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My picks from ScienceDaily

Nonvenomous Asian Snakes ‘Borrow’ Defensive Poison From Toxic Toads:

Most snakes are born with poisonous bites they use for defense. But what can non-poisonous snakes do to ward off predators? What if they could borrow a dose of poison by eating toxic toads, then recycling the toxins? That’s exactly what happens in the relationship between an Asian snake and a species of toad, according to a team of researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS).

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To Trust Or Not To Trust Your Friends:

Sometimes it is better to follow the advice of others rather than your own mind even though you seem to have things under control. Not only humans but also fish follow this doctrine as shown by ecologists Jörgen Johnsson and Fredrik Sundström of Göteborg University, Sweden, in the journal Ethology.

Huddling And A Drop In Metabolism Allow Penguins To Survive The South Pole Cold:

March of the Penguins, the Oscar-winning documentary, showed how the emperor penguins endure their incubation and fast for four dark and bitterly cold months each year. The tight huddling among these South Pole penguins is a key energy-saving mechanism that allows them to endure their extremely harsh conditions. A team of scientists that had already shown that emperor penguins who are free ranging in their colony spend about 50 percent of their time in dense huddles and drop their average metabolic rate by 25 percent has questioned whether this drop is due to a process similar to hibernation. Entering into the colony with bulb thermometers, earlier investigators had indeed found that huddling penguins maintain a lower rectal temperature than birds which were isolated from the colony (35.7°C vs. 37.9°C, respectively). However, a sustained drop in deep body (core) temperature would be in direct conflict with the requirements for successful egg incubation. Therefore, energy savings accrued from huddling might rely on mechanisms other than a lower body temperature.

Restoration Of A Habitat-forming Species Could Nurture The Return Of Many Species:

Is the world basically good or basically bad? It appears that in the natural world the answer is “basically good.” Positive interactions in which plants and animals benefit from association with one another create the basis for many of the world’s ecosystems. Coral reefs, kelp forests, marshes, and other familiar habitats can harbor a diversity of life by providing shelter from both harsh conditions and predators. New experimental work, published in the February American Naturalist by a team of Brown University researchers suggests those positive effects of living habitats are the most important factor in driving the diversity and abundance of organisms in many ecosystems. The team conducted their research with cordgrass and ribbed mussels — two species that form critical habitat along the U.S. Atlantic coastline — because they are similar to other habitat species like corals and kelps but are more easily subjected to experiments in their natural setting.

Come Spring, Expect Fewer Blooms, Due To Mild Early Winter:

With record warmth throughout the Northeast in December and early January, gardeners and commercial growers are asking: “Will the warm weather wither my plants?” The quick answer is: It depends. But expect fewer blooms on flowering trees and shrubs in the spring.

Morals Do Not Conquer All In Decision Making:

Is morally-motivated choice different from other kinds of decision making? Previous research has implied that the answer is yes, suggesting that certain sacred or protected values are resistant to real world tradeoffs. In fact, proposed tradeoffs between the sacred and the secular lead to moral outrage and an outright refusal to consider costs and benefits (e.g.”You can’t put a price on a human life”). Previous theory in moral decision making suggested that if people are guided by protected values, values that equate to rules like ‘do no harm’, they may focus on the distinction between acting/doing harm versus not acting/allowing harm, paying less attention to consequences. People who make choices based on these values, thus show “quantity insensitivity” relative to people without protected values for a given situation.

Heartbeat And Breathing Cycles:

Heartbeat and breathing cycles can become synchronized, a new study shows. Looking for patterns in the sequence of human heartbeats is a much studied subject; evidence for pattern-revealing characteristics such as chaos and fractal or spiral geometry have been sought. Breathing, which is more under direct conscious control than heartbeat, is much less studied.

Part of the problem with searching for a breathing-heartbeat correlation is that these systems have very different rhythms. The heart normally beats 60 to 70 times per minute, while the breathing rate is about one-fifth of that. Furthermore, the heart and breathing phenomena are complex; consequently at least for periods of awakeness or rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep little or no phase synchrony (that is, breathing and heartbeat recurring with a consistent relation to each other) can be found.

However, solid evidence has now been found for a breathing-heartbeat correlation for periods of deep sleep.

Worldmapper Draws Attention To The World’s Health Inequalities:

When it comes to the inequality in people’s health across the globe, says Professor Danny Dorling (University of Sheffield, United Kingdom) “you can say it, you can prove it, you can tabulate it, but it is only when you show it that it hits home.” This is the philosophy behind Worldmapper, a collection of cartograms that rescale the size of territories in proportion to the value being mapped (examples of values that are mapped are public health spending, malaria cases, HIV prevalence, and number of physicians).