Humans have always been in awe of birds: their beautiful feathers, their graceful flight, and their sweet songs. These are just some of the features that distinguish them from other animals. Birds are extremely diverse—with over 10,000 living species on Earth—and are found in all kinds of environments, from extremely hot and dry deserts, to the frigid Antarctic.
Penguins are particularly interesting for scientists as they are flightless birds that can swim and have evolved to thrive in the hostile Antarctic environment where few animals can survive. Now, we are a step closer to understanding their evolutionary history, population sizes in response to historical climate change, as well as the genes involved in their ability to adapt to such extreme climates, with an exciting new study published last month in GigaScience, an online open-access BGI-BioMed Central journal.
Plants are boring. At least that is what I—as well as countless others—thought in school. Animals seemed far more exciting than studying plants. In hindsight, I wonder why I didn’t find plants interesting. One of the reasons was that I couldn’t see plants moving—with the exception of ‘touch-me-nots’ that rapidly fold inward upon touching—and they aren’t cute and cuddly as mammals are. Later, when I learned that plants produce their own sugars using water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight—a phenomenon we know as photosynthesis and achieved by only a few other life forms— I got a little interested.
But what really piqued my curiosity and captivated me was when I learned that some unusual plants go a step further: they have evolved to ‘eat meat’—insects in particular. We normally expect insects to eat plants, which in turn are preyed on by larger animals, as the food web goes. But when the roles are reversed, it is harder for us to digest that plants can actually play the role of predators.
Noise pollution in the ocean isn’t just a nuisance; it has grave consequences for the survival of some marine organisms. A recent study reveals that ship noises make young eels stressed and when confronted with predators, they are less likely to fend off attacks due to impaired escape behaviors, known as antipredator responses.
During exposure to harbor ship noise, young eels were less responsive when faced with a looming predator and showed slower escape behaviors than eels exposed to sounds of the harbor only. And when pursued in a simulated predator chase, they were caught faster than eels exposed to harbor-only sounds.
While humans have explored the oceans for centuries, ship traffic now is greater than ever before, largely because of international trade. Commercial shipping activity—transporting the myriad of consumer goods we have become increasingly reliant on—pervades the oceans. Many of the goods transported by ships may make our lives easier, but these unfamiliar man-made noises can pose a threat to marine organisms. In some cases, the effects could mean the difference between life and death.
Two cargo ships in San Francisco
Image: Line0534 by NOAA – California Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USA via Wikipedia