Extreme weather, campaigning honeybees and tracking whale sharks

This post contributed by Molly Taylor, ESA Science Writing Intern. Extreme weather: The rare multi-vortex that hit Joplin, Missouri on May 22 has claimed more than 100 lives and destroyed countless homes and buildings. Unfortunately, this is not the only natural disaster to devastate the U.S. this year. According to a recent Washington Post article, this storm season is turning out to be one of the most violent on record. The extreme weather, Brian Vastag and Ed O’Keefe reported in the article, is due at least in part to La Nina: “The jet stream’s river of cool air high in the atmosphere pulls warmer, more humid air from the ground upward, forming thunderstorm ‘supercells.’ Such a pattern drove the outbreak of more than 300 tornadoes that swept from Mississippi to Tennessee in late April, killing at least 365…” But according to the Post, researchers have also been exploring the potential role of climate change in recent weather patterns. Read more at “Storm season on deadly path; Obama to visit Joplin.” Campaigning honeybees: In the spring, beehives can reach capacity, basically overflowing with honey and bee larva. This overcrowding can cause the hive to literally burst in two, leaving half of the population in need of a new home. The old queen leads one half of the homeless pack to establish a new colony at a separate location, while a new queen takes charge of the existing hive. But where do the homeless bees go? Despite the royal title, the queen is not ruling a monarchy—worker bees actually vote for their favorite location. “The older, more experienced bees…fly off looking for options,” wrote NPR’s Robert Krulwich, and upon their return, they “announce their ‘finds’ by dancing.” That is the point when the “waggle dancing” begins (and yes, that is the official term), whereby the scouting bees use dancing to signal their sister bees. This encourages the sister bees to have a peek at the potential new home, and if they like what they see, they start doing the same dance. “This is how bees ‘vote,’” wrote Krulwich. “They dance themselves into a consensus.” Read more at “Nature’s Secret: Why Honey Bees Are Better Politicians Than Humans.” Tracking whale sharks: “With the help of algorithms designed to guide the Hubble telescope’s starscape surveys, conservation-minded coders have designed software that helps biologists identify whale sharks by their spots,” wrote Brandon Keim in a recent Wired Science article. “The program enlists the help of citizens with cameras, and lets researchers track Earth’s biggest fish across time and oceans.” In the past, researchers have found whale sharks to be too elusive to track as...

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Seabird movement patterns tied to fishing boat schedules

A seagull follows a crab boat and awaits leftovers. Scientists have tracked large scale changes in bird movement patterns due to fishing operations. Scientists have tracked the movement patterns of seabirds off the coast of Spain and found they are directly tied to the schedule of fishing boats. Specifically, when the fishing boats are working during the week, the birds follow them and eat leftover fish. On the weekends, however, the birds revert to their traditional method of foraging: moving from area to area in search of fish. The result is a large scale impact on bird movement. Frederic Bartumeus, from Princeton University and Institut Català de Ciències del Clima in Spain, and colleagues analyzed the movement patterns of two species of shearwaters on foraging trips using satellite tracking data in a study recently published in Current Biology. On holidays and weekends, when trawlers are prohibited from fishing in the region, the seabirds spread out in search of food. As time passes, the birds distance themselves further and further from one another in an attempt to find more food sources. On fishing days, however, the birds begin their foraging by spreading out but eventually come together as time passes. It seems, then, that on work days, the birds have a rough idea of where the boats will be located and go there to find food. The scientists suggest that these supplemental food stocks have a large scale impact on bird movement as well as on breeding performance. That is, since the birds spend less time in search of food, they can increase the frequency of return trips to the colony. The researchers suggest future research be conducted regarding the effects of local human activities on the spreading properties of animals, such as disease transport. Says Bartumeus in a ScienceDaily article: We show that human activities in the natural environment can promote critical transitions in the spreading properties of foraging animals by locally changing the predictability and availability of their resources. Our study suggests an elementary but often disregarded connection between human local resource exploitation and global movement patterns of organisms. Read more in The New York Times. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecstaticist/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Bartumeus, F., Giuggioli, L., Louzao, M., Bretagnolle, V., Oro, D., & Levin, S. (2010). Fishery Discards Impact on Seabird Movement Patterns at Regional Scales Current Biology, 20 (3), 215-222 DOI:...

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