Check out Roadside Science’s new post on the conopid fly, which does to bumblebees basically what the baby alien does to the astronaut lady in the movie Alien, as you can see in this video.
Writer Carolyn Beans has a cool story about how she learned about these weird parasitic flies, and then she delves into the science. On first thought, you might expect that parasitoids that kill their hosts would cause population declines, especially if the rate of parasitism is high, but Beans surprisingly writes:
“When I first noticed the conopid fly, it looked like a bully. Now that I know more, it looks like a creature right out of a horror movie. But [UVA grad student and bumblebee researcher extrodinaire] Rosemary Malfi is quick to remind people that the relationship between the bumblebee and the conopid fly is completely natural. These species have long coexisted. ‘No one has linked conopid flies with bumblebee population declines,’ says Malfi.”
Worldwide, 97 of more than 280 carnivores are on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. These carnivores host parasites and diseases, some that are specialists and others that are generalists and can infect many different species of host. One of those alternate hosts can be humans. In a recent modeling study of 29 carnivore species in North America, Nyeema Harris, a postdoc at the University of California at Berkeley, along with Rob Dunn of North Carolina State University, found that the local loss of a carnivore species could change the distribution of parasites and disease that infect humans. In particular, the loss of wide-ranging carnivores, such as red foxes and coyotes, decreased the diversity of parasites, which in turn increased the risk of transmission to humans. This public health risk provides yet another reason to continue conservation efforts to preserve wildlife species.
For more details, see the article I wrote in American Scientist on Harris’s work. I also briefly covered her talk at ESA 2013, which made my list of favorites.
Check out this video of Ty Tuff’s presentation at ESA 2013, one of my favorites there, which really should be called “The Greater Shearwater versus the Solar Terminator.” But these aren’t ecologist wrestling throwdowns (Sadly), and no, Arnold Schwarzeneggar does not play the Solar Terminator (Thankfully). In his talk, Tuff shows how taking into account solar frame of reference, rather than our terrestrial frame of reference, can explain figure-8 patterns of pelagic bird migration, which ecologists have not been able to easily explain. Continue reading →
E. O. Wilson, 2003 (Courtesy of Jim Harrison, PLoS, Wikimedia Commons)
E. O. Wilson, one of the great ecological thinkers of our time, is known for his major theoretical breakthroughs (for example, island biogeography theory and sociobiology) and major taxonomic breakthroughs as the leading authority on ants. His most recent book Letters to a Young Scientist offers advice on how to become a great scientific thinker and recounts his own scientific development.
When I picked up the book, I was curious how Wilson was going to give advice to a new generation of scientists. Continue reading →
“Butt-clouds” foreboding tornado weather descended on ESA 2013 Minneapolis on Wed. Aug 7th (Um, “butt-clouds” is not the technical term; it’s just what my ornithologist friend from Kansas calls them…).
At the Ecological Society of America’s international meeting in Minneapolis last week, there were so many cool things to learn about, I felt like a kid in a candy store (as the EEB & Flow blog aptly put it). A few talks stood out as particularly exceptional, which I’ll summarize below. I’m sure I missed some equally fantastic talks; ESA Ecotone and EEB & Flow covered some that I did not attend. Without further ado, and in no particular order, these ecologists deserve a shout-out:
1) Justin Yeakel, a postdoc at Simon Fraser University, reported his research on extinction and food web dynamics over 6,000 years in Egypt by studying animals depicted on cave drawings and archaeological remains. He related animal presence/absence to human history and climactic change. He found that, “Persistence is predictable.” The sensitivity of animals to food web stability predicts their persistence. Virginia Gewin wrote a fantastic, more detailed summary of his research in an article in Nature News. Continue reading →