Daily Archives: March 25, 2008

Science News Tidbits

New findings from Tibetan Plateau suggest uplift occurred in stages from PhysOrg.com
The vast Tibetan Plateau–the world’s highest and largest plateau, bordered by the world’s highest mountains–has long challenged geologists trying to understand how and when the region rose to such spectacular heights. New evidence from an eight-year study by U.S. and Chinese researchers indicates that the plateau rose in stages, with uplift occurring first in the central plateau and later in regions to the north and south.[]

Baby boys are more likely to die than baby girls from PhysOrg.com
Male infants in developed nations are more likely to die than female infants, a fact that is partially responsible for men’s shorter lifespans, reveals a new study by researchers from University of Pennsylvania and University of Southern California.[]

Corn’s roots dig deeper into South America from PhysOrg.com
Corn has long been known as the primary food crop in prehistoric North and Central America. Now it appears it may have been an important part of the South American diet for much longer than previously thought, according to new research by University of Calgary archaeologists who are cobbling together the ancient history of plant domestication in the New World.[]

Saving the rare Azores Bullfinch


Azores Bullfinch, known locally as Priolo, is confined to eastern São Miguel in the Azores, Portugal. It has suffered through widespread loss of native forest and invasion by exotic vegetation, which has largely overrun the remaining patches of natural vegetation within the species’s breeding range. These funds will enable the continuation of crucial habitat restoration work to increase the core range of this species. The exact number of bullfinches is unclear. In the 1990s the population was estimated at 200-300 individuals. However, surveys since 2002 have indicated a rise to around 340 individuals, a sign that habitat restoration is already having an effect.

Read about efforts to save this bird here.

Tower of London Lions

Two lion skulls found during excavations at the Tower of London originated in north-west Africa, genetic research suggests.The big cats, which were kept by royals during medieval times, have the same genetic make-up as the north African Barbary lion, a DNA study shows.Experts believe the animals were gifts to English monarchs in the 13th and 14th centuries….The two well-preserved lion skulls were recovered during excavations of the moat at the Tower of London in 1937. They have been radiocarbon dated to AD 1280-1385 and AD 1420-1480.

Rest of the story here.

PZ Myers Asteroid Confirmed

I believe I knew before PZ Myers did that an Asteroid had been named after him. I heard it on the radio. and much later on he confirmed it on his blog. See this post.[Correction: He knew, he was just being cool. See this.]Curiously, PZ claims that we do not know what the asteroid looks like. He relies on a description provided by his arch rival, Phil Plait. Why would he trust Phil Plait to describe his asteroid?Anyway, I went into the NASA archives (to which I have special access because of my work on the robot problem) and dug out a pretty clear photograph of the asteroid. Here it is: Continue reading PZ Myers Asteroid Confirmed

Is there a limit on the number of species in a clade?

ResearchBlogging.orgA “radiation” (sometimes called an “adaptive radiation”) is when a single ancestral species gives rise to a number of novel species, often in a fairly short (geological) period of time. Following this radiation event, it seems often to be the case that subsequent speciation is less common. In fact, many living clades that have only a small number of extant species have such radiations in their history. It is quite possible that the radiation event occurred for reasons local in time and space, such as a recent extinction leaving various niches open, or the presence of a particular adaptation suddenly enhancing fitness as it had not previously because of an ecological change.But one basic question (among many) that needs to be addressed when thinking of these issues of macroevolutionary patterning is this: For a given clade, where we can presume that there is a great deal of competition among closely related species, is there a sort of maximum limit on how many species you can get? In other words, as a clad starts to diversify, does it fill up the available eco-morpho-nichey space, which would eventually slow down the rate of speciation because new species become less likely to arise?The answer is a resounding: Probably! Continue reading Is there a limit on the number of species in a clade?


Yesterday it was announced that 4000 American Soldiers had been killed, in total, in Iraq. I am not sure if this counts contract soldiers (such as Blackwater; Added: See notes below. It does not.), and I do not know if it includes American deaths since the very beginning of Iraq involvement or since the current invasion (though I think the latter). It does not matter too much, as the number 4000 is a fairly arbitrary thing … if we used a numbering system other than base-10, some other number would feel like a milestone. But this does give us an order of magnitude of the sense of the size of the conflict.This number also means less in isolation than it would in the broader context of “casualties” estimates. We Americans have all had the experience of seeing an increasingly large number of (mostly) men on the street, in restaurants, wherever, in wheelchairs missing lower limbs, or otherwise maimed, and we have to assume that this is part of the conflict as well.It happens that over the last few days I’ve also been reading about other wars and conflicts, and I have been thinking about these numbers in a broader conflict. I have nothing wise or though provoking to say to you about this at this time, but I do think a look at numbers can be interesting. One could say that numbers mean nothing, and that it is the individual losses … to families and loved ones that matter. But the numbers to mean something, in fact, they mean a lot of things. So I’ve put some numbers together in one place for you to look at, be horrified by, to think about. Continue reading 4000


Attention:Berry Go Round Submissions are technically due today. But, I’m not going to assemble the carnival until quite late tonight, so you have several hours to get them to me.Gene Genie is to be published on March 30th, so please get those submission in as well. Any time up to the 29th or 30th will be fine.Thank you very much, you may now resume your activities.