Algae Blooms Turn Yellow Sea Green.
Last week, there were reports that a record algae bloom was covering a large portion of the gulf of Mexico. This week, China’s yellow sea is turning green thanks to an algae known as “sea lettuce.” Once again, the source of the record bloom is agricultural runoff and overuse of fertilizers by farmers. The result is a cover of algae that is the largest ever seen in China’s yellow sea, with over 11,000 square miles affected. Fortunately, this particular algae is nontoxic and even edible, but its removal is necessary because its decay will ultimately lead to large dead zones in the yellow sea.
Hawkmoths Use Advanced Defense to Ward Off Bats.
Just as the military uses electromagnetic radiation to defeat an enemy’s radar, it appears that hawkmoths produce high frequency sounds to defeat their enemy’s echolocation system. In this case, the hawkmoths’ enemy is the bat, which uses echolocation or sound waves to locate the insects. By producing its own high frequency sounds, the hawkmoth can disrupt or jam the echolocation techniques of the bat and avoid detection. Scientists believe that this defense system was developed by the hawkmoth because it lacks a chemical defense, such as toxins, which other moths use to defendant against bats.
If humans are to explore the solar system and beyond, we must know how life adapts to the absence of gravity. In an experiment that took place on NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis, a bacterium called P. aeruginosa was cultivated aboard the shuttle and a similar control sample was cultivated in a laboratory on the ground. The results were surprising. The space bacteria grew in a “column-and-canopy” structure that has never been observed in bacterial colonies on Earth.” The space bacteria also had more live cells and and was thicker with more “biomass” than the sample at home. The study contains both good and bad news. P. aeruginosa is associated with human diseases and its supercharged proliferation in a gravity-less environment might pose challenges for astronauts. On the other hand, the research might open new ways of dealing with bacteria in hospitals that spread infection.
Increased Carbon Dioxide Linked to Desert Blooms.
When plants take up atmospheric carbon dioxide they lose a tremendous amount of water. This fact and the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere led scientists to the hypothesis that desert plants would especially be benefited from higher carbon dioxide levels since they would lose less water with the more available CO2. Sure enough, new research done by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in collaboration with the Australian National University (ANU) has shown this to be the case. Between 1982 and 2010, they found an 11% increase in desert foliage when all other factors were held constant. And while increased uptake of CO2 by desert plant life will never make a significant contribution to reducing the vast amount of the gas in the atmosphere, it points out the complicated effects of increased greenhouse gases on climate.
Australian Night Parrot Maybe Not Extinct.
The last time anyone saw an Australian night parrot was around 100 years ago. Thought extinct, a recent sighting by an Australian naturalist has spurred hope that the bird may not be extinct after all. The parrot is a shy, small bird with green feathers and brown and black mottled spots. It hops like a kangaroo—must be an Australian thing. Researchers believed that the bird was under significant pressure from predatory feral cats and foxes. The exact location of the new discovery is being kept secret to protect the remaining survivor(s).
Saving Chimpanzees from Medical Research.
In this New York Times article, the history of the movement to save medical research chimpanzees is traced back in time. Well known activists such as Dr. Jane Goodall have been leading the effort to stop the use of chimps as medical research subjects. But their most recent victory came last year when Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institute of Health, announced that as a result of an NIH study, most of the chimps owned by the NIH would be retired from service and placed in healthy facilities around the country specializing in chimpanzee care.
A Cricket Theory of Other.
We readily accept that humans, primates and even vertebrates in general are aware when others are watching them. For the first time, however, research shows that even crickets respond to an audience. In this experiment, researchers evaluated the reaction of two male crickets who faced off in a fight. When other crickets were present in the controlled setting, the victorious cricket put on a much more elaborate victory display than when the two were alone. Nor is this pure instinct. When the more isolated lab raised crickets were used instead of wild crickets, they showed much less tendency to play for the crowd, indicating that the behavior is socially transmitted among wild crickets.
Lizard Preserved in Amber.
Twenty-three million years ago, a small lizard was entombed in a chunk of amber. It was discovered recently in Mexico. It is extremely rare for animals this large to be preserved in amber and this specimen appears to be almost complete with soft tissue, skin and skeleton.
Thousands of New Species Under Antarctic Ice.
With the international race to explore the pristine waters beneath the Antarctic ice now over, scientists are enjoying the fruit of their labors. So far, over 3,000 new microorganisms, identified by DNA, have been found some two miles below the ice under Lake Vostok. Isolated for millions of years, some of the new DNA sequences appear to be unique. How the microorganisms evolved over time will be a major focus of continued study.
Golf Courses as Turtle Preserves?
Most conservationists would scoff at the idea that a golf course can benefit the environment. However, there is evidence that golf courses that are removed from housing developments, such as condos, are becoming an oasis for some animals, especially turtles. It appears that the well-maintained ponds that are common on golf courses attract not just high handicap golfers but also a “rich variety of turtle species.” While no one is quite sure why golf courses are so attractive to turtles, it could be that the extra care in maintaining the cleanliness of the ponds by the groundskeepers makes them more attractive than the local park’s pond.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.
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