Category: Environment

Dinosaurs and Ancient Birds Shared Sex Traits

By Breanna Draxler | January 22, 2013 10:05 am

Reconstruction of Confuciusornis sanctus by Stephanie Abramowicz, NHM Dinosaur Institute.

Sue is something of a celebrity among dinosaurs, being the best-preserved T. rex fossil ever found. But in truth, the gender of dinosaurs is rarely, if ever, known. A study in 2005 first laid claim to a new way to sex dinosaurs using a distinctive bone formation. Now paleontologists in China have found that ancient birds also had this structure, confirming that birds and dinos shared similar gender divisions and reproductive habits.

Researchers excavated the 125-million-year old birds’ feathers, organs and bones from petrified lake-bottom mud in northeastern China. These birds, called Confuciusornis sanctus, were buried by the hundreds following catastrophic volcanic eruptions in the Mesozoic era.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts

Oil Spill Cleanup Could Kill Coral

By Breanna Draxler | January 11, 2013 11:02 am

Mustard hill coral (Porites asteroides)

When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew in 2010, it spewed some 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In order to break up the slick, another 1.84 million gallons of dispersant was added to the mix. This one-two punch of toxic chemicals devastated coastal ecosystems [pdf], but how would such a chemical bombardment affect underwater ecosystems like coral reefs? According to a new study, the picture is no prettier.

Researchers at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida tested the effects of Deepwater Horizon-type oil and the dispersant used to clean it up, Corexit® 9500int, on coral larvae in the lab to replicate what may have happened following the spill. Larvae colonize reefs by sampling a surface, sticking to it and then changing into a polyp to get growing. They do this based on chemical cues in the water. Adding oil and dispersant, it turns out, severely hinders this sensitive settlement process.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts

Parasite Wasp Sanitizes Its Six-Legged Meal

By Breanna Draxler | January 9, 2013 8:00 am

This emerald cockroach wasp (Ampulex compressa) leads a cockroach to its burrow using its own antennae as a leash.

The emerald cockroach wasp is a mother on a mission. This parasitic insect lays its eggs on cockroaches, but to minimize the risk of the host’s many microbes and pathogens to her eggs, the wasp does what many human mothers today would do. The wasp arms her babies with sanitizer before dropping them off.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts

Record-breaking heat fuels raging brushfires in Australia

By admin | January 8, 2013 12:52 pm

The new year in a large portion of the United States may have gotten off to a cold start, but down under, quite the opposite has been true. Temperatures have been soaring in Australia—so much so that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has had to add new colors to its temperature forecast map, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Its previous temperature range had been capped at 50 degrees—or 122 degrees F.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts

Phasing Out Polluting Microplastics

By Breanna Draxler | January 2, 2013 2:19 pm

Exfoliation is good for the skin, but the scrubbers in some soaps are bad for the environment. Last week global consumer-goods company Unilever acknowledged the growing concerns of scientists and environmentalists by saying the company will no longer use these plastic beads in its products.

The plastics in question are called microplastics, itty bitty pieces of plastic less than five millimeters in diameter. The problem with their small size is that these plastics rinse right down drains and collect in marine environments and the stomachs of marine animals. Studies published in the last month have reported microplastics inside fish in the English Channel and harbour seals in the Netherlands. In fact, a review of microplastics published last year demonstrated that these tiny plastics are now all over the place.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts

Nations Race to Drill Into Hidden Antarctic Waters

By Breanna Draxler | December 28, 2012 3:17 pm

On Christmas day the U.S. Antarctic Program released this image along with an update about their fast-approaching departure. Image courtesy of Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling.

On Christmas day the British Antarctic Survey announced that it is pulling out of the race to drill into the pristine waters of an underwater lake in Antarctica, but Russia and the United States are hot on their heels to explore similar subglacial waters.

These underground bodies of water are sealed below two miles of glacial ice and, in some cases, have existed unperturbed for tens of millions of years. Researchers from the three nations aim to drill into these hidden lakes in hopes of finding brand new forms of microbial life. The adaptations of these resilient organisms to harsh conditions may shed light on the evolution of life on Earth, and potentially other planets, too.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts

Bumblebees Aren’t Picky Eaters, But They Do Like Variety

By Breanna Draxler | December 28, 2012 8:00 am

As global pollinator populations decline, the pressure is on for scientists to figure out what makes these buzzing insects tick. While bumblebees do not pollinate much of the food we humans eat, their fuzzy bodies move a lot of pollen for native plant species, which makes them an essential part of many an ecosystem. Tracking the nesting and eating habits of bumblebees has given scientists some surprising new clues about how to encourage pollination in an ever-urbanizing world.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts

Ocean Waters Ablaze With Flame Shells

By Lisa Raffensperger | December 27, 2012 4:18 pm

A massive colony of these bad-hair-day shellfish, called flame shells, has been discovered off the coast of Scotland. Its inhabitants are thought to number over 100 million, making it possibly the largest grouping of flame shells in the world.

The critters are a species of saltwater clam (Limaria hians), named for the fiery orange tentacles fringing their two half-shells. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: ocean floor, sea life

Biogeography Map Updated After 136 Years

By Breanna Draxler | December 27, 2012 1:57 pm

from The Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876), by Alfred Russel Wallace

Modern biogeography—the study of the distribution of species—still relies heavily on the above map, despite the fact that it was drawn by the field’s founder, Alfred Russel Wallace, in 1876. The map indicates regions of historical species mixing, pointing out, for instance, that a mouse in North Africa is more likely and able to mix with its European brethren than its South African cousins. This week researchers have revealed a new and improved biogeographical map, published in Science, which they hope will become the new baseline for ecological and evolutionary studies as well as conservation efforts.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: biodiversity, map

Mistletoe Makes Holidays Happier and Forests Healthier

By Breanna Draxler | December 20, 2012 3:00 pm

Despite its romantic holiday association, mistletoe has long been villainized  in ecology circles for being a parasite—the vine wraps itself around trees and steals nutrients from them to survive. Nobody likes a mooch, but researchers in Australia have found that this parasitic plant is not all bad. In fact, their findings [pdf] published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences this July suggest mistletoe may actually be a keystone species in forest ecosystems. The plant is relatively sparse but plays a critical role in maintaining the overall health and diversity of species in its environment.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts
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