Quirks and Quarks

Apr 9: Arctic plastic pollution, the 'drunken monkey' hypothesis, the songs of the manatee and more…

Indigenous-led caribou conservation, the Norse in brown-land and tropical tree leaves

Indigenous-led caribou conservation, the Norse in brown-land and tropical tree leaves

Manatee at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida (Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium)

On this episode of Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald

Plastic pollution is all over the arctic

Plastic waste, particularly in the form of tiny particles called microplastics, has become ubiquitous in the Earth's environment, including in the remote Arctic. An international team of researchers, including Jennifer Provencher, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, have just released a study looking at what we know about the prevalence of plastic in the north, where it's coming from, and what we can do about it. Their study was published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment.

Monkeys consume fermenting fruit, likely for the extra calories from alcohol

A study of wild spider monkeys in Panama has determined that they will seek out and consume fermenting fruit, with a roughly one per cent alcohol content. By collecting leftovers and wild monkey urine, the researchers found the monkeys were eating fermented fruit and digesting the calorie rich alcohol. Christina Campbell, an anthropologist at California State University, led the research, which was published in the Royal Society Open Science.

A new study of spider monkeys in Panama shows that they eat fermented fruit containing as much as 2% ethanol. The results shed light on the theory that the human inclination to drink alcohol may have its roots in our ancient ancestors’ affinity to consume fermenting but nutritious fruit. (Victoria Weaver/CSUN)

Biologists record and translate the songs of the manatee

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For the first time, researchers have been able to connect the sounds manatees make with a specific action or activity. Beth Brady, a marine mammalogist at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida. has been able to assign manatee sounds, including squeaks, high squeaks and squeals - to three different functions including stress, play and calves letting their mothers know where they are. Her research is published in Marine Mammal Science.

Indigenous-led conservation program saves caribou herd from extinction

Woodland caribou herds in North America have been in catastrophic decline over the past decades due largely to human activity associated with logging and fossil fuel exploration. But a collaboration between West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations, as well as scientists from the University of British Columbia, led to a recovery program that is being celebrated as one of the first caribou conservation success stories in the world. We spoke with Chief Roland Willson, of the West Moberly First Nations; Naomi Owens-Beek, the Treaty Rights and environmental protection manager for Saulteau First Nation; and Clayton Lamb, a Wildlife Scientist and Liber Ero fellow at the University of British Columbia.

The researchers published their findings in two separate papers in the journal Ecological Applications.

A researcher is seen in a helicopter, preparing to catch caribou using a net gun. The caribou were then taken to a pen to be kept safe from predators. (Wildlife Infometrics Inc.)

The Vikings might have left Greenland when it turned into brown-land

Norse settlers began raising animals on pastures they cultivated in Greenland at the end of the 10th century. But just over 400 years later, they mysteriously abandoned their homes and farms, and evacuated the island. Boyang Zhao, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Brown University in Rhode Island, suggests that a long and intensifying drought might have been the reason for their departure. His study was published in Science Advances.

Quirks Question - Do tropical trees lose their leaves?

Michel Plaxton of Mississauga, Ontario asks: "Do Tropical trees lose leaves and regrow them seasonally as ours do, and if not, why?" Our answer comes from Sean Thomas, a professor in the Institute of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Toronto.