Ecology & Zoology

Corals, whose calcium-carbonate skeletons form the foundation of coral reefs, are passive organisms that rely entirely on ocean currents to deliver dissolved substances, such as nutrients and oxygen.

Or so it seemed. Scientists at MIT and the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS) in Israel have found that they are far from passive, engineering their environment to sweep water into turbulent patterns that greatly enhance their ability to exchange nutrients and dissolved gases with their environment.

The Brazilian Atlantic forest is home to animals, birds, plants, and tourist trains. Credit: EPA

By Cristina Banks-Leite, Imperial College London

Brazil’s Atlantic forest – Mata Atlântica – is one of the world’s great biodiversity hotspots, rivalling even the Amazon. Running on and off for several thousand kilometres along the coast, the forest is home to 10,000 plant species that don’t exist anywhere else, more bird species than the whole of Europe, and more than half of the country’s threatened animal species.

Honey bees play a vital role in pollination but their populations are under threat in many parts of the world. Flickr/Paul Stein, CC BY-SA

By Andrew Beattie

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.