Digital Researcher

What can you do with a photo of a Gray Ghost?

Sometimes a paper comes with an image that deserves more attention. What can you do with images that should be shared? We're adding a Pinterest account.

The photo isn’t actually evidence of the paranormal, but does carry an echo of the past. Back in 2010 I was told we had an article coming out about people harvesting Pitaya de Mayo, also known as the Gray Ghost Organ Pipe cactus or Stenocereus pruinosus. I had a mental image of what was going on, then I saw this photo, and that mental image was shattered.

Harvest of Gray Ghost Organ Pipe cactus, Pitaya de Mayo
Cactus Harvest. Photo: Fabiola Parra

The photo ties in with the paper Evolution under domestication: ongoing artificial selection and divergence of wild and managed Stenocereus pruinosus (Cactaceae) populations in the Tehuacán Valley, Mexico, and one I like a lot. When we look back at domestication we can easily get the view the process has ended, so explaining domestication is a matter of drawing a neat line from wild ancestor to now. The paper by Parra et al. shows that at a human scale it’s a lot more messy, and while plants producing better fruits are selected, there’s no clear goal as to what the final result should be. Unlike fruit production in industrialised agriculture, the farmers aren’t aiming for conformity to one ideal. Instead domestication is increasing genetic diversity of cacti in the forests.

One of the things I liked about the study was tying the activity on the ground through ethnobotany to genetic analysis so the researchers could see what the results of the actions were. It’s always good when two completely different methods lead to a similar conclusion.

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So what do you do with a photo like this?

We put out a press release. Some newswires picked up the release, but the photo didn’t get any attention. This has annoyed me, because I like it a lot. Looking at what people like on our Facebook page, we can see that some images click with people, either because they look stunning, or because they clearly demonstrate some cycle. We’re now working on giving images the attention they deserve. You can follow AoB Blog on Pinterest if you want to browse what we’re blogging here by image.

On Pinterest you’ll pretty much just get the image, the title of the blog post it’s with and the source. We have experimented with adding more information, but the automated systems were dumping the whole text into a pin, and text doesn’t work so well on Pinterest. It’s not a replacement for any of our other channels or RSS. It’s just an extra for people who prefer to follow sites in Pinterest instead of elsewhere.

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