Rebecca Recommends #8

This week's edition of Rebecca Recommends is a big one because it's actually two weeks' worth of news from the world of zoology, entomology, science and life in general. I'm fairly certain there will be something for everyone in this collection:

  • Primo Levi on the spiritual value of science and how space exploration brings humanity closer together
  • Equipping eco-guards in the Dja reserve
  • Sharing traditional knowledge to protect farmland from climate effects
  • Hope spots: an actionable plan to save the ocean
  • Marine ecologists take to the skies to study coral reefs
  • Onlookers boost mouse chatter
  • Dark satanic wings
  • The man who can map the chemicals all over your body
  • Science illustration: picture perfect
  • Butterflies: change of identity is not in the air
  • Elephant poaching: track the impact of Kenya's ivory burn
  • A young kissing bug doesn't need much
  • Eight Illinois wasp and bee mimics in twenty minutes
  • Strange behaviour explained (sort of)
  • What’s life like on an RV Investigator voyage?
  • The ecology of sex explains patterns of helping in arthropod societies
  • The world’s deepest flying insect lives in complete darkness with no food or sex
  • Harvester ants have a taste for exotic seeds
  • Where do shield-back katydids fit within the katydid evolutionary tree?
  • Comparative assessment of metrics for monitoring the body condition of polar bears in western Hudson Bay
  • The rise of ocean optimism
  • Podcast: how humans caused mass extinctions thousands of years ago
  • The lost opportunity cost of overcommitment 
  • Why not double-blind grant reviews?
  • Slow conservation
  • Effects of inertial power and inertial force on bat wings
  • What are head cavities? A history of studies on vertebrate head segmentation
  • Vladimir Nabokov's butterfly art – in pictures
  • Zoo news: this month's animal antics from round the globe – in pictures
  • Australia’s egg-laying mammals provide clues to our earliest ancestor
  • Is burning poached ivory good for elephants?
  • Harbour porpoises are skilled hunters and eat almost constantly
  • Hydropower dams worldwide cause continued species extinction
  • Dancing hairs alert bees to floral electric fields
  • Stick insects produce bacterial enzymes themselves
  • The mysterious sexual life of the most primitive dragonfly
  • More than just hippos and crocs: the hidden biodiversity of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park
  • Roads “a serious threat” to rare bats
  • Pandas don’t like it hot: temperature, not food is biggest concern for conservation
  • Marine invertebrate larvae actively respond to their surroundings

 

Primo Levi on the Spiritual Value of Science and How Space Exploration Brings Humanity Closer Together

“It seems that in a few days common consciousness has changed, as always happens after a qualitative leap: you tend to forget the cost, the effort, the risks and sacrifices. They were there undoubtedly, and they were enormous: nevertheless, today we still ask ourselves whether it was “money well spent.” We can see it today, and yesterday we could see it less well: the enterprise was not to be judged on a utilitarian scale, or not chiefly in those terms. In the same way, an inquiry into the costs encountered in building the Parthenon would seem jarringly out of place; it is typical of man to act in an inspired and complex manner, perhaps adding up the costs beforehand, but not confining himself to the pure, imminent, or distant advantage, to take off for remote goals, with aims that are justification in themselves: to act in order to challenge a secret, enlarge his frontiers, express himself, test himself.”
Primo Levi c. 1950s | [public domain]

Primo Levi c. 1950s | [public domain]

Source/read more Brain Pickings 



Equipping eco-guards in the Dja reserve

New techniques implemented by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have increased prosecutions for poaching in the Dja Biosphere Reserve in Cameroon, writes Paul de Ornellas of the Zoological Society of London, a grantee with IUCN’s SOS – Save Our Species initiative.

Source/read more IUCN 



Sharing traditional knowledge to protect farmland from climate effects

West African farmers are losing productive land as reduced rainfall and rising sea levels contribute to growing land salinisation and drought. An IUCN-facilitated exchange has enabled farmers from Burkina Faso and Senegal to pool their traditional knowledge as they try to adapt to these climatic changes, writes IUCN’s Fabiola Monty.

Source/read more IUCN 



Hope spots: an actionable plan to save the ocean

The immense problems facing the ocean often leave us feeling powerless. But what if there was a concrete, actionable strategy to nurse the ocean back to health? Dr. Sylvia Earle argues that there is. As a result, Mission Blue and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are opening up nominations for ‘Hope Spots’ – marine areas in a network targeted for enhanced protection that are critical to the health of the ocean.

Source/read more IUCN 



Marine ecologists take to the skies to study coral reefs

Eric Hochberg has studied coral reefs for two decades, but the marine ecologist is about to see them in a fresh light. Beginning on 6 June, Hochberg and his colleagues will use a specially outfitted NASA aeroplane to map the spectra of sunlight reflecting off reefs spread across the Pacific Ocean far below. The scientists aim to tease out the spectral signatures of coral, algae and sand — and to check the health of the reefs.

Source/read more Nature 



Onlookers boost mouse chatter

Male mice communicate more in front of an audience than when they are alone.

Source/read more Nature 



Dark satanic wings

Not for nothing was the region of the English midlands north of Birmingham called the Black Country during the late nineteenth century. It was the dark polluted heart of the industrial revolution, according to a railway guide from 1851:

“The pleasant green of pastures is almost unknown, the streams, in which no fishes swim, are black and unwholesome; the natural dead flat is often broken by high hills of cinders and spoil from the mines; the few trees are stunted and blasted; no birds are to be seen, except a few smoky sparrows; and for miles on miles a black waste spreads around, where furnaces continually smoke, steam engines thud and hiss, and long chains clank, while blind gin-horses walk their doleful round.”

Source/read more Nature 



The man who can map the chemicals all over your body

Apart from the treadmill desk, Pieter Dorrestein's office at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), is unremarkable: there is a circular table with chairs around it, bookshelves lined with journals, papers and books, and a couple of plaques honouring him and his work.

Source/read more Nature 



Science illustration: Picture perfect

On canvas, a 390-million-year-old forest springs to life. Massive tree trunks jut into a sunlit clearing from a crowded forest floor. Stubby green branches battle with frilly leaf-like filaments to touch the pink-tinged sky. Palaeobotanist Chris Berry had worked for years with samples from the Gilboa Fossil Forest in New York, but had never before seen what the living forest might have looked like so many millennia ago.

Left: Frank Mannolini/New York State Museum. Right: Victor Leshyk. Scientific illustrator Victor Leshyk used a sketch from researchers (left) to create a conception of the Gilboa Fossil Forest for a cover of Nature (right) | Nature

Left: Frank Mannolini/New York State Museum. Right: Victor Leshyk. Scientific illustrator Victor Leshyk used a sketch from researchers (left) to create a conception of the Gilboa Fossil Forest for a cover of Nature (right) | Nature

Source/read more Nature 



Butterflies: Change of identity is not in the air

Change is indeed in the air for many butterflies — at least in their ecology, if not in their outer appearance.

Source/read more Nature 



Elephant poaching: Track the impact of Kenya's ivory burn

Kenya's government delivered a powerful message against elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade on 30 April by burning 105 tonnes of ivory, worth up to US$220 million. With stockpile destruction on the rise, it is important to evaluate the impact of this strategy on elephant populations.

Source/read more Nature 



A young Kissing Bug doesn't need much

In late November 2015, I found a nymph of Triatoma rubida marching across the bedroom carpet between two dog beds. My reaction was 'Oh, no, already'? and I caught it in a jar. It looked like it had just had a good meal.  Rather young, not much indication of wings yet. 4th instar?

Source/read more Arizona: Beetles Bugs Birds and More 



Eight Illinois Wasp and Bee Mimics in Twenty Minutes

One of the few entomologically-rewarding stops on our recent road trip was at the National Trail Rest Area on Interstate 70 near Altamont, Illinois, on May 16. A brief bit of sunshine warmed the woodland edges enough to bring out a wealth of fly diversity, many of which were mimics of various wasps and bees. There were even a few real wasps.

Source/read more Bug Eric 



Strange Behavior Explained (Sort of)

The other day (Monday, June 6 to be exact) I was exploring Adams Open Space behind the public library in Fountain, Colorado with my wife. I happened to notice a small ichneumon wasp on the underside of a leaf and snapped a couple of images. This was the best one, and I was shocked to see a cluster of eggs beneath the wasp's abdomen. What was going on?

Ichneumon wasp with cluster of eggs | Bug Eric

Ichneumon wasp with cluster of eggs | Bug Eric

Source/read more Bug Eric 



What’s life like on an RV Investigator voyage?

Following on from the success of her first blog, Madi Rosevear of the University of Tasmania tells us about some of the challenges of the current voyage and provides a few personal tips for life at sea.

Source/read more CSIRO 



The ecology of sex explains patterns of helping in arthropod societies

Across arthropod societies, sib-rearing (e.g. nursing or nest defence) may be provided by females, by males or by both sexes. According to Hamilton's ‘haplodiploidy hypothesis’, this diversity reflects the relatedness consequences of diploid vs. haplodiploid inheritance. However, an alternative ‘preadaptation hypothesis’ instead emphasises an interplay of ecology and the co-option of ancestral, sexually dimorphic traits for sib-rearing. The preadaptation hypothesis has recently received empirical support, but remains to be formalised. Here, we mathematically model the coevolution of sex-specific helping and sex allocation, contrasting these hypotheses. We find that ploidy per se has little effect. Rather, the ecology of sex shapes patterns of helping: sex-specific preadaptation strongly influences who helps; a freely adjustable sex ratio magnifies sex biases and promotes helping; and sib-mating, promiscuity, and reproductive autonomy also modulate the sex and abundance of helpers. An empirical survey reveals that patterns of sex-specific helping in arthropod taxa are consistent with the preadaptation hypothesis.

Source/read more Ecology Letters 



The World’s Deepest Flying Insect Lives in Complete Darkness with No Food or Sex

Deep below the Velebit mountains of Southern Croatia, 1,431 meters underground, lies the Lukina Jama cave system, the 14th deepest cave in the world.

In the last decade, this cave has received much attention by cave scientists for its comparatively rich fauna of strictly subterranean animals, including subterranean leeches and a translucent snail species that does not occur anywhere else in the world. The most recent addition to the list is a small insect that has the distinction to be the world’s only blind cave insect that flies.

The Lukina Jama–Trojama cave system | Alexander M. Weigand/Wikimedia [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The Lukina Jama–Trojama cave system | Alexander M. Weigand/Wikimedia [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Source/read more Entomology Today 



Harvester Ants Have a Taste for Exotic Seeds

Harvester ants live up to their name. Like a farmer bringing in a crop of grain, the ants are busy seed collectors. In some habitats, they are the dominant seed predators. But do harvester ants play favorites? When faced with a cornucopia of seeds, do they select certain species over others like a kid picking all of the chocolate chips out of the trail mix?

Source/read more Entomology Today 



Where Do Shield-back Katydids Fit within the Katydid Evolutionary Tree?

With more than 7,000 species globally, the katydids are the second most diverse group within the insect order Orthoptera, after the grasshoppers. Katydids are members of the taxonomic family Tettigoniidae, and though familiar to people throughout the world for their musical mating call, the specifics of many aspects of the evolutionary relationships within the katydid group remain a mystery.

Source/read more Entomology Today 



Comparative assessment of metrics for monitoring the body condition of polar bears in western Hudson Bay

Many species experience prolonged periods of fasting due to changes in habitat and food availability. Metrics that quantify energy reserves available during these periods allow for a better understanding of the interaction between environmental change and species survival. Body condition of polar bears has been assessed using morphometric and subjective indices, lipid content of adipose tissue, body composition models and, recently, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). We assessed the utility of BIA and examined correlations among condition metrics for 134 free-ranging polar bears on shore in western Hudson Bay in fall 2012–2013 and spring 2013–2014. We also examined long-term inter-annual and seasonal trends from 736 bears handled in 2004–2014. Total body fat, as estimated from BIA, was correlated with adipose tissue lipid content, energy density and fatness index, but not storage energy or skull width. Body condition was higher in adult and subadult females than males, consistent with energetic demands of gestation and lactation. Adult females had higher body fat in the fall than spring, and body fat decreased with increasing number of dependent offspring. Long-term trends indicated a decline in body condition for all adult and subadult males and females. Although there were similar patterns among BIA and other established metrics, its limitations in the field suggest that BIA may not be the most efficient method of monitoring body composition in polar bears in comparison to other modeled metrics, such as energy density. Declines in polar bear body condition over time may be a reflection of contemporaneous changes in sea ice availability and population demography, and thus have implications for the long-term conservation of this subpopulation.

Source/read more Journal of Zoology 



The Rise of Ocean Optimism

Things are far more resilient than I ever imagined. Me, green sea turtles, coral reefs blown to bits by atomic bombs. In a twist of fate that even surprised scientists, Bikini Atoll, site of one of the world’s biggest nuclear explosions, is now a scuba diver’s paradise. Bikini Atoll located in the Pacific’s Marshall Islands didn’t just inspire the famous bathing suit; the US Army detonated the first hydrogen bomb there. Between 1946 and 1958, 23 nuclear explosions were carried out, at an incalculable cost to the people and the marine environment. Fifty years later, scientists record a thriving coral reef habitat that includes large tree-like branching coral formations with trunks the diameter of dinner plates. “It’s made a brilliant recovery,” says Zoe Richards, a scientist at the Australian Museum.

Bikini Atoll | [public domain]

Bikini Atoll | [public domain]

Source/read more Smithsonian 



Podcast: How Humans Caused Mass Extinctions Thousands of Years Ago

Source/read more Smithsonian 



The lost opportunity cost of overcommitment

My sabbatical officially started a few days ago. I was half-expecting a kind of weight to lift. But my brain isn’t letting me have any of that.

For the last year or so, I’ve been stockpiling things “for sabbatical.” Now, I’m looking at the weight of that list.

I’m betting that you don’t want to hear the list. (But hey, I wrote a post in 2013 describing my manuscripts in the works. Most of them are still in the works, and for each that has been done, it’s been replaced with new one.)

Source/read more Small Pond Science 



Why not double-blind grant reviews?

In some academic fields, double-blind reviews of manuscripts for peer-reviewed publication is the norm. It’s no surprise that people who study human behavior use double-blind review. They must be on to something that most of us in the “hard” sciences haven’t picked up yet.

Some journals in my field have double blind review. Behavioral Ecology has been doing it for a good long while now. My latest paper in Animal Behaviour was a double-blind review, but I don’t know when they started. A couple years ago, American Naturalist went double-blind, too.

Researchers studied the consequence of Behavioral Ecology going double-blind, and found that it increases representation, resulting with more women as first authors, with no detectable negative effects.

Source/read more Small Pond Science 



Slow Conservation

The word ‘stakeholder’ dates back to the 18th century, when it referred to individuals who held money during financial transactions or bets. During the 19th and 20th centuries, it expanded to include people or companies dedicated to the success of a business or sector. Given the financial roots of the word, it is no wonder that conservationists have eyed the term with suspicion. Can you be a stakeholder for a group of whales or a deep-sea ecosystem? Or do we need a new term?

Source/read more Trends in Ecology & Evolution 



Effects of Inertial Power and Inertial Force on Bat Wings

The inertial power and inertial force of wings are important factors in evaluating the flight performance of native bats. Based on measurement data of wing size and motions of Eptesicus fuscus, we present a new computational bat wing model with divided fragments of skeletons and membrane. The motions of the model were verified by comparing the joint and tip trajectories with native bats. The influences of flap, sweep, elbow, wrist and digits motions, the effects of different bones and membrane of bat wing, the components on vertical, spanwise and fore-aft directions of the inertial power and force were analyzed. Our results indicate that the flap, sweep, and elbow motions contribute the main inertial power and force; the membrane occupies an important proportion of the inertial power and force; inertial power on flap direction was larger, while variations of inertial forces on different directions were not evident. These methods and results offer insights into flight dynamics in other flying animals and may contribute to the design of future robotic bats.

Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) | Connor Long/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) | Connor Long/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Source/read more Zoological Science 



What are Head Cavities? — A History of Studies on Vertebrate Head Segmentation

Motivated by the discovery of segmental epithelial coeloms, or “head cavities,” in elasmobranch embryos toward the end of the 19th century, the debate over the presence of mesodermal segments in the vertebrate head became a central problem in comparative embryology. The classical segmental view assumed only one type of metamerism in the vertebrate head, in which each metamere was thought to contain one head somite and one pharyngeal arch, innervated by a set of cranial nerves serially homologous to dorsal and ventral roots of spinal nerves. The non-segmental view, on the other hand, rejected the somite-like properties of head cavities. A series of small mesodermal cysts in early Torpedo embryos, which were thought to represent true somite homologs, provided a third possible view on the nature of the vertebrate head. Recent molecular developmental data have shed new light on the vertebrate head problem, explaining that head mesoderm evolved, not by the modification of rostral somites of an amphioxus-like ancestor, but through the polarization of unspecified paraxial mesoderm into head mesoderm anteriorly and trunk somites posteriorly.

Source/read more Zoological Science 



Vladimir Nabokov's butterfly art – in pictures

Author and passionate lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov once said: ‘Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man.’ His scientific drawings and watercolours of butterflies have now been collected into one volume, Fine Lines.

Nabokov's Butterflies | [public domain]

Nabokov's Butterflies | [public domain]

Source/read more The Guardian 



Zoo news: this month's animal antics from round the globe - in pictures

A collection of zoological wonders from May 2016, featuring brave new rhinos, brand new pandas, earthworm engineers and more.

6 May: Panda birth with Ai Bang. Giant panda Ai Bang was the first captive panda to give birth this year, the event broadcast on Pandapia HD. The male cub weighed 145g, but died on 10 May. GiantPandaGlobal.com | The Guardian/China Daily/Reuters

6 May: Panda birth with Ai Bang. Giant panda Ai Bang was the first captive panda to give birth this year, the event broadcast on Pandapia HD. The male cub weighed 145g, but died on 10 May. GiantPandaGlobal.com | The Guardian/China Daily/Reuters

Source/read more The Guardian 



Australia’s egg-laying mammals provide clues to our earliest ancestor

The platypus is famous for being one of the world’s strangest animals. When specimens were first shipped back from Australia, it was thought to be a taxidermic hoax. “Of all the Mammalia yet known”, wrote George Shaw in 1799, assistant keeper of the natural history department at the British Museum, “it seems the most extraordinary in its conformation; exhibiting the perfect resemblance of the beak of a duck engrafted on the head of a quadruped.”

Source/read more The Guardian



Is burning poached ivory good for elephants?

At the end of April, Kenya incinerated 105 tonnes of confiscated elephant ivory, aiming to send a clear signal to the poachers and public alike: killing elephants for their tusks and buying ivory-based products is simply not acceptable.

But do such spectacles really help conserve elephants? Or could they, in fact, be counterproductive?

Source/read more The Guardian 



Harbour porpoises are skilled hunters and eat almost constantly

Harbour porpoises have sometimes been described as "living in the fast lane." Being smaller than other cetaceans and living in cold northern waters means that the porpoises require a lot of energy to survive, making them prone to starvation. Now researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 26 have monitored harbour porpoises in the wild with tiny computers attached to them by suction cups show that the animals hunt and eat almost constantly.

Source/read more Cell Press 



Hydropower dams worldwide cause continued species extinction

New research led by the University of Stirling has found a global pattern of sustained species extinctions on islands within hydroelectric reservoirs. 

Scientists have discovered that reservoir islands created by large dams across the world do not maintain the same levels of animal and plant life found prior to flooding.

Source/read more University of Stirling 



Dancing hairs alert bees to floral electric fields

Tiny, vibrating hairs may explain how bumblebees sense and interpret the signals transmitted by flowers, according to a study by researchers at the University of Bristol.

Although it's known that flowers communicate with pollinators by sending out electric signals, just how bees detects these fields has been a mystery - until now.

Source/read more University of Bristol 



Stick insects produce bacterial enzymes themselves

Many animals depend on their microbiome to digest their food. Symbiotic microorganisms produce enzymes their hosts cannot, and these work alone or together with the animals’ own enzymes to break down their food. Many plant-feeding insects need microbial enzymes, such as pectinases, that degrade plant cell walls; yet some insects have overcome this dependency in a surprising way. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, found that stick insects make microbial enzymes themselves. From an ancestral gut microbe, the genes for the essential enzymes simply “jumped” as they are to their insect host. The researchers report this newly discovered “horizontal gene transfer” in a paper recently published in Scientific Reports. (Scientific Reports, May 2016, DOI: 10.1038/srep26388)

Source/read more Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology 



The mysterious sexual life of the most primitive dragonfly

The dragonfly considered the most primitive in the world lives in Australia and Tasmania, and was believed to be extinct four decades ago. But it is far from being so. A Spanish researcher has observed thousands of these insects in one of the few habitats in which it has been detected and it displays sexual behaviour that is unique, not only directed towards reproduction.

Source/read more Plataforma SINC 



More than just hippos and crocs: The hidden biodiversity of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the sub-tropical north-eastern corner of South Africa has become famous for its birdlife, crocodiles and hippopotamuses that frolic in the warm estuarine waters of Lake St Lucia. However, there’s more to the park than the “big and hairy”, according to aquatic ecologist Prof Renzo Perissinotto at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth, whose research is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park | Darren Glanville/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 2.0]

iSimangaliso Wetland Park | Darren Glanville/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Source/read more Pensoft Publishers 



Roads “a serious threat” to rare bats

The University of Exeter experts studied data collected across Europe and concluded that roads present “a real and growing danger” to protected bat populations. The research, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), concluded bats were often reluctant to cross roads, disrupting their ability to reach feeding and roosting areas. The group also identified more than 1,000 bat fatalities caused by collisions with cars.

Source/read more University of Exeter 



Pandas Don’t Like It Hot: Temperature, Not Food is Biggest Concern for Conservation

Although a new Drexel study found that the metabolism of giant pandas is higher than previously reported, there is more than enough bamboo in nature to keep pandas healthy and happy for years.

That is, until rising global temperatures kill the plants off.

Source/read more Drexel University 



Marine invertebrate larvae actively respond to their surroundings

Many marine invertebrates have complex life histories in which the planktonic larval phase acts as the vehicle to connect otherwise disjointed benthic adult populations which are mostly non-mobile. Larval swimming behaviors in response to various chemical, biological and physical cues have important implications for the adult populations, but to date, most studies on larvae-flow interactions have focused on competent larvae near settlement.

Source/read more Hong Kong University of Science & Technology