Monday, May 30, 2011

EARLY INDICATORS - Think Like a Scientist

Recently, our clothes dryer began to squeak loudly.  The repairman stopped by and told us the squeak was an “early indication” that the drum bearing was wearing out.  Since we called him quickly, he was able to make a minor adjustment and avoid a more costly repair.  Sometimes there are clear signals or “indicators” that provide advance warning of a problem and it may give us an opportunity to address an issue before it becomes a major problem.  As scientists, we want to be especially aware of "early indicators".
Denver Holt is a researcher who is making his 20th journey to Alaska this summer to observe the predator-prey relationship between the lemmings (small rodents) that crawl across the tundra and the white owls that hunt them from above.   He says that the snowy owl has a role to play in understanding ecological changes in one of the fastest changing places in the world. “When lemmings are doing well, everything is doing well — eider ducks, sandhill cranes, arctic fox and weasels,” Mr. Holt said. “If climate change results in habitat changes and it affects the lemmings, it will show up in the snowy owls because 90 percent of their diet is lemmings. The owls are the key to everything else.”  Changes in the owl population or behavior could flag changes in the global arctic ecosystem even without other indicators.
John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, at Cornell University says, “Systems are complex, and if we have an easily accessible barometer for the system beneath it that’s a really good thing, because we can measure cheaply and easily how an ecosystem is doing. It gives us a quick handle.”
Amazing….. the white owl may be an EARLY INDICATOR of the health of our eco-system.  Think of some other early indicators that are helpful in your life – post them to the comments section if you like.
Thanks to the NY Times for this story - read more at this link:    NY Times - Snowy Owl