Thursday, August 19, 2010

"All Hands on Deck!"

"Screw that, I'm getting mine!"

At least, that's how the exchange goes in "disturbed ecosystems," according to Georgia Tech Researchers. They were looking into whether organisms all try to work together when their ecosystems are under assault, or if it's dog-eat-dog business as usual. It's probably an area of study that's going to be of relevance for quite a while (I'm looking at YOU, gulf coast!).

It was panic in the petri dish as biologists exposed microbes to acoustic disturbances. They looked at how many were killed off when they were in disturbed environments, how many were killed off when they were competing with other organisms for the same resources, and how many were killed off when competing for resources after their environment was disturbed. Rather than both populations of competing organisms declining equally in the third scenario, one group would wipe the floor with the other.

To rephrase that, creatures that are neck and neck in an environment where they have to fight each other to survive no longer remain neck and neck when their environment gets unusually dangerous. That's when the men are separated from the boys, and one group curb stomps their opponents while they're most vulnerable. This is bad news for species diversity, especially when you consider all the ecosystems that we're disturbing...

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The header image is adapted from a photo taken by Bill McChesney and used under a creative commons license.
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