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At least one conservation biologist has found clear evidence that the Spotted salamander, and in fact all species contending with the iron chariots of humanity, were going to have a very good year. Photo credit: flickr Salamander Night is a time of cheap thrills for the naturalists of Nova Scotia, requiring only a flashlight on the first rainy evening in April over 9°C. Under these conditions several of the province’s amphibians depart their wintering grounds for the ponds in which they’ll soon breed, and no species is more noteworthy in this short, seasonal migration than the Spotted salamander, who, about a decade ago, was caught breaking the rules of biology. This unassuming salamander, it turns out, hosts photosynthetic algae in the cells of its skin, the biological equivalent of having solar panels strapped to one’s back. These algae produce oxygen and carbohydrates metabolized by the cell, and in return the cell provides a wealth of waste nitrogen – microbial miracle grow. Such symbioses were thought to be impossible among vertebrates, equipped as we are with exceedingly hostile immune systems, primed to pounce on anything not recognized as “self,” which is a pretty useful trait during a pandemic. Not only […]

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