Posts Tagged 'International Year of Biodiversity'

The International Year of Biodiversity Wrap-Up

The International Year of Biodiversity is almost at its end. The United Nations declared 2010 to be the year for celebrating, researching, exploring, understanding and protecting the world’s biodiversity.

Here at More to Explore, we celebrated the year with a series of posts:

The goal of the International Year of Biodiversity was not only to celebrate the life on Earth, but to protect it. And there are still far too many organisms that are threatened and endangered, and at least 100 species go extinct each day. For a beautiful and moving look at 80 of America’s endangered species, read Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species.

Even though the International Year of Biodiversity is coming to an end, don’t stop learning about the amazing breadth of life on Earth. And just so you’re ready, 2011 is the International Year of Forests. Why not begin the celebration by reading Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees?

Bark from the Octillo tree

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Urban planning, slime mold style

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

This post is part of our series celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity.

Physarum polycephalum (photo from http://www.genome.gov)

Slime molds are fungus-like organisms that almost defy description. Once thought to be fungi, slime molds often look like fungus, are colored like plants, can move like animals, and are none of the above. Today they fall under the broad category of Eukarya, which doesn’t help much since that category includes a lot, even the scientists who are doing the categorizing!

Simply described, slime molds are organisms that produce large, single-celled multinucleate (multiple nuclei) bodies called plasmodia. Most slime molds reproduce by spores (like fungi) that germinate and produce microscopic, amoeba-like organisms that flow on thin films of water. When several of these amoeba-like organisms meet, they fuse together and the plasmodium begins to grow. Plasmodia are the feeding and growing stages of slime mold life, and some plasmodia can reach sizes of over 2 feet in diameter while others can move as fast as 2 cm/hour (several feet in one day). No matter how big they get or fast they move, they still remain a single cell.

Slime molds are often found feeding on microorganisms in soil, logs, trees, and even telephone poles (in 1973, one such incident in Dallas, Texas, had some residents convinced that an alien life form was invading the city).They’re sometimes slimy, often use spores to reproduce, and come with such attractive names as “Bubblegum,” “Spaghetti,” “Wolf’s milk,” and “Dog vomit.” If all of that wasn’t cool enough, it’s also been demonstrated that slime molds can remember and researchers have used them as robots’ brains. And if all that isn’t enough to astound your (hopefully non-slime mold controlled) mind, they’re skilled at urban planning, too!

Interested in testing the slime mold Physarum polycephalum’s response to a complicated pattern, researchers in Japan allowed it to grow on a damp surface that they populated with oat flakes that mimicked the location of cities around Tokyo. Since P. polycephalum avoids light, the experiment used light to simulate mountains, lakes, and other landscape obstacles. P. polycephalum was placed in the center of the map (Tokyo), and researchers monitored where the plasmodia went. Because P. polycephalum sends its plasmodia out from a central location and develops optimal paths to food (in this case, the bacteria on the oat flakes), it creates efficient pathways, strengthening branches that work and removing ones that don’t. Over the next 26 hours, the slime mold sent out plasmodia and, by the end of the experiment, the organism had a series of branches that looked remarkably like the real Tokyo rail system connecting those communities. What took people years to design took the slime mold hours. Click here to watch P. polycephalum in action, and pay particular attention to the way that branches are built and discarded based on whether or not the slime mold found food.

Even though the stories of a secret subway system in Fort Collins are only tall tales, if the city ever decides that we should have one I say lets offer these slime molds the design contract.

The International Year of Biodiversity

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

The United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity.

Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is defined as “the variability among living organisms from all sources, including ‘inter alia,’ terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecossytems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.” There are three levels to biodiversity: genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity and together they form the web of life on Earth.

The biodiversity around us helps purify the air and water, provides shelter, food, fuel, and fiber, moderates floods, droughts, and temperature extremes, controls pests and disease, regenerates the soil, generates income from tourism, and so much more. The loss of biodiversity threatens all those things.

As you enjoy 2010, pay attention to the stories of biodiversity around you. What organisms and ecosystems are in your own backyard? In your town? In your state? What stories of biodiversity do you read about in the paper, hear about in the news? And remember to come back and visit our blog, we’ll highlight stories of biodiversity that reach from Fort Collins to across the globe throughout the year.

To get things started, take a look at some of the biodiversity discoveries that have made the news so far this year:

Think you would need to explore an entire continent to find over 30 new vertebrate species? Think again, all you need is the microhabitat of a small mountain in Ecuador. Visit the Daily Mail to learn about the new discoveries, including a gecko so small it can sit on a pencil eraser, a transparent frog, and a snake the sucks snails out of their shells.

Newly discovered gecko

Newly discovered frog

The discovery of the first known breeding ground for one of the world’s rarest birds and the first recording of their song all happened by accident, and with the help of a museum! Visit Discovery News for the story of the Large-billed reed warbler and its breeding ground in Afghanistan.

Large-billed reed warbler

And, finally, lemurs may have colonized Madagascar starting 50-60 million years ago on rafts. This move, along with being awesome, has lead to evolution of 99 lemur species, none of which are found naturally any place else. Science Blogs has the story of how researchers are simulating prehistoric ocean currents to test the theory.

Lemur photographed at the Bronx Zoo


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