Rockin Darwin

April 20, 2009

A group of researchers in germany have come up with an interesting way to get across some basic concepts of evolution, by combining music and evolutionary principles.  They have developed a computer game which allows the user to generate new tunes through an evolutionary process, and have produced a video clip for a rock song that was generated using this software.   The game works as follows:  A primordial tune is randomly generated to start with.  During the game, tunes behave like evolving living organisms. They reproduce and inherit traits such as the instrument(s) or rhythm. Offspring expresses traits of their parents, but can contain new elements, generated by mutation. The player listens to the different tunes within a generation and decides what he likes and what not. This rating affects the reproductive success of those individuals. Well rated ones reproduce better. Depending on personal preferences (“the selective environment”) tunes develop more in the direction of e.g. reggae or more of jazz.

This project was the result of cooperation between a core team of evolutionary ecologists (led by Prof. Nico Michiels at the University of Tubingen), and composers, musicians  and film-makers.  The project was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation as part of a creativity contest called “Evolution today”.  Michiels says that the aim of the game and video clip is to attract attention from non-biologists and stimulate talk about evolution.  Its certainly one of the more innovative approaches I’ve seen!


Chickenoreggblog goes bush

April 3, 2009

I don’t expect to be posting much over the next two weeks, as I’ll be swanning about in the South Island.  I hope to have some more interesting biological photos/stories to post when I get back.

Why Zealandia is an entirely appropriate (but not very good) name for a wildlife sanctuary

April 1, 2009


A few months ago the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary decided to rebrand itself with the name “Zealandia”.  This provoked a flurry of letters to the editor in the Wellingtonian and the Dominion Post newspapers complaining the inappropriate the name is, and wondering what was wrong with the old name.  Most of these letters writers couldn’t understand why the sanctuary would rename itself  after a Catholic publication from 20 yrs ago, or after the outdated female representation of colonial New Zealand, or after a WWI and WWII troopship, and completely missed the point that Zealandia actually has a biological meaning.

Zealandia is the name of the continent containing present-day New Zealand that broke away from Gondwanaland 60-85 million years ago.  Zealandia spans the region that is occupied today by New Caledonia and Lord Howe Island in the north,  the subantarctic islands in the south, and the Chatham Islands to the East.  After breaking away from Gondwanaland the landmass slowly sank, so that today only around 10 percent of it is above sea level.   The prevailing view until recently was that the ancestors of most of our iconic flora and fauna were present on Zealandia when it broke away from Gondwanaland, and so evolved in isolation for 80 million years or so.  We now know this is unlikely to be the case for many species, but Zealandia is still a good metaphor for a wildlife sanctuary that aims to be a sort of ark for our iconic species (the “survivors of Zealandia“). 

So Zealandia is an entirely appropriate name for a wildlife sanctuary.  But somehow, whenever I see the phrase “Zealandia, the Karori Sanctuary Experience” it conjures up images of a theme park where people drive around in SUVs amongst herds of cloned dinosaurs…  And I suspect that we will all go on calling it the Karori wildlife sanctuary anyway.