Category Archives: Conservation

Speciose or species-rich?

[Repost from my old blog]
As a graduate student I came across the word “speciose”.  It had an alluring sound to it that was lacking in its more pedestrian synonym “species-rich”.  Equally appealing, I suspect, was the fact that it supplied a formal-sounding alternative that was less accessible to the average person.  (If you’re lucky, you outgrow that affectation and learn that clear communication is what matters most.)

In the December 2008 issue of TREEMichael Hart delves into the origin and use of the word speciose.  Although similar to “species”, speciose actually shares a root derives from “specious” in ‘beautiful’ or ‘lovely’.  Hart sees value in speciose – it’s no longer than “species-rich” and solves the hyphenation problem (i.e., the problem of not knowing when to join the words “species” and “rich” with a hyphen).  Both “species-rich” and “speciose” first show up in the Web of Knowledge database in 1957, and use of both terms has grown fairly consistently.  Although he cites Gill’s plea to cease ‘the misuse of ‘‘speciose’’ in the evolutionary biological literature,’ Hart sees value in this “lovely word” and urges “deliberate consideration” as to its future and fate.

I embraced “speciose” in my first or second year as a grad student.  I happily embraced it, using it both in writing and conversation.  And then, to my horror, I discovered Gill or some other pedant who insisted that “speciose” was being misused by ecologists.  With that discovery, I banished the word from my vocabulary.  The only thing worse than using big words is misusing them.  Granted, it had been wearing thin already – my doctoral advisor, for example, had seen no inclination to adopt the word despite my repeated use of it.

And that’s where it’s stood for me, until now.  Al Gentry used to word, and being as amazing a biologist as he was, he had the right to use whatever word he wanted, however he wanted to…and be right.  He was, after all Al Gentry.  (And he had tragically passed away, doing a rapid assessment of biodiversity.) Reading Hart made me re-think my opposition to “speciose”.  We have the right to re-define words from time to time, and this might be a good candidate.  I’m not sure if it’s for me (it’s been four years since I wrote this post and I have not started using it), but I should be willing to consider it an acceptable term.

Hart, Michael W. 2008. Speciose versus species-rich. Trends in Ecology & Evolution,23 (12):660-661 doi:10.1016/j.tree.2008.09.001

Survival and rebound of Antillean dry forests: Role of forest fragments


Antillean dry forests have experienced high levels of human impact for almost five centuries. Economic changes in the second half of the 20th century have facilitated forest recovery in Puerto Rico. We quantified the extent of forest cover and the community composition of representative forest fragments in the subtropical dry forest life zone (sensu Holdridge, 1967) in southwestern Puerto Rico. Forest cover, which was largely eliminated by the 1940s, stood at 48% in the western dry forest life zone in 1993. Fragments varied in land-use history and supported from 1% to 86% of the reference species sampled in Guánica Forest, a 4000-ha protected area. Reference species were well represented in forest fragments, even those smaller than 1 ha, if they had never been completely cleared, but were uncommon in forests regenerating on previously cleared sites. The studied fragments are novel ecosystems which combine native and introduced elements; Leucaena leucocephala (Lam.) De Wit, an introduced legume, was the most common species, regardless of land-use history.

I.A., Murphy, P.G., Burton, T.M., Lugo, A.E.  2012. Survival and rebound of Antillean dry forests: role of forest fragments. Forest Ecology and Management 284:124-132.

Full article: ScienceDirect (subscription) or International Institute of Tropical Forestry.

Farewell, Prof Kenny

[Repost from my old blog]
I began my UWI experience knowing a little more about the place than the average undergrad. My sister, two years into her time there, saw to it that I knew the general layout of the place, such that I was able to easily win the Orientation Week treasure hunt (and the $50 prize, which was more than a little money back in 1989).

In addition to campus geography, I was also aware fo the basics layout of the chemistry, plant science and zoology departments. And more than anyone else, I had heard of Professor Kenny, the professor of zoology who would lock the door to the lecture room at 8 o’clock, so if you were late you were out of luck. So it was with a great deal of interest that I attended my first zoology lecture as an undergraduate. I don’t recall an awful lot about first year zoology. Prof Kenny taught the first few months of the class before Mary Alkins-Koo took over (in January, I think) with Graham White rounding out the year with vertebrates. Kenny, having decided to mellow in his ‘old age’ took to leaving the doors to the lecture hall unlocked, but his comments to late-comers were enough to ensure that I was in class by 8 am (or, failing that, skip class). If I made it, his lectures were an experience worth getting out of bed for. His long, lanky frame would move across the front of the lecture hall, sitting on the front table like a large bird of prey, now standing with one foot up on the front table. He had an energy in the classroom, full of movement, full of a slightly jerk energy.

Having done A Level zoology, I didn’t feel too great a need to make it to lecture. Until Graham White’s bit at the end of the year, there was very little that was entirely new to me. The lab, on the other hand, was a very different experience, and one that I would not consider missing. Labs allowed for direct interaction with faculty, a chance to talk, to get to know people. Even after his section was done, Kenny had a habit of dropping in on the first year labs and talking to students. While his entry usually attracted a large group of admirers, there were still opportunities to talk to him, tap into his wealth of knowledge.

Kenny always struck me as an unlikely environmentalist. His contribution to the environmental movement in Trinidad and Tobago is huge, and he inspired many people to work for conservation. As I understand it, he was a major inspiration for the foundation of the UWI Biological Society around 1987, a movement that not only launched many a career among environmental professionals in Trinidad and Tobago, but which also helped transform conservation from a ‘French creole’ hobby into a serious national concern. It’s an unusual legacy for someone who was not only born to the ‘local white’ elite, but also someone who seemed profoundly skeptical about whether there was any point whatsoever in trying to conserve anything at all. Still, he taught people to value nature, to love it. And even if he had little faith in their ability to stem the tide of destruction, the love of nature he instilled in his students made them care enough to try.

While I only took first year Zoology from him, so I don’t really know if I count among “Prof’s” students (after all, I never called him “Prof”), he certainly had a major impact on me. At the end of first year, he said to me “sure, you topped the class, but you should have done better” (I only got a B+). And that backhanded compliment was really one of the most important things anyone ever said to me.