Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

What the "world's coolest algae" tells us about the reasons for extinction

Not Exactly Rocket ScienceBy Ed YongAugust 8, 2012 6:00 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news


Cheetahs have two problems: their numbers are low because their habitats have disappeared over time, and they have very low genetic diversity. Neither factor bodes well for their future, but which presents them with the greatest risk of extinction? This isn’t just an academic question. It’s one with real consequences for conservation, and affects whether breeding programmes should just focus on raising more cheetahs, or should carefully mix and match parents to produce genetically diverse young. Really, what you want is an experiment that tinkers with population size and genetic diversity independently to see which matters most. And obviously, you cannot do that with cheetahs since they are rare and hard to work with. And, you know, endangered. Tim Wootton from the University of Chicago recognised this problem. As he told the audience at the 2012 Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting: “We needed an alternative charismatic organism.” To chuckles, he unveiled his choice: the sea palm. It’s a brown frond-like seaweed that grows on the western coast of North America. Wootton calls it “probably the world’s coolest algae”. Twelve years ago, he and his wife Cathy Pfister bred sea palms to varying degrees of genetic diversity and transplanted them onto rocky shores in clumps of different size. Yesterday, he presented the results of the experiment. I wrote about the study for Nature News, so head over there to see what happened. Image by Eric in SF

    3 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 50%


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In