Category: Scientific American

Graveyards are surprising hotspots for biodiversity

Two weeks after the spring equinox, farmers in China’s Hebei province pay a visit to deceased loved ones in tiny graveyards among the vast wheat fields to mark Qingming Jie, an annual festival for remembering ancestors. After burnt offerings turn to ash and the incense smoke clears, these private family graveyards are left largely undisturbed until next year, quietly allowing nature to take its course.

It turns out that such graveyards in crop fields are more than peaceful places for people to pay their respects; they also function as miniature botanical preserves, a new study finds. Even the tiniest burial sites support a diverse array of native plants, helping to conserve patches of relatively untouched habitat in the study area—one of the most heavily farmed regions in China.

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Seabird poop speeds up coral growth

When marine biologist Candida Savage was collecting samples of nitrogen and other nutrients in the coastal waters of Fiji, she was jarred by what she found at one horseshoe-shaped coral reef: The nitrogen levels were off the charts. It was the last thing she had expected to find in a pristine environment brimming with healthy corals and diverse fish, far from the farming activities and polluted wastewater that typically accompany high nitrogen levels.

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Warming waters could make sharks “right-handed”—and deadlier

Rising ocean temperatures and acidification are known to be altering the way fish grow and reproduce—and now research shows these climate change side-effects may also change how fish think and act. A recent study has found Port Jackson sharks become “right-handed” when incubated at the kind of temperatures projected to prevail by the end of this century, if climate change continues at its current pace. Some scientists think such shifts could lead to behavioral changes that tip marine ecosystems out of balance.

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