Category Archives: Plants & Animals

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Invasive Plants And Invasive Earthworms: An Insidious Partnership

Earthworms affect competition among plants both indirectly, by modifying habitat, and directly, by selectively eating roots, seeds and seedlings. The changes they make in forest habitats could favor invasive plants in several ways. (Click on title for full story.)

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Thorns And Spines Did Not Develop On Plants For The Reasons You Thought

The overwhelming bulk of the scientific literature on the ecological and evolutionary purpose of thorniness (or, to use biologists’ preferred terminology, spinescence) has focused on the hypothesis that mammalian herbivores are the main target. That may have been a mistake. Over the years, studies of how well sharp deterrents discourage hungry mammals have returned mixed results. (Click on title for full story.)

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The Goats In The Trees And The Seeds They Spit

For goats, the fruits are a tasty treat worth climbing up to 30 feet into the branches to obtain. But the goats don’t like the large seeds. Like cows, sheep, and deer, goats re-chew their food after fermenting it for a while in a specialized stomach. While ruminating over their cud, the goats spit out the argan nuts, delivering clean seeds to new ground, wherever the goat has wandered. Gaining some distance from the parent tree gives the seedling a better chance of survival. (Click on title for full story.)

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Do Trees React Differently To Defoliation By Herbivores?

These results can help us assess the mortality risk of trees during a defoliation event using traits such as leaf longevity and how carbohydrates are stored in the species. Such information could then be used in models of tree growth and survival to predict which trees and forests may need protective measures (e.g. biocontrol of pests, pesticide application) in advance of a defoliation event. (Click on title for full story.)

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Looking To Lizards To Reveal Grasslands’ History

Since Ophisops are restricted to grasslands, understanding the evolution of these lizards allowed the researchers to test two hypotheses related to the origins of Indian grasslands. The first hypothesis was that if Indian grasslands expanded at the same time as grasslands globally – which was four million to eight million years ago – the spread of Ophisops would date back to around roughly the same time period. The second hypothesis was if grasslands expanded only when humans started cultivation in the last 10,000 years to 20,000 years, Ophisops would have only spread to areas cleared by humans in the more recent past. (Click on title for full story.)

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Does Sunflower Pollen Protect Specialist Bees From Parasites?

The authors conclude that specialization on sunflower pollen confers anti-parasite benefits; this may help explain the frequent evolution of specialization on sunflower pollen among bees. More generally, the results help explain why animals often evolve a taste for “nasty” foods. (Click on title for full story.)

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How The First Gardeners Adapted To New Environments: The Story Of Leaf-Cutter Ants

“If you had X-ray vision and you could look out in a wet, new-world tropical forest, you’d see the entire underground just peppered with garden chambers,” (Click on title for full story.)

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Furthest Seed Dispersal Award Goes To…. African Savanna Elephants!

The African savanna elephant holds the prize for largest living terrestrial animal, and now it apparently just set another land record: the longest distance mover of seeds. The pachyderms can transport seeds up to 65 kilometers, according to a study of elephant dung in South Africa. That’s 30 times farther than savanna birds take seeds, and it indicates that elephants play a significant role in maintaining the genetic diversity of trees on the savanna. (Click on title for full story.)

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Can The Devastation By Bark Beetles Be Stopped With A Sound Recording?

Bark beetles — whose numbers have reached outbreak levels throughout the West — are hard to keep away from trees. One solution may be to confuse them by playing their own sounds, distorted into a maddening cacophony, back at them. (Click on title for full story.)

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The Millipede With A Garden On Its Back

We have reported here the first known associations of bryophytes with Diplopoda, and one of the few with Arthropoda. It is also, so far as we know, the first reported case of tropical bryophyte entomochory, in which spores and propagules that fell on the backs of diplopods germinated and produced small plants (Click on title for full story.)