Invasive and Timeless

This article isn’t specifically and directly only about the Canidae family, but it is fascinating. The author discusses species classifications in terms of native versus invasive species, and attempts to answer the difficult question “when is an invasive species no longer considered invasive?” If the species has been there long enough to evolve with the environment, but it wasn’t originally from the area, is is still invasive? One of the examples the author uses is the Australian dingo. It arrived in Australia roughly 4,000 years ago, and since then not only has the dingo itself become a distinct species from its nearest relative, but prey species in the area have also evolved avoidance mechanisms to deal with the new predator. After all this time and evolution, is it still considered invasive?

I cannot answer the question, and the author doesn’t pretend they can either. They do explore it, and that’s interesting enough that I thought it would be worth sharing. Enjoy!

WC

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Dogs also get “runner’s high”

There’s not much scientific substance to this article, but it’s still a fascinating read. Scientists tested the blood of humans and dogs (and ferrets, as a control) after they had been running on a treadmill for 30 minutes and again after they had been walking. They found both “had increased endocannabinoids in their bloodstreams.” Endocannabinoids, as you may have guessed, are similar to chemicals in cannabis plants with one key difference: these are naturally produced in humans and dogs and create the effect known as “runner’s high.” Thus the scientists could conclude that the dogs were also experiencing the high!

They also suggested some evolutionary reasons as to why dogs would experience that high, but I personally thought the science itself was more interesting. Yay science!

WC

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Lord of the Ecology

Okay, seriously I cannot sum this one up for you, you just have to read it.

There’s no new research here. This is just one smart cookie expressing his knowledge and ideas in pretty much the best way ever: concise and creative. He compares Lord of the Rings to the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park in order to explore the potential causes of decline in the Northern Yellowstone elk herd population. Of course, the first answer everyone goes to is the return of wolves to Yellowstone, but anyone who understands ecology and thinks for half a moment knows it can’t JUST be that.

So this guy takes all the facts out of their dusty, unused boxes and lays them out all neat and beautiful for anyone willing to listen. His basic point seems to me to be that wolves may not have helped, but there is no way they caused this population drop on their own. There are too many other factors, and if people actually used science and logic they would see these other factors plain as day.

The author cites tons of research, so if you’re interested in population studies this is definitely worth a read. If you’re interested in ecology, wolf studies, predator-prey research, or Yellowstone National Park and its wildlife then this is definitely worth a read. If you’re interested in slaughtering wolves because you don’t like having them around and the decline in elk population is as good an excuse as any… then maybe you shouldn’t read it.

Who am I kidding? This compares ecology to Lord of the Rings, it’s always going to be worth a read!

“Thinking that wolves are completely driving the elk population decline in Yellowstone’s Northern elk herd is a lot like thinking that actor Elijah Wood is only three feet tall because he appeared to be that height in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.”

WC

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Doggy Bacteria

Recent research produced by a whole slue of scientists working across the United States has discovered that dog owners often have bacteria living on their skin that most commonly thrives on dogs’ tongues and paws. In this article published by NPR, the author discusses the research being done studying the differences and similarities of microbiomes–the collective term for the literally millions of bacteria that live within a single larger animal–across many species including humans.

They even very maturely use the term poo when listing where samples were taken from. This may or may not have been one of my favorite parts of the article.

It’s all harmless, of course, but it’s also distinctly doggy. They even looked to see if there was an analogous organism for cat owners, and there isn’t. The funny part is, it’s only these two kinds of bacteria: those that prefer a dog’s tongue and those that prefer the crevices in a dog’s paws. They said that “two dog owners who don’t even know each other have about as many of the skin bacteria in common as a married couple living together.” Think about that for a second. A random stranger off the street that also happens to own a dog–any dog–has as much bacteria similar to yours as your bed mate. This is both awesome AND amazing.

The research couldn’t say if this bacterial invasion had any affect on human health or not, but they did point out this lovely article that discusses research showing that the “presence of pets in a home during the prenatal period and during early infancy has been associated with a lower prevalence of allergic sensitization  in middle childhood.”

That’s right, having pets might actually make your kids healthier. Thank you, science!!

The original publication is here.

WC

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Isle Royale Inbreeding

After recently completing their 55th annual Winter Study of the wolves and moose of Isle Royale National Park, researchers have expressed concern for the infamous island’s unfortunately inbred population of wolves.

Apparently this is the first year since the study’s inception in 1971 that researchers haven’t been able to find any evidence of pups on the island, and there is no environmental cause they can find. The moose population is doing amazing, more than doubling since 2007, and the lack of pups is definitely not due to a lack of females. Thanks to scat analysis the researchers believe the population of eight contains three to five females. Because there is no lack of food or, ahem, proper equipment, the researchers have posited that the intense inbreeding of the population may be a major factor.

Isle Royale is, of course, an island, making immigration between populations on the island and populations on the mainland extremely difficult. The current population of wolves began with three (two males and a female) that arrived on the island more than fifty years ago. Since then, exactly one immigrant has appeared (in 1997), bringing a little but not much genetic variation.

This sad development in the population has people talking about potential management plans, but nothing has been officially decided or even discussed. I for one will be very interested to see what they will do. Will they bring in a few new wolves to revive the genetics of the population before it drives itself into the ground? Will they let the population die out, waiting for extreme measures to be necessary and potentially disrupting the longest running predator-prey study on earth?

It’s only been one odd year, so waiting and watching is probably the best plan right now. I will be watching, will you?

For more information on the Winter Study, click here. If you’re just interested in the Isle Royale research in general, click here.

WC

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Dogs and Fairness

Okay, this is just amazing: researchers in Austria have found that dogs have a sense of fairness. They brought in pairs of dogs that had lived together for a minimum of one year and had been previously taught how to “shake” (give a paw when asked). One dog was designate the “subject,” while his/her doggy buddy was the “partner.” Each pair was put through one of the following situations:

1- Both dogs asked to shake, both received a low-value reward upon completion (a piece of bread).

2- Both dogs asked to shake, but while the subject dog received a low-value reward the partner received a high-value reward (sausage).

3- Both dogs asked to shake, but only the partner dog received a low-value reward. The subject received nothing.

4- Only the subject was asked to shake, but both dogs received a low-value reward.

5- The subject dog was asked to shake for the low-value reward without the partner dog around.

6- The subject dog was asked to shake for nothing without the partner dog around.

What did they find? The dogs were perfectly willing to shake as long as they received a reward, regardless of what their partner got. As soon as they got nothing, however, things got interesting. When the subject dog received nothing while the partner got treats, they quickly began to refuse the trick, even showing signs of stress! It wasn’t just that they were confused at the lack of reward, either, because when they were asked to shake for no reward without the partner dog around, they were willing to keep going for longer. Not as long as they were willing when there were treats around, but a lot longer than when their buddy was getting treats for their work. They knew it wasn’t fair!

It’s not terribly important or relevant to anything, but it’s still pretty cool. Turns out we’re not the only social creatures with a sense of fairness. I wonder if there are any others…?

WC

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The Rare Ethiopian Wolf

I’m bring back an old National Geographic article from 2006 here because why not? It is about the only wolf species in Africa, the Ethiopian wolf, which supposedly migrated there 100,000 years ago during a global ice age and never left. They are red and white, and hunt mostly small mammals, hunting livestock so rarely that herders tolerate their presence even in the middle of a herd. Ethiopian wolves have the distinction of being the only wolf species to be solitary hunters rather than pack hunters. They do still live and socialize in packs though, which confused researchers at first. Eventually they discovered that the pack strength was needed to guard territory large enough to supply the only prey available: small mole rats and the like. Though they hunt those small mammals independently in order to each ingest enough meat, they require the strength of the pack to hold that land and keep it available for hunting. It’s a fascinating adaptation only found in this unique, isolated species.

The article doesn’t discuss any particular research or amazing new findings, but it does give a beautiful encompassing introduction to a relatively unknown species. Enjoy!

WC

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