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Representatives from 44 scientific societies and biology education organizations converged in Washington, DC, for the 2008 Biology Education Summit, co-organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
This overview examines recent progress in the application of molecular tools to the study of insect biology and the development of pest management strategies. The sequencing and annotation of insect genomes, coupled with analyses using comparative genomics, are providing new insights into the molecular underpinnings of insect-specific processes and shedding light on their evolutionary relationships. Researchers investigate the functions of insect genes using indirect approaches such as expression profiling, and direct methods such as insertional mutagenesis and RNA interference. Biotechnological applications to pest management include the development of resistant crops and trees that express insect-specific toxins, the design of microbial agents with enhanced insecticidal potency, and the engineering of insects that can transfer lethal genes to natural populations following their mass release in the field. Comparative genomics analyses also make it possible to identify insect-specific genes that can be targeted for rational insecticide design, using tools such as cell-based, high-throughput screening assays.
Thawing permafrost and the resulting microbial decomposition of previously frozen organic carbon (C) is one of the most significant potential feedbacks from terrestrial ecosystems to the atmosphere in a changing climate. In this article we present an overview of the global permafrost C pool and of the processes that might transfer this C into the atmosphere, as well as the associated ecosystem changes that occur with thawing. We show that accounting for C stored deep in the permafrost more than doubles previous high-latitude inventory estimates, with this new estimate equivalent to twice the atmospheric C pool. The thawing of permafrost with warming occurs both gradually and catastrophically, exposing organic C to microbial decomposition. Other aspects of ecosystem dynamics can be altered by climate change along with thawing permafrost, such as growing season length, plant growth rates and species composition, and ecosystem energy exchange. However, these processes do not appear to be able to compensate for C release from thawing permafrost, making it likely that the net effect of widespread permafrost thawing will be a positive feedback to a warming climate.
Many changes wrought during the construction of “designer ecosystems” are intended to ensure—and often succeed in ensuring—that a city can provide ecosystem goods and services; but other changes have unintended impacts on the ecology of the city, impairing its ability to provide these critical functions. Indian Bend Wash, an urbanizing watershed in the Central Arizona–Phoenix (CAP) ecosystem, provides an excellent case study of how human alteration of land cover, stream channel structure, and hydrology affect ecosystem processes, both intentionally and unintentionally. The construction of canals created new flowpaths that cut across historic stream channels, and the creation of artificial lakes produced sinks for fine sediments and hotspots for nitrogen processing. Further hydrologic manipulations, such as groundwater pumping, linked surface flows to the aquifer and replaced ephemeral washes with perennial waters. These alterations of hydrologic structure are typical by-products of urban growth in arid and semiarid regions and create distinct spatial and temporal patterns of nitrogen availability.
Among human activities causing ecological change, war is both intensive and far-reaching. Yet environmental research related to warfare is limited in depth and fragmented by discipline. Here we (1) outline a field of study called “warfare ecology,” (2) provide a taxonomy of warfare useful for organizing the field, (3) review empirical studies, and (4) propose research directions and policy implications that emerge from the ecological study of warfare. Warfare ecology extends to the three stages of warfare—preparations, war, and postwar activities—and treats biophysical and socioeconomic systems as coupled systems. A review of empirical studies suggests complex relationships between warfare and ecosystem change. Research needs include the development of theory and methods for examining the cascading effects of warfare on specific ecosystems. Policy implications include greater incorporation of ecological science into military planning and improved rehabilitation of postwar ecosystem services, leading to increased peace and security.
Bats are among the most diverse and most gregarious of all mammals. This makes them highly interesting for research on the causes and consequences of sociality in animals. Detailed studies on bat sociality are rare, however, when compared with the information available for other social mammals, such as primates, carnivores, ungulates, and rodents. Modern field technologies and new molecular methods are now providing opportunities to study aspects of bat biology that were previously inaccessible. Consequently, bat social systems are emerging as far more complex than had been imagined. Variable dispersal patterns, complex olfactory and acoustic communication, flexible context-related interactions, striking cooperative behaviors, and cryptic colony structures in the form of fission-fusion systems have been documented. Bat research can contribute to the understanding of animal sociality, and specifically to important topics in behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology, such as dispersal, fission-fusion behavior, group decisionmaking, and cooperation.
Epistemological differences between “wet” and “dry” research (experimentation and computation, respectively) result in practical problems in daily cooperation between researchers. We introduce wet and dry research as different styles of science and, using the example of nutrigenomic research, demonstrate that specific technologies can facilitate cooperation by helping to identify a common ground. To illustrate this point, we discuss the crucial role of the gene pathway map as a communication tool in scientific practice. Where wet and dry science meet, this may result in the formation of a “moist” zone, a site of exchange and cooperation. The existence of a moist zone teaches us about the inner workings of difficult cooperations and demonstrates how the moist zone further stabilizes wet and dry styles of science.
This article highlights the complex interactions between anthropogenic ecological change and mosquito-borne disease patterns. Ancient Rome provides a historical case study of the possible interplay between deforestation and an increasing malarial disease burden, and examples drawn from across the globe suggest that the experience of Rome is being repeated today. The evidence calls for careful management of agricultural clearing and for a multidisciplinary perspective in policy development on the issue, particularly in regions where there are already indications of escalating disease rates.