Ecology & Zoology

New research has revealed that parasitic 'vampire' plants that attach onto and derive nutrients from another living plant may benefit the abundance and diversity of surrounding vegetation and animal life.

By altering the densities of the hemiparasite (a parasitic plant that also photosynthesises) Rhinanthus minor, in the Castle Hill National Nature Reserve in Sussex, ecologists from the Universities of York, Sussex and Lincoln were able to assess the impacts of the 'vampire' plants on the biodiversity of a species-rich semi-natural grassland. The scientists compared the plant and invertebrate communities in areas where R. minor was removed, left at natural densities, or increased in abundance.


When a plant is attacked by herbivores, this triggers a number of physiological responses in the plant and calcium ions are important messengers for the processing of wound signals in plant cells. They regulate signal transduction and indirectly control plant defense mechanisms. 

Now, scientists have succeeded in visualizing the immediate wound or herbivory responses in plants. They used Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) plants that produce a special protein which breaks down after the binding of calcium ions and emits free energy in the form of light. The amount of light corresponds to the calcium concentrations in the cells of the respective leaf areas. 


Life is chemistry. You, me and every living thing – we’re all just spectacularly complex chemistry sets. Inside you, every second of the day, thousands of tiny chemical reactions are taking place.

Chemical reactions powered your transformation from a single cell into a colony of trillions of cells, and they allow you to harvest energy from the environment and transform it into yet more cells. They maintain the delicate balance in which all the components of your body function. In fact, they are that balance. They even drive your thoughts and emotions.

Many aquatic species have a reputation for negligent parenting. Having cast their gametes to the currents, they abandon their offspring to their fate. However, hands-on parenting is taken to a whole new dimension in the Syngnathidae fish family.

Instead of leaving the responsibility to the females, seahorse and pipefish males take the pledge to care for their young even before the eggs are fertilized. The females depart soon after placing their eggs directly into the male's brood pouch, leaving the soon-to-be fathers to incubate the developing embryos.


Researchers have found that the severity of ranavirosis, a devastating disease that kills thousands of frogs each year, increases in the presence of exotic fish. The use of garden chemicals was also associated with increased severity of the disease. 


Life isn’t always fair. Some individuals are simply born more attractive than others. In most cases the females are the choosy ones, whereas males will try to mate as much as possible. So being unattractive poses the largest problems for males.

In many species, males will present the female with a gift (food), because, while she is eating she doesn’t mind having sex. However, the amount of food given is not equal between males. In the scorpionfly, unattractive males might not get a female quickly, but once they do, they sure know how to keep her around for a while!

The scorpionfly

A new research study showed why threatened Caribbean star corals sometimes swap partners to help them recover from bleaching events. The findings are important to understand the fate of coral reefs as ocean waters warm due to climate change.


A Virgin Birth - parthenogenesis - may be a big deal in human culture but among wild sawfish in Florida it is apparently downright common. A new study finds that around 3 percent of the sawfish living in a Florida estuary are apparently the products of this type of reproduction, the first evidence of this in the wild for any vertebrate animal. 

In 2006 there was a serious decline in the number of honey bee colonies in parts of Europe and the United States and it brought renewed concern about another Colony Collapse Disorder, which had last occurred in the mid-1990s.

A new analysis of Ice Age birds has revealed that many of the birds were larger - despite what is commonly believed, the authors say it reflects the richness and greater productivity of the environment in the Ice Age.

They picture an unusual mix of birds in one space, the Middle Palaeolithic (Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 3) deposits of Pin Hole, Creswell Crags, Derbyshire in England, and a distinct Neanderthal Dawn Chorus.