More than just a coincidence? What the co-occurrence of species can teach us about how they interact

Different kinds of plants, animals, and fungi interact with each other in a myriad of ways.  Recently, researchers have been trying to infer the nature of these interactions just by looking at whether you can find these species in the same place!  In a 2018 study, Mara Freilich of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her co-authors examined the reliability of this co-occurrence approach.

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Are Harmful Algal Blooms a New Concern For Coral Reefs?

Coral reefs are marine invertebrates that create a diverse ecosystem that supports sea life, fish communities, and humans. Corals have a symbiotic relationship with the algae that grows inside their shell, providing coral food through photosynthesis, and allowing the coral to expand its reef. However, coral reefs are already under pressure from a changing ocean climate, human pollution, overfishing, and development, all which can stress the coral and their algae counterparts. Harmful algal blooms (HABs), a consequence of human derived nutrient pollution, were investigated to determine their impact to coral reef or fish communities. Reef and fish communities at two sites in the Gulf of Oman were surveyed before and after a HAB in 2008. One site saw coral reef abundance reduced from 53% before the bloom, to 6% after, and both sites had a significant decrease in total fish biomass. These results demonstrate that HABs have a negative impact on both coral and fish communities. HABs cloud surface waters, preventing the coral’s algae from photosynthesizing and providing food for corals. Once the HAB dies, it decays and depletes the oxygen along the seafloor, suffocating corals. These changes to corals impact fish, as a struggling coral reef cannot provide food and shelter to attract sea life and fish communities. These impacts are felt by the nearly 30 million people that depend on coral reefs for their livelihood. Nutrient pollution to coastal waters resulting in HABs, along with other stressors, need to be addressed to safeguard coral reef ecosystems for the future.

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Cropland nitrogen allocation – A deeper dive into the stressors impacting the oceans

Around the globe, 40-50% of the nitrogen applied to cropland in fertilizers remains in the environment. Excess nitrogen is an important environmental stressor that degrades water, air and soil quality and enhances coastal eutrophication. Efficiently allocating nitrogen across space both maximizes crop yields and minimizes excess nitrogen losses to the environment.

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Flooding beneath your feet

It is flood season along the Mississippi River (seen in the cover photo) and as water is piling up in backwater storage areas across the lower Mississippi Valley it is worth taking a look at how the ground absorbs water. This involves taking a closer look at a little known field called soil physics. When I say those two words most people immediately stop listening and try to turn the conversation to literally anything else, but I am here to convince you that if you care about flooding you should care about soil physics. And maybe, just maybe, respect the soil you live upon a little bit more. We will explore the basics of soil physics and how different land cover types impact flood reduction.

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Salt marsh and mangroves are equally vulnerable to sea level rise

Mangroves have extended their range as a result of climate change and have established in areas that were previously salt marshes. Both mangrove stands and salt marshes act as buffers against coastal storms. Studies have suggested that mangroves and salt marshes have the ability to cope with global sea level rise by increasing local elevation through trapping soil and expanding their root structure. A recent study in the Mississippi River Delta reports that black mangroves and salt marsh plants have similar abilities to build sediment in coastal areas, but the rate of elevation increase is still lower than sea level rise. Therefore, both salt marsh and mangrove-dominated habitats of the Mississippi River Delta are at risk from sea level rise.

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Location, Location, Location – Planting Milkweed for Monarch Conservation

Monarch butterfly populations have severely decreased, largely because of the loss of the only plant they lay eggs on: milkweed. While planting more milkweed may seem like the easy answer, the location and size of a milkweed patch may affect the number of monarch eggs and caterpillars that survive.

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