An Earth Day Message From AOS’s President-Elect

Thomas W. Sherry

When I agreed to run for President-Elect of AOS, I mentioned three ambitions I wanted to pursue with the society. These can be simplified to scholarship about birds, activism, and reaching out to people throughout the hemisphere, especially Latin America. I thought it might be appropriate to revisit these intersecting themes focused on three thoughts appropriate for today, April 22, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

The first thought has to do with scholarship, particularly in Latin America. I wanted to draw the attention of AOS membership to a scholarly effort that is well underway, namely the publication of a special feature in our journals on Neotropical ornithology. I hope all of you will pay close attention as these papers come out in both our society journals; some of the papers more theoretical, and some are more applied. The Neotropics are the most bird species-rich region of the planet, and understanding the diversity and conservation needs of Neotropical birds is of particular interest to AOS. The review of this topic by distinguished ornithological scholars is particularly timely, in my opinion.

The second thought is that during my isolation at home during the current pandemic, with some time saved that I would otherwise have spent commuting to work, I’ve been able to screen some films on my bucket list. I wanted to share with you how struck I was with the film Symbiotic Earth, available through Bullfrog Films (first available in 2017), which focuses on how the work of Lynn Margulis has helped propel a revolution in our thinking about biological diversity on our planet. Margulis has proposed a mechanism known as “symbiogenesis” for the origin of evolutionary novelty through symbioses of different species. This work takes us back billions of years in Earth’s evolutionary history to understand how different kinds of bacteria and other microorganisms cooperate and have cooperated, leading to the evolution of the Eukaryotic cells comprising fungi, animals, and plants. Regardless of whether you agree or not with all of Margulis’s theories, they have helped biologists focus on cooperation via symbiosis, and not just on competition among organisms, as major drivers of the evolutionary process. Her work has challenged some tenets of the Modern Synthesis of Evolution. This film is also refreshing in that it highlights the accomplishments of an important woman scientist who has rocked our intellectual boats.

The third and final thought comes from another film I just screened, titled Motherload. I was skeptical at first that a film about bicycling, specifically about a growing trend in the development and use of cargo bikes, could change how humans live and work. By the end of the film, however, I was convinced that the time for cargo bikes has come, to help free us from the automobile and from the utter dependence my generation at least has developed for fossil fuel. This film, and its protagonist (Liz Canning) and her many collaborators, convinced me of how utterly liberating these bikes are to all kinds and ages of people. This film illustrates how activism and design thinking can come together with very simple ideas that can be highly transformative to society. Films like Motherload give me hope that we humans can change our relationship to our planet, so as to make it and everything that evolved here going back billions of years more sustainable.

I hope all of you are safe and well as you celebrate this Earth Day at home. Thank you as always for being part of the AOS community, and I look forward to continuing to serve you as the incoming AOS President.

Tom Sherry
AOS President-Elect

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