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Four lessons we can learn from ‘lazy’ animals

For more than 30 days, people in a northern Montenegro village have been lying down in the streets. It’s part of their annual “Laziest Citizen” contest that was created 12 years ago to mock the theory that Montenegrins are among the laziest humans on the planet. But maybe emulating the behavior of a sloth isn’t as bad as we think. In contrast to our fast-paced, high-stress human lives, there are plenty of animals that lead a much slower existence and still manage to survive and thrive.

Lesson #3: Make like a bear and take the easy route

Charles Robbins at the WSU Bear Center.
Charles Robbins at the WSU Bear Center.

If you’ve ever crossed paths with a bear, there may be a reason for that. Turns out they like to take the easy route — just like we do! A recent study explored the movements of grizzly bears and found that these massive mammals prefer to avoid steep hills and overexertion, which often leads them to the human-built trails found in parks. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they are lazy. “They are not lazy in the sense that we use that term,” Charles Robbins, a professor at the Washington State University Bear Center who oversaw the study, tells Yahoo Life. “Their goal in food-limited environments is to be energy efficient, which means to take the lowest-cost path, forage as efficiently as possible and conserve as much energy as possible.”

The study also found that bears move at a slower pace than researchers expected. “Most animals do move at the most efficient speed to minimize cost per unit time and distance. Just watch humans walking, and you’ll notice that most of us walk at a relatively narrow range of speeds,” explains Robbins. “We found that grizzly bears don’t move as fast as they should based on that assumption.”

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Yahoo! Life

Urban light pollution linked to smaller eyes in birds

The bright lights of big cities could be causing an evolutionary adaptation for smaller eyes in some birds, a new study indicates.

Researchers found that two common songbirds, the Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren, that live year-round in the urban core of San Antonio, Texas, had eyes about 5% smaller than members of the same species from the less bright outskirts. Researchers found no eye-size difference for two species of migratory birds, the Painted Bunting and White-eyed Vireo, no matter which part of the city they lived in for most of the year.

The findings, published in Global Change Biology, have implications for conservation efforts amid the rapid decline of bird populations across the U.S.

“This study shows that residential birds may adapt over time to urban areas, but migratory birds are not adapting, probably because where they spend the winter—they are less likely to have the same human-caused light and noise pressures. It may make it more difficult for them to adjust to city life during the breeding season,” said Jennifer Phillips, a Washington State University wildlife ecologist and senior author.


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Yahoo News
WSU Insider

Wildfire season is lasting longer, burning different

The number of acres burned so far in Washington’s wildfire season this year is on trend with what ecologists predicted. But the damage has been catastrophic, and it could be weeks before fire danger subsides. Dryer, hotter summers and changes to the state’s vegetation mean the fire season spans longer than it once did.

Mark Swanson.

In the 20th century, fire suppression and exclusion in the American West by European colonizers prevented a lot of fires that would have otherwise naturally occurred.

“If you look at historic averages in the West, we don’t match the acreage of fire that would touch the West precolonization,” said Mark Swanson, a fire ecology professor at Washington State University.

Nowadays, where fires ignite, they tend to burn in ecosystems where fire was excluded for much of the 20th century. A buildup of grown vegetation as a result means those fires will likely burn at a higher intensity and severity — intensity being heat release and severity being what the flames do to the vegetation.

“We deliberately excluded fire, or suppressed it, for much of the 20th century in the West in the belief that fire was bad,” Swanson said. “The irony is that it allowed fuel to accumulate.”

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Seattle Times
The Spokesman-Review
The Daily News

Would filling a new reservoir give off lots of greenhouse gases?

When you think about sources of planet-heating greenhouse gases, dams and reservoirs probably aren’t some of the first things that come to mind.

But scientific research has shown that reservoirs emit significant amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It’s produced by decomposing plants and other organic matter collecting near the bottom of reservoirs. Methane bubbles up to the surface of reservoirs, and also passes through dams and bubbles up downstream.

Scientists call these processes ebullition and degassing.

And there is a growing debate about how much of these gases would be emitted by California’s planned Sites Reservoir, which is slated to be built in a valley north of Sacramento to store water for agriculture and cities.

In a 2021 study, scientists estimated that the world’s reservoirs are annually giving off greenhouse gases equivalent to 1.07 gigatons of CO2 — a relatively smaller piece of the picture if compared the more than 36 gigatons of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial sources, but still significant.

John Harrison.

John Harrison, the study’s lead author and a professor at Washington State University, read the findings by the environmental groups and said the per-area methane emissions rates they used in their analysis are within the rate reported for reservoirs in temperate regions, “albeit toward the high end of the distribution and quite a bit higher than emissions from temperate zone reservoirs of comparable size.”

Harrison said in an email that he thinks it’s important to work toward the kind of estimates the groups have attempted, but “due to a lack of supporting data and relevant studies, many of the flux estimates put forth in this report are necessarily quite uncertain.”

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Los Angeles Times

One way to help coho salmon survive NW pollution

There is an air filter for your car, a filter for your tap water, and air filters for our smoky Northwest air. Now, there could be a filter to help the region’s struggling salmon.

According to a new study from Washington State University, using simple biofilters on stormwater runoff can dramatically increase the survival rate of newly hatched coho salmon.

Jen Mcintyre.

“This study highlights how vulnerable the fish are as soon as they hatch to the toxic impacts of stormwater runoff,” said lead author and associate WSU professor Jen McIntyre. “Biofiltration appears to be very effective at preventing that acute lethal toxicity. We also found that it prevented some of the sub-lethal effects, but not all of them.”

The effects of chemical-carrying stormwater runoff from roads, and other places, into streams and rivers has recently received a lot of attention. After years of searching for the cause of so many salmon deaths, researchers discovered in 2020 that a tire stabilizer (6PPD) breaks down into a toxic substance. As tires wear down on the road, their rubber, and all the chemicals they carry, wash into local bodies of water where fish and wildlife encounter them.

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WSU Insider