Tree-Eating Beetles March Northward, Lured by Milder Winters

For lovers of the stately pine forests of the Northeast, sightings of a destructive tree-eating beetle in recent years have been nothing short of alarming.

Now, new research from climatologists at Columbia University confirms what ecologists feared: Warmer winters mean the southern pine beetle is here to stay, and is set to march ever northward as temperatures rise.

Historically, the tiny beetles, which starve evergreens to death, were largely unheard-of north of Delaware. The Northeast’s cold winters killed off any intruders.

The winters are no longer cold enough.

Want to know more? Read about it here!

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Sea Stars Are More Brutal Than They Look

Ever look into a tide pool and become filled with the wonder of sea stars? Think they look so peaceful, chilling in their cute little pool, watching the world go by…

THINK AGAIN! These monsters are aggressive af, and one of the most brutal predators of the shore.

Want to know more? Read about it here!

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All the trees will die, and so will you

The title of this post is not my own, but it kind of has a point. Not “everything dies” but rather, a lot more apocalyptic.

A brown-black beetle (the polyphagous shot hole borer) breeds inside trees. It drills networks of tunnels, which then get infected by a fungus it carries to feed it’s young. Eventually the tree dies, the beetle moves on and the whole cycle starts again.

This would be a cute horror story, if the beetle wasn’t on track to kill 26.8 million trees across Southern California. Which is going to directly link to the death of humans. Interested? Find out why here.

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The Case of the Poisoned Hunters

Back in the sixties, a group of hunters in Oregon were found dead at their campsite, and the only clue to what had killed them was – there was a newt that was boiled in their coffee pot.

Want to know how this is related to coevolution, or learn about the awesome work being done by rockstar evolutionary biologist Joel McGlothlin from Virginia Tech?

Check out the Pulse of the Planet audio program. 

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Coevolution is cool

Arguably one of the best studied systems for coevolution resides in the mountains of Oregon: a very toxic newt and the very resistant snakes that eat them.

How did it become the best studied system for coevolution? The story starts when a young undergraduate student heard a story about three hunters who were found dead at their campsite, with no sign of theft, struggle or foul play. The only explanation of their mortality was a newt, that had accidentally been boiled in their coffee pots. Curious as to how a newt could take down three grown men, our undergraduate, Edmund Brodie Jr.

He dedicated years to studying these newts, while his son, Edmund Brodie III, focused on the snakes.

Read an excellent article from one of my favorite science writers (Ed Young) all about the decades long saga, and how cool these newts and snakes really are.

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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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Your dinner or your life: What determines the sprint speed of gazelles, zebras, giraffes … and ostriches?

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Thomson gazelle, on the run. Photo by ngari.norway

In the evolutionary history of big herbivores and the carnivores that prey upon them, the phrase “arms race” is only technically a metaphor. Antelope and zebras are literally born to run, and many of the things that chase them, like wild dogs or cheetahs, are either masters of endurance or champion sprinters. The evolutionary story almost writes itself: over millions of years of chasing, and being chased, whenever the predators evolved to become faster, the prey were selected to run even faster—until a cat evolves that can go from 0 to 60 faster than my Volkswagen Rabbit.

Except of course there’s more to life than running for your life. An antelope’s frame is under more demands than evading cheetahs—it also needs to travel long distances to follow food availability with the shifting rainy season. In fact, the North American fossil record suggests that big herbivores on that continent evolved long legs for distance running millions of years before there were predators able to chase after them. And then again, not all predators run their prey down; lions, for instance, prefer to pounce from ambush.

In a paper recently released online ahead of print in the journal Evolution, Jakob Bro-Jørgensen sets out to disentangle exactly these competing explanations.

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