Bird fossil sheds light on how swift and hummingbird flight came to be. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. May 1, 2013. A tiny bird fossil discovered in Wyoming offers clues to the precursors of swift and hummingbird wings. The fossil is unusual in having exceptionally well-preserved feathers, which allowed the researchers to reconstruct the size and shape of the bird’s wings in ways not possible with bones alone. Picked up by Science Magazine, Science News and Discover.
Study proposes alternative way to explain life’s complexity. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. April 12, 2013. Evolution skeptics argue that some biological structures, like the brain or the eye, are simply too complex for natural selection to explain. Biologists have proposed various ways that so-called ‘irreducibly complex’ structures could emerge incrementally over time, bit by bit. But a new study proposes an alternative route.
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.
The safer sex? For a little-known primate, a new understanding of why females outlive males. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. February 28, 2013. After observing an endangered lemur for more than two decades in the wild in Madagascar, Patricia Wright of Stony Brook University had a hunch that females were living longer than males. What could explain the gender gap? By taking a closer look at dispersal behavior across the lifespan, researchers think they have a clue. Picked up by Futurity.
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.
Make the most of Carolinas’ planetarium shows. Raleigh News and Observer, January 14, 2013. It may be the coldest and darkest time of year, but you don’t have to brave the elements to enjoy the winter night sky. Thanks to planetarium shows now playing across the Carolinas, you can take a virtual tour of the heavens and more — no matter what the weather — all from the cushioned comfort of your seat.
‘Hoot-dash display’ brings the chicks in. Duke Research Blog, December 14, 2012. Deep in the scrublands of Keoladeo National Park in northwest India, one thing was hard for biologist Jessica Yorzinski to ignore: It wasn’t the heat. It wasn’t the jackals. It was the squawks of peacocks in the throes of passion. Picked up by RedOrbit.
Ethiopians and Tibetans thrive in thin air using similar physiology, but different genes. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, December 6, 2012. Scientists have pinpointed genetic changes that allow some Ethiopians to live more than a mile and a half above sea level without getting altitude sickness. The genes differ from those reported previously for high-altitude Tibetans, even though both groups cope with low-oxygen in similar physiological ways, the researchers say. The study adds to our understanding of how high-altitude populations worldwide have evolved to be different from their low-altitude ancestors. Picked up by Futurity.
Model sheds light on the chemistry that sparked the origin of life. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, November 26, 2012. The question of how life began on a molecular level has been a longstanding problem in science. However, recent mathematical research sheds light on a possible mechanism by which life may have gotten a foothold in the chemical soup that existed on the early Earth.
Pinpointing extinction risks for ocean animals. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, October 23, 2012. What makes some ocean animals more prone to extinction? An analysis of roughly 500 million years of fossil data for marine invertebrates reveals that ocean animals with small geographic ranges have been consistently hard hit — even when populations are large, the authors report. Picked up by LiveScience.
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
Birds that live with varying weather sing more versatile songs. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, August 3, 2012. A new study of North American songbirds reveals that birds that live with fluctuating weather are more flexible singers. Mixing it up helps birds ensure that their songs are heard no matter what the habitat, the researchers say. Picked up by the UK Daily Mail.
Extinction risk factors for New Zealand birds today differ from those of the past. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, August 2, 2012. What makes some species more prone to extinction? A new study of nearly 300 species of New Zealand birds — from pre-human times to the present — reveals that the keys to survival today differ from those of the past. The results are important for the growing number of studies that try to predict which species could be lost in the future based on what kinds of species are considered most threatened today, the researchers say.
Your big date with Venus. Raleigh News and Observer, May 28, 2012. It’s a sight you’ll never see again. On Tuesday June 5, those with equipment for safely looking at the sun will see a small black dot slowly inching across its face. That dot is the planet Venus, passing between Earth and the sun in a rare celestial event that won’t happen again until December 2117.
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.
Why not marry your cousin? Millions do. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, April 25, 2012.The health risks of marrying a cousin have been grossly overstated, says a new book that examines common misconceptions about cousin marriage. A better understanding of the health effects of cousin marriage could mean more appropriate marriage laws and better medical care for cousin couples and their children, says author and NESCent visitor Alan Bittles. Picked up by West Australia Today and The West Australian.
New study traces the evolutionary history of what mammals eat. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, April 16, 2012. The feeding habits of mammals haven’t always been what they are today, particularly for omnivores, finds a new study. Some groups of mammals almost exclusively eat meat — take lions and tigers and other big cats. Other mammals such as deer, cows and antelope are predominantly plant-eaters, living on a diet of leaves, shoots and bark. But particularly for omnivores, the situation wasn’t always that way, researchers report. Picked up by NSF and NPR.
Genes from undersea creature may help crops prosper. Raleigh News and Observer, April 16, 2012. The bottles of amber liquid perched on the bench in Dr. Amy Grunden’s research lab at N.C. State University don’t look like much. But floating within are billions of sea-dwelling microbes – too small to see with the naked eye – that researchers hope will one day help plants survive in space, or produce hardier crops and better biofuels in stressful environments here on Earth.
Why do some island animals become dwarfs and others become giants? National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, March 23, 2012. A new study of huge hamsters and pint-sized porcupines puts an old idea to the test. Also featured in Futurity.
Not just for the birds: Man-made noise has ripple effects on plants, too. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, March 21, 2012. A growing body of research shows that birds and other animals change their behavior in response to man-made noise, such as the din of traffic or the hum of machinery. But human clamor doesn’t just affect animals. Because many animals also pollinate plants or eat or disperse their seeds, human noise can have ripple effects on plants too, finds a new study. Picked up by Scientific American, the Christian Science Monitor, MSNBC, National Public Radio, Audubon Magazine, the Miami Herald, BBC News, Science News, Discovery News, the New York Times and TIME Magazine.
Ice Age coyotes were supersized compared to coyotes today, fossil study reveals. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, February 27, 2012. Coyotes today are pint-sized compared to their Ice Age counterparts, finds a new fossil study. Between 11,500 and 10,000 years ago — a mere blink of an eye in geologic terms — coyotes shrunk to their present size. The sudden shrinkage was most likely a response to dwindling food supply and changing interactions with competitors, rather than warming climate, researchers say. Picked up by the Huffington Post, Wired, MSNBC, and Science Magazine.
How did human brains get to be so big? Scientific American Guest Blog, February 21, 2012. New research points to an ancient energy tradeoff that meant more fuel for brains, and less fuel for muscles.