Students understanding cats – territorial behaviour and home range of community cats

Note the date has been corrected to this Wednesday,i.e. 30 Mar 2011.

Community cats are free-roaming cats managed by volunteers who have adopted the Trap-Neuter-Return-Manage program as advocated by the Cat Welfare Society and SPCA. Studying the ecology of community cats is a way for us to better understand and appreciate these animals.

This year, a group of cross-faculty students observed the behaviour exhibited between individual community cats in their neighbourhood while a 3rd year biology student followed 10 cats in a single estate to plot their home range.

This Wednesday, we all meet to exchange notes. All are welcome to join us.

Wednesday 30 Mar 2011: 6.30pm – 7.30pm
DBS Conference Room, S3-05
Host: N. Sivasothi

Talk 1 – “Territoriality in cats: food versus space”

We observed the behavior of community cats in five housing estates in Singapore, by measuring the distance between individuals before, during and after feeding. Cats tolerated the proximity of other individuals in the presence of food and general behavioural patterns will be described as well as traits specific to certain individuals.

By Chua Hui Xuan Valerie, Heng Yuan Hao, Koh Hui Qin Alethea, Tan Shu Ling Leanne, Wong Yimin
Group 01, LSM1303 Animal Behaviour project group 2010/11 Sem 2

Talk 2 – “Peak activity, home range size and overlap of community cats in a mature TRNM estate – a discussion of a preliminary study. “

By Mei AIlian
LSM3288 Undergraduate Opportunities in Science 2010/11 Sem 2 (ongoing).

About the talk – While human-cat conflict has been examined the past, the ecology of sterilised community cats has not yet been examined. This study used scan and focal surveys of 10 out of 24 cats in an HDB estate, investigating the peak activity of the cats and the distribution, overlap, gender influence and feeding location on home range. The diversity of sociality of individual cats were also examined in this study.


Andie Ang regales TEDxNUS with tales of the Banded Leaf Monkey in Singapore

On this day of Earth Hour , one of the Biodiversity Crew did her bit injecting the audience at TEDxNUS with tales of Singapore’s biodiversity – Andie Ang regaled the crowd with tales of the Banded Leaf Monkey. From the tweets below (in reverse chronology) you can see she had a great time with the typically enthusiastic TEDxNUS audience; great job Andie!

#tedxnus - Twitter Search

(20) #tedxnus - Twitter Search

Thanks to Evo flunky labmate Ang Yu Chen (a TedxNUS 2010 speaker) who went down to capture leaf monkey girl in action:

Thu 31 Mar 2011: 12pm – Yap Von Bing on “How to sample humans, animals, plants and ‘fossils'”

NUS Faculty of Science Lunchtime Talk
** Sandwiches will be provided for the first 100 attendees **

“How to sample humans, animals, plants, and ‘fossils'”

By Assoc Prof Yap Von Bing
Department of Statistics and Applied Probability

Thu 31 March 2011: 12.00pm – 1.00pm
Lecture Theatre 31
Block S16, Level 3, Faculty of Science, NUS

About the talk – “Many ecological studies aim to characterize a population with a sample, hence can benefit greatly from lessons learnt over a century’s surveys. These issues will be illustrated with past US presidential elections, and placed in the ecological context. A recent study of a horseshoe crab habitat in Singapore will be described in detail, focusing on the sampling strategy.

I will also discuss concrete examples of using the two-sample statistical test to answer scientific questions; these have three flavours: (a) test is justified, and question is readily interpretable, (b) test is justified, but question is not so interpretable, (c) test is not justified.

This talk is pitched at the level of budding ecologists (ideally before their fascinating field activities), but the general ideas can be interesting to a wider audience. Recommendations will be given on balancing sound presentation of numerical data with the pressure to produce respectable-looking statistics.

About the speaker – Yap Von Bing has degrees in Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Statistics. His research interest is the application of statistics to biological problems, in particular DNA evolution and genomics. The effective teaching of statistics is another pursuit that has gained substantially from numerous consultations for colleagues, mostly from the Faculty of Science.

You are welcome to attend these monthly Lunchtime Science Talks organized by the Faculty of Science. These talks aim to provide a general introduction to important areas of scientific research and are suitable for both researchers and undergraduates. They will be given by prominent Faculty of Science staff who have won recognition for their work or who have been recently promoted.

Spot the monkeys!

In anticipation to Andie’s monkey talk next saturday at TEDxNUS, here’s a little primer to get you all into monkey-mode!

Thanks to the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), Andie does regular fieldtrips up to Panti, Johor to survey the banded leaf-monkeys there as a point of comparison for the Singaporean counterparts. Recently, while looking for the banded leaf monkeys, she came across a whole troupe of dusky leaf monkeys. these are close cousins to the banded leaf monkeys, and much less shy, but oddly, are not found in Singapore.

So aloof to Andie’s presence,  these duskies were going about their daily routine while she began to do her paparazzi. In the picture below are actually TEN dusky leaf monkeys!

dusky leaf monkeys hiding!Can you spot them all? To make things easier for you,
we’ve made a viewer to zoom in and scrutinize the picture here.


(If flash doesn’t work for you, click here for the large-res actual photo)

Elusive, aren’t they? Click here to reveal the monkeys!

Andie will have this and more in her talk come next saturday (26 March).


What can I do for conservation from so far away?

Every year, Navjot Sodhi and I play a bad cop, good cop routine with Duke University students from Dan Rittschof and Michael Orbach’s Urban Tropical Ecology class.

This morning Navjot Sodhi adopted his Dr Doomsday persona as usual when talking about conservation in South East Asia but he ended with a hopeful note (‘a Hollywood ending’ he said), citing Pilai Poonswad’s exemplary hornbill work in Thailand.

Then brought up the question, ‘what can I do for conservation from so far away?’ To answer this, he showed a TEDx video featuring’s indefatigable Rhett Butler talking about how his passion fueled his work and in 2010 helped mount international protest against the pillage of rosewood logging in Madagascar.

An excellent example indeed!

New journal article just published – data uncertainty, wetland loss, policy implications.

“Information uncertainty arising from poor data analysis (model selection, poor source checking and propagation) is inherent in many scientific estimates.” Alrighty!

Friess, D. A & E. L. Webb, 2011. Bad data equals bad policy: how to trust estimates of ecosystem loss when there is so much uncertainty? Environmental Conservation, published online: 14 Mar 2011, doi: 10.1017/S0376892911000026.

Friess &  Webb - Cambridge Journals Online - Abstract - Bad data equals bad policy: how to trust estimates of ecosystem loss when there is so much uncertainty?

Links – abstract, article (NUS proxy)

Girls do complexity better than guys?

A number of you might remember me harassing you to do the online ‘Complexity Test’ some time back last year, and promised to get back on how deviant you are compared to the general population.

For those who aren’t too familiar with it, I’m interested in how people perceive complexity. What is complexity? How do we define it? How do we quantify it? For example, most people might see a star more complex than say, a circle. So I got a whole bunch of people to arrange and rank four sets of shapes; shapes like these:

And when I have enough data, I’ll try to compare our human algorithmic prowess with more standardized numerical methods. It’ll also be interesting to see how people perform relative to the general population mean.

So as promised, here are some preliminary results. The graph below shows how males and females (from a popualtion size of 90 people) perform in the test relative to the overall population mean, with the leftmost columns being the ‘best’ predictors and the rightmost the ‘worst’ predictors. See below for a more detailed explanation for the X-axis legend.

Overall, girls seem to be better predictors of complexity but have a wider spread; the best and worst predictors are both ladies, and the worst ones differed by a substantial lot.

Guys on the other hand seem to have a tighter curve, but neither shone nor failed as much as the ladies.


  • Robot Predictor – You got all, or nearly all the shapes right. You seem to be able to tell what we regular humans think we know and tell us what we want to hear. You were probably born with a caul and psychic, or are actually a cybernetic organism, living tissue over metal endoskeleton, fitting too well into the human norm. Either way you are too ‘normal’ to be trusted.
  • Regular Joe/Jane – You got around 50-75% of the shapes right. Yes, you’re pretty much a run-of-the-mill human, with human error rates.
  • Deviant – If this was a graded test, you failed. You got only 25-49% of the shapes right. You choose a square when everyone else chooses a circle. A chimp might have better success than you at those IQ tests with shapes.
  • Bloody Aberration – You got pretty much everything wrong. You should be locked up; who knows what goes on in your head. As Goya would say, your sense of reasoning is asleep, and it breeds monsters.

Those who have already done the test left their email with me can look forward an even more detailed and complex analysis of their behavior, future and personality mailed to them to see how deviant they are. It’ll be as accurate as tasseography. All I can say now is that Tommy is so far the best male predictor!

As said, these current results are preliminary, and yes, I do need more test subjects to improve my statistical power, so please, if and when you have 15 minutes or so, click the link below to access the page and do the ranking.


Deadline for result compilation is a 2 weeks from now (end March) so do it fast!


A few pointers for the test:

Whats important is that each shape be given a rank. There are ten ranks, with 1 being the most simple, 10 being the most complex. Important: both values 1 and 10 MUST be used. This is to allow for standardization of the data. You can however skip rank numbers inbetween, i.e. a series of shapes can be ranked 1,2,3,3,6,6,7,9,10,10, where i have skipped values 4 and 5 because the jump in complexity between the fourth and fifth shape is just too high to have only one or two jumps in rank.

Please make sure you complete each set properly; sets with unranked shapes will have to be discarded. you can however complete sets separately and submit them individually (as it can get a little tiring after a while), but please remember to leave your particulars in the field provided so that i can track and concatenate the data.

So what is complexity? Its up to your own innate senses to decide. You shouldnt think too much about whether this shape is more complex than the other – just go with the gut flow.

So thats it, and thanks so much for your valued help! Do spread this link to people you know, but please make sure that they are reliable as the test can get a little tiring, and it should be taken seriously, since this is going to be part of published work.

As a reward, I’ll send a report to everyone who has completed the test to show you how ‘deviant’ you are from the rest of humanfolk in terms of perceiving complexity!


Sujatha leaves the Evolab with a PNAS paper

Dr. Sujatha Kutty left for London yesterday morning after being with the Evolab for 8 years. During her stay here she has contributed a lot, scientifically and in many other ways. Since joining in 2003, she published 8 papers (3 in Mol. Phyl. & Evol, 2 in Cladistics and Syst. Ent., 1 in Zootaxa), one correspondence in Nature, and is leaving the lab as a co-author on a forthcoming PNAS paper.

Sujatha’s work focused on molecular phylogeny of calyptrates, a part of NSF’s “FLYTREE” project. She has also been involved in phylogenetic studies of other groups of organisms. She has been instrumental in the setup of the RMBR cryo-collection, as well as keeping the molecular side of the Evolutionary Biology lab running. Moreover, she patiently mentored countless students in and outside the lab. Indeed, for several of us, she has been the first person to go to for advice, when all the molecular methods and results fail to make sense. With so much in her hands, it was undeniably her “zen” attitude that allowed her stay on for so long; we all took considerable advantage of that!

Thanks a lot, Sujatha! We are all missing you, and we are sure that you will be getting troubled by us very soon. We wish you all the very best for your work at Imperial College and Natural History Museum. We can’t wait for your next visit to Singapore.