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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From the Community: Giant monitor lizard, seafloor scavengers and fruit fly aerodynamics

Climate change prompts migratory birds to stay home, Simpsons’ writer talks conservation and the U.K. announces newest and largest MPA. Here’s what is happening in ecology from the second week in April.

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Genome reveals olfactory communication in the zebra finch

In an article published earlier this week in Nature, researchers revealed the complete genome of the zebra finch and focused on the intricacies of their vocal communication. The zebra finch, the males of which are known to learn and repeat the same song generation after generation, show 800 active genes involved in vocalization. One group of researchers, however, found more hidden in the code. Doron Lancet and Tsviya Olender of the...

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Peruvian boobies have the advantage as solitary hunters

Just off the coast of Peru, the Humboldt Current produces one of the most productive marine ecosystems on the planet. Humans and animals alike have based their livelihood on the abundance of marine life that results from the deep, nutrient-rich waters of this coastal upwelling. Seabirds, which gather in massive groups off the coast to prey on schools of fish, have been completely sustained, until recently: Anchovy decline from overfishing and El Nino’s warmer waters have led to a major drop in seabird populations. One resilient bird, however, has held steady due to its solitary hunting style.

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The plight of Hawaiian birds

Just last week, two Hawaiian bird species from the island of Kaua’i and their respective habitats were put on the endangered species list along with a Hawaiian fly and 45 types of Hawaiian plants. However, while the action signifies movement from the Obama Administration toward protecting at-risk species and their habitats, the listing does not come a second too soon: Recent research shows U.S. birds, especially in Hawaii, are in great peril.

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So you want to be a conservationist? Think of the community

When we consider all the conservation challenges facing our world and society, we know that communicating effectively to the community is not only helpful but necessary. However, many inspiring projects in various conservation areas have failed to succeed—not because the scientific background was not there or because the financial resources were unavailable—but because the community’s support was not entirely there. One of the elements to a successful conservation project is a strong connection to the community, especially during the early stages of project planning.

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The phrenologist’s guide to ecological competence

Since Darwin, scientists have been theorizing as to why there is variation in brain size between species and individuals. Does a larger brain, in say humans, indicate advanced cognitive abilities and complex language processing? Or is a smaller brain, such as the Olive-backed thrush’s, adapted to weigh less to accommodate lengthy flights?

In psychology, the field of phrenology has generally been dissolved, and with it, the idea that variations in brain size could indicate differences in intelligence, creativity or personality between humans. In the field of biology, however, scientists are discovering that brain variation across species might actually be linked to ecological competence. In this case, ecological competence describes the efficiency of a species to engage in ecological processes—such as flexible foraging abilities or advanced spatial memory for migration.

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From the Community: Pika population sees a boost, birds not spreading West Nile and five women honored for their role as environmentalists

Pika found to be flourishing in the Sierra Nevada region, bird migration patterns suggest mosquitoes are to blame for spreading West Nile and mice courtship rituals could shed light on autism. Here are news stories and studies on ecological science from the first week in March.

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