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Scientific phrases in layman's terms to help interpret complex research reports

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Old Wednesday 22nd December 2010, 06:58   #1
wolfbirder
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Scientific phrases in layman's terms to help interpret complex research reports

Ok, I am no genius - a mere council worker !

I have tried to vaguely understand or interpret various reports including those regards Redpoll DNA and sub-species (though I gather 'sub-species' itself is a term that causes conflict, some feeling it is being used far too readily when there are minor but clear plumage differences between populations, when in fact it simply means different geograpahical populations of the same species). I know it is not straightforward!

Anyway, the same terms repeatedly crop up, so please excuse me for using Wikipedia to gain basic fundamental interpretations, which I now leave here for future reference. I know you scientists and intellects will expand, ignore, maybe even belittle the need for such a posting, but it may help me in the future if no one else!

Nomenclature codes basically set out rules to determine which scientific name is correct for that particular grouping.

Taxonomy - the practice and science of 'classification'. A single taxon is called ' taxa' which is a group of organisms which a taxonomist ajudges to be a unit. But through its very nature, taxonomists often disagree what exactly belongs to a taxon/taxa, and disagree over the criteria used to make the decision.

Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given eco-system, or an entire planet.

Morphology is a branch of bio-science dealing with the study of the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features. This includes aspects of 'outward' appearance (shape/structure/colour/pattern) as well as the form and structure of the internal parts like bones and organs. "Morpheological changes / differences" is frequently discussed.

Phenotype is any observable characteristic or trait of an organism such as its morphology, development, biochemical, physiological properties, behaviour, and products of behaviour. Phenotypes result from the expression of an organism's genes as well as the influence of environmental factors and the interactions between the two. Linked to this, the ' genotype' of an organism is the inherited instructions it carries within its' genetic code. Not all organisms with the same genotype look or act the same way because appearance and behaviour are modified by environmental and developmental conditions.

Haplotypes - in genetics this is a combination of 'alleles' (DNA sequences) on different places on the chromosone that are transmitted together.

Polymorphism in biology occurs when 2 or more clearly different phenotypes exist in the 'same' population of a species - in other words the occurance of more than one form or morph. In order to be classified as such, morphs must occupy the same habitat at the same time and belong to a 'panmitic' population (simply meaning a population where all individuals are potential partners). Polymorphism results from evolutionary processes and is common in nature, it is related to biodiversity, genetic variation, and adaptation.

Nucleotide diversity is a concept in molecular genetics which is used to measure the degree of polymorphism within a population.

Monophyly - a monophylic group is a taxon (group of organisms) which forms a 'clade' - meaning that it contains all the descendants of the possibly hypothetical closest ancestor of the members of the group.

Phylogeography is the study of processes that 'may' be responsible for the contemporary geographical distribution of individuals. This is accomplished by considering the geographic distribution of individuals in light of patterns associated with a gene genealogy. Past events that can be inferred include population expansion or bottlenecks, or migration.

Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles, called ' mitochondria' - structures wihin cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use. Most other DNA present is found in the 'cell nucleus'.

Assortative mating / pairing simply means sexual reproduction where individuals 'select' mates that are similar (postive assortative mating), or disimilar (negative assortative mating).

The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2588,000 to 12000 years BP (Before Present) covering the world's most recent period of repeated glaciations. So it simply refers to this vast time period.

Hope this helps a bit.
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Old Wednesday 22nd December 2010, 09:29   #2
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A layman's understanding

[quote=wolfbirder;2011427]Ok, I am no genius - a mere council worker !

I have tried to vaguely understand or interpret various reports including those regards Redpoll DNA and sub-species (though I gather 'sub-species' itself is a term that causes conflict, some feeling it is being used far too readily when there are minor but clear plumage differences between populations, when in fact it simply means different geograpahical populations of the same species). I know it is not straightforward!


Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles, called ' mitochondria' - structures wihin cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use. Most other DNA present is found in the 'cell nucleus'.

Wolfbirder,
There is a never-ending need to explain scientific terms, not just because there are people new to them, but because lay people often appreciate a reminder of their meaning (and implications in any discussion).

I would expect and hope that responses will add and improve your splendid effort! In that vein, mtDNA history is transmitted through the female line; recent work suggests that such history may sometimes require a less than obvious interpretation, due to the influence of other factors whose importance and occurrence are yet to be mapped out. This is why so many studies now cover a suite of DNA techniques, and do not confine themselves to mtDNA.

Your mention of different views on what constitutes a subspecies is correct, but underlying these views are other difficulties. For example, Sibley & Monroe 1990 (your local reference library could get you a copy) applied a host of ranks to accommodate the relative genetic distances involved, which drew a fair amount of opprobrium, but they had the insight to point out that not every entry at any one rank had equal weight “...we adopt the principles of ‘subordination and sequencing of units’ proposed by Nelson 1973” and they dismissed the approach of assigning different categorical names for each level of branching, all for reasons of practicality. The sequence of any lineage reflects the relative age of its component ranks, but does not imply that any other lineage with the same ranks (in name and number) originated over the same period – the evolution of that lineage might have been faster or slower.

Sibley & Monroe 1990 have some useful diagrams illustrating that concept, which derived from the ground-breaking, if sometomes too speculative, molecular biology of Sibley & Ahlquist 1990.

Keep up the good work!
MJB

References
Nelson, GJ. 1973. Classification as an expression of phylogenetic relationships. Syst. Zool. 22: 344-359.
Sibley, CG and JE Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds. Yale UP. New Haven, USA & London, UK.
Sibley, CG and BL Monroe Jr. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale UP. New Haven, USA & London, UK.
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Old Wednesday 22nd December 2010, 13:14   #3
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This is a great suggestion for this subforum, and can only lead to more people feeling less intimidated to explore the wonders of bird evolution and taxonomy!

However, there are many more terms that might need explanation, so how about making it a 'sticky' so people can keep adding to it?

D
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Old Wednesday 22nd December 2010, 16:17   #4
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Thank you MJB and David, appreciate your encouragement!

I think it would help greatly if it was put up as a Sticky, or something like this at least !

I still don't understand the terms fully obviously, but a quick reference like this would be useful.
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Old Thursday 23rd December 2010, 12:40   #5
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Cracking idea, as is the one to make it a sticky.

Chris

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Old Thursday 23rd December 2010, 12:50   #6
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There's a dictionary in Opus, which already contains many of the words you'll want to know:

Dictionary A-C
Dictionary D-F
Dictionary G-L
Dictionary M-O
Dictionary P-S
Dictionary T-Z

More words can be added at any time.

D
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Old Sunday 16th November 2014, 09:03   #7
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Sorry to drag up an old post, I would really like this post to be made a "Sticky" and not because its my own. Happy to accept a better version BTW.

I know such terms are readily recalled and interpreted by many (Richard will be shaking his head I expect!).

But I had to search back for this post so I could recall what the related terminology meant precisely. Its different to saying the words are in the Dictionary (which I am a sure is very useful in its own way), but on this sub forum, it is so much handier to have a list of commonly used terminology list at hand, which therefore performs a different role to the dictionary.

Any chance? Or could Richard (Klim) whose contribution is unsurpassed, be able to create a "sticky post" for this sub forum for lay person reference and educational purposes?

Forgot to add "Sympatrically" which in effect means two populations breeding alongside each other.
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Old Sunday 16th November 2014, 09:53   #8
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Nick, I'm sure that the BF admin/mod folk (Niels?) would be happy to create a sticky thread ('Terminology'? 'Glossary'?), but it would then of course be reliant on a worthwhile flow of voluntary contributions from BF members.

Although a great idea in principle, I have doubts that it would it attract enough participation to build into something comprehensive enough to be a genuinely useful resource (compared with just using Google, Wikipedia etc)?

But there's nothing to lose if anyone wants to give it a go...
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Old Sunday 16th November 2014, 10:07   #9
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Hi Richard, it's purpose for me would be just a "quick glance easy reference" alternative, where the most frequently used terminology within these interesting discussions can be recalled "collectively", rather than painstakingly having to refer each word to the very good dictionary. I reckon there are a dozen or so terms that are most frequently used, so I would'nt expect to see many contributions.

Many will undoubtedly immediately understand the discussions, but I am afraid I quickly get lost which I find frustrating when I really want to understand the views being aired. I suppose (and its more a reflection of myself) that I can't recall the definitions because i just do not use the terminology frequently enough. I am sure there are many who feel the same (whether they admit it or not). Its a specific issue to this sub-forum, because the very nature of science takes discussion to a new, and for some, very difficult level.

Education is the key for me here........so fingers crossed.
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Old Sunday 16th November 2014, 14:08   #10
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Nick, the dictionary is part of the Opus here on Birdforum. That means that one different way to find it is through the link to opus that exists on every page of BF. From there click resources, and then dictionary. I believe finding the dictionary that way is easier than through searching for this old thread. If there are terms that need defining that are not in the dictionary, let me know.

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Old Sunday 16th November 2014, 15:05   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by njlarsen View Post
Nick, the dictionary is part of the Opus here on Birdforum. That means that one different way to find it is through the link to opus that exists on every page of BF. From there click resources, and then dictionary. I believe finding the dictionary that way is easier than through searching for this old thread. If there are terms that need defining that are not in the dictionary, let me know.

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Old Sunday 16th November 2014, 18:29   #12
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http://www.lynxeds.com/sites/default...ord-HBW-04.pdf
This article, although rather over my head, does give an interesting overview of the various species concepts. I haven't checked but I suspect that there may be quite a few words in it which could usefully find their way into the dictionary - whether in Opus or elsewhere.
I have taken the liberty of inserting a definition of 'taxonomy' - which seemed to be a rather glaring omission. But as I'm not even a good amateur, yet alone a professional, taxonomist, I think that I'll leave my efforts there!
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Old Sunday 16th November 2014, 19:27   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by njlarsen View Post
Nick, the dictionary is part of the Opus here on Birdforum. That means that one different way to find it is through the link to opus that exists on every page of BF. From there click resources, and then dictionary. I believe finding the dictionary that way is easier than through searching for this old thread. If there are terms that need defining that are not in the dictionary, let me know.

Niels
Ok Niels. I certainly do not intend here to replicate Opus. That is not the purpose, just a quick easy reference for this sub forum.

I don't see it as being a choice issue, (i.e either/or), and I would prefer Richard to produce a version of this instead if mine, to be used as a Sticky.

Referring to Opus for individual words that are relevant to this sub forum is easy in isolation but not good or when you try to interpret a paragraph full of complex terminology.

Never mind anyway, its quicker for me to refer to my post than reaching out to Opus repeatedly, so I guess that's what I will have to do in future.

But if you want to encourage birders to understand the scientific complexity of species, a better version of what I was trying to achieve here is genuinely way better than saying "go to opus".
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Old Sunday 16th November 2014, 19:41   #14
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I can't see any problem with this thread being a sticky, therefore it is now stuck :)

cheers
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Old Monday 17th November 2014, 05:57   #15
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Gratefully appreciated Andy.
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Old Monday 17th November 2014, 16:55   #16
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You two are the only ones then...turning up a chance to get folk visiting the wastelands of Opus Andy...?
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Old Monday 17th November 2014, 17:35   #17
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Maybe I should explain that I cannot make a thread a sticky, contrary to what some people have been expecting above. That is for people like Andy to do.

I would also like to state I have no problem with this thread being a sticky - but I am happy it contains the explanation of how to reach the dictionary in opus

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Old Wednesday 25th March 2015, 22:03   #18
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Maybe of some help?

ORNITHOLOGICAL GLOSSARY from The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
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Old Sunday 5th April 2015, 10:47   #19
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Is anyone here who can explain the difference between an 'A' ringer (I often find this term in connection with the BTO) and a normal bird ringer?
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Old Sunday 5th April 2015, 22:41   #20
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An A ringer is a ringer with long experience who is qualified to teach new people how to ring.

By contrast, a C ringer is a trainee, who can only ring under the direct supervision of an A ringer.
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Old Sunday 5th April 2015, 22:57   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nutcracker View Post
An A ringer is a ringer with long experience who is qualified to teach new people how to ring.

By contrast, a C ringer is a trainee, who can only ring under the direct supervision of an A ringer.
Thanks for the explanation. Who's Who In Ornithology (Pemberton, 1997) lists many notable ornithologists (e.g. Nigel Cleere) who worked as BTO 'A' Ringer.
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