Friday, 25 July 2014

Scotland announces 30 new marine protected areas

Tranche of sites doubles the size of Scottish marine reserves, covering cliffs in Caithness and deep ocean seabeds

Rare and threatened species including common skate, the ocean quahog, flameshell beds and the black guillemot are being given extra protection after 30 new marine protected areas off the Scottish coast were announced on Thursday.

The network includes what is thought to be Europe's largest marine protected area (MPA) in the far north east of UK territorial waters, in the north east Faroe Shetland channel to conserve deep sea sponges, muds and geological features.

The 30 new sites, which double the size of Scotland's MPA network after long delays, will cover cliffs in Caithness, deep ocean seabed habitats, sandeel colonies and marine fauna which inhabit coldwater reefs such as feather stars.

Butterflies illustrate the effects of environmental change

24th July 2014

1 hour ago

Changes in butterfly fauna are yielding surprising insights into our changing environment. The effects of nitrogen from fertilizer or precipitation on the food plants and microclimate of caterpillars have a significant impact on butterfly communities in Northwestern Europe. This according to research by Wageningen entomologist Michiel Wallis de Vries published in the latest edition of Basic and Applied Ecology.

Changes in land use, climate and nitrogen deposition are considered as the main driving forces behind the quality of our natural environment. We can determine how these forces influence different species by examining the ecological traits of these species. "We seldom get past the circular argument that specialists are facing increasing pressure and generalists are becoming increasingly common," says Michiel Wallis de Vries, special professor of Insect Ecology and Conservation at Wageningen University. "We recently made a breakthrough beyond that circular reasoning with an extensive analysis of the characteristics of butterflies in Northwestern Europe, which has led to surprising insights."

Suburban dugites and bobtails come under the microscope

24th July 2014

1 hour ago by Lizzie Thelwell

A Curtin University researcher is embarking on a new study that will examine behavioural and ecological differences between reptiles in Perth and rural areas to identify key impacts of urbanisation.

"I am investigating the pros and cons of city living for these reptiles, to find out how we can successfully co-exist," PhD candidate Ashleigh Wolfe says.

Ms Wolfe has chosen to study WA's iconic dugites (Pseudonaja affinis) and bobtails (Tiliqua rugosa).

"Even with Perth's urban expansion, dugites and bobtails are still abundant in the city, so they must use some strategies for surviving in urban environments that most other species don't," she says.

Polarized Light Helps The Greater Mouse-Eared Bat Navigate

July 24, 2014

Rayshell Clapper for – Your Universe Online

The manner in which bats use echolocation has long been of interest to scientists, but new research shows that bats use more than echolocation to get around. In fact, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) recently announced a new discovery about the greater mouse-eared bat and how it navigates.

The greater mouse-eared bat uses “polarization patterns in the sky to navigate…The bats use the way the Sun’s light is scattered in the atmosphere at sunset to calibrate their internal magnetic compass, which helps them to fly in the right direction,” according to a study published in Nature Communications.

The pattern of light polarization is the way light vibrates in one direction. In other words, sunlight scatters in the sky to create polarized light patterns. Studies show that these are mostly invisible to the human eye although with some training and know-how on what to look for humans can perceive polarization. However, science currently does not show a purpose for polarization patterns for human use.

According to National Geographic‘s Katie Langin, the study co-authors, Dr. Richard Holland and Stefan Greif of Queen’s University Belfast and colleagues from Tel Aviv University, took 70 female greater mouse-eared bats in Bulgaria. “The team placed each bat in a box that simulated polarized light at sunset. Some bats saw the natural pattern; others saw a band of polarization that was rotated 90 degrees…Next, they displaced the radio-tagged bats more than 14 miles (20 kilometers) from their roosting cave and tracked their movements in the night.”

What the researchers found was the bats with the altered polarization pattern of 90 degrees “went in directions that were rotated 90 degrees from the correct orientation.” However, the bats that were placed in the box with the correct simulated polarization found their way home.

African elephant genome suggests they are superior smellers

July 22, 2014

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Sense of smell is critical for survival in many mammals. In a new study, researchers examined the olfactory receptor repertoire encoded in 13 mammalian species and found that African elephants have the largest number of OR genes ever characterized; more than twice that found in dogs, and five times more than in humans.

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