RALEIGH, N.C., May 2 (UPI) -- The southeastern United States sees a handful of tropical storms and hurricanes every summer and fall. Mostly, they are known for the damage and destruction they bring.
The massive weather systems aren't all bad, however. New research suggests the seasonal storm systems play an important role in replenishing local aquifers and inspiring vegetation growth. The uptick in photosynthesis rates allows for increased carbon sequestration, offsetting carbon released by the fossil fuel and auto industries.
Climate scientists at Duke University used a precipitation model to analyze the ecological effects of tropical cyclones between 2004 and 2007. By comparing years with fewer cyclones to more active hurricane seasons, researchers were able to tease out the influence of tropical storms on vegetation growth and carbon storage rates.
"It's easy to make general statements about how much of an impact something like additional rainfall can have on the environment," Lauren Lowman, a doctoral student at Duke, said in a news release. "But we really wanted to quantify the amount of carbon uptake that you can relate to tropical cyclones."
The findings -- published this week in the journal Biogeosciences -- reveal the important role cyclones play in encouraging carbon sequestration, but they don't offer a prediction for how climate change will affect the relationship.
"There are a lot of regional effects competing with large worldwide changes that make it very hard to predict what climate change will bring to the southeastern United States," said lead researcher Ana Barros, a professor of environmental engineering at Duke.
"If droughts do become worse and we don't have these regular tropical cyclones, the impact will be very negative," added Barros. "And regardless of climate change, our results are yet one more very good reason to protect these vast forests."
URBANA, Ill., May 2 (UPI) -- After sequencing the mitochondrial genome of the Hispaniolan solenodon, scientists confirmed that the endangered venomous mammal diverged from all other living mammals some 78 million years ago.
The species, Solenodon paradoxus, predates the extinction of the dinosaurs.
"It's just impressive it's survived this long," Adam Brandt, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, said in a news release. "It survived the asteroid; it survived human colonization and the rats and mice humans brought with them that wiped out the solenodon's closest relatives."
With a long snout and short brown-red fur, the Hispaniolan solenodon looks like a large shrew. Its hairless feet, nose and tail recall those of a possum. The species, sometimes called the Dominican solenodon, is found only on Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Puerto Rico used two different methods to sequence the nucleotides that make up solenodon mitochondrial DNA -- the kind passed unchanged from mother to offspring -- to determine the history of the species' lineage. Both methods produced the same conclusion, the species diverged from the mammalian tree of life some 78 million years ago.
The timeline fits nicely with studies that suggest the island of Hispaniola was once connected to Mexico and began drifting eastward around 75 million years ago.
Researchers shared the results of their genomic analysis in a paper published this week in the journal Mitochondrial DNA.
"Whether they got on the island when the West Indies ran into Mexico 75 million years ago, or whether they floated over on driftwood or whatever else much later is not very clear," added lead researcher Alfred Roca, a professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois.
The Hispaniolan solenodon spent most of the last 78 million years without any natural predators, but is now endangered as a result of habitat loss and predation from cats and dogs brought to the islands by human settlers.