Using Plants to Protect the Past

A new study found that plants that are culturally significant to Native American tribes are abundant near archeological sites in Bears Ears National Monument suggesting that historical human behavior is still shaping our ecosystems today. Now, we need to use our resources to protect this cultural and ecological legacy and educate others about the history of these ancestral lands.

Read more

Sperm Whales Learned to Avoid Nineteenth-Century Whalers

Nineteenth-century whalers questioned why sperm whales were getting drastically more challenging to capture. At the time, whalers of the North Pacific Ocean kept detailed logbooks about sperm whale sightings and harpoon strikes. These logbooks could help provide answers to the problem whalers faced in the 1800s and to the sperm whale populations struggling to recover today. Sperm whales that have encountered whalers might communicate to other sperm whales how to avoid the dangerous whalers. This information transfer between whales could help them adapt to rapidly changing environments.

Read more

The churning seas are slowing down: The Atlantic Ocean circulation at its weakest in millennia

In the Atlantic Ocean there is a giant “river” that affects many aspects of life for us terrestrial dwellers, from the regional climates we enjoy to the sea level at our shore. This “river” is the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), one of the planet’s major ocean circulation systems. The ocean has been churning for millenia through this circulation system, but now there are signs of change.

Read more

Dead plants breathe new life into botanical research

I’ll never forget the first time that I stepped into a herbarium. Picture a room full of towering metal cabinets. Inside, there are thousands of pressed plants carefully glued onto special paper upon which thoughtfully recorded field notes describe the plant’s habitat, location, life stage, and more. At a moment’s notice I can still recall the unique smell of preserved plants, reminiscent of the comforting scent that lofts when ruffling the pages of an old book. In those days, as a budding botanist, I never questioned the immense value of these collections. Then, when I learned that one herbarium in seven has closed in the last twenty-five years (Deng 2015), I realized that we simply aren’t talking enough about all the unique ways that old plants can fuel modern science.

Read more

Clues to the Past – What fossils tell us about ancient animal behavior

Hundreds of millions of years ago, Earth was teeming with life. Since humans weren’t around back then, we have to rely on fossils for snapshots into that world. Fossils give clues on how animals and their behaviors have evolved throughout geological time and can help with today’s conservation efforts. But what can fossils tell us about animal behavior, and when were some of the earliest behaviors? That’s a mystery worth digging into!

Read more

Can a meme save a species?

Memes are everywhere. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter; the world of social media is bursting with amusing images embellished with a witty caption. Memes stay on the pulse of changing cultures and reflect social ideas and current events. But can they also help encourage the protection of species that don’t commonly garner media headlines?

Read more

When Fire and Water Collide: Looking to Lakes to Understand Fire’s Deep Past

As I woke up this morning, I learned that a wildfire raging in our local forest had grown to nearly 70,000 acres. A mixture of emotions subsequently flooded in, combining thoughts of concern with questions about how climate change is altering wildfire patterns. In order for scientists and land managers to better predict wildfire outbreaks and to understand the role that climate plays in their behavior, they must first examine the fire history of an area over a long period of time—longer than recorded history. Charcoal and pollen deposits in lake sediments may be able to provide answers to the mysteries of fire’s deep past. Read on to hear about this interesting approach and how one study of lake sediments mapped out 1.5 million years of fire history in China.

Read more

Emerging Environmental Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Good and Bad

As the COVID-19 pandemic scourges the planet, research and other efforts have focused on the human toll of the virus. Recent research has begun shedding light on the effects of COVID-19 on the environment. At first glance, these effects seem beneficial. However, many negative consequences also loom, particularly in the long-term.

Read more