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Iceland's Catastrophes Bring Flood of Tourists

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, November 28, 2016

Catastrophic Disruption Fed Tourist Boom in Iceland

Remember the volcanic eruption in Iceland that spewed thick clouds of ash over European skies, disrupting air travel word-wide and leaving millions of travelers stranded for six days in April 2010?   That followed the 2008 financial crisis, when Iceland’s banking troubles spilled into WikiLeaks, and a severe economic depression was accompanied by significant unrest. 

As if the financial implosion and volcanic explosion weren’t enough, Iceland’s Pirate Party,  a collection of anarchists, hackers, geeks, poets and activists from the far right and far left,  this year gained more seats in Parliament and its influence is expanding.   The result of all this disruption? A booming tourist industry.  

A New York Times story by Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura explains that after Eyjafjallajokul (pronounced AY-yah-fyah-lah-YOH-kuul) erupted, journalists from all over the world arrived and publicized the spectacular landscapes and geographic details of the 35 active volcanoes on this Arctic island.  Foreigners shortened the name of the erupting volcano to E-16.  Tourism had already grown after 2008 because the collapse of the Icelandic krona made visiting less expensive.  Even the Pirate Party, with its black pirate flag and anti-establishment reputation,  helped “burnish Iceland’s image  as cool and alternative,” according to the Times.

Tourism is now the country’s biggest employer and many Icelanders are pouring money into new construction and services.  The owner of a luxury resort, for example, told The Times Iceland was saved by the financial crash and the eruption. The owner, Fridrik Palsson had always sold Iceland as a great place to see the Northern Lights,  and now he employs an astronomer in his hotel and bought three expensive high powered telescopes for his guests’ sky watching.

The story describes Reykjavik, the capital city, as looking like a Scandinavian version of Singapore—clean, orderly, and wealthy, with upscale restaurants and businesses.  Tourists are expected to outnumber Iceland’s population of 330,000 by seven to one next year, and some residents worry about traffic, growing housing costs, and light pollution spoiling the landscape. Diddi Bardarson, who owns a 500 acre ranch where he breeds Icelandic horses, has benefited from tourism, but he’s also among those who think tourism may prove ephemeral. He told The Times he and his horses are preparing for leaner times.  “Horses start slowing down their heart beat. They try to get fatter and grow a thicker coat for the coming hard winter,” he said. “So should humans.” 

 

 

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Water Bears Eolved Resistance to Damaging Radiation

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, November 28, 2016

Learning Resilience from the Earth’s Toughest Creature

How much change, shock, extreme environmental variation and damaging stress can a living creature absorb and still survive? The strange microscopic creatures called tardigrades—also known as water bears—can tolerate almost anything and their extraordinary resilience may help us learn how to be tougher ourselves.

An article in The Verge by Rachel Becker points out that tardigrades can survive 30 years in a freezer, rapid dehydration, temperatures just above absolute zero and hotter than boiling, massive doses of radiation, baths in organic solvents, and even a trip to open space.  They can live years without food or water.  In fact, they are nearly indestructible.

Scientists who have sequenced their genome are discovering clues to how they manage such resilience. Part of their stress resistance, the scientists reported in Nature Communications, comes from tardigrades’ ability to lose bits of damaged DNA that induce cells to consume their own components.  The creatures also have, over time, evolved a protective protein that provides resistance to damaging X-rays, and scientists have been able to transfer that resistance to human cells.

“Tolerance against X-ray is thought to be a side product of the animal’s adaptation to severe dehydration,” the study’s lead author Takekazu Kunieda explains in a Scientific American article by Jason Buttel.  Kunieda, a molecular biologist at the University of Tokyo, says that severe dehydration wreaks havoc on living cells, and can even tear apart DNA, in much the same way that extreme X-ray does. To learn how tardigrades protect themselves against such extremes, Kunieda and colleagues began sequencing the genome of one of the toughest species of tardigrade. They inserted the tardigrade genome into mammalian cells to study its working processes closely. Then by manipulating cultures of human cells, Buttel writes, researchers were able to produce pieces of the taridgrade’s  inner machinery to learn which parts were providing the creature its resistance.  Eventually they found that a protein called Dsup prevented the tardigrade’s DNA from breaking under the stress of radiation and dehydration.  Further, they found, tardigrade-infused human cells were 40 percent less damaged by radiation. 

Ingemar Jonsson, an evolutionary ecologist who studies tardigrades at Kristianstad University in Sweden told Scientific American that protection and repair of DNA is a fundamental component of all cells and an element in ageing and many diseases, including cancer.  The possibility of improving resilience in human cells could benefit cancer patients undergoing radiology, protect workers at nuclear plants, and possibly even help grow crops in extreme environments on other planets, scientists say.

Bob Goldstein, a biologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who helped sequence the genome of another tardigrade species, thinks Kunieda’s  research is the first of many such discoveries that will have exciting implications for humans.  Because the tardigade can resist so many kinds of extremes, he observes, it must have many different ways of protecting itself.  Jonsson calls the tardigrade genome a genetic treasure for further research.     

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Ballet Slippers and Marching Boots

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, November 10, 2016

Classical Dance Soothes Stress at the DMZ

“Men everywhere dance.  There are no human societies in which they do not.”

Poet Charles Olson quoted by philosopher Maxine Sheets-Johnstone.

After North Korea’s nuclear test and rocket launch earlier this year, as tensions in the demilitarized zone along North Korea’s border increased, South Korean soldiers on the font lines were developing a creative way to combat stress.

Soldiers in the South Korean army’s 25th Division are taking weekly ballet lessons taught by Lee Hyang Jo, a ballerina from the Korean National Ballet.  Reuters reports that the program began last year and has already included a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

In a PBS Newshour interview, South Korean Battle Commander Heo Tae-Sun said through a translator, “Ballet require a great amount of physical strength, is very good for strengthening muscle, increasing flexibility and correcting posture. So I think ballet has helped us.”  One of the soldiers, Kim Joo-Hyeok elaborated, explaining life at the border sometime makes him feel insecure.  “However,” he said, “through ballet I am able to stay calm and find balance.” The plies, tendus and other classical ballet exercises  may influence mood, confidence and reflection among the soldier-students of dance more than traditional exercises.    

In her book The Corporeal Turn: An Interdisciplinary Reader, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone discusses dance of all kinds as an evolutionary phenomenon and a manner of thinking.  Sheets-Johstone is an interdisciplinary scholar and philosopher who began her career as dancer and choreographer.

“Any process of thinking in motion is tied to an evolving changing situation,”

she writes. “To be thinking in movement means that a mindful body is creating a particular dynamic, as that very dynamic is kinetically unfolding.”  Unlike language, in her view, dancing involves the whole body in time and space and encompasses rhythm, risk and balance.

In his poem Among School Children, William Butler Yeats reflects on the movement of life through turbulent experiences in love, loss, strength, youth, age and frailty. His eight lyrical verses explore the ever-changing pieces of existence and conclude with the questions:

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Little Lies and Slippery Slopes

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, November 2, 2016

 

Sometimes Practice Makes Perfect. Sometimes it's the Road to Perdition.

Researchers at University College London and Duke University recently published a study in Nature Neuroscience showing that dishonesty grows with repetition.  “Whether it’s evading taxes, being unfaithful, doping in sports, making up data, or committing financial fraud, deceivers often recall how small acts of dishonesty snowballed over time,” UCL neuroscientist and study author Tali Sharot said at a news conference quoted by Simon Makin in a Scientific American article.

 “We suspected there might be a basic biological principle of how our brain works that contributes to this phenomenon called emotion adaptation,” Sharot said. Her team’s experiments support that idea.  A phenomenon called adaptation causes response to stimuli to decline if the stimuli is repeated.  For instance, Makin writes, the amygdala, a brain region known to respond to and process emotion, is activated in response to an unpleasant image. The emotional response weakens with repetition of the image.

“The first time you cheat, say on your taxes, you feel bad about it, but that’s good because it curbs your dishonesty,” Sharot explains.   “The next time you cheat you’ve already adapted.”  The bad feeling is weaker, so it’s easier to cheat again.   

Many major frauds begin with minor transgressions. By way of example, Makin cites Bernard F. Bradstreet, the former president of the tech company Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, who was sentenced to jail for fraud in 1996. Initially, he just allowed sales that weren’t quite closed to appear on the books to boost quarterly earnings. Then deceptions escalated to forged customer signatures, fudged documents and millions in fake sales to make the company look profitable and hide losses. Similar stories emerged from the Enron scandal, in which cooked books and multiple deceptions led to one of the biggest U.S. bankruptcies.  In a more recent scandal, thousands of employees at Wells Fargo were found to have boosted their individual sales records by creating customer accounts without the customers’ knowledge.  

The UCL and Duke researchers recruited 80 adults to participate in experiments to test whether dishonesty escalates. Participants were asked to estimate the amount of money in a glass jar and advise their partners, who unbeknownst to them, were actors.  Participants were told they would see a large, high resolution picture of the jar for three seconds and their partners, linked to them by computers, would see a small picture of the jar for one second. In the first exercise, participants were told their partners’ goal was to reach the best estimate with the participant’s advice. This allowed researchers to record participants’ estimates when there was no reason to lie. Then participants were successive given tasks in which the participant would benefit at the partner’s expense, the partner could benefit, or both could benefit.  In one exercise, for instance, participants were told they would be rewarded based on how much the partner overestimated the amount, whereas the partner would be rewarded for accuracy. 

Researcher found that dishonesty increased as representations of the jar were repeated 60 times. People lied when they thought their partners would benefit, but the level of lying remained constant.  They lied a little more when they thought both would benefit. But participants’ lies clearly escalated over time when dishonesty was in their own self-interest.  

Neil Garrett, a cognitive scientist at UCL, and lead author, said the study provided the first empirical evidence that dishonest behavior escalates when it is repeated while all else is held constant. More research is needed, and Sharot and her team think the findings about repetition maybe relevant for other kinds of behavior, such as risk-taking and violence.   

So what happens when lies escalate? Troubles of all kinds.  Philosophers, ancient and modern, have weighed in. The Bible, in Second Thessalonians 2:11 says repeat deceivers become delusional and start believing the lies. 

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Tasmanian Devil Milk: New Clues for Fighting Superbugs?

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, October 28, 2016

Scientists Study Immunity Among Tasmanian Devil Babies  

Remember Taz, the Tasmanian devil in Looney Tunes, the murderous beast that menaced Bugs Bunny and the other loveable cartoon characters?  Its real life counterpart may inspire clues for treating one of today’s most serious international health crises.

Scientists trying to combat drug resistant superbugs are studying baby Tasmanian devils and other young marsupials to understand how they stay healthy despite exposure to illness-inducing microbes, CNN reports.  

Hundreds of marsupial species, such as kangaroos, opossums and Tasmanian devils, are native to Australia, where researchers have been wondering how infant and young marsupials survive the far from sterile environment of the maternal pouches they occupy early m life.  Infant Tasmanian devils are born after about three weeks in the womb then have to crawl through their mother’s fur to reach the pouch, where they live and nurse for about four months. Researchers discovered that the pouches typically contain considerable amounts of bacterium and pathogens that could  be expected to harm a baby animal.  How do the young grow and flourish?

Researchers discovered that Tasmanian devil mother milk contains peptides called cathelicidins, which work as a natural antibiotic and boost the offspring’s immune system. Human breast milk also has antibiotic properties, but humans have only one cathelicidin and Tasmanian devils have 12.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.  When exposed to the peptides in Tasmanian devil milk, such drug resistant bacteria as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus  (MRSA)  and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus died. Researchers found the cathelicidins are expressed throughout the animals’ bodies as well as being in the milk, and may alter the microbial pouch population so as to reduce potential pathogens.  Read the article by Emma Peel and colleagues  on the faculty of veterinary science at the  University of Sydney, in Sydney Australia, here.

Tasmanian devils are known for their voracious appetites—they eat just about anything—birds, bugs, snakes, fish,  and any hapless small mammals that cross their path,  and they devour all of their prey including bones, fur, feathers and organs.  They are endangered, partly because Nineteenth century farmers mistakenly thought they were killing large livestock, and more recently because a rare contagious cancer that struck Tasmanian devil population in the 1990s and killed thousands.  Researches say greater understanding of the antibiotic and immune boosting properties of Tasmanian devil milk could provide new clues in the fight against increasing dangers of drug resistant pathogens.

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Building Health and Social Bridges

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, October 17, 2016

The spaces we live in help shape our lives 

The new 12-story Boston Road Supportive Housing apartment building in the Morrisania section of the South Bronx has internal spaces carefully designed to meet the individual and social needs of its low income and formerly homeless residents and a cheerful façade with colored metal panels that brighten its lackluster  surroundings.

“It engages your eye in much the same way a catchy pop tune gets into your head and refuses to budge,” writes Martin Filler in a New York Review of Books story about the building.  It differs from Manhattan’s new luxury towers, he writes, in being conceived not for society’s most privileged, but for the least privileged, the once-homeless, the working poor, and people who are aged, in poor health and survivors of HIV/AIDS.

The building was designed by Alexander Gorlin, an architect whose work includes exquisitely detailed modernist houses and interiors for billionaires, and what Filler describes as aesthetically ambitious synagogues for wealthy congregations in up-scale New York suburbs. Filler calls Gorlin an architectural Robin Hood who uses some of his lucrative commissions to subsidize time he spends on less remunerative but more socially beneficial work. Gorlin collaborates with Breaking Ground, a nonprofit organization formed to provide housing that integrates formerly homeless people into the community with social services as well as shelter.  “Gorlin’s pragmatic gem proves that America’s ever-widening gap  between rich and poor is neither inevitable nor unbridgeable when it comes to architecture,” Filler writes.  

In a Metropolis magazine story by Vanessa Quirk, Breaking Ground president and  CEO Brenda Rosen explains that  the 154 unit Boston Road project was financed by the New York State Medicaid Redesign Team, which consider housing a way to reduce health care costs.  With emergency room care, hospitalization, jails and shelters, Rosen says, the average mentally ill person costs the city $56,350 a year, while the same person in supported housing costs the city $24,190. In addition to comfortable apartments, Boston Road and other Breaking Ground buildings provide centers for education, job searches, a gym, a medical clinic, common areas, and spaces for meditation and recreation.  Rosen said creating new facilities rather then rehabilitating old ones allows for such designs as one floor where all the amenities, building staff offices and communal areas are arranged in a semi-circle so that people are encouraged to socialize as they use them.  The mixed population of low-income workers and former vagrants, supporter say, is planned as a step to de-stigmatize homelessness and prove that solutions exist.  

The construction cost of $30 million, or about $325 per square foot, is about half of the cost of luxury condo construction in New York today, Filler writes, and the architect and funders were determined that the building would combine beauty with function. Gorlin has studied the uses of light in built environments, and he’s been inspired by mystical elements of Jewish symbolism.  His most recent book is Kabbalah in Art and Architecture, and his in-depth  essay on the subject is on the Gorlin Architects website.  

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Architects Say Design Fosters War or Peace

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, October 6, 2016

'This place promoted  anger....revenge'

People from different religious and ethnic groups have lived in relative harmony for generations in Syria's cosmopolitan cities, and one young resident architect believes failures of design and infrastructure have fueled the civil war that turned those urban spaces into nightmares of death and destruction.

Marwa al-Sabouni, a 34 year-old architect who has been confined to her apartment in the ancient city of Homs for the last two years with her husband and children, believes the loss of shared spaces occupied by sites where people lived, worked, shopped and worshiped has fostered separation and isolation. The trend grew over time as the traditional buildings and winding shaded lanes were replaced square street grids and massive apartment blocs that isolated their residents from the city center. Shantytowns with residents divided by race and class sprung up on the fringes of Homs and other cities, further diminishing amicable interactions.

"This place promoted anger, it promoted revenge," Ms. Sabouni told the New York Times. "I'm not saying architecture is the only reason for war, but it accelerated and perpetuated the conflict."  A Times story by Stephen Heyman describes Mr. Sabouni's study of her hometown.

Homs is Syria's third largest city and traditionally a hub of industry, commerce and culture. Its location is central to important road and rail networks that link Syria's main towns and cities. Its history dates to the first millennium BCE, and it grew as a trading post on the routes from the Mediterranean to China and India. It was a center of Christianity under the Byzantines. Today the city has a Sunni Muslim majority and Christian and Alawite minorities. 

In the old town, architecture and design supported and reflected harmony among these groups, according to Ms. Sabouni. Mosques and churches sat side by side, and residents mingled in shared space as they shopped, worked, and worshiped.   The ancient souk, or marketplace, was a hive of multicultural commerce as well as being a birthplace of revolution five years ago.

Ms. Sabouni says by 2010 nearly half of Syria's population was living in shanty towns with few amenities, and that some of the earliest battles took place along the line that separated segregated areas. Much of the city's "architectural soul" was destroyed in the fighting, she said, and the ancient Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque, an important pilgrimage site, was severely damaged. Ms. Sabouni envisions a new urban design she believes would foster harmony. See her Youtube presentation.      

Other scholars have observed how the built environment and shared spaces influence social peace or disharmony. Jane Jacobs, in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, described the vitality and well-being of neighborhoods where people from different walks of life carried on diverse economic and social activities. She wrote of the economic value of having new structures adjoining the old, and the civic value of sidewalks. In reviewing a new biography of Jane Jacobs for the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik offers interesting views of what Jacobs got right, and what might not be true today.  

Karen Lee Bar-Sinai is a young Israeli architect who was frustrated watching events along a rail line that followed Jerusalem's Israel-Palestine border. It wasn't designed to connect two capitals, she said in a Foreign Policy article. Instead, she said, the line separates, and it became the target of Palestinians who ripped up tracks and damaged stations. She believes architects and designers need to become more involved in rebuilding the shared spaces that foster reconciliation in cities ravaged by war and conflict.

 

"Today as cities build walls to separate hostile populations, as refugees spill across borders, and as informal shantytowns rise in the shadow of bombed out neighborhoods, architects and city planners are slowly approaching the legacies of conflict as urban problems demanding design solutions," says the article, "Diplomacy by Design," by Nate Berg.

 

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Scientists Find a New Sixth Sense

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Are We Hard-Wired to Want Starch? 

Tempted by pasta, potatoes, bread and other starches?  Even the great chef Julia Child loved French fries, and she waxed poetic bout the joys of fresh bread.  Tastes and our reactions to them are more complex than we realized, and a newly discovered sixth sense of taste may help explain some common cravings.

Scientists have long known that our tongues register salty, sweet, sour and bitter tastes.  More than a century ago chefs and chemists recognized what the Japanese call umami, a meaty or savory taste that is generally recognized as pleasant and delicious.  In 1985 umami was recognized as the scientific term to describe the taste of glutamates and nucleotides, which have been common in cooking since Roman times. In 2009 umami was recognized as the fifth taste sense. 

A NewScientist story by Jessica Hamzelou describes research by Juyun Lim, an assistant professor of food science and technology at Oregon State University, who was curious about how taste works.  “Every culture has a major source of complex carbohydrate,” she told Hamzelou. “The idea that we can’t taste what we’re eating doesn’t make sense.”

Complex carbohydrate such as starch are made of sugar molecules, Lim explained, and because enzymes in saliva break them down into shorter chains and simple sugars, many food scientists have assumed we detect starch by tasting these sweet molecules. Lim and colleagues gave volunteers a variety of carbohydrate solutions and discovered they were able to detect a starchy taste apart from sweetness.  Asians would call it rice-like, and Caucasians would call it bread or pasta-like, she said. 

Some scientists think there may be many specific tastes that receptors on the tongue can register. Michael Tordoff at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia is investigating whether people can specifically taste calcium.  Other taste possibilities are also being studied, and researchers believe new understandings will have many health implications. However, food scientists say there are strict criteria for what can be called a new taste sense. 

One criterion, Lim said, is that the flavor has to be useful to us.  Starch is a valuable source of slow-release energy so it qualifies as useful.  “I believe that’s why people prefer complex carbs,” she said, adding that a little chocolate is nice but bread and rice are more useful as daily staples.

  

 

 

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Fixing the Frame Alters More than the View

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, September 5, 2016

 

Will We Ever Like the Lesser of Two Evils?  

How do we make decisions when we think none of the choices are good?

In a Fast Company story,  Art Markman says when we think we are presented with the lesser of two evils, our decision processes are subtly changed.  He cites research suggesting that when we are dissatisfied with all available options, we tend to look for reasons to reject one choice rather than select one.  When we are in rejection mindset, we focus on the most negative information about our options, and fixate on the one we identify as the least potentially awful. By contrast, he says, when we’re in a selection mindset, we focus on the most positive information available, and search for the choice with the greatest possible benefits.

  “How we feel about our choices alters what we think it is we are choosing—in our minds anyway, it changes their very substance,” Markman writes.  He also suggests the decision mind set will influence our satisfaction with the decision once it’s made.  If people chose on the basis of negative criteria, their feelings afterwards will be based on whether they look back on the drawbacks of the choice they made and feel bad, or on the drawbacks of the choice they rejected and feel relieved.   

Another Fast Company story by Heidi Grant Halvorson talks about what makes us like our decisions. She cites research by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, that shows once we make a final choice that would be hard to reverse, what he calls the psychological immune system kicks in. Once we've committed to the choice, we tend to stop thinking about alternatives and we like to think we were right. Gilbert’s studies suggest we are less satisfied with our choices if we keep our options open and make choices that we think we can reverse.

Researchers have studied how framing influences decision making. In a classic study,  Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman explored how different framing affected participants' responses to a choice in a hypothetical life and death situation. Participants were asked to choose between two differently presented but identical treatments for 600 people afflicted by a deadly disease. One treatment was predicted to result in 400 deaths, and the other was predicted to save 200 lives. The treatment framed as savings 200 lives was chosen by 72% of participants, but the choice dropped to 22% of participants when it was negatively framed as causing 400 deaths. 

In an article on rational choice and framing of decisions, Tversky and Kahneman described another study in which participant were asked to choose between two hypothetical treatments for lung cancer.  The preference for one treatment rose from 18% when it was framed in terms of survival to 44 % when it was presented as avoiding death. And when the risk of immediate death was presented as dropping from 10% to zero the advantage of that treatment was perceived as greater than when it was presented as increasing survival from 90% to 100%.  

Markman’s Fast Company story discusses the decision processes of voters choosing between two major party presidential candidates they don’t like.  However, the impact of rejection or selection mindset and the influence of framing are applicable to nearly every decision in life, work and community. Don’t get careless just because you don’t perceive a wonderful gleaming option.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman writing in the Harvard Business Review, report on their analysis of extensive feedback data from more than 50,000 business leaders on decisions they made that others had considered good and bad. Using statistical analysis, they identified nine of the most common paths to poor decisions. The most significant they wrote, is laziness:  This showed up as a failure to check facts, to take the initiative, to confirm assumptions, or to gather additional input,” they wrote. “Basically, such people were perceived to be sloppy in their work and unwilling to put themselves out. They relied on past experience and expected results simply to be an extrapolation of the past.”

 

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Resilience and Adaptation: Lessons from Coyotes

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, August 26, 2016

When their numbers are threatened, Coyotes have larger litters.  

Coyotes are the most common large predators in America, and despite intense government and private efforts to eradicate them, coyote populations have remained resilient and spread into cities and suburbs across the country.

In a New York Times story, Dan Flores, author of  “Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History,” writes that “no other wild animal has suffered the kind of deliberate and casual persecution we have rained down on coyote.”  Throughout the Twentieth Century coyotes were designated for eradication by the federal government and many states still hold coyote killing contests.  Project Coyote, an animal welfare organization, estimates we are still killing more than half a million coyotes a year.  Coyotes will kill and eat unprotected livestock and very rarely attack humans. 

Flores explains why coyote populations have grown and spread despite such relentless killing.  He reports the findings of biologists Fred Knowlton and Guy Connolly who researched the survival mechanisms the coyotes evolved when their numbers were threatened. They breed younger and have larger litters. If alpha females die, beta females breed.  They engage an adaptation called fission–fusion, in which packs break into pairs and individuals that range into new areas and start new colonies.  Flores reports scientists have found coyotes can withstand a 70 percent yearly kill rate without any loss in their total population. 

Ironically, he adds, left alone, they stabilize their own populations.  Though despised by ranchers and farmers, he writes, coyotes are intelligent social creatures that have played an important role in nature for five million years.  A New York Times story by Carol Kaesuk Yoon  notes Native American mythologies celebrated the coyote as the Trickster, a mercurial figure that could be god-like or perverse. In Navajo tradition the coyote was God’s dog.  Coyotes have interbred successfully with wolves and domestic dogs, Yoon reports, and their adaptability is also reflected in their eclectic tastes in food.

Dr. Laura Prugh, wildlife ecologist at the University of Washington, has noted the difficulty of studying these elusive creatures because of their their skill at evading humans, and she has also noted the uselessness of killing for population control.  “Killing coyotes is kind of like mowing the lawn,” she told the New York Times six years ago. “It stimulates vigorous new growth.”

Other animal populations remain robust despite eradication effort, according to several scientists who cite the “vacuum effect.”  The Humane Society of the U.S. and the Nevada Humane Society report when humans remove a portion of an animal population from its habitat, immigrant animals of the same species move in. Many researchers have statistics to show that killing feral cats does not reduce feral cat populations.   Dr. Kate Hurley, a veterinarian who began her career as an animal control officer and became an expert in animal shelter medicine, also became convinced that catching and killing feral cats is useless as well as cruel. She co-founded the Million Cat Challenge and works to spread the practice of trap, neuter and release, which she believes is more humane and more effective.  Dr. Hurley says lessons learned about coyotes also apply to cats, and that it was the work of the biologist Fred Knowlton  that inspired her to re-evaluate the futility of lethal cat control. Listen to the August 26 PlexusCall to learn more about the entwined complexities of changing organizational practices, and human attitudes and animal behavior.    

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