As an insect eater the Quail is worth
its weight in gold
We are in the middle of a funding crisis in the sciences. Word of mouth among academics is that projects such as The Quail Diaries, involving the study of the evolution of animal behavior using field and molecular biological techniques on nonmodel and challenging bird species, has about as much chance of being funded federally as a snowball in hell.
the world will end in fire
In 2002, when I was a young post-graduate with a PhD in biological science (and not incidentally an MFA in creative writing) under my belt, the National Science Foundation (NSF) was funding 26% of the grant proposals submitted to the Directorate of Biological Sciences. There was a sense then that, while it might take 2-3 submissions, a scientist with good ideas and willing to work hard to put them into place would get funded. In 2011, that number had dropped to 18%; the total number of grants in biology going from 1,405 to 1,309 over that time period.
There is no subject in the field of natural science that is of greater interest than the important position that the living bird occupies in the great plan of organic nature.
NSF funds basic scientific research in this country–this includes research into fields such as biology, mathematics, physics and geography. Basic scientific research is in contrast to applied research–where an application of the research (for humans, in particular), be it medical, veterinary, agricultural etc., is defined. Applied research requires basic research. To generate the annual vaccinations for influenza, researchers use information garnered from many years of basic research into evolutionary biology and systematics, as well as mathematics (for the foundational statistics).
To put this into context, while NSF’s annual budget request for 2012 is approximately $7.8 billion; of the total military request of approximately $1.030 trillion includes $46.9 billion alone for Homeland Security (enough to fund NSF for more than 6 years at current rates).
This place is a sanctum of all there is to lose
The anxiety about funding decreases and hiring freezes at Universities and Colleges (the primary home for those conducting basic research) and the substantial amount of stress involved in securing funding for one’s research (including the salaries for people working on the project [read JOBS here people]) affects scientists in a variety of situations from the current graduate and undergraduate students to the most well established scientists.
The name Quail is a misnomer, for
All of this is to give you a sense of why there is now something called Petridish.org, as well as SciFund on Rocket Hub ,where researchers are asking YOU, the public, to support our work. The projects on this site are valuable but the funding crisis means they are unlikely to be supported through traditional means. At this point, for these sorts of projects to get off the ground, they need your help. By helping them now, you may ensure they obtain grants later. If we are going to maintain any real level of basic research in this country, our federal funding agencies including NSF and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) need to be shored up. Crowdfunding, however, is poised to make a difference right now in whether dedicated scientists are able to actual pursue their research or not.
the bird is not a Quail but more nearly a Partridge, as it is called in the south.
It is also clear to us on the site that we as scientists have not successfully communicated what we do and how we do it. This means that there is not enough interest in our work, not enough understanding of its importance and not enough recognition of the need to support this work an awareness that negative results, contradictory results and subsequent discussion are a central part of the scientific process. If, four years ago, John McCain could get the public so riled about a manufactured controversy centered on the study of threatened Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) clearly the public has no real sense of how science works and how the results benefit us.
we are a form of a form
And by benefit I do mean conservation but I also mean something else–that being touched by the knowledge of the other that is out there. This knowledge gives us life.
There is enormous value in basic research into the lives of other organisms–the New World Quail work, for example, serves to provide necessary information about how birds respond to habitat change and to indicate where our understanding and assumptions about the evolution of bird behavior falls short. The results of the work with the New World Quail are filling in a big piece of the story of how and where the diversity of bird behavior currently on display in species around us emerged. The ability to conduct New World Quail research is directly affected by this funding crisis and by the shortage of academic positions.
A correspondent wrote me that he had watched the Quail feeding on potato beetles and other insects on his farm,
I am not a savvy and ambitious scientist; my ambition aims along a strange and interdisciplinary route (getting my MFA in creative writing, for example). My research tends towards discovery field, archival and genomic research rather than direct experimental studies. I’ve two children and I teach biology, creative writing and American literature at a small public liberal arts school. If even the most ambitious and focused scientists are struggling to ensure their work continues to be supported federally, it is clear that I, while still shooting the moon and submitting NSF proposals, need to be seeking alternative sources of funding.
and believed that each bird raised on his place was worth five dollars to him as an insect killer.
This is why there is a Quail Diaries project currently on Petridish.org. While the NSF proposal I submitted in November pulls the research together in a more cohesive whole, Kickstarter, a small grant, and now Petridish (if successful) are funding the pieces of the research that make up parts of the whole and this is how, I expect, I am going to have to make this work fly.
See my heart It beats like a/sentence underneath my skin
The Kickstarter funding allowed enough to be completed that a small grant is now paying for the work on the natural history of the Elegant Quail in Alamos now. The Petridish.org project is different. It is based on the observation that:
the California Quail has demonstrated considerable adaptability to a wide variety of habitats in the temperate and sub-tropical regions of the world.
and the subsequent hypothesis that the California Quail is more able to adjust to novel habitats than the other three species of Callipepla. Whatever answer–a support or a refutation of this hypothesis–will be extremely informative.
This suggests that…highly local adaptations to climate and habitat…are not so fixed as to preclude adjustment to other favorable environment
I’ve asked you to help before…I’m asking you to help again–anything from $1 up will demonstrate your support for this work. The numbers matter and the sooner you support this project the better–if the project can pick up momentum early on, it will more likely succeed.
Please head over to http://www.petridish.org/projects/quail-project and consider helping out.
puddling butterflies, coyote, coati/tracks, white tailed deer, magpie jays, blue doves/palomas, cholis, codurnices,
a waking dream
quotes are by Inger Christensen , A. Starker Leopold, Edward H. Forbush, Andrew Grace, John Keats
Information about funding rates from: