1 Tahrcountry Musings: April 2016

Friday, April 29, 2016

Convincing evidence to show that drones can add substantial value to long-term ecological monitoring by providing low cost, high resolution data

Seeing the forest from drones: Testing the potential of lightweight drones as a tool for long-term forest monitoring
Jian Zhang,Jianbo Hu, Juyu Lian, Zongji Fann, Xuejun Ouyang and Wanhui Ye
Biological Conservation, Volume 198, June 2016, Pages 60–69

Here is a paper that provides Convincing evidence that drones can add substantial value to long-term ecological monitoring by providing low cost, high resolution data.
Long-term ecological monitoring has contributed significantly towards advancements in theoretical and applied ecology. The flip side is that the costs to maintain a long-term monitoring site are enormous. Here the researchers used a lightweight drone to map in detail forest canopy structure across a 20-ha subtropical forest dynamics plot. They examined the added benefit of incorporating drone-derived variables in explaining local variation in both stand and species measures. The researchers were convinced that Drone-derived canopy variables contributed substantially towards explaining spatial patterns in biodiversity. Species with different light requirements responded to canopy variables supporting gap dynamics successional theories and Lightweight drone technologies offer great potential for long-term ecological studies.

The researchers sign off saying Drones should be included in the ecologist's toolbox to complement traditional field surveys.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ravens and crows may be just as clever as chimps, new study suggests

A new study by researchers at Lund University in Sweden suggests that corvid birds can be as clever as chimpanzees, despite having much smaller brains.
The team first trained the birds to obtain a treat in an opaque tube with a hole at each end. They repeated the test with a transparent tube. The animal impulse would naturally be to go straight for the tube as they saw the food. However, all of the ravens chose to enter the tube from the ends in every try. The researchers say the performance of the jackdaws and the crows came very close to 100%.This is comparable to a performance by bonobos and gorillas.
The researchers signs off saying “What is without doubt is that great apes and Corvus corvids have pronounced motor self-regulatory behaviour in relation to the cylinder task, despite very different absolute different brain sizes”.

Details of the research appear in the latest issue of journal Royal Society Open Science.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Large animals play a key role in mitigating climate change in tropical forests

Experts from 15 institutions, including the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds and the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India have found out that large animals play a key role in mitigating climate change in tropical forests. The animals do it by spreading the seeds of large trees that have a high capacity to store carbon.  Using simulations, the researchers showed that declines of large animals will result in forests having fewer large trees.   Carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems, such as forests, reduces the amount of carbon that would otherwise accumulate in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.

Details of the research appear in the latest issue of journal Nature Communications.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Clues from plants to improve wound healing

A research group led by Dr  Kosuke Fujita of  Osaka University has discovered that  a plant-based polyphenol, promotes the migration of Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) in blood circulation and accumulates them in damaged tissues to improve wound healing. The researchers had previously found that ethanol extracts of Mallotus philippinensis bark promoted migrationof mesenchymal stem cells and improved wound healing in a mouse model.  In the present study, the researchers analyzed the effects of cinnamtannin B-1 on MSC migration in vivo and demonstrated that it mobilized the MSCs from the bone marrow to the blood from where they moved to accumulate at the wound site. It is cinnamtannin B-1, or vegetable-based polyphenol that promotes the migration of Mesenchymal Stem Cells. MSCs were released from bone marrow to the blood in cinnamtannin B-1-administered mice. Cinnamtannin B-1 enhanced wound healing.
The researchers say that these results will be used for stem cell treatments for cutaneous disorders associated with various damage and lesions.

Details appear in the latest issue of journal PLOS ONE

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Animal inspired artificial whiskers that allow robots to "see" the surroundings in dark and murky places

Scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Illinois' Advanced Digital Sciences Centre in Singapore have developed artificial whiskers inspired by animal whiskers that allow robots to "see" the surroundings in dark and murky places. Whiskers are critical to many mammals to survive in their environment.
The newly developed tactile static soft-sparse imaging technique offers a strong alternative to existing flow-field measurement systems. Underwater vehicles may benefit from using a whisker sensor system for navigation around obstacles and target detection, as the flow is altered before the actual contact .Researchers say “The unified tactile sensing approach may potentially also be used in biomedical applications such as cardiac procedures, in which the installation of whisker-like sensors on a thin catheter would help a surgeon track the catheter position relative to the heart more easily, eventually reducing the amount of risk for ablation surgeries for atrial fibrillation.”

Details of the research appears in the latest issue of journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Three new primate species from Madagascar

Scientists from the German Primate Center (DPZ), the University of Kentucky, the American Duke Lemur Center and the Université d'Antananarivo in Madagascar have described three new species of mouse lemurs from Madagascar
The new lemurs are Microcebus ganzhorni), Microcebus manitatra and Microcebus boraha.
Microcebus ganzhorni was named after the ecologist Professor Jörg Ganzhorn from Hamburg University, who has been engaged in research and protection of lemurs for decades. Microcebus manitatrais name symbolizes the expansion of the range of a subgroup from western Madagascar. The third member, Microcebus boraha, is named after its location on the Island of Sainte Marie (in Malagasy Nosy Boraha).

Details appear in the latest issue of journal Molecular Ecology

Friday, April 15, 2016

New research adds a new dimension to the role of mycorrhizal fungi in forests

Dr. Tamir Klein and Prof. Christian Körner of the University of Basel together with Dr. Rolf Siegwolf of the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) have discovered that forest trees trade large quantities of carbon with their neighbours. This exchange is conducted via symbiotic fungi in the soil. Carbon dioxide that carried a label was used to arrive at the finding.
The researchers discovered that roots of the neighbouring trees also showed the same marker, even though they had not received labelled carbon dioxide. This included trees from other species. The only way the carbon could have been exchanged is via the network of tiny fungal filaments of the shared mycorrhizal fungi.
Details appear in the latest issue of journal Science

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Use of modelling software and satellite imagery for the conservation of endangered species

 A new Duke University-led case study has demonstrated that habitat mapping software and satellite imagery can help conservationists predict the movements of endangered species in remote or inaccessible regions and pinpoint areas where conservation efforts should be prioritized. The scientists used Aster and Landsat satellite images showing the pace and extent of recent forest loss, and GeoHAT, a downloadable geospatial habitat assessment toolkit developed at Duke. The target species was Peru’s critically endangered San Martin titi monkey (Callicebus oenanthe). With the help of these two tools the scientists were able to easily identify the 10 percent of remaining forest in the species’ range that presents the best opportunity for conservation. San Martin titi monkey was recently added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of the 25 most endangered primates in the world.
Danica Schaffer-Smith, a doctoral student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who led the study, said “Using these tools, we were able to work with a local conservation organization to rapidly pinpoint areas where reforestation and conservation have the best chance of success,” “Comprehensive on-the-ground assessments would have taken much more time and been cost-prohibitive given the inaccessibility of much of the terrain and the fragmented distribution and rare nature of this species.”

Details of the study appear in the latest issue of journalEnvironmental Conservation.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

An excellent drug for osteoporosis developed from Tequila agave is round the corner

Tequila agave is famous for the traditional Tequila drink of Mexico. According to Mexican researcher Dr. Mercedes López , her studies have indicated that the blue variety of the Agave tequilana has substances capable of improving the absorption of calcium and magnesium, essential minerals to maintain bone health.

Dr Lopez says “"the consumption of fructans contained in the agave, in collaboration with adequate intestinal micriobiota, promotes the formation of new bone, even with the presence of osteoporosis."

 Dr Lopez has already applied for a patent for her discovery.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Moss as a bio indicator of cadmium air pollution

A study by scientists of USDA Forest Service and Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University has discovered that Moss growing on urban trees is a useful bio-indicator of cadmium air pollution. The scientists used moss to map atmospheric cadmium in Portland, Oregon. They used moss to track down previously unknown pollution sources in a complex urban environment with many possible sources.The new finding could provide a low-cost source of information to complement existing monitoring.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

A model that can be used to design a reserve system for multiple species

Optimal design of compact and connected nature reserves for multiple species
Yicheng Wang and Hayri Önal
Conservation Biology, Volume 30, Issue 2, pages 413–424, April 2016

The existing optimal reserve design literature considers either one spatial attribute or when multiple attributes are considered the analysis is confined to only to one species. Here the researchers built a linear integer programing model that incorporates compactness and connectivity of the landscape reserved for multiple species. The model identifies multiple reserves. Each reserve serves a subset of target species with a specified coverage probability threshold to ensure the species' long-term survival in the reserve. Each target species is covered (protected) with another probability threshold at the reserve system level.
The researchers modeled compactness by minimizing the total distance between selected sites and central sites, and they modeled connectivity of a selected site to its designated central site by selecting at least one of its adjacent sites that has a nearer distance to the central site. They plumbed for structural distance and functional distances that incorporated site quality between sites. 
The researchers sign off saying “The model can be used to design a reserve system for multiple species, especially species whose habitats are far apart in which case multiple disjunct but compact and connected reserves are advantageous. The model can be modified to increase or decrease the distance between reserves to reduce or promote population connectivity.”

Yicheng Wang is from College of Resources and Environment, Qingdao Agricultural University, Chengyang District, Qingdao, China, and Hayri Önal is from Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Urbana, IL, U.S.A

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Discovery of new symbiotic association between an endophytic fungus, Colletotrichum tofieldiae ,and the plant Arabidopsis thaliana may lead to more sustainable agriculture.

It is a known fact that plants thrive when they establish symbiotic associations with microorganisms. The symbiosis improves the capability to absorb water and nutrients. Mycorrhiza fungi are the most common symbiotic microorganisms related to plants. Colletotrichum tofieldiae is not a mycorrhiza. It is a fungus called endophytic (fungi that grow inside a plant without causing disease symptoms), and it carries out a function similar to the one performed by mycorrhizas. Plants inoculated with this fungus produce more fruits and seeds than the control plants. Colletotrichum tofieldae colonizes the whole plant starting with roots. The fungus transmits phosphorus to leaves and stems.

The research group of Soledad Sacristán, from Centro de Biotecnología y Genómica de Plantas (CBGP (UPM-INIA)) of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), cooperated with Max Planck Institute from Germany in this path breaking discovery. The new discovery will pave the way to improve crop growing, reducing the use of inorganic fertilizers .It will be a more ecofriendly way of agriculture. Details appear in the latest issue of journal CELL.