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August 11, 2006, 7:05 AM CT

Amphibian Declines

Amphibian Declines
The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds ecology research in many areas, ranging from ecological ethics to tracking diseases responsible for amphibian declines, from human-landscape interactions to the ecological effects of Gulf Coast hurricanes, and biodiversity's importance to human and ecosystem health.

Scientists are presenting results of this research at the annual Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Memphis, Tenn, Aug. 6-11, 2006,.

Ecological research results supported by NSF are highlighted below. All research results are embargoed until the time of their presentation.

Amphibian Declines: Rainfall and bait shops affect disease transmission.

Disease plays an important role in amphibian declines, biologists believe.The interactions between amphibian disease hosts and pathogens are influenced by complex characteristics of the host, the pathogen, and the environment. Ranaviruses are especially associated with epidemics of amphibian disease.

Scientists James Collins, NSF assistant director for biological sciences (on leave from Arizona State University), and Amy Greer of Arizona State looked at ranavirus infection in a salamander species that lives in ponds on the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona. They found that variation in infection prevalence, and subsequent salamander deaths, are likely related to differences in water availability.During wet periods like those in 2005, ponds flooded for an entire growing season, which decreased disease transmission. In 2004, a dry year, infection rates and deaths were much higher.........

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August 11, 2006, 6:49 AM CT

Antarctic snowfall hasn't changed in 50 years

Antarctic snowfall hasn't changed in 50 years
For an animated graphic of snowfall variability across Antarctica and over time and b-roll of the U.S. ITASE traverse on Betacam SP, contact Dena Headlee (dheadlee@nsf.gov) (703) 292-7739.

The most precise record of Antarctic snowfall ever generated shows there has been no real increase in precipitation over the southernmost continent in the past half-century, even though most computer models assessing global climate change call for an increase in Antarctic precipitation as atmospheric temperatures rise.

"The year-to-year and decadal variability of the snowfall is so large that it makes it nearly impossible to distinguish trends that might be related to climate change from even a 50-year record," said Andrew Monaghan, a research associate with Ohio State University's Byrd Polar Research Center and lead author of an article on the topic published in the Aug. 10 edition of Science magazine.

"There were no statistically significant trends in snowfall accumulation over the past five decades, including recent years for which global mean temperatures have been warmest," Monaghan said.

The findings also suggest thickening of Antarctica's massive ice sheets haven't reduced the slow-but-steady rise in global sea levels, as some climate-change critics have argued.........

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August 11, 2006, 6:42 AM CT

The 'Good Life' elusive for middle class

The 'Good Life' elusive for middle class
In research to be presented at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting, Phyllis Moen, McKnight Presidential Chair in Sociology at the University of Minnesota, says that middle class couples who both work struggle to compete in job environments designed for single earners with no family responsibilities. According to Moen, couples still are operating under outdated work policies and practices and institutional and organizational rules designed for a one earner, one homemaker model.

"Middle class couples are stretched thin in terms of time by "work-friendly" jobs," said Moen. "In part this reflects the realities of a global information economy with its speed-ups, pressures to increase productivity, 24-7 availability by computer, downsizing insecurities, expectations of long hours and little schedule flexibility".

In her paper, Moen describes evidence that middle class dual-earner couples, who appear advantaged given their education and resources, are nevertheless stretched thin. In fact, fewer than one in six qualify as "super couples" (those where both husband and wife have a high quality of life). And those who fit this category tend to be couples with no children.

In about half of the 1,060 couples she studied, Moen found that both the husbands and wives reported either low quality of life or only adequate -- what she calls "good enough" -- quality of life. Women working in job environments that are insecure or offer them little scheduling flexibility and control are unlikely to have individual or couple life quality.........

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August 10, 2006, 11:58 PM CT

Parental Time And Childhood Obesity

Parental Time And Childhood Obesity
The fight against obesity in children just got a new weapon, thanks to a multi-year study by scientists from Texas A&M University.

The study observed that the amounts and quality of time parents spent with their children has a direct effect on children's rates of obesity, said Dr. Alex McIntosh, lead researcher. McIntosh is professor of sociology with a research appointment from Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture study, "Parental Time, Role Strain and Children's Fat Intake and Obesity-Related Outcomes," was published in June.

In general, scientists found the amount of time a mother spent with her child, her work stress and her income level had a larger impact in lowering the child's risk of obesity than the father's time, work stress and income, McIntosh said.

Furthermore, the more time a mother spends with the child, the less likely that child is to be obese; on the other hand, the more time a father spends with a child, the more likely the child will be obese, he said.

"The impacts were greater for 9- to 11-year-old children than for 13- to 15-year-old children," he added.

As a sociologist, McIntosh has long wondered how parents influence their children's nutritional habits, he said.........

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August 10, 2006, 11:48 PM CT

Microbe In The Depths Of Ocean Life

Microbe In The Depths Of Ocean Life
Scientists from MIT and six other institutions are part of a new center for exploring the microbial inhabitants of the sea.

The Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) will facilitate collaborations among the previously separate disciplines of oceanography, microbiology, ecology and genomics. These new alliances will enable a deeper understanding of the seas, including their potential response to global environmental variability and climate change.

C-MORE, which will receive approximately $19 million from the National Science Foundation over the first five years, is based at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Participating institutions in addition to MIT and UH Manoa are the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Oregon State University, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and the Hawaii Department of Education.

"A central objective of C-MORE will be to increase understanding about how biological diversity detected at the genome level expresses itself at the ecosystem function level, and then to transfer this knowledge to policymakers to assist them in their decision-making process," said MIT Professor Edward DeLong, C-MORE associate director for research.

"Marine microorganisms are invisible to the naked eye, but their presence enables all multicellular life to exist, including human populations," said DeLong, who holds appointments in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and the Biological Engineering Division. "Novel methods in molecular biology combined with satellite- and sea-based remote sensing technologies provide an unprecedented opportunity to study microorganisms across broad spatial scales ranging from genes to entire ocean basins".........

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August 10, 2006, 7:02 AM CT

Never marrieds has highest risk of early death

Never marrieds has highest risk of early death
People who never marry have the greatest chance of an earlier death, reveals a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The findings are based on national census and death certification data, involving almost 67,000 adults in the USA between 1989 and 1997.

In 1989, almost one in two of the sample were married, and almost one in 10 were widowed. Around 12% were divorced and 3% were separated. Of the remainder, 5% were cohabiting, and one in five had never been married.

Unsurprisingly, older age and poor health were the strongest predictors of death by 1997, but a surviving marriage was also strongly linked to a longer life.

After taking into account age, state of health, and several other factors likely to influence the findings, those who had been widowed were almost 40% more likely to die between 1989 and 1997. Those who had been divorced or separated were 27% more likely to have done so.

But those who had never been married were 58% more likely to have died during this period than their peers who were married and living with their spouse in 1989.

The never married "penalty" was larger for those in very good or excellent health, and smallest for those in poor health, and it was greater among men than women.........

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August 10, 2006, 6:48 AM CT

Genetics Of Successful Aging

Genetics Of Successful Aging
Scientists have identified genes related to reaching age 90 with preserved cognition, according to a study published in the recent issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. The study, which was conducted at the University of Pittsburgh is among the first to identify genetic links to cognitive longevity.

"Successful aging has been defined in many ways, however, we focused on individuals who had reached at least 90 without significant decline in mental capacity," said lead researcher George S. Zubenko, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. "While this is a goal that many of us share, such a definition of 'successful aging' can be determined objectively and consistently across subjects--an important requirement of scientific studies".

While previous research has revealed that genes make important contributions to exceptional longevity, the goal of this study was to identify regions of the human genome that contributed, along with lifestyle factors, to reaching age 90 with preserved cognition.

The study involved 100 people age 90 and older who had preserved cognition as measured by clinical and psychometric assessments. Half of the subjects were male, half were female. Using a novel genome survey method, scientists compared the DNA of the study sample with that of 100 young adults, aged 18-25, who were matched for sex, race, ethnicity and geographic location. Particularly, Dr. Zubenko and his research team attempted to identify specific genetic sequences present in older individuals that may be linked to reaching older ages with preserved cognitive abilities, or conversely, specific genetic sequences present in younger individuals (and not present in those over age 90) that may impede successful aging. The study also looked at a variety of lifestyle factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, with the goal of eventually exploring the interactive effects of genes and lifestyle on successful aging.........

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August 10, 2006, 6:43 AM CT

Texts to reveal 'Whodunnit'

Texts to reveal 'Whodunnit'
Psychologists at the University of Leicester are to investigate texting language to provide new tools for criminal investigation.

The forensic linguistic study based in the Forensic Section of the School of Psychology will examine how well an individual can be identified by their texting style.

A prior case where this was used was the investigation of murder a few years ago. At the 2002 trial an alibi was broken based on the evidence that the murderer and not the victim had sent crucial messages from her phone. Text analyses revealed that the texts had not been written by the victim herself, but that they had been faked to deflect suspicion from the killer as there were a number of differences in the texting styles between the victim and murderer. Linguistic analysis is therefore a useful tool which can reveal secrets within the criminal investigation, which otherwise would not be apparent. This present study aims to develop the technique further by investigating text language and style.

The innovative six-month study will assess similarities and differences in texting style, between texts sent by individuals and within and between networks of people who frequently text one another. The researchers are inviting ordinary people to help them with the study by completing an anonymous on-line questionnaire. Although forensic authorship analysis is a growing area of research, this is the first study to focus on mobile phone texting.........

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August 9, 2006, 11:59 PM CT

An Oblique Look On The North Lunar Far West

An Oblique Look On The North Lunar Far West An 'oblique' view of the lunar surface towards the limb, around the Mezentsev, Niepce and Merrill craters
This image, taken by the Advanced Moon Imaging Experiment (AMIE) on board ESA's SMART-1 spacecraft, provides an 'oblique' view of the lunar surface towards the limb, around the Mezentsev, Niepce and Merrill craters, on the far side of the Moon.

"This cratered terrain is similar in topography to near-side highlands," says SMART-1 Project scientist Bernard Foing, "while the far-side equator bulge can reach heights of 7 km, and the South Pole Aitken basin has depths down to 8 km".

AMIE obtained this sequence on 16 May 2006. The imaged area is centred at a latitude of 73º North and a longitude of 124º West(or 34 º further than the West limb seen from Earth).

Normally, the SMART-1 spacecraft points the AMIE camera straight down, in the so-called Nadir pointing mode. In this image, AMIE was looking out 'the side window' and pointing towards the horizon, showing all craters in an oblique view. The largest craters shown are Mezentesev, Niepce and Merrill, located on the lunar far side, not visible from the Earth. Mezentsev is an eroded crater 89 kilometres in diameter, while Niepce and Merrill have the same size 57 km.

Mezentsev is named after Yourij Mezentsev, a Soviet engineer (1929 - 1965) who was one of the first people to design rocket launchers. Joseph Niepce was the French inventor of photography (1765 - 1833), while Paul Merrill was an American astronomer (1887 - 1961).........

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August 9, 2006, 11:55 PM CT

Invasive Species Alter Habitat

Invasive Species Alter Habitat Cattails
When researchers study habitats that alien species have invaded, they commonly find predictable patterns. The diversity of native species declines, and changes occur in natural processes such as nutrient cycling, wildfire frequency and the movement of water through the system.

But simply observing such changes doesn't prove that the invaders are responsible.

University of Michigan scientists Emily Farrer and Deborah Goldberg, however, came up with a way to tease out the cause of environmental changes in northern Michigan wetlands where invasive cattails have taken hold. The cattails, they found, alter the environment in ways that hinder native species but benefit the invaders. Farrer and Goldberg will present their results Aug. 9 at a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Memphis, Tenn.

"When you have an invasion, you typically see three things happening at once: the invasion, the change in environment and the decrease in diversity," said Farrer, a graduate student in Goldberg's laboratory group. "But they're all happening concurrently, so you can't really tell which is causing the other." Other factors may enter in. For example, human activity, such as the use of fertilizers and road salt and the suppression of natural wildfires, also may result in environmental changes that affect species diversity.........

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