A curious case: The Color of Baby Coots.

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Why do American Coot chicks who develop into mainly greyish-black birds as adults begin their lives with such a splash of color? 1

That is a question a team of biologists have been asking for quite some time and, as is typical in science, the answer was not what they first expected. Previous studies conducted by this same laboratory concluded that coot parents preferentially feed chicks that display brighter coloration. The goal of the present study was to determine why this was the case.

The researchers noted that coots lay between 8-10 eggs and these eggs hatch in the order they were laid. Additionally coots are nest predators and lay eggs in other coots nests. One hypothesis was that the chicks hatched from predatory eggs were the more brightly colored chicks and thus would have gotten fed more. This turned out to be false. The researchers discovered that the chicks hatched from the latter laid eggs were the more brightly colored. Typically chicks hatched latter in a brood have to catch-up to their larger siblings if they are to survive. The researcher noted that if these smaller and brightly colored latecomers survived the parents would use their coloration as a way to preferentially feed these chicks more and allow them to catch-up to their earlier siblings. 2

A wonderful survial strategy reveled in a nicely done study. Hat’s off to science and to the coot.

References:

1. University of California – Santa Cruz. “The mysterious case of the ornamented coot chicks has a surprising explanation: The bright colors of the chicks of American coots help their parents choose favorites, according to a new study.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 December 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191231111817.htm.

2. Bruce E. Lyon, Daizaburo Shizuka. Extreme offspring ornamentation in American coots is favored by selection within families, not benefits to conspecific brood parasites. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201913615 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1913615117

 

Hello Neighbor

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A recent report published in Science Daily describes the results of a recent research study published in the journal Current Biology supporting the hypothesis that when under attack from insect herbivores plants indeed communicate with each other.1

No, they don’t scream, but use chemicals called Volatile Organic Compounds and release them into the atmosphere and are detected by their neighbors.

One of the major findings from the study is that when plants are under attack the compounds released become more similar between species suggesting a type of cross species communication.

The Author of the study Andre Kessler describes the results of the study as follows:

“What we very often see when plants get attacked by pathogens or herbivores is, they change their metabolism,” Kessler said. “But it’s not a random change — in fact, those chemical and metabolic changes are also helping them cope with those attackers. It’s very much like our immune system: though plants don’t have antibodies like we have, they can fight back with pretty nasty chemistry.” 2

Interesting stuff.

The article in Science Daily is an easy read and a little splash of color to beat back a dull January day might be just what the doctor ordered.

Courtesy of none other than….Plants!

References:
1. Aino Kalske, Kaori Shiojiri, Akane Uesugi, Yuzu Sakata, Kimberly Morrell, André Kessler. Insect Herbivory Selects for Volatile-Mediated Plant-Plant Communication. Current Biology, 2019; 29 (18): 3128 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.08.011

2.Cornell University. “Plants alert neighbors to threats using common ‘language’.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 October 2019. .

This year: One book at a time.


We don’t know about you but we tend to get over ambitious at times with books, especially reading them. Five or six books sitting proudly on the coffee table in living room each with a bookmark placed about 1/3 into the book. Each book calling your name when you plop down on the sofa to relax. You sit and stare back at them silently wondering how you will finish them all before they are due at the library. You get through one or two wonderful books but always feel like your not reading enough as you solemnly remove the bookmarks form the remaining three and whisk them off and into the return slot at the library. So this year it’s only one book at a time- from front to back- all the way though.

We recently came across a wonderful four part series on the best nature books of 2019 written by the Chicago Review of Books

. It is a very diverse list of nature books that will provide us some guidance in choosing and reading our one-book-at-a time in 2020.

Here are links to each of the four posts. The author of the articles Amy Brady stated in the part four of this series that this year has been the best in recent memory for nature writing. Looking though the lists is almost as fun as reading the books listed.
Part Four
Part Three
Part Two
Part One

Anything catch your eye as a first read from these lists. Maybe because it’s winter and darkness comes early the book Dark Skies: a journey into the wild night By Tiffany Francis-Baker sounds like it might be first up this year.

Statistic of the decade

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As this decade comes to a close we ran across an interesting statistic produced by the Royal Statistical Society in the UK. In fact it was the societies statistic of the decade and one that is nothing to write home about-deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
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The estimated accumulated deforestation of the Amazon being equivalent to around 8.4 million football pitches or about 24,000 square miles. In a decade!

A recent article in the Conversation provides further insight into this statistic describing some of the more obvious consequences of this deforestation and rebutting arguments that conversion of the rainforest to ranching, resource extraction and farming is required for economic benefits of nations and the people within those nations. In fact there is data to suggest that if left alone the economic benefits of the amazon rainforest outweigh its destruction for short-term profits. However, another recent article suggests the worst is yet to come in the deforestation of the Amazon. With the cost of  reforestation at over $2,000 an acre cost alone, not to mention political forces, make restoration less likely day by day.rae_8

The amazon rainforest has been called the lungs of the earth breathing in carbon dioxide and stabilizing the earth’s climate and exhaling oxygen-oxygen that fuels life animal life in all its myriad forms.

  • One in ten known species on our planet including over 2,000 species of animals and probably more plant species than can be counted.
  • Half of the earths remaining tropical rain forests.
  • Over 4,000 river
  • Over 2.6 million square miles.

A grim statistic to have won the honor of statistic of the decade but one we ought to heed as we move forward into the next.

It is hard to appreciate this fact for us living far from the Amazon in places already striped of natural landscapes.  However, when we drive past a once fertile farm field just down the road now being plowed over for a new round of strip malls we get an inkling of what the future holds. A planet impoverished for the enrichment of a few, until it all falls apart.

Perhaps the statistic of the next decade in 2030 will something like this “the decade humanity work together to solve the climate crisis for the good of all”.I know it’s not really a statistic but we will be able to quantify the results and turn that into the next statistic of the decade.

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Success Stories: National Geographic

More good news stories for 2019 this time from National Geographic in an article titled “Wildlife wins: 7 good-news stories from 2019“. The article begins with an all to often heard hours of

Optimism can be in short supply when it comes to wildlife and conservation.

Going on describe several events that are disconcerting to those who consider conservation a worthy cause including the following events:

Masai giraffes were declared endangered, fires in the Amazon devastated jaguars, turtles, and other wildlife, and cheetah researchers accused of spying were sentenced to years in prison in Iran. Demand for wildlife and wildlife products—such as pet turtles, lion bone, and shatoosh, scarves made from the fleece of rare Tibetan antelopes—is thought to be on the rise”

Conversely and giving us a bit of hope the main focus of the article presents several key victories in the conservation of species and preservation of wildlife around the globe. Another article that both gives hope yet points that there is still no reason take pause in the fight for conservation of non-human life on the planet.

Decisions Decisions

A new study reported on in Science Daily suggests that complex decision making occurs in at least one single celled organism. 1

Perhaps our first thoughts when considering single celled organisms is that they are primitive relics of the past with simple physiologies and perhaps only programmed behaviors. However we must consider the simple fact that for several billions of years single cell organisms lived and thrived on the planet and evolved into innumerable species and eventually into multicellular organisms.

Recently a team of researches at Harvard Medical School replicated a century old experiment demonstrating   that  Stentor roeselii  exhibits a complex hierarchy of avoidance behaviors. The evolutionary advantage for the development of this complex avoidance behavior in Stentor roeselii can only be hypothesized but the authors offer this speculation in the paper:

“Such behavioral complexity may have had an evolutionary advantage in protist ecosystems, and the ciliate cortex may have provided mechanisms for implementing such behavior prior to the emergence of multicellularity.”  2

This is an interesting article not only for demonstrating that life, in all it’s forms, may exhibit behaviors we have yet to document but also for the fact that there may be great scientific value in replicating  other forgotten studies from decades past.

Additionally, studies like this one make it clearer that all life is indeed life — and that– is something worth pondering.

References:

  1. Harvard Medical School. (2019, December 5). New study hints at complex decision making in a single-cell organism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191205113129.htm
  2. Joseph P. Dexter, Sudhakaran Prabakaran, Jeremy Gunawardena. A Complex Hierarchy of Avoidance Behaviors in a Single-Cell Eukaryote. Current Biology, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.10.059

 

Discoveries

Our world is vast and much is still to be discovered and described by science.

A recent article published in Science Daily reports on the discovery of 71 new species by researchers at the California Academy of Sciences in 2019. The article provides a nice overview of the species discovered and includes the following quote remaining us that there is much work to do to identify what we have on this wonderful planet. A nice short read if you can find the time.

“Despite decades of tirelessly scouring some of the most familiar and remote places on Earth,” says Shannon Bennett, PhD, and Academy Chief of Science, “biodiversity scientists estimate that more than 90% of nature’s species remain unknown. A rich diversity of plants and animals is what allows life on our planet to thrive: the interconnectedness of all living systems provides collective resilience in the face of our climate crisis. Each newly discovered species serves as an important reminder of the critical role we play in better understanding and preserving these precious ecosystems.”

References:

1.California Academy of Sciences. (2019, December 5). Scientists at the California Academy of Sciences describe 71 new species in 2019. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 10, 2019 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191205155818.htm

And just for fun a smattering of those species we already know.