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From the College of Natural Sciences
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.

What’s the Buzz: Reflecting on a Life's Work Inspired by Pollinators

What’s the Buzz: Reflecting on a Life's Work Inspired by Pollinators

An assistant professor reflects on a life's work inspired by pollinators and plants. 

Bats Use Second Sense to Hunt Prey in Noisy Environments

Bats Use Second Sense to Hunt Prey in Noisy Environments

Like many predators, the fringe-lipped bat primarily uses its hearing to find its prey, but with human-generated noise on the rise, scientists are examining how bats and other animals might adapt to find their next meal. According to a new study, when noise masks the mating calls of the bat's prey, túngara frogs, the bat shifts to another sensory mode—echolocation.

Flies Captured on Video Turning Fire Ants Into Zombies

Flies Captured on Video Turning Fire Ants Into Zombies

​The skillful and ghoulish attack of parasitoid phorid flies on fire ants, filmed at the Brackenridge Field Lab, was recently featured in the PBS nature documentary, Supernature - Wild Flyers.