The Wild Life of Columbus

The untold story of the species that stowed away on Columbus’s ship and how they have since changed the world.

Columbus sailed to the Caribbean in 1492. On that landmark voyage, and in subsequent trips, he was not alone. On his small ships, he was with other sailors, as well as a wilderness of other species quietly stowed away. We don’t usually think of the ships as wilderness. In fact, the travels of some of the species Columbus and later conquistadors brought with them from Europe to the Americas, are well studied. They brought, we know, terrible pathogens to which […]

By | February 2nd, 2016|Arthropods, Feature, Homes, Stories of Your Wild Life|1 Comment

The First National Inventory of All Household Life (on a swab)

In dust one can record the actions of storms, the wearing of mountains, the consequences of industrialization. The study of dust has a long history. Geologists consider it. Toxicologists too. Arthur Conan Doyle has Sherlock Holmes look to dust to discern where a criminal might have traveled.

But perhaps the most telling feature of dust is its life. Each mote of dust is an entire world composed both of living organisms and of those in the process of falling apart. Run your finger along a surface, even one that seems clean, and in the particles you retrieve will be a measure […]

By | August 25th, 2015|Homes, Wild Life of Our Home|4 Comments

Could there be 200 million species on Earth?

Recently, one of my colleagues, Brian Brown, found thirty new species of flies in urban Los Angeles. Species not yet named. Species not yet studied. Species that could be of great value to society (or, less likely, great cost) but that had just gone missed, flying among highways and movie stars.

The discovery made by Brown and his team is wondrous, revelatory, awesome, and makes me want to look for new species of flies in my own backyard. But, in a broad sense, it is not a surprise, for one simple reason, two hundred million species live on Earth […]

By | April 13th, 2015|Books, Homes, Wild Life of Our Home|4 Comments

Evolution of the Indoor Biome

There is something living in the north-facing wall of our apartment. My partner and I have narrowed it down to an organism in the phylum Chordata; though we have not seen the thing, we are fairly certain it has a backbone. It likes to make squeaking or cawing noises at 4 a.m. Sometimes the noises make it seem very small, like a house mouse, and sometimes the noises make it seem very large, like a well-nourished raccoon. Or perhaps it is a bird. Perhaps it is a new, awesome bird species.

We know so little about the organisms that live with […]

By | March 16th, 2015|Arthropods, Homes, Indoor Evolution, News, Urban Ecology|0 Comments

A Whole New Way of Doing Citizen Science, Maybe

Some parts of science are boring. Some are tedious. Some seem as though they will never end. It is these parts of science we tend to try to enlist the public in helping with.

You can, of course, listen for birds as part of the Breeding Bird Survey, count butterflies as part of the 4th of July butterfly counts, or set out cookie crumbs to collect urban ants for our School of Ants project. These endeavors are delightful ways to engage nature. They are also relatively easy ways to participate in science. But in collecting and contributing these […]

By | December 19th, 2014|Homes, Participate, Wild Life of Our Home|1 Comment

The Tip of the Gutberg: The World’s First Map of the Patina of Feces

If one tells the story of the history of the Earth from the perspective of microbes, one of the great leaps forward was the evolution of animals with guts. From the microbial perspective, animals are wondrous contrivances that evolved for carrying their habitat, the gut, from one patch of food to another and keeping it safe.

Guts are predictably full of food and, even when they are not, all one has to do is wait. They are also constant in their pH and other conditions. They are the perfect world inside a world. Many of the most successful microbes on Earth […]

By | July 10th, 2014|Homes, Invisible Life, Wild Life of Our Home|10 Comments

Breakthrough: The Relationship Between Urbanization, Lifestyle, the Microbiome(s) and Autoimmune and Allergic Problems is Complex

Recently, the news has been awash with stories of the links between the biodiversity outside of peoples’ homes, the diversity of bacteria and other microbes inside peoples’ homes and autoimmune disorders (Crohn’s, IBD, autism, you name it). The general idea is less biodiversity outside = less inside = a dysfunctional immune system. Personally, the existence of such links seems likely. I have written about them lovingly elsewhere. But given the flurry of recent news stories about microbe biodiversity studies, it seems worth calling attention to something that seems to be getting missed. We are ignorant.

I don’t mean this […]

By | June 19th, 2014|Homes, Urban Ecology, Wild Life of Our Home|2 Comments

The Future of Discovery

In March 2014, Rob spoke at TEDxSantaCruz, explaining how much we don’t know about the species living on us, in us and around us – the life, large and small, inhabiting our belly buttons, our foreheads, our homes, our backyards.

He shared the approach we’re taking at Your Wild Life (and in our new Students Discover education initiative) to harness the power of the public – via citizen science – to make real discoveries about these species with whom we share our daily lives.

To quote his final thought in the talk, “We can see more together than we can […]

The Wild Life of Chimpanzee Nests

We share a lot with you, dear readers. Some might say too much (ahem, the plight of our own armpit bacteria, for example). Yet believe it or not, we don’t share quite everything. Sometimes we’re working behind the scenes, out of the public eye, cooking up a new project, developing a nugget of an idea or cultivating a collaboration. Sometimes it takes awhile to get these new things organized, to gather all the ingredients, to slowly bring the collaboration or project to a boil, to get an idea to a stage where it’s ready for public consumption. It may […]

By | April 15th, 2014|Arthropods, Homes, Projects, Wild Life of Our Home|0 Comments

Delayed Gratification, Citizen Science and Why You Might Not Have Received an Email about Your Sample Yet

But, If You Are So Willing, You’ll Receive Emails and Updates for the Next 10 Years. Also, Did I Tell You about the Cats?

I do not have any particular predilection for delayed gratification. I can’t watch YouTube videos because I don’t like not being able to control the pace and see where I am going. I don’t like departmental seminars because almost inevitably one can read the paper faster (and get to the good parts) than one can listen to the talk. Actually, this is too meek of a statement. I actually hate departmental seminars. My wife is patient. My […]

Why Western Tanzania Might Feel Something Like Home

Does your living room floor have more in common with a prairie grassland or a desert?  Are our basements really just urban versions of caves?

As we explore the life that coexists with us in our houses, we begin to think of our homes as ecosystems. With our thermostats, fans and insulated windows, we are creating a distinct habitat within our homes. But what kind of habitat are we creating, exactly? Are there natural, wild places on Earth that share similar climate conditions to those we are creating inside our houses?

We are currently trying to figure this out! Using data […]

By | January 22nd, 2014|Global Change, Homes, Wild Life of Our Home|0 Comments

How to turn any dataset into a glowing worm

A few decades ago gene expression, the process by which the code books of genes are turned into proteins, was invisible. It happened in every living thing, but where and when a particular gene was being expressed was a complicated secret nature was reluctant to reveal. Then came Martin Chalfie, who I recently had the great pleasure to meet as part of seminar at North Carolina State University (whereupon he told me this story). Chalfie was studying nematodes, those transparent little worms that dwell in soil, on skin and even in tap water, but are best known for […]

Looking ahead to 2014 — We want to hear from YOU!

Time sure flies when we’re having fun, doesn’t it? With 2013 winding down, we think it’s a good time to pause and take stock of where we’ve been this last year.

A few highlights:

  • We’ve sent hundreds, nay thousands (!), of swabs off to Colorado for DNA sequencing to identify the tiny organisms living on the surfaces of homes. Noah Fierer recently shared an exciting update about those analyses:

We’re now […]

The Climate Inside

Our houses modify the climate around them. In great densities, our houses and other buildings can change weather patterns. Urbanization increases temperatures. It can also affect storms. Atlanta, Georgia actually causes lightning to form that would not otherwise exist. If one wanted evidence that we were messing with Zeus, this seems to be it. Cities change the weather outside, but what about the weather inside?

A single house on its own can create new climate conditions, conditions far different from those outside the front door (We love to be comfortable). But just how different? Ecologists have spent centuries characterizing the […]

By | August 5th, 2013|Explainer, Homes, Projects|1 Comment

Taking a Closer Look at the Dog Data

A few weeks ago we announced the publication of our first research paper from the Wild Life of Our Homes project, based on microbial data collected by 40 citizen households in North Carolina.

One of the most interesting findings in this paper was that the presence or absence of a dog in a home explained nearly half of the variation in the bacterial composition on the pillows and TV screens in the houses we studied.

As Rob explained in a recent blog post, the pillows in dog homes tended to have bacteria associated with dog mouths (such as spirochetes […]

By | June 7th, 2013|Explainer, Homes, Projects|1 Comment