“What I learned” Article

By Michael Hallinan

Science has been a consistently developing field, with tons of new finds, new scientists, and a general increase in how many people are involved and engaged with the discipline. However, my undergraduate peers and I have found that effective communication is an often underdeveloped skill within science. We spend so much time learning calculus, learning physics, learning about environmental systems, yet never seem to spend much learning how to effectively share what we learn with others.

As of 2022, I’m entering my second year of undergraduate studies, and I’ve already seen the aforementioned communication divide as I share what I learn with family and friends. I entered science because I found the developments in biotechnology to be super interesting and to have great potential to better our world. However, science isn’t exclusive to scientists. There are policymakers, governments, educators, stakeholders, voters, and tons of other people who need to engage and interact with science, and often cannot because of the language and lack of accessibility regarding scientific research. As a result, I still want to pursue research in biotechnology, but I want much of my work to center open communication and accessibility within science. 

Thankfully, I was offered an internship with the Time Scavengers organization, and was granted the opportunity to further develop my communication skills through practice and learning opportunities. Weekly, me and the other interns got to hear a variety of scientists of various backgrounds teach about different factors of communications, which was an amazing opportunity. The major topics covered were effective storytelling, identities’ role in communication, effective teaching methods, accessibility, and compromise. However, although each of these topics was spoken on, there was so much more with each presenter having a unique background and journey into communications.

Besides these presentations, I also could practice communication through summarizing scientific research on topics from as broad as chimpanzee communication to global water evaporation with varying degrees of challenge. It was through this work that I truly realized how essential science communications work is. Much of the research I read through used jargon or failed to explain concepts or methods in a way that someone outside of the subjects’ field would understand. This meant that with most of the research I read through, to even understand a page, there was a lot of additional research and dictionary searching that had to be done. If I can’t understand their work without lots of additional effort, how can we expect those without a science background to do so? This was the biggest challenge I felt my experience within this internship helped bridge. 

Each article presented a unique challenge of learning something brand new and learning all the language and nuance to a degree where I could communicate that information to others. This was by far the most challenging part of the internship, but luckily, I had a lot of help. Every week I’d write about two articles summarizing papers I had chosen on a variety of topics. Sometimes this was a pretty straightforward process, but more often the not required the aforementioned searching and struggling to understand. After I finished this, though, I’d sent my article off to my mentor and we could discuss and edit. I got a lot of really useful tips about writing, especially having another perspective on my work. I think the most helpful information I got was just trying to be simple. A lot of writing, both academic and artistic, encourages high-level vocabulary or complex ways of communicating things. Which sometimes is valuable and arguably necessary, but for accessibility is not always the best. Many of the challenges in my writing were related to this either in complex words or structure that could be easily simplified down to something else. This not only makes it easier for non-native English speakers but also maybe those who are not as familiar with academic writing or the topic to understand. It seems like such basic advice, but really being simple when appropriate is so valuable, and something writers might not consider because of the culture around writing. 

In addition to this advice, within both my written articles and the presentations, there was a general focus on how to better connect with a variety of audiences. Sometimes this meant trying to use comparisons or more ordinary language to reach others, and sometimes it meant including more of yourself or relevant applications of your work to allow the audience to engage more with the topic. This type of discussion was something I hadn’t really engaged much with and felt as if there were so many perspectives that got to share and be heard in this experience, both intern and expert alike.

Furthermore, I think it’s really important to acknowledge a lot of the direct and indirect discussion on accessibility that went on. Besides language and comprehension accessibility, there was an amazing presentation on alt text. Although I’ve heard of alt text, I never really knew how to properly put it into my work, what its true value is, and what makes good alt text. These things were touched on and discussed, and I could practice creating alt text for each of my articles. This meant describing images or graphs and really focusing on what information is being communicated through visual means, as well as how to explain that in full value to someone who is using a screen reader. For graphs, this meant describing the type of graph, variables, general structure, and any other important information. While for pictures, this meant explaining things like the perspective, the context, color, or any other important visual cues and information needed to properly create meaningful alt text. This forced me to really think about how to analyze what information is portrayed through visual means both directly and indirectly, later converting this into written information. This is going to be imperative to my future work and really opened my eyes more in terms of digital accessibility.

Overall, this internship was an extremely valuable opportunity. I not only got to engage and practice communicating challenging topics, but I also got to hear from so many perspectives and other amazing scientists. Each of the interns, presenters, and mentors all had something to contribute and expanded my view on what science communication is. Science communication isn’t just for National Geographic Writers, it’s not just for podcasts hosts, it’s something all scientists, both writing-focused and non-writing focused, should consider developing skills in. It’s in the way we describe a figure, in the way we share our findings with policymakers, it’s in the way we describe our job positions to others. Science communication is all around us, and to ineffectively communicate in science is to lessen the value of your work. This opportunity brought a lot of practice and new ideas to my writing, and I hope to continue to use these in all facets of my work in the future, as well as encourage others to think more critically about the way we communicate even if it’s not the core of their work. 

New Species of Carnivorous Plant Discovered

First record of functional underground traps in a pitcher plant: Nepenthes pudica (Nepenthaceae), a new species from North Kalimantan, Borneo

Martin Dančák, Ľuboš Majeský, Václav Čermák, Michal R. Golos, Bartosz J. Płachno, Wewin Tjiasmanto

Summarized by Michael Hallinan 

What data were used? 17 different specimens of a new species of pitcher plant (Nepenthes pudica) were examined from 5 different sites across the North Kalimantan province of Indonesia. This region is mountainous and covered with extensive rainforest.  The specimens were photographed, sampled, and then fixed in ethanol or dehydrated in preparation for further evaluation. In addition to these specimens, prey samples were also collected, including earthworms, insects, and insect larvae from inside the plants themselves. These were fixed in formaldehyde and further documented similar to the plant itself. 

Methods: The specimens went through three main stages of examination. First, the plants were photographed and compared to drawings and descriptions of other species within the genus Nepenthes. Next, the trap parts (used by the carnivorous plant to trap and collect prey) were examined under an electron microscope. Lastly, some of the traps were poured out and found to consist of insects, mites, and ticks. This content was identified and signs of digestion were documented, allowing the content to be labeled as either prey, or just organisms that live in the sediment and were unintentionally collected. 

Results: Typically the genus Nepenthes catches prey through a pitfall trap which has their prey fall into a pitcher-shaped cavity formed by a cupped leaf, where the plant then breaks them down through digestive juices. However, these traps are usually above ground or in water, with this trait only found in other genera such as Genlisea, Philcoxia, and Utricularia, though they use different entrapment strategies. The discovered species (Nepenthes pudica) features underground pitchers, where it catches and consumes prey such as mites, leaf litter-inhabiting beetles and ants. It is the first known pitcher plant species to use pitfall traps within the subterranean environment, containing traps of comparable size to the rest of the genus despite its subterranean nature. Typically, the pressure needed to form a cavity in soil is unsuitable for pitchers like these, which not only makes this find unique, but it also challenges our understanding of carnivorous plant feeding strategies.

Figure detailing four different images of the pitchers of the new species (Nepenthes pudica). The first image shows detail of the lower pitchers excavated from the soil. The second shows the lower pitchers under tree roots, while the third shows lower pitchers underneath a moss mat. Lastly, the fourth picture shows a set of lower pitchers extracted from a soil cavity. Generally the pitchers have a slightly curved opening with a fairly consistent width along the length of the pitcher. In addition, the pitchers feature a dark slightly purple red, with a green or white interior of the pitcher. Each of the pitchers is 7-11 cm in length and 3-5.5 cm in width.
Figure detailing four different images of the pitchers of the new species (Nepenthes pudica). The first image shows detail of the lower pitchers excavated from the soil. The second shows the lower pitchers under tree roots, while the third shows lower pitchers underneath a moss mat. Lastly, a set of lower pitchers extracted from a soil cavity. Each of the pitchers is 7-11 cm in length and 3-5.5 cm in width.

Why is this study important? This study is extremely important as identification is essential for protection. If we are more aware of which different species exist, we can better understand relative biodiversity as well as focus our conservation efforts. The discovery of this plant in particular allows a little bit more insight into understanding evolutionary adaptations of carnivorous plants which can potentially be applied to other plants within Indonesia’s ecosystem as well as carnivorous plants worldwide.

The big picture: 17 specimens of a new species of carnivorous plant were collected and further examined. Through a series of comparisons to known species within the genus as well as analysis of its prey and structure, it was determined to be a new species especially as a result of its unique underground traps. The traps typically seen within this genus of plants appear above ground or in water, which makes this species unique. This discovery allows us to better understand biodiversity in the region and gives us new insights into how we need to approach conservation. 

Citation:  Dančák M, Majeský Ľ, Čermák V, Golos MR, Płachno BJ, Tjiasmanto W (2022) First record of functional underground traps in a pitcher plant: Nepenthes pudica (Nepenthaceae), a new species from North Kalimantan, Borneo. PhytoKeys 201: 77-97. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.201.82872 

New Dataset of Global Evaporative Water Loss

Evaporative water loss of 1.42 million global lakes

Gang Zhao, Yao Li, Liming Zhou and Huilin Gao

Summarized by Michael Hallinan 

What data was used?  A series of geospatial data containing information on global lakes that are over 0.1 square kilometers (approximately 328 square feet) was sourced from HydroLAKES, a database centered around mapping the global freshwater. The data included a total of 1,427,688 water bodies, of which 6715 are reservoirs. In addition to this, three sets of meteorological data from TerraClimate, ERA5, and GLDAS were used to cancel bias as each dataset was developed independently through different institutes with a wide range of input sources. Lastly, a series of lake ice coverage and lake evaporation data were obtained from the Natural Snow and Ice Data Center and previous studies, respectively. 

Methods: Using the geospatial data on lakes, a series of calculations was performed to estimate potential water loss due to evaporation of lakes and reservoirs. This was performed through calculating the change in heat stored by the body of water using the density, specific heat of water, water depth, and change in water temperature. Then an estimation of lake evaporation rate was performed using vapor pressure, net radiation, change in heat, surface area, as well as wind and other environmental data. In addition to this, further data processing occurred to account for ice coverage as well as to remove biases in satellite-sourced data caused by cloud coverage.  

Results: This study created a dataset of evaporative water loss from 1958 to 2018 containing estimates of monthly evaporative loss of over 1.42 million lakes world wide. The most notable observations of this dataset are that the long-term average global lake evaporation has increased by 3.12 cubic kilometers per year in volume (roughly 0.75 cubic miles) while the average currently is 1500±150 cubic kilometers (roughly 932 cubic miles). This trend is likely a result of three main factors: Around 58% of this increase is a consequence of increased evaporation rate, 23% is caused by decreasing lake ice coverage, and 19% stems from an increase in lake surface area. In addition to this, these three factors have an identifiable pattern in their global distribution. High-latitude and high-altitude regions such as Tibetan Plateau and northern Eurasia show amplified effects of climate change on ice duration and as a result evaporation, likely having accelerated evaporation in the future.

Global map showing a ratio of lake evaporation versus total evapotranspiration (all land evaporation plus plant transpiration, with values ranging from 0% to >30%. Most of the global land surface falls into the 3% to 6% range. Much of Canada as well as some of the western regions of the United States fall into the 6% to 10% range, with some regions of Canada being in the 10% to 18% or even 18% to 30% range. The northern region of South America is predominantly between 0 and 1% while the southern hemisphere is mainly between 3% and 6% with some regions near the upper Andes Mountains having a ratio of 18 to 30%. Africa is a mix with much of the continent varying between 0 to 1% and 3 to 6% with some of the southern and north-eastern regions having ratios between 6 to 10% and even >30% near Egypt. This is globally the area with the highest ratio. Eurasia is mainly between the 0 to 1% and 1 to 3% categories with the exception of Iraq and Iran with that region having 6 to10% up to 18 to 30% ratios appear. InFinland, Europe also begins to see this same ratio increase to 6 to 10% and 10 to 18%. Lastly, Oceania is a mix of 1 to 3% and 0 to 1% with the 0 to 1% occurring on the eastern side of Australia and the majority of the island nations.
Global map showing percentage ratio of lake evaporation versus total evapotranspiration (all land evaporation plus plant transpiration).

Why is this study important? This dataset is essential to understanding global evaporative loss and the response of bodies of water to global warming. This dataset is the first of its kind to provide long-term monthly evaporation data on a global scale. This information can be used in the context of water availability estimations as well as in climate models. Although previous studies about water evaporation have been performed, many of them focused on only a few environmental parameters such as lake surface temperature, lake and river ice, or other attributes. This knowledge will be imperative in improving our overall understanding of the effects of lake evaporation

The big picture: A dataset of evaporation data comprising 1.42 million lakes from 1958 to 2018 was formed through a mixture of geospatial, meteorological, and lake ice coverage data. This dataset is the first of its kind and can be used to better understand water availability as well as water bodies’ reaction to climate change. Lastly, through this dataset it was discovered that there is an increase in water evaporation of about 3.12 cubic kilometers per year in volume (roughly 0.75 cubic miles).

Citation: Zhao, G., Li, Y., Zhou, L. et al. Evaporative water loss of 1.42 million global lakes. Nat Commun 13, 3686 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-31125-6

Climate Change Threatens Salmon Habitats within the US

Climate Change Shrinks and Fragments Salmon Habitats in a Snow-Dependent Region

Daniele Tonina, James A. McKean, Daniel Isaak, Rohan M. Benjankar, Chunling Tang, Qiuwen Chen

Summarized by Michael Hallinan

What data was used? The EAARL (Experimental Advanced Airborne Research Lidar) was used to collect the majority of the data. This machine rapidly outputs green lasers through air as well as water, which collects location and elevation when the reflection of each laser pulse is detected. This machine was used to survey Bear Valley Creek, an essential Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) spawn point located in Idaho, U.S.A. In addition to this, a series of habitat suitability curves (data expressing the ability of a species to live on observed environmental conditions) from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was also used.

Methods: The location and elevation data allowed the local topography to be mapped. A series of hydrologic models and climate models were applied to the region with this topographical data, allowing the researchers to calculate surface area, volume, and mean depth of nearby bodies of water which are essential for early salmon development. In addition to this, hydraulic data such as velocity of water, depth, and shear stress (stress from water moving downstream) was predicted using these models for the entire year. All the modeled hydrologic, topographic, and geologic data were compared to the habitat suitability curves allowing to predict the quality of potential habitats in regards to salmon sustainability and upbringing as well as the distribution and connectivity of these habitats for salmon. 

Results: Between 1957-2016 it was found that average water flow has declined by 19%, or about 3% per decade. High water flow is essential for salmon to migrate in and out of streams. In addition, the velocity of the water also showed a decrease of 17% with the largest drops occurring in areas where salmon spawning is most frequent. As a result of these changes in water movement throughout these streams, there also was a clear negative impact on habitat conditions. It was found that the suitable spawning area for the salmon has significantly decreased. It’s expected that future summer water flow will be 72% lower than previously which will result in an approximate 38% decrease in spawning habitat size. Overall, climate change has shown to generate more negative conditions for salmon spawning as well as future negative impacts on habitat distribution. This can potentially threaten the long-term health of Chinook Salmon within this region, especially as they are already challenged by overfishing, these conditions could permanently damage the population’s health.

A colored figure displaying spawning habitat quality distribution for chinook salmon when water flow is at 1 cubic meter per second. Values go from 0 to 1 with 1 being the highest quality and 0 being the lowest. The river meanders in a snake-like shape going from the north-eastern part of the map to the south-eastern part of the map. Much of the water near the banks of the river features a spawning quality of 0, detailed in red. However, the more central parts of the river bed tend to fall within the 0.5 to 0.6 range with irregularly distributed sections within the 0.9 - 1 range throughout the river. This means that spawning habitat quality is generally very low near the edge of the river and mediocre through much of the river with higher quality occurring only in the center.
Figure displays an approximately 0.5km long segment of the Bear Valley Creek. distribution of Chinook salmon spawning habitat quality when water flow is at 1 cubic meter per second. The higher the quality value the more favorable to spawning, the lower the value the less favorable for spawning.

Why is this study important? Climate change has been shown to pervasively affect life on earth for example by changes in temperatures. Although within recent decades more progress has been made on our understanding of the topic, much of the current research still focuses on stream water temperature while other hydrological conditions that may significantly impact species health remain understudied. This study looks at these deeper hydrological conditions within the northwestern U.S, specifically in the Bear Creek region of Idaho, which is essential for the larger salmon population across the country and the fishing industry that depends on them. By increasing our understanding of these conditions and the impact of climate change, we can react better and begin to remediate these changes to support salmon populations as well as the local and global economies that depend on them. 

The big picture: Climate change has negatively affected salmon health and populations within the Bear Creek region of Idaho, U.S.A. This has been identified previously, but is usually only looked at within the context of temperature changes. This study further explores hydrological data and how it affects salmon reproduction, such as flow, velocity, and water depth. A 10% decrease in suitable spawning spaces was identified when comparing the likelihood of use as well as a 17% drop in flow velocity which negatively influences migration among stream for salmon. All of these factors threaten salmon populations, however being able to identify these may allow us to better understand salmon health as well as how to react in terms of conservation.

Citation: Tonina, D., McKean, J. A., Isaak, D., Benjankar, R. M., Tang, C., & Chen, Q. (2022). Climate change shrinks and fragments salmon habitats in a snow‐dependent region. Geophysical Research Letters, 49(12). https://doi.org/10.1029/2022gl098552 

New Species of Sea Anemone Found with Symbiotic Relationship to a Hermit Crab

Carcinoecium-Forming Sea Anemone Stylobates calcifer sp. nov. (Cnidaria, Actiniaria, Actiniidae) from the Japanese Deep-Sea Floor: A Taxonomical Description with Its Ecological Observations

Akihiro Yoshikawa, Takato Izumi, Taekya Moritaki, Taeko Kimura, Kensuke Yanagi 

Summarized by Michael Hallinan 

What data were used? 16 specimens of a new species of sea anemone (Stylobatus calcifer) were collected by beam trawl from Japan’s Sea of Kumano. All specimens were collected at a depth of 100 to 400m, with 6 of them being treated with ethanol immediately for DNA extraction. Most of the others were anesthetized and treated with a variety of chemicals for structural analysis, only one was further studied through behavioral observation prior to being treated with ethanol. In addition to the sea anemones, the shells used by the sea anemones and the symbiotic host hermit crabs were identified. 

Methods: S. calcifer is a symbiotic species, it lives on the mollusc shells used by hermit crabs of the species Pagurodofleinia doederleini. The collected specimens were removed from the shells they were sitting on and dissected allowing for further analysis using different mixes of chemicals to help preserve and support the dissected parts during this series of observations. Following the visual observation, DNA was extracted from four of the specimens and compared to other species, with further comparisons to the most closely related species to analyze if the specimens found can be attributed to a new species. In addition to this qualitative data, a series of observations between one of the specimens and hermit crab were made in a seawater aquarium. These observations focused on recording the anemone’s interactions with the hermit crab, centered around the hermit crab’s shell, as well as what happened when a new shell was introduced. These observations were recorded and provided as supplementary material.

Results: S. calcifer was identified to be unique in its DNA, the shape of one of the muscles that manages openings in the anemone, direction of its mouth system, as well as the size distribution of its prey-capturing parts. However what sets it apart from previously known species even more is its symbiotic relationship and interactions with the hermit crab P. doederlein. Once the hermit crab discovered and moved into a new shell, it began to detach the sea anemone and encourage the sea anemone to transfer to the new shell through a series of pinches. There was no initial reaction from the sea anemone, but after about 43 hours from the hermit crab getting its new shell, the sea anemone has completed the transfer with it, mounting and covering the new shell. This allows the anemone to move across the seafloor by their hermit crab and collect food, while avoiding injury by being mounted on top of the shell. While symbiotic relationships between hermit crabs and sea anemones are known for over 30 other species, a hermit crab induced transfer to a new mollusc shell has never been observed until now.

A series of graphics labeled A through F that depict the various stages of the transition for the old hermit crab shell to the new hermit crab shell. (A) The hermit crab which has left its old shell and already moved into the new one begins to tap the central body of the sea anemone. (B) It uses its front claws to pinch the top of the anemone and remove the sea anemone from the old shell. (C) There is a lack of shell-mounting action from the anemone after removal. (D) The sea anemone is then flipped upside down by the crab and its center is aligned with the shell. (E) Finally it settles in on the host hermit crab’s new shell.
Behavioral sequence of the hermit crab transferring the sea anemone from the original shell to the new one. (A) The hermit crab which has left its old shell and already moved into the new one begins to tap the sea anemone. (B) It uses its front claws to pinch and remove the sea anemone from the old shell. (C) There is a lack of shell-mounting action from the anemone after removal. (D) The sea anemone is then flipped upside down by the crab and aligned with the shell . (E) Finally it settles in on the host hermit crab’s new shell.

Why is this study important? This study has expanded our understanding of taxonomy regarding sea anemones, but also provided a great observation of symbiosis between the hermit crab and anemone which not only allows us to better understand how both function but also opens the door for future research about the association between the two. All of this knowledge can better improve our ability to conserve as well as better understand relative biodiversity.

The big picture: A new species of sea anemone was discovered to have unique structural properties regarding its mouth and prey-capturing parts as well as a very unique symbiotic relationship with a hermit crab. The anemone is encouraged to transfer from shell to shell by the hermit crab. It mounts the shell inhabited by the crab as a means of transportation so it can acquire food easier. This new discovery allows us to better understand both respective organisms and their patterns but also conservation regarding both.

Citation: Yanagi, Kensuke (2022/04/01). Carcinoecium-Forming Sea Anemone Stylobates calcifer sp. nov. (Cnidaria, Actiniaria, Actiniidae) from the Japanese Deep-Sea Floor: A Taxonomical Description with Its Ecological Observations. The Biological Bulletin, 242, 127-152. doi: 10.1086/719160


Invasive Mice Pose Risk of Extinction to Albatross Species

Cryptic population decrease due to invasive species predation in a long-lived seabird supports need for eradication

Steffen Oppel, Bethany L. Clark, Michelle M. Risi, Catharine Horswill, Sarah J. Converse, Christopher W. Jones, Alexis M. Osborne, Kim Stevens, Vonica Perold, Alexander L. Bond, Ross M. Wanless, Richard Cuthbert, John Cooper, Peter G. Ryan

Summarized by Michael Hallinan

What data were used? This study uses data collected on the breeding population of Tristan Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) from 2004 to 2021 on Gough Island, in the southern Atlantic Ocean, where they almost exclusively live. All adult birds were marked and identified using metal rings for identification across annual visits during breeding season. This resulted in 4,014 albatross having encounter histories, and a very high probability that any breeding individual will have been detected if the nest had not failed early as they are faithful to their breeding sites. In addition to population metrics the number of nests per study area was recorded.

Methods: From the population size and demographic data an estimation of population trajectory, annual survival probability, and probability of returning to breeding grounds were calculated. These models were used to create population projections under three different scenarios. One scenario where mouse predation of the hatchlings did not change average breeding success and survival, one where mouse eradication lead to an increase in annual breeding success, and one where gradual increase of mouse predation decreases adult survival by 10%

Results: Generally, between 2004 and 2021 albatross breeding pairs didn’t seem to decrease statistically significantly. However, when also considering immature and non-breeding birds there was a detectable decrease in the global population of ~1% per year. Since albatross survival was quite high, this long-term decrease seems to be explained by low breeding success which is later investigated in the three scenario projections. Within these projections, under scenario A (where mouse predation stayed the same) the population steadily declined up through the model. Under scenario B (where successful mouse eradication occurred) the albatross population experienced an increase to 1.8-7.6 times its current size by 2050. Lastly, under scenario C (where no mouse eradication occurred and impacts worsened) the population declined significantly by 2050 with less than 2000 birds remaining.  

A shaded range line graph which presents observed breeding population and estimated total population from 2005 to 2021, as well as modeled total populations from 2021 to 2050. Breeding populations were consistently between 2000 individuals and 4000 individuals for this period with little variation outside of this range. The estimated total population however, begins at about 10000 individuals in 2005 and steadily decreases with some plateaus and peaks till about 8000 individuals in 2021. In addition, this graph then presents modeled data from 2021 to 2050 of each of the three scenarios. In scenario A (where no change occurs) the median population declines steadily from about 8000 to a little under 7000 individuals by 2050. In scenario B (where mice are successfully eradicated) the population experiences a median population increase up to just under 10000 individuals by 2050 but estimation errors result in a very wide credible interval which ranges from as high as approximately 17000 to a little under 8000 individuals in 2050. Lastly, in scenario C (where mice population increases and no eradication occurs) the median estimated population falls under 2000 individuals plus or minus 1000 by 2050.
This diagram shows observed population size on Gough Island between 2004 and 2021 (all data left of the dashed vertical line) where the black data points and regression represent the breeding population and the green line represents total estimated population size including unobservable immature and non-breeding birds.The three lines and intervals shown to the right side of the dashed line present the three scenarios through 2050. The lines represent the median values and the shading represents the 95% credible interval.

Why is this study important? The Tristan Albatross is classified as critically endangered based on a previous demographic analysis, finding that the species might go extinct within 30 years. This study creates a better projection for albatross population health under the three scenarios, which allows for significantly improved conservation efforts and a data-based sense of urgency regarding their conservation. 

The big picture: A series of Albatross population health and nest quantity data from 2004 to 2021 was recorded. It was used to model future population health development among three different scenarios regarding invasive mice predation on the albatross chicks. One where mice predation stayed the same, one where it got worse, and one where the mice were successfully being eradicated leading to increased albatross breeding successes.  If the mice were to be eradicated, albatross populations could experience a significant increase by 2050 with a population of up to 7.6 times today’s size. 

Citation: Ryan, Peter G. (2022/06/18). Cryptic population decrease due to invasive species predation in a long-lived seabird supports need for eradication. Journal of Applied Ecology, n/a, -. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.14218

44% of Earth’s land surface must receive conservation attention to stop the biodiversity crisis

The minimum land area requiring conservation attention to safeguard biodiversity

James R. Allan, Hugh P. Possingham, Scott C. Atkinson, Anthony Waldron, Moreno Di Marco, Stuart H.M. Butchart, Vanessa M. Adams, W. Daniel Kissling, Thomas Worsdell, Chris Sandbrook, Gwill Gibbon, Kundan Kumar, Piyush Mehta, Martine Maron, Brooke A. Williams, Kendall R. Jones, Brendan A. Wintle, April E. Reside, James E. M. Watson. 

Summarized by Michael Hallinan

What data were used? No new data was generated for this study, instead already existing data from different sources was combined in a new way. Spatial data about existing protected areas, key biodiversity areas, and ecologically intact areas was taken from the World Database on Protected Areas from February 2020 and 2017. In addition, data from the September 2019 version of the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas was used, as well as animal distribution data from IUCN Red List and the BirdLife International Handbook. All this data was then merged to create an existing guide to important conservation areas as well as biodiversity. This is necessary to determine the existing species health and eventually predict future species health.

Methods: Using the animal distribution data, targets were set for what percentage needs to be conserved based on the range and quantity of each of the groups such as freshwater crabs, terrestrial mammals, and birds. Following this, an analysis on each species range and the determined important conservation areas was performed to identify what additional range may be needed as well as a potential lack of species in those areas. Then, a series of optimization analyses was performed on 30 x 30 km land units to determine which land would need to be conserved to reach those targets. Factors like cost, historical inquiry, human development, and the inability to perform agriculture as a result of conservation were also estimated. Finally, after all these considerations, potential areas for future conservation efforts were identified and outlined as different components. There are four components: Protected areas, which are areas outlined for general conservation; Key Biodiverse areas, which is land labeled for conservation of specific biodiversity; Ecologically Intact communities are ecological land which contain all the expected species within the ecosystem; and Conservation Priorities, which is land that requires conservation attention.

Results: Ultimately, the study estimates that the minimum land area that needs conservation attention to safeguard biodiversity is 64.7 million square kilometers (~24.9 million square miles), or roughly 44% of Earth’s terrestrial area. This 64.7 million comprises 35.1 million km of ecologically intact areas, 20.5 million of already existing protected areas, 11.6 million of key biodiversity areas, and 12.4 million km of additional land needed to promote species wellness in the smallest range possible. As for specific regions, this means 64% of the land in North America, and at least 33.1% of Europe’s land needs to be protected.

In addition to these spatial statistics, it’s also found that currently 1.87 billion people live on land that needs conservation attention, or approximately 24% of the world’s population with Africa, Asia, and Central America being the most affected due to high population density.  Approximately 55% of this land is located in developed economies such as Canada or Germany. As for the animal targets themselves, amphibians, reptiles, and freshwater animals were found to be below even half the target population . On the other hand, birds and mammals were found to be between 50 and 75% of the target population.

A map of the world, where terrestrial land is marked with protected areas, key biodiversity areas, ecologically intact areas, and additional conservation priorities identified. North America features many areas of key biodiversity with much of the United States being labeled as additional conservation priorities, specifically along the coast and the south-east. Canada is overwhelmingly labeled as ecologically intact with some already protected areas and some key biodiversity areas. Central America is heavily labeled as in need of conservation priorities with a relatively-high quantity of key biodiversity areas. South America consists of heavily protected areas in the Amazonas with many areas of additional conservation priorities along the coasts, and some key biodiversity areas. Large parts of identified areas in Europe are already protected, with some new conservation priorities near coastal regions and eastern Europe such as Belarus. Africa is mainly ecologically intact with the Sahara desert in the north, anda diverse mixture of protected areas, additional conservation priority areas, and key biodiversity areas across the whole continent. Next, Oceania has a large quantity comprising mostly protected areas and ecologically intact areas in central Australia with additional conservation priorities identified around the coast and neighboring island nations. Lastly, Asia is heavily ecologically intact towards the northern part of Russia, and becomes a mixture of protected areas, ecologically intact, and a heavy quantity of conservation priority areas as you go from the southern part of Russia through the rest of the continent. It’s also notable that China contains a large amount of the protected areas in the Himalayas.
This graph shows the protected areas (light blue), Key Biodiversity Areas (purple), and ecologically intact areas (dark blue), as well as new conservation priorities (green). The Venn Diagram to the left shows proportional overlap between features, showing that the majority of both the ecologically intact areas as well as the key biodiversity areas are currently not yet protected.

Why is this study important?: Land loss and conversion is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity. As climate change increases and human development expands, plants and animals become increasingly threatened and infringed upon leading to potential permanent damage, loss of life, and possibly even extinction. By performing studies like these, we can identify what areas are especially valuable, create action plans to remediate damage and support existing animal biodiversity.

This study identifies not only the amount of land needed, but also suggests where specific conservation attention needs to be focussed, as well as economic and social considerations that should be taken into account. In addition it needs to be kept in mind that historically, some conservation actions have adversely affected Indigienous people, Afro-descendants, and other local communities such as forcible removal of native populations off land in the name of conservation. By considering all of the social, economic, scientific, and historical factors that affect this issue, we can support the world around us better. 

The Big Picture: To safeguard biodiversity throughout future years, conservation attention needs to be given to an estimated minimum of 64.7 million square kilometers or roughly 44% of the Earth’s terrestrial land. This was estimated through mapping and data analysis of existing protected areas and existing species distribution data, which was then viewed on a global scale. Amphibians, reptiles, and freshwater animals are the furthest from the targets they need to meet to survive in the long run.The majority of the land which needs the most conservation efforts appears in developed nations. 

Citation: Allan, J.R., Possingham, H.P., Atkinson, S.C., Waldron, A., Di Marco, M., Butchart, S.H., Adams, V.M., Kissling, W.D., Worsdell, T., Sandbrook, C. and Gibbon, G., 2022. The minimum land area requiring conservation attention to safeguard biodiversity. Science376(6597), pp.1094-1101.

Climate Change Very Likely to Slow Plant Growth in Northern Hemisphere

Future reversal of warming-enhanced vegetation productivity in the Northern Hemisphere

By: Yichen Zhang, Shillong Piao, Yan Sun, Brendan M. Rogers, Xiangyi Li, Xu Lian, Zhihua Liu, Anping Chen, Josep Peñuelas

Summarized by: Michael Hallinan

What data were used? No new data was generated for this study, instead existing data from different sources was used and combined. The majority of the data used in this study comes from FLUXCOM, an initiative that uses satellite remote sensing, meteorological data, and site level observations at a global scale. In addition, data was also sourced from the World Climate Research Program, including from a variety of contributors such as the Canadian Center for Climate Modeling and Analysis and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. Information on temperature, precipitation, surface downwelling shortwave radiation, maximum near-surface air temperature, and total influx of carbon into an ecosystem were used.

Methods: An earth climate model was created using the relationship between surface air temperature, summer carbon influx, precipitation, and surface downwelling radiation for the Northern Hemisphere. This model featured a moving 20-year window from 2001-2020 all the way to 2081-2100. Then using this model, analysis on carbon influx and surface air temperature was performed to generate a predictive model for temperature. From here, bias corrections were applied using observed data from 2001 to 2013 to help correct the model. Finally, projected temperatures were then compared to the historically observed optimal temperature for vegetation productivity. 

Results: Through this study it was discovered that there is a positive correlation between carbon fixation during summer and temperatures, although the correlation becomes negative at lower latitudes, specifically less than 45 degrees North, which could be a result of water deficits. Furthermore, it was also seen that about 48% of Northern vegetative land will see a significant decrease in the quantity of carbon fixed as a result of warming by 2060. Most regions will also experience a reduction in vegetative productivity as early as 2030-2070. This development will likely not reach the northern regions prior to the end of the modeled time frame (2100). However, in the worst case scenario most latitudes south of 50 degrees north such as much of the temperate United States, Asia, and the equatorial regions of Africa and South America were affected. It is important to note that study does not account for any of the southern hemisphere. 

A model of the earth, showing when temperature increase will begin to have a net negative effect on vegetative growth. Much of the northern hemisphere below 50 degrees north experiences this in 2030 or earlier. Slightly north of those regions the estimate is closer to 2070, with regions near the Artic and Tibetan Plateau not experiencing this till the end of the modeled time frame of 2100.
Map identifying the worst case scenarios climate model, showing timing of when temperature increase will begin to have a net negative effect on vegetative growth.

Why is the study important?: Climate change includes an increase in temperatures, which has caused an increase in vegetation productivity in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere since 1980. However, as climate change has begun to speed up, the positive benefits are estimated to change into a net negative effect on growth as temperature increases further. This study delves further into this idea and creates estimates based on different regions of when that will occur. This in turn can allow for preparedness, such as advancement of remediation plans to help us offset the negative effects of extreme temperatures on plant growth. 

The Big Picture: Vegetation is essential for agriculture, ecosystem balance, and general quality of life, so understanding the potential threat this aspect of climate change holds is essential for long-term sustainability and survival. Climate change has had a positive influence on plant growth in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere as early as 1980. However, this study has shown a shift in this to being a net negative influence as early as 2030 especially in regions below 50 degrees North. Regions closer to the Arctic and Tibetan Plateau are much less (or much slower) affected though, with a worst-case scenario not showing a tipping point prior to 2100 when net negative effects occur. Using these estimates, we can plan for this decrease in vegetative productivity as well as try to adapt and mitigate to minimize future negative impacts induced by the temperature increase.

Citation: Zhang, Y., Piao, S., Sun, Y. et al. Future reversal of warming-enhanced vegetation productivity in the Northern Hemisphere. Nat. Clim. Chang. 12, 581–586 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01374-w

Identifying new-found Complexities in Chimpanzee Communication

Chimpanzees produce diverse vocal sequences with ordered and recombinatorial properties

Cédric Girard-Buttoz, Emiliano Zaccarella, Tatiana Bortolato, Angela D. Friederici, Roman M. Wittig, and Catherine Crockford

Summarized by Michael Hallinan

What data were used? This study uses 4826 recordings of 46 wild adult chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) from Tai National Park located in Ivory Coast, West Africa. The chimpanzees recorded were fully accustomed to human observers, and comprised three different chimpanzee communities. These observations were performed by focusing on each of the 46 chimpanzees individually and continuously recording throughout January and February of 2019 as well as December 2019 to March 2020.

Methods: These recordings were classified by trained listeners into Grunts, Hoos, Barks, and Screams with variation on the sounds being panted or unpanted, meaning that they were either emitted singly (unpanted) or released as a string of sounds with audible breaths in between (panted). In addition to type classification, other information such as frequency level, noisiness, and occurrence were also collected. Each call was examined to identify which sounds occurred in association with other sounds or by itself. The data was analyzed to answer the following research questions: First, is there flexibility, can most sounds or calls used be combined with most others? (Can A, B, C, be AB, CB, BA, etc.?) Second, is there a specific ordering? (Does AB mean the same as BA?) Lastly, can short sequences be combined  into longer sequences? (Can AB occur as ABC, or can AB and CD occur as ABCD?)

Results: Initially, there were slightly over 400 sound units identified suggesting nearly 400 “words” within their vocabulary. It was found that chimpanzees could flexibly combine as well as recombine single units across those identified, with 11 out of the 12 single unit sounds also appearing in sequences together with 4-9 other sounds. Many of the single-unit calls could be emitted within two-unit calls and two-unit calls could be added to another unit to produce three-unit calls. Additionally, 52.6% of all two unit calls were produced reversed and forwards at least once (BA and AB) with 57% of the tested two unit calls showing bias for appearing in a certain order. Although some of the single units could appear at the beginning or end of calls, there generally was bias suggesting a more complex grammatical structure and ordering pattern. That being said though, to identify a more complex grammar structure and how that could be used to understand meaning, more research needs to be done. 

A bar chart with length of speech units displayed across the x-axis and number of recordings the units appeared in on the y-axis in a log scale. The frequency of sounds recorded decreases as the unit length of the sounds increases, with the exception of single-unit panted sounds, which appears slightly less frequent then two-unit sounds. Once the units reach a length of 7 units, only females are recorded making sounds of these lengths up till 10 units. Generally, 1 through 4 unit length sounds appear very frequently with over 40 appearing, until it drops off to 32 at 5 units, 20 at 6 units, 10 at 7 units, and finally 4 at 8 units, and 2 for 9 and 10 units.
This bar graph shows the number of different utterances, with the number of units in each utterance displayed across the x axis, while the y axis shows the number of recordings on a log scale. The number of individuals using the unit at each length appears on top of each individual bar. The dark blue bars represent male and female generated sounds and the light blue bars represent only female-generated sounds. Last, the red box indicates the data used for two-unit analysis and the yellow box for three-unit analysis.

Why is this study important? Language is one of the biggest challenges in evolutionary science. Although different species such as certain types of birds, non-human primates and bats have been identified to have specific sound sets used to communicate, there is a huge limitation to our understanding of its development since what we know as language can not be fossilized. Comparative studies like this are therefore our main resource for understanding language and how it has evolved throughout time. This study reveals that primate language is more complex than we previously thought it was, showing more complex structures, and therefore has the potential to convey more meaning and more intricate speech. 

The Big Picture: Chimpanzees have been identified to produce and order sounds using a more complex grammatical structure than previously thought. This was observed through multiple sound units being combined together in patterns beyond random chance, in multiple fashions with bias towards certain structures. Although we don’t understand the content of their sounds, this reveals a more complex nature to their communication and with more research we might be able to potentially decipher their meaning. 

Citation: Girard-Buttoz, C., Zaccarella, E., Bortolato, T. et al. Chimpanzees produce diverse vocal sequences with ordered and recombinatorial properties. Commun Biol 5, 410 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-022-03350-8

Michael Hallinan, Undergraduate Student

Tell us a bit about yourself. 
My name is Michael Hallinan, and I am currently an undergraduate student at Colorado School of Mines studying for a B.S. in Quantitative Bioscience and Engineering. Although I love science, I am also super passionate about painting, music, and esports! I have a huge fixation on international music and love to analyze the relationships between globalization and culture the same way I enjoy analyzing ecological relationships.

Person wearing a grey cap and yellow jacket in the foreground. In the background, there are tan rocks and mountains in the distance.
Hiking through the arches of Arches National Park, within Moab, Utah.

What kind of scientist are you, what do you do, and how does it benefit society?
My current focus in science is predominantly in biology, with an emphasis on computational methods to model and analyze biological data. While I’m still learning and progressing through my bachelor’s, my goal is to enter research regarding biotechnology and sustainability, with an emphasis on communication and making science more accessible to policy-makers and the general public. Information is one of the most powerful and freeing tools we can have as people, and my work will encourage solutions to our rapidly expanding sustainability issues as well encourage more people to engage with science. My most recent work was centered around investigating the power insecurity in Puerto Rico as a result of the hurricanes across the last decade, including educating and communicating the geopolitical landscape and data through various presentations.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the longest. I’ve had so many passions and was originally lined up to pursue a degree in the arts after winning an art award through the United States Congress. However, throughout secondary school, I was introduced to the concept of genetic modification and was completely fascinated by the potential of humans to understand and improve the world around us through genome editing. Soon after, I heard about the brand new Quantitative Bioscience program at Colorado School of Mines and just knew it was the perfect fit as I entered college.

As for my favorite part of being a scientist, it’s simply how what you learn begins to explain so much of the world around you. Whether it’s something as simple as the basics of plant growth or as complicated as the inner workings of recombinant DNA, all the information you learn helps you better engage with, understand, and appreciate the world around you.

A self-portrait, with a person with dark hair, red lips, and gold eyes against a background of varying shades of grey.
“Fragmentum” – The award-winning piece mentioned, a self-portrait investigating identity and how we present ourselves to the world.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming scientists?
My best advice is to not be afraid of not knowing. So often I used to be scared of what people would think about me asking certain questions or I wouldn’t want to do things because I wasn’t fully comfortable. I wouldn’t ask questions in lecture or I wouldn’t take a guess if I was not totally certain. Asking questions and engaging with what is uncomfortable is some of the best ways to learn and develop your capabilities both as a scientist, but also as a person. In my own experience, I have learned so much more from situations where I was uncomfortable. Taking the time to talk to those who know more than you lets you learn, grow, and even build up your network. So, take that opportunity you’re unsure of, ask your “dumb” question, be unafraid!