Understanding Biodiversity
Understanding Biodiversity

Understanding Biodiversity

Biology is the study of life, and what could be more important than that? When scientists study the variety of that life – called biodiversity – they can use tools from ecology, evolution, conservation, genetics, and even the management of our natural resources. They find and describe new species, explore uncharted ecosystems, study how and why species change, investigate patterns in where and when species live, and study processes that make it possible for an ecosystem to survive or thrive. This section of Frontiers for Young Minds will include articles that describe, explore, and explain biological diversity on Earth – past, present, and future. From paleontology to botany to zoology (all animals big and small, from elephants to microbes), articles will address how living things adapt, change, and use or influence each other. Understanding Biodiversity wants to provide an opportunity for the next generation to understand the processes that have helped create this biological diversity, so that they are prepared to protect and sustain a biodiverse planet into the future.

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New Discovery

Human Disturbances Might Cause Dangerous Gas Bubbles to Form in Deep-Diving Whales

Whales have evolved for millions of year for a life in the ocean, and breath-hold dive to obtain food. As air breathing mammals they have to return to the surface to replenish the oxygen used for metabolism. However, the air in the lungs also contains nitrogen, a gas that is taken up but not used by the body. As the whale dives the pressure increases and more nitrogen is taken up as the pressure increases the number of gas molecules that can enter the liquid, called solubility of gases. When the whale returns to the surface and the pressure is decreasing the solubility decreases and the gas is returned to the lungs. If the whale spends too much time in the zone where nitrogen is taken up at elevated pressure, bubbles may form during ascent similar to what happens when you open a soda bottle. The bubbles can cause many different problems inside the body and even cause death. Whales normally do not experience bubbles that cause problems. In recent years scientists have discovered that when whales are disturbed by humans their dive behavior or physiology may change in ways that increase the risk of formation of bubbles that could cause trauma and even death. A better understanding of the mechanism how the behavior and physiology may cause bubbles may help scientist develop tools that can prevent these problems in whales.

Authors

Andreas Fahlman / Peter Lloyd Tyack / Patrick James O’Malley Miller / Petter H. Kvadsheim
Reviewed by Nadya
Reviewed by Carolyn
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Core Concept

There Is More to Corn than Popcorn and Corn on the Cob!

Corn or maize (Zea mays subsp. mays) is a versatile plant that is part of the grass family or Poaceae. Corn was domesticated in what is now Mexico around 6000 years ago, from a weed called teosinte. While corn and teosinte share many features, the “cob” present in corn is a unique type of spike where many grains or kernels are inserted. Some of the most notable differences between teosinte and corn are due to the human selection of mutant variants of teosinte in a handful of genes. While corn is dependent in human assistance for its survival, many Pre-Columbian civilizations relied on it for their nutrition. Nowadays, corn continues to be one of the most important grain crops in the world and a central part of the diet of many people. In some cases it is used as an additive, and in some places like Mexico, Central America, Colombia and some African countries, as the central component of their cuisine. Such diverse cuisine relies, in turn, on the use of hundreds of different maize landraces, which have different agronomic needs as well as color, size and flavor. In the American continent, landraces are kept and actively selected upon by peasants. These landraces and the agroecological systems they are grown in are a fundamental reservoir of genetic diversity that needs to be acknowledged and protected, in the midst of environmental uncertainty derived from climate change.

Authors

Alma Piñeyro-Nelson / Daniela Sosa-Peredo / Emmanuel González-Ortega / Elena R. Álvarez-Buylla
Reviewed by Maria
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New Discovery

Thriving Microbial Life in Ancient Groundwater Deep Inside Earth’s Crust

Did you know that earth beneath your feet is teeming with life? Imagine yourself standing outside. If you start digging, beneath a variable amount of soil you will eventually hit hard rock that is the bedrock forming the Earths crust. Even this seemingly solid material has cracks and pores that contain groundwater, and where there is water, there can be life. Tiny, single-celled creatures called microbes survive and thrive in many environments on Earth that are inhospitable for all other life forms. This is the case also with deep bedrock, where only microbial life is possible. As sunlight and plant-produced substrates are not available in this environment, microbes have to use chemical compounds for their energy and carbon sources. In this study, we wanted to investigate the preferred food for microbes living in the deep subsurface. We discovered that hydrogen is an important energy source for deep microbes, and the microbial communities are prone to change to be able to survive in prevailing environmental conditions.

Authors

Lotta Purkamo
Reviewed by Matías
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Core Concept

How Do Plants Deal with Dry Days?

Plants regularly face dry conditions. Not having enough water poses a serious threat to a plant’s ability to grow and develop or even just survive! If plants die we will not have enough food to eat! How do plants manage to survive during water shortages? They must somehow be able to sense, respond and adapt to changes is water availability. They do this through a range of adaptations that allow for a plant to combat water shortages. A plant’s morphological armour is mainly focused on decreasing water loss and increasing water storage. Their physiological and biochemical responses however are very complex. These can include changes regulating their actual growth and the ability to protect themselves against toxic compounds accumulating during dry periods. Inevitably all of their responses are directly controlled by the plant’s genes. If we can unravel the genetic code involved in protecting plants against drought we might in the future make genetically modified crops that can withstand global warming and climate changes.

Authors

Christell van der Vyver / Shaun Peters
Reviewed by Hana
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New Discovery

Invasion of the Chinese Pond Mussels—What Makes These Harmless-Looking Animals So Dangerous?

Imagine what you would do if someone transferred you far away from your home to a completely unknown and unfamiliar place? Guess you would do your best to stay alive. In the same way any living being, such as an animal or a plant, would react. And so far this has happened to many of them because people transported them, knowingly or unknowingly. Some of those living beings started to like their new home so much that they spread all around and while doing so, they endangered “native” inhabitants. Because of that, they are considered dangerous and are scientifically called “invasive species.” One of them is the Chinese pond mussel. Scientists still don't understand what makes this seemingly harmless animal turn into a dangerous villain? So, we created a scientific experiment to find out!

Authors

Ivana Babić / Sandra Hudina / Ana Bielen
Reviewed by Tess
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New Discovery

What Thrives Inside; The World Within the Gut

We all have bacteria in our guts, and so do birds. These bacteria are good for us in many ways, and help to digest food. We often see similar groups of bacteria in the guts of related animals. But it’s not clear why this is. It could be because of the food each animal is eating, or how similar the animals are. It could even be a result of how closely together they live. We performed an experiment to try to work out which one was the cause but the results were not as simple as we hoped. Here, we explain the steps we took to try to answer this question.

Authors

David W. Waite / Siân I. Morgan-Waite / Michael W. Taylor
Reviewed by Brian
Reviewed by Elsa
Reviewed by Yoonsa
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New Discovery

“Where Did My Friends Go?”: How Corn’s Microbe Partners Have Changed Over Time

Many of the foods we eat today look very different than they did in the past. Corn, or maize, didn’t exist ten thousand years ago: it descended from a weedy grass with tiny hard-shelled seeds that we wouldn’t recognize as corn kernels. That wild ancestor of corn, teosinte, grew in mixtures of many other plants instead of in cornfields like today. Big changes between teosinte and corn that we can see aboveground lead us to think that there have been changes belowground, too. Plants form partnerships with bacteria and fungi to get nutrients that they need to grow. Scientists are finding that microbes near the roots of teosinte are different than microbes that live around corn roots. Understanding how corn’s microbe partners have changed can help us make corn varieties that are better for the environment.

Authors

Jennifer E. Schmidt / Amélie C. M. Gaudin
Reviewed by Wish Bilingual School
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Core Concept

Don’t Judge a Plant by Its Flowers

You may have noticed the diversity of plants in your own backyard or neighborhood and you may even have heard of the concept of evolution. But have you ever wondered what forces have contributed to creating the biodiversity of plants with different shapes and colors all over the world? Or how scientists hope to understand and explain how this biodiversity came to be over millions of years? Using a mysterious case of look-alike flowers living on opposite sides of an ocean, we will discuss the way researchers piece together evolutionary histories by using plant DNA and the knowledge of what plants look like today. Let’s build a scientific time machine and solve the mystery!

Authors

Riva Anne Bruenn / Valerie Lavenburg / Shayla Salzman
Reviewed by Krishna
Reviewed by Darius
Reviewed by Wyatt
Reviewed by Schuyler
Reviewed by Sybille
Reviewed by Paceyn
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