The elusive tree of life

In the Origin of Species, Darwin described a “great Tree of Life” which is “fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.”

Ever since then biologist have been trying to describe such a tree. And it should surprise no one that the recent focus on microbial ecology has expanded the Tree considerably.

Read about it at the New York Times or in the paper over at Nature Microbiology .

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Hug et al. 2016

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Darwin’s tree, in concept and in the only figure published in his Origin of Species.

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A conflict of mega proportions

One megafauna hunting and killing another megafauna on the plains of Africa.

Your head immediately goes to the epic battles between wildebeests and tigers? Impala and cheethas?

But there is another equally gruesome battle playing out between elephants and… trees. Specifically the Baobab tree.

These behemoth trees (measuring 65ft in circumference at their base) store water in their trunk. And elephants can’t get enough.

Read about this epic battle over at National Geographics!

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The “Relocation” Problem in Academia

Margret Kosmala over at Ecology Bits has written one of the best work-life balance posts I have read in awhile.

The post titled “I am unwilling to relocate again (and it will probably cost me my academic “career”” presents the problems of the constant moving around that is expected in academia, and how we are expected to foot the bill.

While we have all heard about the two-body problem, and I have previously written about the one-body problem (one near and dear to my heart), she mentions the three or more body problem. The problem of finding affordable childcare, or moving away from family and playmates to help care for your children.

Importantly, she ends with the comment about how moving is expensive. In other professions, this is also true. But in most other industries, the company who wants you to move pays for it. In academia we are often (too often) left to foot the very expensive bill of moving all by ourselves.

Well worth a read, head over to Ecology Bits!

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Save the tapeworm! And the Kakapo…

One of New Zealand big five species to see (think African safari checklist, but for flightless birds in New Zealand) is the kakapo. These parrots can live up to 95 years (maybe longer) and is very close to extinction.

So tape worms were found within a pair of captive kakapos, conservation biologist dewormed them.

Which may have been a mistake. Hamish G. Spenc

“Some of these parasites may turn out to be quite good for their hosts” – Hamish G. Spencer

Want to find out why? Check out the article over at the New York times!

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The enemy of my parasite is my… Frenemy?

Parasites are all around and often problematic.

But recent work from Kayla King has demonstrated that some microbial parasites can evolve to be mutualistic and defend against more virulent parasites.  And what’s more this shift from foe to friend can happen rapidly.

Read the paper here, or the synopsis over at National Geographic.

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The Global Solution to Extinction

From the Pulitzer price winning author, and all around naturalist/biology champion E.O. Wilson wrote another thoughtful piece in the New York Times.

He writes about the history of discovering species, and finding out too late that we are killing them all off.

If you are interested, think that the NSF shouldn’t have stopped funding collections (herbaria and museums) or just generally want to ready E.O. Wilsons eloquent prose read it here!

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The Underground mosquito

Not underground as in it burrows into the earth, but the formal noun referring to the London Underground. That’s right, as well as being an exceptional form of public transportation, the London Underground has it’s very own species of mosquito.

It was first reported during World War Two, when the tunnels of the Underground were used as overnight shelters, housing 180,000 people.

And then it was largely forgotten until a doctoral student, Katharine Byrne, started studying this subterranean pest. And found that the Underground mosquito is no longer able to interbreed with other mosquitoes:

“There are differences in both the mating behaviour and the reproductive biology,”

David Reznick

Read about it over at BBC, or read the original paper here!

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