Ecology & Zoology

Some of the ancient civilizations that flourished in regions of the Eastern Mediterranean - Aegean, Egyptian, Syro-Palestinian, and Hittite civilizations - collapsed during the late Bronze Age. 

Hieroglyphic and cuneiform text remains portray invasions of the “Peoples-of-the-Sea” at the Nile Delta, the Turkish coast, and down into the heartlands of Syria and Palestine. Armies clashed, famine-ravaged cities were abandoned, and countrysides were depopulated. Mycenaean, Hittites, Canaanites and Egypt's New Kingdom all suffered dramatic declines.


Pharmaceuticals have helped extend and improve the lives of humans and both wild and domestic animals, but researchers are increasingly worried about the effects that these chemicals could have on the wider environment.

The compounds and their metabolites can be found in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, in species great and small. Scientists have already documented several population declines linked to pharmaceutical activity, which raises an obvious question: What should we do to better understand--and potentially mitigate--the effects of drugs on wildlife and the ecosystems in which they live?

Dolphins can recognize the whistles of former tank mates even after being separated for more than 20 years; that's the longest social memory known outside people.

This adds to evidence that dolphins have a level of cognitive sophistication comparable to few other species, including chimpanzees and elephants. Dolphins' talent for social recognition may be even comparable or more long-lasting than facial recognition among humans, since human faces change over time but the signature whistle that identifies a dolphin remains stable over many decades. 

"This shows us an animal operating cognitively at a level that's very consistent with human social memory," said Dr. Jason Bruck of the University of Chicago's program in Comparative Human Development. 


Innovative ecologists have found useful data in a variety of interesting and sometimes unusual places--newspapers, photographs, art, and even the memories of people who were around when things were different than they are today.

In the most recent issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a group of marine biologists adds one more unexpected source to the list: restaurant menus.

The word zoonoses…. seeing that on my screen makes me wonder how many of us giggle at the idea of zoo noses. You know, like an elephant’s trunk or the orangutan’s smooshed up nose? But zoonoses doesn’t have a space in the middle and it is a really serious topic, especially for livestock farmers and ranchers. The World Health Organization gives a good definition for it:

Although sea turtles and fish occupy the same marine habitat, their lifestyles are different enough that the two groups tend to vary in their sensory abilities.

This is good news to conservationists looking to modify fishing gear so that it continues to catch fish, but no longer ensnares endangered turtles. One promising BRT, or bycatch reduction technology, is a diode that emits ultraviolet (UV) light.

The rays can be detected by green, loggerhead, and leatherback sea turtles, but not by many of the most commercially valuable fish species. A recent study has shown that fishing gear fitted with these lights traps significantly fewer turtles, while continuing to capture normal amounts of target fish.

There is lots of speculation about the impact of climate change on polar bears but little data. Society needs to understand the potential impact of sea ice retreats but polar bears are difficult to study in the wild.

"Direct behavioral observations are nearly impossible," says Amy Cutting, Oregon Zoo curator.

Enter Tasul, an Oregon Zoo polar bear, who is now wearing a high-tech collar to help get some climate change answers. Within the collar is an accelerometer, like the one found in most smart phones the NSA is monitoring you with, and it detects minute changes in motion and direction of movement.

The sleeping patterns of baby birds are similar to that of baby mammals they even appear to change in the same way as it does in humans.

Studying barn owls in the wild, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Lausanne discovered that this change in sleep is strongly correlated with the expression of a gene involved in producing dark, melanic feather spots, a trait known to covary with behavioral and physiological traits in adult owls. They speculate that sleep-related developmental processes in the brain contribute to the link between melanism and other traits observed in adult barn owls and other animals.


Raising fish in tanks  doesn't help them all that much when they are released into the wild - but there may be an easy fix: put in hiding places and obstacles. It makes fish smarter and improves their chances of survival in nature, according to a new paper.

Why does that matter? Because conservation fish hatcheries raise cod, salmon, trout and other types of fish and release them in places where their species may be threatened, or where their populations are declining.  


In what the authors are calling perhaps the most comprehensive and definitive effort to date, zoologists say they have explained the processes that drove male mammals to adopt social monogamy as a breeding strategy. 

Because male mammals have a much higher potential to produce offspring in a single breeding season than do their female counterparts (who must endure long gestation periods), it would seem that mating with one female per cycle would be limiting. Yet a percentage of mammalian males do this -- and researchers have debated why, seeking to identify selective advantages social monogamy offers, for decades.