Losing Lizards, Archaeopteryx X-Ray, Chronic Wasting Disease, There's no There, There, Adventures Among Ants

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Losing Lizards

may15-2010-common_lizard.jpg European common lizard - less common these days - copyright cc-by-sa-3.0, Marek Szczepanek
When you think of animals that might be threatened by climate change, you probably think of polar bears and penguins. You probably don't think of lizards, but it seems you should. Several years ago, Dr. Barry Sinervo, a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, began to notice declines and local extinctions in the lizard populations he and his colleagues were studying in Mexico and Europe. These animals weren't being challenged by habitat loss or other disturbances. They then performed experiments in the Yucatan to try to determine the cause. Their conclusion was that warming temperatures were responsible for the declines they were seeing. In the critical spring breeding season, the reptiles were becoming overheated, forcing them to retreat into the shade, and preventing them from foraging for food and searching for mates. By what they've seen so far, and anticipating future climate warming, they're now concerned that up to 20% of the world's lizard species could disappear by 2080.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowPaper in Science
external site - links will open in a new windowNews from UCSC
external site - links will open in a new windowScienceNow article
external site - links will open in a new windowDr Sinervo's lab

Archaeopteryx X-Ray

may15-2010-archaeopteryx.jpg detailed skull photograph of the Thermopolis Archaeopteryx (Photo by Pete Larson)
Researchers have shed new light on a 150-million-year-old fossil. It has long been thought that the half dinosaur-half bird Archaeopteryx fossil contained nothing but bone and rock. But when Dr. Phil Manning, a paleontologist from the University of Manchester, and a team from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Accelerator Laboratory, exposed the fossil to the bright x-ray beam of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Archaeopteryx gave up its never- before-seen chemical history. Two of the chemical elements identified - phosphorous and sulfur - indicate actual fossilized feathers, and not just impressions in the rock, as previously thought. Use of the synchrotron will change how paleontologists look at existing fossils and the way future excavations are conducted.

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Related Links

external site - links will open in a new windowPaper in PNAS
external site - links will open in a new windowNews release from SLAC
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Manning's web page
external site - links will open in a new windowStory on 80beats Blog in Discover magazine

Chronic Wasting Disease

may15-2010-wasted_deer.jpg Deer infected with CWD
A team of researchers, including Dr. Deborah McKenzie, a biologist from the University of Alberta's Centre For Prions and Protein Folding Diseases, have identified two prevalent strains of the deadly Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD is a neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose. It is unusual because it is not caused by a virus or bacteria; it is caused by prions - abnormally shaped cellular proteins found in the central nervous system and lymphoid tissue. It is related to BSE or Mad Cow Disease, but is more contagious. It spreads from animal to animal very quickly through saliva and from eating grass growing in contaminated soil. Symptoms include muscle loss, loss of bodily functions, drooling and erratic behaviour. In Canada, CWD is found in Saskatchewan and Alberta. It is also present in pockets throughout the United States.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowPaper in Science
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. McKenzie's web page
external site - links will open in a new windowChronic Wasting Disease Alliance
external site - links will open in a new windowGovt of Alberta web page on CWD

There's no There, There

may15-2010-space_hole.jpg Whole lotta nothing - ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/Univ. of Toledo
Astronomers have rarely been so surprised by nothing before. Examining early images from the Herschel Space Telescope, the European Space Agency's new high-resolution infrared telescope, astronomers saw something strange. According to Dr. Tom Megeath, a professor of physics and astronomy from the University of Toledo, and the Principal Investigator for the Herschel Orion Protostar Survey, they saw a large dark patch in a star-forming region. This dark patch had been seen before by other instruments, but was thought to be a dense and opaque cloud of gas and dust - more material for forming stars. Herschel showed it to be something else - a hole in space. Dr. Megeath and his colleagues think that jets from new stars forming near this hole blasted away material and created the hole, which they think gives insight into how the process of star formation in these dense clouds might end.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowAnnouncement from the European Space Agency
external site - links will open in a new windowHerschel Space Telescope
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Megeath's home page


Adventures Among Ants

may15-2010-aaants.jpg
Dr. Mark Moffett is a throwback to the days when naturalists were explorers, adventurers and perhaps a little reckless. Since the early days of his career, he's chased ants of every species in nearly every corner of the world. He can tell you in great detail what it's like to be bitten by army ants, swarmed by marauder ants, and stung by just about every species of ant out there that has a stinger. This is just the price he's paid to get up close and personal with these fascinating insects and to understand the remarkable range of behaviours they've adopted. In his new book, Adventures Among Ants - A Global Safari With a Cast of Trillions, he recounts many of his adventures and tells the stories of the ants he's known.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowAdventures Among Ants - Book and Blog
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Moffett's general web page

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