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From the College of Natural Sciences
UT Austin Leads in New Summary of Top "Degrees of the Future"

UT Austin Leads in New Summary of Top "Degrees of the Future"

A dozen offerings from The University of Texas at Austin were ranked among the nation's best "Degrees of the Future 2022" by Gizmodo. The ranking came in a new special report from the technology, science and culture publication dedicated to "honoring the universities preparing students for tomorrow."

Neutralizing Crazy Ants

Neutralizing Crazy Ants

Over the past 15 years or so, tawny crazy ants from South America have been popping up across the southeastern U.S. like paratroopers dropping in from an invading army. Where they take hold, they're like an ecological wrecking ball and they cause headaches for homeowners. Podcast host Marc Airhart joined biologist Edward LeBrun in the Texas Hill Country to test a new weapon in the battle against the destructive tawny crazy ant.

Holy Bat Memory! Frog-Eating Bats Remember Ringtones Years Later

Holy Bat Memory! Frog-Eating Bats Remember Ringtones Years Later

Frog-eating bat (Trachops cirrhosus). Credit: Marcos Guerra.

Frog-eating bats trained by researchers to associate a phone ringtone with a tasty treat were able to remember what they learned for up to four years in the wild, according to a new study published in Current Biology.

Living Laboratories: Field Stations Offer Opportunities for Real-World Science

Living Laboratories: Field Stations Offer Opportunities for Real-World Science

Professor of Integrative Biology Tom Juenger conducts research on switchgrass at biological field stations in Texas and other parts of the country.

On a recent spring Saturday at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, families strolled along paths surrounded by a riotous mix of bluebonnets, winecups and evening primrose. Avid gardeners stood in line for a chance to shop the center's annual native plant sale. And a teen in a glittering dress posed for quinceañera pictures beside a pond.

A More Nuanced Approach is Needed to Manage Coral Reef Ecosystems

A More Nuanced Approach is Needed to Manage Coral Reef Ecosystems

Rangiroa, French Polynesia. Credit: Jordan M. Casey.

For many years, conservationists have tended to focus on one key parameter when assessing coral reef health: the biomass of coral reef fishes. But according to a new study of more than 500 coral reefs around the world, what constitutes healthy or "functional" goes far beyond this single metric. Reporting in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, an international team identified five key functions that fish provide to a reef. Together, they paint a clearer picture of reef health.

Invading Hordes of Crazy Ants May Have Finally Met Their Kryptonite

Invading Hordes of Crazy Ants May Have Finally Met Their Kryptonite

Edward LeBrun, a research scientist with the Texas Invasive Species Research Program at The University of Texas at Austin’s Brackenridge Field Laboratory, collects tawny crazy ants at a field site in central Texas. Credit: Thomas Swafford/University of Texas at Austin.

When tawny crazy ants move into a new area, the invasive species is like an ecological wrecking ball — driving out native insects and small animals and causing major headaches for homeowners. But scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have good news, as they have demonstrated how to use a naturally occurring fungus to crush local populations of crazy ants. They describe their work this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tropical Forests’ Recovery from Deforestation is Surprisingly Fast

Tropical Forests’ Recovery from Deforestation is Surprisingly Fast

Secondary forests at the slope Turrialba volcano in Costa Rica. Photo credit: Rens Brouwer.

Tropical forests are being deforested at an alarming rate, but also have the potential to regrow naturally on abandoned lands. A study published this week in Science shows that regrowing tropical forests recover surprisingly fast, and after 20 years can attain nearly 80% of the soil fertility, soil carbon storage, structure and tree diversity of old-growth forests. The study concludes that natural regeneration is a low-cost, nature-based solution for climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration.

Reading the Tea Leaves

Reading the Tea Leaves

Kelley Savage, Research Scientist Associate with the Mission-Aransas Reserve, lays out a transect line in order to place multiple tea bag samples in the salt marsh on Mustang Island. Photo credit: Christina Marconi.

Sometimes well known, simple household objects can be the best tools to use in a science experiment. Researchers at the Mission-Aransas Reserve are part of an international experiment with the Smithsonian MarineGEO (Global Earth Observatory). Tea bags are used to determine salt marsh decomposition rates, how microbes help the decomposition and if the environment makes a difference. Tea bags it turns out are a great source for science because they are readily available throughout the globe and are similar in size, weight and composition.

Combining Agrochemicals More Harmful to Bees than Previously Understood

Combining Agrochemicals More Harmful to Bees than Previously Understood

When multiple agrochemicals are used, their effects on bees can be magnified. Photo courtesy of Emily Bailes.

Bees perform critical services in ecosystems, including by pollinating the plants that humans and other animals rely on for food. According to new research, however, bees exposed to multiple types of agricultural chemicals face much greater risk than previously understood. The finding, published in the journal Nature, has researchers raising the alarm that regulatory approval processes need updating to allow for more consideration of the environmental risks brought about by these chemicals' interactions.

Study on Climate Change Impacts on Plants Could Lead to Better Conservation Strategies

Study on Climate Change Impacts on Plants Could Lead to Better Conservation Strategies

The three-year study focused on Coyote Ridge, a grassland near San Jose, California, which has several endemic plant species. Credit: Erika Zavaleta/University of California, Santa Cruz.

The loss of plant species that are especially vulnerable to climate change might lead to bigger problems than previous studies have suggested, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If confirmed, the findings can help inform conservation strategies and lead to more accurate predictions about what ecosystems will look like in the future.