9/11 dust study, gypsy-moth caterpillar killer, and hummingbird courtship

Studying the 9/11 WTC dust: Coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) recently published a blog highlighting the agency’s study of the environmental and potential health risks of the massive dust cloud that swept across New York City as a result of the collapse of the World Trade Center. The dust was particularly dense, coating outdoor surfaces in a layer of powdered material up to three inches thick. It also penetrated doors, windows and ventilation systems, contaminating apartments and office buildings alike.  The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Public Health Service requested that USGS examine the dust to identify components that might pose a human health threat to the thousands who inhaled it that day and subsequent days USGS found that the dust contained higher amounts of lead, zinc, antimony, copper, and other elements of building materials than found in natural soils. The team also found the less dangerous variety of asbestos–chrysotile asbestos–in most samples at higher levels than what is found in urban particulate matter. The materials found were deemed dangerous enough to indicate a potential health threat and USGS scientists consequently advised that clean-up be conducted with appropriate respiratory protection and dust control measures. USGS scientists also found that dust indoors was highlight caustic and could be chemically reactive with moisture, including eyes, nose, and lungs.  However, rain and other elements helped neutralize the alkalinity of dust outside. Clever caterpillar killer: Scientists have recently discovered how a virus manipulates an invasive species of caterpillar. The gypsy moth caterpillar larvae is renowned for damaging roughly a million acres of forest in the U.S. each year. However, the baculovirus has infiltrated the caterpillars, taking advantage of their insatiable appetites. The virus has become so effective that the U.S. Department of Agriculture sprays it on trees to help control gypsy moth outbreaks. According to the study’s lead author, Kelli Hoover, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University, the virus works by altering the gypsy moth caterpillar’s behavior. Once infected with the virus, the caterpillars climb to elevated positions and die. Subsequently, the body cavity of the caterpillar is converted into millions of virus particles as well as an enzyme that causes the caterpillar’s exoskeleton to disintegrate. The “liquefied” caterpillar then “rains” onto the leaves below, which other caterpillars eat, further spreading the virus. The researchers claim that knowing precisely how baculovirus overwhelms the gypsy moth could help scientists develop more potent strains of the virus and determine when in the moth’s life cycle it is most vulnerable to infection. Read more at: “How a clear virus kills a hungry...

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From the Community: Parasitic wasps, flamingo pigment and spiny anteaters

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.

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From the Community: fish-mimicking octopuses, aquanauts and the evolution of ecology

An octopus that mimics toxic sea creatures, the tobacco plant sends out an SOS when attacked, the genetic differences between ant social castes, unusually high records of jellyfish swarms this summer and Simon Levin discusses the evolution of ecology and where it is headed next. Here are stories in ecology wrapping up the month of August.

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Incorporating science into home gardening

Blanketing a home garden in pesticides poses a clear risk to the humans and animals who dine on it. But when the garden is compared to a human immune system, another problem becomes apparent: Just like antibiotics, pesticides wipe out the “good bugs” with the bad. These helpful predators and parasitoids are called natural enemies and they help to naturally control pests like aphids and caterpillars. Certain plants attract natural enemies and/or deter pests all together and can be used in place of harmful chemicals.

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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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From the Community: moth’s green islands, poison arrow frog controversy and life in unlikely places

Caterpillars create green islands in leaves, bats navigate long distances using a geomagnetic field and volcanic lake shows unexpected biodiversity. Here is what’s happening in ecology for the first week in April.

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