68 posts tagged nature
Morphing is one way to make aircraft more efficient
Inspiration from nature, along with the complexity made possible in manufacture through methods such as 3D printing, has allowed new ideas to flourish. As Mike Griffin, President of AIAA, stated at SciTech 2014, “Biology is becoming the new basis for technology.” (via Morphing is one way to make aircraft more efficient)
We now have solid evidence that elephants are some of the most intelligent, social and empathic animals around—so how can we justify keeping them in captivity?
A Reassuring Trunk: Evidence of Consolation in Elephants
Asian elephants console others who are in distress with vocalizations and gentle touches, according to a new report published in the journal PeerJ. Anecdotal reports of elephants behaving reassuringly towards each other are common, but this is the first empirical evidence of consolation in elephants. Joshua Plotnik, a lecturer in conservation biology at Mahidol University in Thailand and CEO of Think Elephants International, and Frans de Waal, of Emory University, observed a group of 26 captive Asian elephants at an elephant park in Thailand. These were mostly unrelated elephants who spent most of their social time together under the guidance of their mahouts, or handlers. The researchers observed the group for nearly a year, recording what happened when one of the elephants became distressed. This could be triggered by events such as a dog walking past, a snake in the grass, or the presence of another, unfriendly elephant. Elephants signal distress by pointing their ears forward, sticking their tails out erect, and letting out a low-frequency rumble, trumpet, or roar. (via A Reassuring Trunk: Evidence of Consolation in Elephants - Wired Science)
Magnetic maps guide young salmon from river to sea
How does a young animal find its way to an unfamiliar location hundreds or thousands of kilometres from where it was born? A reasonable idea might be to find an older, experienced migrant and follow. This might work well for caribou or some songbirds, but what about the many marine animals such as tuna, salmon, eels or sea turtles that never even meet their parents? Our experiments published in Current Biology indicate that juvenile Chinook salmon (sometimes called king salmon) make their journey as if they have a GPS, based not on satellite links but the Earth’s magnetic field. This is possible because the Earth’s magnetic field varies predictably across the globe: the intensity of the field increases from the equator to the poles, and the angle at which magnetic field lines intersect the surface of the Earth similarly increases towards the poles. This forms a grid of coordinates that animals capable of sensing it can use to approximate their position. This is different to a compass, in which the magnetic field is used to find or maintain a direction. A compass can help you walk in a straight line, but it won’t tell you where you are. For that a map is needed, and quite conveniently for salmon they seem to come with one pre-installed. (via Magnetic maps guide young salmon from river to sea)
I suggest that if we want to determine whether the laws of physics might change over time, we should start with biology rather than with physics itself. Why? Because the laws of physics are a product of biology. No matter at what scale we choose to explore the cosmos, the object of our study will be both real and imagined. The laws of physics are overt expressions of human imagination and human imagination is a particular kind of biological activity that happens somewhere in the brain. The overwhelming weight of evidence suggests that the cosmos has existed far beyond the span of our current reckoning and that the duration of conscious experience of the world around us, as an object of scientific inquiry, is just the most recent and infinitesimal pip on the time-line of the universe.
Psychologist, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Author, The Cognitive Brain
We have heard a lot of about sharks recently. In particular Western Australia’s plan to cull threatened white sharks has stirred up plenty of protest from the community, and a frenzy of media coverage and commentary (see Conversation articles here and here and here).
But new research is showing that there are hundreds of species of sharks and rays that face an increased risk of extinction, not just the couple of species that grab the media spotlight.
A new study published today in the journal eLife has for the first time estimated the risk of extinction across all 1041 species of sharks and rays that make up an entire class of vertebrates. This first-ever study undertaken by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group took the expertise of over 300 scientists around the world to complete.
Dolphins ‘deliberately get high’ on puffer fish nerve toxins by carefully chewing and passing them around
Dolphins are thought of as one of the most intelligent species in the animal kingdom – and experts believe they have put their ingenuity to use in the pursuit of getting “high”. In extraordinary scenes filmed for a new documentary, young dolphins were seen carefully manipulating a certain kind of puffer fish which, if provoked, releases a nerve toxin. Though large doses of the toxin can be deadly, in small amounts it is known to produce a narcotic effect, and the dolphins appeared to have worked out how to make the fish release just the right amount. Carefully chewing on the puffer and passing it between one another, the marine mammals then enter what seems to be a trance-like state. The behaviour was captured on camera by the makers of Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, a series produced for BBC One by the award-winning wildlife documentary producer John Downer. Rob Pilley, a zoologist who also worked as a producer on the series, told the Sunday Times: “This was a case of young dolphins purposely experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating. “After chewing the puffer gently and passing it round, they began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection. “It reminded us of that craze a few years ago when people started licking toads to get a buzz, especially the way they hung there in a daze afterwards. It was the most extraordinary thing to see.” (via Dolphins ‘deliberately get high’ on puffer fish nerve toxins by carefully chewing and passing them around - Nature - Environment - The Independent)
How Plants Secretly Talk to Each Other
Up in the northern Sierra Nevada, the ecologist Richard Karban is trying to learn an alien language. The sagebrush plants that dot these slopes speak to one another, using words no human knows. Karban, who teaches at the University of California, Davis, is listening in, and he’s beginning to understand what they say. The evidence for plant communication is only a few decades old, but in that short time it has leapfrogged from electrifying discovery to decisive debunking to resurrection. Two studies published in 1983 demonstrated that willow trees, poplars and sugar maples can warn each other about insect attacks: Intact, undamaged trees near ones that are infested with hungry bugs begin pumping out bug-repelling chemicals to ward off attack. They somehow know what their neighbors are experiencing, and react to it. The mind-bending implication was that brainless trees could send, receive and interpret messages. The first few “talking tree” papers quickly were shot down as statistically flawed or too artificial, irrelevant to the real-world war between plants and bugs. Research ground to a halt. But the science of plant communication is now staging a comeback. Rigorous, carefully controlled experiments are overcoming those early criticisms with repeated testing in labs, forests and fields. It’s now well established that when bugs chew leaves, plants respond by releasing volatile organic compounds into the air. By Karban’s last count, 40 out of 48 studies of plant communication confirm that other plants detect these airborne signals and ramp up their production of chemical weapons or other defense mechanisms in response. “The evidence that plants release volatiles when damaged by herbivores is as sure as something in science can be,” said Martin Heil, an ecologist at the Mexican research institute Cinvestav Irapuato. “The evidence that plants can somehow perceive these volatiles and respond with a defense response is also very good.” (via How Plants Secretly Talk to Each Other - Wired Science)
On December 9-11, the eilslabs at DKFZ and BioQuant, as part of the coordination of the Helmholtz Initiative on Synthetic Biology is hosting the International Symposium “Synthetic Biology - from understanding to application” and the accompanying arts exhibition “not invented by nature”. The symposium has received very good feedback with over 250 registered participants and an impressive line-up of international speakers. The conference will be accompanied by a public evening on synthetic biology entitled: “Constructed Life: Synthetic, useful,… good?” ). Panel members are Petra Schwille (MPI Martinsried), Wolf-Michael Catenhusen (German Ethics Council), Markus Schmidt (Biofaction, Vienna), Thorsten Moos (FEST Heidelberg) and Ursula Damm (Bauhaus University Weimar). Discussions are in German, simultaneous interpretation is available. The discussion taking place on Monday, December 9 at 18:30h in the BioQuant Center will followed by an additional highlight, the vernissage of the BioArts project “not invented by nature”. The artwork of this exhibition was created by international artists after a four week wet-lab residency at the DKFZ Heidelberg Life Science Lab. The BioArts Exhibition will be open for public until end of January 2014.
New waterproof surface is ‘driest ever’
US engineers have created the “most waterproof material ever” - inspired by nasturtium leaves and butterfly wings. The new “super-hydrophobic” surface could keep clothes dry and stop aircraft engines icing over, they say. The lotus leaf was thought to be the gold standard for staying dry in nature, but now a team from MIT in Boston say they have surpassed it. By adding tiny ridges to a silicon surface, they made water bounce off it 40% faster than the previous “limit”. Similar ridges are found in nature on the wings of the Morpho butterfly and the veins of nasturtium leaves. By applying these patterns to metals, fabrics and ceramics, the scientists hope to inspire a new generation of moisture-resistant products - from tents to wind turbines. (via BBC News - New waterproof surface is ‘driest ever’)