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©C.Guiguand/Tara/Oceans
©C.Guiguand/Tara/Oceans

Stunning Photos of Some of The World's Smallest and Most Important Organisms

©C.Guiguand/Tara/Oceans
©C.Guiguand/Tara/Oceans

Somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of every breath you take comes from oxygen produced by microorganisms in the ocean. These tiny creatures at the bottom of the food chain are the basis for so much life on this planet, and yet we know very little about them. In an effort to rectify this, a team of scientists set sail for three years on a 110-foot schooner named Tara to collect and study samples of these microorganisms. They especially wanted to better understand how climate change affects these tiny creatures.


Click to Enlarge. © Wedodata/ Tara Expéditions

They ended up writing five papers for the journal Science about the 35,000 samples of plankton, bacteria, krill, viruses, and the mostly unicellular protists and archaea they collected from the world's oceans.

While the details are highly technical, the insights are important to everyone. "How can we save the whales if we can't save the krill?" Science editor Marcia McNutt told NPR. "There's something about the tragedy of the commons here."

Check out some of the photos of the creatures collected during this massive project involving 250 people.

©M.Ormestad/Kahikai/Tara

These parasitoid crustaceans called hyperiid amphipod eat sea salps, then use the empty gelatinous husks as protective shells.

© Christian Sardet/ CNRS/ Sharif Mirshak/ Parafilms/ Tara Expeditions

This male Sapphirina copepod collected in the Mediterranean Sea reflects and diffracts light through tiny plates in its epidermal cells.

©Christian Sardet/CNRS/Tara Expéditions

This Lauderia annulata, collected and photographed in the Indian Ocean, is one of the largest known diatoms (200 microns). Clumps of chloroplasts, which conduct photosynthesis, are visible as green and yellow particles within this cylindrical single cell creature encased in a light­-reflecting glass shell. 

©Christian Sardet/CNRS/Tara Expéditions

This is a mixture of multicellular plankton collected in the Pacific Ocean with a mesh net just 0.1mm wide. The group includes small zooplanktonic animals, larvae, and single-cell protists.

©Christian Sardet/CNRS/Tara Expéditions

The Tara  expedition collected these small zooplanktonic animals in the Indian Ocean: A molluscan pteropod on the right, and two crustacean copepods. That fleck of orange on the left is paint from Tara's hull.

©Christian Sardet/CNRS/Tara Expéditions

This small medusa collected in the Mediterranean Sea is a close relative of Turritopsis, thought to be a so-called "immortal" jellyfish.

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Why Crows Hold Noisy Funerals for Their Fallen Friends
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The next time you hear a murder of crows cackling for no apparent reason, show a little respect: You may have stumbled onto a crow funeral. Crows are among the few animals that exhibit a social response to a dead member of their species. Though their caws may sound like heartbroken cries, such funerals aren't so much about mourning their fallen friends as they are about learning from their mistakes.

In the video below from the PBS series Deep Look, Kaeli Swift, a researcher at the University of Washington's Avian Conservation Lab, investigates this unusual phenomenon firsthand. She familiarized herself with a group of crows in a Seattle park by feeding them peanuts in the same spot for a few days. After the crows got used to her visits, she returned to the site holding a dead, taxidermied crow and wearing a mask and wig to hide her identity. The crows immediately started their ritual by gathering in the trees and crying in her direction. According to Swift, this behavior is a way for crows to observe whatever might have killed the dead bird and learn to avoid the same fate. Flocking into a large, noisy group provides them protection from the threat if it's still around.

She tested her theory by returning to the same spot the next week without her mask or the stuffed crow. She offered the crows peanuts just as she had done before, only this time the birds were skittish and hesitant to take them from her. The idea that crows remember and learn from their funerals was further supported when she returned wearing the mask and wig. Though she didn't have the dead bird with her this time, the crows were still able to recognize her and squawked at her presence. Even birds that weren't at the funeral learned from the other birds' reactions and joined in the ruckus.

Swift was lucky this group of crows wasn't particularly vengeful. Crows have been known to nurse and spread grudges, sometimes dive-bombing people that have harmed one of their own.

[h/t Deep Look]

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Photographer's Amazing Snap of an Osprey Is Holding Two Big Surprises
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As a wildlife photographer, Doc Jon understands the importance of being in the right place at the right time. But it took getting home and really squinting at his own work to realize that he recently captured a “one-in-a-trillion shot” while taking a photo of an osprey in Madeira Beach, Florida. While demonstrating the power of his lens to a fellow beach-goer, Jon pointed his camera at an osprey flying about 400 feet above their heads, and snapped a quick photo.

“I started shooting and my settings were off,” Jon told Fstoppers. “I had no tripod. I was trying to hold it steady, but it was windy out," he said. "I could see the osprey had a fish, but it was far away. It wasn't until I got home, cropped in on it, lightened the shadows, and applied some sharpening that I suddenly saw. ‘Oh my god, that's a shark's tail.’ Then I saw the fish in its mouth and I knew it was going to go viral.”

Jon predicted correctly.

Photos courtesy of Doc Jon via Facebook

Jon’s photo, which has already been shared by thousands of people, features the osprey holding a shark, which is holding a fish—making it sort of like the photographic version of a turducken. News of Jon’s amazing photo spread after he posted it to his Facebook page and a local news station saw it. Since then, he told Fstoppers, he’s been receiving requests for interviews from as far away as Israel and India.

Of course, with all that exposure comes the inevitable question of authenticity. Fortunately, Jon is taking that part in stride.

"The fun part for me is some people are commenting that it's Photoshopped, and obviously, those people don't know the limitations of Photoshop," Jon told Fstoppers. "Then, other people are telling me I should have sold it instead of sharing it online. I'm laughing, because really, it's not a good photo. The photo itself kind of sucks. But it tells a great story and it's getting me a lot of recognition for my other work now."

[h/t: Fstoppers]

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