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This past summer, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment launched 'EcoLiteracy,' a new series...

Virtual Gardens Illuminate Real-World Attitudes To Nature

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The Szechuan Pepper: It's Electric!

Szechuan peppers, which are responsible for spicing up a variety of Asian dishes, are considered...

Shortwave Light Pollution May Contribute To Moth Declines

Research on the effects of nighttime pollution is still in its infancy. Scientists know that anthropogenic...

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Caitlin KightRSS Feed of this column.

I am a research scientist who dabbles in freelance writing and editing, birding, cooking, indoor gardening, needleworking, various athletics, music, compulsive book-reading, and generally doing things... Read More »


Pharmaceuticals have helped extend and improve the lives of humans and both wild and domestic animals, but researchers are increasingly worried about the effects that these chemicals could have on the wider environment.

The compounds and their metabolites can be found in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, in species great and small. Scientists have already documented several population declines linked to pharmaceutical activity, which raises an obvious question: What should we do to better understand--and potentially mitigate--the effects of drugs on wildlife and the ecosystems in which they live?

Innovative ecologists have found useful data in a variety of interesting and sometimes unusual places--newspapers, photographs, art, and even the memories of people who were around when things were different than they are today.

In the most recent issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a group of marine biologists adds one more unexpected source to the list: restaurant menus.

Although sea turtles and fish occupy the same marine habitat, their lifestyles are different enough that the two groups tend to vary in their sensory abilities.

This is good news to conservationists looking to modify fishing gear so that it continues to catch fish, but no longer ensnares endangered turtles. One promising BRT, or bycatch reduction technology, is a diode that emits ultraviolet (UV) light.

The rays can be detected by green, loggerhead, and leatherback sea turtles, but not by many of the most commercially valuable fish species. A recent study has shown that fishing gear fitted with these lights traps significantly fewer turtles, while continuing to capture normal amounts of target fish.

Many species of native wildlife are abundant in anthropogenic areas, but this does not necessarily mean that their populations are healthy, or that the organisms will continue to thrive in human environments. Large numbers of raccoon dogs, for example, are known to inhabit forest patches within Tokyo, Japan, but a recent camera trap survey found that many adults are failing to breed. Together with the fact that hundreds of thousands of the animals become roadkill each year, the recent findings results suggest that Tokyo's raccoon dog population might diminish over time. 

Since the colonization of North American in the 17th century, few ecosystems have been so routinely and extensively disturbed as the salt marshes of Cape Cod. Among other things, residents have dug drainage ditches throughout the wetlands in order to make them less habitable to mosquitoes; developed the shoreline to facilitate the introduction of industrial, maritime, and residential facilities; and harvested huge numbers of edible wildlife off the coast. Over the past century or so, the human population has increased by approximately six-fold, placing extreme pressure on the wetland habitat.

For many of us, the term "nature preserve" tends to conjure up an image of a wild landscape that is either unmanaged or only lightly managed, and is undisturbed save for the quiet footfalls of the occasional hiker. While it's true that this picture does reflect conditions in a number of contemporary preserves, it wouldn't have been so accurate when these areas were first protected; further, this scenario may be just as "unnatural" as the highly disturbed, homogeneous landscapes that preserves are created to prevent.