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 esablog@esa.org. 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...

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Iron-plated Snail

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs  Another example of the ingenuity of nature: researchers are finding inspiration in the extraordinarily strong exoskeleton of a deep-sea snail, Crysomallon squamiferum.  The mollusk’s iron-plated shell is giving researchers insights that could lead to stronger materials for airplane hulls, cars, and military equipment. Researchers at the National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) write about the snail’s iron-plated protection in the January 19 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Also called the “scaly-foot gastropod”, Crysomallon squamiferum was discovered back in 1999, over two miles below the central Indian Ocean, deep within hydrothermal vent fields.  Fluids in these vents are high in sulfides and metals, which the snail incorporates into its shell.  The gastropod’s shell has three layers: a highly calcified inner layer, a thick organic middle layer, and an outer layer that is fused with granular iron sulfide.  It is unlike any other known natural or synthetically engineered armor. MIT project leader Christine Ortiz and her colleagues have been testing the shell’s properties, simulating predatory attacks with computer models as well as with “indentation testing”—striking the top of shells with a sharp probe to measure the hardness and stiffness of the shell. In a NSF press release Ortiz says: Our study suggests that the scaly-foot gastropod undergoes very different deformation and protection mechanisms compared to other gastropods.  It is very efficient in protection, more so than the typical mollusk. Potential predators that are found in the same regions as C. squamiferum include the cone snail, which penetrates its prey with a harpoon-like tooth before paralyzing it with venom, and sea-faring crabs, which use their claws to squeeze for days until the mollusk’s shell gives way.  The researchers write in the PNAS report that C. squamiferum’s impressive exoskeleton is: …..advantageous for penetration resistance, energy dissipation, mitigation of fracture and crack arrest, reduction of back deflections, and resistance to bending and tensile loads. Another vivid example of the evolutionary race between prey and predator which in this case also holds promise for better protective materials for humans. Photo credit: Dr. Anders Warén, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden. Yao, H., Dao, M., Imholt, T., Huang, J., Wheeler, K., Bonilla, A., Suresh, S., & Ortiz, C. (2010). Protection mechanisms of the iron-plated armor of a deep-sea hydrothermal vent gastropod Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (3), 987-992 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0912988107...

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