Science Briefs: Ancient fig wasp arrived before figs

December 15, 2013 

\ A 115-million-year-old fossilized wasp from northeast Brazil presents a baffling puzzle to researchers. The wasp’s ovipositor – the organ through which it lays its eggs – looks a lot like those of present-day wasps that lay their eggs in figs. The mystery, researchers say, is that figs arose about 65 million years after this wasp was alive.

A report of the findings appears in the journal Cretaceous Research.

The wasp belongs to the Hymenoptera superfamily, which parasitize other insects, spiders and some plants. The group includes about 22,000 known species and is estimated to contain up to 500,000 species.

“This is a tiny parasitic wasp. It’s the smallest fossil wasp found in this particular deposit, and it’s the oldest representative of its family,” said Sam Heads, a paleoentomologist at the University of Illinois. “More importantly, it’s possible that this wasp was fig-associated, which is interesting because it’s Early Cretaceous, about 115 to 120 million years old. That’s a good 65 million years or so prior to the first occurrence of figs in the fossil record.” illinois.edu

Humans age differently than other species

Adult humans get weaker as they age and then die, but that’s not the typical pattern across species. Some organisms don’t appear to show signs of aging at all.

These are among the findings in a first-of-its-kind study published in the journal Nature last week. The study compares the aging patterns of humans and 45 other species.

The team contrasted how vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, and a green alga age. Modern day people, frogs, lions, lice and the Hypericum cumulicola, a native Florida plant, were among the species compared.

The study found that mortality of some species, like humans and birds, increased with age. For some, such as Florida’s hypericum, the increase is slower. And for others, like the desert tortoise and certain trees, mortality declines with age.

The international study was led by evolutionary biologist Owen Jones of the Max-Planck Odense Center at the University of Southern Denmark. ucf.edu

Arctic cyclones? Not rare at all

From 2000 to 2010, about 1,900 cyclones churned across the top of the world each year, leaving warm water and air in their wakes – and melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

That’s about 40 percent more than previously thought, according to a new analysis of these Arctic storms.

A 40 percent difference in the number of cyclones could be important to anyone who lives north of 55 degrees latitude – the area of the study, which includes the northern reaches of Canada, Scandinavia and Russia, along with Alaska.

The finding is also important to researchers who want to get a clear picture of current weather patterns and a better understanding of potential climate change in the future, said David Bromwich, professor of geography at Ohio State University and a senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center.

The international study was presented last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting. researchnews.osu.edu

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