Lion apps don’t eat buffalo apps

Well, it is time to make some lemonade.

I’m going to turn this gripe into something more productive.

Let me just start by saying that I am tired of the term “Android Ecosystem”.  This, of course, is in reference to the massive store of apps available on the internet droid-based phones that are supposed to be “competing” with one another for supremacy of the mobile-world.

The term has been thrown around for several years now, which to an ecologist and evolutionary theorist has been a troubling few years.

My grief stems from the simple premise that the massive array of apps is not an ecosystem even though its progenitors continuously promote the changing face of “the android ecosystem”.

An ecosystem is defined in many ways, but basically it is a description of everything alive and non-living within an area, and how the living organisms use/exploit energy and nutrients amongst one another.  The term was coined in the 1930’s to relate how materials moved between different organisms and further expanded by other biologists to focus largely on energy flow through trophic levels (levels of food consumption such as plants, plant-eater, carnivore, etc.).

Interactions within biologic ecosystems are very dynamic with animals predating on others, having sex, fighting one another, and most importantly, obtaining energy from the sun.  That is the driving force of ecosystems. As mentioned on previous posts, without the energy of the sun being internalized by plants in the form of sugar, ecosystems would not be able to function.  Throughout time these interactions change as the external environment and climate alter.  These changes ultimately will allow organisms to evolve into different species or go extinct, opening up new areas in the ecosystem for other species to exploit the system’s energy.

How does this relate the android ecosystem?  There are several things that are similar between the android app mass and ecosystems:  1) They both contain a plethora of species; 2) Both are changing over time; 3) most importantly, both are Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamic System or NETS.

NETS are organized systems that maintain their structure solely by the influx and flow of “energy”.  The quotation marks are used because, despite the use of electricity as an actual energy source, the Android Play Store is not maintained by the flow of electrons across gradients, but instead is kept alive by the consumers downloading applications for their phone.  If people stop downloading apps for their droid phones the entire system will collapse.  With an ecosystem, the structure of the organisms is maintained by the energy from the sun.  Plants harness the sun to grow, making their structures larger and reproducing.  Other organisms eat plants or decomposing food to obtain the remaining energy to grow their bodies and reproduce.  So the system continues so long as there is energy to help the organisms stay alive.  NETS are found in many other places in our world and studying them has been a little hobby of mine, so there will be more written in the future.

How are real ecosystems and the writhing mass of droid apps most different? 1) The apps do not interact with one another as to exploit energy between apps (no energy flow within app market); 2) They do not reproduce; 3) They do not evolve through the same type of processes; 4) few apps really go extinct.

Let’s explore these in more depth. The applications do not interact with each other.  There is only competition between apps for the attention and download by the consumer.  Because of this, the “energy” flow is very shallow.  To be honest, there is some monetary energy flow through the advertising that likely deepens the energy flow, but again the competition is between apps for the consumer’s download so that the most successful apps will receive more monetary “energy” from outside their cyber-world.  A true ecosystem needs the constitutent units to interact with one another in the process of exploiting energy trapped within other units.

Apps don’t reproduce unless they are malicious.  And frankly, these are the closest programs to living organisms, but that is a discussion for another day.  New apps come to the market through the hand of human creators, not through biotic-style genetic-based evolutionary processes.

The rapid developement of new apps to the ever-changing world of consumer whims does not follow biotic evolutionary models of species survival and extinction, but that is fine since very few other properties of the App market follow real ecosystems either.  On a little aside, each app should be considered a new species if the app market were to be painted as an ecosystem, because there are fairly large differences in programming even between similar apps.

Finally, very few apps actually go extinct.  Within the biologic world when an organism or species go extinct their bodies decay and hopefully become fossils, but in most cases their energy is no longer available for exploitation.  (Fossil fuels are an obvious exception to the rule.)  Droid apps on the other hand simply sit in the market place taking up space or they lie around on the internet waiting to be downloaded again as long as someone leaves them there.   In fact one could consider the droid market to be a giant demolition derby with the wreckage of other failed apps clogging up the cyber space for those still driving.  If there is a great change in consumer’s wants and they decide to download some early version of a pac-man app, that app will likely still be around if just in a state of suspended animation.  Wait!!! you say, apps are just a new type of organism.  Well, I thought of that too.  And no they are not, here is why.

Bottom line of this post is that Android apps do not live in an ecosystem.  They live in a highly active ECONOMIC system.  Applications are simple human produced artisan crafts for sale within a digital platform.  Nothing more.

I applaud the marketing genius that first started using Android Ecosystem because it places an image of apps interacting, lion apps eating buffalo apps.  But that is simply not the case.  To me, it is just as exciting to celebrate the creativity of humans by telling the truth about the app market, calling it the Android SAFE (Supreme Application Free Enterprise).


What happens when you put a dinosaur in a box?

Today I published an exciting piece of research on a topic I have been thinking about for around a decade.

The paper is published in the journal PLOS One and can downloaded at here.

As brief background, during a time in the Cretaceous called the Campanian stage, North America had a large sea that covered its central portion, dividing our fine continent into three large islands.  Sea levels rose a fell through this time shrinking and expanding habitat for dinosaurs.  In the West, on the island of Laramidia, a large mountain range called the Sevier Mountains formed a stark western border, leaving a small strip of land for the dinosaurs to live.

The mystery begins with the revelation by paleontologists that there were a LOT more duck-billed and horned dinosaur species during the Campanian compared to the Maastrichtian, the time period just before the K/T extinction.  Why?  That is the question I have sought to answer for so long.

Everything was fine on Laramidia with dinosaurs forming new species just as they done for the past 30 million years or so, but then, a second mountain range began to form, which changed the topography dramtically.

This is where it gets really intersting.

Have you ever thought about the very beginning of a mountain?  Where it came from?  The fact that the largest mountains all started as small hills?

This new mountain range, called the Laramide Orogeny, or the ancestral Rocky Mountains, began to divide the long strip of dinosaur habitat into many smaller habitats.  But remember that these mountains are starting as hills and slowly becoming the beautiful behemoths we know today.

As the elevation rose, climates shifted, plant communities changed with the climates, and the dinosaurs become stuck in smaller habitats, which by chance creates new species at a very rapid pace.

This figure shows that duck-billed and horned dinosaurs both separated into different groups at right about the same time. Geologic time is on the left of the figure. To the right of the dinosaurs are silouettes of the topography of North America corresponding to the geologic time. Finally, the blue and brown triangles represent the size of the inland ocean and early Rocky Mountains respectively during the corresponding times.

So during the Campanian, about 75 million years ago, duck-billed and horned dinosaurs were evolving new species very quicky.  But that changed when the seaway left the continent.  Dinosaurs now had a large area to roam (practically the entire North American continent), and the rate at which new species were created dropped precipitously.

The answer to the question: As Jurassic Park showed us, when you put a dinosaur in a box, you get eaten!

But when you put dinosaur species in a box, you get new wonderful species.

Any questions?  Comments?

Wildlife Forensics

Let me translate “Black Mamba in Toilet 5/26, confirmed 5/30”
I don’t know who had it worse, the finder, the confirmer, or the person who had to tape the same sign to the toilet door, seen in the background. (The snake was in the left toilet.)

Check out my blog on Expedition Live discussing my work in Botswana deciphering the history of carcasses of the Okavango Delta.  If you want more, just ask.

Wil get back to humans as nature’s energy gradients soon.

In the meantime, one of my favorite pictures from the Botswana trip.

Beach Inspiration

I am sitting at Carolina Beach, NC listening to the waves, feeling the wind, and doing my best not to get a sunburn.  I’m also watching my kids play in the water, all the while waiting for them to run up asking for a snack.  (Why is it that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste so good on the beach??)

Yet, in spite of the serene setting I cannot turn off my powers of observation.  My X-ray ecology goggles are permanently affixed.

I say this because underlying the world all around me are energy gradients driving our changing world.  There always has been, there always will be…until the sun burns up the Earth in a few billion years.

What I mean by energy gradients is that there is more energy on one side of something than another, and nature has a tendency to reduce this inequality by the fastest means possible.

Does this really affect us?  ABSOLUTELY!

Let’s start with the waves crashing on this beach.  The waves are derived from the wind blowing across the ocean pushing water toward the shore.  Once the waves reach water shallower than their amplitude (the depth of the wave) they rise up toward the sky with the bottom of the wave dragging on the bottom of the shore while the top of the wave continues to travel at its original speed.  Eventually, the wave top crashes over the wave bottom creating the tubular effect I utilized not one hour ago to body board.

The energy gradient there was the potential energy transformed into moving energy as nature took the mass of water resting above the other water and reduced that energy to the same level as the water.  Still not convinced that is energy driving the wave, just think about getting hit by the wave, or think about that radical surfer using the wave’s energy to ride.

What about that pesky wind blowing sand into my beer?  This breeze is derived from temperature differences in the air.  When an area of warm air is next to an area of cold air, the two areas of air try to mix in order to decrease the difference of energy.  Nature’s solution, if the difference in temperature and air masses are large enough, is wind.  Tornadoes are another way that large temperature gradients are removed because bad thunderstorms have warm air and cold air mixing, creating the conditions/need for tornadoes to disperse the difference in temperature.

One of the causes for the change in temperature that creates this beer-tainting wind is the sun.  As the sun shines, light energy is converted to heat energy on the molecules in the air, thereby warming parts of the air more than others. Nature uses wind to eliminate those temperature/energy gradients.

My kids are another incredible example of energy gradients, requiring special assistance from the sun.  No my children are not part plant, even though both are partially named for flowers, nor do they photosynthesize, even though my wallet wishes they did.

The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they ate for a snack are full of energy that was given to the plants (peanuts and blueberries and wheat, etc.) by the sun, and is trapped within the yummy molecules of those foods.

As our bodies digest the foods we utilize the important proteins to build muscle, and the energy stored in starches to power our cells for everything that they need.  All of that was created using the actual energy from the sun, straight from the sun.  Therefore, we and all living things are using the sun’s real actual energy to power our bodies.

When you think of it that way we are all Iron Men and Women.  Beat that Tony Stark.

It all started small…

Welcome to my blog.  Here you will find an eclectic collection of posts devoted to almost everything.  BUT, it will almost always be rooted in some way to natural history, and the way that our life is entangled with everything else and everyone else around us.

As a brief introduction, I live with my wife and two girls in North Carolina, and as of this writing, am a postdoc researcher with Ohio University.  My major research focuses are the evolution and biology of duck-billed dinosaurs, and the study of how ecosystems are preserved in the fossil record.  Other aspects of my life, including my love of food and libations, will be revealed in time.  Stay tuned…

Recently I returned from a research trip to Botswana where myself and wife/co-researcher Lindsay Zanno were mapping occurrences of animal carcasses.  You can read about our findings and adventures on this blog and on  The latter blog will be the most up to date source for all of our field work where you can get pictures and stay current on what dinosaurs we find, when we find them.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy!

‘Til the next time,

Bucky Gates