Friday coffee break: Ant architecture, the importance of sleep, and an ArXive for biologists

Coffee Time

From Sarah: Here are ten ways your house is like an ant’s. And here are ten cool recent dinosaur discoveries.

And, also from Sarah: a new international study shows that students need sleep.

I think we underestimate the impact of sleep. Our data show that across countries internationally, on average, children who have more sleep achieve higher in maths, science and reading. That is exactly what our data show,” says Chad Minnich, of the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center.

From Devin: A new preprint server, bioRxiv, is looking to be the ArXive for the life sciences. (But lots of biologists are starting to use ArXive already.)

… Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press is set to test the waters in preprint publishing before the end of the year. The service, called bioRxiv, will be largely modeled after arXiv, with a few additional features to entice life scientists. These include public commenting, room for supplementary information and links to established databases such as GenBank.

From Jeremy: A study tests the quality of plant trait data from public databases by comparing it to new samples.

… the correlation between sampling effort and payoff is still (as usual) high. It may be easier to get traits from a database, but it is not usually better.

Friday coffee break

2010.03.24 - Ramona likes her coffee

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

From Sarah: Paleontologists have recreated how Tyrannosaurus rex probably went about eating a Triceratops.

As [Museum of the Rockies paleontologist Denver] Fowler and his colleagues examined the various types of bite mark on the skulls, they were intrigued by the extensive puncture and pull marks on the neck frills on some of the specimens. At first, this seemed to make no sense. “The frill would have been mostly bone and keratin,” says Fowler. “Not much to eat there.” The pulling action and the presence of deep parallel grooves led the team to realise that these marks were probably not indicative of actual eating, but repositioning of the prey. The scientists suggest that the frills were in the way of Tyrannosaurus as it was trying to get at the nutrient-rich neck muscles.

From CJ: Fourteen-year-old teaches his dad about Dungeons and Dragons, lands first-author spot on resulting journal article.

Alan Kingstone, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, had a problem: all humans have their eyes in the middle of their faces, and there’s nothing that Kingstone could do about it. His 12-year-old son, Julian Levy, had the solution: monsters. While some monsters are basically humanoid in shape, others have eyes on their hands, tails, tentacles and other unnatural body parts. Perfect. Kingstone would use monsters. And Julian would get his first publication in a journal from the Royal Society, one of the world’s most august scientific institutions.

From Noah: To save natural areas, do we have to put a price tag on them?

But the rising tide of enthusiasm for PES (or payment for ecosystem services) is now also eliciting alarm and criticism. The rhetoric is at times heated, particularly in Britain, where a government plan to sell off national forests had to be abandoned in the face of fierce public opposition. (The government’s own expert panel also found that it had “greatly undervalued” what it was proposing to sell.) Writing recently in The Guardian, columnist and land rights activist George Monbiot denounced PES schemes as “another transfer of power to corporations and the very rich.”

From Devin, here’s video of the rhinoceros beetles studied by Doug Emlen’s lab, which recently landed a paper in Science for explaining why those horns make a good indicator for choosing a mate.

Friday Coffee Break



Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

From Noah: Ornithologists find that city-dwelling white-crowned sparrows change their songs to be better hear in the midst of urban noise.

“It shows a strong link between the change in song and the change in noise,” says David Luther, term assistant professor in Mason’s undergraduate biology program. “It’s also the first study that I know of to track the songs over time and the responses of birds to historical and current songs.”

From Sarah: New fossils reveal that an evolutionary ancestor of Tyrannosaurus Rex was the largest known animal to be covered in feathers.

With a Latin and Mandarin name translating to “beautiful feathered tyrant,” Yutyrannus huali was found in the Yixian Formation, a fossil deposit in northeastern China that over the last two decades has yielded dozens of dinosaur skeletons so finely preserved that it’s possible to discern feather-like structures.

Those discoveries have fundamentally changed how dinosaurs appear in our imagination’s eye. Contrary to traditional artistic interpretation, many — perhaps most — of the great reptiles were not covered in scales, but rather with feathers. [Link sic.]

From CJ: Hybridization between two species of blacktip shark may be helping one of the species adapt to climate change. (But what’s up with that headline?)

Australian blacktips confine themselves to tropical waters, which end around Brisbane, while the hybrid sharks swam more than 1,000 miles south to cooler areas around Sydney. Simpfendorfer, who directs the university’s Centre of Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture, said this may suggest the hybrid species has an evolutionary advantage as the climate changes.

From Jeremy: To overcome imposter syndrome—the nagging worry that you’re not as smart or skillful as your peers—maybe science should try to be more like sports.

Sure, I have as many bad days training and racing as I do in the lab, and I’m probably competing against WAY more people, but then, failure in running just doesn’t seem to hurt as much, there’s always the feeling in running that you can pick yourself up, work a little harder, come back a little stronger, and try again. Of course, there’s the fact that this isn’t my career, but still, even so, a bad race just doesn’t mess with my head. It rolls right off, I feel bad for a day, and then I get back up driven to do better at my next one.

Friday coffee break

Coffee flasks

Siphoned coffee.

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

From Devin: A new service, Peerage of Science, which conducts peer review of scientific articles independently of any single journal, is evaluated in the pages of Trends in Ecology and Evolution; see also the response by Peerage of Science.

First, PoS aims to enhance the quality of reviewing by encouraging non-anonymous review, introducing ‘peer review of peer review’, providing the possibility for reviewers to publish their review as a ‘Peerage Essay’ (PE) and to build a ‘referee factor’. Previous attempts at non-anonymous review have discovered, however, that most reviewers prefer anonymity. Peer review of peer review and the implementation of a referee factor are certainly good ideas, but reviewers who want to remain anonymous would waste their time writing a PE. Additionally, it will not always be possible to have an original insight and bring new perspectives to every evaluated paper, and the PE could become outdated after manuscript revision. A solution could be to let the comments to authors be assessed by the other reviewers and make the writing of a PE optional. [In-text citations removed.]

(Jeremy also notes that PoS is either an unfortunate, or a brilliant, abbreviation for a peer review system.)

From Sarah: For the week of Valentine’s Day, Paleontology writer Bryan Switek considers what we know about the mating habits of dinosaurs.

Rather than simply leaning straight against the top of a female like an elephant or rhinoceros does, a male sauropod would probably have to rear up at a relatively oblique angle, and the female would have to assist by moving her tail (which is also a way in which female dinosaurs could have exerted mate choice and confounded any hot-under-the-collar males they would rather not mate with).

From Jon: New research finds that interval training—exercise in a series of brief bursts—can improve fitness faster than more time spent in sustained exertion.

Several years ago, the McMasters scientists did test a punishing workout, known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, that involved 30 seconds of all-out effort at 100 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate. After six weeks, these lacerating HIIT sessions produced similar physiological changes in the leg muscles of young men as multiple, hour-long sessions per week of steady cycling, even though the HIIT workouts involved about 90 percent less exercise time. [Links sic.]

From Jeremy: Documents leaked from a conservative think-tank with ties to companies like GM and Microsoft reveal plans to excise climate change from basic science education.

One thing I want to point out right away which is very illuminating, if highly disturbing, about what Heartland allegedly wants to do: they are considering developing a curriculum for teachers to use in the classroom to sow confusion about climate change. I know, it sounds like I’m making that up, but I’m not. In this document they say:

[Dr. Wojick‘s] effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.

[Links and formatting sic.]