Life At Sea: Reflections From Two And A Half Months On A Research Vessel
A tugboat maneuvering the RV Sonne into the harbor of Cape Town after four weeks of transit from Emden. Due to COVID-19, we were not allowed to leave the ship, not even for a jog in the harbor.
Germany’s largest research vessel – the RV Sonne – recently returned to harbor in the port town of Emden after 73 days, the longest-ever research cruise in the history of the ship. I was lucky enough to participate in the journey, which took us to through Cape Town, Walvis Bay and Las Palmas. As part of a team of 30 scientists, 22 women and 8 men, we set out to study one of the most productive ecosystems in the world: the Benguela Upwelling System off the coast of South Africa and Namibia.
Spending this long at sea is a truly special experience and here’s my personal account of what it’s like day-to-day on one of the largest research ships in the world.Read more
On The Trail Of Explosive Seaweed Blooms
You’ve probably heard of the Sargasso Sea – it is well-known for the floating seaweed called Sargassum that provides a habitat for baby sea turtles and many other sea critters. Floating in the Atlantic Ocean just off the east coast of North America, it’s also the region where the European and American eels mate, a process that scientists still don’t fully understand after centuries of research.
For the last 10 years, a phenomenon has occurred in the Atlantic where never-ending masses of Sargassum inundate beaches after uncharacteristically large blooms occurred. The Sargassum originates from the nutrient-poor waters of the North Equatorial Recirculation Region off the west coast of Africa and spreads throughout the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent ocean basins, affecting the Caribbean, states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, South America and even Africa. Tom Theirlynck is a marine biologist, currently working on his PhD at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and University of Amsterdam (IBED-FAME), and he as part of the Amaral-Zettler (NIOZ/UvA) research group is studying the excessive Sargassum blooms in detail.Read more
The Luck of the Evolutionary Draw Behind Your Cheese Addiction
Image Credit: W Carter, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped
Milk, cheese and ice cream…if these words make your mouth water rather than induce a panicked search for the nearest bathroom, you’re one of humanities’ recently evolved lactose-tolerant specimens.Read more
Hydrothermal Vents And Where To Find Them
The “Candelabra” black smoker at a water depth of 3,300 meters in the Logatchev Hydrothermal Field on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (Image Credit: MARUM − Zentrum für Marine Umweltwissenschaften, Universität Bremen, CC BY 4.0, Image Cropped)
The deep sea is an unimaginably large and dark environment, and humanity’s attempt to learn about it is comically clumsy. Sampling the animals in the deep sea is often done “blindly”, by dragging nets along the ocean floor or through the water column, or bringing up cores of deep-sea sediment. The most sophisticated, precise and least destructive method is using underwater robots that have arms that can be controlled remotely to sample specific animals in real time, though naturally, this is also the most expensive.
These sampling efforts are comparable to sampling a rainforest with a helicopter. At night. With a map that a kindergartener drew. How long would it take to get a reliable record of all the different species of bird, beetle, monkey and flower found in the rainforest? How long to find a male and female of every species?Read more
You’re Their Whole World: Studying The Mites On Your Face With Dr. Benjamin Clanner-Engelshofen
Image Credit: AJE Terzi, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped
While many biologists have to spend arduous days in the field, often sweating, getting stuck in mud or bitten by a million mosquitos, Dr. Benjamin Clanner-Engelshofen carries his study species wherever he goes: on his own forehead.
He finished his first PhD in October 2020 and is both a pharmacist and medical doctor, currently practicing at the clinic and polyclinic for dermatology and allergy of the Ludwig Maximilian University Hospital in Munich. His work focuses on the little mites that live on all of us.Read more
A Short Review of Sexuality in the Natural World
The discovery of ‘lesbian’ seagulls in California in the 1970s shook outdated beliefs that homosexuality was unnatural. Since then, scientists have documented cases of homosexuality in hundreds more species (Image Credit: JanBirdie, Pixabay licence)
Darwin’s work on evolution, natural selection and “survival of the fittest” is probably the most well-known scientific hypothesis out there.
Survival of the fittest means that the “fittest” have the highest reproductive success – whether that is achieved by roaring the loudest, building the most beautiful nest, camouflaging the best, or performing the most impressive mating dance. Passing on their genes to the next generation is what makes an individual successful in this context.Read more
Marvels of the African Great Lakes: Studying Cichlids With Dr. Frederic Schedel
Africa has long been romanticized in regards to the natural world. From crocodiles snapping at wildebeest to lions lounging on the plains, the continent is packed with charismatic animals. Often slipping under the radar is the fact that Africa’s freshwater ecosystems are also teeming with stunning wildlife.Read more
Consider the Copepod: Researching the Base of the Food Web (with Dr. Nancy Mercado-Salas)
Image Credit: Andrei Savitsky (left and right), CC BY-SA 4.0 ; Uwe Kils (centre), CC BY-SA 3.0
The deep sea is a wondrous world of biodiversity, darkness, and mysteries we still know very little about. Despite the fact that we rely on the deep sea as a sink for carbon dioxide – and increasingly as a source of natural gases and minerals – we have very little understanding of how our actions will affect its intricate food web.
Near the base of the food web sits an incredibly diverse group of animals called copepods. They are so abundant and have such sweeping variety that we are still struggling to come up with a way to classify them. Dr. Nancy Mercado-Salas has worked with these tiny creatures since her bachelor’s thesis, both in freshwater and in marine ecosystems, and her message is clear: We need to increase our knowledge on this group of animals before it is too late.Read more
Venturing Into The Earth’s Great Unknown: The Mesopelagic Zone
Drawing of deep-sea fishes by ‘Résultats des Campagnes Scientifiques’ (1889) by Albert I, Prince of Monaco (1848–1922). (Image Credit: Rawpixel Ltd., CC BY 4.0, Image Cropped)