Record drought in the U.S., cod fishery recovery and Bjork’s ode to E.O. Wilson

This is the last post I will contribute as moderator of ESA’s blog EcoTone—it has been a wonderful, educational experience to explore the connectivity and complexity of life processes and to meet the scientists who have helped to further this cross-disciplinary research. I hope you have enjoyed reading these stories as much as I have enjoyed writing them! Please continue to visit the blog frequently for new posts, and remember that guest submissions are always welcome at See the end of this post for a few highlighted EcoTone articles published since January 2010.

Detrimental drought: According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Texas and other southern states are experiencing record-breaking, “exceptional” drought.  And as a recent Reuters article pointed out, these conditions are leading to wildlife hardships. In Austin, for example, the world’s largest urban bat colony has been departing from under the Congress Bridge earlier than usual to search for prey. “The drought has killed off crops in Texas, and that in turn has killed off those delicious pests the Mexican free-tailed bats consider dinner,” wrote Karen Brooks. As a result, the bats are emerging before sunset—providing ample viewing time for bat-watchers but indicating the bats are exerting greater energy to feed. “An extended drought could be a double whammy for central Texas farmers, who depend on the bats to remove some 1,000 tons of insects and pests from the air each night,” wrote Brooks. Read more at “1.5 million bats in Texas city left hungrier by drought.”

Conserving water in the West: Many U.S. residents are aware that turning lights off after leaving a room conserves energy; however, people may not be as aware that conserving water is also conserving energy. As Daniel Glick reported in a Scientific American article, “Nationally, energy production sucks more water from freshwater sources than any other sector except agriculture. It takes water to create the power we use to drive our cars, transport our groceries, and run our toaster ovens. Virtually every source of electricity in a typical American home or manufacturing plant—whether it comes from hydroelectricity, coal, natural gas, nuclear, biofuels, or even concentrated solar—also requires water. Lots of water.” Read more at “How Saving Energy Means Conserving Water in U.S. West.”

Slow recovery: Researchers from Dalhousie University have reported that, after nearly two decades, cod and haddock fisheries off the coast of Nova Scotia are showing signs of recovery. After the fisheries collapsed due to overconsumption, the Canadian government closed this area in 1993 and has just started to see the ecosystem begin to stabilize. As Hannah Waters concluded in a Scientific American article, this is just one example of a potential full-recovery. “Other similar fishery collapses have not recovered because invasive species, such as jellies, have rolled in to take advantage of the mess,” she wrote. “The cod’s recovery is hopeful but it’s safest to treat it as an outlier.” Read more at “Collapsed cod fishery shows signs of life.”

Björk’s Biophilia: According to David Robson of New Scientist’s blog Culture Lab, pop singer Björk’s latest album, set to be released in September, was preceded by a theatrical, science-oriented performance in Manchester. The album—named Biophilia in honor of E.O Wilson’s theory of the evolutionary connection of humans to their natural environment—revolves around the wonder of science. The performance, as described by Robson, featured “…songs about plate tectonics, galaxy formation, crystallisation, DNA and heredity, equilibrium, gravity and dark matter. Then there were the novel instruments, including four harps driven by 10-foot pendulums and a gigantic Tesla coil that sparked in time to the music.” Björk explained the intersection of nature and electronics in a BBC News article: “Algorithms from nature can be fed into software to create a musical pattern which is then manipulated through the [iPod] touch-screen.” Read more at “Sparks fly at Björk’s new show Biophilia.”

Viper mimicry: Researchers from the University of Jyvaskyla described the benefits of mimicking a viper’s head and pattern on scales: Birds tend to avoid these cues. That is, Janne Valkonen and colleagues tracked bird predation on fake snakes that resembled one physical trait, or no traits, of the horned viper among others. The researchers found that birds both avoided snakes with triangular-shaped heads and those with zig-zag patterns more frequently than featureless snakes. As Ed Yong from Not Exactly Rocket Science added, “Valkonen even thinks that some caterpillars rely on the same trick. The larvae of many swallowtails and hawkmoths react to danger by hiding their heads and flaring their abdomens into a triangular shape, complete with eye spots and jerky ‘striking’ movements. Where there was once a tasty grub, there is suddenly the head of a viper sticking out of some foliage.” Read more at “Harmless snakes avoid danger by mimicking the triangular heads of vipers.”

Also, bees help make raspberries in Kenya, rare photos of the smalltooth sandtiger shark, strange lichens in Colorado, largest fungus yet discovered, describing the dik-dik, close-ups of hummingbird flight, the microbes of the Gulf oil spill, bat-attracting vines, cleaning up a West Virginia watershed and “Which microbe are you?”

Katie’s favorite posts since January 2010 (in alphabetical order):

An ant’s eye view of sand
Ballistics experts of the bug world
Biodiversity is a delicate recipe
Ecology influencing art
Fire ant decapitating flies take hold in Florida, one head at a time
If you give a mouse an acorn…
Science in a culture of news grazers
Shrew poo and worm goo are science too
Taking a shot at photographing science
The health benefits of spending time in the great outdoors
The sharp shooters of marine life
The story of the fig and its wasp
Two surprising critters living in the tiny world of moist soil
Unseen and unforeseen, measuring nanomaterials in the environment

Photo Credit: Valerie

Author: Katie Kline

Moderator of EcoTone and ESA's communications officer.

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