Many of the marvels of the natural world have been captured in a selection of images taken by researchers across the globe in a photography competition.
The pictures reveal a fascinating view of scientific research, showing both the beauty and horrors of life—ranging from parasitic fungi and dead whales to dinosaur eggs and shark conservation.
The pictures below are the winners and runners-up in the BMC Ecology and Evolution journal competition. Scientists submitted their best pictures in the categories: Research in Action, Protecting our planet, Plants and Fungi and Paleoecology.
The winner of the Paleoecology category was an image from Jordan Mallon from the Canadian Museum of Nature, which shows an illustration of the inside of a dinosaur egg. This is based on the finding of a pair of hadrosauroid dinosaur eggs and embryos from China’s Upper Cretaceous red beds from between 72 and 66 million years ago.
“The relatively small size of the eggs, and the unspecialized nature of the dinosaur embryos inside, suggest that the earliest hadrosaurs laid small eggs and hatched altricial young. More derived hadrosaurs eventually laid eggs nearly four times larger by volume and hatched correspondingly larger young,” Mallon said in the BMC Ecology and Evolution editorial. “This digital image depicts an example of a ‘primitive’ hadrosaur developing within the safety of its small egg expertly crafted by Wenyu Ren.”
The runner-up image, taken by Jasmina Wiemann, a molecular paleobiologist from the Negaunee Integrative Research Center, Field Museum of Natural History, shows a fossilized dinosaur blood vessel dating back 150 million years.
“Once considered paradoxical, the preservation of fragile soft tissues is now known to be the result of the chemical transformation of original proteins, lipids, and sugars occurring during fossilization – allowing such fragile evidence of past life to survive over millions of years!” Wiemann said in the editorial.
Plants and Fungi
The winner of the Plants and fungi category was something straight out of HBO‘s The Last of Us, showing an ant being taken over by the zombie-ant fungus Ophiocordyceps. The picture, taken by João Araújo, a mycologist at the New York Botanical Garden, shows the fungal fruiting body bursting out of the ant’s head.
This fungus infects an ant’s body and brain, taking over its behavior.
“Once the fungal spore has germinated into the ant, it begins to divide into individual yeast-like cells that grow and multiply in the hemolymph (the fluid that contains the blood of insects) and spreads throughout the body,” William C. Beckerson, a molecular biology and genetics postdoctoral research fellow at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, previously told Newsweek.
“Initially, the insect goes on with its life as normal; however, after a few days, the fungal cells begin to secrete many different chemicals that change the behavior of their hosts. These ants, which are typically very social creatures with defined jobs in the nest, suddenly wander away from the nest and their roles, exhibit changes in motor skills including twitching and a staggered walking, disrupted […] cycles leading them to wander continuously regardless of day or night […].”
The Plants and Fungi runner-up also shows a horrifying case of fungal infection in invertebrates. Taken by Roberto García-Roa, an evolutionary biologist and conservation photographer affiliated with the University of Lund in Sweden, this image shows a spider taken over by a parasitic fungus, which can be seen bursting through its body.
“While it is not uncommon to encounter insects parasitised by ‘zombie’ fungi in the wild, it is a rarity to witness large spiders succumbing to these fungal conquerors. In the jungle, near a stream, lies the remains of a conquest shaped by thousands of years of evolution,” García-Roa said in the editorial.
Protecting Our Planet
In the Protecting Our Planet category, the runner-up image shows the release of a newborn blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) in Mo’orea, French Polynesia. The picture, taken by Victor Huertas, a postdoctoral research associate from the Hoey Reef Ecology Lab at James Cook University in Australia, shows the hand of Jodie Rummer, a professor at James Cook University.
“Professor Rummer leads Physioshark, a research team headquartered at James Cook University in Australia, that investigates the impact of climate change on the physiological performance of newborn sharks in tropical shark nurseries,” Huertas said in the editorial.
“These habitats typically occur in shallow waters and are therefore highly exposed to rising temperatures and lower oxygen concentrations. The Physioshark team is untangling the challenges newborn sharks face in such rapidly changing environmental conditions. Professor Rummer and her students have so far been able to show how despite the burden climate change is placing on the physiology of young sharks, these are displaying an exceptional resilience to these changes, giving scientists hope that they will be able to adjust to a warming ocean.”
The winning image, also taken by García-Roa, shows a beekeeping project at the Chimpanzee Conservation Center in Guinea.
“This photo shows how very different aspects of wildlife conservation can be combined,” Senior Editorial Board Member Josef Settele said in the editorial. “Here, honey beekeeping helps create income and highlights the value of forests and the importance of the functioning of ecosystems to provide ecosystem services such as pollination and honey. Through the activities captured in the picture, the conservation of Chimpanzees – our close relatives – is a core result of community engagement. For me, this photo shows a great win-win situation and an excellent example of how one can contribute to protecting our planet.”
Research in Action
The runner-up of this category shows an aerial image of a necropsy being performed on a dead humpback whale that was stranded on a beach in the U.K. The image was captured by James Bunyan from Tracks Ecology and submitted by Paul Thompson, a professor from the University of Aberdeen.
“Post whaling recovery of North Atlantic humpback whale populations has led to increases in sightings of this species in UK coastal waters, but this also raises the risk of entanglement in coastal waters,” Thompson explained in the editorial.
“In May 2023, a young humpback whale became stranded in Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve in NE Scotland, drawing the attention of the scientific community. Colleagues from the University of Glasgow’s Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme conducted a necropsy of this whale, confirming drowning following entanglement was the most likely cause of death. This image was drawn from a series captured by UAV photography, documenting the necropsy and producing a 3-D model of the whale using photogrammetric techniques that were developed to study the size structure of the seal population.”
The winner of this category, also taken by Huertas, shows an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) being released at Diamond Reef in the Coral Sea Marine Park, which will use photo and video cameras to survey depths beyond the reach of divers.
“This photograph captures the essence of ecological study,” Senior Editorial Board Member Luke Jacobus said in the editorial. “It showcases sharp imaging and good storytelling as we see humans acting at the interface of the atmosphere and the hydrosphere. The motion of the water and the scientific device invite us to be curious about our dynamic world.”
The winner of the entire competition was taken by Cornelia Sattler from Macquarie University in Australia, showing an invasive orange pore fungus (Favolaschia calocera) blooming.
“Despite its innocent and beautiful appearance, the orange pore fungus is an invasive species in Australia,” Sattler said. “This species is displacing other fungi and spreading throughout the Australian rainforest. The bright orange fruiting bodies typically grow on deadwood and can spread through spores, often transported by humans.”
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