Tag Archives: Ecology

Researchers edit coral genes, hope to understand how to save them

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

Coral reefs are the poster-organisms for ecosystem services, aiding fisheries, promoting biodiversity, and protecting land from heavy waves. Unfortunately, we seem to be repaying them by killing them. Our warming oceans are causing coral bleaching and death, rising sea levels will force them to move, and the acidification of our oceans will make it harder for them to form reefs. It would be nice if we could help them, but interventions are difficult to design when you don’t know enough about coral biology.

Now scientists have announced a new tool is available to study corals: genetic editing provided by the CRISPR/Cas9 system. The ability to selectively eliminate genes could help us understand how corals function normally and could eventually provide a tool

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Massive bleaching event may be permanently changing the Great Barrier Reef

Enlarge / Although these corals are colored, they’ve been bleached, in that they have lost their photosynthetic symbiotes. (credit: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies / Gergely Torda)

The intense El Niño event that started in 2015 drove global air temperatures to new records, helped by the long trend of human-driven warming. But the air wasn’t the only thing affected. El Niño is fundamentally about Pacific Ocean temperatures, and those were exceptionally hot as well. One of the unfortunate results of this was a massive bleaching of the corals of the Great Barrier Reef.

While the damage to corals looked dramatic at the time, appearances aren’t the same as data, and they don’t give a comprehensive view of the damage, much less the

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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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