From the Community: whispering bats, terror birds and x-rays of flowers

Western barbastelle bats in Europe learn to use quieter echolocation when hunting moths, ecologists analyze the importance of and methods for communicating science during times of environmental controversy, researchers map the skull of an extinct terror bird, unraveling this prehistoric carnivore’s hunting behaviors and a photographer produces x-ray images of flowers to showcase their inner beauty.

Monitoring Antarctica: In a recent TED video, Lee Hotz, science columnist for the Wall Street Journal, described one of the research sites devoted to monitoring global climate change (see above). He presented the site in Antarctica as “a hive of industrial activity centered around an $8 million drill. Periodically,” he continued, “this drill, like a biopsy needle, plunges thousands of feet deep into the ice to extract the marrow of gas and isotopes for analysis.” Read more at “Lee Hotz: Inside an Antarctic time machine.”

Whispering bats: According to Holger Goerlitz of the University of Bristol in a study published online in Current Biology, western barbastelle bats in Europe have evolved to use stealthier tactics of catching moths—that is, quieter echolocation—compared with other bat species. As Susan Milius of Science News explained, these findings show one of the benefits of bat research: “The battle between bats and moths has become a classic system for studying the evolution of predators and their prey.” Read more at “’Whispering’ gives bats the drop on prey.”

Communicating ecology: It is relatively well-known that science and public outreach complement one another; however, during times of environmental controversy, it is even more important for researchers to engage in science communication. At least that is the topic Matthew Nisbet from American University discussed in a Big Think article last week in which he also interviewed Peter Groffman, a microbiologist at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, on the challenges of bridging ecology and society. Both Nisbet and Groffman addressed these issues in this month’s special edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Read more at “Ecologist Says Scientists Need to Re-Evaluate Approach to Communication” or listen to an interview.

The life of a terror bird: Stephen Wroe from the University of New South Wales in Sydney investigated the predation technique of the extinct terror bird Andalgalornis using finite element analysis—a process that recreates the strength, flexibility and structure of animal skulls with medical scanners (see above). As Ed Yong outlined in Not Exactly Rocket Science, Wroe found that “if the bird tried to subdue a struggling victim, its beak would probably have snapped under the strain. So despite its size, Andalgalornis probably danced around its prey, advancing and retreating while dispatching it with quick, well-aimed strikes—more Muhammad Ali than George Foreman.” Read more at “Float like a butterfly, sting like a terror bird.”

Garbage patch mapping: “Scientists have gathered data from 22 years of surface net tows to map the North Atlantic garbage patch and its change over time, creating the most accurate picture yet of any pelagic plastic patch on earth,” wrote Jess McNally in a Wired Science article last week. That is, researchers gathered thousands of data on the location, size and distribution of the tiny, unseen bits of garbage known to be floating the Atlantic Ocean. And until “undergraduates aboard the Sea Education Association (SEA) sailing semester… hand-picked, counted and measured more than 64,000 pieces of plastic from 6,000 net tows between 1986 to 2008,” the extent of this patch had yet to be fully determined. Read more at “Massive North Atlantic Garbage Patch Mapped.”

Also, fruit flies gauge flight using visual edges, the ecological impact of Hurricane Katrina on the five year anniversary, a slow road home for captive spray toads, researchers concerned about manatees on the shipping channel in the Gulf, Argentina and Uruguay agree to monitor the health of a bordering river, photographer captures x-ray images of flowers, paper wasps bullyfakers, researcher explains the vision of mantis shrimp and radioactive boars roam forests of Chernobyl.

Author: Katie Kline

Moderator of EcoTone and ESA's communications officer.

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