This month I talk to Professor Harris Lewin, one of the organizers of the Earth BioGenome Project. The ambitious project to sequence the genomes of all eukaryotic life on Earth within ten years is described in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Whales, the largest animals we know of that have lived on Earth, are descended from deer-like creatures that splashed around in creeks about 50 million years ago. It’s not just the mammals that went back to sea: Birds and reptiles also re-colonized the oceans after living on land.
What drives species to move into such a different habitat? One prevailing idea is that following mass extinction events, surviving species occupy the habitats left empty in a burst of biological creativity. But there could be other, less dramatic reasons: perhaps there were too many predators on land, or an abundance of resources in marine environments.
by Greg Watry
The western honey bee (Apis mellifera), the world’s most important pollinator for agriculture, is facing a crisis. Parasitic mites, colony collapse and climate change threaten hives. California, as the seasonal home of nearly half of the continental United States’ managed honey bee colonies, is a prime location for monitoring bee populations. And honey bee health, key to the nation’s largest fresh produce economy, is vital to the Golden State.
By Becky Oskin
Although life arose in the sea, some of its most astonishing evolutionary leaps happened after organisms conquered land, according to UC Davis paleobiologist Geerat Vermeij. Drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of evolutionary change in the fossil record,
Vermeij has identified 11 major innovations that appeared first among terrestrial creatures. Vermeij describes the “irreversible shift” in evolutionary dominance from sea to land in a new study published online October 2017 in the journal Current Biology.
Where do honey bees come from? A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis and UC Berkeley clears some of the fog around honey bee origins. The work could be useful in breeding bees resistant to disease or pesticides.
UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Julie Cridland is working with Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and Neil Tsutsui, professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to understand the population structure of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in California. Pollination by honey bees is essential to major California crops, such as almonds. Across the U.S., the value of “pollination services” from bees has been estimated as high as $14 billion.
By Andrew Engilis
On October 5th, two scientists from the UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology joined a multi-national team of researchers to conduct biodiversity surveys on the island of New Britain, Papua New Guinea.
The expedition is coordinated by Allen Allison, senior zoologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii. Allison obtained his B.S and Ph.D. from UC Davis and has organized and led numerous research expeditions over the past 40 years in Papua New Guinea.
By Becky Oskin
Starting out the size of a hippo some 50 million years ago, whales have since evolved into the largest animals on Earth. But their growth wasn’t steady over the millennia; instead, filter-feeding whales like the blue whale only ballooned in size starting about 2.5 million years ago. Whales’ grass-gobbling relatives, such as sea cows, also expanded in size during this time.
By Betsy Towner Levine
A UC Davis Evolution and Ecology team has discovered that cichlid fishes in Africa’s Lake Victoria have suffered a unique and unexpected effect of evolutionary adaptation: mass extinction.
While a graduate student in Interim Dean Peter Wainwright’s lab, Ph.D. student Matthew McGee studied the die-off of cichlid species in Lake Victoria that occurred after Nile perch were introduced into the lake in the 1950s.
Since then the perch, Lates niloticus, have decimated the lake’s fish-eating cichlids, once the most species-rich group of cichlids in Lake Victoria. The native fish have essentially been removed and replaced by the invader.
By Kathleen Holder
Why do people ride horses but not their striped African cousins?
A few zebras have accepted a rider or pulled a cart, but zebras have never been truly domesticated — and for good reason: They can be aggressive, panicky and unpredictable, making them difficult to halter and saddle train. While smaller than horses, they have powerful legs that can carry them at speeds up to 35 mph, and with a kick, can break the jaw of a predator. Those Chuck Norris-like skills are useful when you have lions, cheetahs and hyenas chasing you down for lunch.
At the bottom of a frigid Antarctic lake, a thin layer of green slime is generating a little oasis of oxygen, a team including UC Davis researchers has found. It’s the first modern replica discovered of conditions on Earth two and a half billion years ago, before oxygen became common in the atmosphere. The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal Geology.
The switch from a planet with very little available oxygen to one with an atmosphere much like today’s was one of the major events in Earth’s history, and it was all because some bacteria evolved the ability to photosynthesize. By about 2.4 billion years ago, geochemical records show that oxygen was present all the way to the upper atmosphere, as ozone.