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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.


Arctic Unicorns

One of the most prominent species in the Arctic is a medium sized toothed whale known as the narwhal. Narwhal’s male have a long straight tusk, a canine tooth, projecting from the left side of the upper jaw and reaches till about 3m in length. Since the beginning of their discovery, scientists have been hard at work to figure out the use of these “horns”.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Some researchers have suggested that the tusks in male narwhals merely plays a role to attract the females. We’ve seen this kind of phenomenon in other animals as well, such as male peacocks displaying their tail as a hint of availability to the peahens.

While others have proposed that the 9ft. tusk acts like an antenna containing sensory neurons that can sense the salt concentrations of the water, helping the whales navigate food or location.
The elongated tooth is connected to a base layer inside the mouth known as dentin. This layer contains small pores that run to the innermost part and contain blood vessels and nerves. These nerves run from the tusk all the way to the brain, thus, maintaining  a direct connection from the outside to the inside stimuli of the whale. Some researchers speculated that these nerves help the whales distinguish the different salinities of the water, which correlated with the changes in heartbeat of the narwhals. But due to the lack of evidence, this theory hasn’t yet been fully supported yet.

These tusks might have multiple functions associated with it, but biologists and scientists are still hard at work to determine one major role of it.

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Hiba Rajpar


The (literal) Birds and the Bees

Ok, I’ll give your parents the benefit of the doubt and assume that at one point in your life they sat you down and told you the ins and outs of “the birds and the bees”.  But just in case they failed to raise you properly, here is everything you need to know.

That’s right – The DEFINITIVE guide to bird and bee sex. You’re welcome.

Let’s BEEgin with the bees.

Bee sex happens in mid-air, usually around 10 feet off the ground. In a spectacular display of desperation, agility, and death (I’ll get to that part in a second), hundreds of male drone bees compete for the opportunity to mate with a virgin queen during her once-in-a-lifetime “nuptial flight”.

Drone bees are all male, and are evolved to be good at one thing:  Sex.  They have better eyesight then other bees, no stingers, and large endophalluses (penises).  During the nuptial flight, a dozen drones, on average, will successfully fertilize the queen.

And then things get weird.

Upon ejaculation, the drone’s penis essentially EXPLODES.

It violently ruptures, and is ripped from the drone’s body, remaining inside the queen’s.  The drone falls to the ground, and dies soon after.  The next drone to mount the queen removes the previous drone’s penis, and then proceeds to insert his own.

This kind of expendable-male mating ritual is not unusual in the insect world – female praying mantises, for example, are famous for biting the heads of of males during or following mating.

But that’s enough about insects. On to the birds!

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Our avian friends have evolved some very unique solutions to bringing sperm and eggs together – some of then just as strange as the bees.

Most male birds don’t actually have penises – chickens for example have no protruding sexual appendages.  Instead, they have a hole called a cloaca.  Both male and female chickens have one.  In order to mate, chickens have to press these holes together for a brief time in a behavior described as the “cloacal kiss”.


The cloaca of a bird is multi-puporsed – it is the exit point of a bird’s urinary, digestive, and reproductive tracts. Yes, that means that urine, feces, and eggs all come out THE SAME HOLE.

You can think of it like a water slide with different starts, but the same ending.



Not all birds engage in the cloacal kiss method of copulation; some DO have penis – and not just any penis, ENORMOUS penises.

There are species of duck with some of the largest penises, relative to body size, of any animal alive.  The Argentine Lake Duck for example, has a 16-inch corkscrew-shaped member that exceeds the duck’s own body length when fully extended.

So there you have it! Everything you need to know (and maybe a few things you didn’t).

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My personal take-away from researching this topic is two-fold.  Firstly, my google search-history has gotten significantly more disturbing, as it now includes the search terms “chicken butt hole” and “duck penis”.

Secondly, I’m left with a much greater appreciation for the strange and inventive reproductive strategies found in nature. One thing is certain – mammals don’t have the final say on what defines sex.  Take it from the birds and the bees – there’s more then one way to do it.


Text and graphics by Sam MacKinnon, 2014

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Afraid of math? It may not be your fault…

Source: google images

I am sure through our many years of schooling most people can agree that one of their most feared or hated subject is math. Most people link this hatred or fear with bad experiences when they’ve sat there for hours trying to figure out a math problem with no result. But what if I told you it wasn’t your fault that you do not understand these problems and it has something to do with your genes.

Researchers have found that some people are more likely to have a fear towards math due to genetic factors and not just previous bad experiences.1 Although this study explains how genetics may have something to do with math anxiety it states that genetics can’t be solely blamed for problems people have with math.1 Instead this study states that genetic factors explain about 40% of the differences in math anxiety and the rest is explained by difference in learning environments.1

The study examined both identical and fraternal twins who participated in the Western Reserve Reading and Math Projects where they completed a variety of assignments to test for math anxiety and comprehension skills.1 To study the effect of genetics the researchers used statistical methods to see how anxiety and comprehension differed among identical and fraternal twins. From this study the researchers found that “Math anxiety is related to both the cognitive side and the affective side of general anxiety.”1

Even though some of a person’s anxiety towards math may be due to genetics it is also a good idea to learn how to deal with anxiety as a whole. Anxiety can be due to many things and even making the most subtle change to your lifestyle can help get rid of your anxiety. Some simple steps about how to deal with anxiety can range from changing your diet to using new approaches to solve a problem.

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A video by Dr. Sandra Parker explaining ways to deal with anxiety.

In conclusion, the researchers from Ohio State University are still working on determining a concrete link between math anxiety and genetics and will further add to their findings in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

– Inderbir Bhullar


[1] Ohio State University. (2014, March 17). Who’s afraid of math? Study finds some genetic factors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 17, 2014 from

The Power of Music


Photo of Kanye West performing during the Yeezus Tour via

Music is a wondrous thing. It is nearly impossible to go a whole day without hearing music in one form or another. We listen to music for many different occasions such as passing the time during your commute, when you are feeling down, in the gym to get pumped up, and many more.  Music has been around for a long time, dating back at least 60,000 years where it is believed neanderthals uses their hands and stones to create a cacophony of sounds. Since then, music has evolved tremendously and has branched into many different genres including rock and roll, jazz, rap, and reggae. You may be listening to music right now while you are reading this post and you may not know the many different ways music contorts your mind.

An array of musical notes via

One of the way music influences us is that it can make us express certain emotions. This is due to the fact that music fires off neurons that make us feel a certain way. This explains why we feel down after listening to sad songs and other emotions for other types of music.

When we have to write a long paper for school, some of us tend to turn to loud music to help us get into the zone to hammer it out. This may not be the best way to go about things however. One study has indicated that milder noise levels can help boost your productivity and creativity. This is one way music can be beneficial for everyone. So you may want to give Tchaikovsky or Beethoven a listen next time you have an important assignment or exam.

Another great benefit of music is that it can help people with coronary heart disease relieve stress and reduce blood pressure, which significantly lowers their chances of disease complications, including death.


Music has many effects on the brain. Image via

Another great thing about music is that it can help us exercise.  Faster music leads to more effort, and the optimal range is between 120 to 140 beats per minute (bpm). People often synchronize themselves to the beat of the music, so a faster beat leads to quicker movements and increased power output

An interesting video on the effects of music on the brain..

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In the end, music is a great tool in our every day lives and should be utilized to our benefit. There are many positives that can come out of listening to music it is truly amazing. There are some possible downsides however. Constant exposure to loud music can cause loss of hearing down the road and music can also distract us during crucial times such as driving. That being said, if you are cautious about your music listening habits, there is no end to the possible positive outcomes.


By: Zohaib Mahmood


What’s wrong with microwaves?

In A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig, British writer Charles Lamb tells how mankind discovered cooking after “seventy thousand ages [of] eating meat raw”. With tongue firmly in cheek, Lamb relays how the son of a swineherd in ancient China accidentally burnt down a cottage full of pigs. After the fire dies, the boy pokes a pig and burns his fingers. He instinctively places them in his mouth and – Eureka! – bacon was discovered.

We may chuckle at this comical tale (which ends with all the villagers burning down huts filled with pigs so that they may taste the oh-so-magical bacon), but it’s true that for thousands of years humans have had to build fires whenever they wanted to cook. Nowadays, we cook using electricity. Burning fuel to generate heat, steam, and eventually electricity has been outsourced to powerplants, which send our electrical energy to us without our ever having to light a match. It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t prepare a meal without turning on an oven, stove, blender, food processer, rice cooker, slow cooker, etc.

It wasn’t until 1947 that Percy Spencer invented the first microwave oven (often shortened to “microwave”). This new, fireless method of cooking works on a principle that few people understand, and for that reason many people fear it. Many pseudoscientists (a.k.a. “scienticians”) encourage others to shun the microwave, claiming it chemically alters your food and is killing you. This is the naturalistic fallacy at its best, and some investigation quickly dismantles these myths.

Are microwaves radioactive? Arguably, yes; microwaves are radiations, but so are the radiations on television that provide reality TV. Which ones are worse is anybody’s guess. Microwaves are shorter in wavelength than radio waves, and higher in energy. Light is also comprised of electromagnetic waves, but they’re shorter than microwaves and even higher in energy. Still, you can’t cook food with light or read by microwaves.

Meet Magnetron – not just a cool superhero name.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Microwaves can be generated by magnetrons, which spit them into your oven; the microwaves bounce around as long as the magnetron is operating. Some of the molecules in food – especially water molecules – are polar and line up with an electric field that reverses its direction nearly five billion times per second. The water molecules flip their orientations manically to keep up; in their agitation, they knock around other molecules, which also become fast-moving and excited. Fast molecules are hot molecules, and so the microwave-induced flipping spreads heat in your food.

(Not an entirely accurate representation of excited water molecules!)

What about microwaves “chemically altering” food? Is that true? Of course! This not-so-magical process is cooking. The essence of food is chemical, and all cooking methods cause chemical changes in foods.

And claims that microwaves destroy nutrients? Also true, but not unique to microwaves. Some vitamins (namely vitamin C) are destroyed by heat, so any cooking method will “destroy” some of the food’s vitamin C.

“But my microwave makes carrots and broccoli give off sparks!” Relax. There isn’t metal in your veggies. Some vegetables that are cut with sharp knives have sharp edges as a result. Those carbonized, sharp edges can act like lightning rods and develop concentrated electric field gradients, which generate sparks.

Your microwave isn’t the devil in disguise, I swear.

Text and illustrations by Jenny Labrie.



Hoffman, C.J., and Zabik, M.E. (1985). Effects of microwave cooking/reheating on nutrients and food systems: A review of recent studies. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 85(8): 922-926.

Osepchuk, J.M. (1978). A review of microwave oven safety. Journal of Microwave Power, 13(1): 3-26.

Stone, M.A., and Taylor, L.T.  (2003). Feasibility of enhancing high-performance liquid chromatography using microwave radiation. Journal of Chromatographic Science, 41(4): 187-189.


Source: flickr

Remember that kid that use to sit by themselves at lunch in a corner? The kid who everyone thought was weird and nobody ever talked to. Odds are that kid was bullied and now because of that suffers from self esteem issues. One in every three kids in Canada has reported being bullied at one time throughout their time at school or through cyber bullying according to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.  According to the Government of Canada bullying is defined as one person taking power over another and abusing them either physically or psychology through name-calling or insults. In turn this effects a person’s self esteem which is defined as the way one thinks of themselves.1 A person being bullied can begin to see themselves as less valuable compared to others around them.

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Youtube video from Watch Well Cast explaining how to boost your self esteem.

Some people may just think they’re just words that someone is saying, so how can it possibly hurt someone? But the effects of bullying can be very dangerous to a person and their self esteem. According to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development students who are bullied can suffer from many things like feeling like they don’t belong among peers, being depressed, being really emotional, start to suffer from nightmares and the list goes on. Often times the person who’s doing the bullying is often a victim of these actions themselves and as a way to vent their frustrations they lash out the same actions on others. But whatever the reason is behind the bullying, it still doesn’t make it right to make someone suffer.

The hardest part with any problem a person faces is coming up with a solution. A person who is being bullied may think there is nothing they can do and they just have to learn to deal with it but there’s actually a lot that can be done. Some solutions to stopping bullying from are treating everyone the way you want to treated, learning to stand up for yourself plus others and not being afraid to ask for help. Parents can also help their kids by teaching them what to do in bullying situations and also let their kids know they always have them as an outlet to talk to.

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Youtube video from Watch Well Cast explaining how to stop bullying.

Ultimately, to put a stop to bullying it starts with yourself. Know that you’re never alone when facing a problem, there will always be someone around you who can help. Don’t treat someone in a way you wouldn’t want to be treated. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine how they feel about your actions. Lastly, don’t be afraid, everyone is unique and everyone should be able to embrace it without being scared.

-Inderbir Bhullar


[1] Robinson, J.P., Shaver, P.R., & Wrightsman, L.S. Measures of personality and social psychological attitudes. Measures of Social Psychological Attitudes Series, 1, 1991.