Happy Anniversary, Planet Earth! Episode 11: Ocean Deep

On this final installment of Planet Earth we go to the least explored, and vastest space on Earth, the oceans. So without further ado, let’s dive right in (pun intended)!

And because many of these species are found in the new summer movie, Finding Dory, I will attempt to use as many images from this movie as possible.

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We start with the whale shark, which are kind of tricky to evaluate because there is currently no robust estimate of the population size of whale sharks. These gentle giants have a long lifespan and slow maturation rate, which is one of the reasons they are listed as vulnerable. Additionally, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico occurred in prime whale shark feeding area. While it was confirmed that the massive sharks were sighted within the oil  spill, no dead whales were found (do whale sharks sink when dead?).

Competing with the whale shark for tiny delicious fish we have the Yellowfin Tuna. If you are a lover of sushi, or even just a casual liker of sushi, then you like yellowfin tuna. The dark fatty meat makes my mouth water. But this is the problem, as the population is rapidly declining due to overfishing. Big time. They are currently on the “sustainable sushi ” list of multiple different organizations (the fish you should avoid eating if you want your meal to be sustainable).

Speaking of massive filter feeders, we now shift our focus to the vulnerable manta rays. These giants are so evil looking (I mean come on, they practically have horns), it’s surprising that like the whale shark they primarily feed on plankton. They are threatened by overfishing, which is especially problematic given they tend to hang out in waters that are fished… because they like to eat. Capturing and hunting of manta rays is banned in many countries, but commercial fishing continues in others.

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Rounding out our discussion of massive animals that feed on tiny things, we need to spend a minute talking about the blue whale. The largest creature that has ever lived (yes, including dinosaurs, I asked and Sir David Attenborough answered) these graceful giants are endangered. Although not recently (This is supposed to be an update after all) The blue whale suffered from the heyday of whaling which brought the population almost to the brink. Additionally, they have a tendency to run into boats, get caught in fishing nets, and are still occasionally hunted (cough, Japanese, cough). However, the populations have recently seen a rise, which means they may be out of the woods! Assuming their food supply, krill, isn’t killed off too quickly due to global warming.

The septapus (an octopus who lost a set of arms) from Finding Dory.

The septapus (an octopus who lost a set of arms) from Finding Dory.

We know that corals around the world are dying (and if you don’t know, read about it here). Soft corals are not an exception to this rule, and since the airing of Planet Earth they have been dying. While our corals and many other species are declining, I recently posted the opposite trend, that cephlapods are in fact INCREASING. This include the adorable dumbo octopus we see, as well as the nautilus. And the septapus we know from Finding Dory.

The dumbo octopus, both real life and Pixar style

The dumbo octopus, both real life and Pixar style.

Finally, our knowledge and understanding of the life around ocean vents has catapulted forward, mostly due to the sequencing of every microbiome that has ever existed. And we love sequencing around ocean vents because the most basal of lifeforms, extremophiles, or archae bacteria, are found near ocean vents. In addition, they are promising for a number of initiatives including their propensity to eat things that we want to get rid of (read about it here).

Thank you for joining us as we revisit the Planet Earth series!

Paying the Price of Protecting Pandas

I don’t like pandas. This is not a secret, but I often get flack because they are so cute and so many people like the furry beasts.

Despite my dislike of pandas (it’s not because they are cute, or because they are endangered),
 is a really good description of the lengths that the Chinese government has gone through to save them (hint, also not because they are cute).

So get your panda hat on, and enough the black and white furry goodness over at National Geographic.

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Happy anniversary, Planet Earth! Episode 10: Seasonal forests

The tenth episode of Planet Earth brings us to the biological communities I think of as “home” — seasonal forests. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, with second-growth deciduous woodland literally in my back yard, went to college within sight of the Appalachian Mountains, and spent my first “real” job in field ecology surveying understory plant diversity northeast of Pittsburgh. Today, I’m working on the other side of the continent, but now studying some of the most widespread tree species in forests from the Pacific Northwest to the Yukon taiga. I could almost illustrate this entire recap with images from my personal Flickr stream.

(Flickr: JBYoder)

Old-growth conifer forest (lots of Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii) around the Coquitlam Lake reservoir in British Columbia (Flickr: JBYoder)

I’ll try to resist the temptation.

We start at what is, arguably, the most seasonal of forests, taiga, where the growing season may last just a month. These snow-covered woods seems marginal, but boreal forests account for one third of the trees on the planet, Sir David Attenborough tells us. The newest comprehensive assessment of tree density worldwide, published last year, found that a median hectare of boreal forest has as many, or slightly more, trees than an average hectare of tropical forest — but it also puts the boreal share of the global tree count at closer to one quarter of all trees, and finds that “tropical moist forest” accounts for a slightly larger share.

Figure 1 from Crowther et al. (2015).

Figure 1 from Crowther et al. (2015).

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Don’t drink beer from green bottles?

I’m not sure this is biology, or even really science (You’ve been warned). But it made me giggle, and hopefully it’ll do the same for you.

One “scientist” sought to determine if he dislikes beer from green bottles because green glass fails to block the uv light from altering the beer after bottling.

Read about his intrepid scientific experiment it over at Wired!

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You smell like bacteria… and that’s a good thing

Birds have a number of loud and showy ways to attach a mate. But they also have a subtle one: smell.

And it turns out that some of that smell are naturally made by bacteria in the preening gland.

So I’m not saying you should use “hey girl, you smell like the best bacteria” as a pick up line, but it might be worth trying!

(If you’re a bird. NiB is not responsible for this interaction going south)

Read all about the work by Danielle Whittaker over at Science News!

"Hey girl, you smell like the sexiest microbes"

“Hey girl, you smell like the sexiest microbes”

 

Battling the Mistrust of Science

Atul Gawande is a multitalented man, surgeon, father, and exceptional writer and author (check out his books here).

He recently gave the commencement address at the California Institute of Technology, and it was so interesting/well said that it was subsequently published in the New Yorker.

He address how science is mistrusted, the inherent bias of people (including scientists), what science is and how we as a scientific community can combat this mistrust.

Read it here!

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