Ecology & Zoology

For mammals, the outer ears of mammals play an important function in helping identify sounds coming from different elevations.

Since birds have no external ears, how do they accomplish the same thing? They utilize their entire head, according to a new paper in PLOS ONE

"Because birds have no external ears, it has long been believed that they are unable to differentiate between sounds coming from different elevations," explains Hans A. Schnyder,  Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Chair of Zoology. "But a female blackbird should be able to locate her chosen mate even if the source of the serenade is above her." 


A species of small fish uses a homemade coral-scented cologne to hide from predators - the first evidence of chemical camouflage from diet in fish.

Filefish evade predators by feeding on their home corals and then emitting a similar odor that makes them invisible to the noses of predators. Chemical camouflage from diet has been previously shown in insects, such as caterpillars, which mask themselves by building their exoskeletons with chemicals from their food.

If animals don't need an exoskeleton to use chemical camouflage, more animals than previously thought could be using this survival tactic.



The jellyfish highway.

By Stefano Piraino,
University of Salento and Bella Galil,
Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research

The fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome has spread to bat colonies throughout eastern North America over the past few years, causing bat populations to crash and leading to various claims about what to blame for it.

But there is no magic bullet, finds a new study, because it is related to seasonal dynamics of infection and transmission too.


For a short window, it appeared that bees were dying off. Environmentalist were quick to blame a new kind of pesticide, Neonicotinoids, known in short form as neonics, but then it turned out that the die-offs were in just one geographical area, which would not be the case if it were due to a pesticide.

Instead, it was likely a combination of environmental changes and perhaps a different sort of pest may try to kill them in the future; the exotic parasite Nosema ceranae and its original native relative Nosema apis. The exotic honey bee parasite may become more common not only due to its superior competitive ability, but also because of climate, according to a new study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


Sometimes you don't need to travel to the unexplored corners of the globe to discover a new species of plant. Sometimes they can be really close to home, you just have to spend 40 years of your life looking.

University of South Carolina
Professor John Nelson and alumnus Douglas Rayner have founds just such a new species close to home and they have dubbed it Stachys caroliniana, a new example of what is commonly called a hedge-nettle or woundwort.

And rarity is unusual among S. caroliniana's closest relatives. There are about 300 species in the genus Stachys, according to Nelson, the curator of the University of South Carolina's A.C. Moore Herbarium. He calls it a "cosmopolitan genus."


Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) and various genetically modified relatives are the most popular and economically significant members of the genus Cornus in the nursery and landscape industries. These deciduous trees are highly valued for their spring display of pink, red, or white bracts, brilliant red fall foliage, and exfoliating bark and in the US sales of dogwoods account for more than $30 million dollars each year.



When is a cat not a cat? Biodiversity Heritage Library (adapted), CC BY

By Ben Holt, Imperial College London and Knud Andreas Jønsson, Imperial College London

When it comes to human life, we never think about culling the herd, instead the goal is to keep as many people alive and healthy as possible.

But in nature, that isn't the best approach. Some plant diseases attack trees and crops and can hurt lumber and food production, but pathogens that kill tree seedlings can actually make forests more diverse.