Monday, March 18, 2013

Evolution in Action

An article published in Current Biology shows a fascinating example of evolution happening right before our eyes. The results of a 30 year study on cliff swallows along Nebraska roads indicates that the birds quite likely have evolved adaptations that help them avoid becoming road kill.

From the summary:
An estimated 80 million birds are killed by colliding with vehicles on U. S. roads each year [1], and millions more die annually in Europe [2] and elsewhere. Losses to vehicles are a serious problem for which various changes in roadway design and maintenance have been proposed [3]. Yet, given the magnitude of the mortality reported for some species [4], we might expect natural selection to favor individuals that either learn to avoid cars or that have other traits making them less likely to collide with vehicles. If so, the frequency of road kill should decline over time. No information is available for any species on whether the extent of road-associated mortality has changed [2]. During a 30-year study on social behavior and coloniality of cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) in southwestern Nebraska, we found that the frequency of road-killed swallows declined sharply over the 30 years following the birds’ occupancy of roadside nesting sites and that birds killed on roads had longer wings than the population at large.
In effect, swallows with larger wings were less maneuverable and were more likely than average to be killed by passing cars. In contrast, swallows with shorter wings (even by a few mm according to the article) may be more able to dodge oncoming traffic.

This puts a very strong selective pressure onto birds with shorter wingspans in bird colonies that nest on bridges and roads. The researchers hypothesized that over a long span on time the number of road kills would decline as the birds adapted.

What they didn't expect was that the change would take only 30 years! The change in wingspan was the only noticeable adaptation that the researchers reported, but it's quite possible that more subtle adaptations are involved here as well.


Via Science News

My Late Submission for St. Paty's

Should have posted this yesterday I suppose, but I've been quite busy so it slipped my mind.

Those of you who were unfamiliar with Da Vinci's Notebook before today, you're welcome. You may be more familiar with two of the members: Paul and Storm.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cult of Dusty Paraphrases the Bible (NSFW)

The History Channel, the channel with the most misleading name since Tru TV, has released a miniseries going through the most interesting and well known stories of the Bible.

I haven't seen it myself, but not sure I need to after watching CultofDusty's summary.

In case you didn't already guess, this video is NSFW (warning: contains actual Bible stories).

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mixed Messages

I don't have time for a full debrief of the Veritas Forum discussion with Ian Hutchinson, but I just wanted to upload these pictures.

Hutchinson was pushed on the evolution question and actually conceded the point of common ancestry while using deflationary language about the explanatory scope of evolution. This was not a surprise, since he is a theistic evolutionist.

But at the doors on the way out, these little books entitled "Why Genesis Matters" by Jason Lisle were being handed out for free.

This is a propaganda book from none other than the Institute for Creation Research. Here is just a sampling of the book's contents.

I am royally pissed about this, in no small part because our secular group co-sponsored this event. 

Reportedly, Veritas had no prior knowledge of this and it was an independent group coming in to distribute the materials. I still don't understand how they were allowed to set up a table at the door inside the venue and I remain irritated that anti-science nonsense was distributed at an otherwise reasonable event.

Harvesting Space Junk

DARPA is toying around with the idea of trying to salvage space junk and re-purpose old parts on dead satelites. Appropriately code named Phoenix, the project is in early planning stages and I'm interested to see how well it works out.

It makes a certain amount of sense, because when a satellite fails it's usually just one or two crucial components that become non-functional or it runs out of fuel. That means that most of the components are still fully functional, so being able to reuse the tech without launching an entire new satellite would be a big help.

I have no problem believing that they can capture, dock with, and salvage the parts. I'm skeptical though about their ability to reuse them given the complexities of wiring them together. Old satellites aren't exactly plug and play.