As Cold as Ice

Whether you're at the grocery store or on your daily commute to work, weather tends to be a common topic for conversation. We thought we'd kick off 2017 right by adding some "cold" symbioses to your daily chit chats, as many of us in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing. Perhaps next month we'll focus on some warmer situations as a bit of a respite for the folks tired of being snowbound and shivering.  

Being a grassroots organization, we're always interested in your suggestions on what and how to write! Send us a reply at

In This Issue....

  • Reindeer Moss? Caribou Lichen?
  • BIOTA films updates and Vlog feature
  • Caribou and the Arctic Fox. 
Over the past few weeks, our social media posts have shared commensal dynamics between Caribou and Arctic Foxes. We thought it'd be fun to expand on those posts with some details on the lichens that Caribou depend on over much of their range. Of course, we're also including some of our art, an introduction to a new team member, and a quick plug for our upcoming episode. 

Jackie Benítez (
@hackieechan) created an eclectic take on the mutualistic seed-dispersal relationship between some crow relatives and certain trees (especially oaks and pines) for our Instagram this past month, check out more here.

Reindeer moss? Caribou lichen?

Photo Credit to Brewbooks
Reindeer are viewed by many as mythical flying creatures that pull a sleigh, but reindeer are really mammals closely related to deer and moose! Reindeer have been domesticated at least twice by different arctic cultures in Eurasia and are the same species as Caribou (Rangifer tarandus). The term Reindeer (from an old Norse term which basically means "pure" or "clean" deer) is usually used for the domesticated form, and often for wild populations in arctic Eurasia, whereas "Caribou" is from a Mí'kmaw word meaning "snow shoveler" often used by North American populations. 
(see this blog post for more info on Caribou and reindeer) 

But what IS this "Reindeer Moss" people associate with the mammal? 

Moss is a general word for many true plants without vascular tissue, meaning they grow without long stems or big leaves. Lichens are mutualistic associations between a fungus and an alga that we often think of as crusty blueish greenish grayish organisms that live on rocks, trees, and gravestonesSometimes they have a so-called "fruticose" growth form, which looks something like wizened, crusty mosses growing up from the ground. These forms are often given the confusing common name "Reindeer moss." In many places in the Arctic and Subarctic, lichen biomass can be more than 1000 metric tons per square kilometer (or about 16 blue whales per square mile). The type of lichens that are often called "reindeer moss" are mostly in the genus Cladonia. Cladonia species are tricky to define; scientists are still having discussions on how to identify them.  
photos modified from:
Climate change is likely to have difficult-to-predict impacts on organisms in the arctic. Some types of vegetation are becoming more common as arctic temperatures rise. However, most animals are doing more poorly. A domesticated reindeer population in Scandinavia has decreased drastically in the past few decades, in terms of both their population and the average size of adults. This reduction is very worrisome for the indigenous Sami people, who have depended on reindeer for centuries in this region.

The Sami and the Reindeer are paying the difficult price for actions (and, more recently, inaction) of people in the industrial world. The World Wildlife Fund has some more information about how climate change is affecting the Arctic, and what you can do to help here

Is BIOTA still making episodes or what?!

Indeed we are! We've been hard at work since releasing our first episode in March 2016. Well, what have we been working on? We're serious about bringing you (our viewers) top-quality material with deep connections between scientifically-defined symbiotic relationships and how we can learn from them as an interactive community. So, with being new to the documentary-making scene, we've been spending a lot of the past year learning, growing, and sharing. How?

- We asked our viewers to provide anonymous input and have been using this feedback to create stronger stories. 
- We've sought out an advisory board of experts to keep our content strong and undiluted. 
- We doubled our size as a team to maintain our inclusive mission, expanding opportunities to learn and grow. Check out one of our team members from our Art and Film Crew, Leesa!
We've tripled our audience too, thanks to each of you!
- We're solidifying our pending "not-for-profit" status for credibility and sustainable funding, having the good fortune of presenting BIOTA's season one trajectory as science mentors and advocates at New England BioLabs.

All of this growth has given us the insight to film half of our episodes in 2016. We're nearly ready to release the remainder of our nine episodes for season one on a monthly basis, existing as several shorts viewed either separately or together, starting in February 2017. We hope you're just as excited as we are to see Episode 2, the Sierra-Nevada, draw symbiotic connections between people, fire, water and air quality by taking us through the August 2013 Rim Fire.
For BIOTA JAN 2017 Newsletter
Here's a sneak peek of what's to come

Big news! We've been invited to present BIOTA at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) meeting in 2018. Let us know if you'll be in San Francisco and we'll all meet up for some grub! 

Caribou and Arctic Fox.

Photo Credits to National Geographic Kids (Left) and Mark Dumont (Right)

Caribou have to shovel a lot of snow during the winter, as the Mi'kmaw people observed. They do this to get to the lichen mentioned above, but the tactic is useful for Arctic Foxes as well. The foxes use the snowpack openings to hunt for food. Check out more about this relationship here.
This newsletter is brought to you by Helen Cheng and Jesse Czekanski-Moir.
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