ecology

 

Does Sloth Fur Fungus Hold the Next “Wonder Drug?”

Posted 28 January 2014 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Throughout human history, humans have included wild animals in their folklore, mythology, and daily vocabulary. Animals with especially distinctive traits have likewise become ensconced in modern popular culture and language. Leonine features are considered striking and sexy, outfoxing someone is a demonstration of cleverness, and it is obnoxious to parrot someone in a conversation. Being slothful is unlikely to gain you any respect. Sloths spend the vast majority of their lives nearly sedentary, moving through the canopy at incremental paces.... Read more

Parasite-Swapping Between Two Introduced Species: The Cane Toad Strikes Again

Posted 10 September 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

  Aliens are among us, and they don't have to come in the form of little green humanoids to cause problems. Non-native species create major headaches, whether they are introduced intentionally or arrive at far-flung places as stowaways. These "alien" invasive plants and animals can (and often do) wreak havoc on native species, because local organisms often lack the adaptations to deal with a novel predator and/or competitor to which they've never before been exposed. Entire ecosystems have been disrupted... Read more

“Casanovas are Liars” and the launch of a new open-access science journal

Posted 28 August 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

It is well known that higher quality items tend to be more desired, and often more expensive, than their lower quality counterparts. This applies to everything from tomatoes to cell phones to sexual partners. Social species face a quandary if the quantity of preferred items is limited, however, and competition is especially intense if members of that species commonly mimic each other's choices. For example, if you express a preference for something, you are indicating that you think it's relatively... Read more

Slimy Signals Save Salamanders

Posted 22 August 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Everyone has experienced it: you hear a scream or shout of alarm coming from someone nearby, and instantly you feel your own blood pressure rise. Your metabolism revs up, you scan the area around you, and you might even physically jolt. All of this can happen before you've even observed the potential threat--you're reacting entirely to a cue from another person. We are tightly tuned to react to the alarm signals of others, because a threat to one member of... Read more

The Case of the Heterodox Fox: Bergmann’s Rule North and South of the Equator

Posted 11 August 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Ecology is a mind-bogglingly complex field. As such, ecologists make few "rules"--they're more like "tentative tenets." Nature presents an exception for nearly everything, so even "rules" are often framed less as absolute laws and more as hypotheses to continue testing. One of the best-known "rules" of evolutionary ecology, is Bergmann’s rule, which predicts that endothermic animals found in cooler climates will have larger body sizes than conspecific populations or closely-related species in warmer habitats (Bergmann 1847). Bergmann’s reasoning was that... Read more

Fatal Attraction: Does Static Help Spiders Catch Prey?

Posted 8 July 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

It has probably happened to you: you pull a sweater over your head or take a load of freshly dried clothes out of the dryer, and all of the sudden you are a victim of static electricity. Your hair defies gravity, unwanted items cling to your clothes, your eyes feel dry, and you may even experience minute electrical shocks. This can be annoying and potentially awkward, to be sure . . . yet, as recent research conducted by scientists at... Read more

Brains Versus Brawn Amongst Wild Canids

Posted 8 April 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Continuing the theme from my last post, I'm going to cover a new study involving some of the carnivores that I'm observing and studying out here in Kenya. Last time we talked about mongoose, and this time we'll move on to one of my favorite mammalian families: the Canidae. Few things are more important for a carnivore's survival than having a lethal bite. The critical mechanics underlying bite force have significantly influenced carnivore evolution--they determine morphology, hunting behavior, and prey... Read more

How do “fish of a feather” shoal together?

Posted 8 February 2013 by Anne-Marie Hodge

“Birds of a feather flock together,” as the old saying goes, and that simple axiom raises many fascinating questions. Do animals really choose to associate with conspecifics that closely resemble themselves? If so, how do they even determine, without the either aid of mirrors or cognitive abilities that enable self-recognition, who is “of a feather” and who is not? Why would once choose to be “just a face in the crowd,” or even a member of a crowd at all?... Read more

Humpbacks Multitask for Mates

Posted 31 December 2012 by Anne-Marie Hodge

The trade-offs between rewards involved in either foraging or courting mates have likely plagued animals for millennia. The need to feed often competes with the requirement to reproduce . . . and yet one cannot successfully secure a mate and raise offspring without adequate resources. This dilemma means that animals must carefully balance the time and energy they allocate to each endeavor. Humans may be able to cruise for dates in the grocery store, but few other animals are so... Read more

Prions Survive Crow Guts

Posted 15 December 2012 by Anne-Marie Hodge

Mad cow disease, kuru, chronic wasting disease—all of these ghastly illnesses are caused by prions--misfolded proteins in the brain, which are more technically known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Once a prion infection sets in, the results are gruesome. Loss of muscle control, hallucinations, general neurological meltdown . . . the symptoms of prion disorders can lead to truly tragic and painful deaths, all ultimately due to a few key misshapen proteins (see this neat interactive animation for a refresher... Read more