Discoveries In Ecology in 2021, A Year In Review

discoveries in ecology

Ecology is a science of both good news and bad news.

With climate change and carbon emissions on the front page every single day, you might think everything on earth is somehow doomed.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case. Maybe. While some of 2021’s ecological discoveries were not brilliant news for planet Earth, some of them very much were.

The world we live in is a wonderful thing and the science of ecology shows plants, animals and people can all hope for a better environment one day.

The Main Discoveries Of 2021

Penguins Are Having A Bad Time

Researchers examining how Emperor penguins have been faring in the face of recent ecological and climate change found serious evidence of adverse effects.

Since 2015, the penguins have been struggling to make babies. The protected species, according to the research, were hit by a severe storm, and the ice around them fractured and it’s been impossible for them to lay eggs within their habitat on Halley Bay.

It’s not all bad news, the threatened penguins realized that climate change had trashed their home as with many of the world’s ecosystems but they aren’t finished – they’ve moved home instead to share the home of the Dawson-Lambton penguin colony which is based nearby.

This shows how easily human activity can make more species vulnerable to extinction even without direct interaction.

Marine Ecosystems Have An Incredible Microbiome

This is an amazing story a recent study from scientists at Wellesly College found that biodiversity in the oceans is far greater than first thought.

They took a sample of just 0.4 ml of seawater and found that it contained the equivalent of one-fifth of all the genetic diversity currently known to be in the ocean!

This development means that micro-organisms are far, far more important to the conservation of the oceans than was previously believed.

Coral Reef Ecosystems Show Coral Rejuvenation

Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to coral bleaching but scientists have good news, they are now seeing rejuvenation in the coral plants that haven’t been seen outside of the fossil record!

It appears that coral has built-in protection against going extinct and the coral polyps shrink into their skeletons and can then abandon them as needed, they then wait until the temperature that causes bleaching returns to normal, and then they can thrive again.

Native Species Can Turn Nasty

We all know that invasive species are a bad thing for an ecology. They become aggressive and the mammals, birds, fungi, etc. that were present decline precipitously.

However, Lynn Gettys a specialist in invasive plants has discovered that given the right opportunities, native species can do the same thing.

They “go rogue” and exhibit behavior that allows them to completely outcompete both natural and manmade ecosystems!

This means we really need to have a hard think about “invasiveness” and how we go about understanding how to manage these threats.

Koala Mapping Is A Thing

Not every species is equally vulnerable to problems but some species are super appealing to research and top of that list would be koalas.

Yes, koalas are super cute and they’re also very easy to map with drones, apparently, researchers found that they could easily follow the sleepy animals across large swaths of Australia with drones and then predict using artificial intelligence and 3d modeling where more koalas could be found!

That’s a job that we all wish we had, right?

It’s Not Just Rare Species At Risk: Fruit Bats Are Hurting

Sadly, the count, who loves to count, will have fewer batty-bats to count in Singapore.

The Sunda Fruit Bat which is very common in the region is slowly disappearing thanks to the activity of humans and urbanization.

Scientists at the University of Singapore carried out their research on these bats and showed that urbanization appears to have forced a “genetic bottleneck” on the bat population which makes them super vulnerable as a species to changes in the environment!

The Fish Are Coming Home To The Reefs: Species Diversity

Yes, there are more stories that relate to positive developments for coral. In this case, an international team of research scientists found that it’s very easy to attract fish back to reefs they abandoned.

Even when the reefs are no longer as healthy as they once were, they need fish to restore them to health, and when the fish abandon the reef? The reef is going to decline.

So, how do you persuade fish to go back to coral? You play them sounds. The sounds of healthy coral, in fact. If the fish think the reef sounds like a good place to live, they move back and the health of the coral starts to improve.

So, researchers have started to work out how to do this on a large scale using specially designed underwater sound systems!

The Amazon Can Recover: Slowly

Researchers examining biodiversity in the Amazon Forests made an unhappy discovery in one of the older secondary forests – it’s not that the forests can’t recover, it’s that they take a lot longer to have a positive impact on climate change than first thought.

Their findings indicate that we get about 50% less carbon reduction from a secondary forest, even one with well-established trees than we do from a primary one.

These secondary forests also appear to be more vulnerable to the impact of fire, flood, etc. in the ecosystem than primary forests are. This may be mean we need to use more technology than previously thought if we want to reverse the progression of climate change and survive as a species.

Final Thoughts On Ecological Discoveries From 2021

Given the constant doom and gloom of the headlines, it should come as no surprise that some of these stories don’t allude to good news.

But many of them do and we think that’s an exciting development and that it shows life is more tenacious than it’s often given credit for.

If you’ve enjoyed this article you may also appreciate our recent history of ecology, learning about the Deep Ecology Movement, and reading Gaia by James Lovelock.

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