Why birds sing before winter weather breaks

Many species court and breed in the dead of winter

Why birds sing before winter weather breaksWe may sometimes feel as if we’re still locked in the dead of winter, but to birds, mammals, insects and even plants, things are changing. Faithful readers will recall how I recently explained that my trees were getting ‘fat,’ as the buds enlarge in anticipation of spring. But they’re not alone in their rush towards…

How changing boreal forests could affect caribou

Researchers examine what logging, climate change and other factors mean for caribou populations

How changing boreal forests could affect caribouNew research by University of Alberta biologists paints a clearer picture of how food webs are shifting in response to changing habitats in Canada’s boreal forests, and what it means for dwindling caribou populations. “We know that habitat, prey and predators such as wolves are all pieces of the caribou conservation puzzle, and here we…

Differentiating truth from myth about snowflakes

Marvel at these seemingly simple structures that rely on all the forces of nature for their beauty

Differentiating truth from myth about snowflakesAs I grow older, I like the cold less and less. I still love winter, but I wish it was warmer – wait, isn’t that summer? My favourite part of winter is when it snows – I never cease to marvel at the tiny flakes drifting down to earth, covering everything in a white blanket.…

Are owls wise, all-seeing and good luck – or harbingers of calamity?

One superstition about owls had it that making a potion from the ash of owl eggs improved vision

Are owls wise, all-seeing and good luck – or harbingers of calamity?Folklore abounds with superstition related to owls. I thought it might be fun to share some superstitions I’ve gleaned about owls, since this is the best time of year to see them. These nocturnal creatures often appear in horror films since tufts of feathers on the top of some owls’ heads give them the appearance…

Managing invasive species better than eliminating them: research

Every year, hundreds of introduced species cause billions of dollars in damage

Managing invasive species better than eliminating them: researchManaging invasive species – not eliminating them altogether – is a better use of time and conservation resources in many cases, according to a study led by a University of Alberta biologist. Every year, hundreds of introduced species cause billions of dollars in damage to ecosystems, agriculture and infrastructure in North America alone. The research,…

Fireball was a comet fragment burning up in Earth’s atmosphere

U of A scientists use fireball monitoring network to capture images of the meteor that lit up the skies over Western Canada

Fireball was a comet fragment burning up in Earth’s atmosphereWestern Canadians caught a glimpse of a bright flash overhead this week as a fireball lit up the sky on the morning of Feb. 22. Now, University of Alberta researchers have used Western Canada’s most advanced fireball network to capture images and trajectory of the fireball – revealing it to be a small piece of…

How zebra finches choose materials for their nests

U of A scientists find that learning and past success play a role in how birds build their nests

How zebra finches choose materials for their nestsWhen building a nest, previous experience raising chicks will influence the choices birds make, according to a new study by University of Alberta scientists. The results show that birds that have successfully raised families stick with tried-and-true methods when building their nests, whereas less successful birds will try something new. “We found that when presented…

Research aims to reduce use of chemical pesticides

Which creepy-crawlies can be harnessed to act as the most effective natural method of pest control?

Research aims to reduce use of chemical pesticidesFields used to grow food are naturally crawling with insects – but which ones can help crops just by being there? A University of Alberta research program aims to find out. Using next-generation DNA analysis, researcher Boyd Mori of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences is looking to see which creepy-crawlies can be harnessed to act as…

Strange weather, stranger words to describe it

In the odds and sods category, hunch weather is windy and drizzly, so much so that one has to hunch over just to walk

Strange weather, stranger words to describe itYou’ll recall I talked last column about some unusual words to describe weather phenomena. I thought I could share some more I’ve discovered. Storm chasers will know that derechos are winds that strike in straight lines and often accompany thunderstorms. The damage they cause is from a downdraft where the winds rush toward the ground,…

Putting bison back where they belong heals land and people: researchers

Ecological restoration offers opportunities for reconciliation and decolonization

A project conceived to rebuild a long-lost bison herd in Banff National Park is not only healing the land, according to a pair of University of Alberta undergraduate researchers, but has created a framework for reconciliation and decolonization to follow moving forward. What started out as a literature review of the Bison Belong Project soon revealed…

Researchers pinpoint where wildlife most likely to be killed by trains

Reducing speed limits outside towns of Banff and Lake Louise could mean fewer fatal collisions, study suggests

Researchers pinpoint where wildlife most likely to be killed by trainsThe number of mammals killed by trains in Canada’s Rocky Mountains could be slashed if the railway reduced speed limits along eight km total of track on either side of the Banff and Lake Louise townsites, according to a study by University of Alberta researchers who used the train mortality record to pinpoint the most dangerous…

One step at a time toward a better self, a better world

Choosing to walk instead of drive is good for your body and mind, benefits the environment and ultimately helps the economy

One step at a time toward a better self, a better worldI’ve asked myself this question every day for much of my adult life, and I now realize it’s one of the keys to my happiness and good health: Do I really need to drive to work today? I first began asking myself this question almost out of necessity when living in an overcrowded tropical city…

Strange weather and the words we use to describe it

Some arise from folklore, some carry historical inferences and others are the result of superstition

Strange weather and the words we use to describe itThe media has created some of its own climate words and sometimes uses superlatives somewhat carelessly – worst storm ever, highest rainfall ever, greatest flood ever. And what the heck is a polar vortex? A Washington Post readers’ poll coined the word snowmageddon but it has no meaning in meteorological terms. Yet it’s used by…

Tracking common nighthawks to shed light on declining populations

U of A biologists track the migratory birds over 10,000 km with GPS to study their route – and the cause behind their declining numbers

Tracking common nighthawks to shed light on declining populationsA new study by University of Alberta biologists has created a comprehensive picture of the 10,000-km migratory route of common nighthawks using GPS data. The study is the first step in analyzing where and why the birds’ population numbers are declining. “Like many migratory bird species, common nighthawks are declining, but the rate of those…

New research provides insight into evolutionary origin of the eye

Hagfish eyes uncover unexpected similarities to those of other vertebrates, including humans

New research provides insight into evolutionary origin of the eyeThe answer to the age-old mystery of the evolutionary origins of vertebrate eyes may lie in hagfish, according to a new study by biologists at the University of Alberta. “Hagfish eyes can help us understand the origins of human vision by expanding our understanding of the early steps in vertebrate eye evolution,” explained lead author…
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