Ecology & Zoology

Everyone's heard of the birds and the bees - why do they leave out the flowers that are being fertilized?

Maybe because it is too complicated. The fertilization process for flowering plants is particularly complex and requires extensive communication between the male and female reproductive cells. New research from an international team reports
in Nature Communications about discoveries in the chemical signaling process that guides flowering plant fertilization. 

A comprehensive study of rhino reproduction over six years encompassed 90% of the European population of captive black rhinos in Europe highlights and finds that hormone analysis could improve the success of breeding programs.

In total, 9,743 samples from 11 zoos were sent to Chester Zoo's Wildlife Endocrinology laboratory to analyze female reproductive cycles. 

The first comprehensive study of captive black rhino reproduction highlights how hormone analysis could improve the success of breeding programs. Credit: Chester Zoo

By James Smith, Research Fellow in Fisheries at UNSW Australia

It may sound overly simple, but just five processes can define us as animals: eating, metabolism, reproduction, dispersal and death.

They might not seem like much, but, thanks to a mathematical model from scientists at Microsoft Research, we know that these five processes are the key to all ecosystems.

When salmon encounter turbulent, fast-moving water, such as rapids or areas downstream of dams, they must move upstream using a behavior known as "burst swimming" that is similar to sprinting for humans.

A common orb-weaving spider may grow larger and have an increased ability to reproduce when living in urban areas, according to ecologists from the University of Sydney.

By Oliver Griffith, University of Sydney

Have you ever wondered why we give birth to live young rather than lay eggs? Scientists have pondered this for a long time and answers have come from an unlikely source: some of Australia’s lizards and snakes!

In research published this month in the American Naturalist, my colleagues and I at the University of Sydney studied reptile pregnancy to identify the factors necessary for a placenta to evolve.

Although most reptiles lay eggs, live birth has evolved many times in the group of reptiles that includes lizards and snakes.

In European culture, it is widely accepted that magpies (Pica pica) are the thieves of the bird kingdom, attracted to sparkly things and prone to stealing them for their nests.

But psychologists at the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour (CRAB) at the University of Exeter have analyzed magpies and found that the species is actually frightened of new and unfamiliar objects rather than attracted to them. 

The researchers carried out a series of experiments with both a group of magpies which had come from a rescue center, and wild magpies in the grounds of the University. The birds were exposed to both shiny and non-shiny items and their reactions recorded. 

A new paper delineating spiders’ roles within their colonies is intriguing because the spiders’ specialization (like caregiver or hunter-warrior) isn’t determined by size or physical structure, like with ants, but by personalities.

Aren't spiders loners? Most are, but a few species such as Anelosimus studiosus live in groups.

Colin Wright, a second-year PhD student in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Biological Sciences, along with Jonathan Pruitt, assistant professor of behavioral ecology at Pitt and Tate Holbrook of the College of Coastal Georgia, separated docile spiders from the aggressive by observing how much space they demanded from fellow colony members. Aggressive females demand more space than docile ones.

A scientist has discovered a potentially new form of plant communication, one that allows them to share an extraordinary amount of genetic information with one another.

Professor Jim Westwood examined the relationship between a parasitic plant, dodder, and two host plants, Arabidopsis and tomatoes. In order to suck the moisture and nutrients out the host plants, dodder uses an appendage called a haustorium to penetrate the plant. Westwood previously broke new ground when he found that during this parasitic interaction, there is a transport of RNA between the two species. RNA translates information passed down from DNA, which is an organism’s blueprint.

Trees have been a part of the human existence for as long as humans have existed but that doesn't mean we know everything about them, like why they are the size they are. What limits the height of trees? Is it the fraction of their photosynthetic energy they devote to productive new leaves? Or is it their ability to hoist water hundreds of feet into the air, supplying the green, solar-powered sugar factories in those leaves?

The easy and therefore not vary satisfying answer is that both resource allocation and hydraulic limitation might play a role, but the question still becomes which factor (or what combination) actually sets maximum tree height, and how their relative importance varies in different parts of the world.