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 on: Sep 01, 2015, 05:21 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
August 31, 2015

Pacific Ocean trenches may be younger than previously thought

by Brett Smith
Red Orbit

A newly published report in the journal Nature Geoscience has found some deep trenches at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to be much younger than previously thought and gives tantalizing new clues to how the Earth’s crust cracks open along the ocean floor.

The new report focuses on the development of subduction zones, or the boundaries where the Earth’s tectonic plates collide.

A subduction zone marks the collision between Earth’s tectonic plates, which are massive slabs of crust gradually moving over the planet’s surface over the course of millions of years. When two tectonic plates encounter each other at a subduction zone, one flexes and slides under the other.

Studying the "ring of fire"

Subduction zones were not discovered until the 1960s, but they happen all around the Pacific Ocean. Their frequency around the edges of the Pacific has led to the nickname, “ring of fire,” for the circular pattern. Subduction zones are the cause of many of the world’s largest earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and other geological events.

In the study, the team analyzed core samples obtained from a subduction zone in the ocean south of Japan. The samples were extracted from water around 4,800 feet deep in the Pacific floor.

“From the core samples, we were able to date the sediments both with fossils and records of Earth’s past magnetic field reversals,” study author Kara Bogus, of Texas A&M’s International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), said in a press release. “We found that this igneous crust is much younger – about 50 million years – than we originally thought. The fact that it is younger, coupled with its chemical composition, tells us how the subduction zone began.”

Bogus noted the study addresses one of the main unanswered questions in plate tectonics: how subduction zones start, or “initiate”.

“When these plates push under each other into the Earth, hot magma is created that erupts from volcanoes on the surface plate, such as has occurred in the Northern Mariana Islands,” Bogus said. “It’s half the story in plate tectonics. We understand well the other half (how the plates move apart from each other and create new crust), but we are just beginning to understand this half.”

“Overall, our results mean that we need to modify our subduction inception models,” she added.

 on: Sep 01, 2015, 05:19 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
August 31, 2015

How honey bees get their jobs

by Eric Hopton
Red Orbit

Royal jelly, beebread, chemical castration, and a rigid “caste” system – it’s all going down in the honey bee hive. The more science delves into bee society, the more we realize just how complex this hidden world can be. A new study has added to the knowledge base by identifying a plant chemical that determines a bee’s caste—whether they are a queen, drone, or worker.

The research took an in depth look at how honey bee colonies determine which larvae will serve as workers and which will become queens. It found that the plant chemical, p-coumaric acid, decides a bee’s fate, and it’s all controlled by an enforced diet.

The honey bee is a “eusocial” species and has the highest level of organization of animal sociality. Eusocial species have cooperative brood care, overlapping generations within a colony of adults, and a division into reproductive and non-reproductive groups. There are specialized behavioral groups which are sometimes called castes.

Worker castration or queen enrichment?

Honey bee society has reproductive queens and sterile workers, a fate determined by diet. Larvae fed exclusively on royal jelly become queens (duh). Those fed royal jelly (a glandular secretion) for 3 days but then on “worker jelly” containing honey and beebread (a type of processed pollen) become sterile workers. The mechanism is believed to be from either “worker castration via nutritional deprivation” or “queen enrichment by nutritional supplementation”.

Worker bees known as nurses feed the larvae according to the needs of the hive. Broad developmental changes occur when the nurses switch honey bee larvae destined to be workers from eating royal jelly to a diet of jelly made up of honey and beebread.

The crucial p-coumaric acid is in both beebread and honey, but not in royal jelly. Queens feed only on royal jelly. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

Changing the genetic landscape

Experiments revealed how ingesting p-coumaric acid pushes the honey bee larvae down a different developmental pathway from those fed only royal jelly. About a third of the genes in the honey bee genome, are “upregulated” while another third are “downregulated”. This changes the landscape of proteins available to help fight disease or develop the bees' reproductive parts.

“Consuming the phytochemical p-coumaric acid, which is ubiquitous in beebread and honey, alters the expression of a whole suite of genes involved in caste determination,” said University of Illinois entomology professor and department head May Berenbaum.

Berenbaum carried out the study with research scientist Wenfu Mao and cell and developmental biology professor Mary Schuler.

“For years, people have wondered what components in royal jelly lead to queen development, but what might be more important is what isn’t in royal jelly - plant chemicals that can interfere with development.”

“While previous molecular studies have provided simple snapshots of the gene transcript variations that are associated with the exposure of insects to natural and synthetic chemicals, the genomics approaches used in this study offer a significantly more complex perspective on the biochemical and physiological processes occurring in plant-insect interactions,” said Schuler.

 on: Sep 01, 2015, 05:18 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
August 31, 2015

How lady frogs get tricked into mating with ugly males

by Chuck Bednar
Red Orbit

Celebrities aren’t the only ones who sometimes appear to exhibit irrational behavior when choosing a potential mate, according to a new Science paper indicating that one type of female frog can be tricked into selecting the less attractive of two male suitors.

The study was led by researchers from the University of Texas in Austin and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, Panama, and looked at the female túngara frog, who usually prefers to be serenaded with a low-pitched song but can be fooled into picking the lesser of two potential mates through the introduction of a third candidate.

The study demonstrates that the túngara frog, small Central American frogs best known for their ballooning vocal sacks and their unusual calls, can be influenced by the “decoy effect” – a phenomenon known to decrease rational decision making in people, and which apparently causes some amphibians to make irrational choices regarding sexual selection as well.

Picking the right wingman makes it or breaks it

According to National Geographic, Amanda Lea, a Ph.D. student in integrative biology at UT-Austin, and co-author Michael J. Ryan played previously-recorded male túngara frog calls to 78 females that had been captured in Panama. The females were placed in the center of a room, and their song preferences were based on which speaker they started hopping towards.

The study authors found that the frog preferred fast-paced, low-pitched mating calls, and in a second set of experiments, 120 additional females were forced to choose between two potential mates – one a tenor with a fast call, and the other a baritone with a slow call. The frog with the faster delivery but higher-pitched, less attractive point usually won out, they explained.

Afterwards, they introduced a third frog into the mix – one with an attractive call but a call rate slower than either of the other two. When exposed to this call, the female frog changed how she evaluated the song, considering the lower pitch more important than the faster pace. As a result, the frog that lost the first, head-to-head competition now wound up being the winner.

“These results show that the relative valuation of mates is not independent of inferior alternatives in the choice set,” the study authors wrote in their paper, “and therefore cannot be explained with the rational choice models currently used in sexual selection theory.”

Click to watch:

 on: Sep 01, 2015, 05:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Do angry octopuses use weapons?

by John Hopton
Red Orbit
Aug 1 2015

People interested in the natural world often talk about how special octopuses (yes octopuses, not octopi) are; how intelligent and how resourceful. Perhaps the celebrity status is going to their heads, because scientists have recently noticed some pretty outrageous behavior. Octopuses seem to be attacking each other with weapons.

Usually not very social creatures, it appears that when they do come into contact, they don’t always play well with others.

“Octopuses in general are regarded as fairly solitary animals,” said Peter Godfrey-Smith, a marine biologist at the City University of New York, who is studying octopuses in Australia’s Jervis Bay.

“A particular group of them have started living in higher concentrations than usual, which we think is because of some peculiarities of the site where they live,” he told NPR. “And essentially, they’ve had to, we think, learn to get on a little bit. They’ve had to learn to interact, more than octopuses normally have to do.”

Boxing and bullying

It turns out parts of these interaction are less than friendly. Some octopuses have been “boxing,” as Godfrey-Smith puts it, and some have even been bullying others.

“There seems to be a lot of fairly ornery behavior which has to do with policing and guarding territory,” he said.

These sea creatures are fairly intelligent, but apparently they’re also jerks. Some of the culprits have also taken to hurling objects at each other, such as shells and pieces of seaweed, often with direct hits.

 on: Aug 31, 2015, 10:50 PM 
Started by Dhyana - Last post by Evekarak
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 on: Aug 31, 2015, 10:50 PM 
Started by AndreaManik - Last post by Evekarak
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 on: Aug 31, 2015, 08:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
How the diets of early humans explain our eating habits

The Conversation
31 Aug 2015 at 10:16 ET                   

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat and fat. Its critics, on the other hand, argue that these are the same ingredients that would set us up for heart attacks. Moreover, these animal-derived foods require more space to produce on our crowded planet filled with starving humans.

A factual foundation for the debate is provided by a review of the eating patterns of early humans and how we adapted to digest starches softened by cooking. The researchers contend that it was digestible starches that provided extra energy needed to fuel the energy needs of bigger brains, rather than extra protein from meat to grow these brains.

But the most striking thing about human diets is just how variable they have been and the adaptations that have taken place. Furthermore, the American evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk in her book Paleofantasy contends that these dietary adaptations are not fixed on what our ancestors ate in caves at some time in the past.

So are our energy, or protein, needs much different from other mammals of similar size? Brains demand a lot of energy but so does the liver and the digestive tract. The extra nutrition that we need for brain work may be counterbalanced, at least partially, by a lesser need for:

    a long gut to process poor quality foods, or
    a large liver to handle nasty chemicals in these plant parts.

Once built, a large brain does not require extra sources of protein to maintain its activities.

My studies on the dietary requirements of savanna-inhabiting herbivores highlight how these animals must cope with the dry season when most herbage is brown and indigestible even with the aid of microbial symbionts in the gut.

But carnivores do not have this problem because the dry season is when weakened herbivores are most readily killed, especially when they concentrate around scarce waterholes.

The role of carbs among early humans

Meat has long been part of human diets, along with carbohydrates provided by fruits, tubers and grains. We can get by without it, obtaining protein from milk or, with some planning, from legumes.

The early humans that consumed most meat were the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe many thousand years ago, but were not our ancestors. Meat formed the crucial lean-season food for the Neanderthal people during successive winters when plants were seasonally buried under deep snow, but later also for the modern humans who spread through Eurasia and displaced them around 40 000 years ago.

Unlike tropical Africa, meat could be stored during the freezing winters of the far north to provide a reliable food source, especially in the form of large carcasses of elephant-like proboscideans.

This led to a wave of large mammal extinctions as humans spread rapidly into Australia and entered the Americas towards the end of the last Ice Age. By that time hunting technology had been honed and meat routinely supplemented plant food, but the latter remained the dietary staple for African hunter-gatherers like the Bushmen or San people into modern times.

The food journey within evolution

Coping with the intensifying dry season in the expanding African savanna was a critical issue for human ancestors during the evolutionary transition from ape-men to the first humans between three and two million years ago. How did our ape-men ancestors gather sufficient to eat during this time of the year when nutritious fruits and leaves were scarce?

This was when meat, or at least the marrow left within bones, could have become a nutritional fallback, probably acquired by scavenging from animal carcasses not completely consumed by big fierce carnivores, along with underground storage organs of plants.

Obtaining this meat required more walking and hence longer limbs, hands freed to carry, security in numbers and stone weapons to throw at threatening carnivore fangs, but not much expansion in cranial capacity. These were features of the early Australopithicines.

At this early time, another branch of ape-men, placed in the genus Paranthropus, took a different adaptive route. They developed huge jaws to chew on tough plant foods extracted from underground storage organs to get them through the dry season.

The last representative of this genus faded out nearly a million years ago when this strategy eventually became unviable. About that time the lineage leading to early humans discovered cooking, or at least how to use it effectively to make starches stored by plants more readily digestible, according to the article in The Quarterly Review of Biology.

Adding this reliably found source of energy to the proteins acquired more opportunistically by hunting animals or gathering shellfish provided the means to survive through seasonal bottlenecks in food availability and build even bigger brains and the adaptations that followed.

A supporting adaptation was to store more body fat to get through the lean periods, especially among women supporting dependent offspring. This works against us now that foods supplying carbohydrates are plentiful.

The modern day dilemma

The problems we currently face are that we retain a craving for sugar, which was scarce the past, while most of the starchy carbohydrates we eat are highly refined. This means losing out on the other nutrients in plant parts like minerals and vitamins, and most basically fibre.

A meat-based diet could have a role to play for people who have a propensity to store fat by filling the gut for longer and alleviating desires to snack on sweets between meals. More important generally is the need to exercise so that we are hungry enough to consume sufficient food to provide the scarce micronutrients that we also require for healthy bodies.

The best advice is to eat lots of things: meat if you can afford it and justify its planetary costs to produce, but also all kinds of good food, as least refined and processed as you can obtain (apart from wines).

By Norman Owen-Smith, University of the Witwatersrand

Norman Owen-Smith is Emeritus Research Professor of African Ecology at University of the Witwatersrand

 on: Aug 31, 2015, 07:41 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Pitbulls used to be considered the perfect ‘nanny dogs’ for children — until the media turned them into monsters

Joshua Holland
Raw Story
31 Aug 2015 at 08:40 ET       

For most of the 114 years since the American pitbull terrier was first recognized by the United Kennel Club, the breed was rightly seen as the perfect “nanny dog” for children because of its friendly nature, loyalty and stability. As the ASPCA notes, the pitbulls were “once considered especially non-aggressive to people.”

Today, as any owner of a “pitbull-type” dog* can attest, parents often recoil in horror when they spot one of these animals, pulling their children close as if to protect them from a marauding werewolf. Fanciful myths about the breed abound, and some public officials have compared their bites to those of sharks and tigers.

 Since the 1980s, the media have falsely portrayed the pitbull as a bloodthirsty monster, inherently more dangerous than other strong breeds of dog. There is absolutely no factual basis for that narrative, but it’s led to a vicious cycle in which people who want a badass dog to fight, or to guard property, or to intimidate rival gangs tend to choose pitbulls (or Rottweilers, another much-maligned breed). Pitbulls are the dog of choice for irresponsible breeders, dog-fighters, people who want a tough-looking dog to tie up in their yard and those who refuse to have their male dogs fixed because they think those big, swinging balls makes them look tough by proxy (86 percent of fatal canine attacks involve an unneutered male, according to the American Humane Society).

A 2009 study in the Journal of Forensic Science ($$), found that the owners of vicious dogs, regardless of the breed, had “significantly more criminal behaviors than other dog owners.” The researchers added that “vicious dog owners were higher in sensation seeking and primary psychopathy,” and concluded that “vicious dog ownership may be a simple marker of broader social deviance.” And according to the ASPCA, “Pit Bulls often attract the worst kind of dog owners.”

All of those human failings lead to poorly socialized and potentially aggressive dogs. It is because pitbulls are disproportionately favored by these kinds of owners that they’re responsible for a statistically outsized share of serious attacks on humans. These incidents are then reported – and very often misreported – with breathless sensationalism by the media, and the cycle continues.

Meanwhile, advocates say that pitbulls are the most frequentlyabused, tortured, abandoned and euthanized breed of dog in the United States. Shelters across the country are overflowing with pitbull mixes. Because of their stigma, they’re often difficult to adopt out; a ride to the shelter is almost always a one-way trip for pitties.

We have tragically betrayed our children’s beloved nanny-dogs, raising them irresponsibly, training them to be aggressive and then turning them into pariahs when they behave as any dog would in similar circumstances.

The Facts

According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, “controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous.” The American Temperance Testing Society (ATTS) puts thousands of dogs – purebreds and spayed and neutered mixed-breeds – through their paces each year. The dogs are tested for skittishness, aggression and their ability to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening humans. Among all of the breeds ATTS tested – over 30,000 dogs through May 2011 — 83 percent passed the test. How did pitbulls do? They showed an above average temperament, with 86 percent making the grade. Pitbulls are the second most tolerant breed tested by ATTS, after only golden retreivers.

Pitbulls do not have special “locking jaws” – that’s pure mythology. They don’t demonstrate some sort of special shaking action when they bite – all dogs display similar biting behavior. Pitbulls do not exert an unusual amount of bite-force for their size. Multiple studies have found that bite force correlates to body-weight, and tests of three breeds conducted by National Geographic found that the American pitbull terrier exerted less bite-force than German shepherds or Rottweilers.

While they have been a favorite of dog-fighters for a century, pitbulls weren’t originally bred for fighting. According to the United Kennel Club, sometime in the 19th century European breeders began crossing various terriers with bulldogs in search of a breed that had the former’s enthusiasm and the latter’s stamina and strength. The pitbull breeds that resulted were then imported and embraced “as catch dogs for semi-wild cattle and hogs, to hunt, to drive livestock, and as family companions.” (UKC also notes that pitbulls “have always been noted for their love of children,” but aren’t “the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers.”)

Pitbulls are among dozens of strong, muscular breeds of canine. All are capable of doing damage to humans if they’re not properly socialized and supervised. Most dogs do not, even when they’ve been neglected or abused. None are inherently monstrous – they are all just dogs. And we know what makes dogs of any breed more likely to be aggressive.

Karen Delise, research director for the National Canine Research Council and author of The Pitbull Placebo, has investigated hundreds of serious dogbite incidents in depth. As she explains:

    My study of dog bite-related fatalities occurring over the past five decades has identified the poor ownership/management practices involved in the overwhelming majority of these incidents: owners obtaining dogs, and maintaining them as resident dogs outside of regular, positive human interaction, often for negative functions (i.e. guarding/protection, fighting, intimidation/status); owners failing to humanely contain, control and maintain their dogs (chained dogs, loose roaming dogs, cases of abuse/neglect); owners failing to knowledgably supervise interaction between children and dogs; and owners failing to spay or neuter dogs not used for competition, show, or in a responsible breeding program.

There are a tiny number of attacks that simply can’t be explained. Occasionally, a well-raised, beloved pet without a history of behavioral issues will hurt a human – dogs are animals, after all – but these incidents are incredibly rare.

Pitbull Takes Its Turn As Media’s Monster Dog

The pitbull is not the first dog to be seen as inherently dangerous. The media seem to feed off the idea of monster dogs — it makes great copy.

As Karen Delise details in her book, in the 19th century, bloodhounds were believed to be inherently vicious, having a taste for human blood. “Eventually,” she writes, “these bloodhounds fell from view, and we pushed other dogs into the spotlight, including the German Shepherd dog and the Doberman Pinscher.” (Dobermans were widely believed to have abnormally small brains, turning them into mindless killers, but this, like the pitbull’s “locking jaws,” was simply a myth.) Other breeds that have haunted the popular imagination in the past include mastiffs and Newfoundlands. In Canada, Siberian huskies have often played the role of killer-hound.

Delise, who reviewed news accounts of fatal dog attacks going back more than 100 years, also noted a shift in the way media report these incidents. Fifty years ago, she writes, dogs were “portrayed as sentient beings that reacted to pain, discomfort, or fear. Additionally, many reports of dog attacks conveyed the understanding that aggression was a natural and expected behavior of dogs in certain circumstances. Owners and/or victims were often identified in news reports as exhibiting behaviors (intentionally or unintentionally) that caused the dog to attack.”

That kind of understanding has since been replaced by an almost-singleminded focus on the breed of dogs that turn violent, stripped of any larger context.

Breed misidentification plays a significant role in the stigma attached to pitbulls. It’s difficult even for experts to properly identify a breed of dog. A study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science ($$) found that “87.5% of the dogs identified by an adoption agency as having specific breeds in their ancestry did not have all of those breeds detected by DNA analysis.”

That problem is compounded by media sensationalism. Karen Delise studied every fatal dog bite reported in the years between 2002-2005, and found that “eleven dogs involved in fatal attacks with no Pitbull characteristics were counted as Pitbulls, while their ‘true’ breeds were not reported, and three dogs that were clearly not Rottweilers were identified as Rottweilers.” That was among a total of 47 fatal attacks (by all breeds) reported during that period.

This dog was involved in a fatal attack and the media called it a pitbull…(see's the last picture)

According to Delise, this dog was reported as a pitbull despite the fact that animal control officers told reporters that she was in fact a Labrador mix…

This kind of misidentification creates a feedback loop, as most studies of fatal attacks rely on media reports for breed identification.

The media’s role in amplifying the public’s fear of pitbull-type dogs was evident in a study conducted by the National Canine Research Council in 2008. When an Arizona woman was killed by one or more dogs identified as Labrador retrievers, one local newspaper reported the story. But that same year, when a California man was killed by one or more pitbulls, the incident was reported “by at least 285 media outlets, both nationally (in 47 U.S. states) and internationally (in eight other countries). MSNBC, Forbes, USA Today, Fox News, CBS News, and ABC News all picked up the story.”

And when an infant in New Jersey was reportedly killed by a Siberian husky, around a dozen local news outlets reported the tragic incident, according to the study. But when another infant was killed by what authorities described as a pitbull in Nevada the same month, it was reported by over 200 media outlets around the world, often with the word “pitbull” in the headlines. Like shark attacks, our perception of the risk associated with these dogs has a lot to do with this kind of sensationalism.

Dog Racism

Some people are understandably offended when the demonization of pitbulls is compared with bigotry against ethnic minorities, but there’s one aspect of the analogy that is just too apt to ignore.

Pitbulls are disproportionately involved in serious attacks on humans, just as African Americans are found guilty of a disproportionate number of crimes in the United States. That’s simply what the raw data say.

Most people consider the claim that blacks are inherently more criminal than whites, based on that raw data, to be pretty darn racist as it ignores the social, economic and legal context of crime and instead ascribes it to some imagined genetic or cultural flaw among African Americans.

And yet, when you strip away the overt falsehoods about pitbulls – those locking jaws and shark-like bites – the raw statistics, stripped of social context, is the entirety of the case against these animals (made even worse by the unreliable nature of data based on media-reported breeds in attacks).

So when Matt Drudge hypes stories of “packs” of black youths rampaging in America’s streets, he’s rightly called out for race-baiting. But when sex advice columnist Dan Savage, who writes numerous posts about pitbulls behaving badly with titles like, “Pit Bulls Should be Boiled Alive like Lobsters and Fed to Their Idiot Owners,” and compares these domesticated canines with wild tigers, he’s doing the exact same thing as Drudge. (Worse, Savage doesn’t appear to make any effort to confirm that the dogs implicated in the stories he promotes are actually pitbulls.)

Only a Monster Could Support Breed-Specific Bans

A number of municipalities have enacted breed-specific legislation (BSL), in some cases banning “pitbull-type” dogs (and/ or Rottweilers and other large breeds), and in others requiring that they be spayed or neutered, or imposing special restrictions on their housing.

These laws have been proven ineffective for the rather obvious reason that they fundamentally misdiagnose the causes of serious dog-bites, focusing on breeds rather than the interactions of dogs and humans. There are numerous studies showing that BSL laws don’t result in any decrease whatsoever in serious dog bites (see here, here and here, and a summary of several others here).

According to the ASPCA:

    There is no evidence that breed-specific laws—which are costly and difficult to enforce—make communities safer for people or companion animals. For example, Prince George’s County, MD, spends more than $250,000 annually to enforce its ban on Pit Bulls. In 2003, a study conducted by the county on the ban’s effectiveness noted that “public safety is not improved as a result of [the ban],” and that “there is no transgression committed by owner or animal that is not covered by another, non-breed specific portion of the Animal Control Code (i.e., vicious animal, nuisance animal, leash laws).”

    Following a thorough study of human fatalities resulting from dog bites, the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) decided not to support BSL. The CDC cited, among other problems, the inaccuracy of dog bite data and the difficulty in identifying dog breeds (especially true of mixed-breed dogs). The CDC also noted the likelihood that as certain breeds are regulated, those who exploit dogs by making them aggressive will replace them with other, unregulated breeds.

The term “breed specific legislation” is inaccurate. All sorts of dogs get caught up in the tangle of BSL laws because the definition of a “pitbull-type” dog is subjective. Denver’s infamous pitbull ban, for example, defines it as “an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics.”

What, exactly, are those physical traits? In the study cited above showing that adoption agencies frequently misidentify canine breeds, the authors conclude, “The discrepancies between opinions of adoption agencies and identification by DNA analysis suggest that it would be worthwhile to reevaluate the reliability of breed identification as well as the justification of current public and private policies pertaining to specific dog breeds.”

But the problems with BSL laws go way beyond their ineffectiveness at reducing serious dog-bites. All BSL laws, even those that stop short of outright bans, result in beloved family pets with no history of behavioral problems being destroyed. Simply put, these are monstrous laws.

There are better alternatives. San Francisco (which has a dumb law requiring that only “pitbull-type” dogs be neutered), has a “bad dog court.” When a complaint is filed about an allegedly vicious dog, the animal and his or her owner has a right to a hearing where they can present exculpatory evidence. The dog court can order truly dangerous animals to be euthanized, but frequently the sentences include things like mandating that owners fix a fence or muzzle their dogs in public.

The Good News

Fortunately, attitudes are beginning to change as good humans rally around these wonderful, loyal dogs’ defense. Actor Linda Blair is best known for her role in the The Exorcist, but she now devotes her time to rescuing pitbulls and other unwanted dogs. Shows like “The Dog Whisperer,” which features superstar trainer Cesar Millan, whose personal dogs (“Daddy,” and then “Junior”) were pitbulls with calm temperaments and a lot of patience with smaller dogs, and “Pit Boss” – a reality series that follows Luigi “Shorty” Rossi, a little person who rescues pitbulls that are often bigger than him – help.

The fact that we now have an abundance of data showing that banning certain breeds of dog does nothing to decrease the number of serious dog bites helps as well. But really, public opinion is shifting because the case against pitbulls – like bloodhounds or Dobermans before them – was built on a shaky foundation of myths and media hype.

They’re just dogs.
* “Pitbull” is not a breed. It’s a term for a variety of breeds, including the American pitbull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier and mixes of those dogs. “Pitbull-type dog” is basically meaningless – they’re dogs with various phenotypical traits that subjectively fit the label. 

 on: Aug 31, 2015, 06:32 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

A year in a bubble: NASA begins most ambitious Mars-analog mission yet

A team of six NASA scientists begin a 365-day isolation experiment simulating life on Mars. How soon will a crewed mission be a reality?

By Annika Fredrikson, Staff August 29, 2015   

On Friday, a team of six sealed themselves inside a dome for a year, all in the name of science. Or at least, in the name of Mars.

The three men and three women, all scientists, are attempting to simulate what life would be like during a Mars mission. During the NASA-funded experiment, they will spend 365 days inside a 36-foot-wide, 20-foot tall-dome on the northern slope of Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano.

"The HI-SEAS site presents a remarkably high-fidelity environment for this type of long-duration space study," said UH Mānoa’s Kim Binsted, the principal investigator for HI-SEAS III, in a NASA press release. "Looking out the single porthole window, all you can see are lava fields and Mauna Kea in the distance. Once the door is closed, and the faux airlock sealed, the silence and physical separation contribute to the ‘long way from home’ experience of our crew members."

The year-long isolation project is NASA's fourth mission in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) research project and the longest US isolation experiment to date. HI-SEAS IV is the second-longest Mars analog in the world, surpassed only by the third mission of the Mars500 project, jointly conducted by Russia, China and the European Space Agency, during which six men lived for 520 days in a contained 12-by-66 foot capsule.

NASA is using the HI-SEAS missions to study crewmember cohesion and the emotional and psychological effects of living in cramped quarters with limited exposure to sunlight.

Sound like a recipe for disaster? Just imagine an actual crewed mission to Mars, which NASA estimates could take three years to complete. That’s 1,095 days in isolation with the same handful of people.
Who is going?

Fortunately, the HI-SEAS IV team is an extraordinary group: crew commander and soil scientist Carmel Johnston, architect Tristan Bassingthwaighte, doctor and journalist Sheyna Gifford, German physicist and engineer Christiane Heinicke, pilot and former flight controller at Lockheed Martin Andrzej Stewart, and French astrobiologist Cyprien Verseux.

Each will have their own particular tasks during the mission.

Mr. Bassingthwaighte is completing his doctorate in architecture, and he will be investigating how to create more livable environments in the extreme climates of Mars and Earth.

Ms. Johnston will research food production under artificial light.

Mr. Verseux will work on "making human outposts on Mars as independent as possible of Earth, by using living organisms to process Mars’ resources into products needed for human consumption," according to an article posted by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

As they perform their work, each member will have a sleeping cot and desk and be unable to go outside without donning a spacesuit, reported the BBC.

At least they will be able to leave the enclosure, unlike the team who spent two years inside the glass Biosphere 2, also in the name of science.

To simulate needed protection from solar radiation, the HI-SEAS dome has only one small porthole, reported ABC News. While factors such as weightlessness can’t be simulated, the dome does regulate electricity use, rely mainly on solar power, and have a strictly limited water supply.

"Showers in the isolated environment were limited to six minutes per week," wrote HI-SEAS Mission III member, Jocelyn Dunn on her blog.

The crew will have Internet access, with a built-in delay of 15 to 20 minutes to simulate the time it would take a radio signal to travel from Earth to Mars at the speed of light.

Is it worth it?

"I believe in a humankind that is space-faring, that expands its frontiers," said Diego Urbina, one of the men from the Mars500 team, in a video. "I believe we cannot risk losing everything we have done by putting all our eggs in one basket – Earth.”

In her blog, HI-SEAS IV doctor and journalist Ms. Gifford writes, “My existence on this planet means that we’re headed for Mars someday, maybe even someday soon.... I’m going to Hawaii now. Then a handful will make it all the way there.”

While experimental data from the mission is confidential, you can follow crew members Gifford, Mr. Stewart, and Mr. Verseux on their personal blogs.

NASA anticipates at least fifteen years before a crewed mission will actually launch for Mars

 on: Aug 31, 2015, 06:29 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Rare (and adorable!) snow leopard cubs born at Chicago zoo

Chicago's Brookfield Zoo has released the first images of two rare snow leopard cubs, born in June.

By Beatrice Gitau, Staff August 29, 2015   

Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois announced Friday the birth of two female snow leopard cubs.

The two cubs, each weighing about 10 pounds, were born on June 16 and have been growing steadily and bonding with their mom, zoo officials said in a news release. The cubs will make their public debut in mid-October. 

This is exciting news for conservationists, as snow leopards are listed as endangered species by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN), and like most big cats, their population is shrinking fast.

Fewer than 6,400 snow leopards survive in the wild, and they are spread across 12 countries, reports the World Wildlife Fund. Probably no more than 2,500 are of breeding age, say experts with the IUCN.

Snow leopards' numbers are declining because of “poaching for medicinal markets and hides, depletion of their prey base, retribution killing following livestock losses, residential and commercial development, and civil unrest,” according to the Chicago Zoological Society.

Snow leopards are found in the frigid, mountainous regions of central Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, China, Mongolia, and Russia.

The big cats have many adaptations to their mountain homes. For instance, snow leopards change their fur with the season. When it is winter, their furs are thick and white, which both serves as camouflage and helps keep them warm. By summer, they have shed their winter coats and grown a fine, yellow-grey fur to keep up with the heat, the WWF says. 

In addition, snow leopards have longer tails than their cousins, the other big cats, reaching more than three feet long. Not only do they help the leopards balance on steep, rocky slopes, they also help with protection against the cold, since the leopards can wrap their long tails around their bodies while resting.

Recommended: In Pictures Zoo babies:

According to the Chicago Zoological Society, there are just 145 snow leopards living at 63 institutions in North America. Each snow leopard has a unique pattern of spots.

The cubs were born to 4-year-old Sarani and her 5-year-old mate, Sabu. The pair arrived at Brookfield Zoo in October 2011 from Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Cape May County Park & Zoo in Cape May Court House, New Jersey, respectively.

News of their birth comes as animal lovers are still celebrating an announcement that the surviving giant panda cub born at the US National Zoo last Saturday is healthy and putting on weight.

Click to watch:

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