New York Puts Some Teeth Into Invasive Species Law.
With estimates that the nationwide cost of controlling invasive species tallies in the billions of dollars, New York has passed a strict invasive species law. The new law, which was signed by New York governor Andrew Cuomo, will levy significant fines and the risk of a business shut down on any company or individual who introduces invasive species into New York’s ecosystem. Environmental groups as well as farming interests joined forces in getting the legislation passed.
More at Democrat and Chronicle.
Bees and Anti-Aging Chemicals.
When bees get older, they slow down mentally and are less efficient at their old tasks. Of course, in bees, old age comes at around six weeks. Nonetheless, a recent study attempted to place older bees back into a task that they performed when they were “young.” To the surprise of the experimenters, some of the re-purposed old bees became smarter again. They began to perform as if they were younger versions of themselves. To find out what, chemically, was going on, the experimenters tested the brains of the revitalized bees and found that they showed increased amounts of the chemical glutamate. Interestingly, glutamate supplementation is already associated with increased memory function in humans. However, don’t expect a fountain of youth drug anytime soon. It may be 30 years or more before such miracle drugs are available.
More at National Geographic.
Our Best Ally in Fighting Carbon Dioxide Emissions.
Tropical coastal ecosystems around the world harbor a major ally in the effort to reduce carbon dioxide overload. Mangrove forests thrive in these environments and they are an effective storage vehicle for carbon dioxide. Mangroves absorb carbon dioxide directly from the soil. In fact, it is estimated that mangrove forests can absorb over two times as much carbon dioxide as human activity emits in a year. Along with sea grasses and similar vegetation, it has been nicknamed “blue carbon,” to differentiate it from ordinary green carbon forests. However, the mangroves are in danger, mainly from modern agriculture. Every year, rice farmers turn to virgin mangrove forests when their fields become exhausted. To supplement the world’s inventory of blue carbon mangrove forests, organizations like Conservation International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are developing policies that will be implemented by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which oversees climate change issues.
More at Scientific American.
Giant Animal Ornamentation Correlates With Insulin Levels.
Giant elk horns or huge peacock feathers are known to serve the primary function of attracting a mate. The most colorful birds, and elk with the largest antlers are more like to mate than their peers. Scientists who asked the next question, how does this process work, received an unexpected answer. Researchers at University of Montana and Washington State University have determined that the tendency for some animals to develop massive ornamentation is tied to their level of insulin. Apparently, the cells that are involved in creating the ornamentation are much more sensitive than other cells to insulin levels in the body. Insulin, in turn, is correlated with how much and how well an animal is eating. The consequence is that the healthiest individuals are probably the best fed individuals, and this fact is broadcast to potential mates, who want healthy offspring, through more massive ornamentation.
More at Science Daily.
The Misunderstood Tigers of Nepal.
Interactions between large carnivores and humans are inevitable in areas where they cohabit. In Nepal, for example, 125 endangered tigers live in proximity to people and 65 people were killed in tiger attacks from 1998 to 2006. Needless to say, many tigers are also killed by people, especially when tigers kill livestock. To determine how we can best preserve the remaining tigers, doctoral student Neil Carter from Michigan State University interviewed hundreds of local regarding their knowledge and attitudes toward tigers. Even though Carter expected that fear and personal loss of property would be the main drivers of opinion, it turns out that ignorance is a larger factor. Most people interviewed did not know the ways in which tigers reduce the population of deer and boar, which damage farmers’crops. According to Carter, “That’s a real simple educational opportunity,” and a teachable moment that might be crucial to the survival of endangered species elsewhere.
More at Red Orbit.
Fighting Cheatgrass with Biological Weapons.
Cheatgrass is a blond fluffy grass that found its way to the American west from Europe 100 years ago. It is resilient and more aggressive than the native grasses, such as sagebrush, that it replaces. It also undercuts wheat farming and it is becoming a worsening problem over million of acres. To stop the cheatgrass, scientists have turned to its old enemy, the “black fingers of death,” which is not a karate movie but a fungus. The black fingers fungus attacks the cheatgrass early on, before it can spread thousands of seeds over a small area. Ecologists are quick to point out, however, that this and other methods of staving off cheatgrass will not see success easily nor quickly.
More at New York Times.
Was Darwin Wrong About Finch Beaks?
When Charles Darwin studied the finches of the Galapagos Islands, he concluded that varying beak sizes were an adaptation to the different kinds of seeds that were available in different areas. Now, new research opens the possibility that the size of a bird’s beak can also be an adaptation to heat release. To release excess heat, birds might have developed larger beaks than can dissipate heat without also dissipating water vapor. A new study published in Evolution shows that over large geographic areas, such as the California coast line, beak size varies directly with higher average atmospheric temperature. The studies caution, however, that more research is needed before thermoregulation usurps feeding habits as the main evolutionary driver of beak size.
More at Scientific American.
Life, Left-handedness and the Solar System.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of life on earth is that almost all the amino acids it uses are left-handed molecules — that is, they are not mirror images of one another. Scientists looking for extraterrestrial life reasoned that if left-handed amino acids were a calling card of life, their detection elsewhere in the solar system would be a clue that life might exist where they are found. However, new analysis of meteorites recovered from Canada show that left-handed amino acids occur naturally in the solar system, even in the absence of life. The upshot may be that hunting for extraterrestrial life just got a little bit more difficult.
More at New Scientist.
“Lucky Larry” Is Still Lucky.
An 80-year-old, 17-pound lobster nicknamed “Lucky Larry” was spared the fate of most lobsters when they debut on a restaurant menu. Don MacKenzie, a Connecticut man who spotted the lobster on the menu of a local restaurant, interceded and, for an undisclosed but reportedly hefty price, carried Larry away and off to a secret location somewhere in Long Island sound. According to ABC News, “MacKenzie took only a simple memento away from his efforts, the two rubber bands that had been wrapped around Larry’s claws to keep him from pinching his local fans.”
More at Global Animal.
French Earthworm Moves to Ireland
An earthworm species that once thrived almost exclusively in southwestern France has recently popped up in an urban farm in Dublin, over 500 miles North of its original home. The earthworm species discovery was made during a routine survey of farms in the city. Human activity most likely introduced the earthworm, Prosellodrilus amplisetosus, to this new habitat, and its success in this new region may be a result of higher soil temperatures. At this point, the new visitor doesn’t appear to be an invasive species.
More at New York Times.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.
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