Is there a good side to forest fires?

Fires are a form of selective harvest

Is there a good side to forest fires?The media is abuzz with the devastating wildfires in western and central Canada and across parts of Europe. Tens of thousands of hectares and countless lives and families have been impacted. As you read on, please don’t think for a moment that I’m uncaring for those affected. But is there an upside to these fires…

Predicting which species most at risk from voracious lionfish predators

We have only two to five years to act once lionfish arrive

Predicting which species most at risk from voracious lionfish predatorsCoastal countries have between two and five years to act to protect native fish species once voracious lionfish arrive in their waters, according to a University of Alberta ecology professor who helped create a tool to predict which fish are in danger. The lionfish, originally a popular aquarium species native only to the Pacific and…

Venomous fangs evolved independently in vipers and cobras

U of A biology grads shed new light on the evolution of an iconic feature of some modern snakes

Venomous fangs evolved independently in vipers and cobrasVenom fangs evolved separately in several species of modern snakes, according to a new study led by former University of Alberta students and post-doctoral fellows in an international collaboration. “This research provides a textbook example of convergent evolution, in which two or more lineages with a common ancestor tweak that ancestral body plan in similar…

When it gets cold, where do all the bugs go?

Insects reduce their functions so only essential processes work: respiration and waste elimination

When it gets cold, where do all the bugs go?I know it’s still summer but soon it will get colder and things will be radically different. Sometimes I wonder where all the bugs go in the winter. Seems a bit silly but they’re out there somewhere all winter – at least most of them. But where are they? Insects and their allies (e.g. spiders,…

My close and unforgettable encounters with wolves

The wolf came within 25 metres and stared at me as if looking through me, then trotted back into the bush, satisfied that I was neither tasty nor a threat

My close and unforgettable encounters with wolvesThe eastern grey wolf is a mysterious animal that evokes different emotions in us. How you react comes down to how much time you’ve spent with them or, more importantly, how much time you’ve taken to learn something about them. I’ve always revered them, having had several close encounters over the years. Each has left…

How do zebra finches learn to build their nests?

By observing the building techniques of other birds

How do zebra finches learn to build their nests?Like archeologists learning how past humans built their homes, birds can learn construction techniques by observing unoccupied nests, according to a new study. University of Alberta scientists found that zebra finches learn about nest building by observing an empty nest – but only if they first learn what a nest is. “We gave half our…

Student discovers threatened beetle is actually two separate subspecies

Discovery means the nationally threatened Gibson’s big sand tiger beetle is more at risk than previously thought

Student discovers threatened beetle is actually two separate subspeciesAn undergraduate research study has found that a threatened type of beetle found in Saskatchewan and Colorado is, in fact, made up of two genetically distinct subspecies. The discovery has important implications for conservation efforts for the insects and shows that both populations of Gibson’s big sand tiger beetle are more threatened than previously thought.…

Preventing transmission of chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer

Discovery of protein variant may reduce spread of the highly contagious and fatal neurological disease

Preventing transmission of chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deerA variant of the prion protein may reduce the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) among white-tailed deer, according to a new study by University of Alberta scientists. This variant of the prion protein, called the S96 variant, blocks CWD transmission in the lab – an important discovery in the fight against the highly contagious…

The nasty ways insects inflict damage on humans

Only the female mosquito seeks a blood meal. She needs to penetrate the skin of warm-blooded mammals to get her meals

The nasty ways insects inflict damage on humansAs a naturalist, I wonder about things – sometimes obvious things, sometimes odd things but always interesting things. Today’s thought surrounds interactions with insects, their kin and other critters that on occasion negatively interact with us. People often claim to have been bitten by an insect. “That mosquito just bit me!” But did it? Or…

Augustana grad eager to share her love of the outdoors with others

Everyone should have the chance to connect with nature and understand its importance to our lives, Kate Corrigan believes

Augustana grad eager to share her love of the outdoors with othersKate Corrigan still has blister scars from backpacking up to the base of Mount Robson during a high school field trip, but it was that first trek that sparked a passion for the great outdoors. “For me, the outdoors is a place to disconnect, to reconnect. You’re away from the stress of work, school, social…

Gypsy moths have invaded North America. What can we do?

Insects are already in serious decline throughout the world, so killing insects for the sake of killing them seems ill-advised

Gypsy moths have invaded North America. What can we do?This seems to be a good year for gypsy moths and a bad one for people who love trees. Have you never seen a gypsy moth? This might be the best time to find them. Look for a light to dark brown, medium-sized moth flying in a seemingly erratic way. These are the males. They’re…

Nationwide citizen science program critical for bird conservation

Canadian Nightjar Survey recruits volunteer citizen scientists for the study of nocturnal birds

Nationwide citizen science program critical for bird conservationTen years ago, University of Alberta PhD candidate Elly Knight started a volunteer citizen science program. Since then, the Canadian Nightjar Survey has grown from a single volunteer in southern British Columbia to several hundred citizen scientists across the country – and more volunteers are needed. Their mission? To monitor the nightjars that breed in Canada. These fascinating,…

Cannabis should not be taken during pregnancy: study

New U of A research has implications for prenatal development in humans

Cannabis should not be taken during pregnancy: studyZebrafish exposed to the leading cannabinoids found in cannabis in the earliest stages of development suffer a significant drop in neural activity later in life, according to a University of Alberta study that has implications for prenatal development in humans. Richard Kanyo, the lead author on the study and post-doctoral fellow in the Faculty of Medicine…

Ancient sand reveals missing piece of 3.2-billion-year-old continent

U of A researchers shed new light on the structure and formation of Earth’s earliest continents

Ancient sand reveals missing piece of 3.2-billion-year-old continentScientists have found evidence for a missing piece of a 3.2-billion-year-old continent, according to a new study by University of Alberta scientists. The research identifies the only remnant of ultra-hot lavas within this ancient landmass, located within tiny mineral grains preserved in sandstone. “Our research developed a method to identify and date pieces of our…