Ecology & Zoology

Cats seem to use their eyes rather than follow their nose when it comes to finding the location of food, according to a new paper by animal behaviorists.

Felines have keen smell and vision, so a small study investigated which sense they prefer to use under test conditions – and suggests sight may be more important than smell.

A group of six cats were placed in a maze which had ‘decision’ points – and the cats had to choose which avenue they took based on their preference for using images or smell. They were simultaneously presented with two squares of paper, each containing a different visual and odour cue. One combination of stimuli indicated they would receive a food reward, whereas the other led to no reward.
The use of animals in experimental research has soared at US laboratories, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and taxpayer-funded scientists are the culprits.

The 25 largest recipients of government funding increased animal experimentation 73 percent in 15 years, despite growing public opposition to the practice and mounting evidence that animal studies often do not faithfully translate to people, they write.

They also say the data contradict government claims of reduced animal use and are at odds with government policies designed to curb and replace the use of animals in experiments. 
Make way for a new color under the sea. The orange tint in Leafy Seadragons and the yellow and purple hues of Common Seadragons is now getting some red: Scientists have discovered a new species named Phyllopteryx dewysea, which means Ruby Seadragon.

The discovery was made while researching the two known species of seadragons as part of an effort to understand and protect the exotic and delicate fish. Using DNA and anatomical research tools, University of California - San Diego graduate student Josefin Stiller and marine biologists Nerida Wilson of the Western Australia Museum (WAM) and Greg Rouse of Scripps Oceanography found evidence for the new species while analyzing tissue samples.
A new study to investigate the population structure and historical processes responsible for the geographic distribution of the species in the Mediterranean finds that the bottlenose dolphin only colonized the region after the last Ice Age, about 18,000 years ago.

The Mediterranean basin is now a global biodiversity hotspot and several marine species exhibit complex population structure patterns over relatively short geographic distances, so it is interesting to investigate the drivers of population structure in marine organisms. Tissue samples from 194 adult bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) were collected between 1992 and 2011 from the five main eastern Mediterranean basins. 
At least five mass extinction events have profoundly changed the course of life on Earth - animal life, at least. Plants have been very resilient to those events, finds a new study.

For over 400 million years, plants have played an essential role in almost all terrestrial environments and covered most of the world’s surface. During this long history, many smaller and a few major periods of extinction severely affected Earth’s ecosystems and its biodiversity.
In 2006, there was a large die-off in bees and though their numbers quickly rebounded and have continued upward since, scientists have been looking for ways to make the periodic collapses that occur less dramatic. 

The cause the last time it happened was the same plague that bees have endured for as long as science has been able to study them; parasites. But a new study shows that "nature's medicine cabinet" may be able to smooth out those natural booms and busts.

The Great Lakes have been invaded by more non-native species than any other freshwater ecosystem in the world, and though there have been increasing efforts to stem the tide of invasion threats, they remain vulnerable.

Over the past two centuries, more than 180 non-native species have been recorded in the Great Lakes and the rivers that flow into them. Nearly 20% of these species are considered to be harmful ecologically and economically, posing threats to the Lakes' native biodiversity and multibillion dollar fishery. New threats are emerging because of risks associated with trade in live organisms and climate change,researchers caution in a study in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Evolution starts species off on different paths and even if they arrived in one spot from common descent in the past, they can't reproduce. So in modern times an elephant is not hybridizing with a manatee, or a human with a lemur. Tree frogs...well, yes, but who can explain tree frogs? That did happen, two species were able to interbreed after 34 million years, and sunfish who hybridized after nearly 40 million years.

By Tobias Pamminger, University of Sussex

Ants have a reputation of being industrious hard-working animals, sacrificing their own benefit for the good of the colony. They live to serve their queen and take care of all essential tasks including brood care, gathering food and maintaining the nest.

However, not all ant species live up to their reputation. A handful of ant species have figured out a way to outsource all these essential tasks – by exploiting their weaker cousins.

A few years ago, another colony collapse occurred. Though it has happened more times than recorded history has been able to log, the concern was that new pesticides, which replaced the old pesticides blamed for the last colony collapse, might be the cause.

Since then, bees have rebounded nicely. The collapse was limited to one geography, rather than everywhere the newer pesticides - neonicotinoids - were used, so researchers have been scrambling to find out why it happened and therefore make it predictable. 

A new study says it could just be stress - young bees are sometimes pressured to grow up too fast. 

Credit: QMUL