Tag Archives: Ecology

Deep in the Grand Canyon, Scientists Struggle to Bring Back the Bugs

In this installment of What I Left Out — a recurring feature in which writers share a chapter that didn’t make it into their latest book — author and scientist Martin Doyle tells how a ragtag team of researchers and river guides are trying to repair the intricate food web disrupted by the Glen Canyon Dam.… Read the rest

DNA from the poop of extinct four-meter-tall birds reveals lost ecosystem

Enlarge (credit: York Museums Trust staff)

A thousand years ago, gigantic 12-foot-tall flightless birds roamed New Zealand, snacking peacefully on plants and fungi. Then humans came along. Within two hundred years, the giant moa—along with a host of their close cousins—were dead at our species’ hands.

What did the world of the moa look like? Even though New Zealand has lots of well-preserved wilderness, studying that won’t give us an answer. When a species disappears, it takes a chunk of its ecosystem with it, so understanding the ramifications of the moa extinction can help us better understand the environment that many surviving species—some of them critically endangered—evolved in.

Some important answers lie in something the moa left behind: ancient bird poop. It tells us that

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In wars with termites, ants rescue and care for their wounded

Enlarge / This won’t hurt a bit. (credit: Erik T. Frank)

Deadly battles play out several times a day in the Ivory Coast’s Comoé National Park, leaving wounded behind. The fights break out when hundreds of African Matabele ants march off to raid a nearby termite mound to slaughter termite workers and haul them back to the nest to feed the colony. But termites, with their strong, sharp mandibles, aren’t easy prey, and raiders often get limbs bitten off in the fight.

In the aftermath of a raid, researchers are finding evidence that the ants care for their wounded. The wounded ants secrete a pheromone that calls other returning raiders to carry their injured comrades home. Back at the nest, healthy nest-mates clean the injured ants’

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