Earth

Hairs, feathers and scales have a lot in common!

Hairs, feathers and scales have a lot in common!

The potential evolutionary link between hairs in mammals, feathers in birds and scales in reptiles has been debated for decades. Today, researchers of the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Switzerland, demonstrate that all these skin appendages are homologous: they share a common ancestry. On the basis of new analyses of embryonic development, the Swiss biologists evidenced molecular and micro-anatomical signatures that are identical between hairs, feathers and scales at their early developmental stages.

Female blue tits sing in the face of danger

Female blue tits sing in the face of danger

Until now, the singing behaviour of songbirds had been mainly associated with competitive behaviour and the search for a partner. Moreover, males had long been considered to be the more active singer. Females were compared to the behaviour of the males and were seen as relatively "lazy" with regard to singing.

These assumptions had also been applied to one of the most prominent local songbirds, namely, the blue tit. But female blue tits, like males, also display a variety of vocal patterns. This suggests that vocalization is not limited exclusively to courtship or competition.

Beach replenishment helps protect against storm erosion during El Niño

Beach replenishment helps protect against storm erosion during El Niño

A team of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego compared sand levels on several San Diego beaches during the last seven winters. The El Niños of winter 2009-10 and 2015-16 were the two most erosive. Three San Diego County beaches that received imported sand in 2012 were about 10 meters (33 feet) wider, and one to two meters (three to six feet) higher in 2015-16 than in 2009-10, with the coarseness of the sand apparently aiding the effectiveness of the effort.

Ocean forecast offers seasonal outlook for Pacific Northwest waters

Ocean forecast offers seasonal outlook for Pacific Northwest waters

By now we are used to the idea of seasonal weather forecasts - whether to expect an El Niño ski season, or an unusually warm summer. These same types of climate models are now being adapted to make seasonal forecasts for the region's coastal waters.

Eating air, making fuel

Eating air, making fuel

All life on the planet relies, in one way or another, on a process called carbon fixation: the ability of plants, algae and certain bacteria to "pump" carbon dioxide (CO2) from the environment, add solar or other energy and turn it into the sugars that are the required starting point needed for life processes. At the top of the food chain are different organisms (some of which think, mistakenly, that they are "more advanced") that use the opposite means of survival: they eat sugars (made by photosynthetic plants and microorganisms) and then release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Amber fossils reveal ancient insect camouflage behavior

Insects have evolved diverse types of camouflage that have played an important role in their evolutionary success. Debris-carrying, a behavior of actively harvesting and carrying exogenous materials, is among the most fascinating and complex behaviors because it requires not only an ability to recognize, collect, and carry materials, but also evolutionary adaptations in related morphological characteristics.

Tiny algae ideal for sniffing out nutrient pollution in water

The key to effectively measuring damagingly high levels of nutrients in freshwater streams lies in the microscopic organisms living in them, according to a group of Drexel University scientists.

A team largely made up of researchers from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University analyzed data from 1,400 freshwater Mid-Atlantic streams to see whether a group of tiny algae, called diatoms, might be efficient indicators of overly high nutrient levels -- termed eutrophication.

Scientists identify ways to prevent heat-related deaths from climate change

By the 2080s, as many as 3,331 people could die every year from exposure to heat during the summer months in New York City. The high estimate by Columbia University scientists is based on a new model--the first to account for variability in future population size, greenhouse gas trajectories, and the extent to which residents adapt to heat through interventions like air conditioning and public cooling centers. Results appear online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Maximizing biomedical research through integrated science

In this Policy Forum, Phillip Sharp, Tyler Jacks and Susan Hockfield discuss the need for better integration of engineering, physical, computational, and mathematical sciences with biomedical science, as they publish a report this week outlining key recommendations in this space. Convergence of physics and engineering in the 20th century led to a wealth of advancements - radios, telephones, cars, planes, computers, the internet - and, if the correct investments and commitments are in place, the biomedical field is poised for similar advancements, these authors say.

Better information needed to understand extreme weather

Scientists need more credible and relevant information to help communities become more resilient to extreme weather events such as floods, a University of Exeter expert has said.

Researchers need improved techniques to be able to understand why the climate is changing, and the part humans play in this process, according to Professor Peter Stott, who also leads the Climate Monitoring and Attribution team at the Met Office.