This week’s science news collection reports on
- the collective beat emerging from spooky synergy of many lightning bugs gathered together,
- cyborg cockroaches and builder drones inspired by bees and wasps,
- climate consequences of the Tonga Volcano eruption,
- native and non-native plants phenological adaptations to climate change,
- how the Mexican earthquake affected the desert pupfish 1,500 miles away,
- new images of Neptune,
- the relative smarts of shy versus bold raccoons,
- and more.
“Field research suggests a new explanation for the synchronized flashing in fireflies and confirms that a novel form of “chimeric” synchrony occurs naturally.”
In the last two years, a series of papers from Peleg’s group have opened a fire hose of real-world data about synchrony in multiple firefly species at multiple study sites, and at a much higher resolution than previous modelers or biologists had managed. “Pretty astonishing” is how the mathematical biologist Bard Ermentrout at the University of Pittsburgh described the team’s results to Quanta. “I was blown away,” said Andrew Moiseff, a biologist at the University of Connecticut.
These papers establish that real firefly swarms depart from the mathematical idealizations that flitted through journals and textbooks for decades. Nearly every model for firefly synchrony ever concocted, for example, assumes that each firefly maintains its own internal metronome. A preprint that Peleg’s group posted in March, however, showed that in at least one species, individual fireflies have no intrinsic rhythm, and it posited that a collective beat emerges only from the spooky synergy of many lightning bugs gathered together. An even more recent preprint, first uploaded in May and updated last week, documented a rare type of synchrony that mathematicians call a chimera state, which has almost never been observed in the real world outside of contrived experiments.
|Researchers have created the most comprehensive global dataset yet of SARS-CoV-2 infections in animals — and a dashboard to help navigate it. In this screenshot, it shows 2,007 infections and exposures, confirmed by laboratory tests, in animals including white-tailed deer (pink), dogs (blue), cats (orange) and mink (dark green).
The data are open access, and researchers have committed to updating it weekly for at least one year. “Although animals do not appear to play a significant role in the spread of COVID-19 among people currently, One Health tools that enable the integrative analysis and visualization of SARS-CoV-2 events are critical,” says Amélie Desvars-Larrive, an epidemiologist and veterinary researcher who led the work. (Complexity Science Hub Vienna press release | 3 min read)
Reference: Scientific Data paper (CSH/Vetmeduni/WCS Collaboration)
Over the past few years, researchers have taken to the streets of Laramie, Wyo., to uncover the raccoons’ secrets, adapting a cognitive test designed for captive animals so that it can be deployed in the wild.
Preliminary findings suggest that the most docile animals learned to use the testing devices more easily than bolder, more aggressive ones did, a result that has implications for our relationship with urban wildlife. The study was published on Thursday in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
As the planet is increasingly urbanized, the questions of which animals will be able to cope with the sprawl and why are becoming more urgent. The answers could be key to mitigating the conflicts that interspecies proximity brings and may point to better ways to manage animals as they are forced to share more of their habitat with us.
“The more that we know about their behavior and their cognition, I think it can really aid us in figuring out how to coexist with them,” said Lauren Stanton, a cognitive ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the new study.
The eruption of an underwater volcano in the Pacific Ocean in January that was so large it produced a global shock wave also spewed huge amounts of water vapor into the upper atmosphere, where it may cause a small, short-term spike in global warming, scientists said Thursday.
The injection of what the researchers estimated was at least 55 million tons of water vapor into the stratosphere may also temporarily cause more depletion of the protective ozone layer in the atmosphere, they said. [...]
“It’s absolutely unique,” said Holger Vömel, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “This has not happened since we’ve been capable of measuring stratospheric water vapor, which started something like 70 years ago.” Dr. Vömel is the lead author of a paper on the findings published in the journal Science.
Although many species shift their phenology with climate change, species vary significantly in the direction and magnitude of these responses (i.e., phenological sensitivity). Studies increasingly detect early phenology or high phenological sensitivity to climate in non-native species, which may favor non-native species over natives in warming climates. Yet relatively few studies explicitly compare phenological responses to climate between native vs. non-native species or between non-native populations in the native vs. introduced range, limiting our ability to quantify the role of phenology in invasion success.
Here, we review the empirical evidence for and against differences in phenology and phenological sensitivity to climate in both native vs. non-native species and native and introduced populations of non-native species.
Contrary to common assumptions, native and non-native plant species did not consistently differ in mean phenology or phenological sensitivity. However, non-native plant species were often either just as or more sensitive, but rarely less sensitive, to climate as natives. Introduced populations of non-native plant species often show earlier reproduction than native populations of the same species, but there was mixed evidence for differences in phenological sensitivity between introduced and native plant populations.
We found very few studies comparing native vs. invasive animal phenology. Future work should characterize phenological sensitivity to climate in native vs. non-native plant and animal species, in native vs. introduced populations of non-native species, and across different stages of invasion, and should carefully consider how differences in phenology might promote invasion success or disadvantage native species under climate change.
Kale-face vs carrot-face
The impacts of air pollution on human health, economies, and agriculture differ drastically depending on where on the planet the pollutants are emitted, according to a new study [the first to simulate how aerosol pollution affects both climate and air quality for locations around the globe] that could potentially incentivize certain countries to cut climate-changing emissions. [...]
"Carbon dioxide has the same impact on climate no matter who emits it," said Persad. "But for these aerosol pollutants, they tend to stay concentrated near where they're emitted, so the effect that they have on the climate system is very patchy and very dependent on where they're coming from."
The researchers found that, depending on where they are emitted, aerosols can worsen the social costs of carbon—an estimate of the economic costs greenhouse gasses have on society—by as much as 66%.
New UMBC-led research in Frontiers in Microbiology suggests that viruses are using information from their environment to "decide" when to sit tight inside their hosts and when to multiply and burst out, killing the host cell. The work has implications for antiviral drug development.
A virus's ability to sense its environment, including elements produced by its host, adds "another layer of complexity to the viral-host interaction," says Ivan Erill, professor of biological sciences and senior author on the new paper. Right now, viruses are exploiting that ability to their benefit. But in the future, he says, "we could exploit it to their detriment."
Inspired by natural builders such as wasps and bees, the researchers created BuilDrones (as shown on the cover) that can work in an autonomous team to perform 3D printing tasks using foam- or cement-based materials. They also created ScanDrones to assess the quality of the structures
being built. The team hopes that this approach of ‘aerial additive manufacturing’ could help to build structures in difficult to access areas.
If an earthquake strikes in the not too distant future and survivors are trapped under tonnes of rubble, the first responders to locate them could be swarms of cyborg cockroaches.
That's a potential application of a recent breakthrough by Japanese researchers who demonstrated the ability to mount "backpacks" of solar cells and electronics on the bugs and control their motion by remote control.
Kenjiro Fukuda and his team at the Thin-Film Device Laboratory at Japanese research giant Riken developed a flexible solar cell film that's 4 microns thick, about 1/25 the width of a human hair, and can fit on the insect's abdomen. The film allows the roach to move freely while the solar cell generates enough power to process and send directional signals into sensory organs on the bug's hindquarters.