Social or Stinky? New study reveals how animal defenses evolve

When people see a skunk, the reaction usually is “Eww,” but when they see a group of meerkats peering around, they often think “Aww.”

Why some animals use noxious scents while others live in social groups to defend themselves against predators is the question that biologists Tim Caro of the University of California, Davis and Theodore Stankowich of California State University, Long Beach  and sought to answer through a comprehensive analysis of predator-prey interactions among carnivorous mammals and birds of prey.

Their findings appear in the online edition of the journal Evolution.Who me, stinky? Photo by Jennifer Hunter.

Probing the surface, and just below

Contributed by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

“The interface is the device,” Nobel laureate Herbert Kroemer famously observed, referring to the remarkable properties to be found at the junctures where layers of different materials meet. In today’s burgeoning world of nanotechnology, the interfaces between layers of metal oxides are becoming increasingly prominent, with applications in such high-tech favorites as spintronics, high-temperature superconductors, ferroelectrics and multiferroics. Realizing the vast potential of these metal oxide interfaces, especially those buried in subsurface layers, will require detailed knowledge of their electronic structure.

Balancing act: How UC Davis contributes to nation’s largest marine protected area network

UC Davis researchers want to understand how fish benefit from Marine Protected Areas. Credit: Rennet Stowe (via Flickr)

UC Davis researchers study how fish benefit from Marine Protected Areas. Credit: Rennet Stowe (via Flickr)

If one were to set aside an area of the ocean that was off limits for fishing, how would that affect the population of, say, abalone, rockfish or some other fish species? How much catch would be lost or gained if certain areas were closed to fishing? And is there a way to balance conservation goals with the economic benefits or losses?

UC Davis biosci major wins Hughes fellowship for grad school

Congratulations to Brenda Marin-Rodriguez, an undergraduate student in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, who has been awarded one of nine Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The fellowships provide $46,500 per year for up to four years to outstanding students from underrepresented groups pursuing graduate studies in life sciences.

Marin-Rodriguez, who is from Puerto Rico, has finished her classes at UC Davis and will graduate in June, 2013. She is currently an intern in the laboratory of Catherine Dulac at Harvard University, supported by an HHMI Capstone award. After graduating, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology, but hasn’t settled on a specific school yet.

UC Davis Physics, Milton Gardner and the President of China

Wednesday afternoon I joined a delegation of Chinese journalists, including the China News Service and People’s Daily, visiting UC Davis as they met with faculty and students of the Physics Department. Earlier, the group had lunch with Winston Ko, dean of mathematical and physical sciences, and met with Chancellor Linda Katehi.

Why are the Chinese media interested in UC Davis Physics? Apart from the growing scientific collaborations and flow of international students, there is an interesting little tale that links the Chinese leadership and the campus.

Ithaca school robotics team builds augmented reality sandbox on UC Davis design

A high school robotics team in Ithaca, New York has built their own augmented reality sandbox, based on the model built by Oliver Kreylos and colleagues at UC Davis’s Keck Center for Active Visualization in Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES). A video of the UC Davis sandbox went viral last year, attracting over one and half million views to date.

The sandbox uses a Kinect controller from a Microsoft Xbox game console and a digital projector to read contours on real sand and project images such as contours or flowing water onto the sand.

UC Davis tech incubator admits three new startups

Three new UC Davis startup companies working in clean hydrogen production, chip-scale magnetic sensors and tissue engineering have been admitted to the Engineering Translational Technology Center at the College of Engineering.

Woodall Tech, Inc.

Triassic “Jaws” found

We’re going to need a bigger boat: palaeontologists including UC Davis postdoc Lars Schmitz have described a 30-foot long ichthyosaur — an air-breathing, dolphin-like marine reptile — with five-inch long razor teeth that was likely the top predator in the ocean 244 million years ago. The fossil is described in a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jan. 7.

The fossil was found during a dig in Nevada, well-known as a site for ichthyosaur fossils. The researchers named the beast Thalattoarchon saurophagis, or “lizard-eating ruler of the seas,” because it likely preyed on other marine reptiles, filling the role of top predator of its time, like a modern Great White shark or killer whale.

His “hoot-dash” brings all the girls to the yard

Anyone who’s spent time near male peacocks knows that they can be noisy birds. At the height of his courtship dance, the male gives a distinct two-part whoop before leaping on the female.

“Peacocks have a number of different courtship calls, but this is the only one specifically associated with the moment before copulation, a time when the female is finally right in front of the male. It’s called the hoot-dash display,” said Jessica Yorzinski in a story for the Duke University research blog. Yorzinski, now a postdoc at Duke, studied peacock behavior as a graduate student at UC Davis.

Garen Wintemute on preventing gun violence

UC Davis emergency physician Garen Wintemute is one of the nation’s leading experts on gun violence, and has long argued that it should be treated as a public health problem. In this Q&A with The Nation he says that the prohibition route followed by countries like Australia and Great Britain is closed to the U.S. — there are just too many guns already out there. But real steps can be taken that would make a dent in gun violence that kills 88 Americans every day.