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Biology

Science Review of Jellyfish

299 168 Deborah

Overview

Jellyfish are found in all the world’s oceans, from the surface to the deep sea.  Most live in saltwater, although there are a few species that live in fresh water.  Jellyfish have soft bodies and swim freely for much of their adult lives.

Kinds of Jellyfish

There are hundreds of different species of jellyfish.  Adult jellyfish (sometimes called jellies) have an umbrella-shaped bell, with tentacles that hang from the bell.  Different species of jellyfish live in every ocean, and some species live in fresh water.  Some live near the surface, while others live in the deep sea.  They have soft bodies, unlike the vertebrate skeletons of fish.  They move through the water efficiently by rapidly expanding and contracting their bell-shaped bodies to push water behind them.

Ecology of Jellyfish

Most species of jellyfish eat plankton, small crustaceans, fish eggs, small fish, and other smaller jellyfish.   Their prey are caught in the vortex created by their movement through the water, then entangled in tentacles.  They are preyed upon by larger jellyfish, tuna, shark, swordfish, and sea turtles.  Jellyfish tend to gather in large swarms, often called “blooms”, and some invasive species of jellyfish grow in new habitats, overwhelming other populations of marine creatures.  They are relatively more adapted to survive in warmer waters that contain less oxygen but more nutrients, such as agricultural runoff.

Toxic Jellyfish

Many species are poisonous, with toxic stingers on the tentacles.  Most stings are not deadly, but a few species are highly venomous, and their stings can be fatal.  The sea wasp and other forms of box jellyfish hunt their prey rather than drifting toward it.  Beaches in Australia have warning signs against stinging jellyfish. The most effective protection against jellyfish stings is wearing protective covering, such as a wetsuit or even pantyhose, as the stinging cells cannot touch the skin and react with it chemically.

Life Cycle of Jellyfish

Eggs develop into free-swimming larvae.  The free-swimming larvae settle onto firm surfaces and become polyps, similar to sea anemones.  The polyp then breaks off to become an adult medusa, or jellyfish.  Life spans vary depending upon the size and species.  The smallest species may live only a few hours, but many large coastal species live for months.  Aquarium jellyfish can live several years, as they have regular food and are tended carefully.

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Science Review of Rays

252 200 Deborah

Overview

Rays are fish that are close relatives of sharks.  There are over 600 species, and most live in tropical or subtropical marine environments.  Like sharks, their skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone.  They live on the sea floor, and some species eat smaller fish, other bottom-dwellers such as crustaceans, and others eat plankton.  There are four main types of rays, commonly known as stingrays, skates, electric rays, and shovelnose rays.

Stingrays

Many stingray species live in coastal tropical and subtropical waters around the world, and a few live in freshwater rivers.  They live nearest the sea floor or nearest to the riverbed.  They have flattened bodies, and their eyes are on top of their bodies, while their mouths are on the underside.  They hide in the sand, and sense their prey by smell and by sensitive organs that detect the electrical currents given off by living creatures.  Most species feed on creatures that live on the sea floor, such as mollusks, crustaceans, and some small fish.  The venomous stingers in their tails are used for self-defense, and they are provoked if an unwary swimmer steps on them.   TV personality Steve Irwin died in 2006 while filming a documentary, when the barb from a stingray’s tail pierced his heart, causing massive and fatal injuries.

Skates

Skates have flat bodies and enlarged pectoral fins that undulate through the water.  Their eyes are at the top of their head and their gills on the underside of their bodies.  They live near the sea beds throughout all the oceans, including some species that are found in the Arctic and Antarctic.  They feed on creatures that live on or near the sea floor, or on plankton.  Some live in rivers or in estuaries.  Like the stingrays, most give birth to live young, although some lay eggs inside a protective capsule called a “mermaid’s purse.”

Electric Rays

Electric rays are a small group of rays with flattened bodies and enlarged pectoral fins that produce an electric discharge to stun prey or in self-defense.  The electric voltage is anywhere from 8 to 220 volts, depending on the size of the fish.  Some of them are also known as “crampfish” or “numbfish”, of the genus Torpedo.  Their unusual properties were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as anesthesia and to cure headaches, as their currents are strong enough to stun humans.

Shovelnose Rays

Shovelnose rays and sawfishes are similar to sharks, with smaller pectoral fins than other types of rays.  They have long, flat snouts with rows of teeth on either side that look like saws, and they use their snouts to dig in the mud for prey, slashing them and impaling them.  Some species are 20 feet long, and can enter rivers or lakes.  Like other forms of rays, all sawfish are either endangered species or critically endangered species.  Most have been overfished, and many types of stingrays are used for food.

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Science Review of Marine Sanctuaries

267 189 Deborah

Overview

Marine sanctuaries are like national parks, but in the sea or off the coast. These areas protect many species of marine wildlife, and are in many different locations, as far north as the Arctic, as far south as the Caribbean, as far west as Hawai’i and almost to the Philippines. Marine sanctuaries provide a home and protect many species from extinction, as well as places for scientists to explore hidden vistas.

Marianas Trench Marine National Monument

The Marianas Trench Marine Protected Monument covers over 95,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean. It covers more than 1000 square miles of the deep-sea Marianas Trench, areas of mud volcanoes, the waters and submerged lands around the Northern Mariana Islands, and many other locations around the Marianas Archipelago. The Marianas Trench is the deepest part of the ocean, and much of the area is unexplored. Unusual forms of microscopic life may live under darkness and great pressure, under some of the harshest conditions on Earth.. Coral reefs in the submerged areas support many different forms of life, including more than 300 kinds of stony corals.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

The area for this protected sanctuary is over 582,000 square miles, a larger area than all the national parks on land. It contains tiny islands, atolls, and reefs northwest of the better-known islands of Hawai’i. Many of the species that live there are only found there, including rare and endangered animals such as the monk seal, the green turtle, and the Laysan duck. Marine species share their homes with cultural treasures that are engulfed by the ocean, and archaeologists, scientists, and other explorers study the region. Its long name is a tribute to the legends of the ancestors of Hawai’ian lands and people.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is off Cape Flattery, at the northwest coast of Washington State and the Pacific Ocean. It is almost 3200 square miles, about the size of Puerto Rico. It extends out seaward between 25 and 50 miles in some places, from the continental shelf to some submarine canyons. It is a rich area of sealife that live in the intertidal areas. Over 25 different types of marine mammals live there, including pods of orca whales, endangered gray whales, deep sea coral and sponges, and varieties of seabirds.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has over 275 square miles of shoreline and over 5300 square miles of open ocean off the coast of Monterey, California, from north of San Francisco to the southern end of Big Sur. It consists of rich feeding grounds for a number of species that live in tide pools, coastal wetlands, kelp forests, and submarine canyons. There are over 34 types of marine mammals, more than 180 different types of seabirds, over 500 different types of fish, seaweeds, and other marine life.

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Science Review of the Eight Senses

150 150 Deborah

Overview

The five senses of vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell are familiar.  However, people have three more senses that are critical to everyday life –vestibular, or sense of balance; proprioceptive, or sense of where one is in space; and interoceptive, or the body’s sense of what is going on internally.  Although those senses are not as familiar, they are necessary to optimal functioning.

Vision and Hearing

The visual system includes the eyes and the occipital lobe of the brain.  The eyes process stimuli from light in a complex relationship between special cells and nerves.  Connections between the eyes and the brain allow people and animals to make sense of the landscape, to recognize what is being seen, and to detect features and movement.  The auditory or hearing system includes the ears and parts of the brain that are critical to hearing, such as the primary auditory cortex in the temporal lobe of the brain.  Just as light can be perceived in hue, brightness, and saturation, sound can be perceived as pitch, loudness, and timbre (the type of the sound).

Taste, Smell, and Touch

There are only four qualities of taste; bitter, sour, salty, and sweet.  Taste buds in the tongue are most sensitive to those separate qualities, which depend on chemicals in the food substances.  People and animals learn to distinguish between them.  Areas of the brain responsible for processing taste information include specific parts of the medulla.  Smell is also a chemical sense, and the primary organ of smell is within the nose.  Specific areas within the brain include the amygdala, neocortex, and hippocampus in the base of the brain.  Taste and smell are closely related, which is why food tastes so bland when the nose is stopped up with a cold.  Touch, in contrast, involves the body’s largest organ, the skin.  Elements of touch include touch, pressure, temperature, and pain.  The brain and spinal cord process tactile, or touch, information from many different places, including the parietal lobe, the thalamus, and multiple locations along the spinal cord and cranial nerves.

Vestibular

The vestibular system includes systems that control balance, keeping the head upright, and adjustment of eye movement to compensate for head movements. (Think of the eye movements of a dancer pirouetting across the stage.  She keeps her eyes focused on the same point to prevent becoming dizzy as she turns.)  It consists of the semicircular canals and the vestibular sacs.  Those systems connect with specific cranial nerves and parts of the brain, such as the cerebellum, medulla, and spinal cord.

Proprioceptive and Interoceptive

The proprioceptive sense is the way the body senses the position, location, orientation, and movement of muscles and joints.  Sensory information comes from connections between the inner ear with special receptors in every muscle and joint in the body.  That sensory input travels to areas in both the cerebrum and cerebellum.  Interoceptive senses involve the way that processes are coordinated within the body, such as hunger, thirst, and many other feelings necessary to life. Scientists have identified many other senses which are not as well-known as these eight, and some have suggested that people may have as many as 39 separate senses.

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Science Review of Plant Propagation

150 150 Deborah

Overview

Not all flowering plants reproduce from seeds.  Some plants reproduce by making exact copies of themselves, as plantlets, from stems, or from multiple roots.  Many plants that have desirable traits can be propagated from cuttings or grafting rather than growing them from seed.  Major crops are also domesticated.

Vegetative Reproduction by Plantlets

Plants that do not reproduce from seeds make exact copies of themselves.  For example, the spider plant is a familiar houseplant that grows as an herb in tropical regions of Africa and also in Australia.  It grows by producing plantlets on the end of its leaves.  When those plantlets reach soil, they can root and grow into new plants that are identical to the parent plant.

Vegetative Reproduction by Stolon

A stolon is a long stem that grows at the surface of the soil or just underneath the ground.  For example, strawberry plants can reproduce from long stems called runners, because new roots can develop into new plants farther away from the original plant.  Some species of bamboo produce a long underground branching root system that sends up entire plants through the soil. Bamboo grows rapidly, because new stalks are at their full diameter as soon as they break through to the surface of the soil.

Plant Propagation

In order to produce many exact copies of parent plants, new plants are not always grown from seeds.  Many can develop from cuttings of parts of stems and leaves.  Some plants root easily this way.  Seedless varieties of plants, such as seedless grapes and oranges, can be propagated by grafting a piece of stem or bud onto another more established tree.  The new plant can then grow independently from the mother plant.

Domesticated Crops

The earliest hunter-gatherers did not domesticate crops.  They traveled widely to find food sources and gathered wild plants as they roamed.  About 10,000 to 11, 500 BCE, groups of people in different parts of the world began to grow wild species of lentils, barley, and wheat and cultivate domesticated varieties.  People began to stay in one place, gather in communities, and grow crops for food.  Most of the world depends upon staple crops, such as rice, wheat, and corn, but many other types of plants are also cultivated for food.

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Science Review of Plant Adaptation

150 150 Deborah

Overview

Some types of plants grow successfully in unusual regions, including aquatic plants, salt-tolerant plants, and desert plants.  A few types of plants gather nutrients from trapped insects.

Aquatic Plants

While most plants live on land, some live in water for most of their life cycle.  The roots are often submerged in mud, and parts of the plants may have large open spaces that are filled with air, to bring needed oxygen down to the roots.  For example, water lilies have spongy tissue in their stems and leaves that bring oxygen down to their roots, and their flowers grow above the water surface.  Mangrove trees that grow in shallow water have similar spongy roots, and cypress trees have specialized structures that grow above the water.  Plants that grow in wetlands are important to the ecosystem and the overall health of the diverse species that live in the area.

Salt-Tolerant Plants

While most plants cannot live in saline environments, a few types of plants can live in areas of high salt concentrations that would destroy most others.  Some of these high concentrations are in salt marshes near seawater.  The roots of those plants, such as salt marsh grasses, take in much more salt than is useful.  The excess salt is pumped away by cells in the leaves, where it can be washed away by rain, so the proper balance of salt is maintained in the plant itself.

Desert Plants

Desert plants live in areas where there is infrequent rainfall. Large cactus plants have branching roots that cover a large area and grow rapidly to absorb whatever rainfall there is.  Thick stems are often covered with a waxy substance and store water between rainfall periods.  The stems actually carry out photosynthesis.  Small, spiny leaves minimize water loss from evaporation during the hot, dry days.

Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous plants get nutrients from other sources than the soil.  Carnivorous plants such as the Venus flytrap, pitcher plants, and sundew live in soils that are low in nitrogen and calcium, which they digest from the insects they trap.  The Venus flytrap has leaves that are hinged in the middle that close suddenly if an insect touches sensitive hairs on them.  The trapped insect is digested within those leaves.  Similarly, pitcher plants attract insects that fall into curled leaves.  At the bottom of the waxy pitcher, trapped insects are digested by enzymes.  Sundew trap insects by sticky mucus on their leaves.

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Science Review of Seeds

150 150 Deborah

Overview

In many types of seeds, the hard casing of the seed is surrounded by flesh called a fruit.  Many fruits are attractive to animals, providing food, so the seeds are dispersed that way.  Others are dispersed by wind and water.  Some seeds are dormant until the conditions are right for plants to grow, while others sprout rapidly.  Seeds then germinate and grow into plants.

Fruits

The developing seed of a flowering plant (angiosperm) is contained within a tough seed coat.  The seed coat contains the embryo and its food supply. The ovary wall thickens to form a fruit that encloses the hard seeds.  Some fruits are fleshy and sweet, such as grapes, berries, and cherries, while others are tough, such as bean pods.  Since a fruit is any seed enclosed within an embryo wall, vegetables such as corn, beans, and tomatoes are also fruits, even though they do not taste sweet.

Seed Dispersal

The fruit does not nourish the seedling as it grows, as the food supply is within the seed itself.  Some fruits attract birds and mammals as food sources.  The seeds pass through the digestive tract and are dispersed that way.  Other seeds, such as those of ash and maple trees, are encased in structures that float on the air.  The aerodynamic wings that surround a maple seed are actually a fruit.  Coconuts are light enough to float on water for long enough to be carried to distant islands.

Seed Dormancy

Some seeds, such as beans, sprout very quickly if they have enough water and warmth.  Other types of seeds enter a period of dormancy, where the embryo within them is still alive but will not sprout until the conditions are right.  They will not grow until the soil temperature and moisture is right to support the developing seedlings. For example, many plants that grow in temperate regions do not sprout until the spring.

Seed Germination

During germination, the early growth stage of a plant, seeds absorb water.  The tough seed coat swells and cracks open beneath the soil.  The root grows from the seed and eventually the growing plant breaks through the surface of the soil.

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Biology Review of Combating Global Warming

150 150 Deborah

Overview

Global warming refers to the rise in the average temperature of the climate system of the Earth. Some of the energy has resulted in the increase in ocean temperature. Some glaciers and icebergs have already melted, resulting in widespread change in habitat for many Arctic species. Scientists and politicians have proposed ways to combat global warming by reducing greenhouse gases, adapting to climate change, and engineering the environment. However, not all scientists and politicians agree with its impact or solutions to the problem.

Reducing Greenhouse Gases

Some of the solutions to combat global warming involve reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. All of those compounds occur naturally in the atmosphere, but their increase is a result of human activities that create widespread pollution.

Changing Energy Sources

Primary use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil has increased pollution, as well as depleting natural resources that are not renewable. Many pollutants are released into the atmosphere, such as those that make up smog. Since 2005, scientists and politicians throughout the world have discussed changing energy sources to those that are renewable and reduce carbon emissions. Wind power and solar power use renewable energy sources to generate electricity. Hydroelectric power is low cost, and many of the effects of building dams and flooding land can also be mitigated. Although nuclear power uses a nonrenewable energy source, new types of reactors are in development that use radioactive elements other than uranium.

 

Reducing Carbon Emissions

Many ideas to increase efficiency of the energies already in use are under development. Some of the techniques that reduce carbon emissions from conventional power plants involve carbon capture and storage. Some of the carbon dioxide is diverted, rather than released into the atmosphere. Although some chemical processes are already in use, many are in future development stages, as technology is developed. Another way to reduce the effects of CO2in the atmosphere is by increasing the amount of forests that are replanted, as plants, especially trees, convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power plants are used to produce electricity worldwide in many different countries. Although accidents, such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and the Fukushima disaster following the tsunami in Japan, raise many concerns about its safety, nuclear power remains a large-scale alternative power source that produces large quantities of electrical and other types of energy. Japan, along with a few other countries, has a moratorium on new nuclear plants during the time that technologies are developed to prevent future disasters. While most nuclear reactors currently in use were developed using uranium as fuel, a few now use thorium, an element that is three times as common as uranium. Radioactive waste from thorium has a shorter half-life than waste from uranium and plutonium. Also, some reactors are in development to use radioactive waste as fuel.

Adapting to Climate Change

Some scientists propose ways to adapt to changing climate conditions. These adaptations go hand-in-hand with strategies to reduce greenhouse gases. If greenhouse gases are not reduced, the effects of global warming will exceed the capacity of organisms to adapt. Some of their strategies include development of new food sources that are more resilient, planting of heat-tolerant trees in urban areas, and more efficient storage of rainwater from storms.

Engineering the Environment

Some of the ways proposed to engineer the environment include climate control, including ways to control extreme weather; creating a shield in space to block some of the solar radiation; and tethering icebergs to keep them from drifting into warmer waters and melting. Other proposals include methods of making surfaces and clouds lighter so they will reflect more sunlight; rather than trapping it in the atmosphere; and directly removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

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Biology Review of the Ozone Hole and Global Warming

150 150 Deborah

Overview

Human activity has affected the biosphere on Earth as the population has grown to over 7 billion. Some of the most troubling effects include changes to the ozone layer and global warming.

The Stratosphere

The stratosphere in Earth’s atmosphere is between 10 and 50 km above the surface. It has an inverted temperature, so that the warmer layers are higher up and the cooler layers are closer to the troposphere. The temperature inversion is caused by chemical reactions as ozone (O3) absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, releasing energy and oxygen molecules. At the higher levels of the stratosphere, more ultraviolet radiation warms the atmosphere than at the lowest levels.

The Ozone Layer

The ozone layer contains the highest concentration of ozone in the atmosphere, although that is still less than 10 parts per million. Oxygen generally exists in the atmosphere as molecules of 2 oxygen atoms bound together as O2. When ultraviolet light strikes the oxygen molecule, it breaks its bonds. Sometimes free oxygen combines with an oxygen molecule to form ozone. The chemical reactions between ultraviolet light and ozone screen out 97-99% of the most harmful ultraviolet rays from reaching the surface and destroying life. Intense ultraviolet rays can cause sunburn, cancer, damage to the eyes, as well as damaging plant tissue and plankton.

The Ozone Hole

The ozone layer has been studied extensively, because of its role in protecting life on Earth. In the 1970s, scientists noticed a gap in the ozone layer over Antarctica. It has grown larger, and there is also a thinning layer over the Arctic pole. Scientists have determined that the thinning ozone layer is caused largely by propellants and pollution by a class of chemicals called CFC’s. Many countries around the world have joined together to ban the use of those chemicals.

Global Warming

Global warming is a much more controversial problem. The average temperature of the entire planet has been increasing over the past 100 years, with the greatest increase occurring in the last 20-30 years. Greenhouse gases trap heat at a greater rate than it is radiated away from the Earth, as they both absorb and give off infrared radiation, while other compounds in the atmosphere do not.

Causes of Global Warming

Scientists believe that the rise in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and ozone) is due to a number of factors that increase pollution and precipitate chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Some of these include the exhaust from the burning of fossil fuels and other carbon-based fuels, and extensive clearing of forests. Volcanic eruptions and natural changes in water temperature also can contribute to global warming, but most of the rise in greenhouse gases is due to human activity.

 

Effects of Global Warming

Increased temperature, especially in the Arctic, melts ice caps, glaciers, and permafrost, resulting in habitat changes for many species of plants and animals. Also, extreme weather, such as increased rainfall in some areas, droughts in others, and heat waves, affects the growth of food crops and other plants. Although scientists and politicians do not always agree on the best course of action to slow global warming, many agree that changes need to be made.

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Biology Review of Cones and Flowers

150 150 Deborah

Overview

Plants that reproduce by seed include cone-bearing plants and flowering plants. They can live in many different environments, because seeds store food separately for the plant embryo, to be used when the plant has the right conditions to sprout.

Formation of Seeds

Seed structure is similar for both cone-bearing plants and flowering plants. The plant embryo is surrounded by a food supply, and both are protected by a seed coat. Many different types of seeds have structures that help them be moved to other places where they can sprout. For example, some seeds have wings that help them drift on the wind, while others have a sticky covering so they can be transported by birds or other animals. Still others are contained in fruit, so that the seeds are dropped where the fruit is eaten.

 

Early Cone-Bearing Plants

Many different types of cone-bearing plants are found in fossils. Some species of these plants, known as gymnosperms, still exist. One of the most unusual plants grows from one large cone into two long leaves. Others are like palm trees, except they have one large cone. They are called cycads, and grow in tropical and subtropical biospheres. The ginkgo tree is a very sturdy plant with fan-shaped leaves. Living trees and fossils of ginkgo trees are so similar that it is called a “living fossil”. They have been cultivated throughout China, Japan, North America, and Europe. Ginkgo trees are so hardy that six of them survived the atomic bomb at Hiroshima, and they are often planted in urban areas where other trees do not survive.

Conifers

Conifers are the most common types of cone-bearing plants, with more than 500 different species. Most are evergreen, with long, needlelike leaves that are coated with a waxy surface. They live in a wide range of climates, in mountainous areas, in sandy soil, and in the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest. Different types of conifers include pines, spruces, hemlocks, sequoias, cedars, and yews.

 

Flowering Plants

Many plant species reproduce by flowers and seeds. Flowers attract flying insects, such as bees and moths, and birds such as hummingbirds, which feed on nectar and transport pollen to fertilize other flowers. Seeds develop and mature into fruit, which attracts other birds and animals to eat them. The seeds are transported further to germinate later. Flowering plants are called angiosperms because their seeds are enclosed deep within the flower rather than being exposed as in cone-bearing plants. Many different species of angiosperms exist, and they are often divided into groups by how long they live. Annual plants grow, flower, and die within a year, while biennial plants grow, flower, and scatter seeds for another year. Perennial plants have longer life spans and dormant periods.

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