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"Eat, Pray, Decompose" -- The Discovery Files


The Discovery Files
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A Yale And Hebrew Universities' study of grasshoppers' diets shows that animals are an important part of organic matter decomposition.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

The grasshopper diet. (SOUND EFFECT: sproing!)

I'm Bob Karson with The Discovery Files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Grasshoppers normally dine on nitrogen-rich grass (SOUND EFFECT: munch sound) & except when (SOUND EFFECT: villainous riff) the predatory spider enters the picture. Grasshoppers become stressed when hunted by spiders (SOUND EFFECT: shaking in fear) (shaking in fear) and consequently change their diet to carbohydrate-rich plants ... grasshopper comfort food.

Researchers at Yale and Hebrew Universities studied this diet change to find out its ecological impacts. They ground remnants of grasshoppers who ate high-stress diets into a powder and made another powder from the remnants of ones who ate normal, nitrogen-rich fare. Then they sprinkled the powder on top of the soil, where microbes digested it.

When grasshoppers switch to a high-carb diet, their body composition contains more carbon and less nitrogen. But microbes need a lot of nitrogen to produce enzymes that break down plant organic matter. The team found that decomposition of leaf remnants was up to two times slower in the soil that contained the carb-eating hoppers.

(SOUND EFFECT: outdoor sounds, nature) The scientists conclude that above-ground predators ultimately change how soil microbes break down organic matter, and may affect the way soil releases carbon into the atmosphere.

My idea? How 'bout grasshopper stress-management classes? No?

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Learn more at nsf.gov.

 
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