* Whales with Regional Accents * Oxygen for Early Life * Tarantulas' Webbed Feet * Universal Accelerator * Parks Canada at 100 *

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Whales with Regional Accents

whale_accents.jpg Mother and baby swim together off the coast of Dominica.  courtesy Shane Gero
Sperm whales are among the world's largest whales; they can weigh as much as 50 tonnes.  They live in the deepest parts of the ocean and can dive as deep as 2 kilometres.  When sperm whales dive together, they emit a pattern of clicks, called codas.  They use different codas to communicate different things, depending on which ocean they live in, similar to a regional dialect.  Shane Gero, a PhD candidate from the Biology Department at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has been studying sperm whales in the Caribbean, as part of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project, for many years.  His new research has determined that individual whales, regardless of where they live, can distinguish members of their group by the unique sound properties of their coda.     

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Oxygen for Early Life

biomat_nickel.jpgBiomat Fossil - courtesy Nature
The Earth's first complex moving animals evolved in the oceans during the Ediacaran period, 600 million years ago.  These were multi-cellular slug and worm-like animals.  Because the world's oceans had much less oxygen than they do today, the question of how these animals survived has been raised for years.  Dr. Murray Gingras, a Paleontologist in the Earth And Atmospheric Sciences Department at the University of Alberta, studied a lagoon in the Los Rogues Archipelago in Venezuela to help find an answer.  The lagoon is similar to the oceans of the Ediacaran in a couple of ways; it has the same low oxygen levels, and its floor is covered by colonies of bacteria, called biomats.  It was known that animals fed on this material, but his new research found that levels of oxygen in the biomats are as much as four times the levels found in surface waters.  Trace fossils of the slug and worm-like animals found in the biomats led researchers to conclude that this is where they found the necessary oxygen to survive.   

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Tarantulas' Webbed Feet

tarantula-rind.jpg Courtesy Dr. Claire Rind
Most spiders produce silk from specialized organs on their abdomens.  Tarantulas can do this, but they can do more.  Dr. Claire Rind, a Reader in Invertebrate Neurobiology at the University of Newcastle, has demonstrated that Tarantulas can spin silk from their feet as well.  Tarantulas are the largest of spiders and, because of their size, the risk of injury or death from a fall when climbing is quite high for them.  Dr. Rind did experiments in which she attempted to get tarantulas to slip on a glass surface as she tilted it.  Where they slipped, she found tiny silk threads extruded from their feet.  When she looked at the feet under a microscope, she found specialized silk-producing "spigots" on them.  No other spider is known to produce silk from its feet.     

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Universal Accelerator

ams_shuttle.jpg AMS in the Endeavour payload bay.
This week, in the second-last Space Shuttle mission ever, the Endeavour spacecraft delivered a long awaited new experiment to the International Space Station.  The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) is a sensitive particle detector, similar to those found in large atom smashers like the Large Hadron Collider.  However, it uses the entire universe as its particle accelerator.  Professor Roberto Battiston is a physicist at the University of Perugia in Italy,‭ ‬and deputy spokesman for the AMS mission.  He says huge events, like stellar explosions, accelerate particles - usually protons or atomic nuclei - to energies far higher than any particle accelerator can achieve.  So the AMS will be able to see things that Earthbound accelerators can't.  It also may be able to detect signs of the dark matter, and reveal whether distant galaxies are actually made of anti-matter.      

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Parks Canada at 100

Banff_National_Park.jpgLake Louise in Banff National Park
On May 19th, 1911, the Dominion Parks Branch was established as the world's first National Parks Service.  100 years later, Parks Canada is celebrating its centennial, and facing new challenges in preserving and maintaining our parks.  Dr. Stephen Woodley is the Chief Ecosystem Scientist for Parks Canada, and he says that the approach to preserving the natural legacy of the parks has changed a great deal over the years.  As we've learned more about how ecosystems function, park scientists have been able to understand how to preserve, restore and maintain the parks, as they might be in an undisturbed state.  In some cases, this requires quite a lot of intervention, as humans take the place of missing predators, and help wildlife make connections through fragmented habitat.  And while future changes to the landscape, due to development and environmental change, may create new challenges for the wildlife, Dr. Woodley thinks we have a great opportunity to protect our natural legacy.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0