Triffids Underground

Carnivorous plants are (to put it bluntly) pretty darn dope. I mean what’s cooler than the idea that ‘boring’ and ‘unremarkable’ plants have upgraded themselves from prey to predator!?! These carnivorous beasties have served as inspiration for an array of scary monsters in the world of fiction, such as the Triffids, Audrey II and more recently the Demogorgon from Stranger Things (I really want to add Bulbasaur and his evolutionary lineage to the list but I don’t think that’s more a symbiotic relationship).

But it turns out that we could’ve made these creatures even more terrifying, but still biologically plausible, by making them capable of haunting not only those living above ground but those below ground too…

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

A new species of carnivorous plants from Borneo (described only this year) have been found to have underground (yes you read that correctly) pitchers, the acid-filled tubs into which unsuspecting insects often fall. Not only is this really neat but it also shows we have so much left to discover and learn about the natural world…

But also just imagine carnivorous plant inspired monsters with the ability to move swiftly underground like the sandworms from Dune


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

It’s Who and Where You Are

A role for the local environment in driving species-specific parasitism in a multi-host parasite system (2022) Hasik & Siepielski, Freshwater Biology, https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13961

Image credit: Adam Hasik, image cropped

The Crux

Parasites are an ever-present part of every ecological community on Earth, yet there are some species that harbor more parasites than others. In systems where parasitism is density-dependent, meaning parasitism increases with host density, the most common/numerous species will harbor the greatest amount of parasites. Yet there are also cases of species-specificity, whereby parasites specifically target a single host species. In other host-parasite systems, local-adaption plays a role in parasitism dynamics, whereby parasites are better at attacking their local hosts than they are attacking foreign hosts and/or hosts are better at defending themselves from local parasites than foreign parasites.

With all of these different factors affecting how host-parasite systems operate, it is important to identify when and if each one is operating within specific ecological communities. This is especially necessary when ecological communities are comprised of multiple host species and multiple parasite species, all of which can/do interact with one another.

To investigate the above factors, we first conducted a survey of parasitism in damselflies (Enallagma spp.) and their water mite parasites (Arrenurus spp.). From there, we then carried out to field experiments to understand why parasitism operates the way it does within this system.

Read more

Fishy Families

Image credit: Nick Hobgood, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped

If you’ve ever seen the movie Finding Nemo, you might’ve also heard the fun tidbit that Nemo’s dad, Marlin, should have become a female when Nemo’s mother Coral died. As strange as it may sound, this is true for many species of fish on earth. Every clownfish community has one female in charge (the only female in the community), and that female only mates with one male, the largest male in the community. The rest of the community is made up of smaller, immature, non-breeding males. When the female dies, the breeding male will become the new female, and the largest of the immature males will take the role of the breeding male. Simple enough, right? 

Read more

My Enemy is Not the Enemy of My Other Enemy

Do predators keep prey healthy or make them sicker? A meta- analysis (2022) Richards et al., Ecology Letters, https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13919

Image credit: Angah hfz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Crux

Ecology is all about understanding how the various parts of the natural world interact with one another. While we tend to think about things like predators, competitors, and parasites as separate entities that have their own effects, it is important to remember that these species interactions can interact with one another. Such interactions will have implications for the dynamics of natural populations.

Of interest is how predators and parasites interact with one another through their shared resources, prey/host species. Specifically, the Healthy Herds Hypothesis (HHH, see Did You Know?) predicts that predators reduce parasitism within the populations of their prey. While the HHH was based on a mathematical model, other theoretical models predict a range of effects, from predators decreasing parasitism to actually increasing parasitism. Because the empirical results from experimental studies show similar variation in their results, today’s authors wanted to determine if there is indeed a consistent, overall effect of predators on the parasitism of their prey.

Read more

Where Did It Come From, Where Did It Go: The Digital Future of Fisheries

Sometimes it is hard to look at the future with optimism. We seem to be facing crises in every facet of life, be it the humanitarian, environmental or economic side. From the ongoing pandemic to the antimicrobial resistance crisis, to climate change and the biodiversity crisis, it’s clear we need to be coming up with innovative solutions left right and centre and, just as importantly, acting on them effectively.

All the aforementioned crises directly affect one of the world’s most pressing concerns – food security. The human population is growing and with it, food demand. Meanwhile, food security is diminishing. 

Read more

Bee-reaucracy

Fun fact, bees are now officially fish – well at least in the eyes of Californian Endangered Species law anyway. The reason for this is not people having never seen a fish before, instead it’s down to an odd case of semantics. The original legislation that was put in place for the protection of endangered animals in California defined ‘fish’ as to include invertebrates (which is ironic as ‘fish’ in the taxonomic sense are actually vertebrates). This means that as bees have no actual backbones (despite being a backbone to ecosystem function), they can actually be classified as ‘fish’…

Makes perfect sense right?

This little loophole has allowed the Californian Fish and Game Commission to challenge the interpretation of the original species protection law to include bees under its protection. So although bees are still insects I’m sure they would be more than happy to call themselves ‘fish’ if it means that they will be afforded laws that will allow them to be classified as threatened species and be protected under the state’s endangered species act. They might have to take some swimming lessons first though!

Read More: California bees can legally be fish and have the same protections, a court has ruled


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Can Fishes Adapt To Our Warming Oceans?

Low potential for evolutionary rescue from climate change in a tropical fish (2020) Morgan et al., PNAS, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2011419117

The Crux

As the planet warms thanks to climate change, the massive bodies of water that are our oceans grow hotter. Since they’re larger, and much poorer conductors of heat, they don’t tend to vary in temperature as much as the land does, which means many species will have to get used to longer, warmer periods.

If species can adapt to hotter temperatures through thermal acclimation, ecosystems may not be too harshly affected. However if they’re unable to adapt, marine ecosystems may undergo rapid changes as they lose native species. Today’s researchers looked at a key study species – the zebrafish – in order to figure out how well fish can respond to increasing temperatures.

Read more

Who Is Simpson And What Does His Paradox Mean For Ecologists?

Edward H. Simpson was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, the home of Allied code-breakers during the Second World War. While you’d think this would be his claim to fame, perhaps his most lasting contribution is his description of Simpson’s paradox. The paradox describes the phenomena whereby a relationship within a dataset dramatically changes if you look at the data by group or all together. More famous examples of the paradox stem from the medical world or the famous Berkeley admissions example. But what examples can we have in mind in ecological settings to guide us? Let’s consider the dimensions of penguins’ bills compiled from Palmer Station in Antarctica. If we are interested in the relationship between the bill depth and length we might do a preliminary analysis like the following linear regression.

Read more

Mommy Issues

This is a general PSA that you should watch Prehistoric Planet if for no other reason to see some really cute baby dinos of all sorts!

But in all seriousness the team behind this documentary series have clearly put in the work from presenting us with some of the most life-like dinosaurs imaginable to presenting us with the most up to date ‘dino facts’. Among this of course is the traumatic separation of the baby Triceratops from his mother – as well as the tough times faced by many of the other baby dinos.

It might seem cruel to put the CGI’ed baby dinos through such trauma. This isn’t a nature documentary in the traditional sense (although I wish it was), so why do the babies have to die?? I mean it’s up there with having the dog die in the film!

Showing us the tough times that we might expect baby dinos to have gone through arguably lends to the realness of the series and is probably the reality of how things really were. Many species (often reffered to as “r-selected”) have large broods or litters to try and compensate for the inevitable death of most of their brood – and we know from the fossil record that most dinos were no different.


Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

« Older Entries