February 10, 2012
Today’s “locavore” movement with its emphasis on eating more locally-produced food is a natural fit for fruits and vegetables in nearly every region, but few entrepreneurs have dared to apply the concept to fish farming. Those who have ventured to turn a vacant barn or garage into an aquaculture business have too often been defeated by high energy and feed costs, building-related woes and serious environmental problems, says aquaculture researcher Andy Danylchuk at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Now he and colleagues are melding building design, fish ecology and aquaculture engineering techniques into a first-of-its-kind “building-integrated aquaculture” (BIAq) model to offer an affordable, more holistic and sustainable approach to indoor fish production located close to markets and able to succeed even in cold climates. Their ideas are outlined in the current issue of ASHRAE Journal, published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.
As Danylchuk explains, typically when a small-scale entrepreneur starts up an aquaculture operation, he or she installs tanks and plumbing in an old chicken barn, for example. “But that’s like building a house with no regard for the occupants’ comfort or their utility budget,” he says. In fact, studies show over 75 percent of total energy demands in the United States are due to building operations.
February 9, 2012
Some 125 million years ago–more recently than once thought possible–the molecular structure of the modern feather began to take form, according to molecular dating research by scientists at the University of South Carolina.
The team also sees hints that powered flight might be the innovation that drove the feather’s evolution from that point forward.
–What goes into a feather?–
Feathers are largely made of proteins, and particularly of beta-keratin, which is also found in the scales and claws of birds, as well as related species like crocodiles and anoles, the small green lizard common throughout the southeastern United States. Mammals express a similar but distinct protein, alpha-keratin, in hair and fingernails.
Beta-keratin is one of the main structural ‘bricks’ in scales, feathers, and claws. Over millions of years of evolution, several families of these building blocks have evolved. Roger Sawyer, a biologist in USC’s College of Arts and Sciences, has been studying the details of the bricks made of beta-keratin since the early 1970s; his approach has been molecular, using biochemistry and immunology to access new data as innovations in laboratory tools became available over the years.
February 8, 2012
Shark attacks in the U.S. declined in 2011, but worldwide fatalities reached a two-decade high, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File report released today.
While the U.S. and Florida saw a five-year downturn in the number of reported unprovoked attacks, the 12 fatalities — which all occurred outside the U.S. — may show tourists are venturing to more remote places, said ichthyologist George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.
“We had a number of fatalities in essentially out-of the way places, where there’s not the same quantity and quality of medical attention readily available,” Burgess said. “They also don’t have histories of shark attacks in these regions, so there are not contingency plans in effect like there are in places such as Florida.”
Seventy-five attacks occurred worldwide, close to the decade average, but the number of fatalities doubled compared with 2010. Fatalities occurred in Australia (3), Reunion (2), the Seychelles (2) and South Africa (2), with one each in Costa Rica, Kenya and New Caledonia. The average global fatality rate for the last decade was just under 7 percent, and it rose to 16 percent last year. Excluding the U.S., which had 29 shark attacks but no deaths, the international fatality rate averaged 25 percent in 2011, Burgess said.
February 6, 2012
A recently published study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and others reveals that humpback whales on both sides of the southern Indian Ocean are singing different tunes, unusual since humpbacks in the same ocean basin usually all sing very similar songs.
The results of the study—conducted by researchers from WCS, Columbia University, and Australia —contradict previous humpback whale song comparisons. Generally, when song from populations in the same ocean basins are compared, researchers find that the songs contain similar parts or “themes.” The differences in song between the Indian Ocean humpback populations most likely indicate a limited exchange between the two regions and may shed new light on how whale culture spreads.
The paper appears in the January edition of Marine Mammal Science and is available on the journal’s website. The authors of the study include: Anita Murray, formerly of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Columbia University ; Salvatore Cerchio, Yvette Razafindrakoto, and Howard Rosenbaum of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Robert McCauley of Curtin University, Perth, Australia; Curt S. Jenner of the Centre for Whale Research, Fremantle, Australia; Douglas Coughran of the Department of Environment and Conservation, Perth, Australia; and Shannon McKay of the School of Life and Environmental Science, Warrnambool, Australia.
February 5, 2012
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Peru program announced today the discovery of 365 species previously undocumented in Bahuaja Sonene National Park (BSNP) in southeastern Peru.
Fifteen researchers participated in the inventory focusing on plant life, insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles. The discovery included: thirty undocumented bird species, including the black-and-white hawk eagle, Wilson’s phalarope, and ash colored cuckoo; two undocumented mammals – Niceforo’s big-eared bat and the Tricolored Bat; as well as 233 undocumented species of butterflies and moths. This expedition was especially important because it was the first time that research of this scale has been carried out in Bahuaja Sonene National Park since it was created in 1996.
“The discovery of even more species in this park underscores the importance of ongoing conservation work in this region,” said Dr. Julie Kunen, WCS Director of Latin America and Caribbean Programs. “This park is truly one of the crown jewels of Latin America’s impressive network of protected areas.”