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. .

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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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

 

Song birds are shrinking

Bergmann’s rule posits that populations and species of larger sizes are found in colder regions while in warmer regions species are smaller.

A study published yesterday in the Journal Ecology Letters reports that over the pervious four decades there has been, on average, a 2.4 percent decrease in the size of the length of the tarsus bone, a standard marker for bird size,  in a sample population of over 70,000 birds from 52 species. The changes in tarsus length were correlated with the increase temperature. The lead authors of the study suggested two explanations for the decrease in body size.

“The first is developmental plasticity, in which individuals that mature in warmer temperatures tend to develop into smaller adults,” Weeks explained. “The second is natural selection, in which smaller birds tend to do better — in survival, reproduction, or both — in warmer temperatures, leading to a shift in the average size of individuals in a population.”

In addition, the study found consistent increases in the wing length of 1.3 percent in 40 of the species. The reason for in increase in wing length is unclear  but the authors hypothesized that increasing wing length may represent a compensatory adaptation to maintain migration as reductions in body size have increased the metabolic cost of flight. Like many of the consequences of climate change, the changes measured in bird size, are not perceptible to the naked eye.

There is a good summary of the study here by the Audubon society.

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