P in streams

I work with some incredible grad students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Today, I’d like to highlight research led by Sophie Weaver, a student in the Biology & Wildlife department.

When asked about her research, Sophie likes to say she studies “P in streams.” Sophie is investigating how differences in nutrient availability might affect the growth of the organisms that make up the green scum, or microbial skins, that one slips on when crossing a stream. Besides phosphorus (the “P” in her descriptive quip), she also works with nitrate, ammonium, and acetate.

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Sophie with her little blue cups.

After adding various nutrients to little blue cups, she launches them in her research streams. Post-incubation, she collects the cups to measure the abundance of autotrophs (critters that produce their own energy) and heterotrophs (critters that, like us, consume delicious things to produce energy). The ratio of autotrophs to heterotrophs can tell her something about how nutrients impact green scum composition. This research is important because stream microorganisms directly influence water quality and ecosystem function.

Sophie conducts her research at the Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed (CPCRW), a pristine watershed located about thirty-five miles northeast of Fairbanks. Rumor has it that Sophie and her labmates been known to pursue the other wonders of CPCRW besides what fuels green scum growth, from chilling ciders in wee arctic streams to stripping down, jumping in, and cooling off on a “hot” Alaskan summer day.

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A devestating fire

Any regular reader of this blog will know I love collections.

Which is one of the many MANY reasons I’m devastated about the fire at the National Museum of Brazilian.

In summary: the fire burned for six hours and left behind ashes where there had been dinosaur fossils (including the reconstructed Maxakalisaurus topai), the oldest human remains in the Americas, Luiza, and the audio recording and documents of indigenous languages that are otherwise extinct.

We will never be able to replace these items and the knowledge they contain is irreplaceable. Our collective knowledge is worse off as a result.

And with the devastated feeling of the incalculable loss, we’re starting to take stock of how this could have been prevented.

Funding for one (read about how the museum was underfunded for decades). And another is digitalizing the collection.

But for now, I will remain in morning for the knowledge that has gone up in flames.

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Killer whales are winning on climate change

Change creates winners and losers, and that includes climate change, especially at the top of the world. On the losing side of the environmental ledger we find the polar bear, floating glumly on its ever-shrinking ice floe.

On the winning side, a new apex predator is cruising northern waters.

Which might be causing problems for other species of whales… read about it here!

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After thousands of years, the Giant African baobab trees are suddenly dying

Baobab trees, some of the oldest and biggest trees in Africa, are abruptly dying. 9 of the 13 oldest individuals, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years have died in the last decade.

This is unprecedented, and scientist speculate that it’s due to climate change.

Want to know more about these trees, and what might be leading to their demise? Read about it here!

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CRISPR-Cas9 for an RNA world

CRISPR has the revolutionary potential to alter gene expression by cutting DNA.

Now NmeCas9 is a protein that cuts not just DNA, but RNA.

This has scary potential for viruses (made from RNA), but having read very little (and I don’t think very much is known yet), but I am interested to see how this progresses.

Read about it here, and keep checking on NiB. I see myself writing more about this in the future.

 

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What Eats What: A Landlubber’s Guide to Deep Sea Dining

You’ll never go to dinner in the deep sea. It’s dark, vast and weird down there. If the pressure alone didn’t destroy your land-bound body, some hungry sea creature would probably try to eat you.

Fortunately for you, something else has spent a lot of time down there, helping to prepare this guide to deep sea dining.

For nearly three decades, robots with cameras deployed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have glided through the ocean off the coast of central California at depths as deep as two and half miles below.

Want to know who eats who, before you ask them to dinner? Read about it here!

Going to a really macabre candy store-except instead of sweets there are tapeworms

If you’re not reading everything that Ed Young writes, you’re missing out.

And he’s once again hit it out of the park with this great post about America’s Largest Collection of Parasites (although when my coauthor Kim Lackey and I cleaned our the parasitology lab a few years ago, it could have been in the running).

These jars of wonder/parasites are kept in my favorite of the Smithsonians, the Natural History Museum. Read all about Ed’s exploration of this TREASURE trove of awesome here.

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What are the biggest puzzles in ecology?

Evolutionary biology is full of puzzles, most of which have the form “Evolution by natural selection should produce X but yet we see Y. How come?” Examples include the surprisingly high frequency of sterile males, individuals that help unrelated individuals reproduce, and senescence. Resolving the puzzle usually involves figuring out why trait or behavior X actually is adaptive despite appearances to the contrary, as with individuals that help non-relatives reproduce.

What are the biggest puzzles in ecology? Does ecology have as many puzzles as evolutionary biology? And if not, does that indicate a failing of ecology?

Here’s a classic ecological puzzle: Hairston, Smith, and Slobodkin’s question, why is the world green? That is, why is the world covered with plants, given that there are lots of herbivores around that you’d think would eat all the plants?

Interested? Read more about the puzzles in Ecology and which ones are global and which ones are local, here!

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If it Swims Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck Could Be a Hybrid of Two Duck Species

A duck is a duck, right? Well, yes, but when one duck mates with a duck of another species, there’s the risk that one of the original species could cease to exist. And then that duck is a duck no more.

This is not philosophical, as much as it is based on very real study that assesses the rate at which mallard and Mottled Ducks are combining into a hybrid species in the US. And whether or not this is a bad thing?

Read more here!

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