Fly little duck, fly – or else …

By Jonas Waldenström

“Bam-bam, bam-bam”!!!

A week ago, this year’s duck hunting season started. Or harvesting, as some hunters would say. And it is really a harvest: it is estimated that around 180,000 Mallards are shot in Sweden alone. This in a country with only 10 million inhabitants. On top of that you may add Eurasian Teals and diving ducks such as Tufted Ducks. And the occasional Garganey, Gadwall and other more rare species – collateral damage in the cannonade.

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Should we worry? Should we be angry? No, at least not today, and at least not in NW Europe. The image of a hunter as a trigger-happy mooron isn’t accurate – actually many hunters are conservationists. Biodiversity doesn’t come from nothing, it requires landowners that preserve or maintain land. In this case good breeding and stopover areas for ducks.  Without the incentive for hunting, a lot of nice duck habitat wouldn’t exist today. And you can combine bird watching and bird hunting, two sides of the same coin.

On the other hand, hunting has consequences. For the individual (a dead duck can not reproduce) and for the population. Our data from Ottenby show that roughly 10 % of the Mallards we equip with a band will be shot. With a migratory species, a population that is breeding in some part of Europe may be harvested in another region. In our case, a fair proportion of the Mallards shot in E Sweden originate from Finland, Russia and the Baltic states and may continue migration to Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Each country with their sets of riffles.

For Mallards, it has been shown that hunting is not an additive mortality, but a compensated mortality at the population level. In other words, the death toll imposed by hunting reduces the population number, but this is in turn compensated by less mortality from other sources, or by higher breeding output of the remaining birds. Density-dependent population regulation, you can say.

It should be noted, as well, that a chunk of what is shot is released Mallards. You know the put-and-take industry in recreational fishing? This is something similar: estates where Mallards are breed and released, and where visiting hunters pay for hunting. Roughly 100,000 ducks in Sweden per year, and more than a million in France! Per year! Some of the domestic origin birds survive the onslaught and live to reproduce. As they have a different stock than wild Mallards, some researchers fear that they could affect the population genetic structure of Mallards in Europe. Some things can be observed already today: Mallards tend to be heavier now than 40 years ago, and have fewer lamellae in the upper mandible, presumably an adaption to a more coarse diet. Whether this really has to do with released ducks isn’t settled yet, but similar trends are not seen in Eurasian Teals – a species not reared for hunting purposes.

But one thing is clear: the start of the hunting season is also a major push for birds to start migrate in earnest. Especially evident is the movements of Eurasian Teals which tend to start the same morning as the hunting season starts. But, little ducky, you may run, but you can’t hide – hunting will continue along the migratory route and on the win

A last glimpse of the mo, before it goes

By Jonas Waldenström

I have a mo. I don’t know why, but I do. It just happened; a gradual thing. The full holiday beard was trimmed to resemble the appearance of James Hetfield, Metallica’s lead singer. I was supposed to look cool and slightly intimidating, my facial hair being a conversation piece for a dinner. But apparently I looked more like a 19th centaury clerk and our guest looked more amused than scared. A few strokes with the razor turned Metallica into pork chops. Badass seventies! I liked that a lot, but a few days later it was time for sideburns and mustache. And now only mustache. Like the logging of the rain forest.

And it isn’t easy. You wouldn’t believe the hardship a mo bearer needs to put up with. My daughters don’t kiss me anymore, my wife employs the Lysistrata strategy in the bedroom, and my PhD students and postdocs laugh at me and call me names. Acquaintances at the local grocery store, or at kindergarten, turn the mo into ‘the elephant in the room’ stigma. You see that they see it, but they cannot, or will not mention it. It is like it is not there at all. But it is, proven by the fact that people don’t look you in the eyes anymore, they look under your nose. I guess this is equivalent to the gravity a good pair of knockers invokes in male sight. Or perhaps it is more of a colorful baboon’s arse among the zebras. A rare sight.

In Sweden, a mo is most common in the countryside, and not something you flaunt in public in the higher tiers of society (unless you are eccentric, then it is okay). Still I have one.

Let’s pause here and ask the question:

– But why?!

Which was exactly the question I got at dinner party the other day. I don’t have a good answer; perhaps I have a mo just because I can. It felt good to grow it, and you need to try, don’t you? However, as this is primarily a science blog I will provide you with some of the best scholarly mustaches out there. (And I do not imply causation between a mo and a good scientist, as that would be both stupid and false).

Seven good reasons to wear a mustache (and there are good fake ones you can buy if you can’t grow them):

The weak chin is covered up!

The weak chin is covered up!

  1. Charles Darwin had one. Or, at least he had a full beard, and a full beard will include a mustache. Which is close enough for me, as I want him on the list. Apparently he thought he had a weak chin, and hence facial hair was cultivated to make up for it.

    Show me your postulates!

    Show me your postulates!

  2. Robert Koch had one. A really nice one too. Thick, bombastic mo! And yes, there was other facial hair too, but it is the mustache that dominates the face! This is the father of Koch’s postulates, a set of rules to determine causality between pathogens and disease that had profound impact on the dawning medical science in the late 1800s.

    Beware all viral diseases - I give you vaccines!

    Beware all viral diseases – I give you vaccines!

  3. Lois Pasteur had one. Again pretty entangled with other patches of beard, but still a mo. This is the man who invented the vaccine – not a small achievement I’d say. Vaccination saves millions of lives each year. Well worth a mustache!

    Perhaps the best mo ever!

    Perhaps the best mo ever!

  4. Friedrich Nietzsche had one. Not perhaps a natural scientist, but OMG what a mo! It beats any freakin’ mustache out there. Apart from his splendid looks, he was also at the forefront of thinking in Europe, with a legacy that transcends into modern times. Alas, he is also the author of ‘Also spracht Zarathustra’ – perhaps the best book title, ever.spitz-by-skysportsdotcom
  5. Mark Spitz had one. The king of water.

    I wonder if I can get gold out of rock?

    I wonder if I can get gold out of rock?

  6. August Strindberg had one. The father of the modern novel in Sweden. Not very famous outside Sweden, though. He was a genius, a fantastic novelist, an angry letter writer, a skilled artist, and, most likely a pain in the but in contemporary Stockholm. He also believed in alchemy, transmutating rocks into gold, and such. So he shouldn’t be in the list, really.

    A classic

    A classic

  7. Alfred Einstein had one. The iconic feature of a ‘mad scientist hairdo’ and the mustache is epic. Something that changed our conception of how a cartooned scientist should look like. And yes, he did come up with the e = mc2 formula (or was it his wife?)

And at last, here is my mo. Take a good look, as it is destined to meet its maker in a short time. I love my wife, she won this time. Too.

Is that me or Wyat Earp?

Is that me or Wyatt Earp?

Post-Holiday Inefficiency Syndrome

By Jonas Waldenström

Swedish people are pretty adamant regarding their vacations – it should be long and it should be in July. Workplaces become deserted, and especially so at Universities where people abandon work for some four to six weeks in summer. The only poor sods loitering around in the corridors are foreign grad students and postdocs. They didn’t see it coming and can’t understand why the place is post-apocalyptically empty.

A Swedish University corridor during summer

A Swedish University corridor during summer

I am just back from my vacation. Or rather I have spent the last week and a half severely hampered by the Post-Holiday Inefficiency Syndrome. I have been in office, but struggle to wind the gear up. There are so many things that should be dealt with, but I can’t really figure out what to start with. Instead: workplace coma. Like a fish in a bucket of ice. Stargazing.

Stargazing into oblivion

Stargazing into oblivion

But in ten minutes time it is ‘fika’ – the best of Swedish workplace tradition. This time to celebrate the end of Ramadan. I expect coffee and sweets. Perhaps enough caffeine and sugar to get this old researcher back on track.