Wolves in Europe from New Scientist: Science Thursday

This must be Science Thursday as I found a number of articles of interest to me, anyway. And perhaps to readers of this blog. First is an article on wolves, with an excellent photo you can find here.

GOODNESS, what big teeth you have, and what close ties to humans you have! And what negative attitudes you elicit from rural people all over the world!

Behind their cultural baggage, grey wolves are an evolutionary success story, giving rise to the domestic dog 10,000 years ago and, more recently, rebounding from centuries of persecution.

“There are wild wolves galore in Europe,” says Claudio Sillero, a conservation biologist at the University of Oxford. “They have recolonised vast areas of their former range and live almost unnoticed in populated areas.”

A wolf was recently spotted in the Netherlands, after an absence of over a century. There are ongoing calls from ecologists for them to be reintroduced to Scotland, where they’ve been extinct since the 1700s. In the US, arguments rage over whether their numbers are high enough to sustain hunting.

These wolves were photographed playing in the Black Mountain Wildlife Park, south of Hamburg in Germany, which has more than a thousand animals in an area of 50 hectares.

“While we think of wolves as masters of the wilderness in Europe, they thrive in human-dominated landscapes,” says Sillero. “Over 3000 wolves live in heavily populated areas of northern Spain and Portugal, and wolves from Italy have steadily colonised southern France.”

French farmers may not share Sillero’s enthusiasm, but with less persecution than in the past, wolf numbers are growing. For those of us in Europe, the howl of a wolf could one day become as familiar as the cries of foxes.

Then New Scientist also has an article on the hologenome which is interesting for us human beings as well as other forms of life. It talks about microorganisms being part of us and influencing our evolution.

There was another article about the “gut brain” here.

IT’S been a tough morning. You were late for work, missed a crucial meeting and now your boss is mad at you. Come lunchtime you walk straight past the salad bar and head for the stodge. You can’t help yourself – at times of stress the brain encourages us to seek out comfort foods. That much is well known. What you probably don’t know, though, is that the real culprit may not be the brain in your skull but your other brain.

Yes, that’s right, your other brain. Your body contains a separate nervous system that is so complex it has been dubbed the second brain. It comprises an estimated 500 million neurons – about five times as many as in the brain of a rat – and is around 9 metres long, stretching from your oesophagus to your anus. It is this brain that could be responsible for your craving under stress for crisps, chocolate and cookies.

Embedded in the wall of the gut, the enteric nervous system (ENS) has long been known to control digestion. Now it seems it also plays an important role in our physical and mental well-being. It can work both independently of and in conjunction with the brain in your head and, although you are not conscious of your gut “thinking”, the ENS helps you sense environmental threats, and then influences your response. “A lot of the information that the gut sends to the brain affects well-being, and doesn’t even come to consciousness,” says Michael Gershon at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York.

Assuming that these are observation are both true of wildlife and other species, it just gives us a hint about the many things about them that we do not understand.

And for those who like to apply science to decisionmaking, here’s an article about using “scientifically proven methods” to decrease alcohol consumption.

2 thoughts on “Wolves in Europe from New Scientist: Science Thursday”

  1. This information regarding wolves in Europe living alongside civilization is very interesting. Other stories about the relationship of brown bears (grizzly here) there seems to indicate that these top predators may have evolved a different relationship with humans over a much longer period of human interactions with them.
    We rarely hear of bear attacks on Europeans, in spite of there being significant areas of high brown bear populations in central Europe. Less aggresssive? Or is it something the Europeans do (or don’t do) that makes the relationship less stressful to both? We still have a lot to learn about these wonderful animals.

    • My co-blog originator Martin Nie wrote a book about the different ways people in different parts of this country deal with and learn to deal with wolves.

      Here’s a link. REALLY good book in my opinion. I took the R-1 Carnivore Class, which was excellent, but focused on biology, as it should be. I thought Martin’s book was essential for any understanding of the people/wolf interaction question.

      Maybe someone’s already studying the comparison.. or we can add it to the list of the People’s Research Agenda.


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