Image: David Lane, University of Brunei.
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My friends at National Geographic have provided permission for me to share some of the images from the recent discovery of a huge number of new species on and around the south Pacific island of Vanuatu.
Now that I have survived the frigid north and have returned to the real world where there is electricity, the sun is shining and there's no such thing as ice storms, I can return to providing you the most up-to-date and important science news and such from around the world. I know, you're all so excited!
So personally, I've been spending the past day or so getting myself all jolly for the holidays. Of course, we're talking tree decorating, gift wrapping and the lovely sound of holiday pop songs to set the mood.
Apparently, some researchers from Loch Lomond Sea Life Centre in Balloch, Dunbartonshire have a thing for Christmas music, too. Following on US research that showed fish could recognize melodies, the scientists decided it sounded like a good idea to test what Christmas songs sharks and rays prefer.
The seasonal favorites like 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' and 'White Christmas' will be played in the underwater tunnels where a variety of elasmobranchs including nurse sharks, black-tip reef sharks, and rays can hear them. They'll be looking for the fish's reactions to the different hits, like lowering fin tips, swimming faster or making sudden movements or positions that indicate aggression or excitement.
There is some debate as to whether the fish will prefer the softer, more traditional melodies or newer pop favorites like Wham's 'Last Christmas.' I personally think the sharks will be pumped up by the edgier new-classics, but that's just me.
Next, of course, will be finding out if they have the same aversion to fruitcake...
Chase, A. R. (2001). Music discriminations by carp (Cyprinus carpio) Animal Learning & Behavior, 29 (4), 336-353
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Check this out:Click to embiggenate. Original image here.That’s a Hubble image of Jupiter and its moon Ganymede, just before the satellite dips behind the planet’s disk. It was taken in April of 2007 but just released today (which is good,[...]
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If you've been reading the news, people are reacting strongly to a new study which reported ocean acidification due to CO2 output is occurring at a faster rate than expected. But what is the deal with acidification, anyway?
The worst part of a change in ocean pH is that it shifts the balance of carbonate ions. As the pH of the oceans drops, it is harder for animals to fix calcium carbonate. Therefore, with oceans acidifying at an alarming rate, the threat to calcified organisms is also rising faster than previously thought - and 2005 estimates were bad enough.
Luckily, some calcifying organisms have found a way to survive. Some corals can live without their solid housing, for example. When the pH drops, certain corals can live without a skeleton and become soft-bodied, retaining their zooxanthellae and acting in every other way how they normally would. They then resume building a skeleton when the pH rises again, according to a study published in science last year.
But what about the organisms scientists are most worried about, the most abundant form of phytoplankton - the coccolithophores?
The results are mixed. Some studies suggest that the pH drop will be devastating, but not all. One study found that since 1780 coccolithophores have increased the calcium carbonate in their shells by 40%, suggesting that they might be able to respond to acidification by thickening their walls.
So is all the fear surrounding ocean acidification warranted? Well, yes. Other species haven't shown the same resilience to acid waters, particularly commercially important mollusks.
All in all, the more CO2 we produce, the more we're changing our salt water ecosystems. Even if you do not believe in climate change, carbon output has and will affect the pH of our oceans, threatening the basis of the food web. So how bad is Ocean Acidification? Very bad. Very bad indeed.
J. T. Wootton, C. A. Pfister, J. D. Forester (2008). From the Cover: Dynamic patterns and ecological impacts of declining ocean pH in a high-resolution multi-year dataset Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (48), 18848-18853 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810079105
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In 1982, criminologists George Kelling and James Q. Wilson published an article in The Atlantic Monthly called "Broken Windows." The theory they laid out became known as the Broken Windows Theory. It holds that people are more likely to commit crimes in areas that appear unwatched and uncared for - i.e., "if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken...[because] one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing," as put in the Atlantic article.
In other words, perceptions alter reality. The mere appearance of lawlessness and disorder begets further lawlessness and disorder.
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The article started a movement that belived a cop's primary duty was to enforce order, not respond to serious crimes. Police chiefs and lawmakers hoped that by cleaning up the little things, larger crimes could be prevented. Perhaps the most famous example of the Broken Windows Theory implementation is in New York. Upon election, Giuliani fullfilled a promise he'd made to the citizens of New York to crack down on small crimes to improve the quality of life in the city. And on his watch, violent crime was cut in half and the murder rate plummeted a staggering 70%. Champions of the theory called it a proof, and even critics were hesitant to disagree.
Since then, however, the critics have become more vocal. Scientists have sought to measure the correlation between neighborhood disorder and criminal behavior, and have not found strong associations. Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson and University of Michigan education professor Stephen Raudenbush studied visable disorder as compared to census data, police records, and an independent survey of more than 3,500 residents. In this study, they found that the level of disorder wasn't the strongest factor in making people think the neighborhood was unruly - it was the number of minorities, specifically blacks and hispanics. This bias was across all races, not just the whites. Because race rather than the condition of a neighborhood was the dominant factor, the authors argued that ''it may not make any difference whether someone addresses the so-called broken windows... Contrary to the 'broken windows' theory... the relationship between public disorder and crime is spurious."
The bestselling book "Freakonimics" claimed that it was the legalization of abortion - not fixing broken windows - that dropped the crime rate in the 90s. Legalizing abortion, they argue, led to less unwanted, fatherless children that are likely to become juvenile delinquents and eventual criminals. As they put it, "A careful analysis of the facts shows that the innovative policing strategies probably had little effect on this huge decline... There is frighteningly little evidence that [the broken windows] was the crime panacea that [Giuliani] and the media deemed it."
However, a new, ingenious study out of Norway may shift the results back in favor of the Broken Windows Theory. Published online in Science, the study looked at whether people are more likely to break a rule if they see rules broken. For example, the researchers attached fliers to bike handles in alleys without a trash can. One alley was covered in graffiti, the other wasn't. The unknowing experimenters were twice as likely to litter the useless flier than to dispose of it later if they were in a graffiti-covered alley.
The tests used various means of rule-breaking and disorder, from chaotic shopping carts in a parking lot to the sound of illegal firecrackers. After six such experiments, and the results were clear - where other people had already violated rules, people tended to violate rules themselves, leading to higher rates of littering, illegal parking, and even petty theft.
So why did other studies fail to find such strong Broken Window effects? One possible reason is that they looked for correlation, not causation. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. The trouble with looking for correlation, in this case, is that 'disorder' or 'broken windows' are difficult to classify. How much graffiti makes a difference? Is a little bit of trash enough, or does the neighborhood have to look like a garbage dump? To make correlation studies, you have to make assumptions, and as you probably heard when you were a kid, assumptions just make an ASS of U and ME.
The Norwegian study is much more reliable because it only manipulates one variable at a time. And to find such staggering results strongly supports the Broken Window Theory. While we may not be able to stop all murders by picking up trash, we might be able to make a marked impact on a community by starting small. Busting petty offenders just might help improve a neighborhood and even lower the rates of much worse offenses - by fixing windows, we can do so much more.
Robert J. Sampson, Stephen W. Raudenbush (1999). Systematic Social Observation of Public Spaces: A New Look at Disorder in Urban Neighborhoods American Journal of Sociology, 105 (3), 603-651 DOI: 10.1086/210356
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In the animal world, the ability to live off of solar power is virtually unheard of. Sure, most would say corals do it, but the truth is that the corals themselves aren't the ones soaking up the sun - it's tiny dinoflagellates called 'zooxanthellae' that actually perform the photosynthesis. In fact, that is the case with most other arguments for solar-powered animals. Most have some form of plant-like symbiont doing the hard work for them.
Not so with the green sea slug Elysia chlorotica, claims biologist James Manhart and his colleagues at Texas A&M University who have been studying the slug's plant-like ability. Along with other institutions, the research group believes it has found the source of the slug's unique ability, and their findings have been published in the current issue of Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (the one with an image of a green slug on the cover). There are no plants living inside the slugs - though, there are some plant parts.
In plants, the organelles responsible for photosynthesis are called plastids. The sea slug uses plastids to photosynthesize, but not ones it makes by itself. No, the slug eats algae and digests the majority of the algae, save the precious plastids which it relocates for its own use.
While this sounds simple, it overlooks one major problem: in plants, the majority of the proteins that are required to keep plastids functioning are made separately by the nuclear genome - proteins which don't survive the slug's digestion. It is estimated that photosynthesis requires upwards of 3,000 genes which animals don't have. So the real question is: how does the sea slug actually use the plasmids it injests?
The researchers have found that the sea slug has evolved the genes to photosynthesize. "The slug has at least one gene required for photosynthesis in its nuclear genome, which has never been found in any animal," says Manhart. "The critical thing is the plastids come from the alga, but the slug nucleus contains at least one, and probably more of the genes required for plastid functioning."
After the slug has ingested the plasmids it needs, it can survive for at least nine months off of the sun alone.
It also means that the slug babies are born with the ability to photosynthesize, once they gather their own plastids. The sea slug is a rare case of horizontal gene transfer between a plant - in this case its main food, the alga Vaucheria litorea - and an animal. Somehow the sea slug has stolen the genes from its food and inserted them into its own genome so that it could make use of the algae's plastids.
It's possible that if the slug survives long enough, it could transfer the genes necessary to make the plastids in the first place, and become entirely photosynthetic.
Isn't evolution fun?
M. E. Rumpho, J. M. Worful, J. Lee, K. Kannan, M. S. Tyler, D. Bhattacharya, A. Moustafa, J. R. Manhart (2008). From the Cover: Horizontal gene transfer of the algal nuclear gene psbO to the photosynthetic sea slug Elysia chlorotica Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (46), 17867-17871 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0804968105
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Maybe people aren't listening when scientists talk about how Bisphenol A, a chemical used in plastics, is a pseudo-estrogen. Maybe others think that there are no side effects to flushing their extra or expired birth control down the toilet. Whoever is to blame, one thing is for certain: the male gender is threatened, and gravely.
A new report released today by CHEMtrust is the most comprehensive review to date of gender-bending chemicals and their effects on males of all species, from road kill to humans, drawn from over 250 studies worldwide - and it doesn't have good news. Still not freaking out?
"In mammals, genital disruption in males has been widely reported, including: intersex features (such as egg tissue in the testes of the male); small phallus; small testes; undescended testes; abnormal testes; or ambiguous genitals" details the press release from CHEMtrust. That's on top of the more than fifty percent drop in average sperm count that men of our species have experienced in the past fifty years.
Yeah, thought that might bother you a bit.
Basically, we are releasing an onslaught of hundreds of thousands of hormone-mimicking chemicals into our waterways each year from pesticides, manufacturing chemicals, and even unused prescriptions. These chemicals, known as "endocrine disrupters" act like estrogen and other feminine hormones. When exposed to the developing young, these chemicals are particularly dangerous - especially for males. Numerous studies, like this one, warn us that even humans are very much at risk.
Yet still, on Wednesday, Britain will flagship the opposition to new regulations on pesticides that are responsible for a large portion of these gender-bending effects. They claim that the regulations would cause an agricultural collapse, which is hogwash, as the regulations have so many loopholes even a one-legged farmer could jump through them.
We need to regulate these chemicals NOW to try and prevent an unbelievable amount of ecological damage that we can't undo. If our outputs of these endocrine disrupters go unchecked, men will quickly become a threatened species - if not extinct.
I Norgil Damgaard (2002). Impact of exposure to endocrine disrupters inutero and in childhood on adult reproduction Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 16 (2), 289-309 DOI: 10.1053/beem.2002.0205
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Why is Venus so dry?The atmosphere of Venus has almost no water in it at all, whereas water is everywhere on Earth. This has been a long standing mystery about out sister planet. Where did all the water go? The culprit may be the magnetic field of Venus,[...]
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No, the Minnesota recount is not over yet, and we still don't know whether Franken or Coleman will be our senator. At last word, Coleman held a 192 vote lead, but thousands of ballots are awaiting a verdict on eligibility from the state Supreme Court. It's the most mind-numbingly tedious process ever, so far.
However, scrutiny of the ballots has revealed one vote for the Flying Spaghetti Monster for Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor, and another for Franken and Lizard People for US Senator. The latter was rejected as an overvote, but the former did also have a vote that counted for Al Franken.
If you want a deeper discussion of the recount progress, go to Greg Laden. I've got the news off until my grading is done.Read the comments on this post...