Ecology & Zoology

Video evidence that an extinct woodpecker is alive and well in Arkansas, USA may prove to be a case of mistaken identity. Research published today in the open access journal BMC Biology shows how fleeting images thought to be the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis could be another native woodpecker species.

J. Martin Collinson compared David Luneau's Arkansas video footage from April 2004 of the supposed Ivory-billed Woodpecker with fresh footage of the Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus, a superficially similar black and white species. The Pileated Woodpecker's wings were thought to beat more slowly that the 8.6 beats per second captured on Luneau's video, and its wings have black trailing edges.

Genetically modified crops were supposed to improve efficiency and make life easier for farmers in poor countries. The opposite may be true, according to a Washington University in St. Louis study. Technology may be racing too fast for farmers to keep up. It may even be linked to higher suicide rates.

The arrival of genetically modified crops has added another level of complexity to farming in the developing world, says a sociocultural anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Glenn D. Stone, Ph.D., professor of anthropology and of environmental studies, both in Arts & Sciences, at Washington University in St. Louis, has completed the first detailed anthropological fieldwork on these crops and the way they impact — and are impacted by — local culture.

Plant and animal diseases can play a major and poorly appreciated role in allowing the invasion of exotic species, which in turn often threatens biodiversity, ecological function and the world economy, researchers say in a new report.

In particular, a plant pathogen appears to have opened the gate for the successful invasion of non-native grasses into much of California, one of the world's largest documented cases of invading species and one that dramatically changed the history and ecology of a vast grassland ecosystem.


Global air network showing hotspots for invasion of foreign species. Credit: University of Oxford.

Two Iowa State University botanists and their colleague at the University of North Carolina have discovered a new species of North American bamboo in the hills of Appalachia. It is the third known native species of the hardy grass. The other two were discovered more than 200 years ago.

Lynn Clark, Iowa State professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, and Ph.D. student Jimmy Triplett study bamboo diversity and evolution. They first heard about "hill cane" from Alan Weakley, a botanist at the University of North Carolina. Although the plant was known to the people in the area, its distinctiveness was not recognized.


Fig. 2. Arundinaria appalachiana. A.

Whip spiders, considered by many to be creepy-crawly, are giving new meaning to the term touchy-feely.

In two species of whip spiders, or amblypygids, mothers caress their young with long feelers, siblings stick together until they reach sexual maturity, and all mix in social groups. This is surprising behavior for these arachnids long-thought to be purely aggressive and anti-social, according to a Cornell researcher.


A mother amblypygid with several of her 7-month-old offspring. Their whips are touching one another.

 

 Soprano syndrome in the mousehouse?

One of the first things my mice did when introduced to their new Chinese-made home (details on that to come later) was to seek out their new boundaries. Then, almost as a herd, they sought out the little clear red mouse house in the center of the cage. Boundary, then home. I note this same basic instinct in the ethology of the three categories of mammals I observe the most: my nephews, my horse, and, now, my four black6 lab mice.

My mouse farm!

Today,after endless finessing, I finally got word that I will be getting my own mice. My own lab mice. To observe. At home.

Something about normal, run-of-the-mill plants limits their reach upward. There's been no way to create that magical beanstalk in the fairy tales but no one knows why. For more than a century, scientists have tried to find out which part of the plant both drives and curbs growth: is it a shoot's outer waxy layer? Its inner layer studded with chloroplasts? Or the vascular system that moves nutrients and water? The answer could have great implications for modern agriculture, which desires a modern magical bean or two.

Now, in the March 8 issue of the journal Nature, researchers in the Plant Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies provide the answer.

The fact that female wasp spiders have numerous sexual contacts is something which their male partners cannot prevent. What they can do, however, is ensure that no offspring ensue from these tête à têtes with their rivals: the male spiders simply place a chastity belt on their partner while copulating. The tip of their genital breaks off during intercourse, blocking the sexual orifice of the lady spider. Biologists from the universities of Bonn and Hamburg report on this amazing mechanism in the journal ‘Behavioral Ecology’ (vol. 18, pages 174-181, 2007).

When a male wasp spider discovers a potential partner, he turns her on by shaking her web. The female thereupon supports herself on her long legs on the web so that the male, who is much smaller, can then creep under her body.

A new genus of millipede was recently discovered by a Northern Arizona University doctoral student and a Bureau of Land Management researcher.

J. Judson Wynne, with the Department of Biological Sciences at NAU and cave research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Southwest Biological Center, and Kyle Voyles, Arizona State Cave Coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), collected specimens leading to the discovery of two new millipede species in caves on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon.

Wynne and Voyles, known for their cave research, also discovered a new genus of cricket last spring.

"We knew the millipedes likely represented two distinct species because the two populations were separated by the Grand Canyon," Wynne said.