WBEZ | ecology http://www.wbez.org/tags/ecology Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Buckthorn draws out coyotes, cripples native frog development http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/buckthorn-draws-out-coyotes-cripples-native-frog-development-107271 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffagoldberg/4548680475/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/frog-by-jeff-goldberg.jpg" title="A bullfrog in Wright Woods Forest Preserve. A new NIU study found the invasive plant buckthorn threatens populations of native amphibians. (Flickr/Jeff Goldberg)" /></a></p><p>Ecologists have <a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/hainesville-residents-fight-buckthorn" target="_blank">long known</a> of buckthorn&rsquo;s ability to push out native plants, but two new studies from Chicago scientists suggest the woody shrub also changes the distribution of large mammals like coyotes, and causes spinal defects in unborn frogs.</p><p>&quot;We already knew that the buckthorn was outcompeting other plant species,&quot; said Seth Magle, director of the Lincoln Park Zoo&rsquo;s Urban Wildlife Institute and author of one study currently in publication. &quot;But no one had looked at the mammal community to see if they&rsquo;re affected. And it turns out that they are.&quot;</p><p>An <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/invasive-species" target="_blank">invasive species</a> imported from Europe as an ornamental plant, buckthorn has overrun many native ecosystems, including&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/mouse-and-oak-tree-105543" target="_blank">oak savannas</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/restoring-prairieland-calumets-industrial-corridor-104751" target="_blank">prairieland</a>. Its spindly branches form a dense undergrowth that blocks sunlight from native plants, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/hacking-back-invasive-species-and-crime-105895" target="_blank">providing cover for crime</a> in some urban corridors. According to the new study, forthcoming in <em>Natural Areas Journal</em>, white-tailed deer were more likely to show up in sites without buckthorn, while coyotes and opossums were more common in sites invaded with buckthorn.</p><p>An Urban Wildlife Institute intern, Marian Vernon, first noticed the trend. Magle encouraged her to see if the data would bear out her observation. Vernon, now a PhD student at Yale University, and her colleagues used motion-triggered infrared cameras to document the appearance of different mammal species at 35 Chicago area sites.</p><p>The study also found seasonal changes in association with buckthorn. Coyotes shifted into sites with buckthorn from spring to summer, affecting the distribution of one of their preferred prey species, white-tailed deer.</p><p>While buckthorn may change the distribution of some mammals, another study suggests it directly harms amphibians.</p><p>Buckthorn emits a chemical called emodin, which has a wide variety of bioactive properties. Previous studies found emodin has laxative properties when eaten by some animals, and is allelopathic, meaning it inhibits the growth of other plant species nearby.</p><p>New research from Northern Illinois University student Allison Sacerdote-Velat and her PhD advisor Richard King found emodin also affects frog embryos, causing fatal kinks in their developing spines. The research is slated to be published in an upcoming edition of the <em>Journal of Herpetology</em>.</p><p>The effects hit native species harder than African clawed&nbsp;frogs, a common test species for environmental toxicity studies. Buckthorn produces emodin in its roots, fruit, bark and leaves, which it drops early in the season to salt the earth, so to speak, against competitors. Buckthorn in Illinois is particularly aggressive in its ability to invade wetlands, strengthening its impact on amphibians who live and breed in those areas.</p><p>The study found high levels of emodin coincided with the breeding activity of several Midwestern amphibian species, including western&nbsp;chorus&nbsp;frogs&nbsp;and blue-spotted salamanders.</p><p>&ldquo;[Buckthorn] litter is probably changing the aquatic invertebrate community,&rdquo; Sacerdote-Velat said. &ldquo;Over time these factors build up and you start losing species diversity.&rdquo;</p><p>The authors of both studies noted the need for further research. Magle pointed out that each study site had only one camera. Small mammals and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/lakefront-landing-strip-migrating-birds-106429" target="_blank">birds</a> are not big enough to set off the motion-triggered cameras, so it&rsquo;s not clear what effect, if any, buckthorn might have on other species.</p><p>For Magle, the research is a reminder that small ecosystem changes can have cascading effects.</p><p>&ldquo;It shows us that our urban areas are ecosystems,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;where everything is connected to everything else.&rdquo;</p></p> Mon, 20 May 2013 10:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/buckthorn-draws-out-coyotes-cripples-native-frog-development-107271 Botanic Garden gets over-watered by storms and is saved by plants, Army http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/botanic-garden-gets-over-watered-storms-and-saved-plants-army-106850 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/botanic-garden-before.jpg" title="The Chicago Botanic Garden's North Lake in September 2012. Scroll down to see the same shore during last week's flood. (Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden/Bob Kirschner)" /></p><p>Chicago&#39;s &quot;garden on the water&quot; got over-watered last week.</p><p>With more than six miles of shoreline, the Chicago Botanic Garden offers an idyllic green scenery along a waterfront. But when <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/rain-causes-flooding-delays-and-massive-pothole-106711">last week&#39;s inundation</a> sent the garden&rsquo;s lake levels soaring by more than five feet, the scene looked more like a swamp. And it was the actions of native plants &ndash; and the U.S. Army &ndash; that saved it.</p><p>The rising water swallowed stone lanterns on the shores of the Japanese Garden. In the past, such flooding would have sucked soil away from the garden&rsquo;s shorelines. Thanks to <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-13/news/ct-tl-glencoe-botanical-garden-20120913-8_1_native-plants-botanic-garden-bob-kirschner">an aggressive perennial plant initiative</a> that has <a href="http://www.chicagobotanic.org/research/shoreline/" target="_blank">tied up lakefront soil with native plant roots</a>, however, many areas of the garden weathered the storm with ease.</p><p>&ldquo;Within a few weeks you won&rsquo;t even know anything ever happened,&rdquo; said Bob Kirschner, director of restoration ecology at the Botanic Garden. Water levels should return to normal by Sunday night, he said, more than 10 days after the lakes began to rise.</p><p>In 2012 the Army Corps of Engineers helped the Garden flatten out its sloping shores, which had been made steeper by years of erosion. Like many landscaped lakefronts and urban waterways, the Garden once had turf grass right down to the water&rsquo;s edge. When turf grass goes underwater for days on end, it dies. Then the waves washing against that edge start to erode the soil. That process feeds upon itself, chipping away at the earth until you are left with vertical banks.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/botanic-garden-flood.jpg" title="The North Pond, as seen at the top of the article, under five feet of water last week. The water has since subsided and the native plants there survived. (Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden/Bob Kirschner)" /></div><p>Over the past 13 years they have planted more than 450,000 native plants representing hundreds of species. Plants like riverbank sedge and blue flag iris were selected for their ability to survive extended flooding. While conventional flood control infrastructure like sheet piling and stone riprap can help forestall erosion, it can also create &ldquo;biological deserts,&rdquo; Kirschner said, by isolating what might otherwise be a thriving ecosystem where land slopes gently into shallow waters.</p><p>&ldquo;Native plants don&rsquo;t change the volume of the water we store here,&rdquo; Kirschner explained, &ldquo;but they change the resiliency of the ecosystem so it can recover.&rdquo;</p><p>Native plants aren&rsquo;t just for botanic gardens and ecologists. The Skokie River frequently spills over into the Garden, but not before running through 20 miles of north suburban development. If small landowners took an ecological approach to their backyard landscaping, they could have a significant impact on the river&rsquo;s flashiness.</p><p>&ldquo;Your friends and neighbors upriver largely control your destiny,&rdquo; Kirschner said, &ldquo;but you&rsquo;re controlling the destinies of people downriver from you.&rdquo;</p><p>Of course native plants have their limits, too. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/climate-change-could-worsen-chicago-floods-106174">Climate change will likely intensify precipitation extremes</a>, leading to more severe floods and droughts. But the Botanic Garden&rsquo;s native plants survived even worse floods in 2008, and didn&rsquo;t need any water during last summer&rsquo;s drought.</p><p><i>Chris Bentley writes about environmental issues. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a>.</i></p></p> Thu, 25 Apr 2013 23:34:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/botanic-garden-gets-over-watered-storms-and-saved-plants-army-106850 The mouse and the oak tree http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/mouse-and-oak-tree-105543 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/topmedic/6251983913/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Glacial-Park-by-Rolour-Garcia-via-Flickr.jpg" title="Glacial Park in McHenry County, where oak forests and grasslands share history but not a likelihood of oak reproduction. (Rolour Garcia via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>Before European settlement, Illinois was at the fountainhead of a great Midwestern <a href="http://oaksavannas.org/">oak savanna</a> that stretched west through Iowa and south to the Gulf of Mexico. Less than one percent of that remains today.</p><p>In 19<sup>th</sup> century McHenry County, like much of Northeastern Illinois, oaks dominated the forest canopy, making up 98 percent of trees in the area. Efforts to restore oak savannas in the suburban ring around Chicago are growing, but ecologists are encountering some unexpected issues.</p><p>&ldquo;Ecological restoration spent its first 20 years just trying to control invasive species, and that&rsquo;s still the biggest job we have to do,&rdquo; said Tom Simpson, a field station ecologist with the McHenry County Conservation District. &ldquo;But more restorationists are turning their attention to oaks.&rdquo;</p><p>Oaks are a keystone species in the region&rsquo;s savannas and woodlands &mdash; they structure the ecosystem, nourishing the food chain and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/reuniting-nature-nations-backyards-105473">encouraging insect diversity</a>. But they don&rsquo;t make many seedlings, even when other elements of the oak savanna are restored.</p><p>At first most ecologists chalked the oak reproduction problem up to light availability. Oaks in many of the region&rsquo;s natural areas are <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/restoring-prairieland-calumets-industrial-corridor-104751">shaded out by invasive species like buckthorn</a>. Simpson&rsquo;s research over the past four years, however, showed light availability didn&rsquo;t tell the whole story.&nbsp;Despite producing plenty of acorns near grassy areas cleared of invasives, oaks weren&rsquo;t taking off.</p><p>Holding back the mighty oak could be lowly rodents. Simpson looked at squirrels, white-footed mice and meadow voles &mdash; major acorn-consumers &mdash; in McHenry County&rsquo;s Glacial Park. Unlike the other two species, squirrels are critical to the lifecycle of oaks because of their tendency to bury acorns. Squirrels avoid certain open, grassy landscapes where mice populations are high, which could explain why oak seedlings aren&rsquo;t expanding into prairies and grassy savannas as expected.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a question you wouldn&rsquo;t ask until you try to restore the ecosystem,&rdquo; Simpson said. Exactly why mice and voles have apparently edged out squirrels, a species they have shared the ecosystem with for thousands of years, is unclear. As ecologists like Simpson continue to research that question, he said, it underscores the challenges restorationists face.</p><p>&ldquo;Restoration brings us face-to-face with problems that we otherwise would never have seen,&quot; he said. &quot;But, it also gives us the opportunity to find a solution.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><em>Follow Chris Bentley on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a></em>.</span></p></p> Fri, 15 Feb 2013 05:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/mouse-and-oak-tree-105543 High-speed evolution http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/high-speed-evolution-105523 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mambol/5787422021/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/squirrel-by-mambol-via-flickr.jpg" title="Evolution may seem remote, but urban species are evolving before our eyes. (mambol via Flickr)" /></a></p><p>Humans&rsquo; impact on nature has a tendency to eclipse our expectations, from our capacity for population growth to our hand in altering atmospheric chemistry. Scientists studying urban ecology were similarly surprised to learn that animals in metropolitan areas appear to be evolving faster than our classic understanding of the process would predict.</p><p>Joel Brown, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, said that knowledge demands a new framework for environmental decision-making. He calls it evolutionarily enlightened management.</p><p>&ldquo;Evolution happens,&rdquo; said Brown, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2013-02-01/afternoon-shift-where-wild-things-are-105292">who was on The Afternoon Shift Feb. 1</a>. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just an academic thought.&rdquo;</p><p>It is surprising that evolution could be happening before our eyes, but at the same time it shouldn&rsquo;t be &mdash; species accustomed to our urbanized habitat meet the major criteria for speciation, the process of forming new species through evolution. Subject to different pressures than their more rural counterparts, and sufficiently separated from them by habitat loss, urban animal populations can spin off new &ldquo;ecotypes&rdquo; &mdash; not quite new species, taxonomically speaking, but genetically different nonetheless.</p><p>Recent research has shown the way we manage species induces rapid evolutionary changes. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/scitech/science/chicago-scientist-finds-evidence-high-speed-evolution">Scientists found populations of white-footed mice have shrunk over time</a>, in correlation with changes in climate and human population density. It isn&rsquo;t that they&rsquo;re just going hungry. A look at urbanized species reveals their mitochondrial DNA &mdash; their actual genes &mdash; have changed overnight, evolutionarily speaking.</p><p>&ldquo;We have this sense that nature is on hold until we make our decisions,&rdquo; Brown said. &ldquo;But evolution is happening around us.&rdquo;</p><p>We are not going to wake up and find our wolves have turned into Chihuahuas, he said, but &ldquo;backyard ecotypes&rdquo; are edging out their native counterparts in interesting ways. Red squirrels have developed tougher jaws to crack the harder nuts that fall from our deciduous hardwood trees. And some are getting fatter.</p><p>Squirrels in the Morton Arboretum, Brown said, build sizable seed caches for the winter &mdash; a 401acorn plan. In the city, packed together with other squirrels who might plunder their stash, they fatten up instead &mdash; they carry their money in their wallet.</p><p>No one knows exactly why this is happening. It could be that urban environments are more manic-depressive for mammals, so to speak, with greater heights and lower lows than in the wilderness. If that&rsquo;s true for squirrels, larger bodies could act as a check against lean times.</p><p>But Brown said the important thing is just to incorporate the knowledge that it is happening into environmental management. We catch these stories after the fact, he said, but we are facilitating and accelerating the evolution of urban ecotypes with almost every action, or inaction.</p><p>&ldquo;Oftentimes by making no decision, we&rsquo;re making a decision,&rdquo; Brown said, observing at least 80 Canada geese patrolling the UIC lawn outside his window while we spoke over the phone. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re rewarding those geese that don&rsquo;t migrate by giving them so much food.&rdquo;</p><p>Repatriating an errant raccoon to &ldquo;the wild&rdquo; may feel like a good idea, Brown said, but over time as more people dump urban-born animals into natural areas it will speed up the creation of these non-native ecotypes.</p><p>&ldquo;This becomes a societal decision,&rdquo; Brown said. &ldquo;Everybody has to get involved in this discussion.&rdquo;</p><p>Brown asked rhetorically, do we want to declare open hunting season for Canada geese after December 1? Evolutionarily enlightened management could be another tool in ecologists&rsquo; arsenal, he said, but it is also a responsibility.</p><p>&ldquo;If I&rsquo;m going to wield the evolutionary sword,&rdquo; Brown said, &ldquo;I have to be willing to die by it.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow Chris Bentley on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley.</a></em></p></p> Thu, 14 Feb 2013 06:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/high-speed-evolution-105523 Rachel Carson and the birth of environmentalism http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-10/rachel-carson-and-birth-environmentalism-102933 <p><p><img alt="" ap="" class="image-original_image" silent="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/rsz_1ap630314014.jpg" style="height: 381px; width: 300px; float: left; " title="Rachel Carson holding her book " /></p><p>Long before Al Gore invented the Internet or made us aware of <em>An Inconvenient Truth</em>, a book was published that altered our awareness of the natural world and arguably founded modern ecology. On September 27, 1962 Rachel Carson published <em>Silent Spring.</em> It became an immediate best seller and has sold over two million copies.</p><p>Carson&rsquo;s essential message was elemental, shocking and very pessimistic. Using the effects of DDT as her primary example, she argued that chemical and pesticide over use was ruining the environment and threatening human health. Her bottom line arguments were two-fold.</p><p>1) The Earth/environment is a sponge not a filter. What goes in stays in.</p><p>2) For every action there is a reaction. Once DDT or other pesticides enter the biosphere, they not only kill bugs, but they also make their way up the food chain to alter and infect crops, birds, animals, fish populations and eventually effect and endanger the health and long term viability of human beings. Here the warning was clear: &ldquo;If humankind poisoned nature, nature would in turn poison humankind.&rdquo;</p><p>At the time and even now, some of her critics accuse her of being a Luddite. They argued that without the use of modern chemicals and pesticides, we could not feed our teaming population of 7 billion, and millions would die annually from diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. But Carson never argued for the complete discontinuation of all pesticides and chemical additives. Rather, she wanted to raise our awareness in regard to the radical impact and consequences of modern science and technology. She argued that as the national and world economies continue to grow, all of our projects both public and private must take into consideration their long-term environmental imprint.</p><p>According to Carson&rsquo;s biographer Linda Lear in <em>Witness for Nature</em>, Carson did not believe in the medieval metaphysical notion that &ldquo;nature existed to serve the needs of humans.&rdquo; Rather, &ldquo;she wanted us to understand that we are just a blip&hellip;The control of nature was an arrogant idea, and Carson was against human arrogance.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Al Gini is a Professor of Business Ethics and Chairman of the Management Department in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago.</em></p></p> Thu, 11 Oct 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-10/rachel-carson-and-birth-environmentalism-102933 Rainforest Rescue Coalition aims to protect global forests http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-05/segment/rainforest-rescue-coalition-aims-protest-global-forests-99688 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/founders%20RRC%20web.jpg" title="Founding members of Rainforest Rescue Coalition, from left: Marykate Sperduto, Adam Bauer-Goulden, Ross Sullivan, and Willie Heineke. (Photo by RRC)" /></div><p>Each Thursday, we turn to our <a href="http://www.wbez.org/globalactivism"><em>Global Activism</em></a> segment to hear about someone working to make the world a better place. This week we&#39;re spending time with the<a href="http://rainforestrescuecoalition.org/"> Rainforest Rescue Coalition</a>.</p><p>Adam Bauer-Goulden, Marykate Sperduto, William Heineke and Ross Sullivan are met as students at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Now as college students they all study some aspect of environmental science. Last year the friends formed a nonprofit called the Rainforest Rescue Coalition with a mission to &ldquo;conserve and protect rainforest land around the world and to support sustainable relationships between humans and nature.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Us8F9Lidr6o" width="560"></iframe></p><p>Baur-Goulden shared some of the journey with us:</p><p><em>We felt bombarded with the constant news of environmental and socio-cultural destruction, like so many of today&#39;s youth. So we decided to found RRC and get directly involved in conservation efforts. We teamed up with the Rainforest Conservation Fund, a Chicago based not-for-profit organization working successfully on rainforest conservation issues in the Peruvian Amazon since 1988.</em></p><p><em>We all love biking, so we decided to raise money and awareness for conservation initiatives with the &quot;Ride for the Rainforest.&quot; This month [May 2012] we rode 325 miles from Sturgeon Bay, Wis. to Chicago. Lots of people&hellip;sponsor[ed] our dedicated riders&hellip;[T]he trip was a great success!...Not only did we raise much needed monetary support for two great causes, we also spread awareness of environmental issues to hundreds of people, who will hopefully tell hundreds more people. I think that environmental education is one of the most important aspects of conservation. One of the best parts of this experience was seeing the posters that a middle school green club made to raise awareness for rainforest conservation and knowing that we helped to support young budding environmentalists.</em></p><p><em>Fifty percent of contributions will purchase and protect land in the endangered <a href="http://rainforestrescuecoalition.org/?page_id=78">Rawa Kuno Legacy Forest</a> on the island of Borneo, home to hundreds of the last wild orangutans on the planet. Orangutan populations have plummeted 50 percent in just the last ten years and 90 percent of all remaining orangutans on Earth live in the besieged forests of Borneo.</em></p><div class="image-insert-image "><em><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/orangutans%202%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 251px; width: 300px;" title="Baby and mother Orangutan (Photo by Orangutan Foundation International)" />The Rawa Kuno Legacy Forest is a 6,400 acre (ten square miles) remnant peat swamp forest that is currently owned by a family of indigenous Dayaks. The land owner, Pak Kukuh, is constantly pressured by timber and palm oil companies to sell his land, but he has decided to sell it to the Orangutan Foundation International instead so it can be preserved forever.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>The land is home to a variety of amazing animals, such as some of the last wild orangutans, clouded leopards, sun bears, proboscis monkeys, and gibbons. Some of these animals are found nowhere else in the entire world! The forest is also an extremely important carbon sink and its extensive peat holds thousands of metric tons of carbon&hellip;Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, &quot;To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - this is to have succeeded.&quot;</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>The other fifty percent of contributions will fund a sustainable agroforestry program for the native communities living in the buffer zone of the <a href="http://www.rainforestconservation.org/archives/1140">Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo</a> communal forest reserve in the Peruvian Amazon.</em></div></p> Thu, 31 May 2012 09:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-05/segment/rainforest-rescue-coalition-aims-protest-global-forests-99688 Clever Apes #22: Paper covers rock http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-11-22/clever-apes-22-paper-covers-rock-94295 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-22/IMG_3809 keeper.JPG" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-22/IMG_3809 keeper small.jpg" title="Rock paper scissors, and its variations, may lie hidden in the math that underlies natural systems. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" width="600" height="450"></p><p>Charles Darwin ushered in modern biology with his explanation of how different species evolve. But his work leaves us with a paradox: Why should dozens or even thousands of species coexist in a single habitat? The theory suggests they ought to duke it out until just a few winners dominate. And yet we have such magnificent biodiversity all over. More than 2,000 species of trees share a single acre of rainforest in the Amazon. So what gives?</p><p><em><strong><span style="font-size: 8px;">Listen to the episode:</span></strong></em></p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483827-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever_Apes_22_Paper_covers_rock.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>The answer might lie in a game you probably mastered before you were 12: rock, paper, scissors. Any pairing of two species (say, “rock” tree and “paper” tree) will almost always lead to the weaker one going extinct (so long, “rock” tree). But introduce a third species – “scissors” tree – and you close up into a stable loop, where all three can coexist. This has been known for a while, and observed in natural settings among <a href="http://bio.research.ucsc.edu/%7Ebarrylab/lizardland/male_lizards.overview.html">side-blotched lizards in California</a> and <a href="http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v428/n6981/full/nature02429.html">bacteria growing in a dish.</a></p><p>University of Chicago ecologist <a href="http://allesinalab.uchicago.edu/people/stefano-allesina.html">Stefano Allesina </a>scaled it up with a computer model, and showed it could indeed explain big, complicated systems like the Amazon jungle or underwater kelp forests. In fact, you can have as many species as you want coexisting, with one big caveat: Strangely, it has to be an odd number. That means no fourth throw in roshambo, though <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iapcKVn7DdY">“rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock”</a> is safe.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-22/ouroborous.GIF" style="width: 250px; height: 169px; float: left; border-width: 1px; border-style: solid; margin: 10px;" title="Side-blotched lizards form a loop in competing for mates. (Courtesy of Barry Sinervo)"></p><p>Dig even a little deeper, and it seems that rock, paper scissors describes a basic mathematical concept that appears in all kinds of systems, as shown in <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/game-theory/">game theory</a>. Whether it’s economics, political science or biology, any system where competitors have different advantages that can’t be ranked from best to worst probably has a little rock, paper, scissors tournament hiding in there somewhere.</p><p>Incidentally, actual rock paper scissors tournaments have been gaining steam, thanks largely to the efforts of the <a href="http://www.worldrps.com/">World Rock Paper Scissors Society. </a>If you want to learn how to crush the competition (and never change a diaper again! Oh wait, that’s probably just in my household), check out their <a href="http://www.worldrps.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=256&amp;Itemid=37">strategy tips. </a>You can also practice against a robot <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/science/rock-paper-scissors.html">here</a>.</p><p>Finally, we inaugurate our recurring series, Ask an Ape, in which we answer science-y questions posed by listeners. Please weigh in with your own question in the comment section below, <a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes">tweet us</a>, post to our <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook wall</a>, or call our hotline: 312-893-2935.</p></p> Tue, 22 Nov 2011 22:19:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-11-22/clever-apes-22-paper-covers-rock-94295 Chicago researcher: Rock, Paper, Scissors helps explain biodiversity http://www.wbez.org/story/biodiversity/chicago-researcher-rock-paper-scissors-helps-explain-biodiversity <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-March/2011-03-14/P1000144.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>A Chicago researcher says he&rsquo;s found insight into how ecosystems work from what may be the world&rsquo;s most basic game: rock, paper, scissors. <br /><br />Stefano Allesina says there&rsquo;s long been a paradox in ecology. An ecosystem can teem with thousands of competing species, but the math can&rsquo;t quite explain that. Models suggest that more strong ones should push out more weak ones, leaving fewer species overall. <br /><br />Now Allesina says he&rsquo;s worked out a new model to account for the diversity. The key was finding a setting where multiple, equally powerful contestants can all survive: rock, paper, scissors. <br /><br />&ldquo;For any two species, you have one winner, and it&rsquo;s a very clear winner,&rdquo; says Allesina, an assistant professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. &ldquo;But through a third species, they can close this cycle, and then start this mechanism.&rdquo;<br /><br />Allesina scaled up the game to not just three variables, but hundreds or thousands. He says his model could account for almost unlimited biodiversity, and it also explains why why the loss of one seemingly minor species can topple a carefully balanced ecosystem. <br /><br />His findings are out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. <br />&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 14 Mar 2011 19:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/biodiversity/chicago-researcher-rock-paper-scissors-helps-explain-biodiversity Isle Royale wolf-moose research project http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/isle-royale-wolf-moose-research-project-0 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/Wolves_Moose_Isle_Royale_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><a href="http://www.mtu.edu/forest/about/faculty/j-vucetich/" target="_blank">John Vucetich</a> is with the <a href="http://www.isleroyalewolf.org/" target="_blank">Isle Royale wolf-moose research project</a>, the longest continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world.&nbsp; He's also the co-founder of the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.conservationethics.org/CEG/home.html">Conservation Ethics Group</a>, a consultancy that helps address challenges involving both environmental science and ethics. He tells us about his project on Isle Royale and the interesting links between wolves, moose and climate change.</p></p> Tue, 21 Dec 2010 15:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/isle-royale-wolf-moose-research-project-0