Ecology & Zoology

Millions of trees are in peril from the drought in California but that is not the fault of climate change or even bad luck - every 20 years California has a drought as bad as what just ended. It is instead bad policy; California's water infrastructure has not been improved in a meaningful way since the 1960s and since then environmental policy has been dictated by lobbyists for activist groups, so the state can't build new reservoirs, to store water for when droughts happen, and they are forced to dump fresh water into the Pacific Ocean.

The trees aren't just in peril from politicians and environmentalists, there is also the ever-present wildfires and the destructive bark beetle. 

There is a bad habit in environmental circles, created by the academics that feed them information: Discovering a new species and immediately declaring it endangered. More evidence-based scientists recognize that over 99.99999% of all species that have gone extinct we never knew about in the first place so declaring everything endangered and claiming a domino effect undermines public acceptance of science. Nonetheless, a new paper adds to the former effort by saying we should forget species extinction and talk about species rarity.

The first national estimate of U.S. wild bees suggests they're disappearing in many of the country's most important farmlands--including California's Central Valley, the Midwest's corn belt, and the Mississippi River valley.

Scientists from James Cook University have discovered two critically endangered species of sea snakes they thought were extinct. They were basically hiding in plain sight on Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea, they just hadn't been since in over 15 years.

A Western Australia Parks and Wildlife Officer, Grant Griffin, sent a photo of the snakes in for identification.

 "We were blown away, these potentially extinct snakes were there in plain sight, living on one of Australia's natural icons, Ningaloo Reef," says lead author Blanche D'Anastasi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU. "What is even more exciting is that they were courting, suggesting that they are members of a breeding population." 

Birds use sophisticated changes to the structure of their feathers, not dyes and pigments, to create multi-colored plumage, and that is why they never go gray. 

Using X-ray scattering at the ESRF facility in France to examine the blue and white feathers of the Blue Jay, researchers from the University of Sheffield found that birds demonstrate a surprising level of control and sophistication in producing colors -  it is able to change the color of its feathers along the equivalent of a single human hair using a tunable nanostructure.

One of the biggest controversies in the western U.S. in the last two decades has been keeping gray wolves listed as endangered. Wolves are predators and with no evidence-based policies regarding herd management, attacks on livestock and threats to humans were greater than ever. That changed recently because the US Fish and Wildlife Service implemented herd management to try and bring the population back down. 

Psychologists say they have evidence of tool use by greater vasa parrots (Coracopsis vasa). They determined this by studying ten captive parrots and seeing that the birds adopt a novel tool-using technique to acquire calcium from seashells. They also noted active sharing of tools among themselves. 

A new study challenges the popular idea that sexual cannibalism occurs because a female is unable to alter or 'tone down' her aggressive mindset after foraging and hunting for prey. Instead, females are sexually cannibalistic because they are testing the males, rather than just being inherently aggressive, says University of Melbourne scientist Dr. Mark Elgar.

In the first trial, 11 of 16 female raft spiders (Dolomedes fimbriatus) that copulated then attacked the males during or immediately after copulation. But only four attacks were fatal.

The key to helping animals evolve quickly in response to climate change could actually be their predators, according to a new study which says that species interactions, meaning the way species interact with each other in an ecosystem, like in a predator-prey relationship, is important to understanding how animals will respond to climate change.  

"Not only can predators keep prey populations in check but in some cases they can help speed up the evolutionary response to climate change," said Michelle Tseng, a research associate in UBC's Department of Zoology and lead author of the study. "We now understand that species interactions and evolution can play a significant role in preventing animals from going extinct in a rapidly changing climate."

People often think hippos are herbivores with big smiling faces. Every now and then, reports of a hippo of hunting down prey, eating a carcass, or stealing prey from a crocodile are heard, but they're typically considered 'aberrant' or 'unusual' behavior.