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Science & Technology Scientists look to public to help migratory monarch butterflies bounce back

Researchers are recruiting members of the public to help recover the western monarch butterfly, whose migratory populations have plummeted to less than 30,000 in recent years, about 1% of their levels in the 1980s.

During the Western Monarch Mystery Challenge, which starts on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, and runs through April 22, Earth Day, California residents are asked to report sightings of monarchs. The data they collect will give much-needed insight into the butterflies’ habitat needs during the spring months, so researchers can better target conservation efforts.

Cheryl Schulz.

“We are already receiving sighting reports, which is very exciting,” said Cheryl Schultz, a Washington State University biology professor and a lead researcher on the project. “The reports show the enthusiastic interest by our community, and their deep connection to western monarchs.”

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Santa Cruz Sentinel
Better Homes & Gardens
WSU Insider
Smithsonian Magazine

Putting numbers to inequality

A Pew Research Report was published online on Jan. 9 with findings on income inequality for the United States. There is what is called a Gini coefficient, which shows inequality. The higher the fraction, the higher the inequality.

The most current Gini coefficient for income in the U.S. from 2017 is 0.434. We are approaching India (0.495) at this time. We lead all G7 countries, with the closest being the United Kingdom at 0.392, the U.S. being 11% higher.

Tim Kohler

So what, you may wonder? The study conducted by 13 institutions and led by Dr. Tim Kohler, Anthropology professor from Washington State University, found troubling outcomes from civilizations with high Gini coefficients. The higher coefficients tend to suddenly fall at some point of time, always accompanied by violence and including revolution.

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Scientists document collapse of the white-lipped peccary

White-lipped peccaries have declined by as much as 87% to 90% from their historical range in Central America, signaling a population collapse of a key species in the region, according to a study published recently in the journal Biological Conservation. The research was conducted by a team of 50 scientists from 30 organizations including Washington State University, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and El Colegio de Frontera Sur.

A pig-like animal that is an important food source for large animal predators and humans alike, the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) also plays a critical ecological role by dispersing seeds and creating water holes that benefit other animals. The study found that current IUCN estimates underestimated the population decline. The study results are a 63% drop from the current IUCN range estimates for the region.

Daniel Thornton.

“White-lipped peccary populations are in more of a critical condition than previously thought,” said lead author Dan Thornton, assistant professor in the School of the Environment at Washington State University. “While these results are sobering, they also offer a roadmap on how to conserve this iconic, ecologically important species.”

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Science Daily

WSU Insider

Trump, Bloomberg Super Bowl ads test what a candidate can buy

In almost every other election, it would be unimaginable for a candidate to consider buying a commercial during the Super Bowl, television’s most coveted advertising space. For President Donald Trump and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, it hardly made a dent in their massive campaign war chests, though it’s not clear what effect the ads will have on voters, if any.

According to AdAge, a 30-second spot in this year’s Super Bowl cost a whopping $5.6 million. Trump bought two 30-second ads and Bloomberg bought one 60-second spot.

Travis Ridout.

“I think Bloomberg may have bought a little bit more than Trump,” said Travis Nelson Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project and professor of political science at Washington State University. “Trump isn’t on the ballot for another nine months and most of our research says the persuasive effects of ads aren’t going to last that long.”

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Komo News

Dr. Universe: Why won’t a female sea turtle lay her eggs in the ocean?

How do baby turtles know where the ocean is when they hatch from their eggs?

Frank Paladino holding a mature leatherback turtle.Sea turtles spend almost their entire lives in the ocean. Even as babies, sea turtles’ bodies have special traits for living at sea, helping them glide and paddle through the water. After emerging from their eggs, baby sea turtles (called “hatchlings”) scramble to the ocean to live the rest of their lives. Only female sea turtles return to land as adults, to lay eggs and begin the cycle again.

I talked with my friend Frank Paladino to learn more about sea turtles. He completed his Ph.D. in zoophysiology at Washington State University. Today he is a professor at Purdue University-Fort Wayne and former president of the International Sea Turtle Society. He is especially interested in leatherbacks, the largest living turtle.

I learned that a female sea turtle must return to the beach to lay eggs, even though she is most comfortable in the ocean. This is because her eggs can only survive on land.

Baby sea turtles breathe through their eggs before hatching. Oxygen passes through the eggshell and membrane, a thin barrier surrounding the turtle. Even buried in sand, the turtle can still breathe through the egg. But they cannot breathe if the egg is in the water.

Sea turtle eggs also need warm temperatures to grow properly. Beaches provide the right conditions to help eggs develop. Mother sea turtles bury their group of eggs (called a “clutch”) in sandy nests to protect them until they are ready to hatch.

But when lots of humans are around, a beach can be a difficult place to lay eggs. “Normally, female turtles do not lay their eggs in the water. But if disturbed when on the beach and distracted multiple nights from returning to the nest, they will dump their clutch in the ocean,” Paladino said.

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Ask Dr. Universe