Literature Review: Brain Function

by Carl Strang

Some of these notes pertain to the Winter Campfire series of a few years ago.

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Alexander, David M., et al. 2013. Traveling waves and trial averaging: The nature of single-trial and averaged brain responses in large-scale cortical signals. NeuroImage 73: 95 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.01.016 They find that brain function is better understood as wave activity that involves the entire organ, rather than separate bits of the brain specializing in separate activities. The wave is modified as different specific actions take place, and the focus of each modification may involve certain anatomical areas, but functionally these are not properly understood as isolated from one another.

Gross, J., et al. 2013. Speech rhythms and multiplexed oscillatory sensory coding in the human brain. PLoS Biol 11(12): e1001752. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001752 Brain cortical cells fire in patterns that produce brain waves of different frequencies (slowest delta waves, slow theta waves and fast gamma waves). Spoken sentences also are made up of components that change at different rates (slowest prosody, such as intonation and other meaning conveying elements; slow syllable utterance; and fast phoneme production, the individual sounds that make up speech). This study found a correlation between the two that allows parallel processing of different speech components. The slower, meaning conveying components of speech are entrained with slower brain waves in the right hemisphere, while the faster phonemes are in synch with gamma waves in the left hemisphere. When speech is interrupted then resumes, the waves re-align with the new rhythm.

Healy, Kevin, et al. 2013. Metabolic rate and body size are linked with perception of temporal information. Animal Behaviour, DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2013.06.018 Different animal species perceive time at different rates that vary according to the pace of their lives and other needs. Fast-moving animals with high metabolic rates, like birds, collect more information per unit time than we do, for instance. From the ScienceDaily article describing the study: “This time perception ability can be shown to vary across all animals, using a phenomenon called the critical flicker fusion frequency. The phenomenon, based on the maximum speed of flashes of light an individual can see before the light source is perceived as constant, is the principle behind the illusion of non-flashing television, computer and cinema screens. This is also the reason pet dogs see flickering televisions, as their eyes have a refresh rate higher than the screen of the TV.”

Xie, Lulu, et al. 2013. Sleep drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain. Science 342: 373-377. A study of mice revealed that brain tissues shrink and a significant increase of cerebrospinal fluid takes place around them during sleep, suggesting that a function of sleep is to flush out accumulated metabolites.

Gabel, Harrison W., and Michael E. Greenberg. 2013. The maturing brain methylome. Science 341:626-627. This is a review-interpretive article outlining the significance of a study published on-line by Science of the developing brain and its function. During development, neurons (but not other kinds of cells) in different parts of the brain acquire different patterns of methylation, epigenetic changes through chemical attachments that suppress the expression of certain genes. This appears to control patterns of synapse development, and thus is fundamental to brain function. Upon maturation, this methylation levels off.

Western Chorus Frog Dossier

by Carl Strang

An early sign of spring’s arrival is the sound of massed chorus frogs. Here are my limited specific observations of them.

Western chorus frog

Western chorus frog

Frog, Western Chorus Known in my experience mainly from DuPage County, IL, and the Culver, Indiana, area. In early spring they sing in large numbers, in crickety sounding calls, in temporary ponds. I saw one in the back yard of the house we rented in Glendale Heights. Small and striped, crawling in the grass. Closest pond where they sang was at least 200m away.

7MR87. Singing at West Chicago Prairie.

22MR87. Singing at Fish Hatchery, Culver, in first partial pond west of ditches.

12MR88. Brief song from one at McDowell Forest Preserve.

26MR88. Singing just west of Hartz Lake property.

27MR89. First song of year heard at McKee Marsh.

23AP89. Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. I water-stalked a singing frog, close enough to see it, or at least the movement caused by its singing. It was in or just above the water, which vibrated with the song. It was in a place where broken-down cattails created a small (almost completely covering) shelter. They sing in alternation: pairs, high and low. High starts. If a few calls do not involve a nearby frog in a duet, the first stops.

10MR97. Heard one singing while I ran on Prairie Path near Rt. 59.

20MR99. First chorus frogs of spring heard in 2 places.

30OC99. 1-2 (same one found twice?) found on an extensive mudflat at Fermilab.

5MR00. A few singing at Lake Law, Fermilab, in an area of shallow water and dense dead stems of cattails and grasses.

2MY00. A couple still singing.

24SE00. A few individuals singing weakly in the tall, goldenrod-dominated upland vegetation between the large lakes at Fermilab.

14OC00. Occasional song, still, at Fermilab. Much like spring peeper’s pattern of fall singing.

21MR01. First of year, a couple only, heard near Prairie Path east of Warrenville. A cold, lingering winter.

15AP01. Quite a few singing near the McKee Marsh outlet. 12SE01. I heard single brief song beside the prairie path north of Butterfield and west of Fermilab in late afternoon.

12OC02. A few weakly singing individuals at Fermilab, in low spots.

21MR05. One singer at the Hartz Lake property.

13JE06. Tri-County State Park. Chorus frogs and American toads have resumed singing after heavy recent rains have raised water levels, here and at Fermilab for chorus frogs, and here and at Fullersburg for toads.

5AP10. Mayslake. A jump in chorus frog numbers from last year. Last year they were at the stream corridor marsh only, and the maximum male count was 12. This year, up to 22. Furthermore, there were satellite groups in the parking lot marsh (3) and the reed-canary-grass pool east of the dog fence (5).

25OC10. Mayslake. Chorus frogs calling, three individuals in three places: one on top of a wooded hill; one in the middle of the meadow west of the dog area, and one a short distance south of the stream corridor marsh.

27OC10. Mayslake. A western chorus frog called from on or right beside the path N of the stream corridor marsh. No hibernaculum candidate there.

17MR11. Mayslake. First singers of the season, in stream corridor and parking lot marshes.

One reason chorus frogs can be difficult to see is that they often select sheltered places from which to sing. The edge of one’s expanded throat is just visible beneath the log.

One reason chorus frogs can be difficult to see is that they often select sheltered places from which to sing. The edge of one’s expanded throat is just visible beneath the log.

29SE11. Mayslake. At least 3 chorus frogs calling in close proximity in a reed canary grass area. Another in the main meadow W of dog fence.

Spring 2013. Mayslake. Hardly any chorus frog activity this spring, in the wake of last year’s drought, despite the re-filling of the marshes.

Sound Ideas: Yellow Jackets

by Charlene and Carl Strang

Mom contributed a lot of humor to our family life. One illustration of this is a poem she wrote shortly after she and Dad got married. A few years ago I set it to music and titled it “Yellow Jackets” (she simply had headed it with the year, 1949):


Only fox squirrels live in the Culver area, no grays

Only fox squirrels live in the Culver area, no grays

In the fall, before the snow, in quest of squirrel we did go.

Ted – “The Hunter” – took his gun and I went along just for the fun.

To spot a squirrel was my desire and tell the man so he could fire.

We walked around the woods a bit ‘til Ted decided we should sit.

“You sit there, right near those trees,” said he, “And I’ll stay here.”

Before I sat, I heard some bees a-buzzing in my ear.

Around and ’round my head they flew

And Ted called out, “What’s wrong with you?”

I told him what the trouble was, said he, “Come over here.”

I did, and one bee followed me, and stung him in the ear.

One nice bee was friendly and got up my trouser leg.

A few more stings, and I’d have walked as limpy as ol’ Peg!

We ran real fast and lost them then, and went to hunt elsewhere.

I hope we don’t meet bees again, they just get in my hair.

Charlene Strang, 1926-2014

by Carl Strang

Blog posts were irregular in recent days as I commuted between Culver, Indiana, where my father resides, and Memorial Hospital in South Bend, where my mother was fighting for her life. She passed away on April 4 with my father at her side, having fulfilled her wish to be taken back to Culver to go into hospice care there. It fell to me to write her obituary, which follows.

Baby portrait

Baby portrait

The happy teenager

The happy teenager

Charlene Strang of Culver concluded her loving, giving life on April 4 at the age of 87. She was given the name Charlene by her father, who was certain it could never be converted to a nickname. Naturally she later became “Chuckie” to the many who were enriched by knowing her as wife, mother, friend, and significant contributor to the Culver community. Born in Chicago to a family founded by her German immigrant grandparents, Charlene spent enjoyable childhood summers at the family’s second home at Bass Lake. There as a teenager she met the Culver youngster, Ted Strang, who was to become her husband after his World War II service ended. Their marriage over the subsequent decades was a model of love and dedication. She is survived by Ted, by two sons (Carl of Warrenville, Illinois, and Gary with wife Lisa of Easton, Maryland), and by Gary and Lisa’s three sons (Greg Strang of Cambridge, Maryland; Captain Derek Strang who is an Air Force pilot in Mountain Home, Idaho; and Lt. Brice Strang, U.S. Army Reserve, of Easton, Maryland).

On her wedding day

On her wedding day

Holding me at 6 weeks

Holding me at 6 weeks

With grandsons Greg and Derek, Thanksgiving 1988

With grandsons Greg and Derek, Thanksgiving 1988

Chuckie became a pillar of the Culver community. She was in fact the face of the town to newcomers when she served as Culver’s Welcome Wagon Lady for many years. Others first knew her at a much younger age, when she worked as a preschool teacher at the Wesley United Methodist Church. To this day many graduates of that school, now adults, remember her with fondness. A profoundly devout Christian, at various other times she served in that church’s office and was a regular worker at its Thrift Shop. Equal in importance to Chuckie, and to Ted, was their association with Culver’s VFW Post 6919. She was a life member and past president of its auxiliary, and for many years its treasurer. She also volunteered for the American Red Cross in blood drives, and was active in the Culver City Club, a locally focused service organization. All of this service was recognized in 1992 when Chuckie was selected the Grand Marshall of the Lakefest Parade.

The Grand Marshall

The Grand Marshall

Elderberry in Winter

by Carl Strang

American elder, or elderberry, is a shrub with a fairly broad ecological range, though it usually wants its feet somewhat wet.

The large flower clusters produce many small black berries.

The large flower clusters produce many small black berries.

In winter it often takes the form of a cluster of stems.

The overall profile often is vase-like, vaguely reminiscent of ocotillo.

The overall profile often is vase-like, vaguely reminiscent of ocotillo.

The stems have unimpressive tips.

The stems have unimpressive tips.

The thick twigs are covered in lenticels. The paired buds will produce compound leaves. ]

The thick twigs are covered in lenticels. The paired buds will produce compound leaves. ]

Sound Ideas: The Edge

by Carl Strang

This recording is my narration of a true story, perhaps the most profound experience of my graduate study seasons in western Alaska. Fair warning, it goes more than 15 minutes, but many have told me it is worth it.


The bluffs, summer

The bluffs, summer

Tundra hare, before its summer molt

Tundra hare, before its summer molt

Tent frame, our field home

Tent frame, our field home

Cut-leaved Teasel in Winter

by Carl Strang

When it comes to winter botany, some plants essentially vanish, others can be difficult to connect to their growing-season form, but then there are what I call cognates, the species that are so unchanged from their summer shape that we have no trouble recognizing them. Cut-leaved teasel is one of these.

The basic form of the head was established when it was flowering.

The basic form of the head was established when it was flowering.

Teasel in bloom

Teasel in bloom

The stems retain their spines in winter, and the leaves show their divided form.

Not a huggable plant.

Not a huggable plant.

Not huggable indeed, and one of our most undesirable invasive plants.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Dossier

by Carl Strang

Our two species of kinglets are early season migrants. Today’s featured species usually shows up a little later than the golden-crowned kinglet.

Kinglet, Ruby-crowned

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Ruby-crowned kinglet

I have seen this little northern-breeding bird in migrations, in northern IL and IN. Usually they travel in flocks. In 1986 they moved north later than golden-crowned kinglets, in mid-late April, mainly, in DuPage County.

26OC86. Single seen in brush at Willowbrook.

18AP87. First of year seen at Dunes State Park, IN. Has louder, harsher voice than golden-crowned. More chatter. Resembles goldfinch with a burr.

24AP87. Pratts Wayne Woods (Prairie Path). Moving from bush to bush. No vocalizations. Also, little or no probing; foraging by sight only.

21AP89. First migrants of year seen in the little park across from the Newberry Library, Chicago.

22AP89. Both kinglets at Willowbrook, using a mix of hover-gleaning and even more pursuit. Also, this is the kinglet with the song, high and thin, that has one section of accelerating notes flowing into a “chee-chee-per-chi-bee” section.

24AP89. Still at Willowbrook.

25AP89. Lots of them at Willowbrook today. First warm early morning of the year.

26AP89. A few present at Willowbrook.

3MY89. Still a few.

21OC89. Present in West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve.

17AP90. Observed at Willowbrook.

22AP90. Winfield Mounds. Has song “tsee-tsee-…(accelerating)…tsee-tsurd-tserber-tsee-tsurd-tserber-tsee.”

15OC90. Ruby-crowned kinglets at Willowbrook.

23SE91. IL Beach State Park. Kinglet in black oak, reaching, lunging, and very short-flight hover gleaning. 3-12″ per move, less than 0.5 second per perch.

12AP99. Willowbrook. Golden-crowned kinglets nearly gone (saw only 1), but ruby-crowneds have arrived.

20AP99. Ruby-crowneds are showing their red crests today (first time since they started arriving), defending little feeding areas along the stream at Willowbrook. Flycatching and flush-pursuit foraging.

21AP99. Today they still are foraging with much aerial pursuit, but are moving together in groups. No crests showing.

7MY99. A second major wave of ruby-crowned kinglets, probably females, at Willowbrook. None seen after this date that spring.

1&11OC99. Migrants at Willowbrook.

12AP00. Migrants at Willowbrook, singing occasionally.

16AP00. Willowbrook. Several ruby‑crowned kinglets on the preserve, some singing. Two observed showed much more flycatching than golden‑crowneds showed this spring, and some hover‑gleaning. Longer pauses on each perch while searching for an insect to pursue.

22AP00. Morton Arboretum. Both kinglets still present.

14OC00. The past week at Willowbrook, and today at Fermilab, ruby-crowneds foraging mainly in prairie areas with scattered shrubs, concentrating on the shrubs but occasionally visiting goldenrods as well. This open area foraging contrasts with their usual spring woodland preference. Golden-crowneds this fall have been sticking to the woodlands.

7AP01. A couple ruby-crowns seen among numerous golden-crowns at Greene Valley Forest Preserve. One of them occasionally sang.

20OC01. A kinglet foraging alone in a tall herbaceous patch (mainly goldenrods that have gone to seed) at McKee Marsh. I have seen several others behaving similarly the past couple of weeks. It flies from stalk to stalk, perching just below the seed/flower heads and looking all around, apparently for insects. Occasionally makes a hover-gleaning move, often against a seed head.

13OC02. An individual giving a quick, 2-noted call similar to chattering of house wren or perhaps yellowthroat.

9OC05. West DuPage Woods. Golden-crowned kinglets foraging in crowns of trees while ruby-crowneds are mainly within 4 feet of the ground in herbs and shrubs beneath, only occasionally and briefly venturing into the lower canopies. Ruby-crowneds have a quick, chattering-quality “checkit” call. Hover-gleaning their most common foraging method today.

5-11NO05. During my southern vacation, I found golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets all the way to the Gulf of Mexico

23OC07. Fullersburg. A ruby-crowned flashed red in a brief squabble with another.

9AP13. Mayslake. A ruby-crowned kinglet was perched in place and chattering much like an irritated house wren.

Literature Review: Plant-Pollinator Ecology

by Carl Strang

Bombus impatiens queen on red clover flower head

Bombus impatiens queen on red clover flower head

Soon we’ll have flowers blooming and bees buzzing. Here are some studies of interactions between plants and their insect pollinators from last year:

Burkle, Laura A., John C. Marlin, and Tiffany M. Knight. 2013. Plant-pollinator interactions over 120 years: loss of species, co-occurrence, and function. Science 339:1611-1615. They studied forest understory pollinators around Carlinville, IL, not far from St. Louis, comparing present-day species to those documented by a researcher in the late 1800’s. They found that 50% of bee species have gone extinct there. Changes have included the conversion of most forest and prairie land to agriculture, and an increase of 2°C in spring and fall temperatures which has resulted in phenological mismatches. Focusing on the interactions of forest floor forbs and bees, they found that only 24% of the original interactions had survived, though this was compensated in part by new ones, “such that the absolute difference of interactions lost was 46%.” All 26 species of forbs have persisted. The lost bees were predominantly specialists, parasites, cavity-nesters and those whose interactions with the plants were weak because of limited phenological overlap. They found a reduction in pollinator visits per flower, and expressed concern about this, about the loss of stabilizing redundancy in the entire network, and the continued weakening of phenology matches.

Rasmussen, C, et al. 2013. Strong impact of temporal resolution on the structure of an ecological network. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81694. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081694    They looked at day-to-day changes in pollinator-plant connections in a Greenland tundra ecosystem, and compared them to the season-wide summary typical of past studies. They found that the difference is significant. Many indirect links between species that had been implied by the static network proved to be impossible in the dynamical ones because the species are active at different points in the season. The nature of generalist vs. specialist species also becomes transformed because of the limited phenological availabilities of the various species. Their methods involved a focus on a 500m x 500m study area, with randomly selected plants (or 5x5cm clusters where individual plants were difficult to separate), observed for 40-minute intervals.

Eggs, B., and D. Sanders 2013. Herbivory in spiders: the importance of pollen for orb-weavers. PLoS ONE 8(11): e82637. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082637 They looked at the diets of juveniles in two species of orb-weavers, and found that pollen, ingested when the spiders recycled their webs, made up 25% of their diet. Flying insects (flies and hymenoptera) made up most of the rest. The pollen ingestion was not incidental, as the spiders deliberately use an external digestive process to consume pollen grains too large to be eaten without such treatment. They regard these spiders as omnivores rather than carnivores.

Clarke, Dominic, Heather Whitney, Gregory Sutton, and Daniel Robert. 2013. Detection and learning of floral electric fields by bumblebees. Science 340:66-69. They showed experimentally that bumblebees can read electrical information from flowers. The bees themselves transfer electrons that quickly can change flowers’ electrical fields, so that bees can read which flowers have or have not been visited recently by others. Intrinsic electrical qualities also can be added to color and shape to help bees identify flower species and suitability for visits.

More Mayslake Mammal Action

by Carl Strang

As the snow rapidly melts away, mammals have adjusted. Meadow voles used the snow to advance their tunnel network into the lawns, but these now are exposed.

The voles had to retreat to more sheltered runways.

The voles had to retreat to more sheltered runways.

The voles’ larger relatives, the muskrats, at last are getting some open water to work in.

This one was quick to take advantage of the first few square feet of open water to appear in the parking lot marsh.

This one was quick to take advantage of the first few square feet of open water to appear in the parking lot marsh.

Coyotes now find the going easier.

This one’s muddy feet left a trail easy to see on the black-sealed pavement.

This one’s muddy feet left a trail easy to see on the black-sealed pavement.

Close-up of hind and front footprints

Close-up of hind and front footprints

Rabbits are better camouflaged now, but they have lost some of their advantage as the running surface hardens.

This cottontail lost a race with a coyote.

This cottontail lost a race with a coyote.

And I am happy to add myself to the list of mammals glad to see the snow departing.

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