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Biologists at UC San Diego and in China found that an Asian species of honey bee can produce different types of vibrational "stop signals" when attacked by giant Asian hornets. These signals have different effects depending upon type of danger and the context. A bee delivers a stop signal by giving another bee a brief, vibrational pulse, usually through a head-butt. "Surprisingly, this signal encodes the level of danger in its vibrational frequency, its pitch, and the danger context through the duration of each pulse," said James Nieh, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the research team., which was also led by Ken Tan, a professor at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Science. The scientists report their discovery, which they say is the most sophisticated form of alarm signaling found in a social insect, in a paper published this week in the open-access journal PLOS Biology. Six years ago, Nieh discovered that foragers of the European honey bee, Apis mellifera, when attacked at a food source, will return to the nest and deliver stop signals to nestmates recruiting for the dangerous food source. These signals were known to inhibit recruitment, the famous waggle dance of the honey bee, but researchers did not know what triggered stop signals. "Stop signals are usually delivered by a sender butting her head into a recipient. Understanding that these signals can be triggered by danger and reduce recruitment for dangerous food therefore made sense," explained Nieh. Nieh next wanted to find out if other honey bee species also used stop signals. He and his collaborators at the Chinese Academy of Science and Eastern Bee Research Institute in Yunnan Province conducted their experiments at Yunnan Agricultural University using the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana, which occurs throughout southern and eastern Asia, from India to China and Japan. The scientists said this honey bee species is an excellent model for studying the effects of predator threats because A. cerana is attacked by multiple species of giant hornets, which pose a threat according to hornet body size. They studied the world's largest hornet, the "yak-killer" Vespa mandarinia and a smaller, but still formidable hornet, Vespa velutina. Both hornet species are natural enemies of A. cerana. These hornets attack foraging bees and bee nests, and the scientists therefore set up their experiments to see if bees would produce stop signals in both situations. "We hypothesized that bigger predators would pose a bigger threat and would change stop signaling, perhaps by producing more signals when attacked by a large predator," Nieh said. "However, we were very surprised to find that these Asian bees not only produced more stop signals, they also produced different kinds of stop signals." Attacked foragers reduced their waggle dancing and produced stop signals that increased in pitch according to predator size. The larger and more dangerous predator triggered higher pitched stop signals that were more effective at stopping waggle dancing than the lower pitched stop signals triggered by the smaller and less dangerous predator. In addition, guard bees and returning foragers attacked at the nest entrance produced longer duration stop signals to warn nestmates about the imminent danger outside. "Our experiments showed that these different types of stop signals elicited different and appropriate responses. Bees attacked at food sources by bigger hornets produced a kind of stop signal that more effectively inhibited recruitment," said Nieh. "Bees attacked at the nest entrance produced another kind of stop signal that inhibited foragers from exiting the nest and being exposed to the danger outside." According to Nieh, "this is the first demonstration of such sophisticated inhibitory signaling or alarm signaling in an insect." Previously, such referential alarm signals had only been reported in vertebrates like birds and primates.

Bernd Blossey, associate professor of natural resources, has a better idea: Let bugs do the work. Blossey is nearing the end of a research program that has identified a leaf beetle, Galerucella birmanica, that feasts on water chestnuts in its native China, as the perfect predator to help clear New York's waters. Water chestnut (Trapa natans) is native to Europe, Asia and Africa. It was introduced to North America through the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the 1870s. Since then, water chestnut has spread across the Northeast, into Canada and as far south as Virginia. With no natural predators, water chestnut overtakes its environment, forming floating mats of vegetation that make rivers and lakes impassable for boats and swimmers, and prevents light and oxygen from reaching plants and creatures below. If the beetle proves to be an effective predator against water chestnut, the benefit could be felt in millions of dollars in savings for wildlife agencies and provide a more sustainable approach to using herbicide to knock back the invasive plant. In a carefully controlled, quarantined environment, Blossey and his research team have found that G. birmanica is "very, very specific" in eating water chestnut plants and very little else. Blossey obtained the leaf beetles from the Wuhan Botanical Garden in Hubei province, China. "We had to get permission from the Chinese authorities to bring them out and the U.S. authorities to bring them in," Blossey said. "We've tried 50 different plant species, and the insects are as specific as we'd hoped they were. We're really, really pleased with the progress we have made." Water chestnut is found throughout much of the Finger Lakes, central New York and tributaries to Lake Ontario. The species has invaded eastern coastal states and, Blossey warns, could be ready for a rapid westward expansion through the Great Lakes human and cargo transportation system. Millions of dollars have been spent to thwart water chestnut's spread. Each year $500,000 is spent on eradication efforts on Lake Champlain alone. This year, the Finger Lakes Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management received a $750,000 grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for hand pulling of the invasive plant. Blossey also studies invasiveness in plant species generally. Very few introduced plant species become problematic: Of all plant species moved outside their natural habitats, only 10 percent become established at all, and only 1 percent become invasive. In 1995, Blossey and Rolf Nötzold, then of the international Institute of Biological Control, European Station, proposed a hypothesis to explain why some species become invasive while others don't: the evolution of increased competitive ability hypothesis. "Some of the species that are serious invaders outside the home range are hammered inside the home range by predators or diseases. If you have a lot of natural enemies, you develop a lot of defenses. So when they leave the home range, they have less competition and they thrive," Blossey said. This isn't the first time Blossey has helped address an out-of-control invasive species through biological control. In 1992 he led a team that tested insects as biological controls for the invasive purple loosestrife, a European wetland plant that has spread throughout North America. The team gained federal and state approval to release four insects that attack the plant: two leaf beetles and two weevils, which jointly go after the plant's roots, leaves and flowers. Another project, on which Blossey has worked for 18 years with collaborators in Europe and Rhode Island, involves controlling common reed, Phragmites australis, another wetland plant invader. The team is investigating stem-eating moths, which are "almost 100 percent specific" to the invasive plant, he said. As for the water chestnuts, there are still some questions to be answered and additional tests that Blossey plans to run early next spring. If all goes well, he would then submit a petition to a U.S. Department of Agriculture oversight group, asking for permission to release the insects. "We hope to release them in 2018," Blossey said. "That's an incredibly quick timeline, but we've had a good work plan, and the insects were really, really cooperative." Blossey's work on water chestnuts has been supported in part by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation through the New York Invasive Species Research Institute at Cornell University. Explore further: New study in US and Europe shows how invasive plant species fare better than natives

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As political turmoil and conflict rock Ukraine, the country’s main scientific organization is in a bind. In January,  Parliament passed a law to modernize the ailing National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (NASU). Yet an austerity budget imposed around the same time makes this impossible to achieve — at least this year. The resulting cuts to science funding threaten the jobs of young researchers in particular, who are best poised to revitalize the country’s failing economy. “We have an extraordinarily high number of potential young scientists who are ready to work for the welfare of the country,” says Liliya Hrynevych, who chairs the Ukrainian Parliament’s Committee on Science and Education and voted in favour of the modernizing law. “But without setting priorities for science and research, it will be impossible for Ukraine to become a strong and wealthy European nation.” The academy employs some 20,000 scientists across 120 research institutes. On 26 November, Parliament began to debate a “law of Ukraine on scientific and technical activity”, in an attempt to streamline and strengthen the organization, which was founded in the Soviet era. Long deemed outdated and resistant to modernization, the academy uses an opaque system to award funding, and many of its members are elderly, not least the 97-year-old metallurgist Boris Paton, who has run the NASU for decades. The law stipulates the creation of a science advisory council that includes foreign specialists, and an independent grant-giving agency. All NASU institutes will undergo an external evaluation to examine their productivity and efficiency, and overall, government science spending must increase from a current 0.3% of gross domestic product to at least 1.7% by fiscal year 2017 — near the European Union average. But before the law took effect, Ukraine passed its 2016 austerity budget, in the wake of widespread closure of mines and factories, inflation, debt and currency devaluation. The budget allocates a meagre 2.05 billion hryvnia (US$76 million) to the NASU — about 12% less than in 2015, continuing a trend of decline (see ‘Ailing academy’). The cutbacks are irreconcilable with the science law, says Hrynevych, who is campaigning in Parliament for a budget revision after the first quarter of 2016. The budget will leave the academy with scarcely enough to cover the scant salaries (about US$200 per month on average) paid to its administrative staff and scientists. “We won’t be able to buy any new equipment this year, and purchase of consumables will need to be reduced to a minimum,” says Anatoly Zagorodny, director of the Bogolyubov Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kiev and a vice-president of the academy. The fresh cuts, he says, will also force institutes to reduce staff — in some circumstances, by more than one-third — and to discontinue many areas of research, even though science is crucial to economic recovery, he adds. Young scientists are the least protected by existing labour laws and so will feel the brunt of the job cuts, says Irina Yehorchenko, a research fellow at the NASU’s Institute of Mathematics in Kiev. She and some of her colleagues launched a petition in December calling on the country’s president, Petro Poroshenko, to save Ukrainian science. “I, for one, might be able to find a postdoc position abroad,” says Oleksandr Skorokhod, a cell biologist at the NASU Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics in Kiev who is chair of the academy’s Council of Young Scientists. “But I’d much rather stay and try to change the bad state of affairs in my country.” Ukrainian science has struggled to recover from Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014. General consensus in the international community is that Crimea is still part of the Ukraine — the United Nations General Assembly declared invalid a March 2014 referendum in which voters in Crimea approved the peninsula’s secession from Ukraine. But all 22 Crimean institutes formerly run by the NASU are now under Russian control, and only a few of their 1,320 staff members have relocated to Ukraine-controlled territory. The academy lost access to its only research ship, the RV Professor Vodianytsky, three astronomical observatories in Nauchny, Katsiveli and Yevpatoria and the 204-year-old Nikitsky Botanical Garden near Yalta, on the Black Sea shore. The Ukrainian government, moreover, expects scientists in Ukraine to cut all ties with colleagues who stayed on the peninsula, says Hrynevych, because any collaboration would be viewed as legitimizing the Russian occupation. The armed conflict with pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine is also causing problems for scientists, especially in the country’s Donbas region. Some 12,000 scientists and university lecturers there — about 60% of the former staff of 26 research institutes and universities in the province — have moved to safe institutions in Kiev and elsewhere. But many evacuating scientists left behind equipment or lost irreplaceable research material. Marine, environmental and climate studies in the Black Sea region, mining-related geology and a variety of archaeological and historical research have all been hit hard, says Zagorodny.

Bowie the penguin is held in the hands of Cincinnati Zoo Keeper Cody Sowers in this undated handout photo provided by the Cincinnati Zoo, January 11, 2016. Bowie the penguin is held in the hands of Cincinnati Zoo Keeper Cody Sowers in this undated handout photo provided by the Cincinnati Zoo, January 11, 2016. The legendary musician died on Sunday after a battle with cancer. He had released his last album, "Blackstar," on his birthday on Friday. Bowie the penguin hatched Friday making it the first birth of 2016 at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. The zoo solicited names on Facebook with "Bowie" and "Elvis" the most popular suggestions since Jan. 8 also is Elvis Presley's birthday. The penguin keepers chose the name Bowie because the zoo already had a king penguin named Elvis. The new Bowie is one of the zoo's 33 members of a species known as "little penguins" - the world's smallest penguin species. The Cincinnati Zoo's colony of little penguins - also known as blue or fairy penguins - is the largest in the United States. Little penguins, unlike king penguins, prefer milder temperatures so visitors are not likely to see Bowie and the rest of the colony until spring, said bird keeper Jennifer Gainer.

Sarah the cheetah is seen as a young cub with her puppy companion named Alexa in this undated handout photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden said in a statement that it had euthanized Sarah on Wednesday due to her "diminishing quality of life." The average life span of a cheetah, the fastest land mammal, is eight to 12 years, the zoo said. Sarah was dubbed the fastest cheetah when she ran 100 meters in 5.95 seconds, or 61 mph (98.2 kph), during the filming of a National Geographic special, beating her previous world record of 6.13 seconds in 2009. Cameras captured the record-breaking run on Sarah's first attempt as she chased a fluffy dog toy lure on a specially designed course certified by the Road Running Technical Council of USA Track & Field, the national governing body for running and walking organized sports. That record was more than 3 seconds faster than human runner Usain Bolt of Jamaica, who holds the Olympic record for the same distance. Sarah was brought to Ohio at the age of six weeks and raised by Cathryn Hilker, founder of the Zoo's Cat Ambassador Program. She was one of the first cheetah cubs to be raised with a puppy companion, named Alexa, a now-common practice intended to serve as a calming influence. "She lived a full life and was a phenomenal ambassador for her species," said Linda Castaneda, lead trainer for the Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program. Castaneda added that Sarah had a "very expressive face" that communicated what she wanted. The population of cheetahs has shrunk to an estimated 9,000-12,000 worldwide compared with about 100,000 in 1900, zoo officials said.

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