As species rapidly adapt to altered landscapes and a warming climate, scientists and stakeholders need new techniques to monitor ecological responses and plan future conservation efforts. Writing in BioScience, Drs. Stephen McCormick of the US Geological Survey and Michael Romero of Tufts University describe the emerging field of conservation endocrinology and its growing role in addressing the effects of environmental change. The authors argue that, bolstered by the development of new field-sampling techniques, researchers working in this area are poised to make substantial contributions to the wider field of conservation biology.
For this episode of BioScience Talks, Dr. McCormick describes the range of applications spawned by new research involving the endocrine system, which refers to the set of glands that deliver hormones directly to the circulatory system. These new applications span the measurement of birds' altered stress hormones in response to ecotourism to drone-collected blowhole spray from whales, which may contain hormonal clues about the species' broader health. Other applications include the monitoring of human-introduced endocrine disruptors in aquatic systems and various hormonal changes induced by urbanization, hunting, invasive species, habitat disruption, marine noise, and many other potential stressors.
On landscapes around the world, environmental change is bringing people and large carnivores together—but the union is not without its problems. Human–wildlife conflict is on the rise as development continues unabated and apex predators begin to reoccupy their former ranges. Further complicating matters, many of these species are now reliant on human-provided foods, such as livestock and trash.
For this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Dr. Thomas Newsome of Deakin University and the University of Sydney. Writing in BioScience, Newsome and his colleagues use gray wolves and other large predators as case studies to explore the effects of human-provided foods. They find numerous instances of species' changing their social structures, movements, and behavior when these resources are available. Perhaps most concerning, they've found that human-fed populations often form distinct genetic subgroups, which could lead to future speciation events.
Nature's positive impact on mood is easily understood on an intuitive level, but a more fine-grain analysis reveals quantifiable effects with potentially serious implications for human well-being. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we are joined by Dr. Daniel Cox of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, in Penryn, United Kingdom. Writing for BioScience, Cox and his colleagues described recent work that found strong correlations between nature exposure and positive markers of mental health. In addition, the authors used dose–response modeling to uncover threshold effects that may help guide urban planning, with the ultimate goal of reducing the societal burdens of mental illness.
Climate-driven disturbances are having profound impacts on coastal ecosystems, with many crucial habitat-forming species in sharp decline. However, among these degraded biomes, examples of resilience are emerging. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Dr. Jennifer O'Leary, a California Sea Grant Marine Biologist based at California Polytechnic State University, and Dr. Fiorenza Micheli, from Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. Their recent article in BioScience discusses a large-scale study that uncovered numerous ecosystem "bright spots," in which habitat-forming species proved either resistant to or able to recover from sometimes severe perturbations. Of particular importance, say the authors, are the possible implications for ecosystem-sparing management.
For more than 100 years, eucalypts—woody plants that range in size from shrubs to trees—have been transported from their natural ecosystems in Australia to plantations across the globe. This unique history provides a novel lens for viewing the spread of pathogens and may shed light on future outbreaks as ecosystems face growing pressure from climate change.
In this episode of BioScience Talks, we spoke with Dr. Treena Burgess of Murdoch University in Western Australia, who also holds an adjunct appointment with the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She describes her recent article in BioScience, written with Michael Wingfield. In it, the authors articulate seven scenarios of pathogen movement and disease epidemics, as well as the biosecurity risks that arise from poorly controlled germplasm movement. The dangers are significant, with economically important eucalypt plantations and native ecosystems both facing significant threats.