Search Current Data Nuggets

Below, you will find a table of all the Data Nugget activities. Click on the Title to open a page displaying the teacher guide, student activities, grading rubric, and associated resources. The table can be sorted using the arrows located next to each column header. It can also be searched by content area using the search bar, located to the top right of the table.

Below the table, Data Nuggets are placed on a map to help you search for research conducted in your local area!

 TitleKeywordsSummaryContent LevelStudy Location
DSC_0060Won’t you be my urchin?coral reef, herbivory, marine, sea urchin, water, animals, competitionCorals are the most important reef animals since they build the reef for all of the other animals to live in. But corals only like to live in certain places. In particular they hate living near algae because the algae and coral compete for the space they both need to grow. Perhaps if there are more vegetarians, like urchins, eating algae on the reef then corals would have less competition and more space to grow.1Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Texas
DSC_0060Coral bleaching and climate changeclimate change, coral reef, marine, mutualism, temperature, animals, algae, adaptation, evolutionCorals are animals that build coral reefs. They look brown and green because they have small plants, called algae, that live inside them. The coral animal and the algae work together to produce food so that corals can grow big. When the water gets too warm, sometimes the coral and algae can no longer work together. The algae leave and the corals turn white, called coral bleaching. Scientists want to study coral bleaching so they can protect corals and the reefs that provide a home for so many different species.1Florida Keys, Florida
Corals in a strange placeadaptation, coral reef, mangrove, morphologyWhen you picture coral, you might imagine beautiful reef structures with clear water and colorful corals and fishes. But, there are actually corals that live in other habitats as well! Does the same species of coral look different depending on where it lives?2Belize
pcare2Raising Nemo: Parental care in the clown anemonefishanimals, behavior, coral reef, ecology, fish, marine, mating, tradeoff, plasticityOffspring in many animal species rely on parental care; the more time and energy parents invest in their young, the more likely it is that their offspring will survive. However, parental care is costly for the parents. The more time spent on care, the less time they have to find food or care for themselves. In the clown anemonefish, the amount of food available may impact parental care behaviors. When there is food freely available in the environment, are parents able to spend more time caring for their young?3Boston University, Massachusetts
Buried seeds, buried treasuregermination, long-term, plants, seed bank, seed viabilityOver 100 years ago, a scientist named William J. Beal had a question: how long do seeds survive underground? He started an experiment by filling 20 bottles with seeds from 50 plant species, buried them on campus, and creating a map to find them in the future. This map have been passed down from scientist generation to generation. The most recent bottle was dug up in 2021, and scientists tested how many seeds were still able to germinate after 142 years underground.2Michigan State University
Getting to the roots of serpentine soilsoil, plasticity, limiting factors, plants, ecologyWhen an organism grows in different environments, some traits change to fit the conditions. Serpentine soils have high amounts of toxic heavy metals, do not hold water well, and have low nutrient levels. Low levels of water and nutrients found in serpentine soils limit plant growth. Because serpentine soils have fewer plant nutrients and are drier than non-serpentine soils, Alexandria thought that plants growing in serpentine soils may not invest as much into large root systems.2University of Miami, Florida
These are two different experimental plots within the large field experiment at Konza Prairie Biological Station. The one with lots of trees is an unburned plot, the one with lots of grass is a burned plot.Fertilizer and fire change microbes in prairie soilbiodiversity, diversity, grassland, microbes, plants, prairie, soilPrairies grow where three environmental conditions come together – a variable climate, frequent fires, and large herbivores roaming the landscape. However, prairies are experiencing many changes. For example, people now work to prevent fires, which allows forest species take over. In addition, land previously covered in prairie is now being used for agriculture. How do these changes affect the plants, animals, and microbial communities that inhabit prairies?4Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas
City parks: wildlife islands in a sea of cementanimals, biodiversity, ecology, urban, island biogeography, parksIt's tempting to think that wild places are only somewhere "out there", far away from humans and cities. However, as more and more people move into cities, they are quickly becoming the main place where many people experience nature and interact with wildlife. A camera-trapping project in the Cleveland Metroparks reveals a vast urban wilderness that is home to countless wild creatures living among us.3Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio
Candid camera: capturing the secret lives of carnivoresanimals, biodiversity, carnivores, ecology, island biogeographyCarnivores captivate people’s interest for many reasons – they are charismatic, stealthy, and can be dangerous. Not only are they fascinating, they’re also ecologically important. Carnivores help keep prey populations in balance. While they are important, they are also difficult to monitor.3Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Picky eaters: dissecting poo to examine moose dietsanimal behavior, animals, ecology, foraging, herbivory, national park, predator-preySince wolves have disappeared from Isle Royale, moose populations have exploded. Moose are important herbivores, and with so many on the island they are having strong impacts on the island's plant communities. Do moose just eat any plant they find, or do they have a preference for certain types?3Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Deadly windowsanimals, behavior, birds, environmental, urbanGlass makes for a great windowpane because you can see right through it. However, this makes windows very dangerous for birds. Many birds die from window collisions in urban areas. In North America window collisions kill up to 1 billion birds every year! Perhaps local urban birds are able to learn the locations of windows and avoid collisions. By comparing window collisions by local birds to those of migrant birds just passing through, we can determine if local birds have learned to deal with this challenge.2Virginia Zoological Park, Virginia
Bringing back the Trumpeter Swananimals, biodiversity, birds, ecology, environmental, restorationTrumpeter swans are the biggest native waterfowl species in North America. At one time they were found across North America, but by 1935 there were only 69 known individuals in the continental U.S.! In the 1980s, many biologists came together to create a Trumpeter Swan reintroduction plan. Since then the North American Trumpeter Swan survey has been conducted to measure swan populations and determine whether this species is recovering.3Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, Michigan
DSC_0060The birds of Hubbard Brook, Part Ianimals, biodiversity, birds, climate change, succession, disturbance, ecologyAvian ecologists at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest have been monitoring bird populations for over 50 years. The data collected during this time is one of the longest bird studies ever conducted! What can we learn from this long-term data set? Are bird populations remaining stable over time?2Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire
DSC_0060The birds of Hubbard Brook, Part IIanimals, biodiversity, birds, climate change, succession, disturbance, ecology, habitatHubbard Brook was heavily logged and disturbed in the early 1900s. When logging ended in 1915, trees began to grow back. The forest then went through secondary succession, which refers to the naturally occurring changes in forest structure that happen as a forest ages after it has been cut or otherwise disturbed. Can these changes in habitat availability, due to succession, explain why the number of birds are declining at Hubbard Brook? Are all bird species responding succession in the same way?3Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire
Trees and bushes, home sweet home for warblersanimals, biodiversity, birds, disturbance, ecology, environmental, habitatThe coniferous forests in Oregon provide surprisingly rich and diverse habitat types for birds. Andrews Forest is a long-term ecological research site where there have been manipulations of timber harvest and forest re-growth. This history has large impacts on the bird habitats found in an area. Each year since 2009, scientists have gone out and measured bird populations and habitat types. Two species of warbler with very different habitat preferences can give insight into how birds are responding to these disturbances.4HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, Oregon
DSC_0060Is chocolate for the birds?agriculture, animals, birds, biodiversity, ecology, rainforest, succession, habitatHumans invented agriculture 9,000 years ago, and today it covers 40% of Earth’s land surface. To grow our crops, native plants are often removed, causing the loss of animals that relied on these native plants for habitat. However, sometimes animals can use crop species for food and shelter. For example, the cacao tree may provide habitat for bird species in the rainforests of Costa Rica. Will the abundance and types of birds differ in cacao plantations, compared to native rainforests?2Limón Province, Costa Rica
 junglefoulFeral chickens fly the coopadaptation, animals, behavior, birds, ecology, evolution, invasive species, mating, heredity, geneticsSometimes domesticated animals escape captivity and interbreed with closely related wild relatives. Their hybrid offspring have some traits from the wild parent, and some from the domestic parent. Traits that help hybrids survive and reproduce will be favored by natural selection. On the island of Kauai, domestic chickens escaped and recently interbred with wild Red Junglefowl to produce a hybrid population. Over time, will the hybrids on Kauai evolve to be more like chickens, or more like Red Junglefowl?3Kauai, Hawaii
DSC_0060Sexy smellsadaptation, animal behavior, animals, birds, mating, evolution, sexual selectionAnimals collect information about each other and the rest of the world using multiple senses, including sight, sound, and smell. They use this information to decide what to eat, where to live, and who to pick as a mate. Many male birds have brightly colored feathers and ornaments that are attractive to females. Visual signals like these ornaments have been studied a lot in birds, but birds may be able to determine the quality of a potential mate using other senses as well, such as their smell!2Mountain Lake Biological Station, Virginia
chickadee2Finding Mr. Rightadaptation, animals, behavior, biodiversity, birds, evolution, genes, mating, local adaptationMountain chickadees are small birds that live in the mountains. To deal with living in a harsh environment during the winter, mountain chickadees store large amounts of food throughout the forest. Compared to populations at lower elevations, birds from higher elevations are smarter and have better spatial memory, helping them better find stored food. Smarter females from high elevations may be contributing to local adaptation by preferring to breed with males from their own population.4University of Nevada Reno & Sagehen Experimental Forest
Spiders under the influenceanimals, invertebrates, habitat, chemical pollution, aquatic, streamsPeople use pharmaceutical drugs, personal care products, and other chemicals on a daily basis. Often, they get washed down our drains and end up in local waterways. Chris knew that many types of spiders live near streams and are exposed to toxins through the prey they eat. Chris wanted to compare effects of the chemicals on spiders in rural and urban environments. By comparing spider webs in these two habitats, they could see how different the webs are and infer how many chemicals are in the waterways. 2Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER
Salty sediments? What bacteria have to say about chloride pollutionbacteria, chemistry, disturbance, environmental, microbes, pollution, salt, urban, waterIn snowy climates, salt is applied to roads to help keep them safe during the winter. When the snow melts, salt makes its way into local rivers. Halophiles, or bacteria that thrive in salty conditions, might be a good indicator of how much salt is in a particular waterway, telling scientists when certain areas have become too polluted with salt. 3Southeastern Wisconsin
DSC_0060A tail of two scorpionsanimal behavior, animals, predationSpecies rely on a variety of methods to defend against predators, including camouflage, speedy escape, or retreating to the safety of a shelter. Other animals, such as scorpions, have painful venomous stings. Scientists wanted to know whether the pain of a scorpion sting was enough to deter predators, like the grasshopper mouse.2Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Why are butterfly wings colorful?adaptation, animals, insects, models, predationBig wings allow butterflies to fly everywhere with ease. But you may wonder, why are the wings of some species so brightly colored? The red postman butterfly lives in rainforests in Mexico, Central America, and South America. The color pattern on its wing is usually a mix of red, yellow, and black. These bright colors may warn birds and other predators that they would not make a tasty meal. Another potential reason for butterflies to have bright colors and dramatic patterns is to attract mates.3La Selva Tropical Biological Station, Sarapiquí, Costa Rica
To bee or not to bee aggressiveanimals, behavior, genes, insects, tradeoff, plasticity, aggressionHoney bees turn nectar from flowers into honey, and honey serves as an energy-rich food source for the colony. Honey also makes hives a target for break ins by animals that want to steal it. Bees need to aggressively defend their honey when the hive is threatened. They also need to ensure that they do not waste energy on unnecessary aggressive behaviors when the threat level is low. One way bees might match their aggressiveness to the threat level in the environment is learning from adults when they are young.3University of Kentucky, Kentucky
Ant wars!aggression, animals, behavior, competition, insectsNeighboring colonies of pavement ants often compete for food, leading to tension. If an ant finds a non-nestmate, it organizes a large war against the nearby colony. This results in huge sidewalk battles that can include thousands of ants fighting for up to 12 hours! Scientists wanted to know, what are the factors that lead to war?3University of Colorado-Denver and University of South Dakota
DSC_0060CSI: Crime Solving Insectsanimals, insects, parasitismYou might think maggots (blow fly larvae) are gross, but without their help in decomposition we would all trip over dead bodies every time we went outside! Forensic entomologists also use these amazing insects to help solve crimes. Blow flies oviposit on dead bodies; the age of the maggots helps scientists determine how long ago a body died. Scientists noticed parasitic wasps were also present at some bodies. Might these wasps delay blow fly oviposition and interfere with scientists' estimates of time of death?3Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, Michigan & Valparaiso University, Indiana
DSC_0060Shooting the poopadaptation, animal behavior, animals, insects, predationCaterpillars are a great source of food for many species. The silver-spotted skipper caterpillar has a variety of defense strategies against predators, including building leaf shelters for protection. This caterpillar was also discovered to “shoot its poop”, sometimes launching it over 1.5m! Might this very strange behavior serve as some sort of defense against predators?2Georgetown University, Washington DC
DSC_0060How the cricket lost its song, Part Iadaptation, animal behavior, animals, evolution, mating, parasitism, rapid evolutionPacific field crickets live on several Hawaiian Islands, including Kauai. Male field crickets make a loud, long-distance song to help females find them, and then switch to a quiet courtship song once a female comes in close. One summer scientists noticed that the crickets on the island were unusually quiet. Back in the lab they saw males that had lost their specialized wing structures used to produce song! Why did these males lose their wing structures?3Kauai Agricultural Research Center - Kapaa, Hawaii
DSC_0060How the cricket lost its song, Part IIadaptation, animal behavior, animals, evolution, mating, parasitism, rapid evolutionWithout their song, how are flatwing crickets able to attract females? In some other animals species, males use an alternative to singing, called satellite behavior. Satellite males hang out near a singing male and attempt to mate with females who have been attracted by the song. Perhaps the satellite behavior gives flatwing males the opportunity to mate with females who were attracted to the few singing males left on Kauai. 3Kauai Agricultural Research Center - Kapaa, Hawaii
Purring crickets: The evolution of a new cricket songadaptation, animal behavior, animals, evolution, mating, parasitism, rapid evolutionAbout twenty years ago, scientists discovered male Pacific field crickets in several spots in Hawaii had stopped making songs due to selection from a parasitoid fly that uses the songs to locate their hosts. One summer, scientists heard what sounded like a purring cat, but there was no cat in sight. This sound was coming from crickets, and was unlike anything ever observed before. Could it be the beginning of evolution of a novel mating signal?3Kauai Agricultural Research Center - Kapaa, Hawaii
dungbeetleBeetle battlesadaptation, animals, behavior, competition, evolution, insects, matingMale animals spend a lot of time and energy trying to attract females. They may fight with other males or court females directly. Is there one trait that is both good for fighting males and attracting females? In the horned dung beetle, males have to fight with other males for space in underground tunnels where females mate and lay their eggs. Males also attract females by tapping on their backs. Males that are stronger may potentially be better at both defending tunnels and at attracting females by tapping.2Perth, Australia
Tree-killing beetlesanimals, biodiversity, disturbance, ecology, environmental, insects, plantsA beetle the size of a grain of rice seems insignificant compared to a vast forest. However, during outbreaks the number of mountain pine beetles can skyrocket, leading to the death of many trees. Recent outbreaks of mountain pine beetles killed millions of acres of lodgepole pine trees across western North America. Widespread tree death caused by mountain pine beetles can impact human safety, wildfires, nearby streamflow, and habitat for wildlife.2Colorado State University, Colorado
A monarch caterpillar on a milkweed leaf.Mowing for monarchs, Part Ianimals, behavior, biodiversity, disturbance, ecology, plants, insectsDuring the spring and summer months, monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants. Milkweed plays an important role in the monarch butterfly’s life cycle. When milkweed is cut at certain times of the year new shoots grow, which are softer and easier for caterpillars to eat. Scientists set out to see if mowing milkweed plants could help boost struggling monarch populations.2Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
Mowing for monarchs, Part IIanimals, behavior, biodiversity, disturbance, ecology, plants, insects, predationWhen the scientists mowed down milkweed plants for their experiment, they changed more than the age of the milkweed plants. They also removed other plant species in the background community. Perhaps the patterns they were seeing were driven not by milkweed age, but by eliminating predators from the patches they mowed.2Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
How milkweed plants defend against monarch butterfliesherbivory, evolution, coevolution, plants, insects, ecologyFor millions of years, monarch butterflies have been antagonizing milkweed plants. Although adult monarchs drink nectar from flowers, their caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves, which harms the plants. The only food for monarchs is milkweed leaves, meaning they have evolved to be highly specialized, picky eaters. But their food is not a passive victim. Like most other plants, milkweeds fight back with defenses against herbivory. Which defensive traits are helping in the fight against herbivory?3Cornell University
Where to find the hungry, hungry herbivoresherbivory, plants, insects, ecologyWhen travelling to warm, tropical places you are exposed to greater risk of diseases. The same pattern of risk is true for other species like plants grown for food; crops in warm places have more problems with pests than those in colder areas. Does this pattern hold for plants in the wild as well?2Michigan State University
Are plants more toxic in the tropics?herbivory, diversity, plants, insects, ecology, adaptationLong before chemists learned how to make medicines in the laboratory, people found their medicines in plants. To this day, people still extract some medicinal drugs from plants. But, why do plants make these chemicals that are often so useful to people? Many of these chemicals are to reduce herbivory. Carina thought that this might differ by latitude, or distance from the Equator. Are tropical plants more toxic?
3Michigan State University
DSC_0060Do insects prefer local or foreign foods?herbivory, invasive species, plants, insects, enemy release, ecologyInsects that feed on plants, called herbivores, can have big effects on how plants grow. A plant with leaves eaten by herbivores will likely do worse than a plant that is not eaten. Herbivores may even determine how well an exotic plant does in its new habitat and whether it becomes invasive. Understanding what makes a species become invasive could help control invasions already underway, and prevent new ones in the future.2Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
DSC_0060Do invasive species escape their enemies?herbivory, invasive species, plants, insects, enemy release, ecologyInvasive species have been introduced by humans to a new area and negatively impact places they invade. Many things change for an invasive species when it is moved from one area to another. For example, a plant that is moved across oceans may not bring its enemies along for the ride. Now that the plant is in a new area with nothing to eat or infect it, the plant could potentially do very well and become invasive.2Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
Testing the tolerance of invasive plantsecology, herbivory, invasive species, plants, tolerancePeople move species around the globe, and some of these species cause problems where they are introduced. What is it about these invasive species that makes them able to invade? Perhaps certain traits cause invasive species to be more troublesome than others. By studying trait differences between native and invasive populations of the same species, we can learn something about the causes of invasions.3McLaughlin Natural Reserve, California
DSC_0060Invasion meltdownclimate change, ecology, invasive species, plants, temperatureHumans are changing the earth in many ways, including adding greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change, and introducing species around the globe, which can lead to invasive species. Scientists wanted to know, could climate change actually help invasive species? Because invasive species have already survived transport from one habitat to another, they may be species that are better able to handle change, such as temperature changes.3Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
DSC_0060Springing forwardclimate change, phenology, plants, temperatureWhat does climate change mean for flowering plants that rely on temperature cues to determine when it is time to flower? Scientists who study phenology, or the timing if life-history events in plants and animals, predict that with warming temperatures, plants will produce their flowers earlier and earlier each year.1 & 3Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
The end of winter as we’ve known it?climate change, ice coverLake Superior plays a vital role in the lives of people who live and work on its shores, and therefore all sorts of data are recorded to help understand and take care of it. Forrest, a high school student, used data from archives to figure out if the ice season was getting shorter each winter in his home town. The length of the ice season is important because it frees the island residents from working around a ferry schedule, allowing them to drive on the ice to get to the mainland.3Madeline Island, Wisconsin
kgrayson1When a species can’t stand the heatanimals, climate change, disturbance, ecology, environmental, mating, temperatureTuatara are a unique species of reptile found only in New Zealand. In this species, the temperature of the nest during egg development determines the sex of offspring. Warm nests lead to more males, and cool nests lead to more females. With warming temperatures due to climate change, scientists expect the sex ratio to become more and more unbalanced over time, with males making up more of the population. This could leave tuatara populations with too few females to sustain their numbers.3North Brother Island, New Zealand
Changing climates in the Rocky Mountainscitizen science, climate change, community science, ecology, environmental, plantsEach type of plant needs specific conditions to grow and thrive. If conditions change, such as temperature or the amount of precipitation, plant communities may change as well. To figure out if species are moving, we need to know where they’ve lived in the past, and if climates are changing. One way that we can study both things is to use the Global Vegetation Project. The goal of this project is to curate a global database of plant photos that can be used by educators and students around the world.4Rocky Mountains, Wyoming
DSC_0060What do trees know about rain?climate change, dendrochronology, ecology, plants, precipitation, temperature, waterThe typical climate of arid northwest Australia consists of long drought periods with a few very wet years sprinkled in. Scientists predict that climate change will cause these cycles to become more extreme – droughts will become longer and periods of rain will become wetter. When variability is the norm, how can scientists tell if the climate is changing and droughts and rain events today are more intense than what we've seen in the past? The answer to this challenge comes from trees! 3Pilbara region, northwest Australia
Changing climates in the Rocky Mountainscitizen science, climate change, community science, ecology, environmental, plantsAs the climate warms and precipitation changes, plants may have to move to survive. To figure out if species are moving, we need to know where they’ve lived in the past, and if climates are changing. One way that we can study both things is to use the Global Vegetation Project. The goal of this project is to curate a global database of plant photos that can be used by educators and students around the world. 4Rocky Mountains, Wyoming
A window into a tree’s worldclimate change, dendrochronology, ecology, plants, temperatureScientists are very interested in learning how trees respond to rapidly warming temperatures. Luckily, trees offer us a window into their lives through their growth rings. Growth rings are found within the trunk, beneath the bark. These rings provide a long historical record, which can be used to study how trees respond to climate change.2Harvard Forest LTER, Massachusetts
Breathing in, Part Iclimate change, photosynthesis, respiration, carbonPhotosynthesis is the process by which trees and other plants trap the sun’s energy within the molecular bonds of glucose. Tree growth pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and trees hold on to it for long periods of time. This process is known as carbon sequestration or carbon accumulation. Kristina and Susan decided they needed to work together to learn more about how carbon accumulation rates and how they differ across various types of forests found around the world.4Global
Breathing in, Part IIclimate change, photosynthesis, respiration, carbon, climate model, precisionLike many other scientists, Susan and Kristina are concerned about global warming. Global warming is the well-documented rise of the temperature of Earth’s surface, oceans, and atmosphere. They wanted to make sure that those creating climate change policy have the most precise data available. They compared their ForC model, which predicts carbon accumulation based on forest regrowth across the glove, to a similar model the IPCC was using.4Global
Beetle, it’s cold outside!animals, climate change, ectotherm, insects, temperature, snowMany species rely on the snow for protection from the winter’s cold. The snow acts as an insulating blanket, covering the soil and keeping it from getting too cold. If temperatures get too hot in the winter, snow melts and leaves the soil uncovered for longer periods of time. This leads to the shocking pattern that warmer temperatures actually means the soil gets colder! How will species that rely on the snow, like lady beetles, respond to warmer temperatures due to climate change?2University of California, Berkeley
To reflect, or not to reflect, that is the questionalbedo, Arctic, climate change, environmental, ice, temperature, waterLong-term observations of sea ice extent at the North Pole show it is declining, and fast! Why is this important? Sea ice has a higher albedo than sea water, meaning it reflects back more of the sun's energy. If Arctic albedo decreases, this might create a feedback and lead to even more warming.3University of Colorado, Boulder
DSC_0060The Arctic is melting – so what?climate change, marine, models, temperature, water, weather, snow, albedo, ArcticThink of the North Pole as one big ice cube – a vast sheet of ice, only a few meters thick, floating over the Arctic Ocean. With global warming, more sea ice is melting than ever before. If more ice melts in the summer than is formed in the winter, the Arctic Ocean will become ice-free. Scientists ran a climate model to determine whether this loss of sea ice could affect extreme weather in the northern hemisphere.4Arctic Ocean, North Pole
When whale I sea you again?climate change, marine, temperature, water, whalesPeople have hunted whales for over 5,000 years for their meat, oil, and blubber. Today, as populations are struggling to recover from whaling, humpback whales are faced with additional challenges due to climate change. Their main food source is krill, which are small crustaceans that live under sea ice. As sea ice disappears, the number of krill is getting lower and lower. Humpback whale population recovery may be limited because their main food source is threatened by ongoing ocean warming.4Western Antarctic Peninsula, Palmer Station LTER
Can biochar improve crop yields?agriculture, environmental, fertilization, plants, soil, waterBiochar is a pretty unique material. It is created when things burn without oxygen. Most biochar has lots of tiny spaces, or pores, that cause it to act like a hard sponge when it is in the soil. Due to these pores, the biochar can hold more water and nutrients than the soil can by itself. Adding biochar to the soil may help farmers grow more crops, especially in areas prone to drought where water is limited.3Colorado State University Agricultural Research and Development Center
Nitrate: Good for plants, bad for drinking wateragriculture, environmental, fertilization, nitrogen, soil, water, plants, human health, KernzaNitrate dissolves well in water. This helps make it an easy form of nitrogen for plants to use, but it can also end up in rivers and groundwater where it becomes harmful to human health. Most of the crops we grow are annual plants with shallow roots, but perhaps planting perennial crops can help take more nitrate from the soil before it reaches our groundwater.3University of Minnesota
DSC_0060Growing energy: comparing biofuel crop biomassagriculture, biofuels, climate change, fertilization, plantsCorn is one of the best crops for producing biomass for fossil fuels, however it is an annual and needs very fertile soil. To grow corn, farmers add a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to their fields. Other crops, like switchgrass, prairie, poplar trees, and Miscanthus grass are perennials and require fewer fertilizers and pesticides to grow. If perennials can produce high levels of biomass with low inputs, perhaps they could produce more biomass than corn under certain low nutrient conditions.3GLBRC, Kellogg Biological Station & University Wisconsin-Madison
DSC_0060Fertilizing biofuels may cause release of greenhouse gassesagriculture, biofuels, climate change, fertilization, greenhouse gasses, nitrogen, plantsOne way to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere could be to grow our fuel instead of drilling for it. Unlike fossil fuels that can only release CO2, biofuels remove CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow and photosynthesize, potentially balancing the CO2 released when they are burned for fuel. However, the plants we grow for biofuels don’t necessarily absorb all greenhouse gas that is released during the process of growing them on farms and converting them into fuels.3GLBRC, Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
DSC_0060The ground has gas!agriculture, climate change, temperature, greenhouse gasses, nitrogen, plantsNitrous oxide and carbon dioxide are responsible for much of the warming of the global average temperature that is causing climate change. Sometimes soils give off, or emit, these greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere, adding to climate change. Currently scientists figuring out what causes differences in how much of each type of greenhouse gas soils emit.3GLBRC, Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
Are forests helping in the fight against climate change?climate change, ecology, environmental, greenhouse gasses, photosynthesis, plantsIn the 1990s, scientists began to wonder what role forests were having in the exchange of carbon in and out of the atmosphere. Were forests overall storing carbon (carbon sink), or releasing it (carbon source)? To test this, they built large metal towers that stand taller than the forest trees around them and use sensors to measure the speed, direction, and CO2 concentration of each puff of air that passes by. These long term measurements can tell us whether forests help in the fight against climate change.3Harvard Forest LTER, Massachusetts
Going underground to investigate carbon locked in soils climate change, ecology, environmental, greenhouse gasses, soil carbon, microbes, chemistrySoil is an important part of the carbon cycle because it traps carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere and locked underground. Carbon enters the soil when plants and animals die, and their organic matter is decomposed by soil bacteria and fungi. Climate affects rates of decomposition, and therefore may affect how much carbon becomes stable and attached to minerals in the soil, feeding back to affect climate change. 3Indiana University
The carbon stored in mangrove soilscarbon, climate change, disturbance, ecology, nutrients, greenhouse gasses, mangrove, plantsMangroves are globally important for many reasons. They form dense forested wetlands that protect the coast from erosion and provide critical habitat for many animals. Mangrove forests also help in the fight against climate change by storing carbon in their soils. The balance between how much carbon is added to the soils and how much is released might be dependent on a variety of factors, including tree size and amount of disturbance to the site.2Biscayne National Park, Florida Everglades
mangrove in marshMangroves on the moveclimate change, ecology, environmental, fertilization, nitrogen, nutrients, phosphorus, plants, mangroveOne day out in the saltmarsh, scientists noticed something strange. A mangrove shrub was growing in a place they had not been seen before! Are the fertilizers washing into the saltmarsh from nearby urban areas responsible for this shocking discovery?2Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Florida
Streams as sensors: Arctic watersheds as indicators of changeclimate change, ecology, environmental, carbon, nitrogen, permafrostAs the world warms from climate change, the Alaskan Arctic is heating up. This is causing permafrost, or the frozen underground layer of rock and ice, to melt. When permafrost melts, plant material that has been stored for thousands of years begins to decay, releasing carbon and nitrogen from the system. Ecologists can act like “ecosystem accountants” measuring the balance of material that goes into and out of these systems.3Toolik Field Station, Alaska
Limit by limit: Nutrients control algal growth in Arctic streamsclimate change, ecology, environmental, nitrogen, nutrients, phosphorusAquatic algae, a type of microbe that live in the water, need to take in nutrients from their surroundings for growth. Two important nutrients for algal growth are nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P). Climate change may be altering which nutrients are limiting to algae, changing food webs in the ecosystem.3Toolik Field Station, Alaska
DSC_0060Cheaters in nature – when is a mutualism not a mutualism?evolution, legume, plants, mutualism, parasitism, rhizobia, nitrogen, fertilizationMutualisms are a special type of relationship in nature where two species work together and both benefit. This cooperation should lead to each partner species doing better when the other is around – without their mutualist partner, the species will have a harder time acquiring resources. But what happens when one partner cheats and takes more than it gives?4Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
DSC_0060Fair traders or freeloaders?evolution, legume, plants, mutualism, rhizobia, nitrogen, fertilizationOne example of a mutualism is the relationship between a type of bacteria, rhizobia, and plants like peas, beans, soybeans, and clover. Rhizobia live in bumps on the plant roots, where they trade their nitrogen for sugar from the plants. Rhizobia turn nitrogen from the air into a form that plants can use. Under some conditions, this mutualism could break down, for example, if one of the traded resources is very abundant in the environment.3Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
DSC_0060Does a partner in crime make it easier to invade?legume, plants, mutualism, rhizobia, invasive species, soilInvasive plants are species that have been transported by humans from one location to another, and grow and spread quickly compared to other plants. Mutualisms can affect what happens when a plant species is moved somewhere it hasn’t been before. For invasive legumes with rhizobia mutualists, there is a chance that the rhizobia will not be transported with it and the plant will have to form new relationships with rhizobia in the new location.3Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
Fast weeds in farmer’s fieldsadaptation, agriculture, evolution, plants, heredity, geneticsWeeds in agricultural fields cost farmers $28 billion per year in just the United States alone. One of the world’s worst weeds is weedy radish, which evolved from native radish not very long ago. While weedy radish is able to take over agricultural fields, native radish cannot. What causes this difference? Perhaps it could be due to the weedy radish’s ability to flower quickly and make seeds before crops are harvested.2Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
What big teeth you have! Sexual selection in rhesus macaquesanimals, evolution, sexual selection, sexual dimorphismIn Cayo Santiago there is one of the oldest free-ranging rhesus macaque colonies in the world. Scientists have gathered data on these monkeys and their habitat for over 70 years. The program monitors individual monkeys over their entire lives, and when they die their bodies are recovered and skeletal specimens are stored in a museum. These skeletal specimens can be used by scientists today to ask new and exciting questions, for example, what traits are under sexual selection in this population?3Laboratory of Primate Morphology, University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus
Is it better to be bigger?adaptation, animals, evolution, predationBrown anoles are very small when they hatch out of the egg. Because of their small size, these anole hatchlings are eaten by many different animals, including birds, crabs, other species of anole lizards, and even adult brown anoles! Predators could be a significant force of natural selection on brown anole hatchlings. Juvenile anoles that get eaten by predators will not survive to reproduce.3Matanzas River, Florida
Is it dangerous to be a showoff?adaptation, animals, evolution, predation, tradeoff, sexual dimorphismBrown anoles are small lizards that are abundant in Florida. They have an extendable red and yellow flap of skin on their throat, called a dewlap. To communicate with other brown anoles, they extend their dewlap and move their head and body. Males have particularly large dewlaps, which they often display to defend territory or attract females. Females also have dewlaps but use them less often. How might natural selection on this trait differ between males and females?3Matanzas River, Florida
Hold on for your life! Part Iadaptation, animals, disturbance, evolution, natural selection, genetic drift, hurricaneIn the fall of 2017, a team of scientists from Harvard University and the Paris Natural History Museum visited Pine Cay and Water Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands. They were there to collect data on a small local lizard, the Turks and Caicos anole, as part of a larger environmental conservation project. Unbeknownst to them, a storm was brewing to the south of the islands, and it was about to change the entire trajectory of their research.3Turks and Caicos, Caribbean
Hold on for your life! Part IIadaptation, animals, disturbance, evolution, natural selection, genetic drift, hurricaneThe scientists needed to find out how lizards behave in hurricane-force winds. Obviously, they couldn’t stick around to watch lizards ride out a storm, so they designed a safe experiment that would simulate hurricane force winds. They bought the strongest leaf blower they could find, set it up in their hotel room on Pine Cay, and videotaped 40 lizards as they clung to a perch while slowly ramping up the leaf blower until the lizards were blown (unharmed) into a safety net.3Turks and Caicos, Caribbean
tad-toe-detachment-phelsuma_mediumSticky situations: big and small animals with sticky feetadaptation, animals, chemistry, physics, scale, surface areaSticky, or adhesive, toe pads have evolved in many different kinds of animals, including insects, arachnids, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. The heavier the animal, the more adhesion they will need to stick and support their mass. For tiny species like mites and flies, tiny toes can do the job. Each fly toe only has to be able to support a small amount of weight. But when looking at larger animals like geckos, their increased weight means they need much larger toe pads to support them.4BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action
DSC_0060Lizards, iguanas, and snakes! Oh my! animals, biodiversity, disturbance restoration, urbanPeople have dramatically changed the natural riparian habitat found along rivers and streams. In many urban areas today, these riparian habitats are being rehabilitated with the hope of bringing back native species, such as reptiles. Reptiles, including snakes and lizards, are extremely important to monitor as they play important roles in ecosystems. Are rehabilitation efforts in Phoenix successful at restoring reptile diversity and abundance?3Salt River, Phoenix, Arizona
Blinking out?agriculture, insects, population, biodiversity, ecologyMany people have fond memories of watching fireflies blink across open fields and collecting them in jars as children. This is one of the reasons why fireflies are a beloved insect species. However, there is concern that their populations are in decline. Scientists turned to the longest-running study of fireflies known to science to see if this is the case!2Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
DSC_0060Urbanization and estuary eutrophicationalgae, eutrophication, fertilization, marine, nitrogen, phosphorus, wetland, urbanEstuaries are very productive habitats found where freshwater rivers meet the ocean. They are important natural filters for water and protect the coast during storms. A high diversity of plants, fish, shellfish and birds call estuaries home. Estuaries are threatened by eutrophication, or the process by which an ecosystem becomes more productive when excess nutrients are added to the system. Parts of the Plum Island Estuary in MA may be more at risk from eutrophication due to their proximity to urban areas.4Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts
Love that dirty waterenvironmental, urban, water, GIS, landscapes, impervious surfaces, ecosystem servicesAs green spaces are lost to make room for homes and businesses, there are fewer forests and wetlands to filter our drinking water. A team of scientists used the New England Landscapes Future Explorer to study this challenge for the Merrimack River, an important river for the people of New England. 4New England
DSC_0060Green Crabs: Invaders in the Great Marshanimals, invasive species, substrate, wetland, erosionThe introduction of invasive species, such as the European Green Crab, poses a great threat to marshes. Digging behaviors of the Green Crab disturb sediments on the marsh floor and may have lead to the destruction of native eelgrass populations, which are sensitive to disturbance. Scientists aimed to identify locations where crab numbers are low and eelgrass can be restored.2Essex Bay, Massachusetts
DSC_0060The mystery of Plum Island Marshfertilization, fish, marine, mollusk, water, wetlandSalt marshes are among the most productive coastal ecosystems, and support a diversity of plants and animals. Algae and marsh plants feed many invertebrates, like snails and crabs, which are then eaten by larger fish and birds. In Plum Island, scientists have been fertilizing and studying salt marsh creeks to see how added nutrients affect the system. They noticed that fish populations seemed to be crashing in the fertilized creeks, while the mudflats were covered in mudsnails. Could there be a link?3Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts
DSC_0060Does sea level rise harm saltmarsh sparrows?animals, birds, sea level rise, climate change, disturbance, ecology, wetlandFor the last 100 years, sea levels around the globe have increased dramatically. Salt marshes grow right at sea level and are therefore very sensitive to sea level rise. Saltmarsh sparrows rely completely on salt marshes for feeding and nesting, and therefore their numbers are expected to decline as sea levels rise and they lose nesting sites. Will this threatened bird species decline over time as sea levels rise?3Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts
DSC_0060Keeping up with the sea levelclimate change, disturbance, ecology, sea level rise, plants, substrate, wetlandSalt marshes are very important habitats for many species and protect the coast from erosion. Unfortunately, rising sea levels due to climate change are threatening these important ecosystems. As sea levels rise, the elevation of the marsh soil must rise as well so the plants have ground high enough to keep them above sea level. Basically, it is like a race between the marsh floor and sea level to see who can stay on top! 3Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts
DSC_0060Is your salt marsh in the zone?climate change, ecology, plants, sea level rise, substrate, wetlandBeginning in the 1980s, scientist James began measuring the growth of marsh grasses. He discovered that their growth was higher in some years and lower in others and that there was a long-term trend of growth going up over time. Marsh grasses grow around mean sea level, or the average elevation between high and low tides. Are the grasses responding to mean sea level changing year-to-year, and increasing as our oceans warm and water levels rise due to climate change?3Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts
The case of the collapsing soilclimate change, carbon, ecology, plants, phosphorus, sea level rise, respiration, substrate, wetlandThe Everglades are a unique and vital ecosystem threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. Recently scientists have observed in some areas of the wetland the soils are collapsing. What is causing this strange phenomena? Sea level rise might be stressing microbes, causing carbon to be lost to the atmosphere through increased respiration.4Everglades, Florida
DSC_0060Marvelous mudecology, environmental, fertilization, mud, phosphorus, substrate, water, wetlandBecause mud is wet most of the time, it tends to have different properties than soil. Dead organic matter (partially decomposed plants) is an important part of mud and tends to build up in wetlands because it is decomposed more slowly under water where microbes do not have all the oxygen they need to break it down quickly. The amounts of organic matter may determine the levels of phosphorus and other nutrients held in wetland muds.2Fort Custer Recreation Area, Michigan
Marsh makeoverbiodiversity, disturbance, ecology, greenhouse gasses, mud, plants, restoration, wetlandThe muddy soils in salt marshes store a lot of carbon, compared to terrestrial dry soils. This is because they are low in oxygen needed for decomposition. For this reason they play a key role in the carbon cycle and climate change. If humans disturb marshes, reducing plant diversity and biomass, are they also disturbing the marsh's ability to sequester carbon? If a marsh is restored, can the carbon holding capacity also be brought back to previous levels?3Oak Island and Neponset Marsh, Boston, Massachusetts
DSC_0060Dangerously boldanimal behavior, animals, tradeoff, fish, predationThere are two main habitats that young bluegill sunfish can use to find food to eat – open water and cover. There is lots of food in the open water, but this habitat also has very few plants for bluegill to hide from predators, like the largemouth bass, so it’s not safe when bluegill are small! The cover habitat has less food, but it has lots of plants that make it hard for predators to see the bluegill. This sets up a situation where there are costs and benefits to using either habitat, called a tradeoff.1Pond Lab, Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
DSC_0060Which guy should she choose?animal behavior, animals, fish, matingMating behavior is intriguing to study because in many animal species, males use a lot of energy to attract a female. Yet some males are able to attract zero females and other males attract many females. What accounts for this difference? What about the way a male looks, moves, or smells attracts the female? A female could benefit from identifying “high quality” males that would serve as a good father to her offspring or that would make offspring that are attractive to females in the next generation.2Michigan State University lab and British Columbia, Canada
DSC_0060Fish fightsanimal behavior, animals, fish, matingMale stickleback fish fight each other to gain territories along the bottom of the shallow areas of a lake. In these territories, males build a nest out of sand, aquatic plants, and glue they produce from their kidneys. Males then attract females to their territories with courtship dances. If a female likes a male, she will deposit her eggs in his nest. Then the male will care for those eggs and the offspring that hatch. Perhaps more aggressive males are better at defending their territory and nests.2Michigan State University lab and British Columbia, Canada
Clique wars: social conflict in daffodil cichlidsanimal behavior, animals, competition, fishDaffodil cichlids live in social groups of several small fish and one breeding pair. The breeding male and female are the largest fist in the group, and the smaller fish help defend territory against predators and help care for newly hatched baby fish. About 200 social groups together make up a colony. Behavior within a social group may be influenced by the presence of other groups in the colony. For example, neighboring groups can be a threat because they may try to take away territory or resources.4The Ohio State University, Ohio
Fishy originscitizen science, DNA, evolution, fish, PCR, marineThe population of striped bass in New Jersey is a mixed stock, meaning fish come together from different spawning grounds. Scientists want to understand where these fish come from in order to better manage their population. For their study, they needed DNA from many fish, so they turned to fishermen to help collect fin clip samples. They used these samples to identify the stocks migrating to New Jersey, and to determine if they was changing over time.4Monmouth University
DSC_0060Salmon in hot wateradaptation, animals, climate change, evolution, fish, genes, temperature, heredity, geneticsSalmon are important members of freshwater and ocean food webs. Climate change threatens salmon by warming the waters of rivers where they reproduce. To maintain healthy populations, salmon rely on cold, freshwater habitats and may go extinct as temperatures rise. However, some salmon individuals have higher thermal tolerance and are able to survive when water temperatures rise. Scientists want to know whether there is a genetic basis for the variation observed in salmon’s thermal tolerance.4University of Washington Hatchery, Seattle, Washington
6298983_origAre you my species?adaptation, animals, behavior, biodiversity, competition, evolution, fish, matingHow do animals know who to choose as a mate and who is a member of their own species? One way is through communication. Animals collect information about each other and the rest of the world using multiple senses, including sight, sound, and smell. Darters are a group of over 200 colorful fish species that live in lakes and rivers across the US. The bright color patterns on males may signal to females during mating who is a member of the same species and who would make a good mate.3University of Maryland, Baltimore
Why so blue? The determinants of color pattern in killifish, Part Iadaptation, animals, biodiversity, evolution, fish, genes, mating, heredity, geneticsIn nature, animals can be found in a dazzling display of different colors and patterns. Even within one species there can be variation in color. For example, male bluefin killifish can have fins that are bright blue, red, or yellow. Becky, a scientist studying this species noticed an interesting pattern - males found in springs with crystal clear water have mostly red or yellow fins, while males found in swamps have bright blue fins. Becky wants to know, what is the driving mechanism behind this interesting pattern?4University of Illinois, Illinois
Why so blue? The determinants of color pattern in killifish, Part IIadaptation, animals, biodiversity, evolution, fish, genes, mating, heredity, geneticsTo take a closer look at her data, Becky added information on paternal fin color into her analysis.4University of Illinois, Illinois
cricketsBon Appétit! Why do male crickets feed females during courtship?adaptation, animals, behavior, competition, insects, matingIn many species of insects and spiders, males provide females with gifts of food during courtship and mating. This is called nuptial feeding. These offerings are eaten by the female and can take many forms, including prey items the male captured, substances produced by the male, or parts from the male’s body. These gifts can cost the male a lot, so why do they give them? They may increase the male's chances of mating with a female, or they may help the female have more and healthier offspring.4Cornell University, New York
Stop that oxidation! What fruit flies teach us about human healthinsects, model species, cell biology, genetics, cellular processes, oxidation, geneticsEach of our cells is home to mitochondria, tiny factories whose job is to turn the food we eat into the energy we need to live. But during this process oxidative damage can cause harm to everything in the cell. There are two ways that bodies can prevent oxidative damage: antioxidants and more efficient metabolic pathways. Biz looked at fruit flies with varying genetics for these two strategies and wanted to test whether the level of oxidative damage in eggs and sperm would influence how many offspring a female had.4Technische Universität Dresden
DSC_0060How to escape a predatoradaptation, animal behavior, animals, predation, physiologyStalk-eyed flies have their eyes at the tip of eyestalks on the sides of their heads. Males with longer eyestalks are better at attracting mates – females find them sexy! However, long eyestalks may come at a cost. Males with long eyestalks may not be able to move easily and quickly, and could be easy targets for predators. Males also use a variety of behaviors to defend themselves against predators. Are these behaviors enough to compensate for long eyestalks?4Washington State University and University of Colorado, Denver
DSC_0060The flight of the stalk-eyed flyphysics, moment of inertia, adaptation, animals, flight, physiologyMoment of inertia (I) is an object’s tendency to resist rotation – in other words how difficult it is to make something turn. Stalk-eyed flies have eyes located on the ends of long projections on the sides of their head, called eyestalks. Because moment of inertia goes up with the square of the distance from the axis, we might expect that as the length of the flies’ eyestalks goes up, the harder and harder it will be for the fly to maneuver during flight.4Tel-Aviv University, Israel and University of Colorado, Denver
flyfightHow do brain chemicals influence who wins a fight?animals, behavior, competition, insects, aggression, brain chemistry, physiologyAnimals compete for resources, including space, food, and mates. What are the factors that determine who wins in a fight? Within the same species, larger individuals tend to win fights. However, if two opponents are the same size, other factors can influence outcomes. Serotonin is a chemical compound found in the brains of all animals, including stalk-eyed flies. Even a small amount of this chemical can make a big impact on aggressive behavior, and perhaps the outcome of competition.2University of Colorado, Denver and University of South Dakota
David vs. Goliathanimals, behavior, competition, insects, aggression, brain chemistry, physiologyAnimals in nature often compete for limited resources, like food, territory, and mates. Who wins a battle depends on lots of factors, such as size, aggression, and brain chemistry. In stalk-eyed flies, is a change in brain chemistry enough to tip the balance for smaller males to win in battle?3University of Colorado, Denver and University of South Dakota
Which would a woodlouse prefer?animals, behavior, ecology, predationWoodlice are small crustaceans that live on land. They look like bugs, but are actually more closely related to crabs and lobsters. To escape predators they hide in dark places. They spend most of their time underground and have very poor eyesight. If they can't see very well, how do they decide where to live?2Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan
Crunchy or squishy? How El Niño events change zooplanktonalgae, animals, marine, El NiñoEl Niño events happen every 5 to 10, and in California they cause the ocean to be much warmer than usual. Warm ocean waters during El Niño events have lower nutrient levels, so fewer phytoplankton grow leading to less food available for zooplankton. This may cause a change balance between the two main groups of zooplankton, “crunchy” crustaceans and “squishy” gelatinous animals. These changes could have cascading effects up the food chain.3San Diego, California
DSC_0060Dangerous aquatic prey: can predators adapt to toxic algae?adaptation, algae, evolution, marine, predationPhytoplankton are microscopic algae that form the base of all aquatic food chains. Some phytoplankton produce toxins, and when these algae reach high population levels it is known as toxic algal blooms. Can predators feeding on toxic prey for many generations evolve resistance, by natural selection, to the toxic prey?4Maine and New Jersey
DSC_0060Finding a footholdanimals, ecology, marine, substrate, waterThe ground at the beach is made of rocks of many different sizes, called substrates. These can range from large boulders down to fine grains of sand, with many size variations in between. Just like there are different types of substrates, there are different types of organisms that can live there. How can we determine which types of organisms prefer which types of substrates?2Puget Sound, Washington
DSC_0060Invasive reeds in the salt marshdisturbance, invasive species, plants, wetlandPhragmites australis is an invasive reed that is taking over saltwater marshes of New England, outcompeting other plants that serve as food and homes for marsh animals. Once Phragmites has invaded, it is sometimes the only plant species left, called a monoculture. Phragmites does best where humans have disturbed a marsh, and scientists were curious why that might be. They thought that perhaps it was caused by changing salinity, or amount of salt in the water, after a marsh is disturbed.2Ipswich High School, Massachusetts
DSC_0060Can a salt marsh recover after restoration?disturbance, ecology, invasive species, plants, wetland, salinity, restorationBefore restoration began, it was clear the Saratoga Creek salt marsh was in trouble. Invasive Phragmites plants covered large areas of the marsh, crowding out native plants and animals. Human activity was thought to be the culprit – storm drains were dumping freshwater into the marsh, lowering salinity. In 1999 a restoration took place to divert freshwater away from the marsh in an attempt to reduce Phragmites numbers. Did it work?2Saratoga Creek Salt Marsh, Rockport, Massachusetts
DSC_0060Make way for mummichogsanimals, biodiversity, disturbance, fish, restoration, wetlandMummichogs are small fish that live in tidal marshes all along the US Atlantic coast. Because they are so widespread and can be found in most streams, they are a valuable tool for scientists looking to compare the health of different marshes. The absence of mummichogs in a salt marsh is a sign that it is highly damaged. Students collected data on mummichog numbers before and after a marsh restoration. Did the restoration successfully bring back mummichogs to the marsh?4Gloucester, Massachusetts
All washed up? The effect of floods on cutthroat troutanimals, disturbance, ecology, fish, water, stream, floodsFloods are very common disturbances in streams. If floods happen right after fish breed and eggs hatch, young fish that cannot swim strongly may not survive. Although floods can be dangerous for fish, they are also very important for creating new habitat. Cutthroat trout are a species of fish living in Mack Creek, which experiences occasional floods. Trout breed in the early spring, right at the peak of flooding, so scientists are collecting long-term data on this species. Will floods hurt trout populations or help?2Mack Creek, HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, Oregon
DSC_0060Float down the Kalamazoo Riverriver, water, suspended solids, dam, reservoirThere is a lot more in river water than you might think! As the river flows, it picks up bits of dead plants, algae, and other living and non-living particles from the bottom of the river. These suspended solids are important for the river food web, but can be influenced by human activities, such as the construction of dams.2Kalamazoo River, Michigan
An invasive round goby from the Kalamazoo River, Michigan.Round goby, skinny gobylocal adaptation, rapid evolution, animals, biodiversity, fish, Great Lakes, habitat, invasive species, riverWhen invasive species are moved to new habitats, they often have traits that aren’t matched to their new conditions. However, invasive species may be able to adapt in just a few generations. The round goby is a small invasive fish species that arrived in the Great Lakes around 1990, and is now invading rivers as well. Is there evidence that this species has evolved in response to the different conditions found in rivers and lakes?3Kalamazoo River and Great Lakes, Michigan
sweeden1Winter is coming! Can you handle the freeze?local adaptation, ecology, evolution, genes, plantsDepending on where they live, plant populations each face their own challenges. For example, in Arabidopsis thaliana there are some populations of this species growing in very cold habitats, and some populations growing in very warm habitats. The idea that populations of the same species have evolved as a result of certain aspects of their environment is called local adaptation.4Michigan State University, Michigan
adam_microscopeGene expression in stem cellsgene expression, stem cells, geneticsEvery cell in your body contains the same DNA. Genetically identical skin, brain, and muscle cells can look very different and perform very different functions by turning particular genes on and off. But once they differentiate, their role in the body is fixed. Unlike these cells, stem cells have the ability to turn into any other type of cell in the body. Can we uncover the genes expressed in stem cells that give them that ability?4Colorado State University, Colorado
Alien life on Mars – caught in crystals?astrobiology, salt, solution, Mars, extraterrestrial life, chemistryIs there life on other planets besides Earth? This question is not just for science fiction. Scientists are actively exploring the possibility of life on Mars. Mars is cold, dry, and has a very thin atmosphere. However, there might still be places on Mars where life could exist, despite its extreme conditions. While there is no liquid water on the surface of Mars anymore, it once had a saltwater ocean covering much of its surface. Certain solutions of salt may trap liquid water in pockets as it evaporates, preserving conditions for life.2UK Centre for Astrobiology, University of Edinburgh, Great Britain
Working to reduce the plastics problemplastics, synthetic materials, chemistry, biodegradable, elastomer, polymer, monomer, stress, strainPlastics can be shaped easily and are used for many functions, making them extremely popular across the world. However, most plastics negatively impact the environment and some can take thousands of years or longer to break down. Scientists are testing new ways to make plastics that are biodegradable so they can be decomposed and won’t last as long in the environment. How can researchers use knowledge about the chemical properties of different monomers to make alternatives for synthetic plastics? 3Northland College