Surprise! These animals can help fight climate change

algae: Single-celled organisms, once considered plants (they aren’t). As aquatic organisms, they grow in water. Like green plants, they depend on sunlight to make their food.

atmosphere: The envelope of gases surrounding Earth, another planet or a moon.

bacteria: (singular: bacterium) Single-celled organisms. These dwell nearly everywhere on Earth, from the bottom of the sea to inside other living organisms (such as plants and animals). Bacteria are one of the three domains of life on Earth.

biologist: A scientist involved in the study of living things.

bloom: (in microbiology) The rapid and largely uncontrolled growth of a species, such as algae in waterways enriched with nutrients.

carbon: A chemical element that is the physical basis of all life on Earth. Carbon exists freely as graphite and diamond. It is an important part of coal, limestone and petroleum, and is capable of self-bonding, chemically, to form an enormous number of chemically, biologically and commercially important molecules. (in climate studies) The term carbon sometimes will be used almost interchangeably with carbon dioxide to connote the potential impacts that some action, product, policy or process may have on long-term atmospheric warming.

carbon dioxide: (or CO2) A colorless, odorless gas produced by all animals when the oxygen they inhale reacts with the carbon-rich foods that they’ve eaten. Carbon dioxide also is released when organic matter burns (including fossil fuels like oil or gas). Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, the process they use to make their own food.

carcass: The body of a dead animal.

chemical: A substance formed from two or more atoms that unite (bond) in a fixed proportion and structure. For example, water is a chemical made when two hydrogen atoms bond to one oxygen atom. Its chemical formula is H2O. Chemical also can be an adjective to describe properties of materials that are the result of various reactions between different compounds.

climate: The weather conditions that typically exist in one area, in general, or over a long period.

climate change: Long-term, significant change in the climate of Earth. It can happen naturally or in response to human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests.

cloud: A plume of molecules or particles, such as water droplets, that move under the action of an outside force, such as wind, radiation or water currents. (in atmospheric science) A mass of airborne water droplets and ice crystals that travel as a plume, usually high in Earth’s atmosphere. Its movement is driven by winds. (in computing) A network of computers (hardware), known as servers, which are connected to the internet. They can be used to store data and computer programs (software) that can be accessed by one or many people at once, and from anywhere in the world.

compost: The end product in the breakdown, or decomposition, of leaves, plants, vegetables, manure and other once-living material. Compost is used to enrich garden soil, and earthworms sometimes aid this process.

current: A fluid — such as of water or air — that moves in a recognizable direction. (in electricity) The flow of electricity or the amount of charge moving through some material over a particular period of time.

diatoms: Tiny, ocean- and lake-dwelling organisms made of no more than a few cells. Diatoms have cells made of silica, or glass. They live like plants, using sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into sugars.

diet: (n.) The foods and liquids ingested by an animal to provide the nutrition it needs to grow and maintain health. Sometimes this is a specific food-intake plan. (v.) To adopt a specific food-intake plan. People may adopt one for religious or ethical reasons, to address food allergies or to control a disease such as high blood pressure or diabetes. They may also adopt one in an effort to lose weight, although this can be unhealthy if not done under the guidance of a health professional, such as a physician or registered dietician.

echidna: Also known as the spiny anteater, this is an egg-laying mammal native to Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. The generally solitary animal has small eyes and a long beak-like nose. It has poor vision but a keen sense of hearing and smell. The short-beaked species have dark fur largely hidden by hollow spines. Spines on long-beaked echidnas are much longer — about 5 centimeters (2 inches) long — and help to give it camouflage.

ecologist: A scientist who works in a branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.

ecosystem: A group of interacting living organisms — including microorganisms, plants and animals — and their physical environment within a particular climate. Examples include tropical reefs, rainforests, alpine meadows and polar tundra. The term can also be applied to elements that make up some an artificial environment, such as a company, classroom or the internet.

egg: A reproductive cell that contains half of the genetic information necessary to form a complete organism. In humans and in many other animals, ovaries produce eggs. When an egg fuses with a sperm, they combine to produce a new cell, called a zygote. This is the first step in the development of a new organism.”

environment: The sum of all of the things that exist around some organism or the process and the condition those things create. Environment may refer to the weather and ecosystem in which some animal lives, or, perhaps, the temperature and humidity (or even the placement of things in the vicinity of an item of interest).

feral: Animals that were once domesticated but now run wild. Examples may include feral dogs, horses or pigs.

fertilizer: Nitrogen, phosphorus and other plant nutrients added to soil, water or foliage to boost crop growth or to replenish nutrients that were lost earlier as they were used by plant roots or leaves.

focus: (in physics) The point at which rays (of light or heat for example) converge sometimes with the aid of a lens. (In vision, verb, “to focus”) The action a person’s eyes take to adapt to light and distance, enabling them to see objects clearly. (in behavior) To look or concentrate intently on some particular point or thing.

forest: An area of land covered mostly with trees and other woody plants.

fruit: A seed-containing reproductive organ in a plant.

gait: The pattern of leg motions by which an animal walks from place to place.

glass: A hard, brittle substance made from silica, a mineral found in sand. Glass usually is transparent and fairly inert (chemically nonreactive). Aquatic organisms called diatoms build their shells of it.

habitat: The area or natural environment in which an animal or plant normally lives, such as a desert, coral reef or freshwater lake. A habitat can be home to thousands of different species.

herbivore: A creature that either exclusively or primarily eats plants.

insect: A type of arthropod that as an adult will have six segmented legs and three body parts: a head, thorax and abdomen. There are hundreds of thousands of insects, which include bees, beetles, flies and moths.

litter: Material that lies around in the open, having been discarded or left to fall where it may. (in biology) Decaying leaves and other plant matter on the surface of a forest floor. (in zoology) A group of young animals born at the same time to the same mother.

mammal: A warm-blooded animal distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, the secretion of milk by females for feeding their young, and (typically) the bearing of live young.

marine: Having to do with the ocean world or environment.

marine biologist: A scientist who studies creatures that live in ocean water, from bacteria and shellfish to kelp and whales.

microbe: Short for microorganism. A living thing that is too small to see with the unaided eye, including bacteria, some fungi and many other organisms such as amoebas. Most consist of a single cell.

New South Wales: One of the Eastern states that make up Australia. Home to some 8 million people, it’s the oldest, largest and most urban of those states. Located in the east-central and southeastern part of the nation, most of its residents live in or near the state capital of Sydney.

nitrogen: A colorless, odorless and nonreactive gaseous element that forms about 78 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. Its scientific symbol is N. Nitrogen is released in the form of nitrogen oxides as fossil fuels burn. It comes in two stable forms. Both have 14 protons in the nucleus. But one has 14 neutrons in that nucleus; the other has 15. For that difference, they are known, respectively, as nitrogen-14 and nitrogen-15 (or 14N and 15N).

nutrient: A vitamin, mineral, fat, carbohydrate or protein that a plant, animal or other organism requires as part of its food in order to survive.

organic: (in chemistry) An adjective that indicates something is carbon-containing; also a term that relates to the basic chemicals that make up living organisms. (in agriculture) Farm products grown without the use of non-natural and potentially toxic chemicals, such as pesticides.

organism: Any living thing, from elephants and plants to bacteria and other types of single-celled life.

photosynthesis: (verb: photosynthesize) The process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to produce foods from carbon dioxide and water.

phytoplankton: Sometimes referred to as microalgae, these are microscopic plants and plant-like organisms that live in the ocean. Most float and reside in regions where sunlight filters down. Much like land-based plants, these organisms contain chlorophyll. They also require sunlight to live and grow. Phytoplankton serve as a base of the oceanic food web.

planet: A large celestial object that orbits a star but unlike a star does not generate any visible light.

platypus: Sometimes known as the duckbill, this shy Australian egg-laying mammal (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) has a streamlined body and flat bill. Its waterproof fur allows it to comfortably navigate in rivers and other waterways, where it feeds on invertebrate animals that live in the sediment. It uses electrical signals given off by the muscles of its prey to find its food. Males have a spur on the inner side of each ankle releases venom for use in their defense.

poaching: (in ecology) To illegally hunt and take a wild animal or plant. People who do this are referred to as poachers.

predation: A term used in biology and ecology to describe a biological interaction where one organism (the predator) hunts and kills another (the prey) for food.

prey: (n.) Animal species eaten by others. (v.) To attack and eat another species.

protein: A compound made from one or more long chains of amino acids. Proteins are an essential part of all living organisms. They form the basis of living cells, muscle and tissues; they also do the work inside of cells. Antibodies, hemoglobin and enzymes are all examples of proteins. Medicines frequently work by latching onto proteins.

range: The full extent or distribution of something. For instance, a plant or animal’s range is the area over which it naturally exists. (in math or for measurements) The extent to which values can vary (such as the highest to lowest temperatures). Also, the distance within which something can be reached or perceived.

resilient: (n. resilience) To be able to recover fairly quickly from obstacles or difficult conditions. (in materials) The ability of something to spring back or recover to its original shape after bending or otherwise contorting the material.

risk: The chance or mathematical likelihood that some bad thing might happen. For instance, exposure to radiation poses a risk of cancer. Or the hazard — or peril — itself. (For instance: Among cancer risks that the people faced were radiation and drinking water tainted with arsenic.)

sea: An ocean (or region that is part of an ocean). Unlike lakes and streams, seawater — or ocean water — is salty.

shrub: A perennial plant that grows in a generally low, bushy form.

silica: A mineral, also known as silicon dioxide, containing silicon and oxygen atoms. It is a basic building block of much of the rocky material on Earth and of some construction materials, including glass.

slope: (in geology) The steeply pitched side of a cliff, hill or mountain. (in mathematics) The degree to which some line rises or falls from a strictly horizontal direction. A line that appears to rise as it moves to the right has a positive slope. One that appears to fall as runs to the right has a negative slope. Vertical lines have neither. Their slope is described as undefined.

species: A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

sperm whale: A species of enormous whale with small eyes and a small jaw in a squarish head that takes up 40 percent of its body. Their bodies can span 13 to 18 meters (43 to 60 feet), with adult males being at the bigger end of that range. These are the deepest diving of marine mammals, reaching depths of 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) or more. They can stay below the water for up to an hour at a time in search of food, mostly giant squids.

tannin: A reddish and bitter plant chemical used to tan leather. Tannins are also a natural pesticide. Pesticides kill vermin, such as rats, insects and lice.

taste: One of the basic properties the body uses to sense its environment, especially foods, using receptors (taste buds) on the tongue (and some other organs).

termite: An ant-like insect that lives in colonies, building nests underground, in trees or in human structures (like houses and apartment buildings). Most feed on wood.

terrain: The land in a particular area and whatever covers it. The term might refer to anything from a smooth, flat and dry landscape to a mountainous region covered with boulders, bogs and forest cover.

tissue: Made of cells, it is any of the distinct types of materials that make up animals, plants or fungi. Cells within a tissue work as a unit to perform a particular function in living organisms. Different organs of the human body, for instance, often are made from many different types of tissues.

vegetation: Leafy, green plants. The term refers to the collective community of plants in some area. Typically these do not include tall trees, but instead plants that are shrub height or shorter.

whale: A common, but fairly imprecise, term for a class of large mammals that lives in the ocean. This group includes dolphins and porpoises.

wood: A porous and fibrous structural tissue found in the stems and roots of trees, shrubs and other woody plants.

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