Quirks & Quarks

May 28: Flying salamanders, headbutting animals and brain damage, undersea cable sensors and more…

Secrets of plant survival, why sharks matter and marine mammals and storms.

Secrets of plant survival, why sharks matter and marine mammals and storms.

On this week's episode of Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald

This salamander is an unlikely but agile, aerial amphibian

Amphibians are not supposed to live in the treetops or jump from those treetops either, but the wandering salamander does. It lives its entire life in California's famous redwoods, the largest trees on Earth. Christian Brown, a PhD candidate in integrative biology at the University of South Florida in Tampa discovered that this incredible salamander can survive in its extreme vertical habitat due to an uncanny ability to guide leaps from branch to branch or between trees like an experienced skydiver. His research was published in Current Biology.

Headbutting animals can accumulate brain damage 

Animals like mountain bighorn sheep and muskox compete for mates and social dominance by slamming their heads together with massive force. Scientists had wondered how they could do this without damaging their brains. It turns out they can't, as a new study has shown the animals can have brain trauma similar to that found in humans with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which results from repeated head injuries. The research was led by Dr. Nicole Ackermans from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who collected brain samples from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and found damaged neurons "like a spiderweb growing across the microscope," inside the animals' brains.  The work was published in Acta Neuropathologica

We can use the cables that carry the internet as environmental sensors

Our oceans are criss-crossed by hundreds of thousands of kilometres of fibre-optic cables that carry an enormous volume of data and telecommunications traffic. A team at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK has figured out how to also use them to sense ocean currents, temperature and deep sea earthquakes, without having to change existing infrastructure. In a new study published in the journal Science, Dr. Giuseppe Marra and his colleagues found that these disturbances showed up as tiny amounts of "noise" in the data being sent across the cables. By exploiting a part of the cable called the repeater, which amplifies the signal along the cables, they could localize where the disturbances were coming from.

Plants that can survive extreme conditions could help us engineer more resilient crops

Most plants struggle to survive when confronted with conditions like drought or high-salinity soils. They wither or go dormant. But a small subset of extremophyte plants thrive in these difficult conditions. In a new study published in Nature Plants, Dr. Jose Dinneny and his colleagues studied these masters of survival to understand how they grow in adverse conditions, with the hope of learning how to bioengineer more resilient crops that can survive degraded soils and climate change.

People swim next to a Whale Shark in Mexico. While shark-related fears became commonplace thanks to movies like Jaws, researcher David Shiffman worries that some people are now too comfortable around sharks, and should still keep their distance. (EDIER ROSADO CHERREZ/AFP via Getty Image)

What we lose as we lose most of the world's sharks

Shark and ray populations are estimated to have dropped by 71% in the last 50 years, roughly since the movie Jaws made people afraid to go into the water. In a new book, marine conservation biologist David Shiffman makes the case for sharks, which he says are misunderstood not just by those afraid of sharks, but also those who purport to love them. Shiffman talks to Bob McDonald about his new book, Why Sharks Matter: a deep dive with the world's most misunderstood predator.

How do marine mammals surface to breathe during storms?

This question comes from Keith Edwards of Detroit, and the answer comes from Ronda Reidy of the fisheries ecology lab at the University of Victoria.


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