Science Briefs: New light on world's least-studied bat

November 3, 2013 

The Mortlock Islands flying fox, a large, breadfruit-eating bat native to a few remote and tiny Pacific islands, has long been regarded as one of the world’s least-studied bats. For years, nearly all that scientists knew about this animal was derived from one lonely 1870 specimen preserved in a jar of alcohol in the Natural History Museum, London.

Now, in a paper in the open access journal ZooKeys, a team of bat biologists led by Don Buden of the College of Micronesia published a wealth of new information on this “forgotten” species, including the first detailed observations of wild populations.

And it is none too soon, says paper co-author Kristofer Helgen of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History: The low-lying atolls this bat calls home are likely to be increasingly affected by rising ocean waters brought on by climate change.

The article describes the first study of the behavior, diet and conservation status of this flying fox, finding that the Mortlock Islands support a small population of 900 to 1,200 bats scattered across a land surface of only 4.6 square miles. Legal rules have brought better protection to the species, which was once heavily hunted and exported for food. newsdesk.si.edu

Autism, language impairment genetically linked

New research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, by scientists at Rutgers University and The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, reveals that there is a genetic link connecting those with autism to family members who have specific language impairment characterized by speech and language difficulties that can’t be explained by cognitive or physical problems.

The research project leader, Rutgers genetics professor Linda Brzustowicz, says that genes in a narrow region of two chromosomes (15q23-26 and 16p12) responsible for oral and written language impairments can result in similar behavioral characteristics with one family member developing autism and the other having only language difficulties.

Specific language impairment is one of the most common learning disabilities, affecting an estimated 7 percent of children. It is not considered to be an autism spectrum disorder. Autism affects 1 in 88 children nationally – with nearly five times as many boys as girls diagnosed – about half of whom have some degree of language impairment. ucm.rutgers.edu

Splitting sensors lets instruments “see” in the dark

While mechanical detection of thermal infrared energy has been possible since Samuel Pierpont Langley invented the bolometer in 1880, devices that also can recognize and identify its source after detection have been more challenging to develop.

In a paper in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, Chinese researchers describe a novel instrument that successfully does both tasks with extremely high sensitivity by splitting the IR radiation given off by an object into a long-wave portion for detection and a mid-wave portion that can be spectrally analyzed for accurate identification.

Conventional remote sensing systems share a single sensor for both imaging and spectral data processing. The new instrument designed by researchers at Huazhong University of Science and Technology has separate sensors for each task. American Institute of Physics

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