Ecosystems

How did the giraffe get its long neck?
May 27, 2016 06:09 AM - Penn State University

For the first time, the genomes of the giraffe and its closest living relative, the reclusive okapi of the African rainforest, have been sequenced — revealing the first clues about the genetic changes that led to the evolution of the giraffe’s exceptionally long neck and its record-holding ranking as the world’s tallest land species. The research will be published in the scientific journal Nature Communications on May 17, 2016.

“The giraffe’s stature, dominated by its long neck and legs and an overall height that can reach 19 feet (~ 6 m), is an extraordinary feat of evolution that has inspired awe and wonder for at least 8,000 years — as far back as the famous rock carvings at Dabous in the Republic of Niger,” said Douglas Cavener of Penn State, who led the research team with Morris Agaba of the Nelson Mandela African Institute for Science and Technology in Tanzania.

How did the giraffe get its long neck? Clues now are revealed by new genome sequencing. 

Spring comes sooner to urban heat islands, with potential consequences for wildlife
May 25, 2016 08:21 PM - Jenny Seifert, University of Wisconsin-Madison

With spring now fully sprung, a new study by University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers shows that buds burst earlier in dense urban areas than in their suburban and rural surroundings. This may be music to urban gardeners’ ears, but that tune could be alarming to some native and migratory birds and bugs.

Wildfires no longer spreading like wildfires
May 25, 2016 07:15 AM - Swansea University

A new analysis of global data related to wildfire, published by the Royal Society, reveals major misconceptions about wildfire and its social and economic impacts.

Squid populations on the rise
May 24, 2016 07:09 AM - University of Adelaide

Unlike the declining populations of many fish species, the number of cephalopods (octopus, cuttlefish and squid) has increased in the world's oceans over the past 60 years, a University of Adelaide study has found.

The international team, led by researchers from the University's Environment Institute, compiled a global database of cephalopod catch rates to investigate long-term trends in abundance, published in Cell Press journal Current Biology.

GMOs May Be Safe to Eat, But Some Are Still Bad for the Planet
May 20, 2016 06:12 AM - Julie Rodriguez, Care2

For years, one of the major arguments that has been made against genetically engineered crops is the fear that, by tampering with a plant’s DNA, it could potentially cause health issues for consumers. It’s an understandable worry, however, the scientific consensus now seems to be undeniable: Whatever faults GMO crops may have, they are safe for human consumption.

Increased vegetation in the Arctic region may counteract global warming
May 19, 2016 07:19 AM - Lund University via AlphaGalileo

Climate change creates more shrub vegetation in barren, arctic ecosystems. A study at Lund University in Sweden shows that organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, are triggered to break down particularly nutritious dead parts of shrubbery. Meanwhile, the total amount of decomposition is reducing. This could have an inhibiting effect on global warming.

How do trees sleep?
May 18, 2016 07:17 AM - Vienna University of Technology via EurekAlert!

Most living organisms adapt their behavior to the rhythm of day and night. Plants are no exception: flowers open in the morning, some tree leaves close during the night. Researchers have been studying the day and night cycle in plants for a long time: Linnaeus observed that flowers in a dark cellar continued to open and close, and Darwin recorded the overnight movement of plant leaves and stalks and called it "sleep". But even to this day, such studies have only been done with small plants grown in pots, and nobody knew whether trees sleep as well. Now, a team of researchers from Austria, Finland and Hungary measured the sleep movement of fully grown trees using a time series of laser scanning point clouds consisting of millions of points each.

Ocean bacteria are programmed to alter climate gases
May 17, 2016 07:29 AM - Oregon State University via EurekAlert!

SAR11, the most abundant plankton in the world's oceans, are pumping out massive amounts of two sulfur gases that play important roles in the Earth's atmosphere, researchers announced today in the journal Nature Microbiology.

A Major Source of Air Pollution: Farms
May 16, 2016 07:05 PM - Earth Institute, Columbia University

A new study says that emissions from farms outweigh all other human sources of fine-particulate air pollution in much of the United States, Europe, Russia and China. The culprit: fumes from nitrogen-rich fertilizers and animal waste that combine in the air with industrial emissions to form solid particles—a huge source of disease and death. The good news: if industrial emissions decline in coming decades, as most projections say, fine-particle pollution will go down even if fertilizer use doubles as expected. The study appears this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Agricultural air pollution comes mainly in the form of ammonia, which enters the air as a gas from heavily fertilized fields and livestock waste. It then combines with pollutants from combustion—mainly nitrogen oxides and sulfates from vehicles, power plants and industrial processes—to create tiny solid particles, or aerosols, no more than 2.5 micrometers across, about 1/30 the width of a human hair. The particles can penetrate deep into lungs, causing heart or pulmonary disease; a 2015 study in the journal Nature estimates they cause at least 3.3 million deaths each year globally.

Happy 'Love a Tree Day'!
May 16, 2016 07:19 AM - Judy Molland, Care2

What’s not to love about trees? May 16 marks National Love a Tree Day, which gives everyone a chance to get out and appreciate the

You probably know about the largest living tree: situated in the Giant Forest in California’s Sequoia National Park, the General Sherman tree, a giant sequoia, is the largest living organism, by volume, on our planet. It is 2,100 years old, weighs an estimated 2.7 million pounds, stands 275 feet tall and is 100 feet wide at its trunk. Pretty impressive!

But you don’t have to travel to California to appreciate trees – in fact, they are everywhere!

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