* Pine Beetle Knows Jack * Green Eggs and Salamanders * Flying Fossil * Manakins Migrate or Mate * Yuri's Flight *

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Pine Beetle Knows Jack

Pine_Beetle_Damage.JPG Pine Beetle damage at the BC/Alberta border.  Copyright ThemightyQuill 
The Mountain Pine Beetle has devastated the Lodgepole pine forests of British Columbia and subsequently Alberta.  Many biologists have been concerned that it will make its way out of the sub-alpine-adapted Lodgepole and into the Jack-pine that dominates the Boreal forest.  Lodgepole and Jack-pine are closely related species, and can be hard to tell apart where forests transition from one to another.  As a result, as the beetle began to invade this transition zone, it was unclear from observation if it was, in fact, exploiting Jack-pine.   Dr. Catherine Cullingham, a Molecular Ecologist and post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alberta, was part of a research team that used DNA technology to verify that, indeed, the beetle had begun attacking Jack-pine.  This means one barrier to the beetle entering the great Boreal forest of the North has fallen.

Related Links
  • Paper in Molecular Ecology
  • News from the University of Alberta
  • News from Genome Alberta
  • CBC News story
  • CBC News in depth on pine beetle
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Green Eggs and Salamanders

spotted_salamander.jpgSpotted Salamander, copyright Opencage
Plants and animals are in different kingdoms of life, and never mix.  Unless they do.  Dr. Ryan Kerney, a post-doctoral researcher in the biology department at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has found that an algae that is found in association with spotted salamanders, in fact invades and lives within the salamander's cells.  The algae grows around the eggs of salamanders as they develop, and this benefits both eggs and plants.  The algae uses the waste from the eggs, and provides them with extra oxygen.  However, the algae then enters the growing embryos cells, colonizing them.  Dr. Kerney speculates that it persists, dormant, in the cells of the reproductive tract of female salamanders and then colonizes a new generation of her eggs later on.  

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Flying Fossil

flying_fossil.jpg 312 million year-old mayfly fossil, courtesy Dr. R. Knecht, Tufts University
The oldest full-body fossil of a flying insect was found recently in Massachusetts.  The fossil is over 300 million years old and remarkably preserved.  The trace fossil is of a mayfly ancestor that landed in the soft mud, leaving an incredibly detailed impression before taking flight again.  Jake Benner, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geology at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, says it provides valuable information about movement of appendages, as well as the position of the head and wings during landing.  Its preservation is due to the fact that soon after the impression was made, it was covered with water, then filled in with silt, which preserved it as it hardened into rock over subsequent millennia.  This fossil also pushes back the date for the emergence of this group of flying insects.   

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Manakins Migrate or Mate

White-ruffed_Manakin.JPGWhite Ruffed Manakins, copyright Chase Mendenhall

The White-ruffed Manakin is a tiny tropical bird that lives in the mountains of Costa Rica.  At the start of every rainy-season, the male manakin has a big decision to make for such a small bird.  According to new research by Dr. Alice Boyle from the Department of Biology and the Advanced Facility for Avian Research at the University of Western Ontario, the male manakin must choose between increasing its survival chances by migrating down the mountain where food is more abundant, or increasing its mating chances by toughing it out in the torrential rains where it is difficult to forage. The study also found there is another trade-off associated with migration; for the males, there is status to be gained or lost.  Migrating males have a hard time attracting a female the next mating season.  On the other hand, males that stayed and survived the rains are recognized by the females for their quality and rewarded by being chosen as a mate.   

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Yuri's Flight


On Tuesday, April 12, the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic first flight into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.  Gagarin's 108 minute flight to orbit marked another victory for the Soviets in the space race.  It was, however, the beginning and the end of Gagarin's career.  He never flew in space again, and died in an airplane training flight in 1968.  Much of Gagarin's life was hidden behind the curtain of Soviet propaganda for many years, but space historian Piers Bizony and his colleague, film maker Jamie Doran, looked behind that curtain to write their book Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin.   

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0