EvoLiteracy News 03 30 2015

African Savannah Elephants Have Acute Spatial Memory. Study just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

African Savannah Elephant Photo Yathin Krishnappa

African Savannah Elephant Photo Yathin Krishnappa

Authors , etailed ‘spatial knowledge over large scales,’ enables elephants to minimize travel distance through highly directional movement when accessing water. Polansky et al.’s research illustrates emerging approaches for studying how cognition structures animal movement behaviour in different ecological and social contexts.” In fact, “little [was] known [before this study] about the role of spatial memory in large-scale movement behavior.” Animal Spatial Memory is crucial for survival since individuals and groups must find specific resources, like water or food, in patchy environments, which change seasonally. The study was conducted in the semi-arid Etosha National Park, Namibia. Read full open access article at Elephant Spatial Memory PRSB.

The main findings of the study can be summarized as follows: (1) Elephants have a remarkable spatial acuity when accessing point water sources, initiating highly directional movements to water at considerable distances from the waterhole. (2) The individuals studied [five-female- and five-male-radio-collared animals] overwhelmingly chose the nearest waterhole when moving to it in a directed manner across a range of scales, suggesting a cognitive-based mechanism for these movements. The factors leading to the cognitive decision making include: environmental spatio-temporal landscape features  (e.g. distribution of ephemeral waterholes and forage resources) and social organization (distribution of conspecifics that vary in social rank).

Polar Bears Are Increasingly Feeding on Bird Eggs. Climate change and the increasing impact of polar bears on bird populations. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Nest Predation by Polar Bears

Young polar bears raid a colony of barnacle geese, searching for eggs and newly hatched goslings in the Nordenskiöldkysten region of Spitsbergen, Norway. Image by Jouke Prop.

“Polar bears depend on sea ice for hunting seals. Longer ice-free seasons are hypothesized to force the bears to hunt for alternative terrestrial food, such as eggs from colonial breeding birds.” Prop et al. (a total of 16 authors) have “analyzed time-series of polar bear observations at four locations on Spitsbergen (Svalbard) and one in east Greenland.” Summer occurrence of polar bears has increased significantly since 1970/80s. “The shifts in polar bear occurrence coincides with trends for shorter sea ice seasons and less sea ice during the spring. Direct observations of nest predation show that polar bears may affect reproductive success of the barnacle goose, common eider and glaucous gull.” The authors suggest that “the increasing, earlier appearance of bears on land in summer reflects behavioral adaptations by a small segment of the population to cope with a reduced hunting range on sea ice. This exemplifies how behavioral adaptations may contribute to the cascading effects of climate change.” For complete story go to Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

A Biotic Game Design Project for Integrated Life Science and Engineering Education. PLoS Biology.

Biotic Game Design Project Integrated Life Science Engineering Education

A: Biotic games enable human players to interact with cells. B: Conceptual overview of a biotic game setup. C: Students built and played biotic games.

Authors Cira et al. (a total of 6 collaborators) summarize their work as follows” “we present the concept of a ‘biotic game design project’ to motivate student learning at the interface of life sciences and device engineering (as part of a cornerstone bioengineering devices course). We provide all course material and also present efforts in adapting the project’s complexity to serve other time frames, age groups, learning focuses, and budgets. Students self-reported that they found the biotic game project fun and motivating, resulting in increased effort. Hence this type of design project could generate excitement and educational impact similar to robotics and video games.” For article and materials go to PLoS Biology STEM.

The authors summarize their conclusions as follows: (1) Biotic games are promising in motivating integrated, hands-on learning at the interface of life science and engineering. (2) This concept could be adapted to various age groups and learning goals with the potential for wider future impacts on education.  (3) There is potential for integrating more creative and artistic aspects into STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, STEAM) .

Game: Test Your Spatial Memory in this easy game (Click on Image).

Spatial Memory Game

This Pattern Memory game trains spatial recall including memory for visual patterns and location of objects. According to Memory-Improvement-Tips.com “These brain skills can help you remember where you left your keys or parked your car” (if that does not work, at least you will have fun playing the game). To begin, click the Small, Medium or Large links. This opens the game in a pop-up window. Wait for it to load, then click “START.” Good luck.