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.
Hydropower dams generate more energy than all other renewable sources combined. However, they can also produce dire environmental consequences, including the devastation of aquatic insect populations and the food webs that those insects underpin. A practice called "hydropeaking" is evidently to blame. By altering river flows to meet power-generation needs, hydropeaking generates artificial tides that extirpate insect species. In this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Dr. Ted Kennedy, a research ecologist with the US Geological Survey's Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. In this month's BioScience, he and his colleagues describe the underlying phenomenon and the citizen science project that brought it to light. In our discussion, Dr. Kennedy explains his findings and offers possible solutions to the hydropeaking conundrum.
Gene drives have the potential to revolutionize approaches to major public health, conservation, and agricultural problems. For instance, gene drives might one day prevent mosquitoes from spreading a variety of deadly diseases, including Zika virus, malaria, and others. A form of genetic modification, the technology works by causing a particular genetic element to spread through populations, thereby making it possible to change species in the wild. Despite the significant promise, caution is warranted, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Committee on Gene Drive Research. According to the committee, gene drives raise a variety of ecological and regulatory questions that have yet to be answered. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by committee co-chair Dr. James P. Collins of Arizona State University and committee member Dr. Joseph Travis of Florida State University. They fill us in on the specifics of the report and on the future of gene drives.
Globally declining fish populations are a frequently cited ecological and commercial calamity, but relatively little attention has been paid to the specific threats faced by fish that gather and spawn in large groups. Because they gather in such large groups, these fish are at particular risk of overfishing and population collapse. In this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Yvonne Sadovy, of the University of Hong Kong and Science and Conservation of Fish Aggregations (SCRFA), who studies these aggregate spawners. In our discussion, she outlines the unique threats faced by these species, which also include ineffective management techniques better suited toward fish with different life histories. She also outlines the mechanisms that might help preserve these aggregations in the years to come.
Human-caused fires have the potential to hugely alter tropical forests—and the world at large. In this episode, we talk to Dr. Jennifer Balch, of the University of Colorado–Boulder. She discusses a long-term experiment in which she and her team deliberately lit fires in the Brazilian Amazon, with the aim of simulating the fires that are often released when people use burning to clear land. The forests were resilient to initial burning, but when a major drought hit in 2007, things changed quickly. The combined effects of drought and fire have huge implications, from grassland incursion and climate change to rainforest loss at previously unmeasured levels.
The article is part of a BioScience Special Section on Tropical Forest Responses to Large-Scale Experiments.
Extracellular vesicles (EVs; article here) are one of the biggest stories in biology. These tiny "packets" are released by cells and constitute a previously misunderstood means of intracellular communication -- and their implications are huge. In humans, EVs can reveal disease, including some cancers and viral infections, and EV technology may soon replace many tissue biopsies. In addition, vesicles can be loaded with targeted treatments for a variety of diseases. The role that EVs will play in medicine is only beginning to be understood.
In this episode, I'm joined by Drs. Xandra Breakefield and Mikolaj Zaborowski, two Harvard Medical School researchers working at the forefront of the field.
Fast-growing transgenic salmonids are currently being developed for eventual human consumption. Dr. Robert Devlin and his team seek to evaluate the ecological threats posed by these GMO fish. In this discussion, he outlines the uncertainty inherent in these risk assessments and explains areas of potential future study. Read the full article: http://io.aibs.org/devful
In our first episode, we discuss the concept of coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) with Dr. Jiquan Chen, of Michigan State University, who studies CHANS on the Mongolian Plateau. The CHANS concept enables the quantification of interacting human and biophysical factors, which can help shed light on how these systems work.