Monday, 30 January 2017

Study finds parrotfish are critical to coral reef health

January 23, 2017

An analysis of fossilized parrotfish teeth and sea urchin spines by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego showed that when there are more algae-eating fish on a reef, it grows faster.

In the new study, published in the Jan. 23 issue of the journal Nature Communications, Scripps researchers Katie Cramer and Richard Norris developed a 3,000-year record of the abundance of parrotfish and urchins on reefs from the Caribbean side of Panama to help unravel the cause of the alarming modern-day shift from coral- to algae-dominated reefs occurring across the Caribbean.

"Our reconstruction of past and present reefs from fossils demonstrates that when overfishing wipes out parrotfish, reef health declines," said Cramer, a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps and lead author of the study.

Algae-eating parrotfish, like other herbivorous reef fish, play an important role in coral reef ecosystems by removing the algae that compete with corals. According to the study, the decline in herbivorous fish such as parrotfish over the last several decades from fishing is considered a main factor in the shift to more algae-dominated reefs in the Caribbean.

The Scripps researchers examined the amount and composition of fish, coral, and urchin fossils in 3 to 5-meter (10 to 33-feet) long sediment cores from three reef sites offshore of Bocas del Toro, Panama to understand the natural state of the reefs before humans began intensive fishing and land clearing, and to assess the role of these activities in recent reef declines. The analysis was aimed at determining if coral growth rates are affected by change in the population levels of parrotfish or urchins that eat algae.

Read more at: 

Sharks show novel changes in their immune cancer-related genes

January 30, 2017

A new genomics study of shark DNA, including from great white and great hammerhead sharks, reveals unique modifications in their immunity genes that may underlie the rapid wound healing and possibly higher resistance to cancers in these ocean predators. This research brings us a few steps closer to understanding, from a genetic sense, why sharks exhibit some characteristics that are highly desirable by humans.

Sharks and rays are well known to be highly efficient wound healers, and suspected to show a greater resistance to cancers, though this needs further study. These properties are likely tied to their immune systems, which have been fine-tuned over 400 million years of evolution.

A study by the Nova Southeastern University (NSU) Save Our Seas Shark Research Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) and the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine just published in the journal BMC Genomics (lead author, postdoctoral associate Nicholas Marra,) now provides the first evidence that some shark and ray immunity genes have undergone evolutionary changes that may be tied to these novel immune system abilities.

"The immune system of sharks and rays has been battle-tested and evolved over hundreds of millions of years," said Mahmood Shivji. Ph.D., director of NSU's Save Our Seas Shark Research Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute. "Using genomics approaches to understanding their immunity genesis is likely to produce many more exciting discoveries, some of which could potentially translate into human medical benefit. Now we have another important reason to make sure we don't lose these marvelous and ecologically critical animals to overfishing, as is currently occurring in many parts of the world. We've just scratched the surface in terms of learning what these ancient animals can teach us, as well as possibly provide us in terms of direct biomedical benefits."

Read more at: 

Corn turning French hamsters into deranged cannibals: research

January 27, 2017 by Marlowe Hood
 The major consumption of corn leads to infanticide among the Great hamster, a rodent threatened in Alsace, according to a recent study highlighting "problems related to monoculture"

A diet of corn is turning wild hamsters in northeastern France into deranged cannibals that devour their offspring, alarmed researchers have reported.

"There's clearly an imbalance," Gerard Baumgart, President of the Research Centre for Environmental Protection in Alsace, and an expert on the European hamster, told AFP on Friday.

"Our hamster habitat is collapsing."

More common farther to the east, Cricetus cricetus in critically endangered in western Europe.

The findings, reported last week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, finger industrial-scale monoculture as the culprit.

Once nourished by a variety of grains, roots and insects, the burrowing rodents live today in a semi-sterile and unbroken ocean of industrially grown maize, or corn.

The monotonous diet is leaving the animals starving, scientists discovered almost by accident.

The problem is a lack of vitamins. In fact, one in particular: B3, or niacin.

Researchers led by Mathilde Tissier at the University of Strasbourg had set out to determine whether hamster diet affects their ability to reproduce in the wild.

Baby hamsters eaten alive

Earlier work had looked at the impact of pesticides and mechanised ploughing, which can destroy their underground homes, especially during hibernation in winter.

But the possible link with what they eat remained unexplored.

A first set of lab experiments with wild specimens compared wheat and corn-based diets, with side dishes of clover or worms.

There was virtually no difference in the number of pups born, or the basic nutritional value of the different menus.

Read more at:

Surprise emergence of the first cabbage white butterfly of 2017

January 23, 2017 by Cody Kitaura

The emergence of the first cabbage white butterfly of 2017 was a surprise even to the researcher who has been charting their flight since 1972.

Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, captured the first Pieris rapae of the year Thursday afternoon (Jan. 19) in the student gardens near the Solano Park Apartments, thus ending his annual beer-for-a-butterfly contest, where he offers to buy a pitcher of beer for anyone who catches a specimen before he does.

Earlier that day, he said he didn't expect to see one until February. The insect needs a series of warm days to fly, and the recent rainy weather had dampened the odds of seeing one.

"I never gave today a thought as a potential rapae day," Shapiro said.

He said it felt warm when he got out of class around noon, and he considered heading to one of his usual searching spots in West Sacramento. But instead, he got lunch and meandered over to Solano Park.

"At 12:59 I saw—a rapae," he said. "It was sitting quietly, wings folded, on a cultivated Brassica. It had not opened its wings to body-bask (i.e. warm the body by exposure to incoming solar radiation). If it had it almost certainly would have flown and, being netless, I would have lost it. Instead it just sat there as I picked it off the plant. I always carry one glassine envelope in my eyeglass case. Into the envelope it went."

Read more at:

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Restoration reveals human remains in famous Carnegie diorama

Donald Gilliland | Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, 10:24 a.m.

“Arab Courier Attacked by Lions,” among the oldest and most storied pieces of taxidermy on Earth, will return to public display Saturday at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with a new name, a new location and new secrets revealed — including the fact it contains human remains.

“It's an amazing piece,” said Gretchen Anderson, conservator for the museum.

For nine months, Anderson and her team have been restoring the dramatic diorama - one of the very few to feature a human figure, which is riding a dromedary camel being attacked by what are believed to be Barbary lions, a species now extinct.

“We've talked to hundreds of people. Everybody remembers it. Everybody talks about it. Kids love it,” Anderson said. “This is very iconic of this place.”

The diorama was first displayed 150 years ago at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867, where it created a sensation and won a gold medal. Two years later, it was sold to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it was equally popular. It traveled to Philadelphia to be a featured exhibit in the Centennial Exposition of 1876, but was subsequently boxed and put into storage in New York until Andrew Carnegie purchased it in 1899 for his new museum in Pittsburgh, where it has remained on display ever since.

“For the first 30 years of its life, it was not under glass,” Anderson noted, and although it has been under glass since it arrived in Pittsburgh, the glass was not air tight.

Anderson and her team carefully removed the accumulated grime from mid-19th Century Paris, New York - “not known to be the cleanest city on Earth” - and the notorious air pollution of industrial Pittsburgh.


Never-before-seen photos of English village which adopted a GORILLA that went to school and drank cider with locals

These are the never-before-seen photos of the extraordinary story of an English village which adopted a GORILLA - that went to school and drank cider with locals.

The ape - called John Daniel - played with children, went to classes, ate roses from gardens and even enjoyed cups of tea.
Credits: Gloucestershire Live
Credits: Gloucestershire Live

He would be carted around by kids in a wheelbarrow and hang out with the local cobbler watching him repair shoes.

Raised as a boy John had his own bedroom, was potty trained and even knew how to make his bed and do the washing up.

Villagers in Uley in Gloucestershire adopted the lowland gorilla after he was captured as a baby in Gabon when his parents were shot by French officers.

John was later found for sale at London department store Derry & Toms in 1918 and bought for £300 - now £25K - by Major Rupert Penny who named him.

Rupert's sister Alyce Cunningham nurtured and brought him up at her country house in Uley - and nicknamed him "sultan".


Friday, 27 January 2017

Human-pig 'chimera embryos' detailed

By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News website

26 January 2017

Embryos that are less than 0.001% human - and the rest pig - have been made and analysed by scientists.

It is the first proof chimeras - named after the mythical lion-goat-serpent monster - can be made by combining material from humans and animals.

However, the scientific report in the journal Cell shows the process is challenging and the aim of growing human organs in animals is distant.

It was described as an "exciting publication" by other researchers.

To create a chimera, human stem cells - the type that can develop into any tissue - are injected into a pig embryo. Image copyright Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte Image caption The spherical pig embryo is held in place while a tiny needle is used to inject human cells

The embryo - now a mix of human and pig - is then implanted into a sow for up to one month.

The process appears very inefficient - of the 2,075 embryos implanted only 186 continued to develop up to the 28-day stage.

But crucially there were signs that human cells were functioning - albeit as a tiny fraction of the total tissue - as part of a human-pig chimera.

"This is the first time that human cells are seen growing inside a large animal," Prof Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, from the Salk Institute, told the BBC News website.


Extinct E.T.? Alien-Like Insect Found Trapped in Amber

By Jeanna Bryner, Live Science Managing Editor | January 27, 2017 07:03am ET

The 100-million-year-old remains of an alien-looking female insect — complete with a triangular head and bulging eyes — have been discovered encased in a glob of hardened resin called amber.

The tiny creature, now called Aethiocarenus burmanicus, did not land on Earth via spaceship, but rather lived in what are now mines in Hukawng Valley in Myanmar, the researchers said. There, hiding out in the miniscule cracks in tree bark, the insect may have hunted for mites, worms or fungi, the researchers added. Nearby, dinosaurs would have lumbered by, the scientists who discovered these remains said.

In fact, the extinct "extraterrestrial" was so different from other insects that its discoverers have created an entirely new order, called Aethiocarenodea, for the creature. An order is a scientific classification for organisms that is broader than a genus and family.

"This insect has a number of features that just don't match those of any other insect species that I know," study researcher George Poinar Jr., an emeritus professor of entomology at Oregon State University, said in a statement. "I had never really seen anything like it. It appears to be unique in the insect world, and after considerable discussion, we decided it had to take its place in a new order."

This new order brings the number of known orders of insects up to 32, Poinar added in the statement.

"The strangest thing about this insect is that the head looked so much like the way aliens are often portrayed," Poinar said. "With its long neck, big eyes and strange oblong head, I thought it resembled E.T. I even made a Halloween mask that resembled the head of this insect. But when I wore the mask when trick-or-treaters came by, it scared the little kids so much I took it off."

Bizarre Caterpillar That Makes Own Leafy 'Armor' Seen for 1st Time

By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | January 21, 2017 08:10am ET

A caterpillar that was recently discovered in Peru exhibits a behavior previously unknown in caterpillars. It pieces together a tube of leaves and crawls inside; then, it "walks" by grabbing bits of the forest undergrowth with its mouth and pulling itself and its leafy covering forward.

This never-before-seen activity was spotted and documented by Joe Hanson, creator and host of the YouTube science channel "It's OK to Be Smart" presented by PBS Digital Studios, while filming in the Peruvian Amazon with entomologist Aaron Pomerantz and guide Pedro Lima.

When Hanson picked up the caterpillar, it retreated inside the protective tube, "like a knight inside a suit of armor," Hanson said in a video, suggesting that it was using the tube as a type of camouflage and protection against predators. [In Photos: Bizarre Animals That Masquerade as Plants]

Caterpillars are known to employ a range of unusual strategies to protect themselves. Some use a "freeze-and-drop" defense against wasps, deliberately falling off leaves when wasps fly near, to avoid being eaten or parasitized. Others curl up so they resemble tiny piles of bird poop. Certain caterpillars are even known to protect themselves with defensive barfing, regurgitating a foul-smelling liquid that stops predators in their tracks, while others warn away threats with puffs of nicotine.

Climate change helped kill off super-sized Ice Age animals in Australia

Date: January 26, 2017
Source: Vanderbilt University

During the last Ice Age, Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea formed a single landmass, called Sahul. It was a strange and often hostile place populated by a bizarre cast of giant animals.

There were 500-pound kangaroos, marsupial tapirs the size of horses and wombat-like creatures the size of hippos. There were flightless birds that weighed twice as much as modern emu, 33-foot snakes, 20-foot crocodiles, 8-foot turtles with horned heads and spiked tails, and giant monitor lizards that measured greater than 6 feet from tip to tail and were likely venomous.

By about 30,000 years ago, however, most of these 'megafauna' had disappeared from the Sahul as part of a global mass extinction that saw the end of nearly all of the super-sized animals that had evolved to survive in extreme Ice Age climates. The factors that forced the Australian megafauna into extinction remain a matter of considerable controversy. Many experts argue that the ancestors of the Australian aborigines, who made an appearance approximately 50,000 years ago, either hunted them into extinction or gradually destroyed the habitat they required by practices such as fire-stick burning. Others argue that the gradual drying out of Australia and weakening of the Australian monsoon played a major role in their demise.

A new study has compared the diet of a variety of Australian megafaunal herbivores from the period when they were widespread (350,000 to 570,000 years ago) to a period when they were in decline (30,000 to 40,000 years ago) by studying their fossil teeth. The analysis suggests that climate change had a significant impact on their diets and may well have been a primary factor in their extinction.


Thursday, 26 January 2017

Scientists discover a way to sequence DNA of rare animals

Date: January 25, 2017
Source: Louisiana State University

Rare and extinct animals are preserved in jars of alcohol in natural history museum collections around the world, which provide a wealth of information on the changing biodiversity of the planet. These preserved specimens of snakes, lizards, frogs, fish and other animals can last up to 500 years when processed in a chemical called formalin. While formalin helps preserve the specimen making it rigid and durable, it poses a challenge to extracting and sequencing DNA. Furthermore, DNA degrades and splits into small fragments over time. This fragmented DNA is difficult to amplify into long informative stretches of DNA that can be used to examine evolutionary relationships among species when using older DNA sequencing technology. Therefore, scientists have not been able to effectively sequence DNA from these specimens until now.

LSU Museum of Natural Science Curator and Professor Christopher Austin and his collaborator Rutgers-Newark Assistant Professor Sara Ruane developed a protocol and tested a method for DNA sequencing thousands of genes from these intractable snake specimens. Their research was published today in the international scientific journal Molecular Ecology Resources.

"Natural history museums are repositories for extinct species. Unfortunately, naturalists in the 1800s were not collecting specimens for analyses we conduct today such as DNA sequencing. Now with these new methods, we can get the DNA from these very old specimens and sequence extinct species like the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, the Tasmanian Wolf and the Dodo Bird," Austin said.

Read on

Jumping spiders court in color

Date: January 25, 2017

Source: University of Cincinnati

While most arachnophiles will likely find tiny spider dancers who can "swagger like Jagger" entertaining, it's more than the dance that captures the fascination of one NSF-funded University of Cincinnati researcher.

It's their ability to see color and the bright and bold color patterns on the male body parts that has Nate Morehouse, UC biologist, looking inside the many eyes of two groups of vividly colored jumping spiders.

"It's rare to see bright colors on most spiders, as they don't usually have the visual sensitivity to perceive color beyond drab blues, greens and browns," says Morehouse. "But certain groups of jumping spiders deviate from this pattern.

"They not only possess a unique ability to see reds, yellows and oranges, but the males display those same bright colors on the exterior of their faces and other body parts [that] they use in their elaborate courtship dances."

Love at first sight
Looking at the two groups of Salticidae -- better known as jumping spiders -- which possess this rare ability to see color, Morehouse, an assistant professor of biology in UC's College of Arts and Sciences, found that these two groups see color using two completely different mechanisms.

A long-running research and conservation project is helping save an at-risk species of turtle. Research helps protect loggerhead turtles - via Herp Digest

Date: January 13, 2017
Source: University of Exeter

Work to protect loggerhead turtles in and around Greece has been undertaken for over 30 years by local NGO ARCHELON, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, and as part of the project scientists from the University of Exeter have tagged and tracked hundreds of turtles in the Amvrakikos Gulf.

Loggerheads were officially listed as "endangered" until last year, when the species was given the lower threat level of "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

"The situation of loggerheads has improved thanks to concerted conservation efforts, but there's more work to do if we want to see continued improvement," said Dr Alan Rees, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

"Previous studies have generally involved tagging female turtles on nesting beaches, but that method doesn't give us information on males and juveniles.

"For this research we studied turtles in their foraging area and used flipper tagging, satellite tracking and genetics to establish where they had come from and where they go when moving from where we found them.”

The results of the research, published in the journal Marine Biology, show most of the 700 loggerheads observed in the Amvrakikos Gulf came from nesting populations within 125 miles (200km).

But the scientists were surprised when one female travelled ten times as far, swimming well over 1,000 miles -- first to Syria and then to Turkey to breed.

"The thing that baffles me is that they generally migrate in the spring but this turtle moved in the summer," said Dr Rees, who also works for ARCHELON.

"It arrived in Turkey in the autumn, stayed over winter then moved to the nearby breeding area the next year.

"Perhaps it left nine months early to make sure it arrived in time for breeding, which was probably sensible as its original journey took it hundreds of miles out of its way.”

Mediterranean loggerheads, most of which nest in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Libya, are one of ten sub-populations of the species worldwide.
Many loggerheads travel far away from where they hatch, but they return to that area to breed.

Story Source:
Materials provided by University of Exeter. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
1 Alan F. Rees, Carlos Carreras, Annette C. Broderick, Dimitris Margaritoulis, Thomas B. Stringell, Brendan J. Godley. Linking loggerhead locations: using multiple methods to determine the origin of sea turtles in feeding grounds. Marine Biology, 2017; 164 (2) DOI: 10.1007/s00227-016-3055-z

Cite This Page:
University of Exeter. "Research helps protect loggerhead turtles." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 January 2017. <>.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Cats may be as intelligent as dogs, say scientists

By Helen Briggs BBC News

25 January 2017

The idea that dogs are more intelligent than cats has been called into question.

Japanese scientists say cats are as good as dogs at certain memory tests, suggesting they may be just as smart.

A study - involving 49 domestic cats - shows felines can recall memories of pleasant experiences, such as eating a favourite snack.

Dogs show this type of recollection - a unique memory of a specific event known as episodic memory.

Humans often consciously try to reconstruct past events that have taken place in their lives, such as what they ate for breakfast, their first day in a new job or a family wedding.

These memories are linked with an individual take on events, so they are unique to that person.

Have you got a clever cat or dog? Email with your pictures and videos.

Saho Takagi, a psychologist at Kyoto University, said cats, as well as dogs, used memories of a single past experience, which may imply they have episodic memory similar to that of humans.

"Episodic memory is viewed as being related to introspective function of the mind; our study may imply a type of consciousness in cats," she told BBC News. Image copyright T Allen Image caption Do cats enjoy remembering past experiences?

"An interesting speculation is that they may enjoy actively recalling memories of their experience like humans."


How satellite data changed chimpanzee conservation efforts

Date: January 24, 2017
Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Approximately 345,000 or fewer chimpanzees remain in the wild, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a substantial decline from the more than two million that existed a hundred years ago. Humans' closest genetic cousins, chimpanzees are an endangered species and scientists and conservationists are turning to the NASA-U.S. Geological Survey Landsat satellites to help bolster their efforts to preserve their forest homes.

"Chimpanzees are in crisis," said Lilian Pintea, a remote sensing specialist and vice president of conservation science for the Jane Goodall Institute, Vienna, Virginia, citing hunting and illegal bushmeat consumption, disease, illegal capture for the pet trade and habitat loss as the culprits.

Among these, habitat loss is visible from space.

In 2000, Pintea saw his first side-by-side comparison of two Landsat satellite images, one taken in 1972 and the other in 1999, of the region around Gombe National Park, Tanzania. The 1972 image showed forests that stretched across the region. The 1999 image showed vast swaths of deforestation outside of the park, with its boundary written into the landscape. On one side of the park boundary were lush trees covering the steep slopes that rise from the east of Lake Tanganyika. On the other -- bare hills.


New crab species shares name with two 'Harry Potter' characters and a hero researcher

Date: January 23, 2017
Source: Pensoft Publishers

While not much is known about the animals living around coral reefs, ex-Marine turned researcher Harry Conley would often take to the island of Guam, western Pacific Ocean, and dig deep into the rubble to find fascinating critters as if by magic learnt at Hogwarts. Almost 20 years after his discoveries and his death, a secret is revealed on the pages of the open access journal ZooKeys -- a new species and genus of crab, Harryplax severus.

Having dug as deep as 30 m into Guam's coral reef rubble, Harry Conley collected many specimens which stayed in his personal collection until the early 2000's when Dr. Gustav Paulay, currently affiliated with the University of Florida, handed the specimens to the second author of the present study, Dr. Peter Ng, National University of Singapore, which resulted in many discoveries and publications. Among the lot, however, were two unusual specimens which were not studied until much later. Only recently did Dr. Peter Ng and his colleague at the National University of Singapore and lead author of the paper, Dr. Jose Christopher E. Mendoza, discover that they represent not only a new species, but also a new genus.


Appeal for information after horse is left for dead in freezing conditions in Leicestershire

Posted on 23/01/2017 by Rachel Butler

The RSPCA is investigating after a horse was left for dead in freezing conditions in a Leicestershire country lane.

The white piebald mare was dumped overnight on Saturday (21 January) in a field in Uppingham Road, in Skeffington. When she was found by a dog-walker the following morning, frost had already formed on her mane.

The RSPCA and a local vet was called. Sadly, the horse, thought to be around 12 years old, was put to sleep by the vet as she was so poorly.

RSPCA inspector Sheona Morley, who attended the incident, said: “The horse’s back legs had been tied to railings with blue rope, and tyre tracks on the ground showed that whoever dumped her had pulled away in their truck, resulting in the horse falling on to the floor.

“As a result of this impact, the horse had horrific injuries to one side of her face.

“The horse was unable to stand and was pawing at the ground with her front feet, trying to get up. When I arrived the horse was making moaning sounds – it was absolutely horrific. Frost had formed on her face and mane. Thankfully, someone who lived locally was able to bring a large blanket to put over her.

“Very sadly the vet could see that she was clearly suffering and she was put to sleep.

“Leaving a horse for dead like this, in freezing conditions, is a callous thing to do. Whoever did it had no regards for the horse’s wellbeing whatsoever. We are urging anyone with information to contact us in complete confidence on 0300 123 8018.”

The RSPCA is a charity and we rely on public donations to exist. To assist our inspectors in carrying out their vital work please text HELP to 78866 to give £3. (Texts cost £3 + one standard network rate message.) 


Huge otter fossil, millions of years old, discovered in China

The fossil of an otter as big as a wolf has been discovered by scientists in south-west China.

It's thought it roamed around the warm, humid wetlands more than six million years ago.

Named Siamogale melilutra, the huge otter would have weighed around 110lb (50kg) and been up to two metres in length.

That's far bigger than even the largest otters alive today, researchers said.

The South American giant river otter for example weighs up to about 70lb (32 kg).

"Siamogale melilutra reminds us, I think, of the diversity of life in the past and how many more questions there are still to answer," said Denise Su, Cleveland Museum of Natural History curator of paleobotany and paleoecology.

"Who would have imagined a wolf-size otter?"

The earliest known otter lived about 18 million years ago.

Fossils are rare and scattered across the globe, making the study of otter evolution more challenging.

This fossil suggests the otter would have had strong jaws an enlarged cheek teeth.

Who would have imagined a wolf-size otter?
"I think it used its powerful jaws to crush hard clams for food, somewhat like modern sea otters, although the latter use stone tools to smash shells," said Xiaoming Wang, head of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

"If Siamogale melilutra was not smart enough to figure out tools, perhaps the only option left was to develop more powerful jaws by increasing body size."


Monday, 23 January 2017

Ants use Sun and memories to navigate

By Helen Briggs BBC News

19 January 2017

Ants are even more impressive at navigating than we thought.

Scientists say they can follow a compass route, regardless of the direction in which they are facing.

It is the equivalent of trying to find your way home while walking backwards or even spinning round and round.

Experiments suggest ants keep to the right path by plotting the Sun's position in the sky which they combine with visual information about their surroundings.

"Our main finding is that ants can decouple their direction of travel from their body orientation," said Dr Antoine Wystrach of the University of Edinburgh and CNRS in Paris.

"They can maintain a direction of travel, let's say north, independently of their current body orientation."

Ants stand out in the insect world because of their navigational ability.

Living in large colonies, they need to forage for food and carry it back to their nest.

This often requires dragging food long distances backwards.

Scientists say that despite its small size, the brain of ants is remarkably sophisticated.

"They construct a more sophisticated representation of direction than we envisaged and they can incorporate or integrate information from different modalities into that representation," Dr Wystrach added.

Why baboon males resort to domestic violence

Scarcity drives some baboon males to attack and kill infants of their own kind 
Date: January 18, 2017
Source: Duke University

"Desperate times lead to desperate measures," so the saying goes, and a new study finds male baboons are no exception.

Some baboon males vying for a chance to father their own offspring expedite matters in a gruesome way -- they kill infants sired by other males and attack pregnant females, causing them to miscarry, researchers report.

The behavior reduces their waiting time to breed with pregnant and nursing females, who otherwise wouldn't become sexually available again for up to a year.

The perpetrators are more prone to commit domestic violence when forced to move into a group with few fertile females, said first author Matthew Zipple, a graduate student in professor Susan Albert's lab at Duke University.

Researchers studying a baboon population around Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya found that immigrant males were responsible for roughly 2 percent of infant deaths and 6 percent of miscarriages between 1978 and 2015. But when cycling females were few, the death rates more than tripled.


Massive Alligator Stuns Photographers, Proves Just How Wild Florida Is - via Richard Muirhead

Here’s something you don’t see every day.

A massive alligator, easily as long as a minivan, was caught on video crossing paths with nature enthusiasts in central Florida on Sunday, in a scene that was described as “very exciting” by one brave eyewitness.

Kim Joiner, who posted her now-viral video to Facebook, told The Huffington Post on Monday that she was exploring the Circle B Bar Reserve outside Lakeland when she casually happened upon the gator.

“I am out there a lot taking pictures and walking,” she said. “The gators cross often and I saw this one coming so I wasn’t scared, just gave him space. They just want to cross from one marsh to the other.”

It took about a half-minute for the Goliath of a gator to completely cross what appears to be an 8- to 10-foot-wide path within the 1,267-acre preserve. In the background, several other people are seen gawking with cameras in hand.

Read on and watch video

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Sweat bees on hot chillies: Native bees thrive in traditional farming, securing good yield

Date: January 17, 2017

Source: Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

Farming doesn't always have to be harmful to bees. On the contrary, even though farmers on the Mexican peninsula of Yucatán traditionally slash-and-burn forest to create small fields, this practice can be beneficial to sweat bees by creating attractive habitats. The famers profit as well since they depend on these insects to pollinate their habanero chillies. This discovery by an international team of authors, headed by Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), was recently published in the international "Journal of Applied Ecology."

Traditional farming practices on the Yucatán Peninsula originated with the region's native inhabitants, the Maya. Small parcels of forest are cut and burned, then the land planted with various crops. Afterwards the land lays fallow for a few years. This results in mosaic landscapes. The cleared land lies adjacent to forests, other fields that are currently being farmed and stretches of pasture land. "This diverse range of habitat provides excellent conditions for native sweat bees," explains Professor Robert Paxton from the Institute of Biology at MLU, where Paxton and PhD student Patricia Landaverde-González have studied 37 sites on Yucatán.

The researchers set out to discover how this type of traditional farming impacts biodiversity and bee populations. "One would assume that such a distructive type of farming would have negative consequences for the diversity of pollinator species -- particularly bees," explains Landaverde-González. Fewer bees mean that fewer plants can be pollinated, and around 70 per cent of all plants grown on the Yucatán Peninsula depend on pollination.


Scientists engineer animals with ancient genes to test causes of evolution

Date: January 13, 2017
Source: University of Chicago Medical Center

Scientists at the University of Chicago have created the first genetically modified animals containing reconstructed ancient genes, which they used to test the evolutionary effects of genetic changes that happened in the deep past on the animals' biology and fitness.

The research, published early online in Nature Ecology & Evolution on Jan. 13, is a major step forward for efforts to study the genetic basis of adaptation and evolution. The specific findings, involving the fruit fly's ability to break down alcohol in rotting fruit, overturn a widely-held hypothesis about the molecular causes of one of evolutionary biology's classic cases of adaptation.

"One of the major goals of modern evolutionary biology is to identify the genes that caused species to adapt to new environments, but it's been hard to do that directly, because we've had no way to test the effects of ancient genes on animal biology," said Mo Siddiq, a graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, one of the study's lead scientists.

"We realized we could overcome this problem by combining two recently developed methods -- statistical reconstruction of ancient gene sequences and engineering of transgenic animals," he said.

Until recently, most studies of molecular adaptation have analyzed gene sequences to identify "signatures of selection" -- patterns suggesting that a gene changed so quickly during its evolution that selection is likely to have been the cause. The evidence from this approach is only circumstantial, however, because genes can evolve quickly for many reasons, such as chance, fluctuations in population size, or selection for functions unrelated to the environmental conditions to which the organism is thought to have adapted.

Related Posts with Thumbnails