“Pulp regeneration”

Another one from my inbox, below. My best (?) guess is that one of our papers on seed dispersal for obvious reasons includes information on fruit pulp, and that this was picked up by some automated robot. By the way, because I am evil, I ignored the first email they sent me. Naughty.

Dear Professor Hansen,
I am writing to inquire whether you have received my previous email inviting you to submit an article to the Special Issue on “Vital Pulp Therapy/Pulp Regeneration,” which will be published in the “International Journal of Dentistry”.

“Professor”. Giggle. But yes, I should send them a few of the gut-passed quandong seeds I just picked up in Australia. Maybe they can regenerate the pulp on those?

“Accelerate your H1N1 pandemic research”

Those were the words in the subject header of a recent email in my inbox. Apparently, someone got something mixed up along the way, as the email continued:

Dear Dr. Hansen,
WHO has declared H1N1 pandemic on June 11, 2009. You are probably working against the clock to create effective vaccines and discover the infection mechanisms. You do not have to fight against the pandemic alone; GenScript is at your side to help accelerate your projects.

I guess this is one of the side effects of having the Department of Biology as part of the Stanford School of Medicine. Surely, EVERYONE here must be working on that thing, right? Now forgive me, I have to go and test my latest vaccine on someone. No time to waste. Schnell, schnell.

The Project Has Begun

I just started writing a book. There, I said it. So now I guess I better get on with it. Actually, it has been on the move for 10 years since its first, drunken inception, but I digress. Who am I trying to kid, right? It’s going to be an awareness-raising book on lost & disappearing mutualistic plant-animal interactions – specifically pollination and seed dispersal – and why we should give a flying hoot about this loss. The book will consist of popular scientific case stories from all over the world. I am fully aware that my writing skills leave much to be desired. Thus, I have teamed up with a rather brilliant Australian wildlife artist – Robin Wingrave – whose amazing illustrations will take up more or less half the space, and hopefully detract from the inadequacy of my ramblings. After close to a year’s worth of chatting, phoning, and skyping with Rob (and apparently quite often sounding like giggling teenagers in love, according to Rob’s wife Sharyn), we recently finally managed to meet face-to-face, in the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia. It was an absolute blast! – Fellow nerds, friends & such – I give you the Team: Robin Wingrave and Yours Truly. More to follow.


From defaunation to refaunation

Last Thursday and Friday I participated in the defaunation symposium, hosted by Rodolfo and Mauro, with Camila as the benign wizard making everything run smoothly. A thousand times thanks to this dynamic trio for the immense work they put into making this happen! (why is Mauro looking so weird…? -watch this space!).

The Defaunation Trio

It was a great meeting, where I got to harp on about one of my favourite topics; rewilding, or REfaunation. On the last day, as a surprise, Rodolfo revealed that the symposium had been held in honour of John Terborgh – and called up John to present him with a truly nerdy plant-animal present: a painting of an interaction that only few people have ever seen – the spider monkey Ateles belzebuth and the fruit Batocarpus amazonicus.

John with the painting

My dear – if somewhat Australian and thus slightly weird – friend and artist collaborator, Robin Wingrave, had spent the last two months before the symposium frantically researching about these two species, to present John with as correct a rendition of it as possible. I think the final result is fantastic, and really speaks for itself.

The Painting


No, I didn’t mis-spell; that’s the name of Gael – the “moderate tropical storm”-currently having a blast a wee bit to the north-east of Mauritius, and passing us close during night. Quite fitting name, though. Fingers crossed for my guava-and-tarpaulin hut whare. Kiwi-built, and upgraded over the last 10 years by Brits, Germans & a Dane.  “Na worries, mate!”. Off to bake cyclone cake & drink cyclone rum. Camp rules.


How the hell did that happen?

I just got an email from a friend, asking me for a pdf of our paper on indirect interactions between plants & geckos. He ended the email with the following:

And how the hell do you get this in your abstract??

‘Among plants, the nuptials cannot be celebrated without the intervention of a third party to act as a marriage priest, and that the office of this third person is to unite the representatives of different households.. Now the marriage priests who officiate in the vegetable kingdom are insects in search of honey; the winds, or anything which by accident, or design, may carry the pollen from one flower to another.’

Clearly the whole I-bet-you-can’t-get-this-word-in challenge is far too simple for you.

Hmm. That quote is actually from the first pollination paper to appear in The American Naturalist – I put it in as a quote before the introduction, to honour the fact that our paper was one of the first in the recently resurrected section ‘Natural History Miscellany’ that used to figure prominently in that journal in its early years. I wondered how my friend mistook that as part of the abstract though? On a hunch, I checked Web of Science – and lo and behold, this is what it currently shows for that paper:

AmNat Abstract

Oh dear. Now, I believe, is the time to use that link to “Suggest Corrections” in Web of Science. Oh, and by the way, why is that they also seem to think that “CRAB CRUSTACEA” would make a good ‘KeyWord Plus’ that will assist readers to find our paper???

Pollination papers

To most pollination biologists, these words call forth some of the multitudes of nerdy scientific papers that fill our libraries. I just stumbled upon another kind of ‘pollination paper’ on the web. Here you go:

Is is one of many extraordinary creations by the American origami-artist Robert Lang. It turns out my idea of origami as only being small dragons, cranes and swans (oh, and the unicorn in Blade Runner, of course!) is, like, so last century. Also turns out the nerdisms of Mr. Lang to a large extent mirror those of biology nerds. Now go & have fun on his website. Need another reason? What about this one:

You know you want to.


…to the next Great Adventure! I am soon ready to begin my new project –which will take me back to a certain small & wonderful lump of volcanic rock in the Indian Ocean. I recently got the extremely good news that I will receive three years’ of funding from the Swiss Velux Foundation — so I shall indeed be working on ghosts and time machines in the last remnant rainforests!

The project is based in the group of Rodolfo Dirzo at Stanford University in California, so when I am not in the subtropics, I will hopefully thoroughly enjoy myself in all the natural marvels that the golden state has to offer. Rodolfo also currently hosts Mauro Galetti, another ghost-hunter, and I am sure we will have lots of fun discussing the ecological roles of extinct animals -and how to resurrect at least some of their functions.

Words of the day

Why am I a scientist? One of the shortest, yet most hauntingly beautiful reasons:

“Science is the poetry of reality” –Richard Dawkins

Guide to plants of Mauritius

Some years ago, my dear PhD-colleague Chris and I were involved as photographers & general nerds in some conservation awareness-raising programmes on Mauritius. One of the outcomes of this was a user-friendly guide to the native and endemic plants of the island — the guides that had been available up until then focused mainly on garden plants and invasive species! (a.k.a. medicinal plants). The first edition of the book came out some two years ago, and rapidly sold out, despite the fact that as a field guide it would fail miserably: the paper quality was so bad that the slightest shower would dissolve the pages (and obviously you do get showers in a rainforest). I am happy to say that the new edition has improved quite a bit –at least with respect to the paper quality. Now we only need to convince MWF that we should have better binding (right now its glue only), and some kind of lamination of front & back cover. Then we can truly call it a field guide!

As far as I know, this book is not available outside of Mauritius. If any of you should be going to Mauritius and want to prepare for some flora-ramble through the last remnants of native vegetation, you can buy it on site in most book shops, and in fact also at the airport bookshop/kiosk, as far as I know. Otherwise, get in touch with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and get a copy directly from them. Proceeds of the sale go directly to conservation projects on the island – so what are you waiting for?

plant book cover