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Biodiversity Blog

 
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Shrubs of BFL: Catclaw Acacia

CatclawThis perennial shrub (Senegalia wrightii) grows 6-10 feet tall although some accounts say it can grow to triple this size. The lacey foliage is twice pinnately-compound and semi-evergreen. Pinnately-compound refers to a leaf that is divided into smaller leaflets and those leaflets are arranged along each side of the leaf's central stalk, or rachis....

Members of Hillis Lab Receive NSF Grant

E.latitans web Eurycea latitans embryo (F1) from Honey Creek Cave (Photo: Ruben Tovar) Central Texas salamanders of the Eurycea clade are enigmatic amphibians that live in dark underground water systems. This sort of habitat has given rise to a number of phenotypes of these salamanders, one of which is the focus of a new National Science Foundation ...

Fall Migration of Birds, Texas and Beyond

Prairie warbler Setophaga discolor paludicola male J Prairie Warbler (Photo: Charles J. Sharp -CC BY-SA 4.0) Signs of autumn are all around. The weather is cooling and the days are getting shorter. It’s also a time of migration for some birds. Of Texas’ 615 documented species of birds, about half will migrate. Through the course of the season, millions of birds will pass through the Lone Sta...

IB Researchers to Lead Three-Year Groundwater Salamander Survey

Mission Valley IMG 4634 Edit 1 Undescribed species from New Braunfels. (Photo: Tom Devitt) Pale-skinned predators swimming about in dark underground caves sounds like something from a horror film, but they do exist. The reality is probably much less frightening once you know these creatures are groundwater salamanders of the Eurycea genus. Members of David Hillis’ lab i...

Shrubs of BFL: American Beautyberry

Beautyberry 01 Ripe berries on Beautyberry (Photo: Nicole Elmer) Around this time of year, this shrub is difficult to miss. The normally inconspicuous green berries turn bright purple and become quite popular for wild bird and animal populations. This plant’s scientific name is Callicarpa americana, or better known as the Beautyberry or American Beautybe...

BACKYARD BIODIVERSITY: the Texas Live Oak

oaks2 One of the historic Battle Oaks on the UT campus. Describing a mature live oak as “stately” is a bit of an understatement. They can live several centuries and these older trees command quite a presence. Their trunks can grow 4 feet or more in diameter and their crowns can spread more than 100 feet, sometimes touching the ground in a sprawl...

BACKYARD BIODIVERSITY: Jumping Spiders

Habronattus pyrrithrix male web Habronattus pyrrithrix male (Photo: Ian M. Wright) Jumping spiders make up the largest family of spiders. Constituting the family Salticidae, this family contains over 600 described genera and over 6000 described species as of 2019. With a family this big, this means jumping spiders show a lot of diversity, and live just about everywh...

Trees of BFL: Cottonwoods and Willows

Summary cottonwood  Cottonwood trees and willows are similar in many ways. They germinate through wind dispersion and colonize moist muddy areas exposed to full sun. Both are present in Brackenridge Field Lab, and the cottonwoods in particular have a close connection to the history of the field lab. COTTONWOODS Cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) are one of the ...

BACKYARD BIODIVERSITY: Cliff Chirping Frog

Eleutherodactylus Syrrhophus marnockii TJD 963 web   Photo: Tom Devitt The Cliff Chirping Frog is an elusive creature. Nocturnal and about the size of a quarter, they are more easily heard than seen. There are actually three species of Chirping Frog in the genus Eleutherodactylus in Central Texas. There is Eleutherodactylus marnockii. They are native and their range is central ...

The Texas Trout

CutthroatToday the only member of the family Salmonidae (trout, salmon and their relatives) that occurs in Texas is the non-native Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss. That species is widely stocked around the state and there is one permanent population in McKittrick Creek, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where it was introduced in the early 1900s. However...

Trout of Mexico's Sierra Madre

Picture1   Young Dean, reading to go fishing with dad... Like many others I'm sure, I found that working from home facilitated catching up on housecleaning, etc. Picking away at the long-standing task of re-housing old family photos, I came across one of me heading out trout fishing with my Dad.  It got me reflecting on what a big role ...

BACKYARD BIODIVERSITY: Texas Spiny Lizard

Texas Spiny Lizard Sceloporus olivaceus 31037017       Photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson from RAF Lakenheath, UK & San Marcos, TX, USA & UK (Creative Commons) If the Green Anole is the showy lizard presence in a garden, scampering around while flaring its red dewlap, the Texas Spiny Lizard is the opposite, typically shy, and well-camouflaged agai...

BACKYARD BIODIVERSITY: Grasshoppers!

Aidemona1 X2This colorful insect that looks like it’s about to go to a carnival is actually the nymph of Aidemona azteca. The adults of this species are drab in appearance. (Photo: Alex Wild) Grasshoppers are one of the oldest living group of chewing herbivorous insects, dating back to the early Triassic around 250 million years ago. In Central Texas, we ha...

BACKYARD BIODIVERSITY: Mediterranean gecko

586px Mediterranean house gecko Photo: ZooFari (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.) Mediterranean gecko? What? But we’re in Texas! While these are an Old World species, native to Southern Europe and North Africa, Mediterranean geckos have been introduced to many areas of the world, including Texas. They are common around Austin. You’...
Meet Eric Abelson

Meet Eric Abelson

Eric Abelson is a Research Scientist in the Department of Integrative Biology. He works closely with the Biodiversity Center.     Tell us where you came from before UT, and what you studied. After receiving my Ph.D. from Stanford University, where I worked on wildlife behavior and conservation ecology, I went on to two post-doc po...

PART 2: Life in the Middle of the Pacific Ocean

pic6By Ryan Rash    Rainbow after a light rain with great frigatebirds and boobies flying overhead. In my previous post, I compared our life in quarantine now to what I experienced on Johnston Atoll, out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where I worked on an invasive species control project through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ...

Viruses, biodiversity, and evolution

Virus planet web   Illustration: Nicole Elmer Viruses are tiny but their impact on life is huge. This is true not just for people, but for all life forms on earth. Some researchers believe that viruses might just be the most successful of earth’s inhabitants. But why might this be? To understand this requires looking at the attributes that allow liv...

Where Do Viruses Come From?

Viruses gym web   Illustration: Nicole Elmer The origin of viruses is a hotly debated topic. It’s unclear how they first evolved. However, there are many ideas floating around out there. There are three classical hypotheses but many new ideas and discoveries challenging them. The first one is the virus first hypothesis, and states that since viruse...

Some Virus History and Origins

cell or bust highway small   Illustration: Nicole Elmer The history of viruses is difficult to trace because they don’t exist in the fossil record. Unlike our beloved dinosaurs, viruses don’t have bones that can be fossilized, and they are just too small and fragile. However, there is another way viruses can make their mark in the fossil record, and that’s th...

CAMPUS BIODIVERSITY: Northern Mockingbirds

bird m   Photo: Kathryn Gatliff The Northern Mockingbird is probably one of the easiest birds to identify, if not by their bold maneuvers to protect their territory, then certainly by their characteristic song. In fact, their scientific name Mimus polyglottos is based entirely on their vocal natures: “mimus” is Latin for mimic and “polyglo...