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…

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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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Crowd-funding a Joshua tree reference genome

(Flickr: jbyoder)

(Flickr: jbyoder)

Remember Joshua trees? If you read this blog, you probably do. They’re an ecological keystone species — and a cultural icon — in the Mojave desert, and they have a fascinating, co-evolving relationship with yucca moths. Some contributors to this very blog, have been studying that pollination relationship and its evolutionary consequences for a decade, building on natural history research that goes back to the time of Charles Darwin.

Up to now, though, modern genetic tools have been of limited use for Joshua trees, because no one has assembled the complete DNA sequence of a Joshua tree. Having a “reference genome” would let those of us who study the trees identify specific genes involved in coevolution with yucca moths, compare the evolutionary effects of that pollination mutualism to natural selection exerted by the harsh environments in which the trees grow, and even use genome-scale data to inform Joshua tree conservation planning.

Well, we’ve decided it’s time to do all of that, and we’re asking for help. A team of folks with expertise in Joshua trees’ natural history, Mojave Desert ecology, and genomic data analysis launched the Joshua Tree Genome Project a couple weeks ago, with a crowd-funding campaign on Experiment.com to pay for part of the DNA sequencing we’d need to assemble a reference genome.

We’re approaching 50% of our funding goal, and leading a competition among projects based at undergraduate universities to recruit the most donors, which could win us $2,000 in matching funds — so even if you give as little as $1, you’re providing a big boost to the project. Go check out the Joshua Tree Genome Project website, and then head on over and pledge your support.

Museums: The endangered dead

Across the world, natural-history collections hold a multitude of species, some of which have never been identified. In fact, scientists are currently finding more new species by sifting through decades-old specimens than by surveying tropical forests and remote landscapes.

Additionally, museum collections are becoming increasingly valuable thanks to newly developed techniques (ancient DNA anyone?) and databases.

But just as these collections are increasing in value, they are falling into decline.

Read about it over at Nature!

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Ricardo Moratelli examines bat specimens in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. (Photo by Chris Maddaloni/Nature)

 

Save the Bananas!

Interesting facts: All commercial bananas in the US/Europe/Canada (really all imported bananas) are all decended from one banana grown on the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (Chatsworth House).

They are all clonal, which makes them particularly susceptible to a coevolving disease.

Such as Panama Disease, which is now killing off bananas in the thousands.

What’s more, this has happened before… and may result in there being no bananas left on our grocery shelves.

Read more about it over at the BBC.

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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 flickr.com CC BY-ND 2.0)

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

The War over Wood

The title of this post isn’t something clever I came up with, but rather what the locals have named the conflict over protecting trees and biodiversity in the Amazon rain forest.Self proclaimed “Guardians of the Forest” (local rubber tappers, read about them here) are defending the forest that gives them their livelihood. And they are defending it against not massive scale deforestation, but rather the selective logging of high value wood by what essentially are criminal entities.

In an excellent post over at NPR, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro describes a day on the front lines. What is remarkable is how insightful and dedicated these local people are to conserving their forest, rather than giving in to the desire to cash in on its value.
“Rubber tapper Helenílson Felix stands near the stump of a tree that was felled by illegal logging. The tappers explained that this is how deforestation begins: The forest is thinned of its biodiversity, picked apart tree by tree.”

 

And it appears that despite putting up a strong effort, they are losing the fight.

One of three illegal logging camps dismantled and set on fire by Elizeu Berçacola and his crew.