The following is a story, but it describes a real scientific process: the relationship between acorns, mice, ticks and a bacterium. On a chilly November night, in a deciduous forest in the eastern U.S., a mouse prepares for the season ahead. More specifically, a female white-footed mouse—competing with other mice and animals for acorns—is reaping the fruits from a mast year: The oak trees in the region produced a generous blanket of acorns across the forest floor this autumn.
Most people are familiar with the role of DNA: A set of genetic instructions on how a particular living organism should function. This nucleic acid has been widely explored as a way to identify individuals, define illnesses or hereditary diseases and contribute to behavior, among many other clues about an individual. However, there may be another complex feature of human anatomy that influences many surprising aspects of human physiology, immunity and evolution: gut flora.
Altered behavior in caterpillars carrying wasp eggs, preliminary thoughts on the 2010 election results, monitoring climate change from Mount Everest to Baffin Bay, insight into drug-resistant bacteria mutations and origins of the Black Death. Here is the latest in ecological science for the first week in November.