Tag Archives: evolution

The hidden reef made of giant algae doughnuts

A hidden reef exists behind the Great Barrier Reef—but it’s three times bigger than previously thought, constructed by algae, and made up of doughnut-shaped mounds.

Uncovering the true scale of the 6,000 km2 structure was made possible by airborne laser mapping technology LiDAR, provided by the Royal Australian Navy.

It has implications for the Great Barrier Reef’s habitat mapping and conservation zoning, as well as providing possible insights into past climates.

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Flying whale sharks

Short periods of flapping wings alternating with long, gliding descent helps birds preserve energy in flight. Now researchers have discovered that sharks and seals can use the same technique to glide through the ocean.

Adrian chasing down tags released from whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef. Credit: Steve Lindfield
Adrian chasing down tags released from Whale Sharks at the Ningaloo Reef. Credit: Steve Lindfield

Murdoch University’s Dr Adrian Gleiss led a team that attached accelerometers to whale sharks, white sharks, fur seals, and elephant seals.

They found that all four species performed the characteristic undulating flight of birds and bats, with periods of active, upwards propulsion alternating with slow, passive, gliding descents.

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Infrared gets under dragon skin

Bearded dragons are revealing some of the secrets behind their colour-changing ways, thanks to the work of a Melbourne evolutionary scientist.

Devi Stuart-Fox with a bearded dragon. Credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au

Devi Stuart-Fox has discovered that bearded dragons change colour in response to heat, allowing them to regulate their body temperature.

Her research opens the way for scientists to imitate lizards and develop materials that respond to light and temperature for solar energy, sensor and biomedical applications.

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Starving cancer and other stories

Prostate cancers are made up of hungry, growing cells. Now we’ve discovered how to cut off their food supply thanks to a study published in Cancer Research and supported by Movember. More below. Also Australian science discoveries you may have missed from the past week. Heart cells growing in a test-tube – Melbourne How birds [...]

Seeing fish through rocks

Dr Kate Trinajstic has used synchrotron light and CT scanning to see through rock, in the process discovering how ancient fish developed teeth, jaws and even a womb. Her work is increasing our understanding of how life on Earth evolved.

Seeing fish through rocks
The winner of the 2010 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year, Kate Trinajstic. Credit: Ron D’Raine
About 380 million years ago in what is now the Kimberley Ranges in Western Australia, a vast barrier reef formed. In what would have been the inter-reef basins, large numbers of fish were buried relatively intact. Protective limestone balls formed around them and preserved them. When these balls are treated with acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, the surrounding rock dissolves, leaving only fossilised fish bones.

But in the course of studying hundreds of these dissolving balls, Kate began to see what looked like muscle fibres between the bones. She was eventually able to convince her colleagues that irreplaceable soft tissue detail was being lost in the acid treatments.
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Dating the hobbit

When Australian and Indonesian scientists revealed their “Hobbit” discovery in 2004, it created a sensation. Homo floresiensis was a previously undiscovered branch of the human family tree, raising images of a lost world of “little people” living on a remote island in eastern Indonesia.

What really excited scientists about the discovery of the one-metre tall adult skeleton in a cave on Flores was the realisation this species had co-existed with Homo sapiens until just 12,000 years ago.

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Lake Mungo reveals ancient human adaptation to climate change

Lake Mungo’s ancient landscape.
Lake Mungo’s ancient landscape.

Aboriginal Elders from the Traditional Tribal Groups in the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area are collaborating with researchers to produce the first integrated account of the history of human settlement, landscape evolution and past environmental change for Australia’s foremost ‘Ice Age’ archive.

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Reading the hidden clock in a grain of sand

Zenobia Jacobs, University of Wollongong. Credit: timothyburgess.net
Zenobia Jacobs, University of Wollongong. Credit: timothyburgess.net

Dr Zenobia Jacobs wants to know where we came from, and how we got here. When did our distant ancestors leave Africa and spread across the world? Why? And when was Australia first settled?

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