How will climate change and impact Chytridiomycosis and amphibians?

Chytridiomycosis is a disease that is killing amphibians worldwide at alarming rates. To read more about amphibians see this blog post. The disease is caused by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd for short. Bd is a fungus that is specific to amphibians. Currently, the disease is responsible for the greatest disease-caused loss of biodiversity in recorded history. Species have had massive drops in populations and seem to have disappeared overnight.Bd occurs inside the cells of the outer skin layer. It causes microscopic changes in the skin and enlarges this layer. This is deadly because amphibians absorb water and salts through the skin. In the family of lungless salamanders, and one lungless species of caecilian Bd causes them to suffocate. Bd travels into the mouthparts of tadpoles or other larval amphibians. When tadpoles change into adults the infection spreads to the skin. Spores, which are the reproductive part of the fungus, cause the skin to become enlarged. This reduces osmotic regulation and electrolyte blood levels drop which leads to cardiac arrest. Chytridiomycosis has almost a 100 percent mortality rate.


Cells infected with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis 


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Tropical ecosystems

The one common characteristic that the tropics have in common is that the temperature is warm. The daily temperature usually changes more than the temperature average of the year. This is because the sun falls more directly on the topics than on other regions. However, depending on the region there will be changes in rainfall. Rainforest receives more rain than tropical savannas (more than 200 cm a year). Because of this savannas are more suitable to fires in the dry season. Some plants have adapted to be able to survive these fires, and often have visible scarring from fires. The animals have also adapted to the dry conditions. Because droughts are localized the animals migrate around the savanna. The soils are often acidic and are poor in nutrients. The soils are sandy and coarse textured. In addition, some savanna may become waterlogged during the year so the plants have to be adapted. For this reason, there is less plant diversity in savannas.

Trees in Kiang West/The Gambia

Rainforests, on the other hand, have to deal with excess moisture. Moisture can cause fungus and molds to grow. Some plants have developed drip tips because of this. Drip tips are sharp points on the end of a leaf that let water drip off the leaf. Leaves are concavely shaped so that water will run off of them. Leafs also have smooth edges rather than teeth to prevent water build up. Water build up would cause fungi and molds to grow on the leaf which would block sunlight and decompose the leaf. The soil is often moist and clay-like. Many monkeys are well adapted to live in the rainforest. They rely on the fruit which is in constant supply. In addition, new world monkeys have developed tails so they can easily navigate the tall canopy. Other animals have adapted to the heat by becoming nocturnal. Bats are an excellent example of this adaptation.


Belizan Rainforest. Captured by Lauren Schramm.


Like the savanna and the rainforest, coral reef requires fairly specific environmental factors in order to exist. The temperature is usually between 21-29 degrees Celsius. The reason this range is idea is that coral is actual a mutualistic relationship with algae called zooxanthellae. If the temperature increases too much then the zooxanthellae starts to produce toxic compounds to the coral and so the coral has to kick it out. Nutrient levels must be low because otherwise, microalgae will out-compete the corals. This is why the coral must be in a relationship with zooxanthellae because it lives in nutrient-poor water. In order for the zooxanthellae to undergo photosynthesis, the water must have a high light availability. Plating coral has evolved its shape so that it can absorb more light because it has a large surface area. In addition, the water cannot be too acidic or the rate of decalcification will be too great for the coral to form. The coral reefs provided great nursing habitat for dolphins, and whales raising their young. However, they do not have much food. Therefore these animals have adapted to use the reef as nursery habitat but migrate north to waters with more food. Because coral reefs have nooks many animals, particularly fish have adapted to live in these. They have flat bodies that are highly maneuverable.


The Lamoille Watershed as a Model for Storm Water Nutrient Runoff from Dairy Farms in Vermont

The following was my environmental studies senior thesis.


            Storm water runoff from agricultural areas carries excess nutrients with it, which leads to dead zones in nearby lakes. Lake Champlain is the sixth largest lake in the United States, and is facing issues related to excess nutrients from farms. Research related to farms has focused on runoff related to manure spread on fields. One area not previously addressed is manure management on farms. There are two main types of manure pit styles on dairy farms; enclosed and, unenclosed. Three farms of each of these types were analyzed for nutrient runoff during storm events. Four key factors linked to nutrient runoff were analyzed through field sampling; phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, and ammonium. The study took place in the Lamoille River Watershed in Vermont which feeds into Lake Champlain. Baseline data was collected before storms and samples were also collected after storms. The goal of this study was to identify a manure pit management style that minimizes nutrient runoff. While the data indicated that a manure pit that lacked a confining wall impacted phosphorus, ammonium, and nitrate, there was no significant impact on dissolved oxygen from such pits. However, manure pits had relativity low impact on the streams overall; other more important factors may be soil erosion, manure spreading, and septic tanks.

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Order Chiroptera: Bats

Bats have the largest number of species of any group of mammals, as many as 1,200 species. All of these bats are found in the order Chiroptera. Chiroptera contains the two suborders Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera. Megachiroptera contains the Old World fruit-eating bats which Microchiroptera contains the so-called echolocating bats. Recently researcher discovered the Old World fruit-eating bats actually use a very basic method of echolocating themselves, they use sonar clicks from their wings to help them navigate at night. The echolocating bats are found on every continent except Antartica. Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera differ from each other by their soft tissue structures. Member of Microchiroptera have a tragus, which is basically a fold of the inner ear. They also have an internal complex echolocation system. BEcause the difference between the two suborders is found in soft tissue organs the natural history of these differences is unknown because soft tissue doesn’t leave a fossil record. Megachiroptera only contains the family Pteropodidae. Microchiroptera contains 7 subfamilies; Emballonuroidea, Rhinopomatoidea, Rhinopomatidae, Rhinolophoidea, Vespertilionoidea, Molossoidea, Nataloidea, and Noctilionoidea. These are further broken down into at least 17 families. I am going to go over one family from each subfamily.


An example of a tragus on a bat.

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Georgia Endemic Animals

An endemic organism is one that is found only within a certain region. There is a rush that goes along with seeing a species that can be found nowhere else. Georgia is actually home to a handful of endemic species, most of which are aquatic. The Altamaha Spinymussel (Elliptio spinosa) is a freshwater mussel only found in 3 river systems in Georgia. Freshwater mussels are actually the most imperiled group of organisms in North America. There are a large number of reasons why this could be but one thing is for sure, mussels are dying in large numbers. To give you an idea of how rare some species can be, when I worked in a mussel lab we would actually pit tag some species so that we would be able to find them later. In the time span of less than a year, our most productive mussel bed had completely died. For the Altamaha spinymuseel, it is estimated that populations have declined 50-70 percent and it only occurred in 7 sites out of 120 sites that were sampled after 2000. Few juveniles or small individuals were found in these surveys. It used to be found in the Ohoopee River system and Oconee River in addition to the Altamaha River system. In the Ohoopee and Oconee, the mussel is thought to be extirpated or populations are so small it is undetectable. All freshwater mussels, expect the Salamander mussel (Simpsonaias ambigua), have a stage in their life-cycle in which they are fish parasites. The glochidia, or baby mussels, attach to fish gills and develop there until they become juveniles. This is how they expand their range.


The Etowah darter (Etheostoma etowahae) is another species that is only found in the Peachtree state. It is a small fish that is about 2 inches long. The fish occurs a less than 10 locations in the Etowah River system. They prefer swift riffle habitats that have either cobble or gravel. There is likely less than 10,000 adults and at sites sampled the darter represents only a small part of the community. Because of this and the expansion of metro Atlanta into its habitat, the species is protected as an endangered species both federally and at the state level. They look very similar to the closely related greenbreast darter (Etheostoma jordani) and lipstick darter (Etheostoma chuckwachatte). Some scientists say that the Etowah darter and greenbreast darter differ by the red markings the Etowah darter has on its sides. This difference between species has been recently challenged with some saying you can’t tell the species apart without genetic testing. The Etowah darter does not co-occur with the lipstick darter so range maps can be used to determine which species you are looking at.


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Common snapping turtle

The United States has the most turtle species out of any country in the world (51 species). Common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are one of the most easily identified of these 51 species. In 5th grade, our class pet was even a snapping turtle baby that someone had found in a parking lot. They have a wide range of areas that they live in North America; basically all of the U.S. minus the west coast and Texas. Sadly there is also a wide range of misconceptions to go along with their wide geographic range. The biggest misconception is that they are aggressive and should be killed if seen. Others have negative views of the turtles because they kill game fish, which is true but have a minimal impact on populations. Generally, they are only aggressive on land as it is hard for them to walk on land. They tend to only be found on land during the breeding season when females go in search of sandy patches in which to lay their eggs. These sandy patches are often found along roads. If you see a snapping turtle in the road if you decided to move you should know they have a long reach with their neck and their claws are also very sharp. Typically I just stand in the road with the turtle until it safety crosses. If the turtle is a baby you can carefully pick it up and place it near a waterbody where it can hide from predators.

Young Lauren carrying a baby common snapping turtle to a safe location. Hyde Park, Vermont.

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The Cell Cycle

In the cell cycle, cell division functions in reproduction, growth, and repair. The two forms of cell division are mitosis and meiosis. Mitosis requires the distribution of identical DNA to two daughter cells. Meiosis yields four nonidentical daughter cells, each with half the chromosomes of the parent. The purpose of meiosis is to produce cells for reproduction, and as you want the offspring to have the same number of chromosomes as the parents’ sex cells need to have half the number of chromosomes as the parents. A cell duplicates its DNA, moves the two copies to opposite ends of the cell, and then divides into two cells.  This genetic information that makes up the cell’s genetic information is called its genome.

The genome is made up chromosomes. Every eukaryotic species has a characteristic number of chromosomes (packaged DNA) in each cell nucleus. Eukaryotic chromosomes are made of chromatin which is a complex of DNA and protein. When a cell is not dividing chromosomes are chromatin fiber in the nucleus. Each duplicated chromosome consists of two sister chromatids, which appear when cell divisions are about to take place. The chromatids are attached at what is called the centromere. After the chromatids divide mitosis is followed by division of the cytoplasm or cytokinesis.

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R and K selected species

R-selected and K-selected species are terms that biologist use to describe the reproductive strategy of animals. Either an animal produces a large number of offspring and it basically is a numbers game for those offspring or the animals have few offspring and invest a large amount of time in those offspring. R-selected species are those that favor a large number of offspring. This includes animals like insects, amphibians, many fish, and reptiles. They tend to be smaller organisms so the energy used to make each individual is low and live in environments that are unstable. They also have shorter lifespans and reach sexual maturity quickly. They have type III survivorship pattern which means that earlier in life more organisms will die than later on in their life. In these species, the number of offspring is important because it directly impacts the population size.

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Marine ecosystems of Belize

The following post is a reflection on a field trip I took to Belize as part of my tropical ecological class. In the marine environments, there were three main ecosystems that we explored; seagrass and sand flats, coral reefs, and mangrove forests. Of all of these, the coral reefs had the highest species richness due to their high primary productivity. This is due to the dual nature of coral, that of a producer and a predator. Coral itself is a tiny animal that hunts plankton with tiny barbs. Most coral tissue also contains an algae called zooxanthellae which provides energy to the coral via photosynthesisThis creates available energy for others, like parrotfish that eat corals. It also allows the coral to create a structurally complex area. The mangroves have the next highest level of primary production and are almost as structurally complex as the coral reefs. On the other hand, the sandy and grassy flats have little structure to them. When snorkeling there very few species besides 3 species of ray were seen.

Belize contains the 2nd largest coral reef in the world and is notable for this feature called a blue hole

Mangroves are a group of woody plants that grow in areas that are exposed to salt water. The species we saw the most of were the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle). These trees often have prop roots. The served as great habitats for a large variety of sponges. The roots were also the ideal habitats for baby fish. We saw smaller versions of many of the species we saw at the reef. The water was also slower in this area. This is important because it allows for silt to settle out, and the roots of mangroves need soft sediments to grow well. The area inside of the barrier reef is ideal for these types of environments to develop because the reef crest was able to decrease the wave action in the area. The roots were also very lightweight. This was a result of the aerenchyma tissue in the roots which are sponge-like root tissues that allow for the transportation of oxygen. The roots also provide habitats for young fish, increase friction between the wave and the tree, and trap sediments. The decrease water speed due to increased friction was very noticeable, as we traveled deeper into the mangroves the waves lessened until it was almost still.

Red mangrove trees (Rhizophora mangle)

The species richness of the coral reef appeared to be heavily affected by niche speciation in spatial terms. We saw a variety of fish that used the different spatially regions of a coral reef. The nurse sharks and rays feed on the bottom. Some fish like black hamlets (Hypoplectrus nigricans) preferred to live on the top of the coral mounds. Other larger fish like the queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris) live near corals in isolated pockets. Lastly, some fish such as the squirrelfish (Holocentrus sp.) prefer to live underneath the coral mounds. Species evenness did change because the availability of certain structures was greater than others. For example, there was lots of space for black hamlets, but there were fewer isolated pockets for French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru). These are also examples of specialization which happens when a species becomes uniquely adapted to a narrow resource. This reduces competition between species in the reef which allows more species to live there.

The coral reef in some areas was clearly more subject to top-down forces than others. Often corals are in competition with algae, in the last reef we snorkeled this was partially noticeable with the brown algae growing in some areas. This is kept in check by the fish that prey on the algae in these areas. If the fish are removed then the coral will not be able to compete with the algae. The reef where the algae were seen growing was also where the local fishermen like to fish. The increase in fishing for these species has been linked to an increase in the number of algae in an area. It is possible that overfishing is or could affect the reef in this area. Many of the fish caught were served to tourist on the island so it is possible that eco-tourism could harm the reef if more fishing regulations are not put in place.

There was bleaching in some areas of the reef. Bleaching usually occurs when the temperature of the water is too great and the algae in a symbiotic relationship with the coral start to produce toxic compounds to the coral. Because of this, the coral ejects these cells, and since the cells coral the coral the coral then appears white. It is possible for a coral to survive this event but this depends on its resilience. Some species of coral are more resilient than others so the biodiversity of species is highly important. The species that appeared to be maintained the most by bleaching were the branching corals. These also were the corals that were washed up on shore the most.


The area effect was also witnessed in the reef. This says that there is increased species richness with increased area. The larger the patches of reefs the great the size of the fish, and the species richness. I would also argue that the area effect could explain why some habitats contained fewer species, particularly if you compared the available space to organisms in the reefs, mangroves and sea flats. The more surface area available the more species our class found. As the more of a type of ecosystem, we explored the more species we found. In smaller areas, there were fewer species than in larger areas.

Soil classification

An understanding of physical properties of soil leads to an understanding of how other processes may take place. The majority of these properties also change very slowly, therefore, a small difference can mean a lot. Soil texture is determined based on the proportions of the soil that contains sand, silt, and clay. This effects specific surface area, water relations, tillage, erosion, agrichemicals relations, and environmental considerations related to soil. In particular specific surface area plays a key role in determining the interface or contact zone between particles and their surrounding environments. Organic content is important for soil fertility, water absorption, and nutrients for the soil. Water content is important as plants need water to grow, and it is also needed to help replace water in the water table. Color helps to determine what the specific context of the soil may be. For example, a reddish soil indicates exposure to oxygen and possibly iron. Lastly, pH affects the surrounding environment of the soil, and its ability to hold minerals such as calcium.

There are basically three schools of thought when it comes to classifying soils; engineering, soil science, and OSHA. I am going to go into the most detail with the soil science approach because it is what I am most familiar with.  Unified Soil Classification System (USCS) is the most common engineering classification system used in North America. It breaks soils down into three groups; coarse-grained soils, fine-grained soils, and high organic soils. Coarse-grained soils are sand and gravels, while fine-grained soils are things like clay and silt. High organic soils are peat soils, which I discussed in my wetlands overview post. These three groups are then further broken down. The coarse-grained soil classification is broken down into sand and gravel based on the particle size. Typically this is done using a stack of sieves that sort soil by particle size. The top sieve has the largest mesh, and progressively the mesh gets smaller and smaller. The stack can be shaken by hand or placed in a shaker.

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