Category Archives: Ecology

The Soil’s New Universe: Giant Viruses

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

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Credit: Brian Boucheron, CC BY 2.0

What’s in soil? Water, air, sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. What’s in organic matter? Humus, earthworms, insects, bacteria and, we just learned, giant viruses. As their name implies, these viruses are big—their dimensions and genome sizes are comparable to those of bacteria. Continue reading

Environment Exposure to Microplastics and Affiliated Toxic Chemicals

A guest post by Mai Lei

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC North America 29th Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California (4–8 November 2018).

Can you imagine our beautiful planet becoming a “plastic planet”? In the BBC documentary film Blue Planet II, members of the producing team noted that plastic waste is ubiquitously floating in the sea, including fishing lines, plastic packages, and plastic bottles. Marine organisms can be trapped by plastic waste that is everywhere in the oceans, even in the deepest and most remote parts. So it is essential to carry out intensive studies of plastic waste. Large plastics can either be physically or chemically broken into fragments after having been in the water a long time, traveling long distances. Such fragments, coupled with ones that were released into seas as fine plastic particles (smaller than 5 mm), are collectively called microplastics.

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Surface water trawling for floating microplastic collection on the Pearl River estuary in China.  Inset pictures are pieces of microplastic (fragments, pellets, and lines) from the trawl.  Credit: Lei Mai.

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California Oil Spills: Impacts on Habitat and Wildlife

A guest post by Ashley McConnell

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC North America 29th Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California (4–8 November 2018).

The Gaviota Coast in southern California is a precious resource to people and wildlife; a scenic stretch of coastline home to a wealth of biota, sand beaches, intact habitats, and natural drainages that allow the undisturbed flow of water between land and ocean. On 19 May 2015, eyes around the world turned to this stunning stretch of coastline, as newspapers and television screens flashed images of crude oil seeping into the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. Continue reading

Natural Toxins and Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs): Analysis, Toxicity, and Risks

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Rome, Italy (13-17 May 2018).

A guest post by Gemma Giménez Papiol

How do toxic natural compounds such as microalgae toxins or plant secondary metabolites affect water quality, ecosystem functioning, and human health?  For the majority of natural toxins—of which there are at least 25,000 different compounds—we do not know! Natural toxins include some of the worlds’ most toxic substances. Continue reading

Human-Made Changes of the Mississippi River’s Flow Amplify Extreme Flooding

By Roberta Attanasio, Blog Editor

For millennia, human societies have altered river flows in different ways. In the 20th century, the impact of human activities on rivers and watershed environments has increased exponentially—and engineering works such as channelization and dam construction have created new, complex, hybrid human-natural systems. Continue reading

What to Expect in 2018: Horizon Scanning Identifies Risks and Opportunities Related to Global Biological Diversity

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

What are the emerging issues that will likely affect global diversity, ecosystem services, and conservation efforts in 2018? Results from the 9th annual horizon scan, conducted by 24 experts and described in a recently published study, identified early signs of the 15 top future challenges and trends related to themes that include new mechanisms driving the emergence and geographic expansion of diseases, innovative biotechnologies, reassessment of global change, and the development of strategic infrastructure to facilitate global economic priorities. Continue reading

A Twist to the Great Story of Plastic-Eating Caterpillars

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

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Wax worm (Galleria mellonella). Credit: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab, public domain.

“Like diamonds, plastics are forever,” began a recent New York Times editorial. Or are they? No one knows exactly how long it takes for conventional plastics to completely degrade—it could be hundreds or thousands of years. In other words, a very long time. Even when broken down, plastics persist as tiny bits called microplastics.

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Beach plastic, Otter Rock, Oregon, USA. Credit: Jason Karn, CC BY-ND 2.0.

The first global analysis of the production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made was published in July 2017. The study shows that by 2015, humans generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics. Of these, 6.3 billion tons had already become waste. Only 9% of the waste was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. These staggering numbers explain why it is necessary to find strategies to degrade accumulated plastics.

A 2017 study published in Current Biology raised considerable interest in those seeking to limit the impact of plastic pollution. Science journalists jumped on the wagon, and rightly so—the study results promised a possible solution to the accumulation of plastic bags. Worldwide, one trillion plastic bags are used each year, 380 billion of which are used in the United States alone. Most plastic bags are not recycled. Journalists were also captivated by the story leading to the study, which was widely reported in the news.

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