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