Tag Archives: consumption

The Recycling Crisis

Despite what the Magic School Bus, Captain Planet and other environmental icons from our childhood taught us, effectively recycling an object is not as simple as simply ensuring it goes in the right bin. This presents problems, as our ability to recycle effectively is currently being greatly diminished by a number of factors. Between “wish cycling” by consumers, poor infrastructure at the municipal level, and Asian countries refusing to take the mounting amount of single-use waste other countries are producing, the Global North’s recycling is facing a sharp drop in efficiency. So let’s look at some common recycling misconceptions.

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Plastic Fanatics

Image Credit: Emilian Robert Vicol, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

It is hard to deny that plastics are having a moment – you open Facebook to find videos of turtles floating among plastic bags, Instagram to find every company is proudly getting rid of plastic straws, the news to find out the latest on the Great Pacific garbage patch. Plastics are what colony collapse disorder (aka. where are the bees going?) was a few years ago: the new environmental issue that everyone is talking about.

Now, plastics are certainly an irrefutable problem. We obviously have an unhealthy dependency on plastics that are found in our clothing, food, soaps, and homes. However, there is a question among conservationists and scientists over whether or not it is a good thing that the public conscious seems to become obsessed with a single issue, while others outside the limelight seem to fall away (similar to how in the USA people seem to have forgotten that Flint is STILL without clean water). I want to discuss how the new media landscape propels environmental fads, the good they can do, and the possible problems.

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When the Growing Gets Hot

Growth is a critical aspect of life for all organisms, and understanding what can and cannot affect it allows us to predict what effect climate change may have on organisms like these zebrafish (Image Credit: Lynn Ketchum, CC BY-SA 2.0).

Warming increases the cost of growth in a model vertebrate (2019) Barneche et al., Functional Ecology, https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.13348

The Crux

In ecology, how organisms grow is relevant across all levels of life. Growing faster than others can be selected for as an evolutionary advantage, if being bigger earlier means that you have a competitive advantage over other members of your species.

Because growth is so critical to life, it is important to understand what may affect the ability of an organism to grow. The only way an organism can grow is by converting energy it acquires from food to its own body mass, but outside influences, like temperature, can affect how efficient an organism is at this energy conversion. The authors of today’s paper wanted to investigate if this efficiency and the cost of growth itself changed across a range of projected temperatures.
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Andrew MacDougall: Finding Ecological Solutions for the Farming Industry

The farming industry has had a strange relationship with ecology over the years. They have been maligned by claims they shoot native species, suck up water greedily from nature and the people, and pollute our countryside with pesticides, all whilst producing the food many of us subsist on. So why haven’t ecologists worked with them more closely?

At the recent NØF 2019 Conference, Tanja Petersen and I sat down with Canadian ecologist Professor Andrew MacDougall, who has been working with the farming industry for the past six years to quantify their contribution to ecosystem services. We talked about the often damaging public perception of farmers, how his stereotypes were challenged by working with them, and the biggest problems the industry will face heading into the next fifty years.

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Snakes Spreading Seeds

The sidewinder rattlesnake, one of many snakes that inadvertently transports seeds by swallowing small herbivores

The sidewinder rattlesnake, one of many snakes that inadvertently transports seeds by swallowing small herbivores (Image Credit: Brian Gratwicke, CC BY 2.0)

Seed ingestion and germination in rattlesnakes: overlooked agents of rescue and secondary dispersal (2018) Reiserer et al., Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, DOI:10.1098/rspb.2017.2755

The Crux

Plants depend on outside forces to disperse their seeds away from the parent plant, and the most common way is via a process called zoochory, where animals spread the seeds. This can be due to seeds being stuck onto the fur of an animal, animals taking and storing the seeds in a different location, or when an animal eats the fruit and later defecates the seeds.

One indirect way in which seeds are dispersed is when a predator, such as a coyote, raptor, or bobcat, consumes an animal (like a mouse) that had seeds in its stomach or cheek pouches. Rattlesnakes commonly consume small rodents that carry seeds in cheek pouches, and though these snakes are known to eat these seed-carrying animals, their own role in seed dispersal remains largely unknown. In order to learn more, the researchers in this study dissected museum specimens to search for secondarily-consumed seeds.

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