July 18, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday-The Greatest Zoological Discoveries of all Time

What are the greatest zoological discoveries of all time? At BBC Wildlife magazine, a panel of judges has been mulling over the question. The results of their deliberations are published as the top 10 breakthroughs in zoology. The list in full is below, in descending order. How have they fared?

10) Tool use by chimps

 

In 1960, Jane Goodall discovered that chimps in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania stripped leaves from twigs and inserted them into termite mounts to fish for grubs. The discovery challenged anthropologists' description of humankind as "man the toolmaker".

9) Symbiosis in coral

 

What we call coral is the hard shells of animals called polyps. But these marine creatures would die were it not for a symbiotic relationship with photosynthesizing algae called zooxanthellae. The algae take up residence inside the polyps, trading the products of photosynthesis for a safe haven.

8) How the giant squid hunts

 

The giant squid is the largest invertebrate on the planet, but lives at such inaccessible depths that little was known of its behavior in the wild. In 2004, Japanese scientists Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori lowered a bait-laden video camera 900 metre under the sea and snapped around 50 images of the beast in action. The footage showed the squid lunging, tentacles first, out of the gloom.

7) Migration routes

 

Modern tagging techniques have provided researchers with detailed knowledge of where birds migrate to with the change of the seasons, but for thousands of years their whereabouts was shrouded in mystery. Outlandish speculations ranged from the birds hibernating at the bottom of ponds, flapping up to the moon, or simply staying put but morphing into new species.

6) Mendelian inheritance

 

It took the patience and perseverance of Gregor Mendel, a 19th century monk, to discover that traits were passed on from one generation to the next. Mendel, who grew thousands of pea plants and painstakingly observed their inherited characteristics, showed that each new generation received "elements" from both of its parents, and that some were recessive and others dominant, thereby laying the foundations of genetic inheritance.

5) Death of the dodo

 

The extinction of the dodo stands as the most striking example of the human impact on wildlife. The last of its kind were alive in the late 17th or early 18th century.

4) Hydrothermal vents

 

The discovery of marine creatures living around geothermaly heated water that gushed from cracks in the seabed overturned the notion that sunlight sustained all life on Earth.

3) Photosynthesis

 

The process by which plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen underpins most of life on Earth. It is hard to credit any one researcher with the discovery, though key findings were made by the Dutchman Jan Ingenhousz in 1779, who revealed the crucial role of sunlight in driving the process.

2) Microscopic life

 

The 17th century Dutch scientist Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek made some of the best microscopes of his time, using them to discover microorganisms, or "animalcules". His work led to dramatic re-evaluations of the causes of disease and improvements in hygiene.

1) Transitional species

 

The most impressive breakthrough of all, according to the judges, was the discovery of the fossilized remains of Archaeopteryx, a creature that shares some features with ancient reptiles and others with modern birds. The transitional species – often misleadingly called a missing link – lived around 150 million years ago and had wings and feathers, but also claws, teeth and a long, bony tail. More than any other discovery, Archaeopteryx helped drive the idea of evolution into the public consciousness.


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