2010 Science News of the Year: Life

multi-colored lizard on rock
Credit: Javier García

Warming changes how and where animals live
New concerns have emerged about how climate warming might challenge animals and change the way they go about their lives. For example, a coalition of lizard specialists suggests that by midcentury a third of lizard populations won’t have enough time for foraging or other vital pursuits simply because they’ll have to spend long stretches cooling off in shady refuges (SN Online: 5/13/10). Overall, organisms such as lizards that depend on their environment to regulate body temperature — those often referred to as cold-blooded — may get a disproportionate jolt in the tropics. A temperature uptick has more metabolic impact on lizards living in already hot climates, researchers report, with effects that could ripple through tropical ecosystems (SN Online: 10/6/10).

Climate change also appears to be revamping relationships among species, according to an analysis of Europe’s common cuckoo and the birds it dupes into raising its young. As warmer springs have pushed short-distance migrators toward earlier nesting times, cuckoos have fallen out of sync and are instead laying more eggs in the nests of fellow long-distance migrants such as reed warblers (SN: 10/9/10, p. 11). Meanwhile, migration itself has become problematic for a population of Yellowstone elk that can no longer find good summer grazing in high meadows (SN: 7/17/10, p. 12).

What counts More than 2,700 scientists worldwide conclude the decade-long Census of Marine Life by reporting that the majority of sea organisms (Hydromedusae jellyfish shown below) are still unknown to science (SN: 10/23/10, p. 14). And that doesn’t even count microbes.

O no Three species of tiny sediment-dwelling loriciferans from a briny basin deep in the Mediterranean may live their entire lives without oxygen, which would make them the first multicellular animals known to do so (SN: 5/8/10, p. 5).

O yes Microbiologists have found a fourth biological pathway for producing oxygen: a method, employed by certain bacteria, that breaks down nitrite compounds (SN Online: 3/24/10).

New species DNA analysis suggests killer whales might be not one but at least four species (SN: 5/22/10, p. 8). A shy monitor lizard in the Philippines was described only this year, even though it reaches 2 meters in length and has bright yellow spots (SN: 5/8/10, p. 8). Primatologists finally describe a new species of titi monkey (right) that had remained undocumented because of violence in its region of Colombia (SN Online: 8/12/10). A newly discovered cricket turns out to be the first recorded pollinator in its taxonomic order (SN Online: 1/18/10). Males of a newly described species of dance fly have lopsided front legs, growing one typical appendage and another adorned with what looks like a little tufted balloon (SN Online: 9/21/10). A mongooselike creature from Madagascar is the first new carnivore species to be discovered in more than 20 years (SN Online: 10/12/10). And two new fish species, both pancake batfishes, are discovered in a habitat that has been threatened by the Gulf oil spill (SN: 8/14/10, p. 10).

Missed it A deadline passes for 193 member nations of the Convention on Biological Diversity to make significant progress on slowing species loss, but the targets aren’t met (SN:  3/13/10, p. 20).

Bat trouble White-nose syndrome, a fatal disease of hibernating bats, spreads widely; biologists predict that it could wipe out the Northeast’s population of the once-common little brown myotis bat in as few as 16 years (SN Online: 8/5/10).

A salty tail Just adding sodium can spur limb regrowth in tadpoles, a study finds, suggesting that it may be possible to stimulate some tissue regrowth in humans (SN: 10/23/10, p. 15).

New blood A controversial move to boost genetic diversity in faltering Florida panthers, by importing females of the same species from Texas, has resulted in a more robust population of mixed-heritage cats (SN: 10/23/10, p. 9).

Just warm enough The need to avoid fungal infections without wasting energy may have driven mammals to evolve their characteristic body temperature (SN: 1/1/11, p. 15).

I, monkey Though monkeys hadn’t previously shown clear signs of recognizing themselves in a mirror, when wired with experimental headgear, rhesus monkeys checked themselves out (SN Online: 9/29/10).