Coral Reefs and Phenotypic Plasticity: Responses to a Changing Climate


Coral reefs are known as pristine locations, and the ability of the coral making them up to create environments supporting myriads of fish species is astounding. Comparisons between corals ability to create a niche for complex and diverse ecosystems has been compared to that of rain forests on land, with almost a third of marine fish being found, despite covering less than 1% of the ocean bed (Adey 1998). In fact, many of the species that live within these reefs owe survival to coral health (Komyakova et al 2013). However, the home of Nemo and Ariel has been under recent threat over the years, due to climate change and ocean acidification (Hoegh-Guldberg et a. 2007). Just this last year alone, the great barrier reef saw the worst coral bleaching, thanks to rising water temperatures (Griffith 2016).  While exploration of ways to change the impact we are having on corals, and therefore the impact on the reefs ecological webs as a whole, interest has also developed in what the corals responses to these changes in their environment have been (Putnam et al. 2016). The value of this data provides an extreme example of phenotypic plasticity, the ability of an organism to respond to its environmental conditions. Continue reading “Coral Reefs and Phenotypic Plasticity: Responses to a Changing Climate”

Attractive Dads Make Poor Parents

An overview of Alissa et al. (2017)

The debate over parental responsibility is a contentious one in our human society. Who should get parental leave? Whose responsibility is child protection and education? Such questions are often aimed at trying to get men more involved in the caring of a child or to split responsibility more evenly between two parents. Who would have thought that similar questions are being asked about spider societies?

It turns out that those intriguing 8-legged creatures that have plagued people’s nightmares and inspired fantasy from Charlotte’s Web to Harry Potter, also have very complex family dynamics. For most wild creatures the main purpose in life is to reproduce as successfully as possible. Thus, in some species, such as the harvestman spider, Serracutisoma proximum, investigated by Alissa et al. (2017), we see a trade-off between energy and time investment in mating effort and offspring care. Continue reading “Attractive Dads Make Poor Parents”

The Gut Microbiome; a Battleground Between Pathogens and the Host/Gut-Residents

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A unique and diverse array of inter-specific relationships can be found within the microbiome of the human gut. Due to the constant flow of microbe-carrying nutrients through it, the gut is subject to a high risk of foreign invaders. Fortunately the immune system, as well as the digestive tract (with the help of its residential microbes), have processes to rid themselves of the pathogenic strains (Ichinohe et al, 2011).  These bodily systems provide a unique example of positive interactions between co-existent, and co-dependent, systems. Although the body can protect itself from damage induced by invading species, certain medical diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn’s disease (CD), when combined with inflammation and intestinal distress are prone to exhibit symptoms such as “severe muscle wasting and fat loss” (Schieber et al 2015).  Although the gut biome and the immune system may not always be capable of preventing these resultant health issues on their own, in conjunction they are capable of properly defending the body from muscular wasting caused by pathogenic effects.

The intestinal tract, while utilizing physical and chemical forces to break down and absorb vital nutrients, also houses a diverse community of microorganisms, a microbiota. This microbiota, which aids in  increasing efficiency in digestion and absorption, is the product  of coevolution and tolerance within both the host (providing this environment) and the residential microorganisms (Schieber et al 2015). Continue reading “The Gut Microbiome; a Battleground Between Pathogens and the Host/Gut-Residents”

The Chronicles of Evolutionary Weight in the Fight Against Cancer


“Dad, you have to try it, don’t you?” Mary insists again.

Enrique doesn’t answer his daughter. What she’s implying will make him spend even more time in the hospital, to help someone in the distant future whom he will never meet, maybe. When he was 70, Enrique was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). As he understands it, some of his blood cells will never mature and perform the correct functions in his body. This cancer can be cured through chemotherapy in 25% of cases, but in most cases cannot be treated or reversed (Kornblau 2014). Enrique is contemplating joining a drug trial. In any given trial there is only a 10% chance that a patient will respond to the specific drug tested (Kornblau 2014). Some therapeutic drugs work for some patients, but how to match a patient to a drug is unknown; this is what the study Enrique might join is trying to figure out. Continue reading “The Chronicles of Evolutionary Weight in the Fight Against Cancer”

Lonely at the Top: isolated mountain tops served as ice age refugia

Nebria is a genus of flightless beetle found in montane alpine habitats, sometimes at altitudes over 3,000m. Nebria have special adaptations, such as anti-freeze enzymes, which allow them to thrive on snowy mountain tops where other insects could not. In fact, Nebria feed upon arthropod fallout, insects which are blown to high altitudes and become immobilized on the cold snow. These same cold-tolerant adaptations may prevent them from surviving at lower altitudes (Lohse et al. 2011). As a result, their mountain top homes act like isolated “sky islands.” Dispersing between sky islands is challenging when you can’t fly. Continue reading “Lonely at the Top: isolated mountain tops served as ice age refugia”

Evolutionary advantage of learning to cope with change


Whether migratory birds will respond successfully to rapid climate change is unclear.  Birds migrate to take advantage of seasonal peaks in resource availability: Food and habitat become abundant quickly during summer at northern latitudes, but decline quickly in the fall.  Timely arrival on the summer range is vital for many species (Alerstam and Hedenström 1998). Continue reading “Evolutionary advantage of learning to cope with change”