Discovered: Deer are hosts to even more pathogens than we thought; Brazil wants to un-endanger species by cloning them; satellites aren't beyond the reach of climate change; how Mayans grew maize.
More deer tick diseases. We all know deer ticks are vectors for Lyme disease, but now researchers are telling us that their bites may be bringing other pathogens into our bloodstreams. Researchers from the Yale School of Public Health are warning of an emerging disease called babesiosis, first reported in 1991 and rising steadily in recent years. It leads to malaria-like symptoms, and has been found in the northeast. This adds to the growing number of deer tick-borne diseases, another of which can cause fatal encephalitis. "Today's findings underscore the shifting landscape of tick-borne diseases, whose rapid emergence can challenge the best efforts of science and medicine to diagnose, treat, and prevent their occurrence," says Yale researcher Peter Krause. [American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene]
Brazil has a novel way of solving endangered species. Dangerously low numbers of jaguars and maned wolves? Worried they're just about to go extinct? No problem, we'll just clone them until there's enough to take them off the endangered species list. That's the solution proposed by Brazilian conservationists from the Embrapa agricultural research agency and the Brasilia Zoological Garden. They've endeavored to clone eight types of animal from 420 tissue samples recovered from carcasses of "near threatened" animals. Other specialists in endangered species say that cloning works, but should be taken as a last resort after efforts to curb hunting and human encroachment have failed. "While cloning is a tool of last resort, it may prove valuable for some species," says Ian Harrison from Conservation International's Biodiversity Assessment Unit. "Experimenting with it now, using species that are not at immediate risk of extinction, is important." [New Scientist]
Climate change comes to the thermosphere. Down here on solid ground, the effects of climate change are readily observed: rising sea levels, melting polar ice caps, crazy weather. But the upper limits of our atmosphere don't hover beyond the reach of global warming, according to findings by researchers led by John Emmert of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's Space Science Division. The thermosphere starts 50 miles above the Earth's surface, and climate change is cooling this region rather than warming it up. That means satellites and other spacecraft up there will have less drag, which may have "adverse consequences for the orbital debris environment that is already unstable," the researchers write. With less friction holding them back, bits of space debris could do huge damage to these satellites. [Los Angeles Times]
Mayan maize farming methods revealed. Last week science told us that drought may have hastened the decline of the Mayan civilization. Now, thanks to new findings from Brigham Young University soil scientist Richard Terry, we're learning that their switch from sustainable to environmentally deleterious maize farming practices also may have caused them to die off. For hundreds of years, the Mayans sustainably grew maize in lowland areas where erosion was impossible. But as the civilization expanded, they got reckless with their farming, planting on hilly areas and causing lots of erosion. That could have led to lower crop yields, providing another reason for their downfall. [American Society of Agronomy]