Archive for April, 2003

Rare Antelope on Brink of Extinction, Scientists Say

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 25, 2003   View Article

Male saiga antelopes face a serious problem that threatens to push them over the brink of extinction: so many females, so little time.

The global population of this antelope, native to the steppes and deserts of Central Asia and the Pre-Caspian region of Europe, has fallen by 80 percent to approximately 50,000. In the mid-1970s, the peak population was more than 1,250,000. Of the saiga antelopes that remain, most are female.

Chile Desert to Prepare Robot for Life on Mars

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 25, 2003   View Article

Scientists on the prowl for life on Mars have trained their sights on the parched Atacama Desert of northern Chile. Scientists believe that if their high-tech robotics succeed in their quest to find life in the Earth’s most inhospitable deserts, they may also be able to find life on Mars.

David Wettergreen, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, described the Atacama as “the most arid desert on Earth. It is what scientists call an end member [ecosystem] in that it has the lowest organic content of anywhere on Earth.”

Coffee Glut Brews Crisis for Farmers, Wildlife

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 24, 2003   View Article

For many people a coffee crisis occurs when there are no beans left in the kitchen to brew a pot of the morning elixir, forcing a half-awake stumble to the nearest coffee shop on a quest for a jolt of caffeine.

On a global scale the crisis is the opposite: There are too many beans.

Fruit Flies Highlight Aerodynamics of Insect Flight

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 23, 2003   View Article

To swat a fly can be a lesson in futility. The insect darts from each swipe with uncanny precision, altering its course to zip off in nearly the opposite direction.

Precisely how a fly achieves its aerial acrobatics is more than a curiosity of annoyance for Michael Dickinson, a bioengineer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Dickinson has built an entire research lab, not to mention professional career, seeking an answer to just how a fly’s brain controls its muscles in precision flight.

Vegetable Oil – The New Fuel?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 22, 2003   View Article

As the world watches the price of crude oil fluctuate in response to the conflict in Iraq, chemists and advocates for alternative energy technologies are training their sights on the grease used to cook French fries.

They say that oils derived from soybeans, corn, and other vegetables hold promise as a cleaner and renewable alternative to the finite resource sucked up from the ground.

Rabbit Woes: Easter Icons Face Survival Struggles

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 17, 2003   View Article

Chocolate bunnies may be abundant this Easter season, but some real-life rabbit species around the world are becoming increasingly rare.

“We have lots of endangered rabbits,” said Andrew Smith, a biologist at Arizona State University in Tempe and chair of a World Conservation Union working group dedicated to management and conservation of rabbits, pikas, and hares—a family also known as lagomorphs.

Elusive African Apes: Giant Chimps or New Species?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 14, 2003   View Article

A mysterious group of apes found in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa has scientists and conservationist scratching their heads. The apes nest on the ground like gorillas but have a diet and features characteristic of chimpanzees.

The apes are most likely a group of giant chimpanzees that display gorilla-like behavior. A far more remote possibility is that they represent a new subspecies of great ape. Researchers plan to return to the region later this month to collect more clues to help resolve the mystery.

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