Friday Science Snippets and Bighorn Update

From article in New Scientist

I was cleaning out my office (people who have worked with me will know what a monumental task this is) and ran across many New Scientists from the past five years or so, and other snippets of interest from Bighorn Expert Melanie Woolever to Pliny the Elder.

Bighorn Followup

Also one followup on our earlier question of “why are bighorns in the Tetons so sensitive to human presence when ones around Mt. Evans are not?” Sadly, I can’t seem to find the notebook with my notes from my interview with the lovely and talented bighorn expert Melanie Woolever. This is what I recall from memory, so might have lost something, but she said that formerly, the Teton bighorns had a migration pathway and spent the winter somewhere else. But this has been cut off. So they have to make it through the winter on the rocky, windswept ridges in the Tetons. Which barely has enough food for their survival, so they are on the edge. And people recreating can push them off the edge by disturbing them when they are trying to eke out a living. If anyone has any further clarifications/corrections on this, please chime in.

And I also learned from Melanie that moose are not indigenous to Colorado, so it wasn’t reintroduction so much as introduction. And they seem to be doing very well here. Some wildlife folks did not think that introduction was a good idea.

Grazers and Fire: Megaherbivore Edition

This differing effect, however, does appear to vindicate our early ancestors of being totally responsible for the higher level of fires. While they are still likely to have hunted the megaherbivores and started fires, the effect would be the same for all environments if humans were the main cause.

The researchers hope that their research will help mitigate modern climate change by ensuring more is done to support grazing animals, which can reduce the risk of serious fires.

Co-author Professor Carla Staver says, ‘This work really highlights how important grazers may be for shaping fire activity. We need to pay close attention to these interactions if we want to accurately predict the future of fires.’

Trees cool the land surface temperature (not air) by up to 12 degrees C in Europe. Study here.

Farmer adaptation: although hops are not woody, they can grow to 10 meters tall, and are of cultural interest. Did you know (1) that hops are in the Cannabinaceae family? ithat the scientific name Humulus lupulus.. comes from the Latin lupus (wolf) “because as Pliny described in his Naturalis Historia, “when the plant is produced among osiers, it strangles them by its light, climbing
embraces, as the wolf does a sheep”. See this interesting pdf

Anyway, back to climate change.. I don’t know if there’s a paywall for this New Scientist article.

Hop growers may have no choice but to up sticks. “Michigan now has a small hop-growing area. The whole northern hemisphere industry is likely to go north” to Alaska and Canada, according to Nielsen – and also to extend its range in Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere.

This wouldn’t be unprecedented. While the European heartlands may have been pretty much unchanged for hundreds of years, “the US hop industry has a history of moving to get away from disease and pathogens”, says Nielsen. “One hundred years ago, it was in upstate New York; 70 years ago, it was in California; 30 to 60 years ago, it moved to the Pacific Northwest. There is no guarantee it will stay there,” he says.

That was mainly to escape mildew, a fungus that, once established in a hop-growing area, is nigh-on impossible to get rid of. Will climate change prove to be a more implacable foe? We can only hop for the best.

Tropical forest recovery.
Study here and . article in New Scientist

The team found that after 20 years, the average secondary forest that had grown from farmland that was used with low to medium intensity had recovered 78 per cent of old-growth forest attributes. “It goes way faster than we thought,” says Poorter.

But the researchers found significant variation between the recovery time for the different forest attributes. Soils were the quickest to bounce back, with most recovery happening within 10 years. It took between 25 to 60 years for plant species diversity to recover, and they projected it would take over a century for the forest biomass to mostly recover.

Despite the enormous amount of deforestation that has and continues to occur, there is hope that these forests can bounce back naturally, says Poorter. Secondary forests currently make up over 28 per cent of tropical forests in central and south America, and are important for locking up carbon which is crucial to tackle climate change. In addition, they attract mammals, birds and insects back to the area, which is important for ecosystem restoration. They can also be vital for the livelihoods of people who live close by.

Health news of a less than encouraging nature.
.. more than half of cancer biology lab findings cannot be replicated. Here’s the link to the New Scientist article and the link to the original paper.

“Just trying to understand what was done and reported in the papers in order to do it again was really hard. We couldn’t get access to the information,” he says.

In total, the 50 experiments included 112 potentially replicable binary “success or failure” outcomes. However, as detailed in the second study published today, Errington and his colleagues could replicate the effects of only 51 of these – or 46 per cent.

The experiments were all in-vitro or animal-based preclinical cancer biology studies, and didn’t include genomic or proteomic experiments. They were from papers published between 2010 and 2012 and were selected because they were all “high-impact” studies that had been read and heavily cited by other researchers.

The results are “a bit eye-opening”, says Errington.

The investigation’s findings do, however, align with those of earlier reports published by the big pharmaceutical companies Bayer and Amgen. C. Glenn Begley, who recently co-founded US biotech Parthenon Therapeutics, was a senior cancer biologist at Amgen and an author of its report, which was published in 2012.

“We looked back at the papers that we had relied upon at Amgen and found that we could only reproduce 11 per cent of the studies,” says Begley.

It’s interesting to me that replicating studies does not seem to be an aspect of our usual scientific fields. The only example I can think of is many years ago with FIA, there were industry folks in the South going over the data with a fine tooth comb. I wonder whether there are other examples out there?

Thought we could avoid mining for low-carbon technologies on the land?
Not so fast.. Race to start commercial deep-sea mining puts ecosystems at risk

Helen Scales, a marine biologist and author, says two years isn’t long enough to draw up a robust code. She wants to see a moratorium on deep-sea mining. “Nobody knows with any kind of certainty how we could go ahead extracting and exploiting these deposits in the deep sea without environmental harm,” she says. “All of the science we have so far is pointing towards significant long-term and largely irreversible damage.” The damage could stem directly from machines extracting nodules and from plumes of sediment generated by mining. Hundreds of marine researchers expressed their concerns in a statement earlier this year.

This is not a science snippet per se but an interesting book review about a book called The Ethnobotany of Eden: Rethinking the Jungle Medicine Narrative. Here’s a link to a review. It’s interesting to think about the similarities and differences between South American forests and their inhabitants, and North American forests and their inhabitants, history, culture and so on.

Simultaneously, explorers, traders, and missionaries were exposed to tropical diseases, but also to botanical cures employed by locals. This is the kernel of truth at the heart of this narrative. One of the success stories was the discovery of cinchona or fever-wood, a plant that contains the alkaloid compound quinine that effectively combats malaria. Voeks here highlights several more flaws in our narrative. Ironically, most medicinal plants are not associated with pristine rainforest. Careful ethnobotanical study has shown that most of them are found in disturbed habitats such as home gardens, trails, swiddens (areas cleared for cultivation by slashing and burning vegetation), or secondary-growth forest, and often derive from weeds and domesticated food plants. Furthermore, the cliché of the mystical (male) shaman completely overlooks the role of women, whose knowledge often overlaps, complements, or outshines that of men.

And a somewhat cheery story about the Immaculate Heart Sisters in Mexico breeding an endangered axolotl.

2 thoughts on “Friday Science Snippets and Bighorn Update”

  1. Bighorn sheep: a “healthy” population uses up to 6 or more seasonal ranges, connected by local migration corridors, throughout the year. The best of these areas have 3 important characteritics: proximity to steep, often broken, terrain (escape terrain); openness allowing visual detection of predators and visual communication among bighorn; and abundant, continuously distributed forage to support a fairly large social group with little inter-animal competition. (That’s why bighorns are habitat-specialists not served by the “course-filter habitat” management approach. Very many of our herds (most?) have lost habitat and, therefore have become smaller herds using less range, resulting in an inbreeding problem. It’s a vicious downward cycle. Often the best remaining habitat is at the lower tree line along the Forest boundary, putting much bighorn activity on private land and exposing them to contact with domestic sheep and goats and disease. The Forest Service simply does no recognize this syndrome in its planning.

  2. Moose were introduced in southern Colorado in the early 90s. I attended a public meeting held by the then named CO Division of Wildlife about the proposed introduction and asked why they wanted to introduce a nonnative species. Their response was there was a niche for them. I responded there was a niche for the rabbit in Australia too. The moose population is doing well in southern Colorado as are CPW’s sales of moose hunting licenses, but I have yet to hear a CPW employee say anything in support of the state’s voters decision to reintroduce wolves that were once native here. Making money appears to drive CPW’s wildlife management decisions. Maybe more ethical wildlife management decisions would be made if the agency was funded with tax dollars instead of license sales.


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