A mind-bending photo of a school of fish in formation captured on the Great Barrier Reef has taken out the top gong in a prestigious nature photography competition.
Furry crustaceans, hunting wasps and escaping frogs were among the amazing fauna that came up trumps across six sub-categories.
The winning images celebrate Earth’s biodiversity and its evolutionary origins, from how species learn and develop, to conflict, collaboration and parasitic relationships, both between and within species.
Marvel at these wonders of the natural world below:
Winning snap shines spotlight on the Great Barrier Reef
Kristen Brown, a coral reef ecologist, from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia captured the competition’s winning entry at at Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
The photo depicts a school of jack fish in a spiral formation.
Ms Brown said the image represents “both the beauty and bounty of our oceans as well as the spiralling crisis unfolding within the marine environment”.
The threat facing the Great Barrier Reef due to climate change has been a topic of hot debate in Australia and around the world.
In July, a lobbying effort by the Australian government led to the Reef narrowly escaping being declared an ecological disaster zone by the United Nations.
The World Heritage site will now avoid an “in danger” label until at least 2023, with Australia only required to file a progress report to UNESCO by February 2022.
“Coral reefs with high coral cover and plentiful fish populations like this one at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef are sadly becoming rarer,” Ms Brown said.
“Without a concentrated effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve water quality, coral reefs as we know them are at risk of disappearing within our lifetime.”
A photo titled ‘Eerie stalker’ by Dimitri Ouboter from the Institute for Neotropical Wildlife and Environmental Studies in Suriname was named the editor’s pick.
The image captures a Giant Gladiator Frog seconds before escaping from an attempted snake attack.
Giant Gladiator Frogs have been previously observed escaping from the jaws of snakes by emitting distress calls, jumping and inflating their lungs, making it harder for small snakes to hold on to them.
‘Small big migration’
The ‘population ecology’ category winner was captured by Roberto García-Roa, an evolutionary biologist and conservation photographer from the University of Valencia, Spain, who also submitted the winning images for the ‘behavioural ecology’ and ‘human evolution and ecology’ categories.
Titled ‘small big migration’, the photo shows soldier termites migrating along a length of abandoned rope in a Malaysian forest.
“Thousands of soldier termites are able to migrate in a complex social environment where each individual has its own mission framed altogether in a global objective: the survivorship and reproduction of the colony,” Mr García-Roa said.
“In this case, these termites used meters of an abandoned rope to move across the Malaysian forest. Once humans disappear, nature recovers its space and uses what is needed to survive.”
Mr García-Roa captured this photo of a wasp turning the tables on a spider in Tiputini, Ecuador.
It took out the ‘behavioural ecology’ category award.
“Spiders are one of the most sophisticated hunters on earth,” Mr García-Roa said.
“Nevertheless, they cannot escape from what evolution has provided to other species.
“In particular, some groups of wasps are specialised in hunting spiders and use them as a trophic resource for their larvae. I found this epic scene in a wall of a biological station in Tiputini, Ecuador.”
‘Learning to be human’
The award for ‘human evolution and ecology went to this photo titled ‘learning to be human’.
In the image, Mr García-Roa captures a researcher using a baboon to study the evolution of human locomotion.
“To understand our present and predict our future, humans aim to gain enough knowledge to fill the gap of our past. Bipedalism, for example, is probably one of the most critical steps in our evolutionary history,” Mr García-Roa said.
“How did it happen? With just a few seconds to capture this scene within the Station of Primatology in France, I was allowed to photograph how a species of primate called Papion olivaceo learnt to walk on two legs in a project that aims to investigate the evolution of bipedalism.”
A photo of a tail fin regrown by a zebrafish after it was snapped off took out the ‘ecological development biology’ award.
The image was taken by Chey Chapman, a PhD student studying the mechanisms underlying zebrafsh tissue regeneration at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College.
The image “shows the blood vessels in a regenerated zebrafsh tail fin. The cells forming the blood vessels are labelled with a red fuorescent reporter,” Ms Chapman explained.
Unlike mammals, who cannot repair severe damage to tissues or regrow limbs, “many phylogenetically primitive vertebrates, such as zebrafsh have a spectacular ability to regenerate various tissues after traumatic injury”.
Crustacean in a ‘fur coat’
Kseniya Vereshchagina, an ecologist who studies Lake
Baikal in south-eastern Siberia, won the award for ‘‘evolutionary developmental biology and biodiversity.
Ms Vereshchagina’s photo depics eulimnogammarus verrucosus, a species of crustacean endemic to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Lake Baikal, suffering from a parasitic ciliate infection.
Lake Baikal is one of the oldest and deepest lakes in the world and it gives rise to unique flora and fauna.
Despite being listed as a World Heritage Site, the lake is experiencing an ecological crisis.
The photo shows “an amphipod crustacean of the species E.verrucosus densely covered with an overgrown colony of parasitic ciliates”, Ms Vereshchagina’s explained in BMC.
“Ciliates living on weakened crustaceans are capable of forming vast colonies resembling a ‘fur coat’.
“Unfortunately, the crustaceans dressed in such a ‘fur coat’ are sentenced, since the ciliates parasitizing them lead endemics to rapid death.”