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River Creek Blog: Dialogues of Discovery

Last week the Janelia Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute held another in its series of lectures, this time by the author of “The Serengeti Rules,” Dr. Sean B. Carroll, vice president of Science Education at the Institute.

Carroll discussed his study of the ecosystem at the Serengeti, located in northern Tanzania and southeastern Kenya. As he described, it’s the home of “animals of all sizes and shapes.”

He cited many examples of the variables in nature. He said that a “cattle plague” hit the area and the water buffalo and wildebeest were affected. Then an antidote was developed and it did away with the plague. Following that, the wildebeest herds exploded. And then another factor was credited with limiting wild animals—grass fires. But the grazing of the wildebeest cut the grass short. (They were known as one million lawnmowers.) As a result, there were fewer fires, and without the fires, trees became more plentiful. Thus, other animals were able to expand their population. Giraffes were also given credit.

As a consequence, Carroll came up with “The Serengeti Rules:” No. 1 -- Some animals regulate diversity; No. 2 – Some species have indirect effects on other species; No. 3 -- Regulation of some depends on density; and No. 4 – Nature is resilient.

As always the subject matter held the audience’s attention. Dr. Carroll, with a Ph.D. in immunology, is an “award-winning scientist, educator and film producer.” This was his fifth book and placed him as a “finalist in the National Book Award for non-fiction. In 2016 he received the Lewis Thomas Prize for writing about science and for his integration of science and literature.” He has “served as executive producer of more than a dozen films and earned two Emmy nominations.”

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