Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Ecologist Matthew Bracken was surprised to find a kelp forest growing from a mudflat in southeastern Alaska, because kelp requires a hard substrate, like rock, on which to anchor itself. It turned out the kelp holdfasts were not attached to the mud, but to the burrows of Northern feather duster worms that live in the mud. Thanks to the worms’ hard, tubular burrows, the kelp can form forests in a muddy area that it could not otherwise colonize. Via Hakai Magazine

Oceanic carbon sinks tend to receive less attention than terrestrial ones, despite their importance. A study led by a team from Denmark evaluated the capacity of temperate eelgrass meadows to store carbon. They found seagrass meadows have a high capacity for carbon storage, comparable to mangroves, salt marshes and terrestrial ecosystems. However, coastal vegetated ecosystems like these are rapidly disappearing and they’re not included in carbon trading programs. Protection and restoration of seagrass meadows could increase the carbon storage potential of temperate oceans. Via Smithsonian

Corals have a microbial community of bacteria and fungi on their surface. The right organisms help them resist diseases, such as white syndrome disease. A recent study found that corals produce a series of antibacterials, chemo-attractants and signaling molecules that encourage a healthy microbiome. Identifying the molecules and organisms that protect corals from disease can help us predict and even prevent coral bleaching and death. Via Science Daily

What can a prehistoric blue-blooded crab say about worldwide biodiversity decline? Turns out, a lot. Horseshoe crabs are an ancient species that have a major impact on healthcare. Their blood produces an incredibly sensitive bacterial indicator, preventing infections from simple vaccinations to complex surgeries. However, they have seen steady decline in their natural habitats due to over-harvesting, habitat loss, and climate change. Coupled with a UN report stating that humanity has used up 30% of the world’s natural capital, the horseshoe crabs’ decline serves as an example. How much impact is too much for a species to handle? Via The Guardian

Water Quality and Supply

Swedish researchers have discovered a way to recover nutrients from seafood-processing wastewater. Preparation of shrimp, herring and mussels results in wastewater that is rich in fat and protein. That water is usually pumped out as waste, but it can be turned into semi-solid biomass or a rich liquid and used for salmon feed, for glazing fish, or in microalgae cultivation. Scientists are confident that recovery will become cost-effective as the value of this potential by-product is realized. Via EurekAlert!

Government Initiatives

With NOAA’s recent dire warning about a mass coral bleaching event this year for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Australian government has assigned Ian Poiner as chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Poiner, a marine scientist, wields leadership experience from both the Australian Institute of Marine Science as well as the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre. Poiner is being pushed to take more a aggressive stance with the Australian government, particularly against thermal coalmines that threaten the fragile reef ecosystem. Via The Guardian

Plant species continue to be threatened by climate change, habitat degradation, and plant pathogens. In response, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)  formed to push for the conservation of 75% of the planet’s threatened species ex situ by 2020. But researchers from the Kew Botanic Gardens (UK) suggest this goal is unattainable using the current method of storing seed in seed banks. The problem lies in the high proportion of threatened plant species whose seeds are recalcitrant, meaning that they cannot survive the drying required by this process. The researchers suggest turning our focus to cryopreservation, a technique that can conserve recalcitrant seeds and are pushing GSPC to take up this new methodology. Via EurekAlert!

Energy and Power

Harnessing energy from wind could do more than reduce our dependence on fossil fuels; wind farms might also be used to reduce the severity of hurricanes. Turbines harness kinetic energy from wind, slowing air and reducing precipitation downstream – effects that might weaken hurricanes. Modern turbines shut down in high winds, but new models under development can function in hurricane force winds.  A recent study, using computer simulations, predicted that even a small number of carefully placed wind farms could reduce hurricane strength and associated precipitation along the Gulf Coast. Via EcoWatch

UK researchers have demonstrated that counting whales from space, using the highest resolution satellite pictures available, is possible. These satellites are able to discern things at the Earth’s surface as small as 31 centimetres across, with imagery sharp enough to capture the distinctive shapes of different species. This could be a major breakthrough in marine conservation as it is cost effective – no planes or boats required – and gathers information on the grandest of scales. Next step is to automate the process. Currently scientists are testing various algorithms that can search satellite images automatically. Via The BBC


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