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

Advertisements

Naked Penguins

Naked featherless African Penguin by Nola Parsons

Feather-loss disorder has also been observed in African penguins, which inhabit the coast and offshore islands of South Africa. (Photo/Nola Parsons)

Penguins already endure their fair share of image problems. They’re a bit pudgy around the middle (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They have wings, but can’t fly, and a beach strut that’s really more of an awkward waddle. Now these tuxedoed birds can add bald to that list.

In a somewhat alarming twist of fate, penguins are being born featherless, and scientists don’t know why.

The phenomenon first emerged in 2006 when researchers observed featherless black-footed (AKA African) penguin chicks at a rehabilitation center in Cape Town, South Africa. That year about 59 percent of penguin chicks at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds lost their feathers, followed by 97 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Washington in Argentina also observed featherless Magellanic penguins in the wild.

In both cases, the featherless chicks grew at slower rates than their downy counterparts, most likely because they had to expend more energy to regulate their body temperature, said the researchers in a press release. The goose-fleshed penguins also had a tendency to spend more time in the sun, compared to feathered penguins. Many of these vulnerable chicks died during the study.

A researcher holds a featherless Magellanic penguin chick.

A researcher holds a featherless Magellanic penguin chick. (Photo/Jeffrey Smith)

So far, scientists don’t yet know what’s causing what looks like the avian version of mange. Disease, thyroid disorder, genetics and nutrient deficiencies could all be potential culprits, they say.

On a slightly more positive note, it does look like chicks that survive do eventually grow feathers. Researchers are working furiously to figure out what’s causing the trouble.

“We need to learn how to stop the spread of feather-loss disorder, as penguins already have problems with oil pollution and climate variation,” said P. Dee Boersma, one of the study authors in a press release. “It’s important to keep disease from being added to the list of threats they face.”

Scientific Journal:

Waterbirds

Study Authors and Affiliations:

Olivia J. Kane, Jeffrey R. Smith, and P. Dee Boersma of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Washington; Nola J. Parsons and Vanessa Strauss of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds; and Pablo Garcia-Borboroglu and Cecilia Villanueva of Centro Nacional Patagónico

Contact:

John Delaney, jdelaney@wcs.org, 718-220-3275, Wildlife Conservation Society


The lazy animals’ guide to survival

Dormouse in winter sleep

For the dormouse, life can be hard. Raising the kids takes obscene amounts of energy. Anyone’s who’s ever tried to raise one knows these little guys are divas when it comes to feeding time. So dormice only breed when the acorns are good.

To the other extreme, they’re also on a lot of menus: owls, weasels, pine martens and both wild and domestic cats all like to eat them. The poor guy is even called the “edible dormouse.”  Basically, a public life for the dormouse is nothing short of a way to punch the ticket. That’s enough stress to tucker anyone out. So how do these guys survive? By sleeping through 8 months of the year.

You can learn more new science about the dormouse from the new study by Professor Thomas Ruf thomas.ruf@fiwi.at at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna or in the journal paper:

Survival rates in a small hibernator, the edible dormouse: a comparison across Europe by Karin Lebl, Claudia Bieber, Peter Adamík, Joanna Fietz, Pat Morris, Andrea Pilastro and Thomas Ruf at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0587.2010.06691.x/abstract


Cool promo to help an endangered cat!

Click the Photo to Visit Pledge Page.

CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE PLEDGE PAGE.

Make your pledge right away and get a pair of these eco-friendly, high-performance socks. The pledge will warm your heart, and the socks will keep your toes feeling cozy.

We only have five pairs to give away right now. An update will let you know when they’re gone, but don’t let that stop you from pledging.

From $10 on up we’ve got fun thank you gifts, s

uch as postcards and care packages from Thailand, not to mention limited edition prints.

Teko Socks are made from organic meri

no wool, using wind power. They look and feel nice too!

Teko’s Web site http://www.tekosocks.com/


Nature Files Readers can ignore this post

6SA5H96HG3CF I am just verifying a claim on Technorati.

Thank you. Morgan


Urban flora photography project

Queen of the Prairie (Photo/cm195902 wikimedia commons)

The last time someone found the Queen-of-the-prairie — a pretty, pink rose-like flower — growing in Indianapolis, Indiana, was in a small damp spot at the edge of Water Canal and 52nd Street. The time was July 1935.

Urbanization has had an untold impact on local wildlife. Of the 700 plus species of plants found in Indianapolis, native species have long been replaced by invasive ones. What we see today makes it hard to imagine what we might’ve seen 50 years ago. But a new study, that also happens to be a fantastic premise for a local conservation photography project, might help with that.

Ecologists at the Friesner Herbarium in Butler University, Indianapolis, compared species composition of 2,800 dried plant specimens predating 1940 to plants collected by students between 1996 and 2006. They found a floral community drastically changed from pre-urbanized days. While the number of species was similar, about 700, about 168 (if my math is correct)  native plants, including the Queen-of-the-prairie, have been replaced by non-native ones, such as the amur bush honeysuckle.

Honeysuckles don’t sound so bad, and the US Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service actually promoted the planting of it as a means to prevent erosion and feed wildlife. The plant has proven to do neither. The invasive honeysuckle now proliferates throughout the city along banks and wetlands and land managers pay hand over fist to eradicate it.

Perhaps the big take away from the study is that the plant changes caused by urbanization, at least in Indianapolis, is taking away their floral individuality, said the researchers in a press release.

So how does this turn into a photo project? The project by Butler University just screams visualization. I’m betting most urban areas have universities or museums with historical plant collections. They might even consider well-done portraits of these collections an asset to their archival and educational endeavors. Just think who you could partner with and what you could illustrate by creating a series of floral portraits comparing past and present plant communities in your city.

If you think a project like this isn’t important, keep these words from study lead and Director of  Friesner Herbarium Dr. Rebecca Dolan in mind. “As cities continue to grow, urban green spaces are becoming important refuges for native biodiversity and for people. In coming decades, most people’s contact with nature will be in urban settings, so the social importance of urban plants has never been greater.”

You can find the study in the current issue of the Journal of Ecology.

“As cities continue to grow, urban green spaces are becoming important refuges for native biodiversity and for people. In coming decades, most people’s contact with nature will be in urban settings, so the social importance of urban plants has never been greater.”

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


%d bloggers like this: