Rebecca Recommends #7

Have you ever wondered why fruit fly sperm are giant? Or why honeybees do the 'waggle dance'? Or what it's like to let yourself be stung by insects (on purpose) all in the name of science? These are just some of the interesting stories I've included in this week's round-up of zoological, entomological, and scientific news.

For those with a watery bent: growing hydropower threat to migratory fish; study finds nanoplastics to negatively affect aquatic animals; and in changing oceans, cephalopods are booming. For those with an interest in arthropods: scent guides hawk moths to the best-fitting flowers; scorpions choose their mates by dancing with them; a peachy defence system for seeds; Carmenta mariona, a very pretty, rarely photographed Sesiid moth; study of fungi-insect relationships may lead to new evolutionary discoveries; tiny wasp sniffs out, picks up 'good vibrations' to battle ash borer; native insects embrace invader; and biological control in Brazil is used on an area that is larger than Belgium. For those with an interest in vertebrates: new research confirms continued, unabated and large-scale amphibian declines; welcome to the meerkat's world of competitive eating; and oldest well-documented Blanding's turtle recaptured at University of Michigan reserve at age 83.

Nature takes a close look at reproducibility in science with two articles: (1) 1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility and (2) reality check on reproducibility - both are well worth reading and the former includes a video and some pretty nifty infographics.

Then there are articles about using blogs for sharing negative results, using drones without disturbing wildlife, reconciling networks and hierarchies, and how global warming will hit the poorest first.


Growing hydropower threat to migratory fish

Hydroelectric dam development is increasingly affecting the fate of migratory fish by slicing their migration routes in half, writes Ian Harrison of the IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group ahead of World Fish Migration Day.

Hydroelectric dam | Tomia/Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

Source/read more IUCN 



Scent guides hawk moths to the best-fitting flowers

That the morphology of many pollinators corresponds strikingly to the shape of the flowers they pollinate was observed more than 150 years ago by Charles Darwin. He described this perfect mutual adaptation of flowers and pollinators as the result of a co-evolutionary process. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, have now provided further proof of the famous naturalist’s theory. They were able to show that Manduca sexta moths acquired the highest energy gain when they visited flowers that matched the length of their proboscis. The moths were supported in their choice of the best-fitting nectar sources by an innate preference for the scent of matching flowers. The results of this study have been published in the journal Nature Communications (Nature Communications, May 2016, doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS11644).

Source/read more Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology 



What's the Waggle Dance? And Why Do Honeybees Do It?

Honeybees search high and wide for the best flowers. And when they find them, they go back to the hive and "tell" the other bees how to get there.

Source/read more Smithsonian 



Using blogs for sharing negative results

I’ve now been blogging for a little over three years. I’m no longer a newbie, but clearly am not an old-timer. Nonetheless, I’ve seen the standard topics of the scientific “blogosphere” (for lack of a better word) get cycled through again, and again. These are topics that are often important to our community, dealing with equity, justice, accessibility, and leadership. That said, I feel like blogs can do more, and serve our own academic communities better.

Source/read more Small Pond Science 



Study finds nanoplastics to negatively affect aquatic animals

Plastic accounts for nearly eighty per cent of all waste found in our oceans, gradually breaking down into smaller and smaller particles. New research from Lund University investigates how nanosized plastic particles affect aquatic animals in different parts of the food chain.

Source/read more Lund University 



Scorpions Choose Their Mates by Dancing With Them

Before a female scorpion chooses a mate, she must test the strength of her potential suitor. The only way to be certain it's the right match is to dance.

Source/read more Smithsonian 



This Guy Got Himself Stung 1,000 Times For Science—Here’s What He Learned

Justin Schmidt has been stung more than 1,000 times by nearly 100 different insect species. Some would call that madness. He calls it science.

Schmidt, an entomologist at the University of Arizona, is the author of a new book called The Sting of the Wild, which seeks to quantify every one of those stings and rank them on a scale of 1 to 4. At the low-end of the scale you have creatures like sweat bees and Southern fire ants. At the top, you meet beasts with names like the warrior wasp and the bullet ant.

Source/read more Smithsonian 



Using drones without disturbing wildlife

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more popularly known as drones, are increasingly employed to monitor and protect wildlife. But researchers writing in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 23 say that steps should be taken to ensure that UAV operations are not causing undue stress to animals.

Source/read more Cell Press 



New research confirms continued, unabated and large-scale amphibian declines

New U.S. Geological Survey-led research suggests that even though amphibians are severely declining worldwide, there is no smoking gun – and thus no simple solution – to halting or reversing these declines.

“Implementing conservation plans at a local level will be key in stopping amphibian population losses, since global efforts to reduce or lessen threats have been elusive,” said Evan Grant, a USGS research wildlife biologist who led the study published in Scientific Reports today. “This research changes the way we need to think about amphibian conservation by showing that local action needs to be part of the global response to amphibian declines, despite remaining questions in what is causing local extinctions.”

Source/read more USGS 



In changing oceans, cephalopods are booming

Humans have changed the world's oceans in ways that have been devastating to many marine species. But, according to new evidence, it appears that the change has so far been good for cephalopods, the group including octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid. The study reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 23 shows that cephalopods' numbers have increased significantly over the last six decades.

Australian giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) | Peter Southwood/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Australian giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) | Peter Southwood/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Source/read more Cell Press 



A peachy defence system for seeds

Don’t eat the core, it’s poisonous: it's something parents often say to their children before they eat their first peach. Peach pits, which are hidden inside the nut-like husk, do in fact contain amygdalin, a substance which can degrade into hydrogen cyanide in the stomach.

But peaches, apricots and almonds didn’t develop this defence system to keep children from enjoying their fruit. It is actually nature’s way of protecting plant seeds from being eaten by insects.

Source/read more ETH Zurich 



Carmenta mariona, a very pretty, rarely photographed Sesiid Moth

I was, and am, too busy to write extensive blogs about all my excursions this spring. So here is just a very short note about our Madrean Discovery Expedition Sierra Elenita, Mexico,  April 30 to May 4 2016.

On a sunny, but rather cool morning in this pine-oak area not very many insects were flying. But Chris Roll still succeeded in netting a very nice one whose identity quickly changed from presumed beetle to Sesiid Moth. I kept it overnight in my cooler and photographed it in the morning in my tent before it went to our moth expert John Palting to be carefully pinned.

Source/read more Arizona: Beetles Bugs Birds and More 



Study of fungi-insect relationships may lead to new evolutionary discoveries

Zombie ants are only one of the fungi-insect relationships studied by a team of Penn State biologists in a newly compiled database of insect fungi interactions.

"I couldn't find a place with broad information about all groups of fungi that infect insects in the same study," said Joao Araujo, graduate student in biology. "When we organized the information, we started to understand things we wouldn't see before, because the literature was so spread."

Camponotus leonardi infected with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis | David P. Hughes & Maj-Britt Pontoppidan/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.5]

Camponotus leonardi infected with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis | David P. Hughes & Maj-Britt Pontoppidan/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.5]

Source/read more Penn State 



Heterarchies: Reconciling Networks and Hierarchies

Social–ecological systems research suffers from a disconnect between hierarchical (top-down or bottom-up) and network (peer-to-peer) analyses. The concept of the heterarchy unifies these perspectives in a single framework. Here, I review the history and application of ‘heterarchy’ in neuroscience, ecology, archaeology, multiagent control systems, business and organisational studies, and politics. Recognising complex system architecture as a continuum along vertical and lateral axes (‘flat versus hierarchical’ and ‘individual versus networked’) suggests four basic types of heterarchy: reticulated, polycentric, pyramidal, and individualistic. Each has different implications for system functioning and resilience. Systems can also shift predictably and abruptly between architectures. Heterarchies suggest new ways of contextualising and generalising from case studies and new methods for analysing complex structure–function relations.

Source/read more Cell Press



Tiny wasp sniffs out, picks up 'good vibrations' to battle ash borer

With the emerald ash borer beetle devastating ash tree populations throughout the United States - from locations as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Louisiana - solutions to help fight the insect are critical.

Thanks in part to research from the University of Delaware and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a host-specific parasitic wasp so new and obscure that it doesn't even have a common name - known only by its scientific name Spathius galinae - has been approved for release to help control the invasive beetle.

Source/read more University of Delaware 



Warming will hit the poorest first

As the climate warms over the coming decades, the poorest 20% of the world's population will see frequent temperature extremes sooner than the richest 20%.

Luke Harrington at Victoria University of Wellington and his colleagues used climate models to simulate the effect of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide on daily temperature extremes for the rest of this century. Low latitudes, where most of the world's poorest people live, will experience these changes in climate first. This is largely because these regions have less natural variability in temperature than mid-latitude regions, which are home to more of the world's wealthy.

Moving to a low-carbon economy will help poor communities the most, the authors say.

Source/read more Nature 



Native insects embrace invader

An invasive plant has been gradually folded into an ecosystem's food webs.

Menno Schilthuizen at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands, and his colleagues sampled insects from native bird cherry trees (Prunus padas) and exotic black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) in a Dutch national park. They found that the non-natives had around one-quarter of the number of insects on them, but almost twice the species diversity, compared with the native trees. The team also looked at preserved leaf specimens and found that the proportion of insect-eaten bird cherry leaves has remained stable at about 35% over the past 170 years, but that the proportion of invasive black cherry leaves consumed has increased from 18.8% to 40.6%.

This adaptation could slow the exotic plant's aggressive spread — and efforts to control this by removing a proportion of the population may delay this process, the authors say.

Source/read more Nature 



1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility

More than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist's experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments. Those are some of the telling figures that emerged from Nature's survey of 1,576 researchers who took a brief online questionnaire on reproducibility in research.

The data reveal sometimes-contradictory attitudes towards reproducibility. Although 52% of those surveyed agree that there is a significant 'crisis' of reproducibility, less than 31% think that failure to reproduce published results means that the result is probably wrong, and most say that they still trust the published literature.

Source/read more Nature 



Reality check on reproducibility

Is there a reproducibility crisis in science? Yes, according to the readers of Nature. Two-thirds of researchers who responded to a survey by this journal said that current levels of reproducibility are a major problem.

Source/read more Nature 



Welcome to the Meerkat's World of Competitive Eating

Many animals live in groups governed by social hierarchies, but meerkats take social stratification to an extreme. Those small southern African carnivores live in communities of up to 50 individuals, but 90 percent of reproductive privileges belong to a single dominant pair — usually, the largest and more senior animals in the group. The pair’s children assist with raising young, and daughters queue up to assume dominance following their mother’s death, with older and larger ones typically taking the lead.

Meerkat | [public domain]

Meerkat | [public domain]

Source/read more Smithsonian 



Biological Control in Brazil is Used on an Area that is Larger than Belgium

Some biological control programs involve large-scale rearing of millions insect predators that are released near agricultural crops. In Brazil, researchers have implemented of a number of successful biological control programs.

Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugarcane, which has one of the oldest biological control programs. The crop’s most important pest is the sugarcane borer (Diatraea saccharalis), which is controlled by the release of the larval parasitoid Cotesia flavipes. Another natural enemy used for this pest is the egg parasitoid Trichogramma galloi. This program started in the 1970s, and today C. flavipes are released in an area that is larger than 30,000 square kilometers, while T. galloi are released in another 5,000 square kilometers — a combined area that is larger than Belgium.

Source/read more Entomology Today 



Oldest well-documented Blanding's turtle recaptured at University of Michigan reserve at age 83

A female Blanding's turtle believed to be at least 83 years old was captured at a University of Michigan forest reserve this week. Researchers say it is the oldest well-documented Blanding's turtle and one of the oldest-known freshwater turtles.

Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) | Andrew C/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) | Andrew C/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

Source/read more University of Michigan 



Why fruit fly sperm are giant

The fruit fly Drosophila bifurca is only a few millimeters in size but produces sperm that are almost six centimeters long. An international team of researchers lead by the University of Zurich now provides the first conclusive explanation for the evolution of such giant sperm. On the one hand, larger sperm are able to displace their smaller competitors from the female reproductive tract, generating a competitive advantage in fertilizing the eggs. On the other hand, female promiscuity increases the success of fertilization by larger males, which can afford to produce more of the longer sperm than their smaller counterparts.

Source/read more University of Zurich