Saliva from moth larva increases potato crop yields in Colombia

Many farmers throughout Latin America and around the world rely on pesticides to control pest invasions; in the case of Andean potato crops, this method is not only costly but has been shown to cause adverse health effects as well. Due to the risks involved in pesticide usage, and the ever-increasing demand for high-yield crops, new methods of controlling pest invasions are being explored by researchers regularly. And as counterintuitive as these new findings sound, ecological scientists have discovered that, in the case of Colombian potato farms in the Andes, the pests themselves could actually increase productivity.

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Sexually-mature tortoises are at greatest risk of disease

Currently, upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) and habitat loss are contributors to a decline in gopher and desert tortoise populations. And since these reptiles are keystone species—that is, the habitats they create are home to more than 300 other species—their population decline significantly affects the ecosystem. According to a recent study in Ecology, sexually-mature male tortoises were at the greatest risk of carrying and spreading URTD due in large part to their social behavior.

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When habitat destruction is extremely subtle

When it comes to habitat destruction, startling events like oil spills and deforestation are certain to grab the headlines. Yet as a new study in the journal Animal Conservation shows, sometimes habitat destruction can be so subtle that it passes under the eyes of all but the most astute scientists. David Pike and fellow researchers from the University of Sydney look at the case of reptiles in outcrops and find that people moving rocks less than 30 centimeters out of place can ruin the habitat for species like the endangered broad-headed snake that shelter in narrow crevices.

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From the Community: Respecting animal privacy, rewilding America and reassessing the Dead Zone

Early morning flyovers produce a 3D map of New York City’s environment, scientists analyze lizard competition in the Bahamas, Slate reviews the ecological cost of large scale illegal drug production and golden lion tamarins paint for an auction to fund National Zoo research. Here is the latest news in ecology for the first week in May.

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Taking action: what is being done and what you can do for the Gulf

As the oil leak continues, many of us feel helpless to mitigate the ecological impact of the spill. But this is just the beginning of the cleanup efforts and there is plenty that can be done right now. Here is the breakdown of what is currently being launched regarding response efforts for the Gulf oil spill, and what we can do to contribute.

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Ecology meets technology in a mechanized planet

It goes without saying that the world as we know it is becoming increasingly infused with technology. Besides the everyday devices—computers, cell phones, cameras, cars—huge advances are being made on a daily basis at the intersection of biology and technology. Areas like biorobotics, nanotechnology, geoengineering, genetically engineered organisms and global monitoring, for example, are gaining steam. In biorobotics, which also includes advances in medicine through nanotechnology, engineers draw on the processes of locomotion and navigation to design biologically-inspired robots (see above video), some of which have contributed to military aircraft designs. Just this week, physicists have found a way to extract water from air using lasers—a discovery that geoengineers propose could produce rain clouds. Genetically modified organisms, such as cotton plants in India containing a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that codes for a protein toxic to insects, are being engineered to grow larger and faster and to be resistant to predators and diseases. With satellites and remote sensing, global monitoring is becoming more precise—such as NASA’s Earth Observing System, which was most recently used to track the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. One could easily argue that technology also played a role in  the ecological disaster in the Gulf region, and it is a technological innovation that BP is proposing to use in an effort to mitigate the spill. According to a BBC article, the containment chamber is a 40 foot steel box—ready to be installed this week—that will be placed over the leaking pipe to siphon a projected 85% of the oil into a tanker (see below video). As Felicia Coleman mentioned in Monday’s Q&A, we are living in a world of trade-offs. That is, if society is going to continue inventing machinery and expanding technologically on a global scale, then collaborative systems to assess, control and mitigate any potential consequences should also be taken into account. In biotechnology, as with any emerging field, questions will arise as quickly as advancements are made. Some will be specific (what is the potential impact of nanoparticles introduced to a stream ecosystem?), while others will address the biosphere as a whole. For example, how do we sustain a world that has been so altered and influenced by human development? How can we balance the Earth’s resources with present demands for energy, water and food? But perhaps the most notable inquiry to address is what will happen in the future because of our actions now. In other words, are we adapting to life on a mechanized planet, or are we becoming reliant on it? The upcoming series of posts entitled “Mechanized Planet” will explore the current state of and advancements in such areas as...

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The oil spill comes to Washington

Last month, Obama surprised conservationists when he added plans to expand off-shore drilling to his energy policy in an effort to sway votes in Congress. Then—just as both sides rose to debate the issue—the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. This morning several democratic senators joined a Capitol Hill press conference.

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Q&A: Ecologists assess oil spill damage

An oil slick originating from a rig about 130 miles southeast of New Orleans, which is dumping oil into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of approximately 25,000 barrels per day, is drifting toward the Alabama, Florida and Louisiana coasts, and scientists are still assessing the ecological impact that will result. In the Q&A below, three members of the Ecological Society of America’s Rapid Response Team discuss the current and possible future damage of this spill and the effects it could have on the Gulf region.

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