Discovered: BP spill killed fledgling fish; middle-aged monkeys wonder what's the point; caves reveal sea level rise; how many scientists does it take to get to the bottom of the owl's soundless flight?
How Deepwater Horizon affected fish. It's been two-and-a-half years since the BP oil spill, but we're just beginning to size up the damage it did to the Gulf of Mexico's smaller species. Researchers studying the event presented their assessment of the damage at this year's meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, revealing that low levels of oil exposure killed many embryos and hatchling fish, and that it caused survivors to develop serious deformities. Water that contained 5 to 10 micrograms per liter of weathered oil killed half of baby fish from species as diverse as tuna to minnows. And the fish that weren't killed could only swim 70 percent as fast as their non-deformed peers, according to experiments that found "severely reduced swimming performance." [ScienceNews]
Monkeys at midlife. Researchers led by the University of Warwick's Andrew Oswald have discovered that middle-aged chimpanzees and orangutans suffer from an emotional slump—just like humans do! "We find it for these creatures that don’t have a mortgage and don’t have to go to work and don’t have marriage and all the other stuff," says Oswald. These findings may or may not point to an evolutionary precedent for why your dad started acting so weird around the time you entered middle school. [The Washington Post]
Where have all the British birds gone? These figures are a birdwatcher's nightmare: over the last 46 years, the UK's bird population has dropped off by 44 million. That's what researchers behind the State of the UK's Birds 2012 report have found by digging through volunteer observations dating back to 1966. Among the hardest hit were house sparrows, lapwings, cuckoos, and turtle doves, while the numbers of wood pigeon and collared dove have multiplied significantly. The disappearance of landscape features needed for nesting and feeding are thought to be the driving factor in the bird die-off. Experts from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology were involved in the research. [BBC News]
Caves contain evidence of sea-level rise. If you want to gauge how sea levels will continue to rise in the near future, get ready for some spelunking. Researchers led by Eelco Rohling of the University of Southampton have found that comparing Red Sea stalactites—those drippy columns that hang from cave ceilings—with previous data on sea-level changes in the region from the last 150,000 years can help refine predictions about how high seas will continue to rise. Rohling says that we can expect 1 meter of ocean level rising per century, saying that thanks to climate change, "We've put the freight train in motion and it's going to be very difficult to slow it down." [New Scientist]