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A narwhal frolics with the belugas: Why interspecies adoptions happen

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

——

Author: Erin Siracusa, University of Guelph

Since the age of the Roman Empire and the story of how the twins Romulus and Remus were raised by a wolf, tales of interspecies adoptions have captivated the human imagination. The story that emerged from Canada’s St. Lawrence River in July of 2018 was no exception. While researching belugas, a group of scientists captured drone footage of a young male narwhal, more than 1,000 kilometres south of his Arctic home, swimming with a pod of belugas.

It sounds like something straight out of Disney’s Finding Nemo. But in the three years since the narwhal was first spotted with his adopted family, this real life drama has been playing out in the waters of the St. Lawrence estuary. And the unlikely alliance has researchers scratching their heads.

The cause of this consternation? A funny word called “adoption.”

In the human realm, adoption is seen as a benevolent act, but in the wild it poses a real evolutionary dilemma. This is because the goal of every organism in the natural world is to reproduce and transfer its genes to future generations. Adoption is puzzling because it requires an individual to invest resources into another’s offspring, with no guarantee of passing on its own genetic material. Despite this, adoption is well-documented across the animal kingdom.

The question is, why?

Understanding when and where we see cases of adoption often comes down to understanding how adoption can provide a benefit to the foster parents or adoptive group members. In other words, how can investing in another’s offspring actually increase the potential for adoptive parents to contribute genes to future generations?

A family matter

One possibility is through the adoption of kin.

Since related individuals share genes, by raising family, animals can help to ensure the survival of their own DNA. This is the most widely documented explanation for foster care in the wild. Many social species, including lions, primates and elephants have been known to care for or raise the offspring of a mother, sister, aunt or other relative.

But scientists from the Kluane Red Squirrel Project have found that social species aren’t the only animals that adopt kin. In the icy north of Canada’s Yukon, red squirrel mothers preferentially adopt orphaned relatives. This is intriguing because red squirrels are territorial rodents that live in isolation. Even so, red squirrels were able to identify relatives and actively chose to foster pups to which they were related. Out of thousands of litters, researchers only identified five cases of adoption, all of which were orphaned kin.

You scratch my back, I scratch yours

But adopting individuals with shared genes isn’t the only way that potential foster parents can benefit. Reciprocity, or an “exchange of favours,” might also motivate shared parenting. Under certain circumstances unrelated females will swap “babysitting” duties. This has the benefit of allowing the mother to forage more efficiently without youngsters tagging along.

Alternatively, mothers might nurse each other’s offspring, providing temporary relief from maternal duties. Scientists are still uncertain, however, how important reciprocity might be for facilitating allonursing — non-maternal milk provisioning — or other forms of foster care provided by non-relatives.

Practice makes perfect

Even more puzzling are circumstances in which adoptions occur between members of different species. Such cases can’t be explained either by shared genes or reciprocity among group members, and while interspecies adoptions are rare in the wild, they aren’t unheard of. For instance, in 2004, researchers in Brazil observed an infant marmoset being cared for by two female capuchin monkeys.

Since interspecies adoptions are so uncommon, it’s challenging to understand why they occur. One possibility is that adoption provides an opportunity for young females to practice their mothering skills. Scientists believe that proficiency in parenting is based on learned as well as innate behaviours.

In elephant seals, experienced mothers are more successful in raising offspring. Researchers think that these benefits of maternal experience may be one reason adoption occurs so frequently in this species. By practising with adopted young, females can ensure that they are competent mothers when it comes time to raise their own offspring.

Mistakes do happen

Of course, not every instance of adoption is likely to be beneficial for the adoptive parent. One simple cause of mistaken foster care is reproductive error.

Breeding females that have recently lost their young are often still behaviourally and physiologically ready to provide maternal care. In such cases, a female’s motherly instinct may be so strong that it leads her to mistakenly redirect her care toward unrelated young.

Alternatively, parents may simply be bamboozled into raising another species’ young. Brown-headed cowbirds lay their eggs in the nest of an unsuspecting host who, unable to distinguish the cowbird’s offspring, will raise the young as their own.

All for one and one for all?

But in the chilly waters of the St. Lawrence River, a different sort of adoption story is unfolding. The welcoming of a young narwhal into a pod of juvenile male belugas cannot be explained by kin selection, reciprocity or maternal instinct … leaving what?

It’s a good question, and frankly, scientists are still uncertain. One possibility is that adopting a lone individual might provide a benefit for the entire group. For instance, having a larger pod might offer protection from predators.

This “safety in numbers” benefit has been suggested as an explanation for adoption in other species. Alternatively, both narwhals and belugas are highly social animals and the benefits of social companionship alone might lead to this unlikely alliance.

This is particularly true given that narwhals and belugas do not directly compete for food. Narwhals feed on deepwater fish, while belugas prefer surface dwelling salmon and capelin. The costs of adoption are therefore likely to be low.

In the end, the narwhal’s adoption might be one of the many natural mysteries that scientists have yet to solve. Nevertheless, footage of this long-tusked, grey-skinned cetacean frolicking with its fellow belugas is offering people worldwide a rare glimpse into an animal behaviour almost never seen in the wild.

——

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article: https://theconversation.com/a-narwhal-frolics-with-the-belugas-why-i https://theconversation.com/a-narwh

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Scientists acknowledge critical errors in study of how fast the oceans are warming

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In this July 21, 2017 file photo, researchers look out from the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as the sun sets over sea ice floating on the Victoria Strait along the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

David Goldman / ASSOCIATED PRESS

The findings suffer from too much doubt to definitively support the paper’s conclusion, says a study co-author: ‘Unfortunately, we made mistakes’

Scientists behind a major study that claimed the Earth’s oceans are warming faster than previously thought now say their work contained inadvertent errors that made their conclusions seem more certain than they actually are.

Two weeks after the high-profile study was published in the journal Nature, its authors have submitted corrections to the publication. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, home to several of the researchers involved, also noted the problems in the scientists’ work and corrected a news release on its website, which previously had asserted that the study detailed how the Earth’s oceans “have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previously thought.”

“Unfortunately, we made mistakes here,” said Ralph Keeling, a climate scientist at Scripps, who was a co-author of the study. “I think the main lesson is that you work as fast as you can to fix mistakes when you find them.”

The central problem, according to Keeling, came in how the researchers dealt with the uncertainty in their measurements. As a result, the findings suffer from too much doubt to definitively support the paper’s conclusion about just how much heat the oceans have absorbed over time.

The central conclusion of the study — that oceans are retaining ever more energy as more heat is being trapped within Earth’s climate system each year — is in line with other studies that have drawn similar conclusions. And it hasn’t changed much despite the errors. But Keeling said the authors’ miscalculations mean there is actually a much larger margin of error in the findings, which means researchers can weigh in with less certainty than they thought.

Where they don't make sense — with this one, it's fairly obvious it didn't make sense — I look into them more deeply

“I accept responsibility for what happened because it’s my role to make sure that those kind of details got conveyed,” Keeling said.

The study’s lead author was Laure Resplandy of Princeton University. Other researchers were with institutions in China, Paris, Germany and the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

“Maintaining the accuracy of the scientific record is of primary importance to us as publishers and we recognize our responsibility to correct errors in papers that we have published,” Nature said in a statement to The Post. “Issues relating to this paper have been brought to Nature’s attention and we are looking into them carefully. We take all concerns related to papers we have published very seriously and will issue an update once further information is available.”

The original study, which appeared on Oct. 31, derived a new method for measuring how much heat is being absorbed by the oceans. Essentially, the authors measured the volume of gases, specifically oxygen and carbon dioxide, that have escaped the ocean in recent decades and headed into the atmosphere as it heats up. They found that the warming “is at the high end of previous estimates” and suggested that as a result, the rate of global warming itself could be more accelerated.

The results, wrote the authors, may suggest there is less time than previously thought to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The study drew considerable media attention, including from The Post.

However, not long after publication, an independent Britain-based researcher named Nicholas Lewis published a lengthy blog post saying he had found a “major problem” with the research.

I think the main lesson is that you work as fast as you can to fix mistakes when you find them

“So far as I can see, their method vastly underestimates the uncertainty,” Lewis said in an interview Tuesday, “as well as biasing up significantly, nearly 30 percent, the central estimate.”

Lewis added that he tends “to read a large number of papers, and, having a mathematics as well as a physics background, I tend to look at them quite carefully, and see if they make sense. And where they don’t make sense — with this one, it’s fairly obvious it didn’t make sense — I look into them more deeply.”

Lewis has argued in past studies and commentaries that climate scientists are predicting too much warming because of their reliance on computer simulations, and that current data from the planet itself suggests global warming will be less severe than feared.

It isn’t clear whether the authors agree with all of Lewis’ criticisms, but Keeling said “we agree there were problems along the lines he identified.”

Paul Durack, a research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said promptly acknowledging the errors in the study “is the right approach in the interests of transparency.”

But he added in an email, “This study, although there are additional questions that are arising now, confirms the long known result that the oceans have been warming over the observed record, and the rate of warming has been increasing,” he said.

Gavin Schmidt, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, followed the growing debate over the study closely on Twitter and said that measurements about the uptake of heat in the oceans have been bedeviled with data problems for some time — and that debuting new research in this area is hard.

“Obviously you rely on your co-authors and the reviewers to catch most problems, but things still sometimes slip through,” Schmidt wrote in an email.

Schmidt and Keeling agreed that other studies also support a higher level of ocean heat content than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, saw in a landmark 2013 report.

Overall, Schmidt said, the episode can be seen as a positive one.

“The key is not whether mistakes are made, but how they are dealt with — and the response from Laure and Ralph here is exemplary. No panic, but a careful reexamination of their working — despite a somewhat hostile environment,” he wrote.

“So, plus one for some post-publication review, and plus one to the authors for reexamining the whole calculation in a constructive way. We will all end up wiser.”

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NASA to invite designs for AI lunar robot

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By: PTI | New Delhi |

Published: November 14, 2018 5:45:44 pm

A space robotics challenge in the past aimed to programme NASA’s humanoid Valkyrie to perform human-like tasks.

NASA is planning to launch a challenge for the public and scientific community to design a self-assembling robot with artificial intelligence that can explore the surface of the Moon, William Harris, CEO of Space Centre Houston said. Space Centre Houston in the US, the official visitor centre for NASA Johnson Space Centre, conducts regular public outreach programmes to engage people of various ages and diverse backgrounds in scientific research.

These programmes encourage students and scientists to ideate innovative solutions for problems that the US space agency is trying to overcome in order to carry out successful space exploration missions. “The next challenge is for the Moon — it will be announced next year — to develop a self assembling robot or rover on the Moon’s surface that has an artificial intelligence platform so it can make decisions based on what it is learning about the lunar surface,” Harris told PTI in an interview.

[embedded content]

“The reality is, when we sent humans to the Moon back in the 1960s, just going there and coming back safely was a huge accomplishment. We did not do a huge amount of science during those missions,” he said. Most of the astronauts then were test pilots. The first and only scientist to have visited the Moon is Harrison Schmitt, an American geologist, who is now the last living crew member of Apollo 17, Harris said. There was very little scope to perform scientific experiments, and to date there is a lot we do not know about the Moon, he said. However, the astronauts that NASA recruits now are scientists.

With plans underway to take humans back to the lunar surface, the US space agency is working on efficient technologies that can assist astronauts to conduct scientific experiments on the Moon. In the recent decades, evidence of frozen water beneath the surface of the Moon has emerged. This not only presents the possibility for the Moon to host some form of primitive life, but also opens avenues for future astronauts to harvest water and set up a space colony. The water could also be broken down to provide hydrogen fuel, using which we could send missions into deeper space, Harris said.

Also read: Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: The best Android tablet. Period.

“NASA has come to recognise that you can become to insular with your own team. So it is better to open up to the general public to see if somebody has ideas that can help us address different challenges,” he said. Harris gave an example of a space robotics challenge in the past, that aimed to programme NASA’s humanoid Valkyrie to perform human-like tasks.

“Within the group of ten semi-finalists, we had teams from two of the top universities. But the winner of the challenge was a stay-at-home dad, who came with his 6-year-old son,” said Harris. His solutions are now being used by NASA to programme Valkyrie. Involving the public in this way can help space programmes flourish and break new grounds, he said.

Harris was in New Delhi as a part of a delegation of representatives seeking to strengthen ties with Indian companies and to learn about the latest developments in the country’s business environment and industries like aerospace, healthcare and information technology.

For all the latest Technology News, download Indian Express App

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Scientists acknowledge key errors in study of how fast the oceans are warming

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Scientists behind a major study that claimed the Earth’s oceans are warming faster than previously thought now say their work contained inadvertent errors that made their conclusions seem more certain than they actually are.

Two weeks after the high-profile study was published in the journal Nature, its authors have submitted corrections to the publication. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, home to several of the researchers involved, also noted the problems in the scientists’ work and corrected a news release on its website, which previously had asserted that the study detailed how the Earth’s oceans “have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previously thought.”

“Unfortunately, we made mistakes here,” said Ralph Keeling, a climate scientist at Scripps, who was a co-author of the study. “I think the main lesson is that you work as fast as you can to fix mistakes when you find them.”

The central problem, according to Keeling, came in how the researchers dealt with the uncertainty in their measurements. As a result, the findings suffer from too much doubt to definitively support the paper’s conclusion about just how much heat the oceans have absorbed over time.

The central conclusion of the study — that oceans are retaining ever more energy as more heat is being trapped within Earth’s climate system each year — is in line with other studies that have drawn similar conclusions. And it hasn’t changed much despite the errors. But Keeling said the authors’ miscalculations mean there is actually a much larger margin of error in the findings, which means researchers can weigh in with less certainty than they thought.

Where they don't make sense — with this one, it's fairly obvious it didn't make sense — I look into them more deeply

“I accept responsibility for what happened because it’s my role to make sure that those kind of details got conveyed,” Keeling said.

The study’s lead author was Laure Resplandy of Princeton University. Other researchers were with institutions in China, Paris, Germany and the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

“Maintaining the accuracy of the scientific record is of primary importance to us as publishers and we recognize our responsibility to correct errors in papers that we have published,” Nature said in a statement to The Post. “Issues relating to this paper have been brought to Nature’s attention and we are looking into them carefully. We take all concerns related to papers we have published very seriously and will issue an update once further information is available.”

The original study, which appeared on Oct. 31, derived a new method for measuring how much heat is being absorbed by the oceans. Essentially, the authors measured the volume of gases, specifically oxygen and carbon dioxide, that have escaped the ocean in recent decades and headed into the atmosphere as it heats up. They found that the warming “is at the high end of previous estimates” and suggested that as a result, the rate of global warming itself could be more accelerated.

The results, wrote the authors, may suggest there is less time than previously thought to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The study drew considerable media attention, including from The Post.

However, not long after publication, an independent Britain-based researcher named Nicholas Lewis published a lengthy blog post saying he had found a “major problem” with the research.

I think the main lesson is that you work as fast as you can to fix mistakes when you find them

“So far as I can see, their method vastly underestimates the uncertainty,” Lewis said in an interview Tuesday, “as well as biasing up significantly, nearly 30 percent, the central estimate.”

Lewis added that he tends “to read a large number of papers, and, having a mathematics as well as a physics background, I tend to look at them quite carefully, and see if they make sense. And where they don’t make sense — with this one, it’s fairly obvious it didn’t make sense — I look into them more deeply.”

Lewis has argued in past studies and commentaries that climate scientists are predicting too much warming because of their reliance on computer simulations, and that current data from the planet itself suggests global warming will be less severe than feared.

It isn’t clear whether the authors agree with all of Lewis’ criticisms, but Keeling said “we agree there were problems along the lines he identified.”

Paul Durack, a research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said promptly acknowledging the errors in the study “is the right approach in the interests of transparency.”

But he added in an email, “This study, although there are additional questions that are arising now, confirms the long known result that the oceans have been warming over the observed record, and the rate of warming has been increasing,” he said.

Gavin Schmidt, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, followed the growing debate over the study closely on Twitter and said that measurements about the uptake of heat in the oceans have been bedeviled with data problems for some time — and that debuting new research in this area is hard.

“Obviously you rely on your co-authors and the reviewers to catch most problems, but things still sometimes slip through,” Schmidt wrote in an email.

Schmidt and Keeling agreed that other studies also support a higher level of ocean heat content than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, saw in a landmark 2013 report.

Overall, Schmidt said, the episode can be seen as a positive one.

“The key is not whether mistakes are made, but how they are dealt with — and the response from Laure and Ralph here is exemplary. No panic, but a careful reexamination of their working — despite a somewhat hostile environment,” he wrote.

“So, plus one for some post-publication review, and plus one to the authors for reexamining the whole calculation in a constructive way. We will all end up wiser.”

The part of me that lurks underneath isn’t finished grappling with this French journalist acting the tough, hard-bitten reporter
The tests claim to be able to identify food sensitivities associated with headaches, lethargy, brain fog, depression and an huge array of other symptoms
We concluded that practically all of western Canada, and the sizeable conservative minority in eastern Canada, were practically unrepresented in the national media
What should not change are the ideas and perspectives that animate the National Post. Its founding insight is as correct today as it was two decades ago

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