June 1st is the start of the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which marks the beginning of a period of uncertainty for the Gulf South. In a recent Op-Ed column in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Research Assistant Professor Dr. Robinson Negrón-Juárez makes the case that scientific research is essential to understanding hurricanes and could lead to better prediction, prevention, preparation and recovery.
Forest disturbance in the Amazon is very complex and difficult to quantify. One must take into account disturbance type, size and frequency. Research Assistant Professor Robinson Negrón-Juárez and Research Associate Professor Jeffery Chambers recently published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that employs a unique methodology to quantify forest disturbance: a combination of field work, satellite imagery and statistical modeling. Their detailed analysis determined that large-scale disturbances are rare and that smaller-scale events are more likely. Their work provides new frameworks for future studies of forest disturbance.
Leaf-cutting ants (Atta colombica) get their colloquial name because they literally cut plant material from living plants. In an extraordinary example of symbiosis, the ants use the collected plant material to feed fungal gardens, which the ants cultivate for their own food. In a new study in the journal New Phytologist, Dr. Sunshine Van Bael and her colleagues have discovered that the ants' plant choice is influenced by the fungal endophytes within the plant material. Specifically, ants were less likely to choose plants with higher densities of endophytes. Fascinating as they are, each year leaf-cutting ants cause roughly a billion dollars in damage to Central American agriculture. So understanding what influences plant choice could help researchers find ways to reduce damage to crops.
Dr. Jordan Karubian was recently awarded the 2012 Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty. The award honors a pre-tenure faculty member who has worked to connect his or her teaching, research and service to community engagement. Dr. Karubian was selected this year because of his work to encourage Ecuadorian communities to participate in conservationism. He enlists locals to help with his own research on the endangered long-wattled umbrella bird, and provides resource materials for schools. According to Dr. Karubian, "there has been a significant shift in the way people perceive the consequences of their actions."
A recent study co-authored by Dr. Michael Blum shows how BPA, which acts as a synthetic estrogen, affects species interactions between native and introduced stream fishes in the Southeast. The color of non-native male red shiner (Cyprinella lutrensis) weakens when exposed to BPA. Because female red shiners use coloration to determine mate choice, the change in the males’ color can cause females to be less choosy, which can increase instances of interbreeding with native blacktail shiner (Cyprinella venusta). The red shiner are already considered an invasive species because they hybridize with native blacktail shiner. This study indicates that exposure to pervasive estrogen-mimics, like BPA, could speed up the process.
Elizabeth Derryberry continues her research in the field of behavioral ecology with a fascinating new study published in the journal Biology Letters. The article, which Dr. Derryberry co-authored with researches from Duke University, finds that baby swamp sparrows prefer to learn more clearly audible songs rather than songs that are muddled by other noises. This is very important in understanding how songbirds develop their adult song repertoire. And it also suggests that noises caused by human activity can affect the birds' song selection.
The noisy hustle and bustle of the modern American city has affected the behavior of urban songbirds. In this article from the journal Animal Behaviour, Assistant Professor Elizabeth Derryberry looks at the white-crowned sparrow, whose birdsong changed between 1969 and 2005 to keep up with the rise in urban ambient noise. Not only did the birds get louder, but they started singing new songs that could better compete with the sounds of the city. A comparison of the old and new songs suggests the birds' cultural evolution and communication has been impacted.
The New York Times Magazine taps Dr. Mike Blum for insight into the ecology of a post-Katrina Lower 9th Ward in this in-depth article regarding the recovery of the community. Nearly 7 years after the storm, this devastated neighborhood may be still struggling to rebuild, but the flora and fauna have been thriving. Dr. Blum discusses the strong and strange ecological revitalization that has occurred in the Lower 9th Ward, a subject he has been studying as one part of a broader cannon of research relating to recovery from catastrophic events.
A new study from the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology named a new genus of lopliid anglerfishes from the Eocene period, Caruso, after EEB's own Dr. John Caruso.
Bioluminescence is an evolutionary trait that is found in various creatures, including fish, microorganisms, mushrooms and insects. But not all organisms glow for the same reasons. Biologists, including EEB's own Justin Yeager, have found why the only known bioluminescent millipede glows…
The Manaus region of the Amazon is littered with treefall gaps. But until now, scientists were not able to accurately measure them. Tulane EEB researcher Dr. Robinson Negrón-Juárez along with Dr. Jeffrey Chambers and other colleagues, have published a paper that quantifies treefall gap size and finds that these small disturbances cumulatively account for a larger portion of the annual deforestation of this Amazonian region than previously thought. The significance of the paper's findings was noted by the Faculty of 1000 (www.f1000.com), a website administered by key figures in the fields of medicine and biology that selects the most important journal articles published each month.
As the fall semester approaches, three professors in the Tulane Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology are synthesizing lessons learned from a prestigious summer institute that teaches faculty how to interest undergraduate students in science...
What does a dead space alien really look like? When the Green Lantern movie crew, filming in New Orleans, needed to know if their special-effects creations were believable, they turned to Tulane biologist and longtime science fiction fan Bruce Fleury for advice...
Ever since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion on April 20, Tulane faculty members have been called on by the national media to discuss the impact of the ensuing oil leak on wildlife, human health, the economy and the culture of the Gulf Coast...
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