Dancing in the rain: the nitty gritty of field work in the rainforest

As a kid, I loved playing outside. Since I’ve grown up (or at least gotten older), one would think that opportunities to splash in mud puddles and roll down hills might have diminished. On the contrary, I have carefully selected my career to maximize the time I spend out of doors, rain or shine. I study White-ruffed Manakins (Corapipo altera), an adorable bird that lives in the tropical forests of Central America (learn more about these birds from the recent post on Dr. Alice Boyle’s Science on Tap). To study the effect rain has on the breeding behavior and social hierarchies of male manakins, I spend four months of the year in gorgeous Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio in northern Costa Rica. I spend my days catching manakins, finding the areas where males perform elaborate courtship displays for females, and observing their displays and interactions. This is what I tell people when they ask what I do all day in the forest, but it really feels like I’m just playing outside and if I were to elaborate a bit on each of those activities, the real story of what happens in the field starts to emerge… Continue reading “Dancing in the rain: the nitty gritty of field work in the rainforest”

Greedy Plants: Water use and nighttime transpiration in the tallgrass prairie

This post is a highlight of a research article recently published by K-State alum Dr. Kimberly O’Keefe and her PhD advisor, Dr. Jesse Nippert.

On the Biology Division office front desk sits a small bowl of candy. Students often grab one or two pieces on their way in and out of the office, as expected, but you would not necessarily expect a student to take the whole bowl. Likewise, you would not expect other organisms to use more resources than they need, not necessarily because they have manners, but because it is not efficient to gather more resources than necessary. Yet recent evidence suggests that in some grasslands, certain plants may be doing just that—absorbing more than they need to cripple their neighbors’ success. These greedy plants are not hoarding candy, but water, which is essential to life. Continue reading “Greedy Plants: Water use and nighttime transpiration in the tallgrass prairie”

Different stories, same conclusion: how evolution is sometimes like a “choose your own adventure” book

When I was growing up, I really enjoyed “choose your own adventure” books. The adventures in these books would start out with the same problem and allow you to make decisions that would affect the story’s outcome from there. For instance, you might start out at the entrance to a cave and have to decide whether to go in or walk in the opposite direction. Typically, these different decisions would lead to different outcomes, although occasionally two or more stories would converge on the same ending. Continue reading “Different stories, same conclusion: how evolution is sometimes like a “choose your own adventure” book”

Science on Tap: Rain, migration, and dancing birds

When is too much rain a bad thing? In eastern Kansas, we know that rain drives the productivity of crops and other plants, but we also understand that raging floodwaters can cause major damage. However, some ecosystems rely on enormous amounts of rain. In tropical rainforests, life thrives while receiving as much as seven times the average rainfall in Manhattan, Kansas. So can these tropical wet rainforests get too much rain? Continue reading “Science on Tap: Rain, migration, and dancing birds”

Relationships on the reef: Valentine’s Day tips from a fishy source

For some, today might be an annoying reminder of your relationship status that you wish would just be over already. On the other hand, maybe your mind is filled with thoughts of the lasting bond shared between partners. Either way, Valentine’s Day is upon us, and it seems impossible to ignore. While scrolling Twitter and Facebook you might even see posts and articles like these: Headlines

Every year it seems like there is some version of these articles circulating around. Here at Science Snapshots, rather than making our own “animal relationships” list, we decided to dive into a recent study of fish that create long-lasting partnerships to demonstrate how scientists approach interesting animal relationships and investigate why they occur. Continue reading “Relationships on the reef: Valentine’s Day tips from a fishy source”

Viral takeover: how viruses take advantage of infected cells

It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be catching some kind of virus. While you might be familiar with a virus’s potential to make you feel miserable, have you ever wondered how viruses work to cause illness? A virus is much like a robber in a factory. A viral “robber” has both a strategy to get into the factory and the ability to use the machines to make what it wants. Similarly, when a virus gets access to the cells of your body it is able to hijack the machinery that your cell would normally use to replicate its genetic material and make its own proteins. The virus can use your cells to make more copies of itself and spread from cell to cell. How does your cell get tricked into making more virus? One lab at K-State has found a way that one sneaky virus accomplishes this. The culprit: vaccinia virus. Continue reading “Viral takeover: how viruses take advantage of infected cells”

Science on Tap: Using micro- and nanotechnologies to unlock the invisible world of microbes

This post is the first of our new series covering Science on Tap. This monthly event, a part of Sunset Zoo’s Behind the Science initiative, is a gathering at the Tallgrass Taphouse during which a featured scientist shares their research and engages with the audience in a lively conversation about the topic. Hopefully you are able to grab a beer and join in on the conversation; if not, we’ll be here to provide a summary of the research that was shared!

Have you ever been in a room full of people and wondered whether another person in the room has the same birthday as you? The chances that one other person will share your birthday in a situation such as this is a question of probability, termed the birthday paradox. This statistics problem has been studied in detail, and the results are quite surprising. In a room containing 65 people, there are a total of 2,080 number of unique birthday pairs; quite a big number of interactions! And though it seems like 65 is not that many people, there is a 99.7% chance that two people share the same birthday in a group this big. The problem is finding a significant pair, two people with the same birthday, in a pool of insignificant ones. Continue reading “Science on Tap: Using micro- and nanotechnologies to unlock the invisible world of microbes”

Grasses and gases: life in the heat

Many people know that plants make the oxygen that most organisms need to breath, but plants are also sugar manufacturers. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants use light energy from the sun and water from their surroundings to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into sugars they can use for growth. Besides producing oxygen and making their own food (sugars), plants provide the basic energy source for virtually all life on earth. Plants can accomplish this amazing chemical feat in nearly all types of environments; even some that may seem unsuitable. One big problem for plants living in the Great Plains is the scarce availability of water, made worse by increasing drought.

Continue reading “Grasses and gases: life in the heat”

Extremely Adapted!

From minuscule bacteria to roaming elephants, life has taken hold of our planet. Through the process of evolution by natural selection, life on earth has taken various forms and utilizes all kinds of spaces. Even the most extreme environments such as our frozen poles, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, dry deserts, and poisonous waters, are inhabited by life. How animals evolve to survive and thrive in these environments is a curiosity that evolutionary biologists like Ryan Greenway at Kansas State University seek to understand. He and colleagues ask big questions, such as how do organisms adapt to different environments and how can that adaptation lead to new species forming in nature? Continue reading “Extremely Adapted!”

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