Erupting zombie fungus takes out unique science photography contest
A parasitic fungus exploding out of the body of its host has taken the top prize in this year’s BMC Ecology and Evolution photography competition, a unique contest run by scientists and designed to creatively highlight the relationships between different species.
The competition spans four simple categories: Relationships in Nature, Biodiversity Under Threat, Life Close Up, and Research in Action. The winners are judged by seniors members of the editorial board of the BMC Ecology and Evolution journal.
“Our senior Editorial Board Members used their expertise to ensure the winning images were picked as much for the scientific stories behind them as for the technical quality and beauty of the images themselves,” explained editor Jennifer Harman. “As such, the competition very much reflects BMC’s ethos of innovation, curiosity and integrity.”
The top prize this year went to evolutionary biologist Roberto García-Roa for an incredible shot taken in the Peruvian jungle of Tambopata. The image illustrates how a mind-controlling parasitic fungus blasts out of the body of its host once it has arrived at its optimal location for growth.
“The image depicts a conquest that has been shaped by thousands of years of evolution,” explained Garcia-Roa. “The spores of the so-called ‘zombie’ fungus have infiltrated the exoskeleton and mind of the fly and compelled it to migrate to a location that is more favourable for the fungus’s growth. The fruiting bodies have then erupted from the fly’s body and will be jettisoned in order to infect more victims.”
Winning the Relationships in Nature category was an incredible example of plant-bird interaction. The shot depicted a Bohemian Waxwing feasting on berries from the rowan tree. The presence of these sought-after berries influences the birds’ annual migrations. And the sometimes high ethanol content of the berries mean the birds evolved larger than average livers to process the fruit.
“While this relationship is highly beneficial for seed dispersal, it does not come without a cost for the birds,” explained photographer Alwin Hardenbol. “As the berries become overripe, they start to ferment and produce ethanol which gets Waxwings intoxicated, sometimes leading to trouble for the birds, even death. Unsurprisingly, Waxwings have evolved to have a relatively large liver to deal with their inadvertent alcoholism."
Take a look through our gallery at more highlights from this wonderful photography contest.
Source: BMC Ecology and Evolution