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380 news posts in Life sciences

The pink helmet jellyfish, a hydrozoan

Life sciences

14 Feb 2024

Tiny crustaceans discovered preying on live jellyfish during harsh Arctic night

Scientists used DNA metabarcoding to show for the first time that jellyfish are an important food for amphipods during the Arctic polar night in waters off Svalbard, at a time of year when other food resources are scarce. Amphipods were not only observed to feast on ‘jelly-falls’ of dead jellyfish, but also to prey on live jellyfish. These results corroborate an ongoing ‘paradigm shift’ which recognizes that jellyfish aren’t a trophic dead-end but an important food for many marine organisms.

Life sciences

17 Nov 2023

Fishing chimpanzees found to enjoy termites as a seasonal treat

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/Seth Phillips Termites are a crucial source of nutrients for chimpanzees, who fish for them with tools, but they’re not always accessible. Now, researchers copying chimpanzee tools and techniques have shown that chimpanzees living in western Tanzania can only reliably fish for termites in the early wet season, when other foods are abundant. These chimpanzees fish for termites because they can, not because they need to. The results raise the possibility that chimpanzees could even be predicting termite availability before they go fishing. The discovery that chimpanzees use tools to fish for termites revolutionized our understanding of their abilities — but we still don’t have crucial context to help us understand termite fishing and chimpanzee minds. Are chimpanzees fishing for a seasonal treat or trying their luck? Researchers based at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) and University College London (UCL) investigated the relationship between termite availability and chimpanzee fishing. They found that termites are most available early in the wet season. Although other foods are abundant at that time, chimpanzees choose to termite fish then.   “I believe these results set up an interesting hypothesis about wild chimpanzee foraging cognition,” said […]

Life sciences

13 Nov 2023

Endangered turtle population under threat as pollution may lead to excess of females being born

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer Researchers from Australia studied the influence of pollution on the sex ratio of clutches of sea green turtles. This species is at risk of extinction from a current lack of male hatchlings. They concluded that exposure to the heavy metals cadmium and antimony, accumulated by the mother and transferred to her eggs, may cause embryos to be feminized. Pollution may thus compound the female-biasing influence of rising global temperatures on green sea turtles. Green sea turtles, Chelonia mydas, are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are at risk of extinction due to poaching, collisions with boats, habitat destruction, and accidental capture in fishing gear. But another threat, linked to climate change, is more insidious: sea turtles have temperature-dependent sex determination, which means that more and more embryos develop into females as temperatures keep rising. Already, in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, hundreds of females are born for every male. Now, researchers have shown that the resulting risk of extinction due to a lack of male green sea turtles may be compounded by pollution. Dr Arthur Barraza, a researcher at the Australian Rivers Institute […]

Life sciences

13 Oct 2023

Caution, ocelot crossing: special wildlife exits on busy roads help protect endangered cat

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer Texas ocelot, Leopardus pardalis albescens. Image credit: Kline Lab, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Traffic collisions are a major cause of death of endangered Texas ocelots. Researchers have now shown that recently designed wildlife exits, meant to allow ocelots to leave highways surrounded by fences, function as they are designed to do. 10 mammal species apart from ocelots learned to use them correctly. The authors concluded that these exits are a useful conservation measure in Texas, not only for ocelots. The Texas ocelot (Leopardus pardalis albescens) is endangered due to historic hunting, habitat loss, inbreeding, and traffic collisions. Today, only between 50 and 80 ocelots remain in the US, exclusively in Willacy and Cameron counties in southern Texas. These two populations are isolated from the larger one in northwestern Mexico by highways and urban development. “Here we show that a range of species, including middle-sized carnivores such as bobcats and coyotes, successfully use wildlife exits, a new type of mitigation structure specifically designed for the US endangered ocelot,” said first author Zarina Sheikh, a former graduate student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, about their new study in Frontiers in Ecology […]

Life sciences

11 Oct 2023

Peregrine falcons set off false alarms to make prey easier to catch

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image: US Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest Region, public domain Can clever predators manipulate prey into taking bigger risks, making them easier to hunt? Scientists have found that, by carrying out attacks which force Pacific dunlins into exhausting evasive maneuvers, peregrine falcons increase the likelihood of successfully hunting those dunlins later. The prey birds are tired out or forced to forage at more dangerous times. Predators must eat to survive — and to survive, prey must avoid being eaten. One theory, the Wolf-Mangel model, suggests predators could use false attacks to tire prey out or force them to take bigger risks, but this has been hard to show in practice. Now, scientists observing peregrine falcons have found evidence that they deliberately exhaust their prey to improve later hunting success. “Although predators are imagined as clever in novels and movies, like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, empirical biologists are generally not inclined to give much credence to such ideas,” said Dr Ronald Ydenberg of Simon Fraser University, lead author of the study in Frontiers in Ethology. “I have often been puzzled when watching raptors by aspects of their behavior, such as prominent perching […]

Life sciences

29 Sep 2023

Mouthwash for dogs: water additive with pomegranate helps to keep canine teeth healthy

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer Veterinarian researchers performed a blinded randomized controlled trial to show that a commercially available water additive with pomegranate extract is effective in limiting the reformation of plaque and tartar on the teeth of dogs after a professional dental cleaning. This could help to prevent periodontal disease in the long term. Periodontal disease is one of the most common canine diseases, affecting at least 80% of dogs aged three and over. Periodontal disease begins as gingivitis, where gums become red and inflamed, and may bleed. Untreated, the disease can progress to periodontitis, where the alveolar bone is progressively damaged so that teeth may loosen or fall out. In turn, periodontitis is a risk factor for other diseases like cardiovascular and lung disease. A major cause of periodontal disease is poor oral hygiene, which can lead to the build-up of plaque and tartar. For this reason, veterinarians counsel owners to brush their dogs’ teeth regularly. Unfortunately, compliance with this advice is low, because it’s onerous or because some dogs won’t cooperate. “Here we show that an additive to drinking water, based on pomegranate extract, can reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar in dogs,” said Dr […]

Image: Shutterstock

Life sciences

20 Sep 2023

Shading the Great Barrier Reef from the sun might slow bleaching-induced coral decline

By Deborah Pirchner, Frontiers science writer Image: Shutterstock As ocean temperatures rise, corals can lose their color due to heat stress. Bleaching does not kill corals immediately, but they become more vulnerable to disease and starvation. Shading reefs by covering them with cloth or fog, can protect them from excessive heat. Now, researchers have tested the shading response of two coral species and found that four hours of shade during the hottest time of the day can significantly slow bleaching. This knowledge can help with solar radiation management in marine ecosystems, including the Great Barrier Reef. Over the past two decades, coral reefs have declined at unprecedented rates. This is in part because of extreme weather events, which cause wide-spread coral bleaching, a process during which corals lose their color because of stressors, including changes in water temperature, light, or nutrient availability. One of the worst mass bleaching events occurred in 2016 and 2017 on the Great Barrier Reef, causing bleaching on 91% of the system’s reefs. As frequency and severity of mass bleaching events are expected to increase in the future, researchers are looking for ways to protect corals from excessive radiation and temperatures. As part of the Cooling […]

One of the ‘tree-reefs’ being examined after five months in the Wadden Sea. Image credit: Jon Dickson

Life sciences

25 Aug 2023

Reefs made from culled trees can help kickstart sea life in threatened waters

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer One of the ‘tree-reefs’ being examined after five months in the Wadden Sea. Image credit: Jon Dickson Researchers have shown that structures made from culled pear trees sunk into soft-bottomed seas like the Dutch Wadden Sea provide excellent replacements for naturally occurring hard substrates, of which many have been lost due to human activities. These ‘tree-reefs’ were rapidly colonized and became hotspots for fish, crustaceans, polyps, and shellfish. Reefs, whether natural or man-made, are hotspots of marine biodiversity. But especially in soft-bottomed seas, reefs have now become scarce because many hard substrates have been removed due to overfishing of shellfish, dredging, trawling, and deep-sea mining. How can we restore this lost biodiversity, as encouraged by the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) and the EU Biodiversity Strategy?   Now, researchers have shown that culled fruit trees sunk into the sea are a cheap and effective way to recreate reefs and boost the local diversity and abundance of marine life. The study, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, was done in the Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest tidal flats system in the world.   “Here we show that native marine […]

Life sciences

22 Aug 2023

City-living may make male song sparrows more doting ‘super’ fathers

By Deborah Pirchner, Frontiers science writer Image: Rob Lachlan New behavioral traits are often the first response of animals to changing environmental conditions. As cities increasingly become habitats of wildlife, researchers have studied behavioral changes in birds and examined how urbanization impacts parental care behavior of male song sparrows. The team found that in cities, where male song sparrows are known to be more aggressive than in rural surroundings, male birds visited nests more often than rural conspecifics visited countryside nests.   When animals settle in new environments, or when their natural habitats are rapidly changed by human influence, their behaviors change. One such behavioral change that has been observed in several bird species that settled in cities is increased aggression, born out of the need to defend territories. City-living sparrows have, due to lower species density, fewer encounters with their kin than in the countryside. Yet, urban song sparrows have been shown to be consistently more aggressive in defending their territories. Now, a team of researchers in the US has investigated the effects of urbanization and the associated increase in male aggression on the parental care provided by male birds. “Male songbirds in temperate zones are thought to reduce […]

Life sciences

31 Jul 2023

Scientists solve ‘enigma’ of pygmy right whales’ feeding habits

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer A pygmy right whales in the wild. Image credit: Henry Cordell Researchers have shown from stable isotope ratios in the baleen of pygmy right whales that this ‘most enigmatic’ species of baleen whales remains in waters off southern Australia year-round and feeds on Australian krill and copepods. Unlike larger relatives, they don’t make seasonal migrations to Antarctic regions. Pygmy right whales (Caperea marginata) are the smallest, ‘most enigmatic’, and probably least studied of all baleen whales. Baleen act like sieves in the mouth of baleen whales, which allow seawater to pass but trap small prey items like zooplankton and small fish. Pygmy right whales are rarely seen in the wild. Reason for this may be their relatively small size – up to 6.5 meters long and weighing up to 3.5 tons –, sparse distribution, and inconspicuous behavior, especially compared to the boisterous humpback whales. Historically, whalers rarely bothered hunting them. The little we know about them is mainly based on beached animals. “Here we show that pygmy right whales don’t behave like most other baleen whales: they don’t make long cross-ocean migrations,” said Dr Tracey Rogers, a professor of ecology and evolution at the […]