Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Insects of the Pacific Rim

J. Linsley Gressitt (and here) was an incredibly productive (some might say workaholic) man. I've heard stories of him typing up manuscripts on military aircraft that weren't the quietest or smoothest of rides. He was passionate about the insect fauna of the Asia-Pacific region and published a lot on the taxonomy and biogeography of several groups, and established the Wau Ecology Institute which has been an important centre for much research on the natural history of PNG.

It is fitting then that one of the finest collections of South Pacific insects is named after the man. The J. L. Gressitt Centre for Research in Entomology is housed at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii and houses over 14 million specimens, many of which were collected by the man himself. They've recently got themselves an automontage facility, and have begun putting spectacular photos of South Pacific insects online (such as the PNG brentid weevil above). Check out the Solomon Island staphylinids as well... They say they're going to put up something new each week. I really hope they do, because the photos are pretty cool.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Pacific trade statistics

I am not an economist, nor have I ever considered becoming one. But sometimes a man just HAS to know about the exports, imports and trade of South Pacific island nations and when he does, here's a few sites to check out...

The Pacific Economic Monitor is a quarterly publication of the Asian Development Bank that describes the current economic climate of the Pacific Islands. It started at the beginning of this year, and contains a lot of information if you know what it's talking about.

The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has a couple of pages on regional and international trade, and has a large, serious document that discusses Pacific regional trade and economic cooperation.

The Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commission NZ is an organisation that promotes trade between New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. They have a statistics page.

Polynesian plant names

I have recently come across a mighty tome. The Dictionary of Polynesian Plant Names by Karl Rensch and Arthur Whistler weighs in at over 700 pages in length and contains a mighty amount of information on what species of plant are called what names on what island or island group in the Pacific.

While essentially it is just a list of names, it also contains some fascinating tidbits of information regarding cultural use of the plants. For example we find that Cordia subcordata, known as tauanave in Samoa is a highly-valued timber tree used for canoes and household implements.
We also discover that mafa'i in Tongan refers to the cucurbit Luffa cylindrica var. insularum, a creeper whose fruit makes a good sponge. The relative value of each of the plants is also shown by the number of names given to each plant, with Finderlist 2 show

This book is obviously a book that is the result of much scholarship and research by the authors. No doubt it is also a labour of love, with both authors having much experience in the South Pacific. A reference work of great value for biologists, linguists and anybody interested in the interaction of people and their environment in Polynesia. Unfortunately, it appears to be privately published, and thus is hard to obtain. If anyone knows where to get it from, let the rest of us know...

Rensch KH, Whistler AW. 2008. Dictionary of Polynesian Plant Names. Archipelago Press, Canberra. 723 pp

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Colour matching feature in R

I love R. It is an open-source statistical programming language that I found reasonably easy to learn, and find it incredibly versatile and useful. Because it's open-source anyone can contribute to it, and there are a huge number of packages that extend its capabilities to do pretty much anything.

I've been using it to do Principal Components Analysis on some colour data that I measured from photos of some Carpophilus specimens, and was trying to figure out how to relate the RGB values I got from the photos to actual names. R has in its core packages a colors() function with a lot of names assigned to particular RGB values. Thankfully, Barry Rowlingson has come up with a very nice little function that figures out which colour names the RGB value is closest to:

nearColour <- function(r,g,b){
ctable = col2rgb(colors())
cdiff = ctable - c(r,g,b)
cdist = cdiff[1,]*cdiff[1,]+cdiff[2,]*cdiff[2,]+cdiff[3,]*cdiff[3,]
return(colors()[cdist == min(cdist)])
Pretty useful for standardising colour names!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Pacific Science issues online

Pacific Science is a quarterly journal published by the University of Hawaii Press in conjunction with the Pacific Science Association. First published in 1947, it is one of the longest running peer-reviewed science periodicals that is focussed primarily on the South Pacific region. As such, it is an excellent resource for those of us interested in the region.

PDFs of all back issues published prior to the year 2000 are available free of charge from this website. Unfortunately, the search function leaves a lot to be desired, but it is extremely useful if you know what you're looking for, and very interesting to have a browse through.