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  1. There's a species of poison frog called the "strawberry frog" or the "blue jeans frog," depending on who you ask. These frogs are smaller than a quarter, with bright red bodies and navy blue limbs, and they live in shady Costa Rican forests. Or, they did, until humans began cutting the forests to create farmland. These sunny fields and pastures are hotter and drier than the forests, and scientists wanted to know how the strawberry frogs were adapting to their new environment. To figure it out, the researchers built mini temperature-controlled frog habitats to see what temperatures the frogs gravitated towards. They discovered that frogs from sunny pastures tend to seek out higher temperatures than their forest friends—but the ceiling for temperatures they can survive hasn't changed. The project was led by two students working on NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates, first author Juana Rivera-Ordonez (University of Washington) and Adrian Manansala (University of Guam), and their mentors, Justin Nowakowski (University of California, Davis) and Michelle Thompson (Field Museum). The research overseen by senior author Brian Todd of UC Davis. "We're trying to understand what happens to species when we transform forests for human land uses," Nowakowski, one of the corresponding authors of a paper on the project in the journal Biotropica. "For this study, we were trying to understand how strawberry poison frogs that live in these converted pastures handle warmer temperatures in these land uses compared to individuals that live in the forest." "We found that if there's an increase in temperature, there may be some ability to acclimate or adapt, but in situations where temperatures change drastically, it may be bad news for them," says Thompson, a conservation ecologist and herpetologist at the Field Museum in Chicago and one of the co-authors of the study. "Amphibians are really dependent on the environment for their body temperature—therefore, they're really impacted by changes to the environment," explains Thompson, who began work on the study at Florida International University. Unlike birds and mammals that can heat their own bodies to a constant temperature (like how humans stay around 98.6° F whether we're in a blizzard or a sauna), frogs are "cold-blooded." To survive in forests converted into fields and pastures, the strawberry poison frogs (aka Oophaga pumilio) camp out in the few remaining shady places like isolated trees and fallen logs. "To do this study, we went out into pastures and the forest and measured the air temperature, and we took the temperature of frogs using an infrared thermometer—it's like a gun that takes the temperature of the frog and the substrate where the frog was," says Nowakowski. "When you go into the forest, it's really much cooler, more humid. In the pasture, you get a taste of what these frogs experience, because it's incredibly hot, and you really want to spend all your time under a tree." "The forest has more shade, so sometimes the frogs can be found out in the open, on trees, or by digging through leaf litter. It was harder to find them in open pastures because the frogs have to really find ways to avoid prolonged sunlight exposure," says Adrian Manansala, a recent graduate of the University of Guam and one of the undergraduate authors of the paper. "The fact that our study species is a vibrant red color made it easier to spot compared to other species that might blend in to the environment. Our mentor also showed us the sound our study species makes, so after some practice we were able to distinguish the sound from others and follow these sounds to help us find them." After recording the temperatures of 111 frogs in the wild, the researchers caught 32 of the frogs by hand and brought them back to the laboratory for further research. (While some species of poison frogs are dangerous to touch, strawberry poison frogs are toxic if eaten, but safe to handle.) In the laboratory, the researchers delved into a trickier-to-measure metric: the frogs' preferred temperature. First author Juana Rivera-Ordonez working in the laboratory with the temperature-controlled enclosures the team made out of catering pans. Credit: (c) Justin Nowakowski, UC Davis Since they couldn't just ask the frogs what temperature they like the thermostat set to, the researchers built temperature-controlled experimental habitats using aluminum catering pans, sand, ice packs, and heating pads. "We were using whatever supplies are available in this rural area and MacGyvering it together," says Nowakowski. The resulting frog enclosures were long rectangles with a temperature gradient, with one cold end and one hot end. The researchers put each frog into the enclosure for two and a half hours and observed the temperature where the frogs preferred to hang out. They found that the frogs taken from warm pastures chose to spend their time in a warmer part of the enclosure, while the forest frogs preferred a slightly cooler environment. But while the frogs changed their preferred temperature, the maximum temperature they could withstand didn't change. To test the frogs' heat tolerance, they placed the frogs in water baths and gradually raised the water's temperature. The researchers stopped at the first sign that the frogs were under stress: no longer righting themselves when put on their backs. (The frogs weren't harmed and were released back into the wild after the study ended.) No matter where they were from, the frogs got too hot at about the same temperature. That means that while the frogs can adapt to have different preferred temperatures based on what they're used to, the upper limit of what their bodies can tolerate is a hard line. "It appears that for the time being, this species can eke out a living in these converted habitats using different behaviors to avoid extreme temperatures. But this is all subject to change," says Nowakowski. "On top of habitat change, temperatures are rising due to climate change. We don't expect things to stay at the status quo—these frogs are bumping right up against their thermal tolerances, and it's unclear whether they'll persist or not." The frogs' maximum temperature limit being seemingly fixed makes long-term climate changes more dangerous for them, but Thompson notes that there is hope in the way the frogs can adapt on the short term to habitat change. "In the current biodiversity crisis that we're a part of, we have to think of ways to make changes for positive impact," says Thompson. "This is something we can act on. Where habitat conversion cannot be avoided, leaving small pockets of vegetation will let small populations of frogs persist. It shows that people can make a change." And in addition to the potential of the study to help frogs and other animals, the researchers emphasize the importance of the REU program the students took part in. "You can learn a lot about science and research in the classroom, but it's really all abstract until you go into the tropical forest or the laboratory," says Nowakowski. "You learn how to develop questions and collect data to answer those questions. For students, it can be really transformative and eye-opening." "The REU was an unforgettable experience," says Manansala. "Before this research program, I had never caught frogs or even held one before, so doing this research was a very new experience for me. This program was my first time conducting an independent study and before this, I had never thought of using creative ways to conduct research such as using a tea kettle and buckets of ice cubes to manually control the temperature of a lab trial. This program taught me research skills and knowledge that I still use today and will continue to apply in a future career in science."
  2. The discovery of fossilized plants in Labrador, Canada, by a team of McGill directed paleontologists provides the first quantitative estimate of the area's climate during the Cretaceous period, a time when the earth was dominated by dinosaurs. The specimens were found in the Redmond no.1 mine, in a remote area of Labrador near Schefferville, in August 2018. Together with specimens collected in previous expeditions, they are now at the core of a recent study published in Palaeontology. Some of the specimens, are the first of their kind to have been found in the area. Alexandre Demers-Potvin, a graduate student under the supervision of Professor Hans Larsson, Canada Research Chair in Vertebrate Palaeontology at McGill University, used the samples he collected to establish that Eastern Canada would have had a warm temperate and fully humid climate during the middle of Cretaceous period. Fossilized leaves and insects, known to be very similar to communities that today live further south, had been found at the Redmond No. 1 mine in the late 1950s had led paleontologists to hypothesize that the cretaceous climate of Quebec and Labrador was far warmer than it is today. With the new samples they found, Demers-Potvin and his colleagues were able to confirm this using the Climate Leaf Analysis Multivariate Program. This tool is used to predict a variety of climate statistics for a given fossil flora, such as temperature and precipitation variables, based on the shape and size of its tree leaves. Their findings put the area's mean annual temperature around 15°C. Summers were hot—with temperatures of over 20?C—and year-round precipitations relatively high. Alexandre Demers-Potvin, who is also the study's first author, said the new work provides insight into how the climate of Eastern Canada evolved over time, useful information to study today's changing climate. "The fossils from the Redmond mine show that an area that is now covered by boreal forest and tundra used to be covered in warm temperate forests in the middle of the Cretaceous, one of our planet's 'hothouse' episodes, Demers-Potvin said. These are new pieces of evidence that can help improve projections of the global average temperature against global CO2 levels throughout the Earth's history." Alexandre Demers-Potvin and his collaborators are now undertaking a description of the new fossilized insects discovered at the Redmond site. Demers-Potvin will return to Schefferville in the hopes of finding more insect specimens and fossilized vertebrates that could be hiding in the rubble of the abandoned mine.
  3. A team of researchers at the University of Warsaw has created the most accurate 3-D model of the Milky Way Galaxy to date. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group explains how they used measurements from a special group of pulsating stars to create the map. Most people imagine the Milky Way as a flat spiral—that is the way it has been shown in school textbooks for years. In more recent times, however, scientists have discovered that our galaxy is not flat at all—it is more like a wobbly uncooked pizza crust that has been tossed into the air. In this new effort, the researchers have found that our galaxy is even more wobbly than has been suspected. To create their new map, the researchers used data from the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment—a long term sky surveying project based at the University of Warsaw. More specifically, the researchers wanted data regarding Cepheids, which are a unique type of pulsating star. They were useful to the researchers because they pulse with regularity and brightness. This means that their true brightness can be calculated and compared to the brightness of them as seen here from Earth—doing so allows for very accurately measuring how far away from us they are. By amassing data from 2,431 Cepheids (collected over six years) and putting them all on a map together, the researchers were able to produce a 3-D representation of the Milky Way, at least from the perspective of Cepheids. The model they created is the first to be built using direct measurements of star distances, thus it is the most accurate to date. In studying the 3-D model they had created, the researchers were able to see that the Milky Way is far from flat. They could also see that it gets less flat the farther from the sun it goes. They noted also that the Cepheids appeared to be grouped into clusters, suggesting that they may have formed at or near the same time. The researchers also suggest the warping was likely caused by interactions with other galaxies, dark matter or intergalactic gas.
  4. Believe it or not, this long, luminous streak, speckled with bright blisters and pockets of material, is a spiral galaxy like our Milky Way. But how could that be? It turns out that we see this galaxy, named NGC 3432, oriented directly edge-on to us from our vantage point here on Earth. The galaxy's spiral arms and bright core are hidden, and we instead see the thin strip of its very outer reaches. Dark bands of cosmic dust, patches of varying brightness and pink regions of star formation help with making out the true shape of NGC 3432—but it's still somewhat of a challenge! Because observatories such as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have seen spiral galaxies at every kind of orientation, astronomers can tell when we happen to have caught one from the side. The galaxy is located in the constellation of Leo Minor (the Lesser Lion). Other telescopes that have had NGC 3432 in their sights include those of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) and the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS).
  5. People think of electric scooters, or e-scooters, as environmentally friendly ways to get around town. But a new study from North Carolina State University finds it's not that simple: shared e-scooters may be greener than most cars, but they can be less green than several other options. "E-scooter companies tout themselves as having little or no carbon footprint, which is a bold statement," says Jeremiah Johnson, corresponding author of the study and an associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State. "We wanted to look broadly at the environmental impacts of shared e-scooters – and how that compares to other local transportation options." To capture the impact of e-scooters, researchers looked at emissions associated with four aspects of each scooter's life cycle: the production of the materials and components that go into each scooter; the manufacturing process; shipping the scooter from the manufacturer to its city of use; and collecting, charging and redistributing the scooters. The researchers also conducted a small-scale survey of e-scooter riders to see what modes of transportation they would have used if they hadn't used an e-scooter. The researchers found that 49% of riders would have biked or walked; 34% would have used a car; 11% would have taken a bus; and 7% wouldn't have taken the trip at all. These results were similar to those of a larger survey done by the city of Portland, Oregon. In order to compare the impact of e-scooters to that of other transport options, the researchers looked at previously published life cycle analyses of cars, buses, electric mopeds and bicycles. Researchers looked at four types of pollution and environmental impact: climate change impact; nutrient loading in water; respiratory health impacts related to air pollution; and acidification. The performance results were similar for all four types of pollution. "A lot of what we found is pretty complicated, but a few things were clear," Johnson says. "Biking – even with an electric bike – is almost always more environmentally friendly than using a shared e-scooter. The sole possible exception is for people who use pay-to-ride bike-share programs. Those companies use cars and trucks to redistribute the bicycles in their service area, which can sometimes make them less environmentally friendly than using an e-scooter." By the same token, the study found that driving a car is almost always less environmentally friendly than using an e-scooter. But some results may surprise you. For example, taking the bus on a route with high ridership is usually more environmentally friendly than an e-scooter. "We found that the environmental impact from the electricity used to charge the e-scooters is fairly small – about 5% of its overall impact," Johnson says. "The real impact comes largely from two areas: using other vehicles to collect and redistribute the scooters; and emissions related to producing the materials and components that go into each scooter." That means that there are two major factors that contribute to each scooter's environmental footprint. First is that the less driving that is done to collect and redistribute the scooters, the smaller the impact. The second factor is the scooters' lifetime: the longer the scooter is in service, the more time it has to offset the impact caused by making all of its constituent parts. "There are a lot of factors to consider, but e-scooters are environmentally friendly compared to some modes of transport," Johnson says. "And there are things that companies and local governments can do to further reduce their impacts. For example, allowing – or encouraging – companies to collect scooters only when they hit a battery depletion threshold would reduce a scooter's impact, because you wouldn't be collecting scooters that don't need re-charging." The paper, "Are E-Scooters Polluters? The Environmental Impacts of Shared Dockless Electric Scooters," is published open access in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
  6. Attracting mates with showy displays may have helped dinosaurs develop feathers that let them take flight, according to new research by University of Alberta paleontologists. "The first complex wing feathers show up in tiny raptor dinosaurs that could parachute and glide flying-squirrel-style through the prehistoric treetops," said Scott Persons, who led the study while he was a post-doctoral researcher at the U of A. "In this study, we explored how dinosaurs went from staying warm with simple hairy feathers to gliding on complicated wing feathers." The study makes the case that larger, stiffer, flatter feathers gradually evolved as showy fans on the arms and tails of dinosaurs to be waved and waggled in courtship displays, leading eventually to the evolution of birds—an interpretation supported by a growing fossil record of early feathers. "Sexual display remains an important function of complex feathers in some birds to this day," said Persons, who is now at the College of Charleston. "Think of the feather fans of turkeys and peacocks or the head crest of a cockatoo." A missing link Persons said the feathers on a bird's wing each have a central hollow shaft called a rachis whereas fossil feathers on many dinosaurs were covered only in simple hair-like feathers that nothing to do with flight. They served as insulation to keep dinosaurs warm. "Going from simple hairy feathers to sophisticated flight feathers is a big jump. Evolution doesn't normally work in big jumps. It's gradual," explained Persons. "Recognizing the intermediate function of sexual display explains a gradual way for simple feathers to have grown in complexity." Though the study offers clues about the evolutionary steps leading from dinosaurs to birds, there are still rich paleontological mysteries to explore concerning fossil feathers, Persons noted. "We are still missing clear examples of sexually dimorphic feathers in dinosaurs. Today, it's easy to tell the sexes of many birds apart based on their feathers," he said. "Male birds tend to have larger, gaudier and brighter feathers because they are the ones doing the displaying. "This was very likely true of feathered dinosaurs, but we haven't found a definitive example ... yet." The study, "Feather Evolution Exemplifies Sexually Selected Bridges Across the Adaptive Landscape," was published in Evolution.
  7. Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts the existence of dark energy—a mysterious form of energy that permeates space and accelerates the expansion of the Universe. But what if Einstein was wrong and there was no such thing as dark energy? The GalaxyDance project has been investigating this scenario. As accurate as it has proven to be so far, general relativity is not the only theory that can account for gravitation. In fact, there are various alternative theories out there. Scientists are just not sure how these can resist observation and simulations. To close this gap, the GalaxyDance project, undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie program, has been using information encoded in peculiar velocity statistics of galaxies in the Local Universe as well as observed redshift space distortions (RSD) of distant galaxies. Dr. Wojciech Hellwing, coordinator of the project and Research Fellow at the Centre for Theoretical Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences, discusses the project's findings so far. What makes the expansion of the Universe so difficult to comprehend? As we go deeper and further in our observations of the Universe, we are still puzzled by some of its properties. One of these is the accelerated expansion of space-time, which is presently attributed to dark energy. But the truth is, we need to consider dark energy only if Einstein's theory of gravity is valid at all scales of the cosmos. There are other possible explanations for the accelerated expansion that do not require dark energy. These theories go beyond general relativity and are commonly called "modified gravity." Testing general relativity and these alternatives at the intergalactic scale is a pressing and important issue for modern extragalactic astronomy, and it was the purpose of GalaxyDance. Can you tell us more about your approach? GalaxyDance introduces a novel approach that consists in using low-order statistics of galaxy velocities and clustering to test Einstein's theory of gravity and its counterparts. This test covers intergalactic scales, a regime in which the theory of gravity has not been rigorously tested so far. I have demonstrated that this approach has several unique advantages: it is gravity-model independent, free of significant galaxy bias and largely unaffected by baryonic physics. I have used state-of-the-art computer simulations that recreate a virtual Universe in a supercomputer. By running and analyzing these simulations, we can test beyond-GR theories and outline promising results. What makes this approach particularly innovative? The use of large supercomputer simulations was previously impossible in beyond-GR models, due to their complexity and numerical expensiveness. To mitigate this problem, we have decided to use a speed-up algorithm which—at the expense of some accuracy—can model the evolution of the Universe much more efficiently. I have successfully demonstrated that, in the case of cosmic velocities, such an approximated approach is sufficient to obtain robust results. What are the project's most important outcomes? Undoubtedly, the new set of large, state-of-the-art simulations of alternative theories which will allow for unprecedented studies of cosmic velocity fields. We have already demonstrated that low order statistics of the galaxy velocity field should contain a strong signal of modified gravity. However, we have also shown that, to measure and extract this signal, dedicated and thorough modeling of the impact of our nearby cosmic structures, such as the Virgo galaxy cluster, will be of paramount importance for the success of our method. What do you still hope to achieve before the end of the project? We will implement additional modeling of the processes that determine galaxy colors, luminosity and shapes. This will enable the creation of artificial galaxy catalogs showing what would have been created in a Universe ruled by alternatives to Einstein's theory of gravity. From thereon, we will compare our results with the existing and forthcoming astronomical observations to provide new stringent tests of gravity on the largest scales. What has been the feedback from the scientific community so far? Many colleagues expressed interest and even enthusiasm regarding our results when we presented them at international cosmological conferences. Furthermore, we have started new collaborations with colleagues who have complementary expertise in galaxy observations (from Lyon in France) and in the modeling of nearby cosmic structures (colleagues from Potsdam in Germany). We are very excited about these. What do you hope will be the long-term impact of the project? How does it prepare the scientific community for the era of big cosmological data? GalaxyDance will provide a new way to make cosmological tests of gravitational theories a reality. The final results, no matter which theory (dark energy or modified gravity) they favor, will have far-reaching and ground-breaking consequences for our understanding of the Universe on the largest scales. If our tests eventually provide a signature of new physics foreseen in beyond-GR theories, it will shake our current view and understanding of the large-scale evolution of the cosmos. If, on the other hand, our inquiry strengthens general relativity, it will mean that we need to look harder to explain the mystery of dark energy.
  8. The battle to combat climate change will "succeed or fail" based on what happens in Asia, where growing energy needs are increasing demand for fossil fuels, UN officials said Friday. The United Nations will host a key climate summit next month that has been billed as a last chance to prevent irreversible climate change, three years after the Paris agreement went into force. Commitments from countries in Asia to move towards carbon-neutral economies would be crucial, said Rachel Kyte, a UN special representative for the UN Secretary-General. "It is really in this region that we will succeed or fail in the energy transition in order to be able to meet our climate change goals," Kyte told reporters. The summit hopes to secure commitments to zero net carbon by 2050, but growing demand for electricity in Asia is likely to be one of the key obstacles. "Southeast Asia is one of the fastest growing economic regions in the world. This is where population and urbanisation mean that electricity demand is expected to triple between 2015 and 2040," warned Kyte. "In order to meet this, Southeast Asia is currently turning to fossil fuels, many countries are." New coal plant projects continue throughout the region, particularly in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, and countries including Japan are funding their construction despite criticism from climate groups. Growing demand for electricity in Asia is likely to be one of the key obstacles at the UN climate summit But Kyte said the sector should be seen as on its way out. "There is really no future for coal," she insisted. "It is not competitive by price... and it has such an extreme impact on human health as well as on the planet." In recent months, some private sector firms in Japan and elsewhere have moved away from funding coal, seeing it as a poor long-term investment, a trend that Kyte said was encouraging, along with growing energy efficiency in China and India. Luis Alfonso de Alba, UN Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit, also challenged the idea that the transformations needed to combat global warming would hamstring economic development. "Fighting climate change is fully compatible with the fight against poverty," he said. The UN Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit has challenged the idea that combating global warming would hamstring economic development "There are many opportunities, especially for those that will take the lead in this transition, which in any case is going to be inevitable." A key part of the climate summit's success will be China's commitment, which remains both a leading emitter and also a key financier of coal plants in the region. Beijing wields significant economic clout throughout the region and beyond thanks to its Belt and Road Initiative, which funds infrastructure projects and more. "The greening of the belt and road initiative is absolutely essential," Kyte said. "We are tentatively positive about the extraordinary hard work that is going on in China to make sure that that happens."
  9. Living cells survive and adapt by forming stable protein complexes that allow them to modulate protein activity, do mechanical work and convert signals into predictable responses, but identifying the proteins in those complexes is technically challenging. Purdue University researchers have developed a method to predict the composition of thousands of proteins complexes at one time, a discovery that will speed discoveries about cell functions. The method predicts the composition of naturally occurring protein complexes that are extracted from living cells. It is significantly faster and cheaper than traditional methods that use large-scale cloning, affinity labels or antibodies to identify protein complex components. The method has the potential to help scientists understand how thousands of protein complexes function together to enable plant cells to grow normally and respond to changing environments. Daniel Szymanski, a professor in Purdue's Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, and graduate students Zach McBride and Youngwoo Lee, separated thousands of proteins based on size and charge and used mass spectrometry to predict which proteins were likely to bind to one another and form a stable protein complex. In this guilt-by-association approach, proteins that form a stable complex should co-purify with each other using any separation strategy. Szymanski's team also validated the process. The team confirmed the presence of many known and novel protein complexes that were predicted from the profiling method. "From one of these separations, we get elution profiles for thousands of proteins," said Szymanski, whose findings were published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Proteomics. "We can combine all of the protein profile data from the columns, identify the elution profiles that are most similar to each other and predict which proteins are physically associated with one another." Once protein complexes are identified, scientists can determine their function in cells, how cellular pathways are regulated, how those proteins affect cell signaling and more. Szymanski said the method works in any organism that has a sequenced genome, including corn, soybeans, rice and cotton. "This method has been used to globally analyze protein complexes in plants of differing genotypes or those grown under different conditions. It's like a new phenotyping tool to analyze systems-level changes in protein abundance, binding partners and subcellular localization," Szymanski said. The method serves as a large-scale hypothesis-generating machine that will accelerate understanding of the complicated workings of plant cells and give researchers broad knowledge about how plants adapt to heat, water and other stresses.
  10. The record-shattering heatwave that baked much of northern Europe last month was likely between 1.5 to 3.0 degrees Celsius hotter due to manmade climate change, an international team of scientists said Friday. The three-day peak saw temperature records tumble in Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain while the city of Paris experienced its hottest day ever with the mercury topping out at 42.6C (108.7 Fahrenheit) on July 25. The ferocious heat came off the back of similar soaring temperatures in June, helping that month to be the hottest June since records began. Scientists from the World Weather Attribution (WWA) team combined climate modelling with historical heatwave trends and compared it with monitoring data across the continent. They concluded that the temperatures produced by the climate models were as much as 3C (5.5 degrees Farenheit) lower than those actually observed during the heatwave in Europe. "In all locations an event like the observed would have been 1.5 to 3C cooler in an unchanged climate," the WWA said, adding that the difference was "consistent with increased instances of morbidity and mortality." Global warming also made the July heatwave in some countries between 10-100 times more likely to occur, compared with computer simulations. Such temperature extremes in northern Europe, without the additional 1C centigrade humans have added to the atmosphere since the industrial era, would be expected on average once every 1,000 years. Michael Byrne, lecturer in Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of St Andrews, said the analysis had "found the fingerprints of climate change all over (last month's) extreme temperatures." "We know without doubt that climate change will bring increasingly severe heatwaves, but also heavier downpours and more flooding," added Byrne, who was not involved in the research. The July heatwave caused widespread disruption, prompting train cancellations and emergency measures in many cities. Several heat-related deaths were reported, although a precise toll is likely to take weeks to materialise. The June heatwave itself was likely made at least five times more likely by climate change, and was around 4C hotter than an equivalent heatwave a century ago. 'Not science fiction' Europe has experienced exceptionally intense heatwaves in 2003, 2010, 2015, 2017, 2018 and two this year, peaks consistent with the general warming trend: the four hottest years on record globally were the last four years. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Friday said that preliminary data showed July may have been the hottest month ever recorded. Temperature readings and data provided by the European Union's Copernicus monitoring service showed that the first 29 days of July 2019 were equal to or possibly warmer than the hottest month ever, currently July 2016. While the data needs confirming, the WMO said the figures were "particularly significant" as July 2016 occurred during a strong El Nino warming event, absent in 2019. "July has re-written climate history, with dozens of new temperature records at local, national and global level," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. July also saw unprecedented melting of the Greenland ice sheet, with 12 billion tonnes of ice flowing into the sea, and wildfires in the Artic spewing out thousands of tonnes of planet-warming CO2. "This is not science fiction. It is the reality of climate change. It is happening now and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action," said Taalas.
  11. Lake Tahoe, with its iconic blue waters straddling the borders of Nevada and California, continues to face a litany of threats related to climate change. But a promising new project to remove tiny, invasive shrimp could be a big step toward climate-proofing its famed lake clarity. That's according to the annual Tahoe: State of the Lake report, released today by the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. The report presents data from 2018 regarding lake clarity, temperature, snowpack, invasive species, algae, nutrient loads and more, all in the context of the long-term record. Removing Mysis shrimp Billions of invasive Mysis shrimp, introduced in the 1960s, live in Lake Tahoe, where they eat native zooplankton that historically helped keep the lake blue and clear while also serving as a food source for native fish. UC Davis TERC researchers found that when Mysis shrimp mysteriously disappeared from Emerald Bay in 2011, native zooplankton rebounded almost immediately. Within two years, clarity had increased by almost 40 feet. The reverse effect occurred when the Mysis returned. TERC is now halfway into a two-year pilot project, with many late nights trawling for shrimp, to find an effective means of removing enough Mysis shrimp to improve lake clarity indefinitely. "Even with climate change, we're finding that if you get rid of the shrimp, clarity improves," said Geoffrey Schladow, director of UC Davis TERC and a professor in the College of Engineering. "Their removal allows for the return of native zooplankton, which have the ability to consume both tiny algae and fine clay particles that have reduced clarity in the past. That is huge." Scientists from UC Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center night trawl for invasive Mysis shrimp for a research project at Lake Tahoe. (UC Davis TERC) Clarity Clarity improved dramatically in 2018 to 70.9 feet, thanks to a return to more normal weather and streamflow conditions. This represents a 10.5-foot increase over the 2017 value, but is still far short of the clarity restoration target of 97.4 feet. Over the long term, summer clarity has been declining and largely offsetting gains made in the winter months. Heat, snow, rain and fire Temperature and precipitation were average in 2018. However, the lake's air and water temperatures have been warming since measurements began in 1968. The average water surface temperature in 2018 was 53.2 F, the second warmest on record. The maximum daily summer surface water temperature was one of the highest observed at 77.5 F on Aug. 6. By century's end, the Tahoe Basin is projected to experience air temperatures up to 9 degrees higher than today's average. A shift from a snow-based to a rain-based climate will result in peak streamflows occurring months earlier than present day, with those flows arriving as warmer water. Consequences could include changes to fish spawning, a loss of water storage and elevated wildfire risk. Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe. (Brant Allen/UC Davis TERC) Mixing The most serious climate changes for the lake over the coming decades are likely to be driven by changes in physical processes like mixing, not simply changes in air temperature. Warming prevents the lake from fully mixing in winter, which it failed to do in 2018 for the seventh straight year. Lack of deep mixing further warms lake surface temperatures and contributes to nitrate buildup and algal growth. Nitrate concentration was at an all-time high in 2018, at 20.9 micrograms per liter. Such nutrient loading can affect blueness, clarity and stimulate algal growth. Aspens The report also describes an emerging threat to forest health. The white satin moth is defoliating stands of aspen trees in part of the Tahoe Basin. Some of these trees are considered "heritage trees," with their trunks showing the carvings of Basque sheepherders from the early 1900s. Many solutions working together "The efforts long underway in the Tahoe Basin to improve lake health and clarity have been and continue to be important," Schladow said. "Maintaining and building resiliency requires many solutions working together, as well as more tools in our toolbox than we've currently been using. That's one reason we find this ecological solution to be so exciting. Our clarity goals don't have to be derailed by climate change." The Tahoe: State of the Lake report and the center's long-term dataset have become essential for responsible management by elected officials and public agencies tasked with restoring and managing the Tahoe ecosystem. Federal, state and community leaders will gather at the 23rd annual Lake Tahoe Summit on Aug. 20 to discuss many of the issues and potential solutions presented by this research.
  12. Opioids are among the most effective pain relievers in dogs and cats, but amid the U.S. opioid crisis it has become much more difficult for animal hospitals to access these drugs. This, coupled with the potential for abuse of opioids by pet owners or others, makes it increasingly imperative that veterinarians pursue alternatives. In one promising approach, the Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals is now enrolling for a clinical study to compare options for dogs needing back surgery. The research team hopes to demonstrate that postsurgical opioid-sparing techniques are just as effective as the opioid-dependent one predominantly used in veterinary practice. "We decided to focus on dogs undergoing spinal surgery because veterinarians are already using different pain protocols in these patients," said Ane Uriarte, a neurosurgeon and neurologist at the Foster Hospital, "but there have been no studies on which ones work better than others." Uriarte and neurology resident Miranda Gallo, V15, VG15, devised a plan to compare three pain-management approaches with the help of former anesthesia resident Rebecca Reader, V13, and anesthesiologist Emily McCobb, V00, VG02. Each dog in the study will be randomly assigned to one of the three plans, all of which are effective at controlling pain after back surgery. (The dogs also will be frequently assessed for pain so they can receive additional medication if necessary.) The first protocol is the traditional opioid protocol, the second uses an opioid intermittently, and the last avoids opioids altogether. "Our primary objective is to compare the effectiveness of the three protocols," Uriarte said. "We have seen the two opioid-sparing approaches work at least as well as the industry standard, but we want to provide the data that proves that." The researchers' second, more-ambitious objective is to uncover whether using fewer or no opioids after surgery results in shorter hospital stays for pets. There has been a growing focus in human medicine on "enhanced recovery after surgery," Uriarte said, to assess how factors like eating, walking, and hydration affect a hospital patient's stay and subsequent recovery. "In human medicine, we have seen evidence that postsurgical opioids can prolong hospital stays," Uriarte said. "So it makes sense to look at alternatives." McCobb agreed. "Most patients will get at least one dose of an opioid during an operation as these medications are still the gold standard for surgical pain," said the Foster Hospital anesthesiologist. "But given that opioids are broad-spectrum agents with a myriad of effects on all body systems, it is best for patient care to minimize the dose and duration of treatment." The clinical study will build on efforts at Cummings School and throughout veterinary medicine to respond to the opioid crisis. In 2017, the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, the teen substance-abuse prevention group Decisions at Every Turn, and Cummings School launched a public-education campaign targeted toward pet owners and veterinarians.
  13. A group of Japanese scientists has discovered a new orchid species on Japan's subtropical islands of Amami-Oshima and Tokunoshima that bears fruit without once opening its flowers. They named the new species Gastrodia amamiana, and the findings were published in the online edition of Phytotaxa on August 2. The research team was led by Associate Professor Kenji Suetsugu of the Kobe University Graduate School of Science, in collaboration with Amami-Oshima residents and independent scientists Hidekazu Morita, Yohei Tashiro, Chiyoko Hara and Kazuki Yamamuro. Some plants have abandoned photosynthesis and evolved to be parasites, feeding off the hyphae of host fungi. These are known as mycoheterotrophs. They don't photosynthesize, which means they only show themselves above ground for brief periods when fruiting or in flower. This makes it hard to find and classify them, and the true identities of many species remain a mystery. Professor Suetsugu and his colleagues are working to document these mysterious mycoheterotrophs in Japan. This time the research team discovered a species of Gastrodia elata on Amami-Oshima and Tokunoshima islands that bears fruit without opening its flowers – they remain hard buds. After dissecting the flower, they discovered that although it resembles Gastrodia uraiensis there are differences in the structure of its petals and column. Because it does not open its flowers, the possibility of cross-fertilizing with close relatives such as G. uraiensis is extremely low, further evidence that it is a new species based on the biological species concept. Interestingly, G. amamiana self-fertilizes in bud form without opening its flowers. Non-photosynthesizing plants often grow on the dark forest floor, an environment rarely visited by pollinators like bees and butterflies. So G. amamiana may have evolved to stop opening its flowers because the action of flower opening used up too many of the plant's resources. We can see similar evolutionary patterns in other mycoheterotrophic plants. This suggests that when plants give up photosynthesis, it changes their relationships with other organisms such as insect pollinators. Mycoheterotrophs are parasitic lifeforms, so only stable ecosystems with resources to spare can support multiple mycoheterotrophic species. The discovery of different mycoheterotrophic species in these forests is evidence of a rich habitat beneath the forest floor, including a fungal network hidden from human view. This year Amami-Oshima has already been the location of two new mycoheterophs' discoveries: the new species Lecanorchis moritae amamiana and the new variety Didymoplexis siamensis var. amamiana. The habitats where these plants were found are also home to many endangered species, and these discoveries are evidence of the rich ecosystems in Amami-Oshima's forests. However, apart from designated national parks and a few other exceptions, many of these natural habitats are becoming potential locations for logging. Tree-thinning was taking place near the discovery location of G. amamiana, and the resulting dry soil may negatively impact the habitat by drying out the fungi. "These field surveys rely on cooperation from independent scientists, and our resources are limited, meaning that some species may reach extinction without ever being discovered by humans," Professor Suetsugu comments. "The discovery of G. amamiana highlights the importance of the forests of Amami-Oshima. We hope that revealing these new species will draw more attention to the environmental threat faced by these regions."
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  15. THE IMPLEMENTATION of USB-C has been, not to put too fine a point on it, an unmitigated cock-up on a Windows 10 October Update scale. Designed to be a universal standard replacing everything from Apple's Lightning ports to HDMI, the system has been dogged by issues including a confusing specification that offers two different data transfer speeds, and non-compliant cables that overpower devices turning them into computerised calamari. But the USB-IF working group, which represents manufacturers of products that offer the standard, aren't giving up, with plans to create an "Authentication Program" to ensure that only reliable products can be used. It involves "cryptographic authentication" which is essentially a posh way of saying "digital rights management" - a phrase that will send shudders through the hearts of anyone who uses their computer for media. The idea here isn't to keep rich manufacturers in clover, but rather to protect end users from the onslaught of cheap (mostly Chinese) off-brand devices that fry your prize possession. The proposals feature 128-bit encryption triggered by connecting a device, and blocking it if an incorrect "handshake" is received. In addition, sysadmins will be able to add their own bespoke encryption to prevent unauthorised devices from getting near corporate assets. The USB-C Authentication Program is the second attempt to try and reign in the marshall law that has dogged the new standard. The Implementers Forum has already lent its name to a certification designed to prevent the distribution of dodgy connectors, but simply saying that your device is compliant has proved ineffective. After all - people lie. Instead, by adding encryption similar to that already used in HDMI cables, there's a chance of getting a stable door closed, even though the horse is halfway down the paddock. Now we just have to get our heads around the fact that the ‘standard' encompasses USB 3.0, USB 3.1, HDMI, DisplayLink and Thunderbolt for data and a bewildering array of options for how it supplies power. It's likely to be years before this gets properly sorted, but this is a start, as long as manufacturers don't use it as an excuse to jack up the price of authenticated products. Which they probably will. μ
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