Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Link List: The Natural World

"The Science of Cities" over on Nature is an overview of different urban ecology studies going on right now. Mostly, it focuses on carbon dioxide measurement, but there's also mention of urban farms and studies questioning whether to plant trees, where to plant them, and which varieties are best. Dry, in itself, but hopefully will lead in many interesting directions.

It turns out that aphids can do something like photosynthesize. This is both unbelievably cool and totally unfair. Aphids also have a choice whether to produce offspring asexually or sexually, can be born pregnant, and decide whether or not their offspring will have wings based on environmental conditions (like crowding). It seems unfair that they can photosynthesize as well! Be sure to read the comments; one of the things that makes Nature so interesting is that the comments actually add to the discussion and are generally made by people who know what they're talking about.

And then there's parrot mimicry: Apparently, one reason parrots are so good at imitating others is that many of them spend time in flocks; as social creatures, they communicate with one another, and, since they're in contact with potentially hundreds of other birds, they have to be able to notify each other which bird they're talking to. So, they imitate that particular bird's identification (or contact) call. The study, done by Dr Thorsten Balsby of the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and others from the University of Copenhagen, looked at orange-fronted conures, who apparently do quite a lot of meeting and mingling. This was a link-chain, followed from io9 to BBC to BBC to PLOS One.

And I just checked and learned that my favorite mimics from The Alex Foundation had a webpage redesign and also now have a blog and an Alex Foundation Facebook page, so it should be easier to see how Wart and Griffin are doing in their communication attempts. Alex was sort of learning to read and spell before he died, so it'll be interesting to learn if Griffin and Wart are following in his footsteps and to see what else they can learn.

And here's another Nature article, Corals under attack summon friendly fish. I've got a long-term fascination with inter-species communication, so this whole idea of coral "summoning" gobies to help munch toxic coral caught my attention right away. Also, it made me remember reading that land plants summon wasps in much the same way: If they're getting eaten by a caterpillar, they send out a pheromone signal that lets wasps know there is a tasty treat hidden somewhere on the leaves.

I think that last was in Sharman Apt Russell's Anatomy of a Rose, or maybe An Obsession with Butterflies, both of which, by the way, I highly recommend. Maybe I should reread them, now that I'm thinking about it. (Ok, thanks to the magic of Amazon's book-search, I can name the book for sure. It is Anatomy of a Rose).

Then there is the matter of human-dog communication. According to this article in Science Live, "Dogs Hear 'Get the Ball!' Differently Than You": Dogs can learn to recognize specific words, but it turns out that they don't categorize the way people do. Where people generalize and categorize by shape, dogs apparently look to size first, then texture. So, a very clever dog can learn to hear and recognize a lot of words, but they might not be thinking quite what you're thinking. This one is fascinating, and I'd like to see more done on it; the experiment mentioned dealt with one dog. It's not unreasonable to extrapolate, but still, I hope they test this out on a few more dogs.

Oh, and speaking of inter-species communication, can anyone point me toward any good work on ravens and wolves? The last article I read, oh, ages ago, said something along the lines of "Yes, we think some ravens and some wolves communicate, some of the time, but we're not really sure." Got anything more specific? Newer?


  1. And today I read this article on solar-powered animals: Plant-Like Animals It mentions the sea-sponge, the aphid (it's a pea aphid; I wonder how, or if, that differs from other aphids?) and spotted salamanders, of all things.

  2. Such interesting tidbits, thanks for sharing! My discoveries tend to be much less sophisticated, for example in terms of parrot mimicry my latest find is a parrot singing Gangnam Style.

    1. You can't say something like that and not share the link yourself! Where?

    2. You've probably found it by now, but if not, here you go. :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-XvHyy1WL8