The surprising way sea otters improve ecosystems and other scientific breakthroughs

Snuggled up in the thickest fur in the animal kingdom, sea otters can live their entire lives in the ocean, feeding heavily on seabed animals. In British Columbia, they often dig clams in eelgrass fields (Marina Zostera), leaving divots in otherwise dense mats of aquatic vegetation. In the meadows that otters inhabit compared to those they do not, seagrasses are more genetically diverse and the plants more resilient, according to a study published in the journal Science. This is because by foraging and disturbing the sea floor, otters encourage plants to flower and set seeds, and their digging provides more space and sunlight for seeds to settle and germinate. Seagrasses such as eelgrass are at risk due to warming and pollution; they are vital to ecosystems as they filter contaminants from water, store carbon, and provide habitat and food for many animals. The study’s finding is a powerful example of how predators often influence their ecosystems in unseen and little-known ways, says lead researcher Erin Foster. Principal Douglas

(Learn more about how sea otters help protect seagrass beds.)

A review of 280 studies of alpine regional plants over 45 years shows that blue flowers have attracted the most attention; yellow, white or red/pink come next, and green/brown blooms much less. Also popular: tall flowers (so scientists don’t have to bend down?). Search bias has implications for which flowers are protected. -IOri Cuthbert