Portrait of an Insect Lover: Alexandra Magro

As part of the series “Silent Spring Continued: A World without Insects,” environmental historian and curator of the series Birgit Müller recounts an interview with Alexandra Magro, an evolutionary ecologist working on, among other things, the life strategies of ladybird beetles.

By Birgit Müller

I met Alexandra Magro this spring, at the first Grand Conference of the French Academy of Sciences entitled “Insects: Friends, Foes, and Models.” I had contributed a presentation of the blog series Silent Spring Continued at the poster session, hoping to attract insect lovers ready to tell me their stories of love and loss. The conference promised to address the key topics of insect biology—from their interaction with the environment, to their use in biomedical and ecological research—yet most papers focused exclusively on insect biology at the molecular level. Alexandra’s interests were much broader. She works at the CNRS Laboratory for Evolution and Biological Diversity in Toulouse, which is part of the LabEx (Laboratory of Excellence) TULIP network.

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Insect Portrait: Ladybird Beetles

Ladybird beetles (of the family Coccinellidae) are a fascinating group of insects. Thriving in all kinds of habitats, they are extremely diverse; around 6,000 species have been described worldwide. Although they are often recognized as beneficial predatory insectivores, their food preferences are in fact very large: some species are fungus feeders, and a few are herbivores that actually damage crops. Those predating on aphids and related species often come into competition with ants, so many ladybirds avoid ant contact. However, certain species are myrmecophilous: they love ants, and some even live inside ant nests and feed on ant brood. It is the high diversity of ladybird life-strategies that makes them a fantastic research subject. In short, ladybirds are sexy! Well, not all of them, because one has just been discovered that reproduces asexually! Another interesting story in the marvelous lives of ladybird beetles.

In the next installment of “Silent Spring Continued: A World without Insects,” environmental historian and curator of the series Birgit Müller recounts an interview with Alexandra Magro, an evolutionary ecologist working on, among other things, the life strategies of ladybird beetles. Alexandra’s fascination and insights are inspiring, and call into question the role of not just science, but intuition and curiosity, in exploring human interactions and futures with invertebrates.

The Fridays for Future Movement in Spain

By Andreas Jünger

Andreas Jünger is a candidate on the RCC’s Doctoral Program Environment and Society. The featured image above was taken by Andreas at the global climate strike in Seville on 15 March 2019.

On 20 August 2018, a 15-year-old girl sat alone in front of the Swedish Parliament to hold a “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (school strike for the climate). Today this girl, Greta Thunberg, is the face of a global movement for more climate action. One of the movement’s most important demands is that the 1.5 degree target set at the World Climate Conference in Paris in 2015 be met. If we look at the map showing the weekly strikes on Fridays for Future’s website today, we can see that there are indeed protests worldwide: whether in Reykjavík/Iceland, Tirana/Albania, Luanda/Angola, Kingston/Jamaica, Colombo/Sri Lanka or Auckland/New Zealand. While in many countries, however, hardly more than a few dozen people—at most a few hundred—come together, sometimes tens of thousands of participants gather at the large demonstrations held in European metropolises.

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Storytelling and Storyboarding Science: The Global Science Film Festival

by Malin Klinski

As a student of the Rachel Carson Center’s Environmental Studies Certificate Program, I had the chance to go to Zurich from 15–18 November 2019 to attend the second Global Science Film Festival (which ran in parallel in Bern). This excursion was part of the seminar “Storytelling and Storyboarding Science” by film festival director and former Carson fellow Samer Angelone. Read More

A Whale of a Time

*Featured image: Sperm whales under attack, from Thomas Beale’s The Natural History of the Sperm Whale (1839). Photo: The New York Public Library via rawpixel, public domain.

By: Daniel Dumas

Zodiac crossings of rough seas, imperial expansion, and narratives of resistance and resilience. This is not the backdrop of an action flick coming to the silver screen, but rather a few snippets from the upcoming RCC Perspectives issue entitled “New Histories of Pacific Whaling,” which will be released this month. Over the course of this past summer, I had the opportunity to work as an editor on the Rachel Carson Center team and my major task was to assist volume editors Angela Wanhalla and Ryan Tucker Jones in getting this particular issue ready for publication. This post gives you a sneak peek of the topic while discussing the work that goes into a Perspectives issue. But before diving into this, a little about me. Read More

Ecopolis Munich: Environmental Stories of Discovery

The student exhibition “Ecopolis Munich: Environmental Stories of Discovery” sheds light on the relationship between Munich’s residents and their urban environment. The exhibition was on display from 12 to 20 October 2019 at the whiteBOX in the Werksviertel Mitte. The practical seminar leading to the production of the exhibition also received LMU’s prize for innovative teaching (Lehreinnovationspreis).
*Featured image courtesy of Laura Kuen.

By Laura Kuen (Ecopolis senior curator)

Collective Curation

“Ecopolis Munich” was the result of a unique collaboration. In two runs in 2016/17 and 2019, master’s students of the Rachel Carson Center’s Environmental Studies Certificate Program developed the project. This year saw 15 students, coming from 14 different disciplines (ranging from linguistics to veterinary medicine), curating the exhibition through interdisciplinary group work and in fruitful cooperation with professional exhibition designers and RCC teaching staff. Read More

Insects as Inspiration

As part of the series “Silent Spring Continued: A World without Insects,” guest author Jan Goedbloed shares with us how he developed a deep interest in invertebrates and reflects on how insects continue to inspire him in life, work, and beyond.
*Featured image: Chaoborus pallidus, a phantom midge in the family Chaoboridae. Copyright Jan Goedbloed.

By Jan Goedbloed

My name is Jan, I am now 67 years old. I studied biology between 1969 and 1976, and then could not find a job. I helped start a bird hospital, and then worked as an educational assistant in a natural history museum where I tried to incorporate nature meditation. Later I worked in building until I got back problems, and resumed working for the same company, but in the office. It drove me almost crazy. Later, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. After that, I did odd jobs like chauffeuring for people with physical and developmental disabilities. I also worked editorially for several regional publications: a dragonfly atlas, a bird paper, and a butterfly and dragonfly paper. Together with a friend, I spent some time doing ecological research and consulting. I have been retired now for a year, but I am still studying nature.

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Workshop Report (10–12 October 2019 at whiteBOX in Werksviertel-Mitte, Munich)

By Anna Antonova

This workshop was convened by Christof Mauch and Gesa Lüdecke at the Rachel Carson Center as part of the new collaboration between Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU Munich), New York University (NYU), New York University Abu Dhabi, and the University of Cambridge, which focuses on understanding urban environments over time and aims to explore urban issues and challenges via a comparative, transnational, and global framework. This Munich workshop brought together scholars from LMU Munich’s partner universities, and also from Munich’s Technical University. It also served as a launch of the Rachel Carson Center’s new Urban Environments Initiative.

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Post-Mosquito Mortem: A Symposium Report

A report of the event “Mosquitopia? The Place of Pests in a Healthy World” (A Rachel Carson Legacy Symposium). For more on the topic, check out the three-part feature “Mosquitopia” in the ongoing series “Silent Spring Continued: A World without Insects.”

24–27 October 2019, Landshut (Munich)

By Marcus Hall

At the end of three days of meetings, our many mosquito experts from a dozen diverse disciplines had come to realize that, in the tradition of John Muir, when we tried to pick out a mosquito all by itself, we found it hitched to everything else in the universe. As a crucial transmitter of human illnesses, that has ushered untold suffering across the generations, this little buzzing insect had brought symposium participants together so that we could explore what might happen if somehow, people were successful at making this creature disappear. Is eradication, elimination, genetic modification, or control of mosquitoes even possible, and what would be the consequences of doing so? After all, armies of scientists and insect managers have attempted, and are actively attempting, all of these things, and we wondered about the aftermath of these projects, as well as the alternatives to controlling insects for managing disease and abating nuisance.

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The Uses of Environmental Humanities series explores diverse and creative ways of thinking with Environmental Humanities in responding to socio-environmental challenges. Contributors address the influence of Environmental Humanities and ways in which we might use this field of study, offering insights into the interactions between societies, science, politics, and culture. The series is curated by Samantha Rothbart.

“Learning and Teaching Across Hierarchies and Disciplines”

By Felix Bidder, Katie Ritson, and Fabian Zimmer

In the course “Interactions: Nature and Culture in the North,” designed for BA students who had chosen the minor “Language, Literature, Culture” as part of their humanities degree, the very first act was to address the matter of how to address each other. German universities err on the side of conserving tradition, and so the students who had registered by email were simply adhering to convention by addressing their lecturers using the formal Sie; now they were being asked to address them as they would each other, with the less formal and more intimate du. It sounds like a small thing, but it makes a difference. Using Sie implies both formal distance and hierarchy: schoolchildren are supposed to refer to their teachers as Sie, but children are addressed as du until they reach about sixteen, after which all parties use the Sie-form. Sie is written with the initial S capitalized, a mark of respect; du is not.

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