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The Palmer lab’s latest contribution, recently published in Science,
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
provides a powerful example of how predators shape the landscapes in which they live. We showed that predators such as African wild dogs and leopards create a "landscape of fear", which determines where herbivores like impala congregate to feed on plants. And where those impala do and do not go has a strong impact on the types of plants you find in different areas. In "scary" areas, lower herbivory allows for less defended plants to predominate. In contrast, in areas of lower predation risk where herbivory is high, better defended and more thorny plants predominate. Thus, predators make savannas less thorny, suggesting that the current declines in predators worldwide can have dramatic and unanticipated consequences for ecosystems.
Read Juliet Pulliam and colleagues' latest paper in Lancet to learn about a critical, underexplored aspect of Ebola virus.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Some people clearly have been infected with Ebola, yet do not get sick. However, it is not currently known whether individuals who are infected without getting sick are immune to reinfection and disease. If they are, then this observation has important implications both for being able to predict the scope of the epidemic, and for treatment. For example, if asymptomatic people are immune, then they could be recruited to be care providers. Recovered asymptomatic people could also be the source of life-saving transfusions. Despite these important implications, infected people who don’t develop symptoms are neglected in epidemiological models and in studies of immunity. The article by Bellan et al. is a call to action.
Meiotic sex ratio variation in natural populations of Ceratodon purpureus (Ditrichaceae)
Thursday, October 09, 2014
A couple having children can usually expect that they have an even chance of having a boy or a girl. This is generally true in animals, and even plants, where the sex of an offspring is controlled by the inheritance of a sex chromosome. However, this is not always the case. Tatum Norrell, a 2013 graduate of UF, and Assistant Professor Stuart McDaniel set out to test whether a sex ratio bias could be introduced at meiosis. In the September issue of the American Journal of Botany (http://www.amjbot.org/content/101/9/
1572.abstract?etoc), they report that spores from fire moss (Ceratodon purpureus) already show unequal numbers of males and females. What’s more, the biases were common, but favored both male and female spores to varying degrees. What is behind the unequal numbers of male and female offspring? Competition for nutrients from mom or for space to grow later in life may favor fratricidal genotypes that act at meiosis. Although the sexes must cooperate during much of their life, the study by Norrell and McDaniel shows that both males and females may adopt unsavory strategies at the cellular level in the struggle to pass genes on to the next generation.
A Misleading Name Reduces Marketability of a Healthful and Stimulating Natural Product
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
In an article published online in Economic Botany, undergraduate researcher Alisha Wainwright and Francis E. Putz from the Department of Biology report the results of a taste test comparing tea brewed from a common plant native to Florida (yaupon holly) with its close relative from South America, yerba mate. Through the 1800s, yaupon was a commonly consumed beverage throughout the South, and was exported to Europe often under the trade names of “Appalachina” and “Carolina tea.” More than 1000 years ago, yaupon was an important trade good enjoyed as far north as Cahokia in what is now the state of Illinois. Today, in contrast, yaupon goes unrecognized by most tea drinkers while yerba mate imports into the USA amount to millions of dollars per year. In a “blind” taste test conducted by Wainwright as part of her senior thesis research, yaupon was preferred over yerba mate even by frequent drinkers of the latter. One reason for the disregard of yaupon was revealed by her study. Although yaupon and yerba mate are equally high in caffeine and anti-oxidants, the scientific name of yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) caused participants to be leery of buying it, even though research indicates that yaupon is no more emetic than Ceylon tea, coffee, or cola drinks. Experience yaupon tea for yourself! Leaves can be harvested from pesticide-free ornamental shrubs or from wild plants growing in forest understories throughout the South.
Wildlife corridors sometimes help invasive species spread, UF research finds
Monday, August 18, 2014
In a classic example of the law of unintended consequences, new University of Florida research suggests that wildlife corridors – strips of natural land created to reconnect habitats separated by agriculture or human activities -- can sometimes encourage the spread of invasive species such as one type of fire ant.
The findings are particularly important in Florida, where invasive species are a vexing problem. The Sunshine State plays host to animals such as Cuban tree frogs, green iguanas and feral hogs. In 2013, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission even sponsored a Burmese python hunting challenge.
The discovery also comes as a team of explorers prepares to embark this fall on its second 1,000-mile expedition to raise support for the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The organization’s goal is to create a corridor stretching from Everglades National Park to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia.
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