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From the College of Natural Sciences
Study of Secret Sex Lives of Trees Finds Tiny Bees Play Big Part

Study of Secret Sex Lives of Trees Finds Tiny Bees Play Big Part

A stingless bee visits a Miconia tree near Soberania National Park, Panama. Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin spent nearly four years mapping trees, bees, and pollen to reveal how different pollinators aid in the sexual reproduction of trees in one of the most detailed pollinator-mediated paternity tests in wild plants. Credit: Antonio Castilla/Univ. of Texas at Austin

​When it comes to sex between plants, tiny bees the size of ladybugs play a critical role in promoting long-distance pairings. That's what scientists at The University of Texas at Austin discovered after one of the most detailed paternity tests in wild trees ever conducted.

Scientists on the Trail of Central Texas’ Elusive Satan Fish

Scientists on the Trail of Central Texas’ Elusive Satan Fish

X-ray images of a preserved Widemouth Blindcat, a.k.a. Satan fish (Satan eurystomus). Credit: Smithsonian Institution.

As Halloween approaches, scientists are pondering a mysterious creature that may be lurking in underwater caves deep beneath a major U.S. city. It's eyeless, has see-through skin and spends its life in the total darkness of the Edwards Aquifer, thousands of feet below the bustle of San Antonio. Meet the Widemouth Blindcat, a.k.a. Satan fish. The fish were collected from deep-water wells for decades, but biologists have not seen one alive since 1984.

Why Poison Frogs Don’t Poison Themselves

Why Poison Frogs Don’t Poison Themselves

The phantasmal poison frog, Epipedobates anthonyi, is the original source of epibatidine, discovered by John Daly in 1974. Epibatidine has not been found in any animal outside of Ecuador, and its ultimate source, proposed to be an arthropod, remains unknown. This frog was captured at a banana plantation in the Azuay province in southern Ecuador in August 2017. Credit: Rebecca Tarvin/University of Texas at Austin.

Don't let their appearance fool you: Thimble-sized, dappled in cheerful colors and squishy, poison frogs in fact harbor some of the most potent neurotoxins we know. With a new paper published in the journal Science, scientists are a step closer to resolving a related head-scratcher — how do these frogs keep from poisoning themselves? And the answer has potential consequences for the fight against pain and addiction.

The Terrifying Science Behind Floating Fire Ant Colonies

The Terrifying Science Behind Floating Fire Ant Colonies

Portrait of a red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Public domain image by Alex Wild, produced by the University of Texas at Austin "Insects Unlocked" program.

Hurricane Harvey has revealed its magnitude through devastating floods and damages, and now it has introduced another scourge -- giant clusters of floating fire ants.

Periodic Table of Ecological Niches Could Aid in Predicting Effects of Climate Change

Periodic Table of Ecological Niches Could Aid in Predicting Effects of Climate Change

A Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus) in the reptile house at Alice Springs Desert Park, Alice Springs, Australia. Credit: Stu’s Images. Used via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

A group of ecologists has started creating a periodic table of ecological niches similar to chemistry's periodic table. And just as chemists have used their periodic table as a point of reference to understand relationships among elements, the emerging table for ecologists shows relationships over time among animals, plants and their environments — acting as a critical resource for scientists seeking to understand how a warming climate may be spurring changes in species around the globe.

Frogs Illustrate the Creative Destruction of Mass Extinctions

Frogs Illustrate the Creative Destruction of Mass Extinctions

A tree frog (genus Boophis) found on Madagascar and Mayotte Island, off the Southeast coast of Africa. Credit: Brian Freiermuth/Univ. of Florida

Until now, biologists have struggled to reconstruct an accurate family tree for frogs. Based on fossils and limited genetic data, it appeared that most modern frog species popped up at a slow and steady pace from about 150 million to 66 million years ago. New research shows that a mass extinction 66 million years ago sparked an explosion of new frog species.

Biologist Earns Career Award from Humboldt Foundation

Biologist Earns Career Award from Humboldt Foundation

The Humboldt Foundation has chosen UT Austin professor of integrative biology Mathew Leibold to receive the Humboldt Research Award in recognition of his lifetime achievements in research. The award is valued at around $70,000.

Nancy Moran awarded the 2017 Molecular Ecology Prize

Nancy Moran awarded the 2017 Molecular Ecology Prize

The Editorial Board of the journal Molecular Ecology has selected Professor Nancy Moran of The University of Texas at Austin for its 2017 Molecular Ecology Prize.  The Prize recognizes "an outstanding scientist who has made significant contributions to Molecular Ecology," as selected by an independent award committee.

Outnumbered and on Others’ Turf, Misfits Sometimes Thrive

Outnumbered and on Others’ Turf, Misfits Sometimes Thrive

Two male sticklebacks of the same age—one from a stream (top) and one from a lake (bottom)—are each highly adapted to their own local environment. According to Bolnick, apart from a dramatic difference in size, the fish also differ in immune traits, body shape, armor to defend against predators, and “basically anything we can think to measure.” Photo credit: Daniel Berner.

It's hard being a misfit: say, a Yankees fan in a room full of Red Sox fans or a vegetarian at a barbecue joint. Evolutionary biologists have long assumed that's pretty much how things work in nature too. Animals that wander into alien environments, surrounded by better-adapted locals, will struggle. But a team of researchers from The University of Texas at Austin was surprised to find that sometimes, misfits can thrive among their much more numerous native cousins.

Historical Rainfall Levels Key in Carbon Emissions from Soil

Historical Rainfall Levels Key in Carbon Emissions from Soil

Scientists have known that microbes living in the ground can play a major role in producing atmospheric carbon that can accelerate climate change, but now researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have discovered that soil microbes from historically wetter sites are more sensitive to moisture and emit significantly more carbon than microbes from historically drier regions.