1Department of Biology, Dominican University, 2Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Boston University School of Medicine, 3Department of Ecology, Evolution & Environmental Biology, Columbia University, 4Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
March 28, 2015 , Archview Ballroom
Annually since 2013, in honor of the NCAA College Basketball March Madness Championship Tournament, the blog “Mammals Suck… Milk” features simulated combat competition among 65 species of animals in a virtual tournament. Scientific literature is cited to substantiate likely outcomes should two animals or two groups of animals encounter one another. Battle outcome is a probabilistic function of the two species' attributes within the battle environment. Attributes considered in calculating battle outcome include temperament, weaponry, armor, body mass, running speed, fight style, physiology, and motivation. During early rounds, battles occur in the better-ranked species' habitat (home court advantage); in later rounds, battle locations are randomized among multiple ecosystems. Thousands of people play Mammal March Madness each year, including museum collections staff, high school science classes, college biology and anthropology courses, and families. Animal combat bouts during Mammal March Madness are simulated in near “real time” using the microblogging site Twitter. Each evening the results are aggregated, along with public commentary, via the social network repository Storify and linked from the hosting blog as well as shared through online social networks. Through the scientific information embedded in the bout descriptions and peer contributions from animal aficionados and experts in a variety of fields, participants are educated about inter-species interactions, the importance of ecological context, how natural selection has shaped adaptations, and conservation management of endangered species. Mammal March Madness is a pedagogical innovation that engages people from around the globe, creatively integrates digital technologies, and inspires awe for the natural world.