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School of Biology News Centre

item 3838
[15-09-2016 to 30-12-2016]

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News Item:
Tropical crow species is highly skilled tool user

An international team of scientists and conservation experts has discovered that the critically-endangered Hawaiian crow, or ‘Alala, is a highly proficient tool user, according to a paper published today in the leading scientific journal Nature.

For decades, another species – the famed New Caledonian crow – had baffled researchers with its remarkable tool-using skills. These birds, which only live on the remote South Pacific island of New Caledonia, use tools to winkle insects and other prey from deadwood and vegetation, exhibiting an astonishing degree of dexterity. The big question was why they, but apparently no other members of the crow family (‘corvids’), had evolved such technological prowess. But without other tool-using crow species for comparison, the New Caledonian crow remained a puzzling oddity.

There are over 40 species of crows and ravens in the world, and many of them – especially those living in remote tropical locations – remain poorly studied. “This raises the intriguing possibility that there are some undiscovered tool users out there,” explains the study’s lead scientist, Dr Christian Rutz, from the University of St Andrews, UK.

“We had previously noticed that New Caledonian crows have unusually straight bills, and wondered whether this may be an adaptation for holding tools, similar to humans’ opposable thumb,” Rutz elaborates. By searching for this tell-tale sign amongst some of the lesser-known corvid species, he quickly homed in on a particularly promising candidate for further investigation – the ‘Alala.

see here for further details
contact: Dr Christian Rutz


 

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  • CBD Seminar: How did the butterfly get its colours? The genetic control of colour and pattern diversity in Heliconius butterflies
    speaker: Nicola Nadeau (The University of Sheffield)

    building: Dyers Brae
    room: Seminar Room
    see also: additional details
    host/contact: ecg5@st-andrews.ac.uk

    Butterfly wing patterns are a striking example of biological diversity.The neotropical Heliconius butterflies in particular have extensive within and between species diversity in their wing colour patterns. Some of this diversity is due to variation at the gene cortex, which has repeatedly been targeted by natural selection, both to produce mimetic colour pattern resemblances within Heliconius and remarkably to shift camouflage in the peppered moth. I will also talk about ongoing work in my lab to identify genes controlling iridescent structural colour.


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  • CBD Seminar: TBA
    speaker: Amanda Bretman (University of Leeds )

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    host/contact: ecg5@st-andrews.ac.uk

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  • SOI seminar: Skilful predictions of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)
    speaker: Dr Nick Dunstone (Met Office)

    building: Bute
    room: Lecture theatre D
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    host/contact: Prof Chris Todd

    The winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is the primary mode of atmospheric variability in the North Atlantic sector. It has a profound impact on surface conditions over the North Atlantic ocean and temperature & precipitation over Europe and North America. The NAO exhibits pronounced interannual variability, particularly in the last decade, with strong positive NAO leading to mild & stormy European winters (e.g. 2011/12, 2013/14) and strong negative NAO winters giving cold & dry winters (e.g. 2009/10, 2010/11). Until recently seasonal forecasting systems have had no significant skill in predicting the winter NAO, leading many to assume that the NAO was largely a chaotic mode of atmospheric variability and inherently unpredictable. Here I will outline our recent work using the Met Office high-resolution climate models to show that the NAO is indeed predictable both one month ahead of winter and that significant skill still remains one year ahead. I will  examine the drivers of predictability on these two timescales and show that the discovery of NAO predictability is at odds with the skill of the model predicting itself. This surprising result indicates that the real-world is in fact far more predictable than we previously thought and it is likely that even the latest high-resolution climate models are unable to realistically represent the physical processes and feedbacks operating in the real world, resulting in too little signal and/or too much noise. Finally, I show how these new skilful NAO predictions are beginning to be used to aid decision making in government and industry.


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  • TBC
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Events
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  • 25-02-2017 at 19-00 - Dance, Social
    St Andrews BioBall 2017 - Dinner and Ceilidh Dance
    BioSoc
    Hotel du Vin, 40 The Scores, St Andrews

    25-02-2017 at 19-00 - Dance, Social
    St Andrews BioBall 2017 - Dinner and Ceilidh Dance

    BioSoc
    Hotel du Vin, 40 The Scores, St Andrews

    Join BioSoc for BIOBALL 2017 - the School of Biology dinner/dance event of the year. This will be a beautiful event at Hotel du Vin on The Scores on Saturday 25 February 2017. Tickets are subsidised by the School of Biology and BioSoc and include a three course meal with complimentary wine followed by a ceilidh dance by one of the best bands in town. You can come for either the dinner and the dance (recommended!), or later on for the dance only.

    <p>Last remaining tickets are being sold online until Friday 10 February at 9am. <a href="https://www.tilt.com/tilts/school-of-biology-bioball-dinner-dance-ticket">Ceilidh (dance ticket only) &pound;11</a>; <a href="https://www.tilt.com/tilts/st-andrews-bioball-ceilidh-dance-ticket-ps11">dinner and dance ticket &pound;38</a>. Please visit the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/events/694647004037200/">Facebook event page</a>&nbsp;for more information.&nbsp;</p>

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    prebooking: Yes
    audience: All staff and students
    contact: University of St Andrews BioSoc




  • 28-02-2017 at 13-00 - Meeting
    The future of the University: what mid-career academics should tell the Principal!
    RSE Young Academy of Scotland Members with the Principal
    TBA upon registration

    28-02-2017 at 13-00 - Meeting
    The future of the University: what mid-career academics should tell the Principal!

    RSE Young Academy of Scotland Members with the Principal
    TBA upon registration

    The St Andrews-based members of the RSE Young Academy of Scotland are hosting a pair of lunch-time meetings to discuss how mid-career academics see the key issues and challenges faced by the University in the coming years. Will you still be here in 10 years? Do you care about the sort of academic environment you will be working in? What do you think are the main challenges facing universities in general, and St Andrews in particular? And how should we respond to them? The Principal will join us for this second meeting to give her perspective on the issues we raised following the meeting on 14 February, and to take part in an open and energetic conversation. All discussions will be under Chatham House rules, i.e. not attributable to specific individuals.

    <p>Lunch will be provided at both events. If you are interested in participating, please RSVP to Tracey Gloster via&nbsp;<a href="mailto:tmg@st-andrews.ac.uk">tmg@st-andrews.ac.uk</a>&nbsp;by 8 February, stating which meeting(s) you would like to attend, and any dietary requirements.</p>

    further details

    prebooking: Yes
    audience: Staff
    contact: Tracey Gloster




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