Novel Solution to the “myna inconvenience”?

The issues we’ve been discussing in class are in the news!! (ok it’s not exactly news, more like a commentary… but still!)

I just thought it’d be interesting to share, because of the suggestion in the last few paragraphs. Can we create an “urban food chain” in which javan mynas are the prey, and we humans are the predator? Not the most appealing solution at first glance, but it got me wondering whether it might actually work…

Aside from being unappealing to the general public (why eat mynas when you can afford all this other more appealing food?), the main issue I can think of is probably a health issue, if the mynas have been rooting through our garbage (but wouldn’t that just be incentive for us not to expose our trash?). I suppose there might be other issues that I haven’t considered, but it really did get me thinking about whether the creation of “urban food chains” (involving humans) is possible, and whether that might alleviate the pest problem.

What do you guys think? I’d really like to hear some thoughts about this interesting proposal

Alternative Wildlife Corridors

I just wanted to share this youtube video that expands a little on the topic of wildlife corridors we’ve been discussing.

While we discussed more about the physical corridors in class, this video also covers some interesting learned behaviour and other psychological barriers that animals have to crossing man-made structures that I was unaware of!

(Plus the videos from this channel have great explanations for lots of ecological concepts, and even greater puns, which I think Khairul will appreciate. Check out some of their other videos if you have time!)

Outdoor education – a possibility in Singapore?

Last week in class, we discussed the sad decline in the amount of time that children spend outdoors these days (compared to our parents, whose parents were probably shaking their heads at the amount of time THEY spent indoors too). So after all the statistics were presented and possible implications on our health and learning and other depressing trends were discussed, I asked myself, how can we make a change in the generation(s) to come? (Disclaimer: This is purely a reflective post and some ideas, not so much solid suggestions on what we should do)

I think, first and foremost, we can definitely make a change in the way we choose to bring up our children (should we have any, that is). But as future educators and/or policy makers (which I think some of us might become), there is surely more we can do. I asked Dr Coleman about incorporating outdoor time into the curriculum or just into education schemes, and she shared with me some interesting initiatives that are already being conducted in Canada, which I then went to look up (the document is pretty long though). What I found is that most of these outdoor classrooms target children at the preschool/kindergarten age, which makes sense because it’s probably easier to form bonds with nature and to maximise learning through nature at a younger age. But I wondered if it is possible to incorporate the idea of an outdoor classroom into slightly higher levels of education, such as secondary schools.

That's some physics education right there

That’s some physics education right there

Currently, we already have outdoor camps such as the ever-popular Outward Bound Singapore (or other nearby countries). However, those are mainly targeted at student leaders, or act on a “sign up” basis, which naturally targets students who are already more inclined to spend their time outdoors. However, what these education programs in Canada (and actually in many other countries such as Australia and New Zealand) are advocating is “regular and repeated access to the same natural space”, and allowing learning to take place in that context. Would this be practical/applicable in Singapore? I think there are a few things we have to consider:

  1. At the secondary school level, where much content has to be covered in time for the national exams, what content can we (effectively) teach outdoors? While some concepts such as the carbon/hydrological cycle, food webs, various topics in physical geography etc. spring to mind, other subjects might not be as straightforward. If we select appropriate sites for the appropriate subject (eg. Fort Canning park to teach History/Social Studies?), perhaps that might aid matters. But would regular use of the same outdoor classroom facilitate the teaching/learning of different concepts?
  2. What types of green spaces would we want to use? In several of the bigger countries, where there is more access to slightly less “manicured” natural habitats, it might be more beneficial to expose children to such habitats and cultivate their love for the environment there. However, in Singapore, already we seem to have an issue of people preferring urban parks to secondary forests of higher conservation value (which we discussed in class a couple of weeks back). Would it then make sense to conduct outdoor lessons regularly in these areas? (granted, the health benefits of spending time outdoors still remain, and there will still be more exposure to flora and fauna than in a traditional classroom).
  3. Linked to point #2, would the use of outdoor classrooms be sustainable? Will consistent trampling/tearing/etc. by curious hands be damaging to the green space? If ground rules are set and adhered to, maybe not, but it does pose a challenge to trying to conduct any activities in habitats of more conservation value.
  4. Safety. This is likely the biggest barrier to the feasibility of the whole idea, particularly since class sizes tend to be rather large in secondary schools, and teachers are responsible for the well-being and safety of their students. Would parents be open to the idea of allowing their children to take risks and get wet and dirty while not under their direct supervision?

This is all largely speculative, but it did bring to mind the reading we discussed in another module that I’m taking, which is basically about re-educating our educators and administrators, so that they, in turn, can educate future generations of environmentally aware and concerned innovators, who will then be invested in solving or alleviating environmental issues. I think the role of educators and administrators is such an important one, and perhaps they, too, need to evaluate how important nature and green spaces are to them, before trying to bring that love to the students.

Because ultimately, global issues of climate change, overexploitation, and other big things are perhaps too large for most people to really feel; sometimes, it just boils down to how much you value that tree or that nest of birds in the park right next to your house.

Effects of Anthropogenic Noise on Acoustic Communication in Animals

We’ve covered the issue of noise pollution in class, and Max has even penned his thoughts about living near a (perpetually) loud highway, so I thought it’d be interesting to delve a little deeper into how anthropogenic noise affects animals which rely heavily on acoustic communication.

When we think of acoustic communication, many of us would probably automatically think of birds, with all their lovely (though sometimes raucous) calls (read: Asian koel).

The Asian koel - everyone's daily alarm clock

The Asian koel – everyone’s daily alarm clock

Many species of birds alter their songs by changing the pitch (or for any physicists out there: fundamental frequency) of their songs, or choosing to use more of the high-pitched elements in their existing repertoire. In so doing, they avoid competing against (and losing to) the low-frequency vehicular noises.

Frogs are also known to change their call rates in response to traffic noise. Species with low-frequency calls, such as bullfrogs, call more often in the presence of traffic noise, presumably to increase the chances of females hearing them during a break in the traffic noise.

"Listen to my low and sexy voice... LISTEN TO IT!!!"

“Listen to my low and sexy voice… LISTEN TO IT!!!”

What about invertebrates? Crickets are a well-known example of insects that rely heavily on acoustic communication. This interesting article describes a recent study conducted on crickets, to determine how traffic noise affects cricket song. The study found that unlike birds, which alter the pitch of their calls, or bullfrogs, which call more often, the crickets actually decreased their call rates in the face of increased traffic noise! This was an unexpected finding, but the authors suggested that it could be a measure adopted to conserve energy (if you can’t beat them… don’t fight them?). It would also be a smart strategy to adopt since traffic noise is not uniform over time, so saving energy during peak hour could mean a higher chance of attracting a mate during the quieter hours.

"Is rush hour over yet?"

“Is rush hour over yet?”

While I personally marvel at the variety of adaptive strategies adopted by the different species, behavioural changes can have some drawbacks. First off, not every species, or individual in a species, can change the pitch of their calls. This could be due to physiological constraints, or due to the mechanism of call production.

Second, the females of certain species have a preference for mating calls of lower frequencies (as is the case of the bullfrog), often because low-frequency calls are an honest indication of bigger-sized, and thus better quality, males. In such cases, the ability of females to perceive and locate “good quality”, or fitter, males, is diminished.

Third, competing against traffic noise is energetically costly, and could reduce fitness in males.

Taken together, traffic noise does seem to affect animal behaviour quite a bit, in species that rely heavily on acoustic communication. Another thought that occurred to me while browsing these articles was that all these studies examine how animals adapt to their local environments. What about migratory animals that rely heavily on acoustic communication (like birds)? Would they be affected by the differing levels of traffic noise in the different localities they pass along their route? Or will they be able to adapt quickly enough to the changing soundscape?

Of course, this post only touched on how the production and perception of mating calls is affected, but animals also rely on acoustic cues for many other purposes, such as foraging, caring for young, or other forms of social communication (like the alarm calls of squirrels). These are also affected by urban noise in many ways. Feel free to comment with any interesting examples that you know of!


Nemeth, E., & Brumm, H. (2009). Blackbirds sing higher-pitched songs in cities: adaptation to habitat acoustics or side-effect of urbanization? Animal Behaviour, 78(3), 637–641. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.06.016

Orci, K. M., Petroczki, K., & Barta, Z. (2016). Instantaneous song modification in response to fluctuating traffic noise in the tree cricket Oecanthus pellucens. Animal Behaviour, 112, 187–194. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.12.008

Potvin, D. A., & Mulder, R. A. (2013). Immediate, independent adjustment of call pitch and amplitude in response to varying background noise by silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis). Behavioral Ecology, 24(6), 1363–1368. doi:10.1093/beheco/art075

Sun, J. W. C., & Narins, P. M. (2005). Anthropogenic sounds differentially affect amphibian call rate. Biological Conservation, 121(3), 419–427. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2004.05.017