Wind Industry and Conservationists Collide
An issue has been brewing between the proponents of wind powered turbines and conservationists over the number of bird deaths for which wind turbines have been responsible. Some conservationists claim 20,000 bird deaths from collisions with turbines in 2009 alone. But the wind industry counters that collisions are relatively few and that other energy industries such as nuclear and fossil fuels kill many more birds every year. Of specific concern to conservationists are the golden and bald eagles. Because they fly with eyes on the ground looking for prey, they do not look at what is ahead of them and seem particularly vulnerable to wind turbine collisions.
Evolutionary Theory Returns to Its Roots
While the world knows the name Charles Darwin, his contemporary, Robert Wallace, is far less well known. Working independently at first, both men developed a theory of evolution on which they would later collaborate. Wallace’s work was done on Indonesian islands and recently a new genus of rat was discovered on one of those islands, Molucca. Halmaheramys bokimekot is a brown rat with a tuft of hair on its back, a while belly and a white-tipped tail. This genus of rat appears to have developed on the western portion of the Indonesian archipelago and is distinct from the genuses of rats found on the eastern side, all as predicted by Wallace back in 1876.
Mummified Egyptian Dog Had Parasites
For the first time, archaeologists have discovered an ancient mummified Egyptian dog that bears evidence of actual parasites. The finding confirms the common sense assumption that dog ticks and fleas existed in ancient times, as was hinted at by Greek and Roman writers. The next step is to attempt a DNA analysis of the parasites, which will shed new light on the their evolution up to the present day.
Golden Eagle Gets Ambitious
Although quite large, golden eagles usually prey on small mammals and birds. In a rare photographic opportunity, a camera trap at the Lazovsky State Nature Reserve in Russia was able to capture the moment when a golden eagle seized a small deer many times larger than itself.
A Slippery Slope for Insects
Insects have adapted so that they can get a foothold even on vertical surfaces. But if a new plant-inspired invention becomes popular, ants won’t easily climb onto your picnic table in the future. Scientists at the Plant Biomechanics Group of the University of Freiburg, Germany studied the anti-adhesive properties of plants. Indeed, some plants, like the pitcher plant, have slippery surfaces allowing insects to fall inside so that they can be devoured. The scientists found that a surface that contains just the right microstructure — called “ cuticular folds” — tends to reduce the adherence of insects, and they developed the blueprints for just such a surface. In the future, this new design might be incorporated into everyday items, such as air-conditioners, in order to discourage insect infestation.
Troubling Changes for the World’s Forests
Researchers at the Aarhus University in Denmark have produced a study that indicates trouble ahead for the world’s forests. Because it is more efficient to cut down forests on flat land and leave the hillsides alone, a pattern has developed in which forests around the world have become fractionated into non-contiguous patches. This has an environmental impact, especially since it reduces the biodiversity of trees, weeding out those that do better on flat land. Patches of forests are also more prone to wind damage, and they cannot support the large predators that require large tracts of uninterrupted forests.
Polar Bears Switch to Riskier Diet
Much has been written about the negative impact that the reduction in Arctic ice is having on polar bears. New research compared the fat contents of the polar bears tissues over time. The results show that in the period between 1984 and 2011, polar bears have been eating subpolar seals more often than their traditional prey, the high Arctic ringed seals. But subpolar seals contain more persistent organic pollutants than do the ringed seals. As a consequence, polar bears have not benefitted as much as they should have from the overall regulatory reduction of pollutants in the environment over the past 30 years.
If You Dress Like an Animal, No Zoo for You
The zookeeper at Chessington World of Adventures Resort in England has had it with animal prints. Visitors to the zoo who are clad in leopard pattern outfits tend to scare some of the animals and those wearing giraffe-like patterns make the giraffes too curious. “‘It lets visitors get so close to wild species that if someone wears the same pattern to the animal’s coat they can become over friendly,’ said spokeswoman Natalie Dilloway.” And if they wear the coat of a predator, then the animals can panic. Anyone donning animals prints will have to wear a grey jumper or leave the park.
Deepwater Horizon’s Sad Legacy Will Live On
Although it seems to get little mention in the mainstream media, the after effects of the largest oil spill in the history of the United States will linger for decades, according to a new study published in PLoS ONE. In this case, it’s what you can’t see that is disturbing. While some species rebounded, there has been an extreme reduction of biodiversity in an area that spreads 57 miles around the wellhead. It is not on the shores but on the seafloor where the major impact on species is evident. As one expert put it, “The tremendous biodiversity of meiofauna in the deep-sea area of the Gulf of Mexico we studied has been reduced dramatically.”
Bacteria Give DNA a Degree of Immortality
The DNA that is in every creature large and small disintegrates upon death. But that doesn’t mean that each fragment is lost. Søren Overballe-Petersen of the Natural History Museum of Denmark has found that the bacteria that ultimately devour a carcass actually harvest fragments of the dead animal’s DNA and incorporate it into their own DNA. Even an experiment using the remaining DNA of a long dead mammoth found that the bacteria that digested the organic matter incorporated some mammoth DNA fragments into their own DNA. Scientists believe that this ability hints at the processes that were in place when early life formed on earth.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.
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