How city birds adapt to life in the fast lane
Sing high, sing fast. This is what songbirds have to do to survive in the din of city life, a study has found. Songbirds living in forests sing more slowly and in lower frequencies than their cousins who have opted for an urban lifestyle, according to scientists. The study was conducted on great tits living in 10 European cities and in 10 nearby forests. Scientists analysed the way the birds used songs to attract mates and establish territorial boundaries. Hans Slabbekoorn, of Leiden University in Belgium, said: "Birds sing faster in the cities compared to forests. The forest birds sing low and they sing slow."
The Independent, The Times, New Scientist
Did starving Neanderthals eat each other?
Neanderthals lived a desperately tough life, sometimes so close to starvation that when one of them died their compatriots would fall upon the body and devour it, according to new research. Scorned as clumsy, idiotic brutes with little in the way of developed culture, our pitiless modern view of Neanderthals may be tempered by new findings that provide insight into the terrible life our evolutionary cousins faced. Antonio Rosas, of the National Museum for Natural Sciences in Madrid, Spain, and colleagues studied 43,000-year-old Neanderthal remains found in the El Sidrón cave in the north of the Iberian peninsula.
New Scientist, The Times
Search for crops that can survive global warming
An unprecedented effort to protect the world's food supplies from the ravages of climate change will be launched today by an international consortium of scientists. The move marks a growing recognition that serious changes in weather patterns are inevitable over the coming decades, and that society must begin to adapt. Some £200 million a year will be poured into the research by governments across the world to help agricultural experts develop crops that can withstand heat and drought, find more efficient farming techniques and make better use of increasingly fragile soil and scarce water supplies.
Brown haze over India harming rice harvest
If there was a silver lining to the massive clouds of pollutants that hang over India, it was that this brown haze was keeping global warming in check in the region. Nevertheless, a new study shows that getting rid of it could actually help increase the rice harvests in the subcontinent. Between October and May, a 3-kilometre-thick brown haze sits over much of South Asia and the northern Indian Ocean. Caused mostly by urban pollution such as vehicle emissions, industrial soot and burning of wood and crops, this dirty cloud cools the region by reflecting sunlight back into space. But it also lessens the monsoon rainfall by reducing evaporation.
Obesity epidemic may trigger 12,000 cancer cases a year
Britain's soaring rates of obesity are likely to trigger a new wave of cancer, with as many as 12,000 weight-related cases now expected every year by 2010, researchers warned yesterday. Obesity plays a role in nearly 4 per cent of cancers, including breast and womb tumours, and is believed to be linked to others, such as bowel and kidney cancer. In most cases, hormones released from fat are responsible for raising the cancer risk. Cancer specialists used the most recent figures on obesity from the Department of Health to calculate the number of people at risk of developing weight-related cancer.
Cats at risk of Alzheimer's
Cats can suffer from a feline form of Alzheimer's disease, Edinburgh scientists revealed today. A study into ageing cats identified a key protein which can build up in the nerve cells in their brains and cause mental deterioration, similar to that in humans. The research was carried out by scientists at the University of Edinburgh, as well as universities at St Andrews, Bristol and California. Dr Danielle Gunn-Moore, of Edinburgh University, said: "We've known for a long time that cats develop dementia, but this study tells us that the cat's neural system is being compromised."