Saturday March 08, 2014
Music Doesn't Move Me * Young Ants Save the Queen * Super-Habitable Planets * Turtle Years Lost and Found * The Monkey's Voyage
Plants and animals have distributed themselves around the world, finding the most remote corners and isolated islands. But how do plants climb mountain ranges and animals cross great oceans? This week, we'll hear how it must have happened, and about the Monkey's Voyage from Africa to South America. Plus, we'll hear how ants use their young as life preservers; we'll find out why our search for habitable planets may be looking in the wrong places; we'll learn where young leatherback turtles go during their "lost years"; and we'll find out why some people have a great excuse for failing music appreciation.
Music has been thought to be a human universal, appreciated by all individuals in all cultures. Dr. Robert Zatorre, a neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University, was interested in testing that fact. There was anecdotal evidence of people who didn't enjoy or appreciate music, and it had been thought that this might reflect some deeper problem, like depression, or an inability to appreciate positive experiences more generally. However, in a study Dr. Zatorre completed with Spanish colleagues, he found that there is, indeed, a small percentage of people who do not respond to music, despite having the ability to perceive it accurately. Further, they respond quite normally to other rewarding experiences, so their lack of appreciation of music apparently is not related to any other deficit.
The quest to find life elsewhere in the universe has been focused, so far, on looking for Earth-like planets. But recent observations by NASA's Kepler Telescope have identified at least one-thousand so-called 'super-habitable worlds' - planets or moons that, in theory, are candidates for having a more benign environment for life than our own Earth. Dr. Rene Heller, a Post- Doctoral Researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University in Hamilton, hypothesizes that these worlds have all the essential ingredients that may make them even more suited to life than our own planet. This includes size, geological activity, and an ideal location within the habitable zone of the star around which they orbit. This theory proposes that the search for extraterrestrial life should shift in focus to include super-habitable worlds.
- Paper in Astrobiology
- McMaster University news
- Astrobiology release
- National Geographic news
- Hamilton Spectator story
- Paper in The Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences
- University of Central Florida news
- Discovery News feature
- Scientific American news
A puzzle for biologists since Darwin has been how plants and animals managed to distribute themselves to all corners of the world - across oceans and to remote islands. In his new book, The Monkey's Voyage - How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life, evolutionary biologist Dr. Alan de Queiroz, an adjunct professor a the University of Nevada, Reno, explores just how everything got everywhere. Darwin himself initially proposed that many species could only have gotten to remote islands by the unlikeliest of voyages. As we realized that land itself could move, through plate tectonics, many scientists adopted that explanation for the distribution of species around the world. But Dr. de Queiroz says that there still must have been unlikely voyages - like the monkey's accidental rafting across the Atlantic from Africa to South America.