Scientists find coastal life on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 2, 2021

Coastal marine species are making new communities on the gloating Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The species included mussels, barnacles, and shrimp-like amphipods.

Plants and animals are developing and reproducing on a gyre of marine debris particles that sit in the Pacific Ocean. According to NBC News, scientists have discovered over 40 species growing on the floating mass. Most of the debris is plastic. Prior to this finding, researchers did not know plants and animals could live in such conditions.

The patch is 610,000 square miles and hosts 79,000 metric tons of bottles, buoys, microplastics, and nets, reported EcoWatch. The team of four researchers does not know how widespread the species are and if any have found homes in other garbage gyres.

The research shows the ocean provides enough food to sustain the species living on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The patch itself was brought together by ocean currents and was first found in 1997. Multiple generations of various species were found by scientists, indicating the species have survived on the patch for years.

Albatrosses “divorce” due to climate change

Via Flickr.

By Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 30, 2021

Albatrosses, large seabirds that are known for mating for life, are “divorcing” because of global warming according to a new study conducted by New Zealand’s Royal Society.

The study looked at thousands of breeding pairs. The findings discovered show birds are more likely to divorce when the oceans are warmest. When the ocean is at warmer temperatures in the summer, divorce rates jump nearly 5 percent. The overall rates still remain under 10 percent, but the increase of pairs separating limits fertility of the birds and their reproduction. With the oceans warming more due to climate change, these divorce rates are likely to continue increasing.

Regardless of divorce rates and fewer birds reproducing, albatrosses have been endangered for years. 22 subspecies of the bird are being threatened with extinction as of 2013. Other concerns include oil spills, loss of habitat, and climate change. The species has the largest wingspan of any bird, and they drink salt water. Many albatrosses feed on squid and other marine wildlife, according to the Pacific Beach Coalition. They are essential to the food chain.

According to the New Zealand’s Royal Society, the stress of these warmer waters is disrupting the balance of the species, which can lead to faster extinction. Another reason for potential extinction is the decline in fish populations, leaving the birds with fewer food sources.

Hymenoptera declared to be the most species rich animal order

A parasitic wasp pauses on a leaf (Katja S/flickr)

Eden DeWald| May 23rd, 2018

University of Iowa professor Andrew Forbes has been conducting research that may intimidate those who aren’t fans of parasitic wasps. Forbes specializes in studying these wasps that belong to the Hymenoptera order, which also includes insects such as bees and ants.

In a preprint paper, meaning it has not yet been peer reviewed, Forbes asserts that the Hymenoptera order is more species rich than originally thought. Previously, Coleoptera— the beetle order, was thought to be the most speciose. However, Forbes’ specialization in parasitoid wasps allowed him to make the connection that there can be multiple species of parasitic wasps preying upon a single species of insect. Based on this ratio, one species of host insect to many different species of parasitic wasps, it would make sense that Hymenoptera is the most species rich order. The paper concludes that Hymenoptera has perhaps 2.5-3.2 times more species rich than Coleoptera.

Species richness is an important factor in general biodiversity. And although parasitic wasps may sound quite gruesome, they can provide useful services. Parasitic wasps prey on insects that are bothersome to humans such as garden pests like caterpillars, and even mosquitoes.