The Arctic waters are refusing to freeze

Like a petulant teenager, the Arctic and Antarctic ice is refusing to freeze. After record high temperatures this summer, and bolstered by persistent warm weather from the South, the sea ice that melted this summer is not refreezing.

This has all sorts of implications for weather patterns and low lying areas, all of which you can read about over at the Guardian!

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) close-up, Svalbard, Norway.

The Elusive Arctic Bumblebee

A group of UC Riverside professors are driving thousands of miles across Alaska, looking to better understand bumble bee populations in the arctic and their response to climate change.

And to find the elusive Bombus polaris, the arctic bumble bee in all their furry glory.

Read about it over at New York Times!



The Sound of Climate Change

Ecologist Lauren Oakes has been looking at effect of yellow-cedar decline on the Alexander Archipelago in Alaska.

During her work, she has glimpsed the future of the forest and wants to communicate what she has seen. Here at NiB we are all about finding new and inventive ways to communicate science, usually through blog posts.

But Lauren Oakes has collaborated with Nik Sawe, a Stanford Ph.D. student who is experimenting with “data sonification” or the translation of information into sound. What has resulted is the sound of climate change.

Read about it over at the Atlantic!


The trees are dying

In Hawaii trees are dying at an alarming rate due to an unknown and uncharacterised disease.

Since 2010 66 million trees have been killed in the Sierra Nevadas due to an invasive pathogen called Sudden Oak Death.

In Montana Bark beetles and mountain pine beetles are killing trees at a rate 10 times higher than normal.

These are a few but not exhaustive examples. Want a better summary of the trials facing our american forests? Read about it over at the Guardian.


Notes from the Field: Above the Arctic Circle!

Friend and sometime contributor, Devin Drown, has recently started up a research program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (Congrats Devin!). And this summer he lead an army of undergraduates on a series of interesting projects near or above the Artic Circle.

Sadly, coordinating and advising an army of undergraduates doesn’t leave too much time for writing blog posts. But he has kindly sent me these interesting snippets from the field. Check them out!

Toolik Field Station to use MinION sequencing.


Fairbanks Permafrost Experiment Station


Gathering Ancient DNA from Permafrost



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.


Happy Anniversary, Planet Earth! Episode 8: Jungles

On this installment of Planet Earth we dive into the depth of Jungles, which really means we stroll down past the canopy, the upper forest, all the way down to the floor of the jungle to see the creatures that thrive where light barely reaches.

The biggest update since Planet Earth aired 10 years ago, is the general deforestation and specific poaching of jungle trees. While most articles focus on the amazon (which wasn’t the specific focus of this episode), it can generally be applied to other jungles as well. And importantly for all the animals mentioned in this episode, the deforestation of the jungles affects their habitats. David Attenborough tells us that fig is the #1 fruiting tree that is used to sustain life. However, even figs are specifically being targeted, which puts the vast numbers of vertebrates (from Howler monkeys to birds) in jeopardy.

Now the frogs are a kind of confusing update, because there are competing factors that are threatening amphibian populations worldwide. First and foremost we need to talk about pathogens (love me some parasites…), specifically the chytrid fungus. This devastating pathogen can cause up to 100% mortality in some amphibian populations. However, there is some evidence that chytrid is being amplified by climate change, which is resulting in the perfect temperatures for the spores to proliferate. Finally, habitat degradation, and warming climatesare causing problems for frog species independent of chytrid , especially those specialized to the specific habitat of the jungle. So as adorable as our little frog friends were, sneaking into their mating practices, we may not be seeing them around for much longer.

While only talked about for a moment, slime molds may be WAY cooler than they even looked in this episode. Check out the cool new research.

Slime molds are actually cooler than even this episode made them look.

Slime molds are actually cooler than even this episode made them look.

Additionally, beetles were only mentioned briefly, but are worth mentioning here. J.B.S. Haldane was asked what he knew of the creator based on his studies of biology and famously noted that “The Creator, if He exists, has an inordinate fondness for beetles”, due to their abundance world wide (in terms of number of species the beetle CANNOT be beat). However, it turns out that beetle populations worldwide are declining. While the reasons for this vary (see above under “reasons frogs are declining”), and is not consistent across all beetle populations (see “most number of species worldwide”) it is a general pattern worth noting.

"An inordinate fondness of beetles"

“An inordinate fondness of beetles”

As someone who teaches parasitology let me tell you a little fact. People love “zombie” parasites. Every year I teach students about Captain Higgins, which is not a spore (like the awesome fungi talked about in the Jungle episode) but a flatworm that manipulates its host to further it’s own lifecycle. It even uses ants! Read about it over at the Oatmeal Comic.

From the Oatmeal comic about the flatworm "zombie" parasite Captain Higgins.

From the Oatmeal comic about the flatworm “zombie” parasite Captain Higgins.

Finally the flying lemur, which has been trucking along. Because of the phylogenetic and morphological uniqueness of this species, it is under constant surveillance for better conservation efforts. Because of their limited dispersal abilities, deforestation is especially threatening to the lemurs (not really lemurs, but we’ll call them that for simplicity). Additionally, they are hunted, in different areas for varying reasons. In some places their consumed as a delicacy, in others they are hunted for hats. However, in Samar they are killed because the local culture thinks they are evil. So… that happened.

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Flying lemurs look like this in real life.

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And like this in the television series “The Avatar: The Last Airbender”. I can’t honestly say which of the two phenotypes looks more realistic…

Overall, things in the jungle are largely changing because of how we are moving in on their territory. Stay tuned for “Shallow Seas” up next.





Fear the Octopus


Octopus are not aliens, but they can be vicious. Combine that with an incredible intelligence, and we should all be worried that cephalopods populations are increasing world wide.

As coral reefs are dying, cephalopods are booming (likely not a causative correlation). And not just octopus, but also cuttlefish, and 35 other species of genera, spanning all major ocean regions.

Why are they expanding in number? It’s unclear, but read about possible reasons over at Gizmodo.

I, for one, would like to extend a welcome to our new cephalopod overlords.




Coral Reefs Are Dying

Usually I like to keep my titles upbeat or exciting.

This post is neither. It is also (unfortunately) not an exaggeration.

93% of the Great Barrier Reef, the worlds largest coral reef, is experiencing coral bleaching this summer. Bleaching is code word for dying (not technically, it has to do with the coral polyps abandoning their exoskeleton (I think)).

Read about it over at NPR. And shed a tear for all those adorable coral polyps…


What do mummy seals tell us about climate change?

Antarctica has one of the worlds driest deserts, which it turns out is perfect for preserving seals. For thousands of years. For next summer this means a new mummy movie, Seal Mummies!

But seriously, Paleontologists Paul Koch and Emily Brault from UCSC are using these mummies for something besides next summer’s blockbuster. They are looking at the long term ecological impacts of the changing climate in Antartica. What’s more, there are a TON of seal mummies just lying around. Over 500 in fact, some of them hundreds or thousands of years old. What this can tell us about the changing ecosystem is invaluable. Read about it over at Forbes.

A seal mummy on the Taylor Glacier (Picture via brookpeterson on CC BY-ND 2.0)

A living crabeater seal in Antarctica (Image via Liam Quinn on Wikimedia Commons CC-BY 2.0)