Cliff swallows evolve to avoid traffic


This video from says about itself:

May 31, 2011

A pair of Cliff Swallows building their mud nest under a bridge in Newbury, MA. With the mud being brought to the nest one mouthful at a time this truly is an enormous feat to stick this nest to the underside of a bridge.

From Science in the USA:

Evolution via Roadkill

by Sarah C. P. Williams on 18 March 2013, 12:30 PM

Cliff swallows that build nests that dangle precariously from highway overpasses have a lower chance of becoming roadkill than in years past thanks to a shorter wingspan that lets them dodge oncoming traffic. That’s the conclusion of a new study based on 3 decades of data collected on one population of the birds. The results suggest that shorter wingspan has been selected for over this time period because of the evolutionary pressure put on the population by cars.

“This is a clear example of how you can observe natural selection over short time periods,” says ecologist Charles Brown of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, who conducted the new study with wife Mary Bomberger Brown, an ornithologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. “Over 30 years, you can see these birds being selected for their ability to avoid cars.”

The Browns have studied cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) in southwestern Nebraska since 1982. They return to the same roads every nesting season to perform detailed surveys of the colonies of thousands of birds that build mud nests on bridges and overpasses in the area. Along with studies on living swallows—counting birds and eggs, netting and banding individuals, and observing behaviors—the Browns also picked up swallow carcasses they found on the roads, in the hopes of having additional specimens to measure and preserve. They hadn’t planned studies on roadkill numbers, but recently they began to get the sense that they were picking up fewer dead birds than in the past.

When the researchers looked back at the numbers of swallows collected as roadkill each year, they found that the count had steadily declined from 20 birds a season in 1984 and 1985 to less than five per season for each of the past 5 years. During that same time, the number of nests and birds had more than doubled, and the amount of traffic in the area had remained steady.

The birds that were being killed, further analysis revealed, weren’t representative of the rest of the population. On average, they had longer wings. In 2012, for example, the average cliff swallow in the population had a 106-millimeter wingspan, whereas the average swallow killed on the road had a 112-millimeter wingspan.

“Probably the most important effect of a shorter wing is that it allows the birds to turn more quickly,” says Charles Brown. Previous studies on the dynamics of flight have illustrated the benefits of short wings for birds that perform many pivots and rolls during flying and shown that shorter wings also may allow the birds to take off faster from the ground, he adds.

When the researchers analyzed the average wing length of the living birds in the population, they discovered that it had become shorter over time, from 111 millimeters in 1982 to the 106 millimeter average in 2012. The data suggested to the Browns that roadkill deaths were a major force driving this selection. Birds with longer wings would be more likely to be killed by vehicles and less likely to reproduce, the team reports online today in Current Biology.

The data illustrate a “beautiful trend that never could have been predicted,” says evolutionary biologist John Hoogland of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Frostburg, who was not involved in the study. “We humans, because we’re changing the environment so much, are adding a new kind of natural selection to these animal populations.”

Few studies have looked at long-term changes in roadkill numbers, Charles Brown says, so more work is needed to determine whether similar trends hold for swallows in other areas, for other types of birds, or for mammals. “I would think that this would be a pattern that certainly might apply to other species,” he says. “But there’s almost nothing in the literature on historical trends in roadkills, because surveys typically last a season or two, not an extended period of years.”

The new findings could also apply to birds killed by wind turbines, Hoogland adds, and they illustrate the payoff that can come with careful data collection and observation. “I think the most important lesson from this research is the paramount importance of collecting data even when you’re not sure what it means or how it could lead to findings in the future.”

‘Pro-life’ laws killing women, Ireland, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

Danielle and Robb share their story of how a restrictive Nebraska law impacted their family.

From the blog of Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund in the USA:

Savita’s Death Was Not an Isolated Incident

Posted: 11/19/2012 5:19 pm

By now news of Savita Halappanavar’s senseless death has traveled around the world, drawing attention to Ireland‘s near-total ban on abortion and the horrific consequences of such policies. This is not a stand-alone case. Every 90 seconds a woman dies from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, totaling more than 350,000 deaths worldwide each year. Nearly all of these deaths occur in developing countries, where access to modern medical care is scarce.

What makes Savita’s story so shocking is that she died in a modern hospital in a developed European country. We health advocates spend a lot of time and energy fighting for the kind of access Savita (almost) had. Hers was a planned pregnancy. She herself was a medical professional, a dentist, who recognized the warning signs of pregnancy complications. When she felt severe pains, she and her husband didn’t have to travel far to reach a clean, modern hospital where her health problems were quickly diagnosed. And when she learned that she was miscarrying and that her life was in danger, she asked her doctor about her options and requested that her pregnancy be ended before it killed her.

Lack of access to medical care did not kill Savita — politics did.

The slow and painful death Ireland’s abortion ban forced Savita to endure, and forced her husband to witness, brings to mind another tragic story. Earlier this year, doctors in the Dominican Republic refused chemotherapy to a 16-year-old cancer patient because she was pregnant.

Think this couldn’t happen in the United States? Think again.

In Nebraska, Danielle Deaver experienced complications in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her water broke and doctors informed her that there was not enough amniotic fluid for her daughter to survive. Devastated, Danielle wanted to end the pregnancy, but her state’s ban on safe and legal abortion after 20 weeks gestation prevented her from doing so. Instead, Danielle was forced to continue her pregnancy and deliver a baby that died moments after birth.

Danielle, the young woman in the Dominican Republic and Savita show us what happens when politicians get between women and their doctors. Right now in Ohio, legislators are considering a bill that would impose similar restrictions on women in Ohio as those currently faced by women in Ireland. It would ban safe and legal abortion very early in pregnancy — even before some women know they are pregnant.

Savita and Danielle represent some of the most extreme outcomes of harmful policies, but by no means the full extent. Women across the country and around the world suffer in myriad ways because of politics that deny women the ability to make their own health care decisions.

They face challenges ranging from mental anguish after becoming pregnant from a sexual assault, to the judgment and shame created by bad policies, to the health consequences of complicated pregnancies, both intended and unintended.

The best way to honor the life and courage of Savita and women like her is to make sure no woman dies again in these circumstances. We need to ensure that laws and policies give women the ability to make decisions about whether to end a pregnancy, choose adoption, or raise a child.

It’s time we let politicians know that we will no longer allow politics to interfere with women’s health. We have enough work ensuring that women and families can access quality medical care. Let’s leave the personal decisions up to them and their doctors.

Follow Cecile Richards on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cecilerichards

Before Savita, Irish anti-abortion rules already caused women’s deaths: here.

Belfast march after Savita’s death: here.

Vulture fossil discovery in Nebraska, USA


This video is called Vulture restaurant.

From PLOS ONE:

A Late Miocene Accipitrid (Aves: Accipitriformes) from Nebraska and Its Implications for the Divergence of Old World Vultures

Abstract

Background

Old World vultures are likely polyphyletic, representing two subfamilies, the Aegypiinae and Gypaetinae, and some genera of the latter may be of independent origin. Evidence concerning the origin, as well as the timing of the divergence of each subfamily and even genera of the Gypaetinae has been elusive.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Compared with the Old World, the New World has an unexpectedly diverse and rich fossil component of Old World vultures. Here we describe a new accipitriform bird, Anchigyps voorhiesi gen. et sp. nov., from the Ash Hollow Formation (Upper Clarendonian, Late Miocene) of Nebraska. It represents a form close in morphology to the Old World vultures. Characteristics of its wing bones suggest it was less specialized for soaring than modern vultures. It was likely an opportunistic predator or scavenger having a grasping foot and a mandible morphologically similar to modern carrion-feeding birds.

Conclusions/Significance

The new fossil reported here is intermediate in morphology between the bulk of accipitrids and the Old World gypaetine vultures, representing a basal lineage of Accipitridae trending towards the vulturine habit, and of its Late Miocene age suggests the divergence of true gypaetine vultures, may have occurred during or slightly before the Miocene.