Plants increase thanks to more CO2 but offer less nutrients and grasshoppers decrease

The number of grasshoppers is decreasing in parallel with the decline in the quality of ecosystems such as grasslands: this was achieved by a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers conducted the study in a prairie in Arkansas analyzing data from the last two decades.

According to the researchers themselves, everything is due to increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere that have decreased important nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sodium in plants, which in turn led to the decline of grasshoppers.
The study was carried out by Ellen Welti, researcher at the Geographical Ecology Group of the OU Department of Biology, in collaboration with other institutes.

“This decline in plant nutrient concentration represents a challenge for all plant consuming animals, including humans,” reveals the researcher.
This study confirms that many species of insects are declining in number and that grasshoppers are no less so despite the prairies of Arkansas, the environment taken into account for the study, represents a privileged stable habitat for these insects.

The decrease calculated by the researcher would be 2% per year over the last 20 years despite a doubling of plant biomass over the same period. The decrease in the number of grasshoppers can be explained by the lower quality of the plants in relation to the nutrients they can offer and the dilution of these nutrients.
“The greenhouse gas CO2 is warming the Earth and acidifying its oceans, but it is also the main ingredient of sugars, starches and cellulose in plants,” said Michael Kaspari, senior author of the study.

According to the researcher, human beings, by immersing more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, are also promoting the growth of more plants. However, without enough nutrients to fertilize all of these plants, the nutritional value of each plant is diluted and lowered. This means less and less quality food for grasshoppers.
According to the researchers, this is not a phenomenon limited to Arkansas: the dilution of plant nutrients is probably a global phenomenon and therefore a challenge for all herbivorous animal populations around the world.


Mussel-inspired glue that also works underwater created by scientists at Purdue

A new underwater adhesive glue inspired by mussel stickers and the way these marine animals stick to each other was created by a start-up company called Mussel Polymers and originally patented by the Purdue Research Foundation.
The adhesive, called poly(catechol-stirene) or PCS, imitates the glue that mussels use in nature to stick to various substrates in the sea.

The powerful new glue is the result of more than 10 years of effort and cost more than $2 million. The research was funded by the Office of Naval Research.
This new glue could have a strong impact in several areas, including those related to all those occasions when we have to use a glue in our daily lives, as explained by Jonathan Wilker, professor of chemistry and materials engineering at Purdue who created the technology.

The main novelty of this adhesive technology is that it can work very well even in very humid conditions or in the presence of water, which could be very useful in important sectors such as biomedical or aerospace, not to mention construction or cosmetics.


Getting kids into science

This is a lovely article we’d like to share:

Getting Kids Interested In Science: Parents, Teachers & Educators Comment

I don’t know if you’re a parent, but one of the toughest things is to get them to actually LIKE studying, and WANT to study. It’s difficult. But I always disliked the idea of forcing any child to do anything, which is why I would much prefer to encourage my child to take their own interest in studying.

As far as I am concerned, science is inherently interesting (why else would I have started a science news blog?) and there’s something wrong if kids have an automatic disgust for it.

In this article, many different people talk about how you can actively get kids interested in science. Worth reading! See also how to get your kids interested in STEM from lifehacker.


That’s how crocodiles have survived mass extinction

How have crocodiles managed to stay alive despite the various mass extinctions that have occurred since they set foot on Earth? This is the question that a team of researchers at the Milner Center for Evolution at the University of Bath tried to answer.
Crocodiles are one of the oldest surviving lineages to date. They have survived two extinctions in particular: the late Cretaceous extinction, the most notorious one that wiped dinosaurs off the globe 66 million years ago, and a lesser extinction than the Eocene, which occurred 33.9 million years ago, the extinction that wiped out so many aquatic species.

This is not the first study trying to answer this riddle. Previous studies have suggested that diet may have helped these animals cope with these difficult conditions as well as their semi-aquatic behaviour (in essence they are neither marine nor terrestrial animals).
However, a new study, which appeared in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, suggests that the answer lies in their particular reproductive biology.

The sex of crocodile cubs, in fact, is determined by the temperature at which they are incubated since these animals do not have sex chromosomes. The higher the temperature during the incubation phase, the more likely it is that males are born. It is a little the discourse of the turtles only that for these last ones the contrary is true.

Precisely for this reason the climate changes, which are seeing an ongoing global warming, are partly beginning to influence also the reproductive biology of this type of animals. For example, in some turtle populations 80% of turtles are born female, something that could lead to devastating consequences for these animals in the near future.

Going back to crocodiles, the scientists have analyzed 20 different species, coming from all over the world, discovering that the smaller species tend to live closer to the equator while the bigger species tend to live at higher latitudes and in more temperate climates. They also discovered that incubation temperatures are not latitude related.

This means that crocodiles may not be threatened in the future, as are turtles, by climate change in relation to birth levels. It should also be added that crocodiles themselves, unlike turtles, take care of their young (turtles lay their eggs on the beach and then leave the young alone).

And it is precisely this more practical approach to parenting that has evidently allowed crocodiles to survive the aforementioned mass extinctions.
This does not mean that crocodiles are not globally threatened: there are human activities that, for these animals, could be considered a more threatening factor than mass extinction.


139 other trans-Neptunian objects discovered, periphery of the increasingly crowded solar system

The neighborhood of the solar system beyond Neptune is full of surprises. Analyzing data from the Dark Energy Survey (DES), a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has in fact confirmed the presence of more than 300 additional Transneptunian objects (TNO), of which center 139 new discoveries, several of them considered as minor planets or dwarf planets, in these remote areas of the solar system.

The study, published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, also describes what can be defined as a new approach to find objects of this kind, something useful also for future research, and above all to find the much coveted Planet Nine, also called Planet X, a hypothetical planet (and not a dwarf or minor planet) that would circulate undisturbed in the most remote areas of the solar system.

The DES survey was not initially conducted to discover new objects beyond Neptune but to understand the nature of dark energy by analyzing, through high-precision images, the area of the southern sky everything that can be observed from that position, primarily galaxies and supernovae. However, the succulent data have made the astronomers’ hearts beat faster, including graduate student Pedro Bernardinelli and professors Gary Bernstein and Masao Sako from the University of Pennsylvania.
Bernardinelli explains that to find TNO all you need to do is find a way to see the object move in the background, which makes it easier to find them.

The researcher, with the help of the two professors, started a first phase in which he had to work on as many as 7 billion possible objects detected by the software, interesting movements of transient objects on a fixed background, which indicated the proximity of these same objects to galaxies, supernovae or other distant objects.
As this list of candidates was skimmed, through a new method developed by Bernardinelli himself, and after many months of work, the result was 316 confirmed trans-Neptunian objects, of which 139 are new discoveries as never previously published.

Since there are only 3000 TNOs in total, this new catalogue represents 10% of all known TNOs. These are objects that are 30 to 90 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. In addition, some of these objects have extremely long orbits due to which at some point they will be very far away, well beyond Pluto and far beyond the distances that now separate them from the Sun.
The method used by Bernardinelli could be used in the future to make similar discoveries, as the researcher himself explains: “Many of the programs we have developed can be easily applied to any other large data set, such as the one that the Rubin Observatory will produce”.