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Winners Of The BMC Ecology Image Competition Highlight The Beauty And Perils Of Our Planet

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Kristy Hamilton

West Coast Editor

clockAug 7 2020, 01:00 UTC

A "zombie fungus" infects a weevil. Credit: Damien Esquerré from the Australian National University 

Ecologists are back at it again! The 7th BMC Ecology competition has chosen a winner from a diverse collection of photographs sent in by ecologists from all over the world, highlighting the perils and beauty of life on our planet.

In his writings, ecologist Aldo Leopold, most widely known for his book A Sand County Almanac, lamented the loss of nature and humanity’s increasing disconnection with the natural world. Inspired by his work to provoke curiosity and admiration for nature, the competition shares art through the lens of scientists.

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“While these showcase the undoubted talents of a diverse demographic of photographers, here at BMC Ecology we wanted to find out whether the natural world might be viewed differently from the perspective of professional ecologists like Leopold, with a specific emphasis on the central idea behind the study of ecology as a science – how organisms interact with each other and their environment,” the BMC said announcing the inaugural competition back in 2013.

The judging panel at BMC, therefore, is searching for an ecological story woven into striking visuals. Without further ado, let’s take a journey around the world through the eyes of ecologists working in the field.

Overall Winning Image: "Sick"

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Credit: David Costantini from the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France

It’s not just humans who have to face viral outbreaks, animals also suffer from the spread of insidious diseases. Here, an ailing magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) chick in French Guiana is suffering from a viral infection that will likely result in its death. A research project is currently underway to investigate the cause of the virus and to uncover conservation solutions for the local frigatebird population, which is one of the most important in South America.

“This image is timely as – at this writing – the world focuses on the interaction between a virus and a metapopulation of animals, which happens to be comprised of humans,” said BMC section editor Luke Jacobus. “It is my hope that lessons from ecology and conservation biology will bear fruit and help us to rise, meet and mitigate this challenge and to improve responses in the future.”

Credit: David Costantini from the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France

 

Runner Up: "Forest Green Lizard"

Credit: Dr S S Suresh from the Ibri Regional Referral Hospital in Oman

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Nothing like a splash of scarlet to help you stand out amongst the green foliage. Here, a bright red face isn’t a sign of embarrassment – quite the opposite, in fact. The ruby-red coloration lures and attracts mates (and occasionally a photography enthusiast).

To capture this image, Dr S S Suresh set out on a rainy November morning accompanied by two forest rangers, trekking through the squishy soil and dense evergreen forests in Kerala. He hoped to spot a tiger or a wild dog, but his attention soon turned to a rather large lizard. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly small stature of the lizard (Calotes calotes) in the photo, it is in fact 50-65 centimeters (20-25 inches) from head to tail.

“Luck was on my side, as my friends spotted a flamboyant pair of lizards in their breeding plumage,” said Dr S S Suresh. “I was elated and that made my day.” 

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Credit: Dr S S Suresh from the Ibri Regional Referral Hospital in Oman

 

Winner in Behavioral and Physiological Ecology Category: "Zombie Fungus"

Credit: Damien Esquerré from the Australian National University 

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At least humans don’t yet have to deal with a zombie fungus. A species of green weevil, however, is less fortunate, as showcased by an image of “zombie fungus” Cordyceps taking over its host. The fungus takes charge of the weevil's behavior and ultimately kills it by sprouting from its body and releasing spores to infect another weevil. 

The image “perfectly captures the helplessness of the weevil affected by the fungus, which before killing its host takes over its behaviour, likely in order to enhance the fungus’ transmission,” said section editor Dominique Mazzi. “The off-focus fellow adds to the dark atmosphere of the image, contrasted against its shrill colours, and appears just as doomed, meekly waiting its turn to surrender its fate to the fungus’ benefits.” 

Credit: Damien Esquerré from the Australian National University 

 

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Winner in Community, population, and macroecology: "Ghost Crab"

Credit: HaoYun Zhuang from Fuzhou University 

Peek-a-boo: A ghost crab scuttling across the sands of a beach in China is seen hiding in the shadow of a human's footprint. HaoYun Zhuang said ghost crabs "dig caves in the beach meanwhile they can move very fast to escape from the predators like egrets.”

Credit: HaoYun Zhuang from Fuzhou University 

 

Winner in Conservation ecology and biodiversity research: "Crown shyness"

Credit: Zu-Chang Xu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences

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When Zu-Chang Xu looked up, he saw gaps in the canopy and immediately recognized a phenomenon known as “crown shyness,” where trees reach towards each other but never touch.

“In the forest system, different species’ response to the climate is not synchronized, and there is a 'crown shyness' effect between the canopies of the trees, thus forming a special forest pattern," said Zu-Chang Xu. "This picture combines these two elements to form a wonderful landscape.”

Credit: Zu-Chang Xu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences

 

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Winner in Landscape ecology and ecosystems: "Wind Farms In China's Gobi Desert"

Credit: Kang Xu, who is from the College of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University

Guazhou, otherwise known as the “World Wind Library,” is home to the largest wind farm cohort in the world. A study by Kang Xu and colleagues suggests the wind energy generated in Guazhou can surpass 20?gigawatts, roughly the same as that produced by all of Spain.

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"Our previous study demonstrated that constructing wind turbines in the Gobi Desert is a win-win strategy that both contributes to the growth of desert vegetation with a favourable microclimate and sufficiently utilizes wind power to produce clean energy," Guazhou said.

Credit: Kang Xu from the College of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University

 

Editor's Pick: “The Kings Bath”

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Credit: Nayden Chakarov from Bielefeld University, Germany

“King eiders breed only in the highest Arctic territories," said Nayden Chakarov. "Along with other eider ducks, kings are known for their extremely insulating feathers. During the long polar winter, king eiders migrate south and spend most time in the open ocean. Occasionally kings visit the harbours of Nordaustlandet and other relatively 'warm' territories, where they eagerly feed and bathe in the shallow waters."

Yet despite its population size, scientists suggest these duck species may be severely impacted by rising temperatures in the high Arctic.

Nayden Chakarov from Bielefeld University, Germany

 

Highly Commended: "Fly on the Fly"

Credit: Bing Lin

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A young female gelada monkey bites at a fly in mid-flight.

Credit: Bing Lin

 

Highly Commended: "Shyness"

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Credit: Heyu Lin

An unexpanded frond of an Australian tree fern (Sphaeropteris cooperi), taken at Dandenong Ranges National Park in Australia

Credit: Heyu Lin

 

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Highly Commended: "Diatom Chain"

Credit: Luca Santangeli

A confocal image shows the diatoms’ cell wall (cyan), chloroplasts (red), DNA (blue), membranes, and organelles (green).

Image Credit: Luca Santangeli

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