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Nature news of the past week

Even though most of you are probably enjoying a summer holiday, science has not been sleeping! Read on for some amazing new discoveries in the nature news of the past week.

The first thing I want to share is an impressive study into one of the very first living things on earth. This “last universal common ancestor” (LUCA) is the organism that stands at the foot of all branches of life known today. From this LUCA, mutations occurred and after a long time of specialisation, the clades of plants, animals, fungi and bacteria developed. It has been long unknown what kind of life this organism lived, but a research team from Germany has now puzzled together its DNA and suggests that LUCA lived as a single-celled being on the bottom of the sea. It “ate” hydrogen and needed several metals to survive, which it got from the volcanoes at the ocean floor. Being so old and such a vague subject, there are of course some scientists who have their doubts, but it is a fascinating thought nonetheless. Are we really descendant from a volcano-loving little thing? (source)

volcano-minTalking of volcanoes, in Nicaragua, a bee, Anthophora squammulosa, has been discovered to live very close to an active volcano. It actually looks for nectar between the piles of ash and makes its burrows in volcanic debris. The area is nearly uninhabitable for anything else, with constant heat and acid rain. One of the few other living things able to survive the acid rain is the wildflower Melanthera nivea, and that is exactly where the bees get their pollen, the researchers discovered. While it proves the bees’ ability to adapt to harsh environments, it also shows how vulnerable the species is as it relies on one single plant for survival. Who knows what will happen with them in the future? (source)

The future of New Zealand’s birds, on the other hand, seems to have become a bit brighter. The country has optimistically set the goal to free the islands of their invasive predators by 2050. As the introduction of rats and other invasive predators have greatly damaged the countries original inhabitants, especially the flightless birds, they hope to undo some of that damage by getting rid of the unwanted guests. Let’s hope they succeed, because for now the operation looks like a very faraway goal. (source)

Another conservation strategy is being considered by some researchers on see mammals. They have to do something if they want to keep the vaquita from extinction. This tiny porpoise is one of the world’s most endangered species and often killed in fishing nets. The scientists now consider capturing some animals and breeding them in captivity, to at least keep some vaquita’s alive. If it really is a sustainable, ideal solution, I’m not sure. But we’ll see what they decide to do and how it turns out. (source)

whale-minAnd finally, possibly the most amazing news of the week, some animals just take wildlife conservation into their own hands. Or fins, in this case. All across the globe, scientists have seen humpback whales rescuing other animals from orcas. First, they thought it to be coincidences or one-time occasions, but over time it has become to look like a pattern. I have always been fascinated by the organised way in which killer whales hunt, but these rescues seem even more amazing. Could there be such a thing as altruism after all? (source)

And that’s it for this week’s nature news! I hope you have a great start of the week!

 

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