Deep-sea Disco, Giant Icebergs, Pokémon Go, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: April 24, 2017

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

  • Still time! The EPA is seeking public input on the new administrations approach to environmental regulations. They are required to seek public input. They are required to respond to public input. Go tell them how you feel. Public comments close May 15. Here’s the docket with instructions on how to comment: Evaluation of Existing Regulations.

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

  • This deep-sea mining Disco video is something.

Jetsam (what we’re enjoying from around the web) Read More

Middle Earth could have been saved by the Endangered Species Act

Smaug gigan

Smaug gigananteus syn. Cordylus giganteus, the Giant Girdled Lizard, because of course there’s an actual species named Smaug. Photo by Wilfried Berns.

In a cave in the Lonely Mountain there lived a dragon. Not a gnarly, goblin-stuffed, slimy cave, filled with the bowels of orcs and fishy creepers, nor yet an empty, granite, echo-less cave with nothing in it to lie down on or horde: it was a dragon-cave, and that meant gold. At least it did, until a nasty band of poachers found Lonesome Smaug, the last of his species, alone, asleep, threatening none, and smote his genus from the red ledger, stripping Middle Earth of critical biodiversity.

The ecologists of Carsondell would say, of the age of war that followed, that the men and dwarves and elves and hobbits brought the darkness upon themselves. Indeed, as the Dark Lord raised his army, denuded the forests, and belched carbon from the factories of Mordor, Gandalf the Grey, one of the more powerful, though among the least conservation-minded, of the wizards would remark: “It has been said that dragon-fire could melt and consume the Rings of Power, but there is not now any dragon left on earth in which the old fire is hot enough.”

The Grey Wizard failed to mention that, were it not for his callousness, there would be*.

Read More

If fish evolved on land, where did they all go? Evolution and Biodiversity in the Ocean

This ray-finned fish was my dinner last night. Photo by Andrew David Thaler

When Carl Sagan described our planet as a “pale blue dot” he was invoking the fact that, despite being called Earth, our world is mostly Ocean. The surface of the Earth is a little more than 70% water and the ocean accounts for 98-99% of our total biosphere–the volume of the planet that can support life. Most contemporary theories point to ocean ecosystems–like deep-sea hydrothermal vents–as the launching point for the emergence and evolution of life. Ocean processes dominate biological interactions, even among unwitting terrestrial actors. A new paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, revisits an old debate about the ocean biodiversity and challenges the notion the ray-finned fishes have a marine origin.

In Why are there so few fish in the sea? the authors begin with the seemingly innocuous question–why are there so many more species in terrestrial environments than in marine environments?  From there, they look at species counts, phylogenetic relationships, and diversification rates to determine the ancestral state of the most recent common ancestor of one fish class, Actinopterygii, the ray-finned fish. What they found was that, despite the vastly smaller habitat available for freshwater fish, the number of actinopterygian species found those ecosystems was roughly equivalent to the number of species found in marine systems. In both systems, the dominant groups are relative newcomers on the evolutionary stage, with superorder-level radiations happening between 111 – 150 million years ago.  Most surprising, the authors discovered that the most recent common ancestor of actinopterygians may have been a freshwater, not marine, fish. Ray-finned fishes may have invaded the ocean from lakes and rivers.

Read More

Biodiversity Wednesday: Under the Sea Ice

http://www.arcodiv.org/SeaIce.html

A few years back I attended a mid-field season gathering of researchers working on International Polar Year projects. We were lucky enough to have collected the marine biologists, recently returned from a short cruise out of Barrow, AK with the mission to describe the biota living on the underside of the sea ice that is so critical to terrestrial Arctic ecology. It was absolutely stunning to me to realize that there is a whole ecosystem associated with the bottom of the ice, an ephemeral, threatened resource.

Depending on the time of year, sea ice covers 3-7% of the planet, making this relatively unexplored ecosystem fairly important to global biogeochemical processes. The algae trapped in and under sea ice, for example, accounts for 25% of the Arctic’s and 20% of the Antarctic’s primary productivity. This productivity trickles up the food web to the more well-known ice dwellers, such as polar bears and seals. Read More