Jeff Dozier (Bren faculty); Doug Burbank (Earth Science faculty)
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Shout it from the rooftops!

November 06, 2014 - Alumnus Kirk Goldsberry Has Changed Basketball Forever

Alumnus Kirk Goldsberry (PhD 2007) has scored big time with his use of spatial and visual analytics as a means to enhance basketball expertise. “All maps simplify reality - that's the nature of the geospatial beast. My basketball maps expose the general tendencies and spatial shooting behaviors of NBA players and teams; they are not intended to explain every aspect of basketball reality.” However, “the things Goldsberry, the USC team, and others are looking at — finding ways to measure and visualize stuff that we might think or believe, but not know for sure — can not only help teams make better decisions; they can open the door to a whole new way of seeing the game” (source).

Kirk’s “CourtVision Analytics” were originally presented in a research paper at the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston which was one of two finalists for top paper amongst over 100 submissions and was featured in the New York Times blog “Off the Dribble.” His analytics were then featured again in an interactive N.B.A. Finals preview which was posted in both the New York Times and USA Today (see the June 12, 2012 article, “Alumnus Kirk Goldsberry Featured in New York Times – Again!”). Those write-ups were followed by an article in The Boston Daily which noted that “This year, after a lot of trial and error, he began producing astonishingly information-rich maps (precise to the square foot) that show the spots on a court where a shooter’s attempts are most likely to be successful. Nine NBA teams have approached Goldsberry about using his maps to find their players’ strengths and weaknesses.”

Recently, devoted a major business article about Kirk’s CourtVision which was written by Mark McClusky and posted October 28, 2014, with the title “This Guy’s Quest to Track Every Shot in the NBA Changed Basketball Forever.” Some extracts:

  • All through his education, Goldsberry didn't just watch basketball; he played it too—recreationally, in pickup games. And as he played, he started to think about the game and how it differed from other sports. Analytics—breaking down play and performance with statistics—was starting to supplement more traditional coaching and evaluation methods like watching videotape and working on physical fundamentals.
  • Goldsberry began to focus on the locations and movement of objects—specifically, the players and the ball. It was a mapping problem. From that perspective, and with the help of some massive new data sets, he could do more than merely quantify what people thought they knew about the game. He could discover hidden truths about hoops, shining light into dark corners that no one even knew were corners.
  • One of the people intrigued by Goldsberry's work was Brian Kopp, then an executive at Stats, located just outside of Chicago. A group of baseball researchers started Stats in the 1980s to gather the best statistical information they could about the game. Now the company is a behemoth, providing statistical information about professional sports in the US to teams, leagues, and the media. In 2012, Stats was working on basketball too—messing around with a new kind of data-gathering it called SportVU. Shortly after that 2012 presentation at the Sloan conference, Kopp called Goldsberry and asked if he would be interested in taking a look.
  • This is no longer a part-time hobby for Goldsberry. He has parlayed his work into a job writing about analytics for the sports website Grantland, and although he won't confirm it, there are reports that multiple NBA teams have consulted with him. And he's still at Harvard, where he's organized a group of students that call themselves the XY Hoops after the mathematic shorthand for the coordinate system. “This wasn't my idea—it came from my students,” Goldsberry says. “It's like I'm the Foo Fighters, and they're the hot new band. I'm almost a nostalgia act already.”

From Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes—and What We Can Learn from Them by Mark McClusky. Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Mark McClusky, 2014. Editor’s note: Many thanks to grad student Grant McKenzie for suggesting this material.

Image 1 for article titled "Alumnus Kirk Goldsberry Has Changed Basketball Forever"
Kirk Goldsberry. From the Wired article; photo credit: Jeff Wilson
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Dr. Kirk Goldsberry: "My research focuses on the visual dimensions of scientific communication. I’m particularly interested in the links between visual form, graphic design, and spatial reasoning. This avenue of research is significantly influenced by the principles of cartography, visualization, cognitive psychology, vision science, spatial analysis, and human computer interaction. The tie that binds all of my research together is the unmatched ability of graphics to simplify and summarize complex spatial narratives. My courses aim to enable students to harness the power of graphic communication by understanding fundamental concepts as well as learning contemporary design techniques" (photo by Mark Fleming, Boston Daily).
Image 3 for article titled "Alumnus Kirk Goldsberry Has Changed Basketball Forever"
The shooting range of Kobe Bryant who is an American professional basketball player who plays shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA. Kobe also has the highest spread value in the NBA; Bryant’s value of 1,071 indicates he has attempted field goals in 1,071 of the 1,284 shooting cells or 83.4% of the scoring area.
Image 4 for article titled "Alumnus Kirk Goldsberry Has Changed Basketball Forever"
Even Ray Allen, the most prolific three-point shooter of all time, has relatively weak areas, like from the left wing. From the Wired article; graphic credit: Clever Franke
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