Category Archives: Issues in science

Little Forests, Big Problems.

In many places, there have been drastic increases in deforestation for urbanization and agriculture. Increases in the availability of housing and the space to grow foods may seem to benefit society at first glance, but urbanization and agriculture are not without their downsides. Wooded areas must be deforested to prepare land for construction and agricultural development, resulting in the destruction of natural habitats that are home to many plants and animals. As a result, endangered local wildlife will face challenges in avoiding extinction. Although humans have taken measures in attempts to preserve these forested ecosystems by preserving portions of natural forests within urban and sub-urban areas, this method of preservation is not as effective as it appears.

In this mini documentary, we will walk through Vancouver’s very own Pacific Spirit Regional Park and highlight the challenges that wildlife may face in smaller forests as a result of the continual urbanization.

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From the video, we introduced Adriana Suarez-Gonzalez, a ph.D student in the department of Botany at UBC. In her 2007 study, “Pollen limitation and reduced reproductive success are associated with local genetic effects in Prunus virginiana, a widely distributed self-incompatible shrub,” Adriana Suarez-Gonzalez shows in the video that some fruit-bearing plant species, (such as the Prunus virginiana, more commonly known as the chokecherry that her research revolves around) in fragmented forests (explained in the video) are less successful at reproducing compared to those in larger, continuous forests. Since plants are lower down the food chain, animals find it hard to sustain themselves.

Photo of choke cherries, courtesy of Born 1945 on Flickr Creative Commons

The video gave us a great idea about how fragmented forests affect animals attempting to sustain themselves, but to fully understand why fruit production is a problem, we must look at reproductive barriers of plants in fragmented sites. To understand the challenges that certain fruit-bearing plants face, Ms. Suarez discusses both ecological and genetic factors influencing the reproductive success of the chokecherry in the Podcast below. 

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In short, the podcast shows that ecological factors involve the quantity and quality of pollen available to the plant, and genetic factors involve the effects on the genetic structure of the plant as a result of biparental inbreeding (the fertilization of plants by closely related members of the same species). These two factors put together overall affects the reproductive success of the chokecherry.

Through Adriana’s research on this model berry, we can finally grasp the idea of how fragmentation can affect the health of the ecosystem as a whole. While we may not think much of a simple berry, we can appreciate how much it actually has to offer to animals that depend on it. It is true that chokecherries are abundant and therefore not an immediate problem to wildlife that depend on it, but Adriana’s research offers a argument in how the biodiversity in continuous forests offers similar fruit-bearing plants greater success, and as a result, the success of animals that rely on it.


By SCIE300-212 Group 2: Bailey Lei, Leslie Chiang, and Kia Sanjabi


Cunningham SA. 2000. Depressed pollination in habitat fragments causes lowfruit set. Proceedings: Biological Sciences 267: 1149–1152.

Bosch, Maria, and Nickolas M. Waser. “Effects of local density on pollination and reproduction in Delphinium nuttallianum and Aconitum columbianum (Ranunculaceae).” American Journal of Botany 86.6 (1999): 871-879.

Kulling, Sabine E., and Harshadai M. Rawel. “Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)–a review on the characteristic components and potential health effects.” Planta medica 74.13 (2008): 1625-1634.


Detection of Future Criminals?

Scientists have discovered that they can detect criminal tendencies by looking at the MRI brain scans. According to Dr. Adrian Raine, a British criminologist, the origins of crime and antisocial behavior can be found in children as young as only three-years old. Psychopaths have physically different brains from “normal” people; in other words, they may be “born to kill.”

Normal vs. Criminal
Brain Scans
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Studies have shown that in the MRI brain scans of criminals, they had approximately 11% less grey matter in the anterior rostral prefrontal cortex and amygdala than in the brains of non-psychopaths. Grey matter of the brain is important for understanding people’s emotions and is associated with behavior, guilt, remorse, and empathy. People who lack grey matter might have no sense of regret or loss of emotions.

Brain Anatomy
Image from Wikimedia Commons

In one study, three-year olds were measured for their response to fear. These children were given a stimulus and then a small electrical shock. Involuntary physical impulses were then measured when children were presented with the same stimulus, minus the shock. Children who would later grow up to become criminals showed a distinct lack of fear when presented with the stimulus in comparison to other children.

Correlations have been shown between callousness and crime. Nathalie Fontaine, a criminologist studying the brains of the children between the ages of seven and twelve, found that children who tend to be insensitive and unemotional are at greater risk of becoming criminals than children with typical emotions.

While the criminal brain tends to be physiologically different than that of the law-abiding citizen, hope is not lost. By identifying possible criminal behavior earlier on in life, we can minimize further escalation of such behaviors. For these children, positive reinforcement is important. On the other hand, taking food and medicine rich in omega-3 fatty acids can counteract behavioral problems. A study showed that by taking omega-3 and multi-vitamin/mineral, behaviors of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity significantly reduces.

Criminal behavior is certainly not a fixed behavior. As the studies of three-year-olds and other research have shown, many of these brain abnormalities can be measured early on in life. By identifying these types of antisocial behavior of a child, proper approaches can be made before an individual might develop into actual psychopathic tendencies or commit a crime.

The following video, “A Killer’s Brain: Scans Look for Clues to Violence,” shows Dr. Raine’s study of how study of brain scans can detect future criminals:


– Rubina Lo