Images of slouching elephants, tree frog embryos and a parasitic fungus erupting from a fly’s body have all won prizes in an ecological photo competition.
The doomed fly was caught by evolutionary biologist Roberto García-Roa in Tambopata National Reserve, Peru, and won overall victory in the second BMC Ecology and Evolution Image Competition.
The competition aims to showcase the wonders of nature and the growing need to protect it from human activity.
Mr. García-Roa from the University of Valencia, Spain, said: “The image shows a conquest shaped by millennia of evolution.
“The spores of the so-called ‘zombie’ fungus have infiltrated the fly’s exoskeleton and mind, forcing it to migrate to a more favorable location for the fungus to grow.
“The fruiting bodies have then erupted from the fly’s body and are shed to infect other victims.”
Individual winners and runners-up were also announced in four categories; Relationships in nature, biodiversity at risk, life up close and research in action.
Overall Winner: The fruiting body of a parasitic “zombie” fungus erupts from the body of a host fly. “It illustrates both life and death at the same time, as the death of the fly breathes life into the fungus,” said Christy Anna Hipsley, member of the Senior Editorial Board
Winner in the “Relationships in Nature” category: A waxwing enjoys fermented rowan berries. The waxwings migrate depending on the presence of the berries and have evolved larger livers to process the ethanol they produce
Commending the overall winning entry, Christy Anna Hipsley, member of the executive editorial board, said, “Roberto García-Roa’s stunning image is like something out of science fiction.
“It illustrates both life and death at the same time, as the death of the fly gives life to the fungus.”
An image of a waxwing feasting on fermented rowanberries took first place in the Relationships in Nature category for emphasizing the fruit’s powerful influence on the bird.
The waxwings migrate depending on the presence of the berries, and they can eat several hundred a day, so have evolved larger livers to ferment the ethanol they produce.
It was taken by ecologist and nature photographer Alwin Hardenbol from the University of Eastern Finland.
Luke Jacobus, Member of the Senior Editorial Board, said, “This image elicits an immediate response from the viewer by clearly communicating action, reaction and interaction.
“The contrasting colors and carefully crafted composition capture a fleeting moment in which the waxwing seems to react to the viewer.”
Winner in the “Biodiversity Under Threat” category: A group of African elephants shelter from the sun under a baobab tree
The winner of the Biodiversity Under Threat category was captured by Samantha Kreling from the University of Washington, USA.
Her image shows African elephants sheltering from the sun under a large baobab tree in South Africa’s Mapungubwe National Park as droughts hit.
Ms Kreling said: “Baobab trees can live more than 2,000 years and store water in their barrel-like trunks when water is scarce.
“The tree in this picture was stripped of bark by elephants in search of water.
“Although these trees usually heal quickly, this damage is more than baobab trees can handle when temperatures rise due to climate change.
“This photo underscores the need for action to prevent the permanent loss of these iconic trees.”
Winner in the Life Close Up category: Gliding tree frog siblings at an early stage of development in their eggs
BMC Image Contest Winner Ecology and Evolution
Overall Winner: Roberto García-Roa – Mushroom Erupting from a Fly
Relationships in nature: Alwin Hardenbol – Bohemian waxwing feasting on berries
Biodiversity under threat: Samantha Kreling – African elephants taking shelter under trees
Life up close: Brandon André Güell – Sliding tree frog embryos
Research in Action: Jeferson Ribeiro Amaral – Researchers work during a storm in Brazil
First place in the Life Close Up category went to an image of gliding tree frog embryos developing inside their eggs on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula
It was taken by Brandon André Güell of Boston University, USA, who said: “The eggs in this image are among those laid by thousands of gliding tree frogs during an explosive breeding event triggered by a torrential rainstorm.
Undisturbed, these eggs hatch after six days of development, but the embryos are allowed to hatch earlier to avoid threats such as predators and flooding.”
The winner in the Research in Action category was won by Jeferson Ribeiro Amaral of Cornell University, USA, and includes two researchers from the State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Researchers are conducting fieldwork in the middle of a storm and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They are investigating whether isolated trees can help increase frog numbers in the area and improve the circulation of nutrients in the ponds.
Amphibians are declining in Brazil due to disease and habitat loss, while agricultural land use disrupts nutrient balances.
The photographer said: “The researchers in this image are representative of so many others who have continued to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This image demonstrates their strength and commitment to understanding our world as they carry out their work despite thunderstorms and a global pandemic.”
Research in Action Winner: Researchers in Brazil conduct field research during thunderstorms in the COVID pandemic
Second place in the Relationships in Nature category: A bat finds its dinner by tuning in to a frog’s courtship call
Runners-up in each category were also announced, with a photo of a fringed-lipped bat latching onto a wiggling Tungara frog taking second place for Relationships in Nature.
Photographer and behavioral biologist Alexander T. Baugh said, “This image shows how contradictory natural and sexual selection can be.”
Bats specialize in hunting frogs because their hearing is adapted to their low-frequency courtship calls and their salivary glands neutralize toxins in the prey’s venomous skin.
Lindsey Swierk, Assistant Research Professor at Binghamton University, USA, came second in the “Biodiversity Under Threat” category.
She snapped a photo of a wood frog clinging to a mass of eggs while submerged in a frozen pond.
She said: “Wood frogs breed in temperate North America in early spring and congregate in spring pools shortly after the ice melts to mate and produce egg masses.
“Lately, wood frogs are breeding earlier in the year as climate change warms early spring in the US Northeast to what is unusual for the time of year.
“Unfortunately, winter storms can still catch frogs unexpectedly and trap them under the ice.”
Runner-up in the Biodiversity Under Threat category: A male wood frog clings to a mass of eggs as his pond freezes over
Runner-up in the Life Close Up category: An anole lizard dives with a bladder balanced on its snout to breathe underwater
Second in the Research in Action category: Researcher Brandon André Güell amidst thousands of reproducing gliding tree frogs
Ms Swierk also came second in the Life Close Up category with a picture of an anole lizard diving underwater while breathing into an air bubble clinging to its snout.
“They can spend almost 20 minutes underwater,” she said.
“Oxygen from this bubble is used up during the underwater dive, which likely contributes to aquatic anoles staying underwater for so long.”
The final photographer in second place was Brandon A. Güell in the Research in Action category, who snapped a picture of himself amidst thousands of gliding tree frogs and their eggs balanced on palm fronds.
He said: “Frogs are of particular scientific and personal interest because of their poorly studied explosive breeding strategy for arboreal species and the diverse behaviors that can affect adult reproductive success.
“Furthermore, hatching in gliding tree frogs is an excellent example of adaptive plasticity and environmental hatching; Embryos may hatch prematurely to escape predators, flooding, desiccation, and other egg threats.’
The photo competition was created to give ecologists and evolutionary biologists the opportunity to use their creativity to celebrate their research and the combination of art and science.
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Six of the world’s smallest frogs are discovered in Mexico Zombie toadstool ‘bewitches’ males to mate with female corpses who’ve been dead for a day
A fungus that turns houseflies into zombies ensures its survival by “hexing” males to mate with the fungus-infected corpses of dead females – and a new study shows the longer the female is dead, the more enticing it is for the male .
The fungus, formerly known as Entomophthora muscae, infects a female fly, slowly eats her alive from the inside out, and then in about a week the spores take over the behavior of the now-dead insect.
And once in full control, the fungus releases a chemical signature that acts as pheromones to attract unsuspecting males.
When the male mates with the infected female corpse, the fungal spores attach to the male, which in turn becomes a zombie housefly.
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