When we think about human growth milestones – crawling, walking, teething – we know that every child is a little different. You may have started talking earlier or later than your siblings or your cousins, even though you are closely related. Maybe your older sibling got tall really quickly and was a star in youth basketball while you didn’t hit your athletic stride until you got into swimming in high-school; as humans we don’t expect these differences in individual development to ultimately affect our respective health and success as adults. Growing and developing at different speeds is something we observe in other animals as well. However, differences in the rate of development might be even more important in animals if they have to deal with dangerous or challenging environments. Continue reading “Growing Up Prairie: Cowbirds, Predators, and Baby Birds in Kansas Grasslands”
Africa is famous for its wide-open spaces that are home to charismatic wildlife, such as giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. For ecologists, these wide-open spaces are an opportunity to study systems that have limited industrial human impact compared to the areas many of us live and work in. Many ecologists are interested in how large animals influence the landscape as well as how organisms survive in harsh environments. For me and 8 other ecologists from Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University, the opportunity to study how grasses survive drought inspired our recent trip to Botswana. Continue reading “Thirsty Plants: How African grasses shield themselves from drought”
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”
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:
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”
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.
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!”
You might have heard numbers in climate change news describing the total amount of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, that is released across the entire earth within a year. So how do scientists calculate this annual number? Some parts of this calculation are relatively straightforward, like adding up the amount of carbon dioxide released from burning oil or gas around the world. Others are more complex and some even require diving into the soil to look closely at the lives of tiny organisms like bacteria and fungi.
The scent of an oak forest wafts out of the office of Sophie Higgs, a graduate student in the Division of Biology at Kansas State University. Inside her office, the floor is completely covered with black bags stuffed with oak leaves that she had collected over the past week. No, these leaves are not an extreme attempt to freshen the air after she had microwaved fish for lunch that day. The bags of leaf litter are important tools for conducting her research.
Sophie’s current research takes place in tallgrass prairie streams in the area around Manhattan, KS. The majority of tallgrass prairie in the United States has been plowed for agricultural use, which makes it one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Humans have also played a role in suppressing natural wildfires that historically occurred every few years in the tallgrass prairie. This has led to a greater abundance of woody shrub and tree species that can outcompete grasses. Over time, this can transform the prairie into a shrubland and potentially even a forest. This can have negative consequences for the animals that rely on prairie grasses for habitat and food.
When you hear “environmental disaster,” images from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Chernobyl, the Dust Bowl, or the Exxon Valdez oil spill may come to mind. As you picture oil slicks, chemical burns, and polluted waters, it is difficult to imagine life after these devastating events. Do plants and animals actually survive in these rapidly changing and degrading habitats? If so, how do they do it?