ecology

The Effects of Invasive Pythons Slither through the Everglades

Pythons may be setting off a cascade of ecosystem changes.

The huge Burmese pythons that are slowly taking over Florida’s Everglades wetlands are a threat to the mammals that live there. But new research shows the pythons’ influence extends far beyond their own appetites: the snakes are setting off cascading changes to the ecosystem. Read more in Hakai Magazine.

Why grey wolves kill less prey when brown bears are around

Wolves may be better at sharing their meals with bears than we thought.

Biologists have long assumed that when wolves and brown bears share territory, the wolves are forced to kill more often to make up for the food stolen by scavenging bears.

But when Aimee Tallian, a biologist at Utah State University, and her colleagues looked for evidence of this, they found the opposite. Where wolves live alongside bears in Scandinavia and Yellowstone National Park in the US, they actually kill less often. Read more in New Scientist.

Endangered frog recovers thanks to resistance to deadly fungus

For decades a deadly fungus has been slaughtering amphibians around the world, driving many to the brink of extinction or even beyond.

But now one frog’s recovery shows that, with a little luck and habitat preservation, some amphibians may be able to evolve resistance to the fungusRead more in New Scientist.

Trump’s border-wall pledge threatens delicate desert ecosystems

Ecologists fear plan to seal off the United States from Mexico would put wildlife at risk.

With Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talking about walling off the United States from Mexico, ecologists fear for the future of the delicate and surprisingly diverse ecosystems that span Mexico’s border with the southwestern United States.

“The southwestern US and northwestern Mexico share their weather, rivers and wildlife,” says Sergio Avila-Villegas, a conservation scientist from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. “The infrastructure on the border cuts through all that and divides a shared landscape in two.” Read more in Nature.

Baby turtles work together to dig themselves out of a nest hole

Baby sea turtles work together to dig their way out of sandy nests, and the more of them there are, the less energy they use doing it.

We knew of this group-digging behaviour, called social facilitation, for a long time, but the reasons for teamwork were unclear. Possible explanations included speeding up nest escape or helping the turtles emerge together to swamp awaiting predators on the beach. Read more in New Scientist.

Smallest perching bird’s long-lost family revealed by genetics

The pygmy bushtit’s diminutive size makes it a superlative species, and it has a genus all to itself. But now genetics is showing that it’s not so special after all.

The pygmy bushtit isn’t much to look at. It’s an inconspicuous dull grey, but it is absolutely tiny. So small in fact, that it is the smallest member of the Passeriformes, or perching birds, an order that encompasses more than half of all bird species including sparrows, finches and chickadees. Read more in New Scientist.

Trees share vital goodies through a secret underground network

Call it the wood wide web. Although we think of trees as competing with each other for resources, we know from lab studies that they share information and nutrients underground.Trees of the same species growing close together will sometimes fuse their roots and exchange materials. And seedlings of different species can share nutrients via mycorrhiza, the symbiotic fungi that grow alongside and between tree roots.

Now botanist Tamir Klein and his colleagues at the University of Basel in Switzerland have spotted this transfer in mature wild trees for the first time. And it turns out they share much more than anyone guessed. Read more in New Scientist.

Orangutan population in Sumatra more than doubles after census

There are more than twice as many orangutans on the Indonesian island of Sumatra as we thought, according to a new survey. But deforestation and development could still see their numbers plummet over the next decade.

A team led by Serge Wich, a primatologist at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, scoured the Sumatran forest and found evidence that there were more than 14,600 apes living there, more than double the previous estimate of 6600. Read more in New Scientist.

Alligators help protect bird nests – but still snack on chicks

It’s raining food for alligators in the Everglades – those that act as bodyguards for nesting birds get paid in chicks.

It’s not uncommon for one animal to gain protection from a neighbour. In Florida’s Everglades, wading birds like storks and egrets preferentially build their nests where alligators live, because the presence of the big reptiles protects them from nest-raiding racoons and opossums.

Lucas Nell of the University of Florida in Gainesville has now cruised the Everglades at night to see what the alligator bodyguards get out of the deal. Read more in New Scientist.