Cyanobacteria in the Soil

A biocrust. Image credit: dryland-biodiversity.de

A biocrust. Image credit: dryland-biodiversity.de

     While it may be common to hear about cyanobacterial blooms in lakes and ponds this summer, what you might not hear about is the presence and role of cyanobacteria in our soil. Specifically, in soil known as biocrusts (or biological crusts) that can be found dotting the high-desert landscape of places like northern New Mexico (where it appears like a brownish mold spread between bunch grass).

     Integral in sustaining life in the southwest, these biocrusts are composed of thousands of species of bacteria and fungi; which species decompose organic matter, release carbon dioxide into the air (and fix it into the soil) and contribute to the nutrition in the soil. They also keep water in the soil, while simultaneously stabilizing and tempering erosion. 

     And check out this new research on biocrusts and their role in desert environments from a multidisciplinary team of biologists, geneticists and computational scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, alongside scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service.

Invasive Red Algae on Otters

"Fischotter, Lutra Lutra" by Bernard Landgraf - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - here.

"Fischotter, Lutra Lutra" by Bernard Landgraf - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - here.

     Gena Bentall first noticed red algae attaching itself to otters' coats in the fall of 2010, when Repu, a large male otter, was spotted with red fur off the California coast. Initially uncertain of the cause, Bentall decided to take a closer look. 

     The species of algae, Acrochaetium secundatum, usually inhabited the North Atlantic, but Bentall expects it made the trip by boat between the oceans. "We have a strong suspicion that this is an invasion of an Atlantic species," said Bentall. 

     The good news is that the algae doesn't seem to affect the otters' ability to stay warm (their thick fur functions as an insulating wetsuit), growing only at the very tip of their fur instead of in the deep undercoat.

     For the full article from student.societyforscience.org click here or on the link available below. 

New Science on Prevalence of Harmful Algal Blooms

This maps show all of the lakes tested and those in which samples contained cylindrospermopsin toxins. Credit: usgs.gov

This maps show all of the lakes tested and those in which samples contained cylindrospermopsin toxins. Credit: usgs.gov

An assessment conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sampled 1161 inland lakes and reservoirs throughout the United States, and what they found about the extent, distribution and make-up of toxins from harmful algal blooms challenges several long-held assumptions.

Focusing on cylindrospemopsins, microcystins and saxitoxins—three types of cyanobacterial toxins (or cyanotoxins)—the study found that harmful algal blooms, and their respective toxins, are far more prevalent throughout the United States than previously thought.

"Some had believed that toxic cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms were just a local or regional occurrence, but this study shows that they are distributed in lakes throughout the nation," said USGS scientist Keith Loftin, lead author on the assessment. "This assessment shows that multiple classes of cyanotoxins are present in lakes in diverse settings throughout the United States. This is a significant finding given the perception that cyanobacteria blooms [sic] are increasing in frequency and severity."

Additionally, the study showed that testing for the presence of chlorophyll to determine microcystin levels is not reliable either.

For the full article on usgs.gov click here, or on the link available below.