Some of the newest biological research emerging from the USU College of Science.
When trying to understand the global carbon cycle, USU ecologist Bonnie Waring says a good place to look is under your feet. Microbes living in the ground play a major role in producing atmospheric carbon. And soils, she says, also have the potential to store large quantities of harmful emissions. Waring is studying soil microbial respiration; that is, how soil breathes. She’s investigating how microbes respond to soil moisture across diverse landscapes.
Getting To The Roots Of Your Family Tree
Learning how species evolved over millions of years yields clues about how current species are responding to climate change. USU biologist Will Pearse says studying species’ evolutionary history, along with their functional traits, reveals how ecological communities are structured. He’s developing new statistical and computational tools to answer age-old questions about how species adapt to new challenges.
USU entomologists Zach Portman and Terry Griswold recently described nine, newly identified desert bee species living in the American Southwest. Unexpected finds include curious ant-like males of two of the species, which are completely different in appearance from their mates. The scientists surmise the bees’ unique forms could indicate they spend a lot of time in the nest. Though not major pollinators of food crops, the bees play a key role in natural ecosystems.
What You See, Not What You Get
Apes called bonobos and chimpanzees look so similar, they were once thought to be the same species. USU biologist Will Pearse says the mammals offer an ideal model for phylogeny, the study of evolutionary history and relationships among organisms. Very different in behavior, gentle bonobos and war-like chimps, which are animals most closely related to humans, diverged genetically less than two million years ago.
Feast Without Fear
A number of snake species have evolved resistance to lethal toxins stored in the skin of toads, a favorite meal of the slithery reptiles. One might expect this mutation to be present only in snakes that actually eat the toads. Not so, says USU biologist Shab Mohammadi, who led a global-scale survey of 100 snake species. She and colleagues found a wider range of snakes than expected have the ancestral mutation, even though they don’t need it.