Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

WmD Episode #00003 has been released

Posted 20 Aug 2015 / 0
WmD Logo 2014-07-24-1000px

The WmD Project is picking up steam!  This week I have released the third episode of WmD’s video blog:

You can see this episode in its ‘native habitat’ here.

The first season of WmD is dedicated to the “big questions in ecology and evolution“. This episode, “Difference is as difference does”, is meant to cover these questions:

  1. Why do life forms look the way they do?
  2. Why are there diverse organisms?
  3. How do we partition diversity?

As this episode is about diversity, I tried to expand both the diversity of WmD’s location shots as well as the diversity of his B-roll. I expanded out to do a lot more shooting in higher-traffic public areas, which was challenging but allowed me to include a lot of subthemes on human diversity that parallel the general discussion of organismal diversity. The use of human diversity as a way of thinking about organismal diversity will intensify in Episode #00004, producing both some insights and some confusion.

To illustrate organismal diversity in this episode, I had to shoot a lot of B-roll of plants and animals within WmD’s ‘home range’. This was actually an interesting experience for me. I personally am not much of a naturalist, although in my head I want to be. So as I plotted out WmD’s episode it became pretty clear to me that I needed a lot of plant and animal B-roll, and it was interesting seeing how easy that B-roll was to get. Plant diversity is incredibly easy to get. Between the diversity of planted street trees to the landscape design of people’s yards to the great variety of weeds that grow in empty lots and between the cracks in the sidewalk, there is plenty of plant diversity to capture on camera. Animals? Not so much! There is only so much pigeon and squirrel footage that is going to be interesting to WmD’s viewers, but as you can see in the first three episodes that is what is easy to film. I did manage to get some yellow jackets, a butterfly, and various ants in their natural urban habitat, but most of my animal footage came from the NY Aquarium. Strangely, after over two hours of riding my bike around to shoot B-roll in WmD’s neighborhood, I still could not find a single cat to shoot… so even domesticated fauna can be scarce in Brooklyn. With some help from some better urban naturalists than myself I hope to endow future WmD episodes with new urban fauna, but it is interesting what a challenge it is to find such fauna! As this project forces me to look hard at the urban ecology of Brooklyn, I am excited to see what else I discover through the lens of WmD’s video camera.

WmD’s geographic expansion increases in this episode, although he is still relying heavily on a lot of his local spots for his observations of the natural world. We get introduced to Seth Low Park, a big park on Bay Parkway that’s just to the south of WmD’s neighborhood. Seth Low is interesting because it is the heart of Bensonhurst’s expanding Chinatown but is surrounded by a diversity of different neighborhoods. WmD also takes to Coney Island, including the NY Aquarium, to talk more about diversity (and also to get footage of marine life plus people walking and eating outside of Nathan’s on the boardwalk).

In this episode WmD takes a first pass at the issue of organismal diversity. As you may have noticed, thus far he is kind of a ‘two kingdom’ guy, treating plants and animals as the major forms of life. He considers why plants and animals exist in different forms, considering the role of specialization in animals as a way of understanding difference. WmD’s understanding of plants proves to be a little less deep, as he struggles to understand why plants would be specialized at all. He mostly considers plants by their very general commonality — being able to perform photosynthesis — whereas he considers animals for their specific ecological roles.

WmD asks the question why diversity — particular diversity that we finding aesthetically pleasing — exists in nature. This is a fundamental ecological and evolutionary question that is still a matter of great debate, so I am excited to have WmD dig deeper into this question in Season 2 (the ‘answers season’). He asserts that he wants a material, functional answer to why diversity exists, but he can’t come up with any reason why nature should not be more simple.

WmD caps off the episode by considering how we categorize diversity, particularly in terms of species. He wonders how species are grouped, hinting at the idea of phylogenetic clades and branching evolution. He also asks whether species have any natural meaning, foreshadowing the exploration of biological species as a product of the evolutionary process of speciation producing reproductive isolation.

You can download a transcript of this episode here.

Credits for this episode:

A lot of this footage was shot at the NY Aquarium, a great place — rebuilding to greater — to check out marine animals.

Gregory Tague gave me feedback on the initial script for this episode. Teresa TorchianoBricks Avalon, and Adam Goren provided me with feedback on the rough cut.

A Major Post, Adaptation, Behavior, Marine Ecosystems, Niche Partitioning, Temperate Forest, The WmD Project, Urban Ecology

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