How eastern U.S. forests came to be

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How eastern U.S. forests came to be. Duke Today, May 20, 2015. Spring visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains or the Blue Ridge Parkway will see ridges and valleys covered in flowering mountain laurels, rhododendrons, tulip poplars, dogwoods, black locusts and silverbell trees. A new study of nearly all the trees and shrubs in the southern Appalachians suggests that roughly half of the species can trace their relatives to thousands of miles away in Asia. Most of the rest likely arose within North America, the researchers say.

 

How an insect pest switches from sluggish super breeder to flying invasion machine

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How an insect pest switches from sluggish super breeder to flying invasion machine. Duke Today, March 18, 2015. Each year, the rice crop in Asia faces a big threat from a sesame seed-sized insect called the brown planthopper. Now, a study in the journal Nature reveals the molecular switch that enables some planthoppers to develop short wings and others long based on environmental conditions such as day length and temperature — a major factor in their ability to invade new rice fields.

Distant species produce love child after 60 M year breakup

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Distant species produce love child after 60 M year breakup. Duke Today, Feb. 13, 2015. A delicate woodland fern discovered in the mountains of France is the love child of two distantly-related groups of plants that haven’t interbred in 60 million years, genetic analyses show. Reproducing after such a long evolutionary breakup is akin to an elephant hybridizing with a manatee, or a human with a lemur, the researchers say. Picked up by Nature and by National Public Radio.

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

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Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, April 18, 2014. Seeds that sprout as soon as they’re planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More than just an insurance policy against late frosts or unexpected dry spells, it turns out that seed dormancy has long-term advantages too:  Plants whose seeds put off sprouting until conditions are more certain give rise to more species, finds a new study.

Genes from undersea creature may help crops prosper

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Genes from undersea creature may help crops prosper. Raleigh News and Observer, April 16, 2012. The bottles of amber liquid perched on the bench in Dr. Amy Grunden’s research lab at N.C. State University don’t look like much. But floating within are billions of sea-dwelling microbes – too small to see with the naked eye – that researchers hope will one day help plants survive in space, or produce hardier crops and better biofuels in stressful environments here on Earth.

Not just for the birds: Man-made noise has ripple effects on plants, too

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Not just for the birds: Man-made noise has ripple effects on plants, too. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, March 21, 2012.  A growing body of research shows that birds and other animals change their behavior in response to man-made noise, such as the din of traffic or the hum of machinery. But human clamor doesn’t just affect animals. Because many animals also pollinate plants or eat or disperse their seeds, human noise can have ripple effects on plants too, finds a new study. Picked up by Scientific American, the Christian Science Monitor, MSNBC, National Public Radio, Audubon Magazine, the Miami Herald, BBC News, Science News, Discovery News, the New York Times and TIME Magazine.

The future of a fog oasis

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The future of a fog oasis. Scientific American Guest Blog, August 19, 2011. In a fast-disappearing desert oasis, scientists are trying to bring a forest back to life – and discovering the imprint of a lost civilization amidst the vanishing trees.

Coping with climate change

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Coping with climate change. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, May 11, 2011. Can we predict which species will be able to move far or fast enough to keep up with rising global temperatures? A new study says the secrets to success in the face of a warming world are still elusive.