Building a virtual ark for lemurs. Duke Today, April 11, 2017. X-ray scanning immortalizes endangered primates in the digital afterlife, in 3-D.
Mating mix-up with wrong fly lowers libido for Mr. Right. Duke Today, March 16, 2017. If you’ve ever suffered a nightmare date and were hesitant to try again, fruit flies can relate. Female flies that have been coerced into sex by invasive males of the wrong species are less likely to reproduce with their own kind later. Invasive species are known to threaten native biodiversity by bringing in diseases, preying on resident species or outcompeting them for food. But these results show invasives pose a risk through unwelcome advances, too. Picked up by The Discovery Files, a podcast from the National Science Foundation.
Lemur poop could pinpoint poaching hotspots. Duke Research Blog, Sept. 22, 2016. DNA detective works aims to map the illegal pet lemur trade in Madagascar.
Of butterfly wings and caterpillar brains. Duke Today, August 8, 2016. To most people, the spectacular diversity of butterfly wing patterns is a chaotic riot of color, dots and squiggles. But to biologist Fred Nijhout, they’re variations on the same basic theme
Breakneck bite. 1,100 words, Aug. 1, 2016. The jaws of trap-jaw ants can generate forces hundreds of times their body weight and snap shut at speeds reaching 145 miles per hour — over 2,000 times faster than the blink of an eye. Duke biologists are using 3-D X-ray imaging to peer inside the insects’ heads and study the internal structures that power their impressive mandibles.
Hijacked cell division helped fuel rise of fungi. Duke Today, May 10, 2016. The more than 90,000 known species of fungi may owe their abilities to spread and even cause disease to an ancient virus that hijacked their cell division machinery, researchers report. Over a billion years ago, a viral protein invaded the fungal genome, generating a family of proteins that now play key roles in fungal growth. The research could point to new antifungals that inhibit cell division in fungi but not in their plant or animal hosts.
Fossil expert and primate conservationist Elwyn Simons dies at 85. Duke Today, March 9, 2016. Duke scientist-explorer Elwyn Simons, who studied living and extinct primates for more than 50 years, died in his sleep on Sunday, March 6, in Peoria, Arizona. He was 85. Widely regarded as the founder of modern primate paleontology, Simons was an expert on the history of primates leading up to humans. Simons’ fossil-hunting expeditions and primate conservation work took him all over the globe, from the badlands of Wyoming to the Egyptian desert and the rainforests of Madagascar. From 1961 to 2012, he led more than 90 field expeditions and wrote or coauthored more than 300 books and research articles. Picked up by The New York Times.
Free site lets you download and 3-D print your own fossils. Duke Today, Feb. 17, 2016. Duke assistant professor Doug Boyer’s office is more than 8,000 miles away from the vault at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the fossil remains of a newly discovered human ancestor, Homo naledi, rest under lock and key. But with a few clicks of his computer’s mouse, he can have models of any one of hundreds of Homo naledi bone fragments delivered to his desk in a matter of minutes, thanks to a free online database of digital fossil scans that anyone can download and print in 3-D. Picked up by Discovery, the Raleigh News & Observer, Science News, CBS news and CBS North Carolina.
New way to detect human-animal diseases tested in lemurs. Duke Today, Jan. 27, 2016. RNA sequencing is uncovering emerging diseases in wildlife that other diagnostic tests cannot detect. Researchers used a technique called transcriptome sequencing to screen for blood-borne diseases in Madagascar’s lemurs, distant primate cousins to humans. The animals were found to be carrying several previously unknown parasites similar to those that cause Lyme disease in humans. The approach could pave the way for earlier, more accurate detection of disease outbreaks that move between animals and people.
Humans evolved to get better sleep in less time. Duke Today, Dec. 14, 2015. Insomniacs take heart: Humans get by on significantly less sleep than our closest animal relatives. The secret, according to a new study of slumber patterns across 21 species of primates, is that our sleep is more efficient. Picked up by The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, the Daily Mail, BBC, Huffington Post, WPTV, News & Observer, Futurity, U.S. News & World Report and Voice of America.
‘Tree of life’ for 2.3 million species released. Duke Today, September 18, 2015. A first draft of the tree of life for all 2.3 million named species of animals, plants, fungi and microbes has been released. Thousands of smaller trees have been published over the years for select branches, but this is the first time those results have been combined into a single tree. The end result is a digital resource that is available online for anyone to use or edit, much like a “Wikipedia” for evolutionary relationships. Picked up by the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, Newsweek, CBS, NBC, Huffington Post, Scientific American, The Scientist, BBC World Service, EarthSky, Discovery News, SciWorks Radio and Science.
Plant light sensors came from ancient algae. Duke Today, July 28, 2015. The light-sensing molecules that tell plants whether to germinate, when to flower and which direction to grow were inherited millions of years ago from ancient algae, finds a new study. The findings are some of the strongest evidence yet against the prevailing idea that the ancestors of early plants got the red light sensors that helped them move from water to land by engulfing bacteria, the researchers say.
Island rodents take on nightmarish proportions. Duke Today, June 22, 2015. Duke University researchers have analyzed size data for rodents worldwide to distinguish the truly massive mice and giant gerbils from the regular-sized rodents. They found that the furry animals with chisel-like teeth are 17 times more likely to evolve to nightmarish proportions on islands than elsewhere. The results are in keeping with an idea called the “island rule,” which previous studies claimed didn’t apply to rodents. Picked up by the Daily Mail, the Charlotte Observer, BBC, and National Public Radio’s WUNC.
How eastern U.S. forests came to be. Duke Today, May 20, 2015. Spring visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains or the Blue Ridge Parkway will see ridges and valleys covered in flowering mountain laurels, rhododendrons, tulip poplars, dogwoods, black locusts and silverbell trees. A new study of nearly all the trees and shrubs in the southern Appalachians suggests that roughly half of the species can trace their relatives to thousands of miles away in Asia. Most of the rest likely arose within North America, the researchers say. Picked up by Yale Environment 360 and the Courier-Tribune.
Models predict where lemurs will go as climate warms. Duke Today, Feb. 18, 2015. Climate change is likely to leave a lot of lemurs looking for new places to live on their island home of Madagascar. A Duke study predicts where lemurs are likely to seek refuge as temperatures rise between now and 2080. The researchers identified three areas on the island that will be particularly important for lemurs in the future, as well as key corridors that will allow lemurs to reach these areas from their current spots. Picked up by Scientific American, Science Magazine, Science News and BBC.
DNA sheds light on why largest lemurs disappeared. Duke Today, December 16, 2014. DNA from giant lemurs that lived thousands of years ago in Madagascar may help explain why the animals went extinct, and what makes some lemurs more at risk today. Scientists have little doubt that humans played a role in the giant lemurs’ demise. By comparing the species that died out to those that survived, scientists hope to better predict which lemurs are most in need of protection in the future. Picked up by The Herald-Sun.
No single explanation for biodiversity in Madagascar. Duke Today, October 10, 2014. No single “one-size-fits-all” model can explain how biodiversity hotspots come to be, finds a study of more than 700 species of reptiles and amphibians in Madagascar.By analyzing the distribution of Madagascar’s lizards, snakes, frogs and tortoises, researchers find that each group responded differently to environmental fluctuations on the island over time. The results are important because they suggest that climate change and deforestation in Madagascar will have varying effects on different species.
In the woods, stalking destroying angels. Duke Research blog, September 19, 2014. Students head into the forest for Mushroom Hunting 101.
Nearly 50 years of lemur data now available online. Duke Lemur Center, July 24, 2014. A 48-year archive of life history data for the world’s largest and most diverse collection of endangered primates is now digital and available online. The Duke Lemur Center database allows visitors to view and download data for more than 3600 animals representing 27 species of lemurs, lorises and galagos — distant primate cousins who predate monkeys and apes — with more data to be uploaded in the future. Picked up by io9 and BBC News.
DNA says lemur lookalikes are two new species. Duke University Lemur Center. March 26, 2013. Scientists have identified two new species of mouse lemur, the saucer-eyed, teacup-sized primates native to the African island of Madagascar. The new study brings the number of recognized mouse lemur species to 20, making them the most diverse group of lemurs known. Picked up by Science Magazine, Scientific American, Futurity, the Duke Chronicle and NBC News.
Uncovering Africa’s oldest known penguins. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. March 26, 2013. Africa isn’t the kind of place you might expect to find penguins. But one species lives along Africa’s southern coast today, and newly found fossils confirm that as many as four penguin species coexisted on the continent in the past. Exactly why African penguin diversity plummeted to the one species that lives there today is still a mystery, but changing sea levels may be to blame. The fossil findings represent the oldest evidence of these iconic tuxedo-clad seabirds in Africa, predating previously described fossils by 5 to 7 million years. Picked up by Discovery, NBC news, Huffington Post, the UK Daily Mail and Scientific American.
You don’t have to be an athlete to get athlete’s foot (YourWildLife.org, Howard Hughes Medical Institute) From: “Invisible Life,” a series of short pieces about the most common microbes in our homes and on our bodies.
Parasites of Madagascar’s lemurs expanding with climate change. Duke Lemur Center, January 23, 2013. Rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns in Madagascar could fuel the spread of lemur parasites and the diseases they carry. The results will help researchers predict where disease hotspots are likely to occur, and prepare for them before they hit. Picked up by Duke News, Futurity, and RedOrbit.
New study examines how ocean energy impacts life in the deep sea. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, September 5, 2012. A new study of deep-sea species across the globe aims to understand how natural gradients in food and temperature in the dark, frigid waters of the deep sea affect the snails, clams, and other creatures that live there. Similar studies have been conducted for animals in the shallow oceans, but our understanding of the impact of food and temperature on life in the deep sea — the Earth’s largest and most remote ecosystem — has been more limited. The results will help scientists understand what to expect in the deep sea under future climate change, the researchers say
Researchers aim to assemble the tree of life for all two million named species. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, May 21, 2012. A new initiative aims to build a tree of life that brings together everything scientists know about how living things are related, from the tiniest bacteria to the tallest tree. Picked up by The New York Times.