In the Origin of Species, Darwin described a “great Tree of Life” which is “fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.”
Ever since then biologist have been trying to describe such a tree. And it should surprise no one that the recent focus on microbial ecology has expanded the Tree considerably.
Read about it at the New York Times or in the paper over at Nature Microbiology .
Hug et al. 2016
Darwin’s tree, in concept and in the only figure published in his Origin of Species.
It’s not an anaconda. Nor is it the piraña.
It’s the golden mussel. No. Seriously.
Invasive species killing local organisms is nothing new. In fact, it’s almost in the definition of “invasive species”. But this mussel has been increasing at an alarming rate int he amazonian waters, and it is killing off existing species and destroying its habitats.
But, combatting this guy, is tougher than one would think. How do you kill the mussel that is destroying the biodiversity of the Amazon without… destroying the biodiversity of the Amazon.
Enter Marcela Uliano da Silva, (PhD student at Federal University of Rio de Janerio) who is finding new ways to target just the golden mussel by using it’s genome.
Read about it over at ZY!
Ecomotion Studios has been working with the Ecological Society of America to produce short animated films about some of the most influential papers of modern ecology — they’re calling it “The Animated Foundations of Ecology.” Here’s the film about Robert Paine’s famous experiment in removing the top predator of tidal pool communities, sea stars, which led to dramatically reduced diversity in the other species that shared the pools.
There’s a handful more, including on one of my favorite classic ecology papers, David Simberloff and EO Wilson’s experimental demonstration of the process by which species colonize new habitats. Go check ’em out!
Paine, R. T. 1966. Food web complexity and species diversity. American Naturalist, 65-75. doi: 10.1086/282400.
Simberloff, D. S., & Wilson, E. O. 1969. Experimental zoogeography of islands: the colonization of empty islands. Ecology, 278-296. 10.2307/1934856.
Over at Huffington Post, Marc Bekoff, recently wrote an article lambasting Christopher Filardi for collecting a Moustached Kingfisher, a rare bird endemic in the Solomon Islands.
Now, there are two sides to this particular controversy, and I am going to do my darnest NOT to pick one.
Side one: How dare you kill that kingfisher!
The HP article criticized killing a rare bird for collection as the opposite of a conservation effort. It is likened to hunting endangered species, and compassionate conservation. (RadioLab anyone? Don’t mind if I do…)
Side two: You need these kinds of specimen for conservation. And biology.
An excellent public post was written by my friend Josef Uyeda here.
Additionally, Dr. Filardi himself responded justifying his decision, and why specimens are important over at the Audobon society.
Was it right or was it wrong? You decide.
Across eastern North America, one of the most magical signs of summertime is the beginning of firefly activity—hundreds or thousands of flying beetles, their abdomens glowing or flashing, filling twilight backyards and woodland clearings with floating lights.
But those displays—which fireflies put on to attract mates—are getting rarer. Or seem to be, anyway—but we don’t have the kind of comprehensive census of firefly activity that could really tell us how they’re doing. A citizen science project out of Clemson University aims to change that by enlisting anyone with a smartphone or a home internet connection:
The objective of the Clemson Vanishing Firefly Project is to promote environmental
sustainability and stewardship through the participation of local communities in environmental science research. The Clemson Vanishing Firefly Project offers a mobile app that everyone – from elementary students to seniors – can use to measure firefly populations in their communities from neighborhoods, to parks and anywhere in the world they may go!
To help, you follow the project site’s instructions for learning how to count fireflies, then use a smartphone app or a webpage form to report what you see, when, and where. Why not collect some data while you admire the lights in the forest?
(Hat tip to Erik Runquist, on Twitter.)
A recent publication (B. Misof, et al. 2014. Phylogenomics resolves the timing and pattern of insect evolution. Science 346 (6210): 763-767.) takes on the herculean task of finding when insects first evolved. This is a particularly vexing question because 1) insects are squishy and don’t fossilize well, and 2) the vast majority of the species on the planet are insects. This is an insect world, we just live in it.
The paper was summarized BRILLIANTLY on WIRED (here). Including my favorite quote:
“Making sense of the diversity of insects in collections has traditionally been a task for a lone expert, usually specializing in just one subset of a group. They become so identified with their study organisms, they may be introduced as “The Ant Man” or “The Wasp Woman.” (No taxonomists I know wear spandex tights and capes to work, for which I am profoundly grateful.)”
Find out about when insects evolved, when they diversified (surprisingly, it started PRIOR to the radiation of angiosperms) and more.