Category Archives: biology

Insomniac Cavefish Might Hold Clues to Sleep Disorders in Humans

Mexican Blind Cavefish

Mexican blind cavefish

Sightlessness is a common adaptation of cave-dwelling animals. Sometimes, as in the case of the Olm eyeless cave salamander or “human fish,” they no longer even have eyes. Now scientists have learned that at least in a certain kind of cavefish, the Mexican blind cavefish, sleep, too, is a waste of resources.

Well, that’s not quite the right way to put it. It’s not so much that the fish don’t need sleep, it’s that they need to stay awake more, said the researchers in a press release.

“These fish live in an environment where food is generally scarce,” said Richard Borowsky of New York University. “If you are asleep when a bit of food floats by, you are out of a meal and out of luck.”

Borowsky and lead author of the study Erik Duboué first observed hints of the insomniac tendency of cavefish in the laboratory. Fish that typically hang out in brighter surface waters showed obvious sleep patterns. At night, they would get droopy fins and sink to the bottom of their tank. Captive cavefish on the other hand kept patrolling around the clock.

Cross breeding cavefish with other fish has shown that the wakefulness is genetic. Besides the gee whiz factor of the find, scientists think that this cave critter could hold clues to understanding sleep disorder in humans. That’s because the same gene that keeps the fish partying all night long, is likely also the gene that regulates similar behavior in other animals.

Scientific Journal:

Current Biology, April 7 issue

Authors and Affiliations:

Richard Borowsky of New York University

Erik Duboué of New York University

Contact:

Elisabeth Lyons, elyons@cell.com, 617-386-2121


Wildlife Candid Camera at Smithsonian

 

Smithsonian Wild

Want to spy on wild animals?

 

Check out this new website launched by Smithsonian that brings together more than 200,000 camera-trap images from seven of their research projects. The online library reveals the otherwise secret lives of rarely seen species, such as the clouded leopard, Amazon red squirrel and the Chinese Takin. Bet you never heard of that one, huh? Well, now you can see a picture of it and while away the minutes as fast as you can say Tremminck’s tragopan. Yes, that’s a real animal, though it looks about as funny as it sounds. Smithsonian Wild


CAT in WATER Kickstarter Launch!

Support the Kickstarter project to document them in the wild  here.

The fishing cat is up and running! We have 90 days to raise the first round of funds for the CAT in WATER expedition. Check out our Kickstarter project and watch the short video. You can also learn about all the paybacks in store for our supporters. Who wouldn’t want a care package from Thailand and the knowledge they are helping a gorgeous, wild animal in need?



Climate change leaves wolverines on slippery slope

istockphoto.com

Wolverines, those vociferous, marathon-climbing, fearless relatives of the sea otter may soon face a foe that no amount of bravery can outlast — climate change.

Climate model results from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, show wolverine habitat in the Lower 48 warming significantly from climate change during the second half of the century. The pending warmer climes threaten snow cover that is vital to the wolverine’s survival.

“It’s highly uncertain whether wolverines will continue to survive in the lower 48, given the changes that are likely to take place there,” said NCAR scientist Synte Peacock in a press release, and the lead author of a paper, which appears in Environmental Research Letters.

Wolverine Den (Photo/Wikimedia Commons,Ernst Vikne)

Wolverine Den (Photo/Wikimedia Commons,Ernst Vikne)

Wolverines dig snow dens for their kits 8 to 10 feet deep, and are specially adapted to run and hunt across the snow. Snow pack also helps preserve carrion that the wolverines rely on for sustenance throughout the winter. While about 15,000 wolverines are estimated to live across Canada and Alaska, only a few dozen are thought to still live in Montana, Wyoming and Washington State, according to the press release.

If the plight of the wolverine is not the kind of thing that gets your hair on end, there’s still reason to care. The study also found that a side effect of the loss of snow melt means big impacts for people as well. The projected lack of snow could reduce the amount of water in Idaho, western Montana and western Wyoming by as much as three or four-fold by the end of the century. Get those water-saving shower heads now.

The study is not meant to bring only doom and gloom. Researcher say this kind of analysis could help us think preventative. “This study is an example of how targeted climate predictions can produce new insights that could help us reduce the impact of future climate change on delicate ecosystems,” said Sarah Ruth, program director for the NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences in a press release.

Wolverine (Photo/U.S. National Park Service)

Wolverine (Photo/U.S. National Park Service)

A critter of unique character — to really understand what makes the wolverine such a remarkable creature, check out Douglas Chadwick’s book, The Wolverine Way. Even if you’re not a wildlife lover, this is an adventurous read that will leave you in awe of what a creature will do to survive.

NCAR Study available here.


Water flea: small critter, big genome

Daphnia pulex (water flea) with a brood of genetically identical future offspring.

Daphnia pulex (water flea) with a brood of genetically identical future offspring. (Photo/Paul D.N. Hebert, University of Guelph)

In an interesting science factoid of the week, researchers at the University of Guelph have just found the animal with the most genes.

Ringing in at a whopping 31,000 genes, the winner is a near-microscopic crustacean called daphnia, or water flea. In case you’re wondering, humans tally a mere 23,000, about 8,000 less than this little aquatic critter.

Daphnia‘s high gene number is largely because its genes are multiplying, by creating copies at a higher rate than other species,” said project leader and CGB genomics director John Colbourne in a press release. “We estimate a rate that is three times greater than those of other invertebrates and 30 percent greater than that of humans.”

So let that be a lesson. Just because you’re little, doesn’t mean you can’t be big at something.


Bad Ladybug

Different types of Harlequin ladybug, a rapidly spreading invasive pest. ©Entomart

Different types of Harlequin ladybug, a rapidly spreading invasive pest. ©Entomart

Ladybugs, once the championed protectors of backyard gardens, are showing spots of a less flattering color, and their public image looks like it could be taking an even bigger turn for the worse. A new study has found that invasive Harlequin ladybugs crossbreeding with a species of flightless ladybugs are creating a super strain of a buggy pest.

In recent years, ladybugs have taken their voracious appetites around the world, and they don’t just gobble up target insects. Couple this with plagues of ladybugs infesting homes, and you’ve got an unseemly problem on your hands.

To fight their spread, flightless ladybugs were released as a biological control agent. The idea being that the walk-only ladybugs wouldn’t spread as far as quick. Harlequin’s aren’t to be put off it would seem. The two types of ladybugs can hybridize, giving rise to offspring that are larger, faster-growing, and generally more robust than either of its parent species. Preliminary research suggests that the cross-bred young are even better-equipped to deal with starvation.

The findings by BenoÎt Facon of UMR Centre de Biologie et de Gestion des Populations in Cedex, France, and his colleagues are just a beginning. Researchers want to test multiple generations of hybrid and subject them to different conditions to unravel the magnitude of the Harlequin ladybug dilemma.

You can read more about their discoveries in the current issue of Evolutionary Applications.


Cane toads heart climate change

Cane Toad, AKA Bufo marinus, AKA troublemaker extraordinaire (Photo/ Eli Greenbaum)

Cane toads like it hot, and with climate change poised to raise temps in Australia, this persistent, invasive species could soon be living it up even more.

At least that’s the word coming out of new research from the University of Sydney and presented at the Society for Experimental Biology’s annual conference in Prague.

A lot of what we hear about climate change focuses on habitat loss (cue rising sea levels) or species extinction (sorry red wolf and coral reefs), but here’s another way the pesky, poisonous cane toad can flip the amphibian bird to mankind – warmer climes mean prolific times as far as the toad is concerned.

“The negative effect of high temperature does not operate in cane toads, meaning that toads will do very well with human induced global warming,” said Professor Frank Seebacher from the University of Sydney in a press release.

Many of you reading this are probably familiar with the story of the cane toad, but here’s the quick shake down. In the mid 1930s, Australian biologists, hoping to stem the onslaught of beetles ravaging cane fields, introduced cane toads to Queensland and the Northern Territory. Unfortunately, toads passed on the beetles, instead turning their appetites towards lizards, snakes and other native wildlife. To compound factors, the toads secrete a toxic substance that can do a serious number on just about anything that tries to eat it. So the cane fields now have beetles and bucket loads of poisonous toads. Sigh.

And because of research by Seebacher, we now have a good idea that toads are going to thrive even more as temperatures rise from climate change. Warmer weather makes for stronger, or at least more efficient, heart and lungs in the cane toad, Seebacher found. And if that’s not unsettling enough, the study also states “the cane toad can adapt its physiology in response to a changing environment repeatedly and completely reversibly many times during its lifetime.”

Will nothing temper their proliferation?

Before you totally throw up your hands and say, “Why do I read this if all you’re going to tell me is bad news,” here’s a ray, or sliver, of hope. Maybe, just maybe, this phenomenon will prove true for other toads, ones we actually would like to see stick around. I’ll get back to you when Seebacher conducts that study.


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