The following links highlight ecology from the month of December, but there are several science-related end-of-year lists floating around as well. For example, The Guardian released a review of 2010 wildlife photographic awards, Scientific American’s podcast 60-Second Earth highlighted Earth stories in 2010, Ed Yong is posting a series of 2010 research themed articles on his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science—such as a recent post on enlightening research—and Discover listed its top 100 science stories of 2010. All of these lists and many more can be found on Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog.
Insect food: In the above TED talk, ecological entomologist Marcel Dicke makes a case for eating insects in place of animal meat; his arguments include a reduction in greenhouse-gas-producing waste and the comparable nutritional value of insects to other protein sources. He explains that the risk of disease would also be lowered if humans and animals were not so close in proximity. As Dicke referenced the spread of swine flu to humans, “You’ve got a new disease that can be deadly. If we eat insects, they are so distantly related to us that this doesn’t happen.” Read more at “Marcel Dicke: Why not eat insects?”
Light pollution: Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently found a relationship between city lights and daytime smog. That is, during flybys over Los Angeles this summer, Harald Stark and colleagues found that the city lights were 25 times brighter than a full moon. As described in a Scientific American article, “the researchers calculated that such an amount of light would be enough to break down nitrite in the air. Nitrite (NO3) indirectly reduces the daytime ozone levels because it reacts with other nitrogen compounds that are involved in ozone-forming reactions.” Read more at “Dimming city lights may help reduce smog.”
Sea food: In a recent American Scientist article, Craig McClain from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, N.C. outlined the complex ecosystem on the ocean floor and the evolution of organisms that live in such extreme environments. “Deep-sea organisms exist at environmental extremes of temperature, pressure and, of course, food availability,” McClain concluded. “Across levels of biological organization, from individuals to the ecosystem, extraordinary ecological and evolutionary transformations have taken place in lockstep with those limits. As human activity further alters the deep sea, will its species adapt or perish?” Read more at “An empire lacking food.”
Air microbes: “Every cubic meter of air holds up to 100 million microorganisms, but the diversity and behavior of these microbes remains masked to microbiologists — until recently, that is,” started an article published earlier this month in The Scientist. Vanessa Schipani described the biodiversity of microbes in the atmosphere and the potential impact these communities could have on the formation of clouds and snowflakes and even on precipitation and climate change. Read more at “Atlas of the atmosphere.”
Bat disease: Wired Science’s Brandon Keim posted a comprehensive overview of the current status of bats in the Northeastern United States as populations dwindle from White Nose Syndrome. In one selection, Keim explains the ecological role of bats and the current public misconception: “…bats are generally absent from everyday awareness. Most specialize in eating insects at night in the air, an ecological niche both staggeringly enormous and out of sight. Their taxonomic order, Chiroptera — more closely related to primates than rodents — contains more mammal species than any order except rodents, yet most people have never seen a bat up close.” Read more at “The desperate battle against killer bat plague.”
Also, the world’s first book of animals is available online, a suggested drop in science productivity, an overview of species that hibernate during the winter, a resurgence of renewable energy, eight-year-olds publish a study on bees and why the giant panda prefers bamboo over meat.