Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Category Archive: Ecology

  1. How eggs got their shapes

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    Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:30 AM PDT  see full article here

    The evolution of the amniotic egg — complete with membrane and shell — was key to vertebrates leaving the oceans and colonizing the land and air but how bird eggs evolved into so many different shapes and sizes has long been a mystery. Now, an international team of scientists took a quantitative approach to that question and found that adaptations for flight may have been critical drivers of egg-shape variation in birds….

    …”To maintain sleek and streamlined bodies for flight, birds appear to lay eggs that are more asymmetric or elliptical. With these egg shapes, birds can maximize egg volume without increasing the egg’s width — this is an advantage in narrow oviducts.”

    So an albatross and a hummingbird, while two very different birds, may have evolved similarly shaped eggs because both are high-powered fliers.

    It’s clear from our study that variation in the size and shape of bird eggs is not simply random but is instead related to differences in ecology, including the amount of calcium in the diet, and particularly the extent to which each species is designed for powerful flight” says coauthor Dr. Joseph Tobias from Imperial College, UK.

    Mary Caswell Stoddard, Ee Hou Yong, Derya Akkaynak, Catherine Sheard, Joseph A. Tobias, L. Mahadevan. Avian egg shape: Form, function, and evolution. Science, 2017 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaj1945

  2. Birds’ feathers reveal their winter diet

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    Posted: 21 Jun 2017 05:28 AM PDT  see full PhysOrg article here

    Influences outside the breeding season matter a lot for the population health of migratory birds, but it’s tough to track what happens once species scatter for the winter. A study now tries a new approach for determining what …bobolinks eat after they head south for the winter — analyzing the carbon compounds in their plumage, which are determined by the types of plants the birds consume during their winter molt….

    Rosalind B. Renfrew, Jason M. Hill, Daniel H. Kim, Christopher Romanek, and Noah G.
    Perlut. Winter diet of Bobolink, a long-distance migratory grassland bird, inferred from feather isotopes. The Condor, 119(3):439-448.

    American Ornithological Society https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-16-162.1
  3. Bee buzzes could help determine how to save their decreasing population

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    June 7, 2017  University of Missouri-Columbia  see full ScienceDaily article here

    Widespread and effective monitoring of bees could lead to better management of populations; however, tracking bees is tricky and costly. Now, a research team has developed an inexpensive acoustic listening system using data from small microphones in the field to monitor bees in flight. The study shows how farmers could use the technology to monitor pollination and increase food production.

    Causes of pollinator decline are complex and include diminishing flower resources, habitat loss, climate change, increased disease incidence and exposure to pesticides, so pinpointing the driving forces remains a challenge,”…”Eavesdropping on the acoustic signatures of bee flights tells the story of bee activity and pollination services,” Galen said. “Farmers may be able to use the exact methods to monitor pollination of their orchards and vegetable crops and head off pollination deficits. Finally, global ‘citizen scientists’ could get involved, monitoring bees in their backyards.

    Nicole E. Miller-Struttmann, David Heise, Johannes Schul, Jennifer C. Geib, Candace Galen. Flight of the bumble bee: Buzzes predict pollination services. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (6): e0179273 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179273

  4. Breeding pairs of plovers cooperate to resist climate change

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    June 5, 2017 FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology with Point Blue contribution   See full ScienceDaily article here

    Most bird chicks need parental care to survive. In biparental species the chicks have greater chances of success if both parents participate in this task, especially under hostile situations. An international team of scientists has revealed that when temperatures rise, males and females in pairs of plovers shift incubation more frequently….The paper…analysed the behaviour of 36 populations of 12 plover species. Its results reveal that male plovers assist the females during daytime incubation. “Males’ participation in daytime incubation increases both with ambient temperature and with as the variability of maximum temperatures during the incubation period,” the expert stresses. The research demonstrates that a rise in temperature changes these bird pairs’ behaviour and their daily routine in terms of nest attendance….The conclusion of this new paper is that climate variations strongly influence parental cooperation.

    Orsolya Vincze, András Kosztolányi, Zoltán Barta, Clemens Küpper, Monif Alrashidi, Juan A. Amat, Araceli Argüelles Ticó, Fiona Burns, John Cavitt, Warren C. Conway, Medardo Cruz-López, Atahualpa Eduardo Desucre-Medrano, Natalie dos Remedios, Jordi Figuerola, Daniel Galindo-Espinosa, Gabriel E. García-Peña, Salvador Gómez Del Angel, Cheri Gratto-Trevor, Paul Jönsson, Penn Lloyd, Tomás Montalvo, Jorge Enrique Parra, Raya Pruner, Pinjia Que, Yang Liu, Sarah T. Saalfeld, Rainer Schulz, Lorenzo Serra, James J. H. St Clair, Lynne E. Stenzel, Michael A. Weston, Maï Yasué, Sama Zefania, Tamás Székely. Parental cooperation in a changing climate: fluctuating environments predict shifts in care division. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 2017; 26 (3): 347 DOI: 10.1111/geb.12540

  5. Human impacts on biodiversity and resulting loss of ecosystem services

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    May 31 2017  full ScienceDaily article here

    …coauthors from eight countries on four continents provide an overview of what we know and still need to learn about the impacts of habitat destruction, overhunting, the introduction of nonnative species, and other human activities on biodiversity.

    In addition, they summarize previous research on how biodiversity loss affects nature and the benefits nature provides –– for example, a recent study showing that reduced diversity in tree species in forests is linked to reduced wood production. Synthesizing findings of other studies, they estimate that the value humans derive from biodiversity is 10 times what every country in the world put together spends on conservation today — suggesting that additional investments in protecting species would not only reduce biodiversity loss but provide economic benefit, too.

    “Human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth, despite the fact that diversity of life enhances many benefits people reap from nature, such as wood from forests, livestock forage from grasslands, and fish from oceans and streams,” said Isbell, who served as lead author the paper. “It would be wise to invest much more in conserving biodiversity.”…

    Forest Isbell, Andrew Gonzalez, Michel Loreau, Jane Cowles, Sandra Díaz, Andy Hector, Georgina M. Mace, David A. Wardle, Mary I. O’Connor, J. Emmett Duffy, Lindsay A. Turnbull, Patrick L. Thompson, Anne Larigauderie. Linking the influence and dependence of people on biodiversity across scales. Nature, 2017; 546 (7656): 65 DOI: 10.1038/nature22899

    Abstract: Biodiversity enhances many of nature’s benefits to people, including the regulation of climate and the production of wood in forests, livestock forage in grasslands and fish in aquatic ecosystems. Yet people are now driving the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history. Human dependence and influence on biodiversity have mainly been studied separately and at contrasting scales of space and time, but new multiscale knowledge is beginning to link these relationships. Biodiversity loss substantially diminishes several ecosystem services by altering ecosystem functioning and stability, especially at the large temporal and spatial scales that are most relevant for policy and conservation.

  6. Spotted owls benefit from forest fire mosaic

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    • Maintaining a complex mosaic of forest patches with smaller patches of high severity fire can help sustain California Spotted Owls in the greater landscape,

    Posted: 31 May 2017 05:44 AM PDT  full ScienceDaily article here

    Fire is a crucial part of the forest ecosystem on which threatened spotted owls rely, but climate change and decades of fire suppression are changing the dynamics of these forests. A new study examines California spotted owl habitat use and shows that while owls  avoid the badly burned areas left behind by massive stand-replacing fires, they benefit from habitat that includes a mosaic of burned patches of different sizes and degrees of severity.

    …”Maintaining a complex mosaic of forest patches with smaller patches of high severity fire can help sustain California Spotted Owls in the greater landscape,” says Eyes. “What’s unique about our study is that we investigated fires that burned within the natural range of variation, so it paints a picture of how owls used a burned landscape before the onset of today’s large stand-replacing fires.” Despite the owls’ preference for edges, there may be a threshold over which edges have a negative effect on habitat quality, and more research is needed to find the right balance between beneficial edge habitat and potentially harmful habitat fragmentation.

    Stephanie A. Eyes, Susan L. RobertsMatthew D. JohnsonCalifornia Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) habitat use patterns in a burned landscape. The Condor: Ornithological Applications, May 2017 DOI: 10.1650/CONDOR-16-184.1
  7. Effective Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems

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    Effective Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems

    May 24 2017 ScienceDaily

    Despite having increased human wellbeing in the past, intense modifications by multiple and interacting pressures have degraded ecosystems and the sustainability of their goods and services. For ecosystem restoration to deliver on multiple environmental and societal targets, the process of restoration must be redesigned to create a unified and scale-dependent approach that integrates natural and social sciences as well as the broader restoration community, say researchers. r … read more

     

    1. N. Friberg, N.V. Angelopoulos, A.D. Buijse, I.G. Cowx, J. Kail, T.F. Moe, H. Moir, M.T. O’Hare, P.F.M. Verdonschot, C. Wolter. Effective River Restoration in the 21st Century. Advances in Ecological Research, 55: 535-611 DOI: 10.1016/bs.aecr.2016.08.010
    2. Nikolai Friberg, Tom Buijse, Caitríona Carter, Daniel Hering, Bryan M. Spears, Piet Verdonschot, Therese Fosholt Moe. Effective restoration of aquatic ecosystems: scaling the barriers. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water, 2017; 4 (1): e1190 DOI: 10.1002/wat2.1190
  8. Bumblebee populations higher in Detroit – due to vacant lots?

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    Large amount of vacant or idle land may boost the bumblebee population by providing nesting sites and flowers for food

    Posted: 17 May 2017 08:16 AM PDT

    A new study of native bumblebee populations in southeastern Michigan cities found, surprisingly, that Detroit has more of the large-bodied bees than some surrounding, less urbanized locations.The large amount of vacant or idle land in Detroit may boost the bumblebee population by providing nesting sites and flowers for food.

    Native bees are critical sources of pollination for agriculture and wild flowering plants. Many native bees are declining in both abundance and diversity, due to various causes that likely include loss of habitat from human activities. While the effects of large-scale agriculture on native bees are relatively well understood, the effects of urban development are less clear.

    Bumbleebees belong to the bee genus Bombus. In the study, more than 500 individuals from 10 species were identified at 30 sites in southeast Michigan….Bumblebees need to nest in less-disturbed areas with bare ground, tall grass or abandoned tree stumps, making them a good candidate for testing the effects of urban land development. Handheld nets and insect traps were used to capture the bees….

    ….vacant lots are often less frequently mowed and less likely to be treated with pesticides and herbicides. Therefore, these lots can provide various flowering plants and nesting sites for bees.

    ….By analyzing males and females separately, the U-M researchers found that observed declines in overall bumblebee abundance and diversity with increasing urbanization were entirely driven by declines in female workers, while male abundance and diversity were unrelated to urbanization.

    Paul Glaum, Maria-Carolina Simao, Chatura Vaidya, Gordon Fitch, Benjamin Iulinao. Big city Bombus using natural history and land-use history to find significant environmental drivers in bumble-bee declines in urban development. Royal Society Open Science, 2017; 4 (5): 170156 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.170156

  9. Species may not be as susceptible to coextinction as once thought, new research suggests

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    May 15, 2017 Iowa State University  see full ScienceDaily article here

    …The study…focuses on mutualist networks, or webs of mutually beneficial interactions between plants and animals. Examples include fruit-eating birds that eat the fruit from trees while simultaneously helping to disperse the trees’ seeds.

    …The study… found that species with many mutualist relationships tend to be more dependent on those interactions for survival. On the other hand, species with few mutualists typically depend little on mutualistic interactions. Factoring that pattern into the equation adds a new dimension that upends much of the previous models, Fricke said…

    For instance, birds whose diets depend heavily on fruit usually eat fruit from more than one species of plant. That way, if one food source disappears, the bird has other options. “Nature seems to have some backup plans when you need them,” Rogers said….

    Evan C. Fricke, Joshua J. Tewksbury, Elizabeth M. Wandrag, Haldre S. Rogers. Mutualistic strategies minimize coextinction in plant–disperser networks. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2017; 284 (1854): 20162302 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2302

  10. Sooty Tern deaths linked to more intense, frequent hurricanes

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    Migratory seabird deaths linked to hurricanes

    Posted: 11 May 2017 01:53 PM PDT

    Stronger and more frequent hurricanes may pose a new threat to the sooty tern, a species of migratory seabird found throughout the Caribbean and Mid-Atlantic, a new study reveals. The study is the first to map the birds’ annual migratory path and demonstrate how its timing and trajectory place them in the direct path of hurricanes moving into the Caribbean from the Atlantic. Climate change may increase the risk….

    …”While it’s impossible to say just how many of the birds died as a direct result of the hurricanes, we saw a strong relationship between the numbers and locations of bird deaths and the numbers and locations of hurricanes,” said Stuart L. Pimm, the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School.

    “What’s really interesting is that it’s not just the big category 4 and 5 storms that can kill large numbers of birds. A series of smaller, weaker storms may have the same impact as that of a single large, strong storm,” Pimm noted…

    Ryan M. Huang, Oron L. Bass Jr, Stuart L. Pimm. Sooty tern (Onychoprion fuscatus) survival, oil spills, shrimp fisheries, and hurricanes. PeerJ, 2017; 5: e3287 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.3287