Nitrogen: Blessing and curse

The chemical element nitrogen (N) is an essential building block of all life on Earth and represents the fourth most common element in biological organisms, including us. Because of its importance for plant growth and food production humans have doubled the natural input of available nitrogen to our ecosystems, with adverse effects on the environment and our health. This surplus of nitrogen led to the expansion of the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and Baltic Sea, the concentration of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide is increasing in the atmosphere and infants suffer from high nitrate concentration in the drinking water. Schlesinger describes in his article where all the nitrogen ends up that we humans produce for fertilising our fields. He also warns that our knowledge of the nitrogen cycle is still limited and that nitrogen accumulation in unexpected places will lead to environmental deterioration.

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Finding fish using their DNA

Traditionally the size of fish populations is estimated by towing nets off boats (trawling). Unfortunately trawling is expensive, time consuming, and only catches certain species. In this study Phillip Thomsen and his colleagues determine whether a new method known as environmental DNA (eDNA) can supplement or replace the use of trawling for fish surveys.

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Climate Change Reduces Forest Regrowth After Wildfires

Forest are struggling to comeback after wildfires, but does anyone know why? A research team discovered climate change may be straining young saplings’ abilities to reestablish themselves after a wildfire. A warmer and drier climate does not provide the right temperature or water resources a sapling needs to regrow a forest. With wildfires growing larger and more intense, this issue needs to be addressed and extinguished to sustain our forests!

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George Washington: General, Founding Father, and … Ecologist?

Before George Washington became the military general and Founding Father we know today, he spent years traveling the wilderness and helping divide up land for colonial settlement. His meticulous notes about the natural landscapes have been preserved over time because of his later prominence as a political figure. Today, these documents can be used to reconstruct what forests looked like over 250 years ago.

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Preserving Culturally-Important Xochimilco Wetlands Requires Policy and Personal Change

Created by the Aztecs in 500 CE for agriculture, Xochimilco is an area of culturally important wetlands in southern Mexico City. Despite its cultural and economic importance, this area is experiencing wetland degradation and loss due to urban development and water quality issues. Even with a high level of local concern about wetland degradation, little effort will be made toward conservation without a change in public policies regarding local infrastructure and development.

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The Novel Axolotl: A Conservation Paradox

The axolotl is a special kind of salamander. Unlike other salamanders, this species maintains its juvenile morphology and remains aquatic its entire life. This unique “forever-young” feature is one reason axolotls are so widely popular. In fact, the axolotl is the most widely distributed amphibian worldwide because of its attraction as a pet and its status as a model organism in biomedical research. At the same time, this species is on the verge of extinction in its native habitat, giving it the unique status of a “conservation paradox”.

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Who are we going to call when rainforests are suffering from droughts? Termites!

Tropical rainforests are already showing signs that climate change is leading to higher tree mortality. However, Dr. Louise A. Ashton and collaborators investigated if termites could help turn the game on climate change and help tropical biodiversity and survival. This fascinating study shows that high termite abundance can lead to greater soil moisture and nutrient levels during drought conditions, which ultimately favors plant establishment. This suggests termites can potentially be major allies of tropical forests against climate change.

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