Forests provide much more than public spaces for exercise, relaxation, and enjoying nature. They are complex ecosystems characterized by biodiversity. Forests are vital to Earth’s water cycle and ensure the survival of all living things by absorbing carbon dioxide and transforming it into oxygen. However, forests also provide valuable resources, especially wood and paper, that people need. Listen to an interview with a forestry expert to discover how forests are being managed to provide both resources for consumers and lasting benefits to the environment.
The world is filled with many living things of all shapes and sizes. From plants and animals to fungi and bacteria, every living thing is important and plays a role on our Earth. The variety of living things in a habitat is known as biodiversity. Having biodiversity in a habitat allows for many different species to thrive. Listen to hear more about how all living things within a habitat depend on one another for survival, making it crucial to find a way to protect each of them.
Animals communicate through sounds, touch, visual signals, and scent, and each species has its distinct communication methods. In this audio story, Earth Ranger Emma presents examples of communication among various species, including elephants, and explains the messages and emotions that are being communicated. Listen to learn how and why animals communicate, how animal sounds reflect an environment’s health, and how people can safely respond to communications from animals.
Pollinators are animals that help plants reproduce by carrying pollen from one flower to another. Many plants that benefit from the help of pollinators bear fruit or nuts, providing healthy foods for people and other animals to eat. A variety of pollinators carry powdery pollen on their bodies from one flower to another, but bees are pollination superstars. Bees live in well-organized colonies and work quickly and productively. Their populations are in decline, however, and scientists are trying to understand why. Listen to hear how queen bees keep hives running smoothly and learn what can be done to help bees survive.
Frogs are well adapted to their environment. They absorb water and oxygen through their skin which allows them to eat and breathe underwater. They are powerful jumpers and good hunters. But perhaps their most unusual adaptation is metamorphosis, the process of changing from tadpole to frog. Metamorphosis helps frogs live successfully in both wet and semi-dry environments, vary their diets, and avoid predators. Listen to hear an animal scientist explain how metamorphosis helps frogs survive, and why they eat their own tails in the process.
A variety of adaptations help animals survive the winter, when temperatures drop and food is scarce. Some migrate, some change how they eat and find ways to stay warm, and some hibernate, essentially going to sleep for many months. Listen to learn about how different animals adapt to the changing seasons and find out what happens when bears hibernate.
Current Event November 6, 2019
A Chinese insect has invaded Pennsylvania. It likely traveled on shipping containers across the Pacific ocean and when it arrived, it found bountiful food and no real predators. Now, the spotted lanternfly populations are getting out of control. With both ecosystems and businesses suffering, experts are considering drastic actions to reduce this invasive insect’s spread. Listen to learn more about the spotted lanternfly and scientists’ “crazy” solution to this bug’s growing numbers.
Current Event October 30, 2019
According to a new report, bird populations are generally decreasing throughout North America. Having fewer birds could negatively impact our ecosystems and our lives. However, there are steps we can take to help our feathered friends bounce back. Listen to learn what factors are causing bird populations to decline and some simple steps people can take to help slow the trend.
Current Event October 2, 2019
Have you ever wondered what chirping birds might be saying to each other? Squirrels seem to understand communications between their feathered neighbors, and they use this information to help them stay alive. Recently, scientists decided to see just how much information “eavesdropping” squirrels gather from birds. Listen to discover what they learned and how these animals’ networks operate “almost like Facebook.”
Current Event September 18, 2019
People have noticed more fireflies, or “lightning bugs,” than usual in Chicago this summer. In this story, a scientist who has been studying these insects explains why he thinks fireflies are currently thriving in the area, what this might mean for local ecosystems, and what can be done to help cultivate the firefly population. Listen to learn more about these popular summer insects and how they “light the way” in the ecosystems where they live.
Current Event May 29, 2019
The air thousands of feet high in France’s Pyrenees Mountains should be some of the cleanest on Earth. However, recent research revealed that the air at the top of the mountains actually contains microscopic plastic. Listen to learn more about the experiment that revealed this surprising fact, why it matters, and what researchers plan to investigate next.
Current Event April 3, 2019
When a young diver found thousands of golf balls underwater, she decided to collect them and ask a scientist about the risks they might pose to the marine environment. They began investigating the situation together. Listen to find out what they learned and why the diver thinks “people would be shocked.”
Current Event September 20, 2018
Monarch butterflies are in danger. In addition to their beauty, monarchs contribute to the ecosystem by pollinating wildflowers and by providing food for birds, small mammals, and insects. However, Monarch caterpillars depend on the milkweed plant for food and there are fewer and fewer milkweeds for them to eat. Listen to hear what conservation scientists recommend as a solution to this problem that many people can help to put into action.
Current Event March 24, 2017
Although the United States has cut its emissions of smog-forming pollutants by half over the past few decades, smog levels in the Western United States have increased each year. Now, scientists believe that rising emissions in Asia are causing smog in the United States. Asian emissions have tripled over the past decades and are particularly high in China and India. During the spring, storms lift and carry emissions from Asia to the Western United States, causing fog. Listen to learn more about how emissions levels in different parts of the world are changing and how global climate systems move emissions around the Earth and then debate: How can we address global pollution?
Current Event September 30, 2015
It may seem like planting a billion trees would help global warming because they absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. But that would depend on the total number of trees on the planet, which was a number no one knew. Recently, researchers conducted a tree census that gathered the national forest inventories and tree information at a global scale. A previous estimate found 400 billion trees on Earth, but researchers discovered there were 390 billion in the Amazon basin alone. It took over two years to find a better estimate of the number of trees on the planet. Listen to this story to find out the results.
Current Event June 12, 2015
Rainforests are one of the most diverse and important ecosystems on Earth. Many rainforests have been protected as conservation areas or trusts. Unfortunately, some of these areas are so large and remote that they are almost impossible to monitor. A conservation group in Peru is fighting against deforestation by using drones. Small low-flying light weight airplanes can fly over and take pictures of parts of the remote jungle to find deforestation. Listen to learn more about the use of drones to protect the rainforest.
It's easy for some people to imagine what it's like to be a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. However, the day-to-day life of a shellfish and wetland ecologist can be a little more difficult to understand. Discover what an ecologist does by hearing from Danielle Kreeger, the science director for a group that works to protect and improve the Delaware River and Bay. Listen to hear more about her career as an ecologist.
Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden at Monticello contains over 300 varieties of more than 90 different plants, demonstrating the diversity of Earth’s ecosystem. The former President and founding father prided himself on his diversified and rare collection of plants. And he never failed to record his gardening achievements in his famed “garden book." Listen to learn more about the history of Jefferson’s garden and its current state following restoration.
Infectious diseases like plague don’t just impact humans, they can spread and decimate animal populations as well. One scientist saw the impact of plague in prairie dog colonies and among black footed ferrets. He questioned whether the scientific understanding of plague cycles and transmission was accurate. Listen to learn what scientists discovered about plague and its larger impact on ecosystems.
Current Event October 17, 2014
The creamy chocolate, hazelnut spread called Nutella is experiencing a surge in popularity. Kids eat it on bread for breakfast, adults snack on it with bananas and restaurants serve nutella crepes. The increase in demand is putting pressure on the world’s hazelnut crops, which are primarily in Turkey. Listen to this public radio story to learn about the history and current day economics of Nutella.