Saturday, February 8, 2014

Weekly Science Roundup #25

Weekly Science Roundups are back! I've decided I miss too much awesome science news when I fiddle around and wait for the end of the month. Such as...

1. First Fish to Move off of Endangered List!

In some happy conservation news for a change, the Oregon Chub has become the first fish to escape the Endangered Species list! Congratulations, Oregonichthys crameri!

This minnow was put on the list back in 1993, with an estimate of only 1000 left in the wild. But through habitat protection programs and careful reintroductions, that number has climbed over the past two decades. There may be as many as 150,000 in the wild now!

This fish is considered an indicator species for how watershed species in general are doing in Oregon, so to see it make a comeback gives hope for many other plants and animals.

Hooray for quantifiable conservation success!

2. Prosthetic Hand Provides Sense of Touch

Okay, so we're not quite this advanced yet.

Every day, science gets closer to making a Luke Skywalker hand an actual possibility. This time, the breakthrough comes in giving a sense of stiffness and shape of objects to the wearer of a particular prosthetic.

By inserting electrodes into the nerves of what was left of the patient's arm, doctors were able to connect actual nerves to sensors in the fingertips of the prosthetic. The patient could tell the difference, while blindfolded, between holding a bottle, a mandarin orange, and a baseball.

Control over motion of prosthetic limbs has advanced leaps and bounds over the past few years, but sensory feeling from these limbs has been a difficult hurdle to clear. With this news, science has made a decided step in the right direction.

...That was a lot of lower limb metaphors for an upper limb story. Whoops. Anyway, moving on...

3. Real Reason Mammoths Went Extinct?

Why did mammoths--along with all the other Ice Age megafauna--go extinct? It's been debated for decades. The leading theories always have to do with climate changing (end of the Ice Age) and human hunting. More and more often, these ideas get combined into a double smackdown for these ancient animals.

Now, there's evidence of a different sort. A new study suggests that the decline of forbs (wildflowers) may be the real culprit. Stomach contents of frozen woolly mammoth show that these flowering herbs were a big part of their diet. 12,000 years ago, though, grasses and shrubs took over and the herbaceous wildflowers went into severe decline.

This would actually explain the survival of reindeer while every other big herbivorous animal kicked the bucket. Reindeer don't eat a lot of forbs, concentrating rather on sedges, grasses, and lichen.

I'm not sure I'm convinced that this really is "the" culprit yet, but it's at least another piece of the puzzle. I'll be curious to see where this study takes the Ice Age extinction debate next!

No comments:

Post a Comment