Saturday, January 26, 2008

The daily mammal

Sea otter
The Daily Mammal expresses a dream of New Mexico-based artist Jennifer Rae Atkins "to [try to] draw [close to] every mammal on earth." Jennifer has set out a goal of drawing one mammal each day. "Since there are about 5,000 named mammal species, give or take, it should take [her] about 14 years to meet this goal."

The illustration atop this post accompanies Jennifer's entry on the sea otter (Enhydra lutris):
Sea otters, which live in the coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea, have the thickest fur of any mammal. That's because unlike other aquatic mammals, sea otters don't have blubber and rely on their fur to insulate them. They spend most of their time on their backs.
Sea otterThat thick fur coat spurred the practice of hunting sea otters to the point of their extirpation from much of their historic range. Removing a predator such as the sea otter can have dramatic impacts on the population of other organisms. Sea otters consume sea urchins, and urchins eat kelp. Removing otters has cascading effects. The devastation of Pacific kelp bed communities in the wake of the sea otter trade provided a vivid illustration of keystone species concept. Nearly four decades later — an eternity in contemporary science — the original article documenting the relationship between sea otter populations and kelp beds, J.A. Estes & J.F. Palmisano, Sea Otters: Their Role in Structuring Nearshore Communities, 185 Science 1058 (1974), remains a classic.

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