World's Oldest Wine Cellar * The Mystery of Making the Moon * Scientists Undermine Bird Self-Esteem * How a Sauropod Steps * Less Salmon, More Stress for Grizzlies * Fatal Attraction for Praying Mantis

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If you are an oenophile, you know the importance of proper storage of your vintages. And today, we find out just how long that tradition has been going on, from an archeologist who's discovered the world's oldest wine cellar. Plus, we'll look into how the moon was made; we'll hear how and why scientists have undermined birds self-esteem; we'll learn more about just how giant sauropods walked the Earth; we'll find out how grizzlies get stressed when the salmon runs out; and we'll hear just how deadly sex can be for some male preying mantises that go for the new girl in town.

 

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World's Oldest Wine Cellar

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Excavation of ancient Canaanite jars, courtesy Eric Cline
The oldest wine cellar known has been found in the ruins of a Canaanite palace in the city of Tel Kabri in northern Israel. The palace - which dates back to about 1700 BCE and pre-dates the Israelites - included a small area believed to be used for storing jars of wine. A total of 40 ceramic jars - each about one metre tall - were uncovered in the cellar. Using a technique called organic residue analysis, researchers, including Dr. Eric Cline, a Professor of Classics and Anthropology from The George Washington University in Washington, DC, were able to find evidence of acids consistent with the presence of wine. Herbal compounds were also present, and believed to be an indication that the wine was flavoured with additives like honey, mint and juniper.       

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The Mystery of Making the Moon

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Scientists are fairly certain that our Moon formed as the result of a huge collision, early in the life of our solar system. But while they thought they had a good answer for what kind of collision it was, new information from chemical analysis of the Moon rocks returned by the Apollo missions has thrown the standard theories into doubt. So, now researchers, including Dr. Robin Canup, Associate Vice-President and head of the Planetary Science Directorate of the South West Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, are trying on new theories. Was there more than one collision? Just what were the relative sizes of the bodies that hit each other? Dr. Canup thinks we have much more work to do, and that the mystery of the Moon might not be solved until we visit Venus, and learn more about what other planets are made from.

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Scientists Undermine Bird Self-Esteem


The New Zealand Pukeko is a charismatic bird with a striking red "shield" on its forehead, above its beak, that reflects dominance in the birds' complex social hierarchy. Cody Dey, a PhD candidate in the Department of Biology at McMaster University, has been studying these birds for several years, and was curious about how the size of the shield and dominance are related. In a field experiment, he used black paint to cover part of the red shield, reducing the bird's apparent dominance. This led to the birds being treated as lower status animals - facing more aggression and competition from other birds. Furthermore, when the paint was removed, it turned out that the birds themselves had also shrunk their actual shields to reflect their reduced status in the group.  

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How a Sauropod Steps

The giant sauropod dinosaurs were huge. The biggest were ten times the size of an elephant, and were, by far, the largest thing to ever live on land. Dr. Bill Sellers, from the Computational and Evolutionary Biology group, and a Reader in Zoology at the University of Manchester in England, has been exploring the question of how something so enormous might have walked. Using sophisticated computer modelling technology, he's had computers experiment with many different gaits to find ones that would be most efficient, and thus most likely for the animals to have used. The best solution, so far, seems to have been a rocking, penguin-like motion, that, in fact, matches well with dinosaur trackways preserved from ancient times. 

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Less Salmon, More Stress for Grizzlies

The decline in the salmon population off the coast of B.C. in recent years is having negative consequences for the grizzly bears who rely on them for food. Grizzly bears were studied in a 5,000-square-kilometre area of the mainland coast, stretching from near northern Vancouver Island to around Prince Rupert. By analysing hair retrieved from grizzlies at snag stations in that area, Dr. Heather Bryan, a post-doctoral researcher in the Applied Conservation Science Lab at the University of Victoria, was able to determine that levels of the stress hormone cortisol were elevated in the bears eating less salmon. It is believed that raised cortisol levels could negatively impact the grizzly's reproductive health, and result in a shorter lifespan.

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Fatal Attraction for Praying Mantis

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A native male praying mantis attempts to mate with a giant invading female. Credit: Murray Fea
In the 1970's, an invasive species of praying mantis began showing up in the Auckland area of New Zealand, and quickly spread throughout the country. The invasive mantis arrived accidentally from South Africa, possibly a stow-a-way in shipping freight. Today, the invader is in danger of completely eliminating New Zealand's native praying mantis. New research by Dr Gregory Holwell, a Senior Lecturer from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, has found that the native male mantis is more attracted to the female of the invasive species than to the female of its own species, even though producing viable offspring is not possible. This is proving costly to the native male because the invasive species practices sexual cannibalism - the female eats the male after mating - and the native species does not. This fatal attraction is resulting in the native male being cannibalized in about 70 percent of mating attempts.


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