From the Community: adjustable shark scales, science games and dinosaur diversity

A builder rethinks standards by designing homes from reclaimed and recycled materials, international climate change awareness expressed through satellite-captured art, sharks turn at high speeds by adjusting their scales, researchers develop a computer game for citizen scientists and ancient rainforest fragmentation led to the rise of dinosaurs. Here is the latest in ecological science from November.

Creative recycling: In the above video, artist and builder Dan Phillips displays some of the houses he has designed from reclaimed and recycled materials. He describes his beliefs on the ways in which current practices of the housing industry and societal standards can lead to an excess of waste. “Now we have standardized materials,” he said regarding the effects of the Industrial Revolution on building construction. “Well, trees don’t grow two inches by four inches, eight, ten and twelve feet tall; [so] we create mountains of waste.” Read more at “Dan Phillips: Creative houses from reclaimed stuff.”

Spatial art: To raise awareness of the environmental and public health issues associated with global climate change, and corresponding with the ongoing United Nations climate change talks in Cancún, Mexico, participants of 350 Earth’s public art project displayed large scale installations at several locations worldwide. Many of the installations included hundreds of participants who timed their arrival to the rotation of orbiting satellites set to photograph the event. “Flash Flood,” for example, featured more than 1,000 New Mexico residents walking in the Sante Fe River bed with blue tarps and signs to represent water. Read more at “Climate change messages visible from space.”

Shark scales: Amy Lang from the University of Alabama and colleagues researched the biological mechanisms underlying the shortfin mako shark’s ability to make hairpin turns in the water. They found that adjustable, teeth-like scales on the shark, generally considered the one of the fastest shark species, are partly responsible. As Sindya Bhanoo wrote in a recent New York Times article, “The tiny scales are flexible to an angle of 60 degrees or more, and allow the shark to control water flow separation across its body.” Read more at “Flexible Scales Add to Speed of Shortfin Mako Shark.”

Gaming for science: There has been some talk recently on the potential opportunities that video games could offer to the scientific community. For example, lessons could be supplemented online or gaming entertainment could include real elements of physics, biology, math and other scientific disciplines. In a recent Wired Science article, for example, Lisa Grossman described a free online video game called Phylo that is designed to advance research on genetics by turning gamers into citizen scientists. Read more at “Computer Game Makes You a Genetic Scientist.”

Ancient fragments: According to a study published in Geology, the tropical rainforests around the equator fell apart, or fragmented, as global temperatures increased approximately 300 million years ago. This fragmentation, said Sarda Sahney from the University of Bristol and colleagues, led to individual ecosystems and distinct species of reptiles within those ecosystems. As Steve Mirsky described in Scientific American’s podcast 60-Second Science, “such geographical isolation allows different populations to evolve in different directions, which led to a great increase in reptile diversity.” In this case, it led to the rise of dinosaurs. Read more and listen at “Ancient Rainforest Collapse Increased Reptile Diversity.”

Also, plants blooming later on the Tibetan Plateau attributed to shorter growing seasons, cartoonist Neil Wagner explains the dwindling water supply in Las Vegas, an interview with an oceanographer set to explore the Amundsen Sea in the Antarctic, mating displays and decisions in African cichlids, invasive zebra and quagga mussels thought to cause massive bird deaths in Lake Michigan and the role of farmers in communicating climate change.

Author: Katie Kline

Moderator of EcoTone and ESA's communications officer.

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