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Nature News -- ScienceDaily

Nature. Read the latest scientific research on the natural world, ecology and climate change.

Decoding virus-host interactions in the oxygen-starved ocean

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:09:40 EDT

In certain coastal areas, severe reductions in oxygen levels in the water destroy food web structure. Over the past 50 years, such oxygen minimum zones have expanded due to climate change and increased waste run-off. Researchers studied how viral infection influences a microbial community in one such OMZ.

Future of our crops is at risk in conflict zones, say scientists

Mon, 08 Sep 2014 12:10:05 EDT

Wild species related to our crops, which are crucial as potential future food resources, have been identified by scientists, however, a significant proportion are found in conflict zones in the Middle East, where their conservation is increasingly comprised.

Meteorite that doomed dinosaurs remade forests

Tue, 16 Sep 2014 14:15:25 EDT

The impact decimated slow-growing evergreens and made way for fast-growing, deciduous plants, according to a study applying biomechanical analyses to fossilized leaves. The study provides much-needed evidence for how the extinction event unfolded in the plant communities at the time.

Plant variants point the way to improved biofuel production

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 15:28:44 EDT

Scientists have discovered variant plants with straw that are more easily digested for biofuel production. Critically, the plants are not significantly smaller or weaker than normal plants. The discovery could make biofuels from plant residues easier and cheaper to make, reducing pressure on food crops used for biofuels.

Genetic switch regulates a plant's internal clock based on temperature

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 15:28:54 EDT

Scientists have found the molecular cog in a plant's biological clock that modulates its speed based on temperature. "Temperature helps keep the hands of the biological clock in the right place," said the corresponding author of the study. "Now we know more about how that works."

Preference for built-up habitats could explain rapid spread of tree bumblebee in UK

Fri, 26 Sep 2014 15:04:49 EDT

Tree bumblebee populations could be spreading because the bees readily live alongside humans in towns and villages. This sets the species apart from other common British bumblebees -- which could explain how tree bumblebees have managed to colonize much of the UK while many other bumblebee species have been declining.

Specialized species critical for reefs

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:38:32 EDT

Coral reef ecologists fear that reef biodiversity may not provide the level of insurance for ecosystem survival that we once thought. This study found that even in high-diversity systems, such as tropical reefs, functional biodiversity remains highly vulnerable to species loss.

'Green wave' explains migratory bird routes

Wed, 10 Sep 2014 19:02:05 EDT

Bird migrations follow areas of new plant growth -- a so-called 'green wave' of new leaves and numerous insects -- research shows. In fall, particularly in the western US, they stick to higher elevations and head directly southward, making fewer detours along the way for food.

Microbes evolve faster than ocean can disperse them

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 18:07:31 EDT

Scientists have created an advanced model aimed at exploring the role of neutral evolution in the biogeographic distribution of ocean microbes. Over the past sev­eral decades, ecol­o­gists have come to under­stand that both natural selec­tion and neu­tral evolution -- that vari­a­tion within and between species is caused by genetic drift and random mutations -- play a role in the bio­geo­graphic pat­terns of ocean microbes. New results flew in the face of the long held notion that microbes are infi­nitely mobile.

Chinese mitten crab invades Scotland, poses threat to salmon, trout

Wed, 24 Sep 2014 21:19:17 EDT

The Chinese mitten crab, recorded in Scotland for the first time, poses a serious potential threat to salmon and trout in Glasgow’s River Clyde, according to researchers. The Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis, is native to East Asia but is now found across NE Europe and the USA.

Bird-pollinated flower with a rather ingenious twist

Mon, 08 Sep 2014 13:53:11 EDT

When researchers studying several bird-pollinated species of Impatiens flowers in the mountains of western Cameroon noticed one with an odd, upwardly curving nectar spur, they couldn't imagine how any sunbird could ever sip from it. After recording visitors to the flower continuously for a period of days, they had their answer.

Answer to restoring lost island biodiversity found in fossils

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 15:29:16 EDT

Many native species have vanished from tropical islands because of human impact, but scientists have discovered how fossils can be used to restore lost biodiversity. The key lies in organic materials found in fossil bones, which contain evidence for how ancient ecosystems functioned, according to a new study.

Trees that can increase biomass production

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 09:10:44 EDT

Thanks to biotechnology, researchers have increased the production of woody species. This result is of great interest to the energy market, they say.

Warming Atlantic temperatures could increase range of invasive species

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 11:44:24 EDT

Warming water temperatures due to climate change could expand the range of many native species of tropical fish, including the invasive and poisonous lionfish, according to a study of 40 species along rocky and artificial reefs off North Carolina.

Dinosaur family tree gives fresh insight into rapid rise of birds

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:05:06 EDT

The study shows that the familiar anatomical features of birds – such as feathers, wings and wishbones – all first evolved piecemeal in their dinosaur ancestors over tens of millions of years. However, once a fully functioning bird body shape was complete, an evolutionary explosion began, causing a rapid increase in the rate at which birds evolved. This led eventually to the thousands of avian species that we know today.

Captive whooping cranes released into the wild

Wed, 24 Sep 2014 16:05:36 EDT

Four whooping crane chicks raised in captivity began their integration into the wild as part of the continuing effort to increase the wild population of this endangered species.

Biologists try to dig endangered pupfish out of its hole

Tue, 09 Sep 2014 09:38:29 EDT

A biologist is giving important guidance in the efforts to rescue a critically endangered fish found only in Devils Hole, about 60 miles east of Death Valley National Park. It is estimated that fewer than 100 Devils Hole pupfish remain. Considered the world's rarest fish, the wild pupfish faces a 28 to 32 percent risk of extinction over the next 20 years.

Impact of temperature on belowground soil decomposition

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 14:27:31 EDT

Earth's soils store four times more carbon than the atmosphere and small changes in soil carbon storage can have a big effect on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. A new paper concludes that climate warming does not accelerate soil organic carbon decomposition or affect soil carbon storage, despite increases in ecosystem productivity.

A decade of research identifies threats to Adirondack loons, provides guidance on protection

Tue, 09 Sep 2014 14:44:33 EDT

Biologists have published three new articles summarizing research on Adirondack loons. The Common Loon (Gavia immer), one of five loon species worldwide, is a charismatic icon of New York's Adirondack Park. These large, stunning black and white birds breed on Adirondack lakes, and serve as sentinels of the quality of the waterways where they summer.

If trees could talk: Forest research network reveals global change effects

Fri, 26 Sep 2014 09:13:30 EDT

Permafrost thaw drives forest loss in Canada, while drought has killed trees in Panama, southern India and Borneo. In the U.S., in Virginia, over-abundant deer eat trees before they reach maturity, while nitrogen pollution has changed soil chemistry in Canada and Panama. More than 100 collaborators have now published a major overview of what 59 forests in 24 countries teach us about forest responses to global change.

Volunteer 'eyes on the skies' track peregrine falcon recovery in California

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 18:07:33 EDT

Datasets from long-running volunteer survey programs, calibrated with data from sporadic intensive monitoring efforts, have allowed ecologists to track the recovery of peregrine falcons in California and evaluate the effectiveness of a predictive model popular in the management of threatened species.

Bird wetlands in need of restoration, maintenance, protection

Wed, 10 Sep 2014 08:35:15 EDT

The construction and restoration of wetlands can improve the living conditions of bird populations. According to a recent study, grazing is the single most important maintenance method for wetlands, due to its diversifying impact. The poor condition of wetlands has led to the decline of wetland bird populations around the world, experts say.

Diversified farming practices might preserve evolutionary diversity of wildlife

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 13:54:52 EDT

Habitat destruction significantly reduces the incidence of evolutionarily distinct species, a long-term study in Costa Rica has revealed. The research suggests alternative land-use practices that sustain farming and biodiversity.

Study traces ecological collapse over 6,000 years of Egyptian history

Mon, 08 Sep 2014 15:29:16 EDT

Depictions of animals in ancient Egyptian artifacts have helped scientists assemble a detailed record of the large mammals that lived in the Nile Valley over the past 6,000 years. A new analysis of this record shows that species extinctions, probably caused by a drying climate and growing human population in the region, have made the ecosystem progressively less stable.

Monitoring Ebola in wild great apes -- using feces

Thu, 18 Sep 2014 15:08:30 EDT

A group of international scientists has developed a new method to study Ebola virus in wildlife. The new methodology exploits the fact that, like humans, apes surviving viral infections develop antibodies against them. Typically, those antibodies are measured in the blood. The scientists, however, developed a laboratory technique that can isolate antibodies from ape feces.

New NASA probe will study Earth's forests in 3-D

Mon, 08 Sep 2014 12:58:17 EDT

A laser-based instrument being developed for the International Space Station will provide a unique 3-D view of Earth's forests, helping to fill in missing information about their role in the carbon cycle.

Sand dunes reveal biodiversity secrets in Australia

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 18:27:49 EDT

Ancient, acidic and nutrient-depleted dunes in Western Australia are not an obvious place to answer a question that has vexed tropical biologists for decades. But the Jurien Bay dunes proved to be the perfect site to unravel why plant diversity varies from place to place. Scientists show that environmental filtering -- but not a host of other theories -- determines local plant diversity in one of Earth's biodiversity hotspots.

Hunting restrictions for tapirs may not be enough

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:41:18 EDT

Lowland tapir populations may continue to drop in French Guiana, despite recent restrictions on hunting. Researchers reviewed data retrieved from camera traps in the Nouragues National Reserve over the last four years and compared this data to current harvest rates in the region.

Tigers, pandas and people: Recipe for conservation insight

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 11:45:22 EDT

The first big revelation in conservation sciences was that studying the people on the scene as well as nature conservation was crucial. Now, as this science matures, researchers are showing that it's useful to compare apples and oranges. Or, more accurately, tigers and pandas. Scientists show that useful insights and ways of scrutinizing wildlife and their habitat can be found in unlikely places.

When David beats Goliath: Smaller birds can dominate larger species, especially when related

Wed, 24 Sep 2014 21:20:56 EDT

Body size has long been recognized to play a key role in shaping species interactions, with larger species usually winning conflicts with their smaller counterparts. But a biologist has now found that occasionally, small species of birds can dominate larger species during aggressive interactions, particularly when they interact with distantly related species.

Tropical tree microbiome discovered in Panama

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 16:53:00 EDT

Despite the fact that tropical forests are the most biodiverse terrestrial ecosystems on the planet, more is known about belly-button bacteria than bacteria on trees in the tropics. Scientists working on Panama's Barro Colorado Island discovered that small leaf samples from a single tree were home to more than 400 different kinds of bacteria. The combined sample from 57 tree species contained more than 7,000 different kinds.

Tropical rabbitfish a threat to Mediterranean Sea ecosystems

Thu, 18 Sep 2014 10:16:35 EDT

The tropical rabbitfish, which have devastated algal forests in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, pose a major threat to the entire Mediterranean basin if their distribution continues to expand as the climate warms, a new study warns. Researchers surveyed more than 1000 kilometers of coastline in Turkey and Greece, where two species of plant-eating rabbitfish have become dominant, and found regions with abundant rabbitfish had become rocky barrens.

Fall foliage season may be later, but longer on warmer Earth

Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:48:47 EDT

The fall foliage season in some areas of the United States could come much later and possibly last a little longer by the end of the century as climate change causes summer temperatures to linger later into the year, according researchers. The delay could result in a longer growing season that would affect carbon uptake, agriculture, water supplies and animal behavior, among many other areas.

Water research tackles growing grassland threat: Trees

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:07:22 EDT

Biologists are studying streams to prevent tallgrass prairies from turning into shrublands and forests. By looking at 25 years of data on the Konza Prairie Biological Station, they are researching grassland streams and the expansion of nearby woody vegetation, such as trees and shrubs. They have found that burn intervals may predict the rate of woody vegetation expansion along streams.

Small algae with great potential

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 13:29:41 EDT

The single most important calcifying algae of the world's oceans is able to simultaneously adapt to rising water temperatures and ocean acidification through evolution. A unique long-term experiment with the species Emiliania huxleyi shows that the evolutionary potential of the algae is much greater than previously thought. In their laboratory evolution experiment, the scientists have shown for the first time that evolutionary adaptations to multiple stress factors do not necessarily interfere with each other.

Unusual host preference of a moth species could be useful for biological control

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 13:00:46 EDT

Biologists have discovered that Gynnodomorpha permixtana, a well-known moth species from Europe and Asia, has changed its host preferences in order to adjust to Iran's northern region environmental conditions. This adaptation may be useful for biological control of problematic weeds in rice fields.

How evolutionary principles could help save our world

Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:21:12 EDT

The age of the Anthropocene -- the scientific name given to our current geologic age -- is dominated by human impacts on our environment. A warming climate. Increased resistance of pathogens and pests. A swelling population. Coping with these modern global challenges requires application of what one might call a more ancient principle: evolution.

Seeding plant diversity for future generations

Fri, 19 Sep 2014 10:34:44 EDT

Researchers have constructed a 'hit list' of the plant species most needed to boost the overall diversity of the Millennium Seed Bank, which is storing seeds in its vaults for future generations.

How plankton gets jet lagged: Hormone that govern sleep and jet lag in humans also drives mass migration of plankton

Fri, 26 Sep 2014 08:56:05 EDT

A hormone that governs sleep and jet lag in humans may also drive the mass migration of plankton in the ocean, scientists have found. The molecule in question, melatonin, is essential to maintain our daily rhythm, and scientists have now discovered that it governs the nightly migration of a plankton species from the surface to deeper waters. The findings indicate that melatonin’s role in controlling daily rhythms probably evolved early in the history of animals, and hold hints to how our sleep patterns may have evolved.

Impact that doomed the dinosaurs helped the forests bloom

Tue, 16 Sep 2014 14:15:29 EDT

Some 66 million years ago, a 10-km diameter chunk of rock hit the Yucatan peninsula with the force of 100 teratons of TNT. It left a crater more than 150 km across, and the resulting megatsunami, wildfires, global earthquakes and volcanism are widely accepted to have wiped out the dinosaurs and made way for the rise of the mammals. But what happened to the plants on which the dinosaurs fed?

'State of the Birds' report assesses the health of America's birds

Tue, 09 Sep 2014 19:18:45 EDT

One hundred years after the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the nation’s top bird science and conservation groups have come together to publish The State of the Birds 2014 -— the most comprehensive review of long-term trend data for U.S. birds ever conducted.

New producer of crucial vitamin B12 discovered

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 16:52:21 EDT

A single group of microorganisms may be responsible for much of the world's vitamin B12 production in the oceans, with implications for the global carbon cycle and climate change, researchers have discovered. Thaumarchaeota, they say, are likely dominant vitamin B12 producers.

Changes in coastal upwelling linked to temporary declines in marine ecosystem

Thu, 18 Sep 2014 14:14:44 EDT

In findings of relevance to both conservationists and the fishing industry, new research links short-term reductions in growth and reproduction of marine animals off the California Coast to increasing variability in the strength of coastal upwelling currents -- currents which historically supply nutrients to the region's diverse ecosystem.

Evolutionary tools improve prospects for sustainable development

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 13:54:38 EDT

Solving societal challenges in food security, emerging diseases and biodiversity loss will require evolutionary thinking in order to be effective in the long run. Inattention to this will only lead to greater challenges such as short-lived medicines and agricultural treatments, problems that may ultimately hinder sustainable development, argues a new study.

Plant diversity in China vital for global food security

Mon, 08 Sep 2014 12:10:07 EDT

With climate change threatening global food supplies, new research claims the rich flora of China could be crucial to underpin food security in the future. A team has identified 871 wild plant species native to China that have the potential to adapt and maintain 28 globally important crops, including rice, wheat, soybean, sorghum, banana, apple, citrus fruits, grape, stone fruits and millet. 42% of these wild plant species, known as crop wild relatives occur nowhere else in the world.

Eagle-eyed birds of prey help scrounging vultures find their dinner

Tue, 09 Sep 2014 19:20:40 EDT

Zoologists have discovered how endangered vultures find their food, which will have important applications for their conservation. It turns out the iconic birds, which look like they belong in a former world dominated by dinosaurs, use social cues from birds of prey to locate food before swooping down in large groups to steal the freshest of 'ready meals.'

Young sea stars suffer more from ocean acidification than adults

Fri, 26 Sep 2014 11:21:49 EDT

Young sea stars from the Baltic Sea suffer more from the effects of ocean acidification than adults. In a laboratory experiment, scientists showed that younger animals already eat less and grow more slowly at only slightly elevated carbon dioxide concentrations.

Spy on penguin families for science

Fri, 19 Sep 2014 10:25:59 EDT

Online volunteers are being asked to classify images of penguin families to help scientists monitor the health of penguin colonies in Antarctica. Recent evidence suggests that populations of many species of penguin, such as chinstrap and Adélie, are declining fast as shrinking sea ice threatens the krill they feed on. By tagging the adults, chicks, and eggs in remote camera images Penguin Watch volunteers will help scientists to gather information about penguin behavior and breeding success, as well as teaching a computer how to count and identify individuals of different species.

Parts of genome without a known function may play a key role in the birth of new proteins

Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:07:11 EDT

RNA called non-coding plays an important role in the evolution of new proteins, some of which could have important cell functions yet to be discovered, a study shows. The study analysed experiments carried out on six different species and identified almost 2,500 IncRNAs that were not in known databases.

The quick and the dead among tropical reptiles

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:38:30 EDT

Some tropical reptiles may be able to adapt quickly to climate change rather than go extinct as widely expected, a study finds. The research is the first direct measurement of climate-driven natural selection on the thermal physiology of a wildlife species -- in other words, survival of the fittest in an increasingly warm world.

Global change: Trees in Central Europe continue to grow at a faster rate, long-term study finds

Wed, 17 Sep 2014 09:29:53 EDT

Trees in Central Europe have been growing significantly faster since the 1960s. The typical development phases of trees and stands have barely changed, but they have accelerated -- by as much as 70 percent. This was the outcome of a study based on long-term data from experimental forest plots that have been continuously observed since 1870.

Climate change: Dwindling wind may tip predator-prey balance

Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:28:41 EDT

Rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns may get the lion’s share of our climate change attention, but predators may want to give some thought to wind, according to a zoologist’s study, which is among the first to demonstrate the way “global stilling” may alter predator-prey relationships.

Sloths are no slouches when it comes to evolution

Wed, 10 Sep 2014 08:38:46 EDT

Today's sloths might be known as slow, small animals, but their ancestors developed large body sizes at an amazing rate, according to an evolutionary reconstruction. The fast rate of change suggests that factors such as environmental conditions, or competition with other species must have strongly favored the bigger sloths, before they died out.

Live fast, die young: Soil microbes in a warmer world

Mon, 08 Sep 2014 20:43:14 EDT

The mortality of soil microbes in warmer temperatures may affect soil carbon storage, scientists say. Soil microbes consume organic carbon compounds in soil, use some of it to make more microbes and release the rest to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The efficiency with which microbes use their food to make new microbes affects how much carbon remains in soil, and how much is released back to the atmosphere. The accepted idea before this study was that microbes would become less efficient at warmer temperatures.

Agricultural revolution in Africa could increase global carbon emissions

Mon, 08 Sep 2014 16:24:47 EDT

Productivity-boosting agricultural innovations in Africa could lead to an increase in global deforestation rates and carbon emissions, a study finds. "Increasing productivity in Africa -- a carbon-rich region with low agricultural yields -- could have negative effects on the environment, especially if agricultural markets are highly integrated," a researcher said. "This study highlights the importance of understanding the interplay between globalization and the environmental impacts of agricultural technology. They are deeply intertwined."

Plant insights could help develop crops for changing climates

Mon, 08 Sep 2014 12:10:03 EDT

Crops that thrive in changing climates could be developed more easily, thanks to fresh insights into plant growth. A new computer model that shows how plants grow under varying conditions could help scientists develop varieties likely to grow well in future.

Drivers of rich bird biodiversity in Neotropics identified

Wed, 10 Sep 2014 13:25:24 EDT

New research challenges a commonly held view that explains how so many species of birds came to inhabit the Neotropics, an area rich in rain forest that extends from Mexico to the southernmost tip of South America. The study suggests that tropical bird speciation is not directly linked to geological and climate changes, as traditionally thought, but is driven by movements of birds across physical barriers that occur long after those landscapes' geological origins.

Each tree species has unique bacterial identity, microbiome research shows

Tue, 16 Sep 2014 10:22:24 EDT

Each tree species has its own bacterial identity. That's the conclusion of researchers who studied the genetic fingerprints of bacteria on 57 species of trees growing on a Panamanian island.

How conversion of forests to cropland affects climate

Mon, 08 Sep 2014 13:54:31 EDT

The conversion of forests into cropland worldwide has triggered an atmospheric change to emissions of biogenic volatile organic compounds that -- while seldom considered in climate models -- has had a net cooling effect on global temperatures, according to a new study.

The saplings go their own way: New explanation for dominance of generalists among tropical trees

Tue, 09 Sep 2014 09:24:47 EDT

In tropical rainforests, most young trees grow spatially independent from their parent trees. This means that it is not possible to predict where seedlings will take root, and less specialized species therefore have an advantage even in the species-rich rainforests of the tropics, researchers report.