Archive for 'Research News'

“What Colour is Penguin Guano?” [research study]

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

A new study reports progress on an old chestnut of a question:

“What Colour is Penguin Guano?” W.G. Rees, J.A. Brown, P.T. Fretwell, and P.N. Trathan, Antarctic Science, vol. 29, no. 5, October 2017 , pp. 417-425. (Thanks to Tom Gill for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey explain:

“The identification and quantification of Antarctic Pygoscelis penguin colonies depends increasingly on recognition of the characteristic optical properties of guano deposits, but almost all knowledge of these properties until now has been compromised by resolution and atmospheric propagation effects. Here we present hyperspectral reflectance data in the range 350–2500 nm, collected in situ from fresh guano deposits in Pygoscelis penguin colonies on Signy Island, South Orkney Islands. The period of data collection included the transition from predominantly white guano to the pink coloration characteristic of a krill-rich diet. The main identifiable features in the spectra are a broad absorption feature centred around 550 nm, responsible for the pink coloration and identified with the pigment astaxanthin, as well as several water absorption features…. From these results we propose two spectral indices suitable for use with satellite data, one of which responds to the presence of astaxanthin in the guano and the other to water. Our results do not allow us to differentiate between penguin species from their guano, but do suggest that the breeding phenology of Pygoscelis penguins could be determined from a time series of multispectral imagery.”

“Mind the [wildcard] gap” — in academic paper titles

Monday, September 4th, 2017

If you’ve ever used The Tube (the underground railway system) in London, there’s a very good chance you’ll know about this announcement :

What’s perhaps less well known is the wealth (perhaps even the plethora) of academic papers which have taken advantage of the phrase in their titles. Here are but a few examples :

• Mind the Semantic Gap

• Mind the gender gap

• Mind the (Intelligibility) Gap

• Mind the (Computational) Gap

• Mind the implementation gap?

• Mind the (Love) Gap:

• Mind the Gender Gap in Farmers’ Preferences for Weather-Index Insurance

• Mind the (yield) gap(s)

• Mind the gap: or why humans aren’t just great apes

Also see: “It’s [wildcard] Jim, but not as we know it” — The Firm’s lyrics in academic paper titles

Fancy Upgrade Car Wheels and their Evolutionary Significance (study)

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

“Charles Darwin considered costly traits that could not be accounted for by survival advantage, such as peacock tails, problematic to his theory of evolution by natural selection. He later realized that these features conferred reproductive advantage in the acquisition of mating partners.”

Could this peacock tail insight be applied to humans? Specifically male humans? More precisely to male humans who are students? To be exact, to male human students who buy expensive fancy wheels for their cars? So wondered Daniel J. Kruger (School of Public Health, University of Michigan) and Jessica S. Kruger (School of Population Health, University of Toledo) who performed the first experimental study (of its kind) to determine whether visually conspicuous vehicle modifications influence perceptions of male owner’s reproductive strategy and attractiveness.

“Ethnically diverse undergraduates at a large public university in the Midwestern USA (N = 339, 53% female, M age = 19, SD age = 1) completed anonymous on-line surveys at their convenience.”

The results of the survey, which showed the students photos of cars with upgraded wheels, allowed conclusions to be drawn – and published in a Professional Article for EvoS : The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium 2016, NEEPS Special Issue pp. 1-12 and which can be read in full here : Visually conspicuous vehicle modifications influence perceptions of male owner’s reproductive strategy and attractiveness

Note: The photo shows the r8t12 wheel (gold brush finish) available from Radi8

“Radi8 Wheels was [sic] made for those who stand out of the crowd, for those who want to try something different. We devote passion into designing each wheel with its own unique personality. From the ‘Charming Jerk’ wheel to the ‘Mr Drama Queen’ gives your ride that personal touch.”

Sheep Also Yawn (contagiously)

Monday, August 28th, 2017

The 2011 Ig Nobel Physiology Prize was shared by Anna Wilkinson (of the UK), Natalie Sebanz (of the Netherlands, Hungary, and Austria), Isabella Mandl (of Austria) and Ludwig Huber (of Austria) for their study ‘No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise.’ (published in Current Zoology, vol. 57, no. 4, 2011. pp. 477-84.)

Since then, research investigating Contagious Yawning in other species has not abated – two recent studies have added to the growing list* of animals which have been shown to contagiously yawn.

See: Presence of contagious yawning in sheep (2016)

and When Yawning Occurs in Elephants (2017)

* The current list includes (but is prob. not limited to)





Macaque monkeys

Gelada baboons


Domestic dogs





Estimated Insect Deaths Due to Collisions with Motor Vehicles

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

Building indirectly on Ig Nobel Prize-winning research, a 2015 study warns about the number of insects killed in collisions with cars, trucks, and other motor vehicles. The study is:

Road mortality potentially responsible for billions of pollinating insect deaths annually,” James H. Baxter-Gilbert, Julia L. Riley, Christopher J. H. Neufeld, Jacqueline D. Litzgus, and David Lesbarrères, Journal of Insect Conservation, vol. 19, no. 5, October 2015, pp. 1029–1035. (Thanks to Hugh Henry for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Laurentian University, Canada, and Macquarie University, Australia, report:

“Over the last few … numerous pollinating insect populations have declined substantially. The causes of these declines are multifaceted and synergistic, and include pesticides, herbicides, monoculture, urbanization, disease, parasites, and climate change. Here, we present evidence for a generally understudied yet potentially significant source of pollinator mortality, collisions with vehicles…. We documented road mortality of pollinating insects along a 2 km stretch of highway in Ontario, Canada and used our findings to extrapolate expected levels of road mortality across a number of landscape scales.”

The 1997 Ig Nobel Prize for entomology was awarded to Mark Hostetler of the University of Florida, for his scholarly book, That Gunk on Your Car, which identifies the insect splats that appear on automobile windows.

Sarah Knapton interprets the situation, in a report in The Telegraph, under the headline “‘The windscreen phenomenon’ – why your car is no longer covered in dead insects.”