Saturday, September 17, 2016

Random science and supersocial Hawaii birds

This blog is at its heart a science blog, and we’ve mostly limited it to natural sciences in Hawaii.

But perhaps we haven’t sufficiently described our deep love for science, and how important it is to our lives. 

We could not understand our world, our bodies, out universe and all the rest in the sophisticated way we do without this remarkable system of inquiry.

Science is a systematic way of observing, compiling information and explaining what you’re seeing.

Some of this stuff has no immediate usefulness that most people can see. Some of it does. Some is a building block to later useful discoveries. Some builds tools that can be used to beneficial effect later. Some may never have any direct application.

But there’s even value in satisfying curiosity, solving mysteries. 

I went through just one day’s supply of new science stuff.

Not sure how useful this is to anyone, but some scientists have been able to make suppositions about the habitats of dinosaurs from the coloring of the big lizards. 

“These studies suggest that Psittacosaurus sp. inhabited a closed habitat such as a forest with a relatively dense canopy,” the authors wrote.

Here, researchers looking at meteorites—or a class or meteorites called chondrites—posit about the Earth’s formation from some complex chemistry on these astral travelers. 

That stuff is all very nice, but there’s also research that has direct beneficial effect.

Like a study that suggests a diet that will reduce ovarian cancer. 

And while all sorts of government agencies are beginning to regulate the use of e-cigarettes, there are a couple of new studies that suggests electronic smokes actually do help people quit smoking. They are here and here.

Here’s one. It’s some scientific work that suggests that the droughts of California in the past couple of decades are something Californians will need to get used to, in a world of changing climate. 

You might scoff at researchers taking core samples in ancient lake beds, but they can provide useful clues about how our behavior today can impact the lives of our grandchildren. 

In this case, scientists compared lake sediments in the Sierra Nevada mountains with marine sediments in the Pacific. They found relationships between periods when the planet was warmer and when California dried up.

“These data provide evidence of a persistent relationship between past climate warming, Pacific sea surface temperature shifts and centennial to millennial episodes of California aridity,” the paper says. 

Some of those dry spells lasted several decades, and some lasted thousands of years. UCLA professor Glen MacDonald, quoted in ScienceDaily, said that given the progress of climate change, there are some California predictions you can make: 

"In a century or so, we might see a retreat of forest lands, and an expansion of sagebrush, grasslands and deserts. We would expect temperatures to get higher, and rainfall and snowfall would decrease. Fire activity could increase, and lakes would get shallower, with some becoming marshy or drying up."

Finally, because we are a Hawai`i science blog, an odd little piece from Hawaii research that suggests introduced Kalij pheasants behave in interesting ways when overcrowded. 

While pheasants are not normally known to do this, researchers found that in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, both male and female pheasants—even unrelated birds—participate in raising chicks. 

The study was published in The Auk, a publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union,n by Lijin Zeng, John T. Rotenberry, Marlene Zuk, Thane K. Pratt and Zhengwang Zhang. The reseachers are from Hawai`i, Texas, Minnesota, California and China.

Pheasants don’t normally display this behavior but at the park, they seem to form communities, and individual birds conduct activities that support the community.

“All adults exhibited cooperative behavior, including caring for chicks, agonistic behaviors against conspecific intruders, and vigilance against predators,” the authors wrote.

They suggest that the behavior may not be as rare among pheasants and other similar birds as previously assumed, and that overcrowding may help promote the communal behavior.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016

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