Ecosystems

New discoveries about photosynthesis may lead to solar cells of the future
July 18, 2016 11:01 AM - Lund University via EurekAlert!

For the first time, researchers have successfully measured in detail the flow of solar energy, in and between different parts of a photosynthetic organism. The result is a first step in research that could ultimately contribute to the development of technologies that use solar energy far more efficiently than what is currently possible.

For about 80 years, researchers have known that photochemical reactions inside an organism do not occur in the same place as where it absorbs sunlight. What has not been known, however, is how and along what routes the solar energy is transported into the photosynthetic organism -- until now.

"Not even the best solar cells that we as humans are capable of producing can be compared to what nature performs in the first stages of energy conversion. That is why new knowledge about photosynthesis will become useful for the development of future solar technologies", says Donatas Zigmantas, Faculty of Science at Lund University, Sweden.

Calcification: Does it pay off in the future ocean?
July 15, 2016 03:13 PM - University of Southampton via ScienceDaily

An international research team has calculated the costs and benefits of calcification for phytoplankton and the impact of climate change on their important role in the world's oceans.

Single-celled phytoplankton play an important role in marine biogeochemical cycling, in marine food webs and in the global climate system. Coccolithophores are a particular group that cover themselves with calcium carbonate shields, known as coccoliths. Some wrap themselves in an impenetrable coat of coccoliths, some make coccoliths in the form of sharp spikes, some use them as parasols against the sun and some form funnel-shaped light collectors.

But this requires a lot of energy -- and the price for the artful armour could rise further due to global change. With the help of a new model, the researchers analysed the energetic costs and benefits of calcification. The results, published in the current issue of the journal Science Advances, suggest that the ecological niche for calcifying algae will become narrower in the future.

Ptarmigan in Colorado have varied reproduction, not likely linked to warming trends
July 15, 2016 02:37 PM - Colorado State University via EurekAlert!

Animals that live at high elevations are often assumed to be at risk for extinction as habitats warm and change. But a new study led by Colorado State University researchers found that ptarmigan, which live in cold ecosystems, are not strongly affected by fluctuations in seasonal weather at two populations studied in Colorado.

The results, published July 15 in the journal PLOS ONE, are surprising, given the general perception of alpine animal populations as vulnerable to recent climate warming, study authors said.

Ptarmigan are grouse that live in cold ecosystems, such as alpine and tundra habitats, said Greg Wann, Ph.D. candidate in CSU's Graduate Degree Program in Ecology and a member of the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory.

The birds are well-known for changing colors seasonally. In late spring and summer, ptarmigan are brown, and in the fall, they molt into a white plumage to match the surrounding snow. The white-tailed ptarmigan is the smallest species of this type of grouse and is endemic to North America. It is the only ptarmigan that exists in Colorado.

What Do You Know About New York Whales?
July 15, 2016 11:48 AM - Judy Molland, Care2

In case you thought wildlife in New York was pretty much limited to the squirrels and pigeons of Central Park, Howard Rosenbaum has news for you.

“In less distance out to sea than the average New Yorker’s commute home, there is likely a whale singing at this very moment,” says Rosenbaum, director of the Ocean Giants program at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

7 Species Of Whales Spotted In New York Waters

Humpback whales (seen above) are regularly seen in the waters off the Big Apple, while fin whales inhabit the waters around the eastern tip of Long Island. Five other species, the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and minke and sperm whales, as well as sei whales and the blue whale, the largest animal that has ever lived (seen below) have also been seen or heard in New York waters. 

Why Are There Frogs With Extra Limbs and Missing Eyes in Australia?
July 15, 2016 10:32 AM - Jessica Ramos, Care2

There’s something strange happening in Queensland, Australia: the frog populations are dropping like flies and frog deformities are on the rise. One frog doctor (yes, that’s a legitimate thing) blames insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. The problem is that no one from the academic community or government is taking these issues seriously.

Deborah Pergolotti runs the Cairns Frog Safe project — Australia’s only hospital that serves frog patients — and she’s witnessing disturbing trends. Pergolotti told the Guardian there has been a 95% decline in the Cairns frog population over the last 17 years. Coincidentally, neonicotinoids were first introduced in Australia in 1996 — just three years prior to the decline that Pergolotti cites.

At this point, Pergolotti can only speculate because no one has been looking into the toxicology. “If somebody would get around to doing the toxicology for it, then maybe we might get some proof, but nobody’s interested in the toxicology,” she tells the Guardian.

Ocean warming primary cause of Antarctic Peninsula glacier retreat
July 14, 2016 03:37 PM - British Antarctic Survey via EurekAlert!

A new study has found for the first time that ocean warming is the primary cause of retreat of glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula is one of the largest current contributors to sea-level rise and this new finding will enable researchers to make better predictions of ice loss from this region.

The research, by scientists at Swansea University and British Antarctic Survey, is published in the journal Science today (Friday, July 15). The study reports that glaciers flowing to the coast on the western side of the Peninsula show a distinct spatial correlation with ocean temperature patterns, with those in the south retreating rapidly but those in the north showing little change. Some 90% of the 674 glaciers in this region have retreated since records began in the 1940s.

India: The Burning City
July 14, 2016 09:23 AM - Al Jazeera

Underground fires have been burning for more than a century beneath India's largest coalfield, but in recent decades open-cast mining has brought the flames to the surface with devastating consequences for the local population.

As communities are destroyed and thousands suffer from toxic fumes, what lies behind this human and environmental disaster?  

Filmmakers Gautam Singh and Dom Rotheroe went to find out.

The devastating impact of coal mining 

After the US and China, India is currently the world's third-largest energy consumer; a position that is set to consolidate in coming years as economic development, urbanisation, improved electricity access, and an expanding manufacturing base all add to demand.   

Right now much of those energy needs - up to two thirds of all electricity generated - are being met by domestically produced coal, of which India has abundant reserves. 

Rising sea levels will change the ecology of the Everglades
July 14, 2016 09:19 AM - CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, NPR

The Florida Everglades is a swampy wilderness the size of Delaware. In some places along the road in southern Florida, it looks like tall saw grass to the horizon, a prairie punctuated with a few twisted cypress trees. The sky is the palest blue.

But beneath the surface a different story is unfolding. Because of climate change and sea level rise, the ocean is starting to seep into the swampland. If the invasion grows worse, it could drastically change the Everglades, and a way of life for millions of residents in South Florida.

Mobile app for rain forecasts raises farmers' yields
July 14, 2016 07:12 AM - Baraka Rateng, SciDevNet

A mobile phone-based innovation that can predict rain is helping farmers in six Sub-Saharan Africa countries sow, fertilise and harvest crops at the optimum time.

The innovation is being used in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal to improve crop yields and optimise food production through information and communication technology (ICT) weather forecasting model that produces Global Positioning System (GPS)-specific forecasts.

A Growing Crisis: Insects are Disappearing — And Fast
July 13, 2016 04:13 PM - Nithin Coca , Triple Pundit

We all know about the huge declines in bee and monarch butterfly populations. Now, it turns out that in some areas nearly all insects are at risk of extinction. And if we don’t solve this problem soon, the repercussions could be huge.

Insects are an important part of the global ecosystem. They not only provide important pollination services, but they also occupy an important place on the bottom of the food chain for many animals. Fewer insects means less food, leading to plant and animal population declines.

“The growing threat to [insects], which play an important role in food security, provides another compelling example of how connected people are to our environment, and how deeply entwined our fate is with that of the natural world,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, in a press statement.

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