Thank goodness I have students to pull me out of my blogging rut. Here are a couple exciting news stories that caught the eye of some of my Bio 94 students recently! Off to Big Sur this weekend and will return with lots of pictures!
Bulking up for the Winter – Courtesy of Climate Change
by Bio 94 Student Christina Cooley
As winter begins, the temperatures begin to drop, the frosty air becomes clearly visible when you speak, and snowflakes start to appear. With the coldest season in session, many people begin to dress in multiple layers with two jackets, jeans, mittens, scarves, hats, and even earmuffs! Each individual packs on as many layers of clothing as they can manage to keep themselves warm, therefore, making them appear larger and bigger with all of the extra clothing. Not only are humans appearing larger during this time, but so are birds!
Rae Goodman and Professor of Biology, Gretchen LeBuhn, discovered that birds’ wings have grown longer and birds, themselves, have increased in mass over the last 27 to 40 years in central California. Their discovery can be explained through an ecological rule, known as Bergmann’s Rule, which states that animals tends to be larger at higher latitudes because larger animals conserve body heat better than smaller animals, which allows them to thrive in a colder climate of higher latitudes. In addition, climate change can affect body size in various ways, such as, birds may get bigger as they store more fat to survive through the severe weather events, which are common under global climate change. Also, climate change can alter a plant’s growth, which leads to changes in a bird’s diet, thus, affecting its size.
Goodman and LeBuhn’s data came from two long-term “banding stations” in central California, where a variety of birds were captured, banded with an identification tag, weighed, and measured before being released. Their data consisted of 14,735 birds collected from 1971 to 2010 near the Point Reyes National Seashore and 18,052 birds collected between 1983 and 2009 near the San Francisco Bay area.
Goodman, who graduated from San Francisco State in 2010, stated, “At the time I started my research, a few studies had looked at body size changes in a few species in Europe and the Middle East, but no one had examined bird body size changes in North America.” Furthermore, her discovery allowed her and her colleague to “find an unexpected result-a gem in research science.” Both of them were completely stunned and surprised at their findings. Moreover, they concluded that birds “may be responding to climate-related changes in plant growth or increased climate variability in central California.”
Overall, this discovery has given other researchers a new perspective on the effects of climate change across a wide range of species, particularly in important traits like body size, where it is not expected to see many changes. Read more at Science Daily.
A Very New Very Old Discovery – Stromatolite Colony Found
By IVC Bio 94 Student Naveen Hothi
Stomatolites have recently been found in Ireland. These structures are formed by the buildup of tiny algae or bacteria. They are the oldest known fossils, dating back more than 3 billion years. The colony of stromatolites found in Northern Ireland was found by accident and a surprise to all. Usually they have only been found in environments vastly different from the one located off of Ireland. These environments include ones such that predators are kept to a minimum. Environmental characteristics such as hyper saline waters that hinder the presence of these predators are most common living grounds for stromatolites. Now here is where this new discovery becomes interesting because The Giant’s Causeway environment does not have these characteristics……
Giant’s Causewy (Photo: BBC News)
The Giant’s Causeway is located on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland. It is a protected area created by volcanic eruptions from ancient times. This area of Ireland, probably its most visited and popular tourist attraction, has environmental characteristics that differ greatly from those normally inhabited by stromatolites. This is seen with its lack of warm and non-hyper saline waters. This environmental difference invites predators who are now not threatened by harsh living conditions to reside there. These two points, unusual living environment and greater exposure to predators, are the reason why the discovery of stromatolites in The Giant’s Causeway is surprising.
Professor Andrew Cooper, a scientist from the University of Ulster’s School of Environmental Sciences, made this discovery. Luckily, Cooper had seen the structures before when he did work in South Africa and was able to identify the importance of finding them off of Ireland’s cold waters. The found colony was recently formed as detailed by the fact that it’s just one layer thick. One proposed reason for why not many stromatolites have been found is because perhaps scientists do not actually know what they are looking for. Most research on stromatolites have been done on the ancient stromatolites that helped in creating our current atmosphere. It is very possible that current living stromatolites are different from those that lived billions of years in the past. This new site can help to overcome this possible problem by being able to study stromatolites in this unusual for them environment. Read more at BBC News.