New insight on wild nights

first_imgIt sounds like a scene straight from “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” — by day, lions lounge under shade trees, but by night, the big cats rule the savannah, relying on a combination of exceptional vision and moonlight to bring down unsuspecting prey.For all its ubiquity, though, it’s a story that may not be as accurate as many people believe.New research suggests that, despite the advantage moonlight would seem to provide hunters, predators such as lions are actually less active on the most moonlit nights, while many prey animals — despite the risk of being eaten — become more active. The study was published this month in the Journal of Animal Ecology.“The results were very counterintuitive,” said Chris Golden ’05, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Center for the Environment and a co-author on the study. “Most people would believe that predation risk increases on moonlit nights, because predators have an easier time seeing prey. What they ignore is the very intuitive second half of that thought, which is that if predators can see better in the moonlight, why would prey not also have better vision and then be able to avoid predators?“What we found in this study is that this benefit goes both ways,” he added. “We also found that the primary sensory system of the organism was one of the best predictors of their response to moonlight. If they are using sight to detect predators, as opposed to olfaction or auditory signals, they were generally more active on moonlit nights.”To understand the effect of moonlight on different species, Golden and first author Laura Prugh, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, compiled the results of studies on 58 nocturnal species, ranging from the highly lunarphilic red-fronted brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus rufus) to the highly lunarphobic Merriam’s kangaroo rat (Dipodomys merriami).Their initial hypothesis, Golden said, was that the benefits of moonlight would be strongest for animals at the highest “trophic level” — those at the top of the food chain — because they face few predators and moonlit nights would offer them the best chance to catch prey.“What we actually found was that the highest trophic levels reduce their activity in moonlight,” Golden said. “One of the potential theories is that they are acting in response to reduced activity by prey, or reduced hunting success, since their prey can detect them more easily, so they’re not going to waste their energy by hunting on those nights.“We also found very strong phylogenetic association with the effects of moonlight. Activity among carnivores was reduced, as well as among rodents, bats, and lagomorphs [hares and rabbits]. Primates, on the other hand, were one of the few groups to see a major increase.”Golden said he hopes the study spurs further research into questions of how and why moonlight affects behavior patterns, and whether animals living in close proximity to cities — and the light that comes with them — show similar behavior changes.“I think this paper serves as a preliminary analysis that begs for more research,” Golden said. “There are complex dynamics in these systems that we’re not picking up, but this paper is asking the questions.”last_img read more

Students start petition to add Africana studies major

first_imgA USC sophomore has started a petition calling upon the University to establish an Africana studies major and employ a black professor in the history department.Austin Rogers, a sophomore majoring in history, is asking students to support an increase in black professors and Ph.D. students, as well as the implementation of more courses teaching the history of African-Americans, Africans and post-colonial independence. Right now the history department only has two black professors, Francille Wilson and Diana Williams, who are both leaving the University in May. In addition, there have only been two black Ph.D. history students to attend USC since the University’s founding 137 years ago.Rogers included those points on the petition after speaking with USC Diversity Director George Sanchez. “That was a really telling data point,” Rogers said. Rogers said he began to think about the issue about a year ago, after noticing that there are no classes in the history department dealing with the continent of Africa. He was also inspired after reading texts by Malcolm X on Afro-American history. “There’s this narrative that black culture begins with captivity,” Rogers said. “The goal of the petition is to challenge those assumptions and get more representation on campus.”Ogechi Ibeanusi, a senior majoring in English and history, helped Rogers organize the petition. Ibeanusi shared the petition as a Google form in multiple Facebook groups, including USC Black Class and Black Campus Minustries, last Wednesday. Rogers and Ibeanusi also posted the petition on their personal Facebook pages. “It got a really big response from people,” Rogers said. “I’m really grateful that there are people — allies — who aren’t even black who recognize the importance of learning about your shared history and ancestry and what that means for self-empowerment. I think that people just see that, and it’s almost common sense to be disappointed that the University doesn’t offer that.”Razzan Nakhlawi, a junior majoring in journalism, was one of the supporters who signed the petition and also shared it on Facebook. “I do think that … especially in terms of history and history departments at universities, having a decolonized and non-Eurocentric aspect of your education is really important,” Nakhlawi said. “I was really glad to see Austin making concrete change toward that.”Rogers noted that the University’s historical lack of involvement in these issues can be discouraging to students who want to learn more. “There is a precedent for the exclusion of these kind of studies,” Rogers said. “I mean like the petition said, it’s been 137 years, and there hasn’t really been a lot of traction. We’re facing a big, big obstacle.”However, Rogers remains hopeful that there is a chance that actions such as his can change this exclusion.“I’m optimistic that we can keep advocating and rallying people together and organizing,” Rogers said. “We’re not just helping black students but improving the University’s overall environment.”last_img read more