By all accounts, jellyfish are creatures that kill people, eat microbes, grow to tens of meters, filter phytoplankton, take over ecosystems, and live forever. Because of the immense diversity of gelatinous plankton, jelly-like creatures can individually have each of these properties. However this way of looking at them both overstates and underestimates their true diversity. Taxonomically, they are far more varied than a handful of exemplars that are used to represent jellyfish or especially the so-called “true” jellyfish. Ecologically, they are even more adaptable than one would expect by looking only at the conspicuous bloom forming families and species that draw most of the attention. In reality, the most abundant and diverse gelatinous groups in the ocean are not the ones that anyone ever sees.
Three nature stories from the New York Times:
In the Congo Republic a survey has discovered a large population (125 000) of Western lowland gorillas.
The survey was conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society and local researchers in largely unstudied terrain, including a swampy region nicknamed the “green abyss” by the first biologists to cross it. Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, the president of the society, marveled at the scope of what the survey revealed. “The message from our community is so often one of despair,” he said. “While we don’t want to relax our concern, it’s just great to discover that these animals are doing well.”
German scientists have discovered that seven species of small mammals in the rain forests of western Malaysia drink fermented palm nectar on a regular basis. For several of the species, including the pen-tailed tree shrew, the nectar, which can have an alcohol content approaching that of beer, is the major food source — meaning they are chronic drinkers.
Oceanic food webs shifting to dominance by jellyfish, due to overfishing of top predators, and likely coastal eutrophication and climate change.
From Spain to New York, to Australia, Japan and Hawaii, jellyfish are becoming more numerous and more widespread, and they are showing up in places where they have rarely been seen before, scientists say. The faceless marauders are stinging children blithely bathing on summer vacations, forcing beaches to close and clogging fishing nets.
But while jellyfish invasions are a nuisance to tourists and a hardship to fishermen, for scientists they are a source of more profound alarm, a signal of the declining health of the world’s oceans.
“These jellyfish near shore are a message the sea is sending us saying, ‘Look how badly you are treating me,’ ” said Dr. Josep-María Gili, a leading jellyfish expert, who has studied them at the Institute of Marine Sciences of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona for more than 20 years.