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Stories of modern science... from UPI

By JIM KLING, UPI Science Writer   |   March 13, 2002 at 4:45 AM   |   Comments

, March 13 (UPI) -- DODOS WERE CLOSELY RELATED TO PIGEONS

The dodo bird was essentially an overgrown pigeon, genetic researchers say. The dodo was a large, flightless bird that went extinct on an island east of Madagascar as a result of the encroachment of humans and accompanying rats and pigs. In the March 1 issue of Science, Beth A. Shapiro, Alan Cooper and their colleagues at the University of Oxford and the Natural History Museum in London reported their comparison of genetic sequences from the dodo, its close relative the solitaire bird, and 37 other species of pigeons and doves. The study showed that the dodo and solitaire are not on the fringe of this group, but fall right in the middle of it genetically. The closest living relatives to the birds are the Nicobar pigeons of Southeast Asia, the crowned pigeons of New Guinea and the toothbilled pigeons of Samoa. The solitaire and dodo probably separated from other pigeons about 42 million years ago, after they emigrated to the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean. "In an island situation, the birds that put on the most mass, and eat the most, can dominate in terms of mating and territory," Cooper told the New York Times. But being big and flightless made it difficult for them to escape the effects of humans.


AFRICAN WOMEN ALTER GAIT TO CARRY EXTRA WEIGHT

Women from some African are known for their ability to carry heavy loads for long distances, and researchers now believe they have figured out how they manage it; they unconsciously modify their gate to save energy, applying that energy to carrying the weight. "Every person and every animal that we have yet tested has roughly the same walking economy, except for these African women," Norman Heglund, a physiologist at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium and an author on the study, told the New York Times."We might be able to teach hikers with rucksacks and soldiers with heavy packs to save similar amounts of energy," said McNeill Alexander, an expert on biomechanics. Heglund performed the research by putting women on a treadmill and measuring their oxygen consumption and heart rate while they carried different weights. The African women could carry 20 percent of their body weight with no increase at all in exertion, while the oxygen consumption of other women rose even when they wore the lightest helmet. "You could train other people to do the same thing," said Heglund.


MOOSE UP AND WOLVES DOWN ON ISLE ROYALE

As a result of a mild winter, the wolf population on Michigan's Isle Royale National Park is down and the moose population is up. A survey led by Michigan Technological University's Rolf Peterson counted 17 wolves on the island, down from last year's 19, while the moose population climbed 1,100 from 900 in 2001. "The significant factor was a lack of winter," Peterson said, referring to the very light snowfall this year. "Moose were in places where we don't normally see them in the winter -- on hillsides and out of the conifer swamps." Those conditions made it more difficult for the wolves to get at the moose, and they made fewer kills. In its 44th year, the Isle Royale wolf-moose survey is the longest running predator-prey study in the world, and the isolated island habitat make it a unique subject of study. The wolves suffered a mortality rate of nearly 50 percent, with the deceased animals replaced by last year's pups. The moose have had success, but the spring may bring a downturn, the researchers say. Warmer temperatures and a dry spring could result in tick infestations, and their favored food -- balsam fir trees -- suffered damage from high winds in December. "While I expect the moose to increase over the summer, there are some big uncertainties ahead," said Peterson.


HONG KONG RESIDENTS MAY SOON HAVE 'SMART' IDs

Hong Kong residents may soon be issued a new 'smart' ID card with embedded computer chips carrying names, pictures, birthdates, and digital templates of both thumbprints, according to a CNN report. The cards are aimed at limiting Chinese immigration. "We've long had illegal immigration problems and everyone got used to carrying the (old) identity card," said Eric Wong, Hong Kong's deputy director of immigration. "People just think it's a way of life." The government backed off proposals to include additional information, such as health and bank records, but civil libertarians are still concerned. "No matter how secure a system is, there is always a risk that it might get hacked into," said lawmaker Sin Chung-kai. Similar cards are in place or about to be in countries including Finland, Malaysia and Japan. Hong Kong lawmakers hope that the cards will be approved and launched next year.

(EDITOR: For more information on wolves and moose, call 906-487-3327)

Topics: Alan Cooper
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