From the Community: the wisdom of birds, felines and spores

Tim Birkhead explains what song bird research can contribute to human health, Surprising Science describes the evolution of a feline’s roar (or meow), a Geophysical Research Letters study assesses the world’s dwindling groundwater supply, Nature News interviews Gabriela Chavarria—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s top science adviser—and Chris Palmer’s book reveals faking in nature videos. Here are stories in ecology from the last week in September.

Wisdom of birds: In the above video from “The Do Lectures,” Tim Birkhead of the University of Sheffield—and author of The Wisdom of Birdsrecounts the evolution of ornithology and bird song, and how  bird behavior can inform  our understanding of human behavior and health. Commenting on the government’s current attention to “frivolous spending” in basic research, Birkhead said, “…in fact, bird song is one of the most powerful examples of why you should fund ‘frivolous research’; because the study of bird song holds the promise of a cure for Alzheimer’s [disease].” Read more at “Tim Birkhead: Author of The Wisdom of Birds.”

Family of felines: A recent study published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society reported that size may not be the most important factor contributing to the evolution of feline acoustic signaling, such as roaring or meowing.  As Sarah Zielinksi explained in Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog, researchers from the Zoological Research Museum in Bonn, Germany “found that cats that lived in open habitats like the African plains tended to communicate with deep-sounding calls. Kitties that lived in forested habitats, such as clouded leopards, produced high-pitched calls.” The results are contrary to previous research on animal acoustic signals; that is, high-frequency sounds tend to be disrupted by vegetation whereas low-frequency sounds can be disrupted by air turbulence in open spaces. Read more at “Why Some Kitties Meow and Others Roar.”

Savvy spore dispersal: Researchers from Harvard, Cornell and the University of California, Berkeley compared the launch speed and trajectory of spores of the omnivorous fungus of Sclerotinia sclerotiorum in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They found that multiple spores dispersed farther than a single spore, and together, the spores could twirl around objects, such as leaves, to optimize  their landing site (see above video). “Spores sprung singly were quickly brought down by drag, traveling a mere 0.1 inches before decelerating to zero. But when the fungus ejected waves of spores in quick succession, it created currents that carried spores farther at a slow but steady pace of just over 1 mile per hour,” wrote Rachel Ehrenberg of Science News. Read more at “Being Single Is a Drag for Exploding Spores.”

Groundwater depletion: According to a comprehensive study on the world’s groundwater supply, published in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters, groundwater depletion rose in 2000 to 75 trillion gallons per year. The researchers claimed that the steep rise in water depletion could be due in part to escalating groundwater use in China and India. Sandra Postel wrote on National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog: “Marc Bierkens of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and his colleagues estimate that the rate at which humanity is pumping dry the underground reservoirs that hundreds of millions of people depend upon for food and drinking water more than doubled between 1960 and 2000.” Read more at “Groundwater Depletion Raises Likelihood of Global Food Crises.”

Communicating climate science: Chris Mooney—science and policy journalist—recently asked at a Media and Climate Change briefing in Washington, D.C. how scientists and journalists can communicate climate science without appearing to be advocates (in the case of scientists) or becoming too specialized (a concern among journalists). As a follow up to a number of recent events he has been attending on the topic, and, as he said on his blog The Intersection: “Because I’ve done much preparing for these events, but have hardly gotten to say everything I wanted to say, I plan on blogging some of my further thoughts over the coming week or more.”  In the above video from Climate Science Watch, Mooney briefly recommends turning to specialized mediators for bridging the scientist-journalist gap and outlines some of the other points he will likely address on his blog. Read more at “Communicating About Climate Science, Part I.”

For additional information on communicating science, see the recent article by Maywa Montenegro of Seed Magazine describing an initiative to train “young researchers with the skills and drive to reach out, communicate their science and lead society towards evidence-based solutions.”

Also, an interview with Gabriela Chavarria who was recently named top science adviser for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, deforestation contributing to Kilimanjaro’s diminishing ice, endangered yams, faking nature videos, another antibiotic resistant bacterium Klebsiella pneumonia, the autumn weather bringing in the stink bugs, examining geothermal power and mercury and energy-efficient light bulbs.

Author: Katie Kline

Moderator of EcoTone and ESA's communications officer.

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