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Climate change is causing DNA harm in endangered songbirds

Extreme heat waves can kill a large number of birds and animals. However, it is more typical for an animal to suffer from minor heat stress that does not kill it. Unfortunately, our recent findings show that these people may experience long-term health consequences.

The DNA of young birds can be damaged by hot and dry circumstances in their first few days of life, according to a new study released today. This can lead to their growing older, dying younger, and having fewer children.

The purple-crowned fairy-wrens, a little endangered songbird from Northern Australia, were our focus.

The findings show that unless wren populations can quickly adjust to climate change, they may struggle to live as global temperatures increase. When projecting how biodiversity will fare in a warmer world, it’s critical that we evaluate such subtle and otherwise concealed influences.

The cost of growing up in the heat

Because of their immobility, fast development, and immature physiology, nestlings are particularly susceptible to high temperatures. Furthermore, the effects of heat stress may be magnified in young birds since harm may last throughout maturity.

As part of a long-term ecological research, we closely observed a population of uniquely marked purple-crowned fairy-wrens at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary in Western Australia’s Kimberley area.

Small social groups of these insect-eating birds form around a breeding couple. The birds we studied spend their days in deep undergrowth near their favorite riverbank site, which they fiercely protect against intruders.

Breeding can take place at any time of year, although it peaks during the monsoonal rainy season. One to four nestlings are found in each nest. They encountered maximum air temperatures of 31–45°C during our research.

The association between temperature and a part of the birds’ DNA known as “telomeres” was the subject of our research on week-old nestlings.

Telomeres are DNA caps at the ends of chromosomes that serve as a buffer to protect cells from the consequences of energy generation and stress, among other things. The cell shuts off when the buffer erodes. The aging process accelerates as the number of these dormant cells increases over time.

During their early days of life, nestlings exposed to hot, dry circumstances have shorter telomeres. This shows that surviving heat stress may reduce the birds’ protective DNA buffer, causing them to age faster. Indeed, earlier study has shown that nestlings with shorter telomeres die younger and produce fewer progeny as a result.

Nestlings seemed to endure heat better when it was accompanied by rain, though we’re not sure why.

What this means in the context of global warming

Hot, dry weather is expected to become increasingly common in Australia as a result of climate change. As a result, we created a mathematical model to see if their impacts on nestling telomere length would be enough to induce population collapse.

Even at relatively low rates of warming, we discovered that the population might drop merely as a result of nesting telomere shortening. The arithmetic also indicated two possible “escape” strategies for preserving population viability.

For starters, the population may grow longer telomeres, providing a stronger buffer against premature aging. However, because we don’t know how telomeres evolve or if they can keep up with climate change, this is just speculation.

Alternatively, the birds’ breeding schedules might be altered so that nestlings are exposed to wetter weather more frequently. However, given the frequency of rainy days in the region is expected to decrease, and the birds already attempt to optimize nesting when it rains, this appears improbable.

Importantly, if global warming continues to rise, any remedies’ effectiveness will become increasingly improbable.

Heat-related hidden and delayed costs, such as those found in our study, might be subtle and difficult to identify. They are, nonetheless, critical when contemplating how climate change may influence biodiversity.

Because growing animals are more susceptible to heat and telomeres work similarly across species, our findings might be applied to a wide range of different birds and mammals. This needs to be confirmed by more study.

What’s next?

For parent birds, keeping cool is also costly. Birds, like humans, seek the shade and become less active in hot weather. They open their beaks to pant and extend their wings to cool off instead of sweating.

However, as a result of these behaviors, a parent bird has less time to forage, defend the nest, or feed offspring—all of which are necessary for the population to thrive. We’re looking at whether this makes the impacts of telomere shortening worse.

The next step in our investigation will be to take temperature readings inside and outside the nest. We’ll also look into whether females may choose cooler microsites for their young to assist them cope with climate change, and how this relates to habitat quality, management, and threats.

Finally, we hope that our findings will help to shape conservation plans that will ensure the survival of this iconic Australian species and others like it in the face of climate change.

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Air Pollution reduces global life expectancy by two years

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is described as a change in air quality that may be measured by chemical, biological, or physical contaminants in the atmosphere. As a result, air pollution refers to the undesired presence of contaminants or an abnormal increase in the quantity of certain atmospheric elements. It is divided into two categories: visible and invisible air pollution.

According to studies, microscopic air pollution generated mostly by the combustion of fossil fuels reduces life expectancy by more than two years worldwide.

According to a research by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, if fine particulate matter levels across South Asia reached World Health Organization criteria, the typical individual would live five years longer.

The severe lung and heart illness caused by so-called PM2.5 pollution decreases life expectancy by eight years in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, home to 300 million people, and by a decade in the capital city of New Delhi.

PM2.5 pollution, which has a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, or about the same as a human hair, penetrates the lungs and reaches the bloodstream.

It was listed as a cancer-causing substance by the United Nations in 2013.

According to the WHO, PM2.5 levels in the air should not exceed 15 micrograms per cubic meter in any 24-hour period, or 5 mcg/m3 on an annual basis.

The WHO strengthened these guidelines last year, the first time since adopting air quality advice in 2005, in response to accumulating evidence of negative health effects.

In the Air Quality Life Index study, lead researcher Crista Hasenkopf and colleagues stated, “Clean air pays back in additional years of life for individuals all over the world.”

“Reducing global air pollution to WHO recommendations permanently would add 2.2 years to average life expectancy.”

Major gains in China

Almost all inhabited regions in the globe surpass WHO limits, but none more so than Asia: Bangladesh exceeds them by 15-fold, India by 10-fold, and Nepal and Pakistan by nine-fold.

Pollution levels in Central and West Africa, as well as much of Southeast Asia and portions of Central America, are far higher than the world average, resulting in shorter lives.

Despite a dramatic slowdown in the world economy and a commensurate decline in CO2 emissions owing to COVID lockdowns, PM2.5 pollution in 2020, the most latest data available, remained practically constant from the year before.

“During the first year of the epidemic, pollution in South Asia actually increased,” the investigators reported.

China is one country that has made significant progress.

Between 2013 and 2020, PM2.5 pollution in the 1.4 billion-strong country reduced by about 40%, extending life expectancy by two years.

Despite this achievement, Chinese people’s lives are now cut short by 2.6 years on average.

Henan and Hebei in north-central China, as well as Shandong on the coast, are among the worst-affected provinces.

According to the paper, the impact of PM2.5 pollution is similar to smoking cigarettes, more than three times that of alcohol usage, and six times that of HIV/AIDS when compared to other causes of early mortality.

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Vitamin D deficiency is related to Dementia

Dementia is one of the leading causes of impairment and reliance among the elderly across the world, impacting their thoughts and actions as they get older. But what if you could halt the progression of this degenerative disease?

New genetic research demonstrates a clear relationship between dementia and a lack of vitamin D, and a world-first study from the University of South Australia might make this a reality.

The study showed the following links between vitamin D, neuroimaging characteristics, and the risk of dementia and stroke:

  • Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to reduced brain capacity and an increased risk of dementia and stroke.

  • Genetic studies revealed a link between vitamin D insufficiency and dementia.

  • Increased vitamin D levels to normal levels (50 nmol/L) might prevent up to 17 percent of dementia cases in some communities.

Dementia is a chronic or progressive condition in which cognitive function deteriorates. Dementia affects around 487,500 Australians and is the country’s second biggest cause of mortality. Dementia affects more than 55 million people worldwide, with 10 million new cases diagnosed each year.

The genetic study, which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at data from 294,514 people from the UK Biobank to see if low vitamin D levels (25 nmol/L) increased the risk of dementia and stroke. Neuroimaging outcomes, dementia, and stroke were tested for underlying causation using nonlinear Mendelian randomization (MR), a method of leveraging measurable variation in genes to assess the causative influence of a modifiable exposure on illness.

Professor Elina Hyppönen, senior investigator and director of UniSA’s Australian Center for Precision Health, said the findings are crucial for preventing dementia and understanding the importance of eliminating vitamin D deficiency.

“Vitamin D is a hormone precursor with vast effects, including on brain health,” explains Prof Hyppönen. “However, it has been very difficult to analyze what would happen if we were able to avoid vitamin D insufficiency.”

“This is the first research to look at the impact of very low vitamin D levels on the risk of dementia and stroke in a large population using comprehensive genetic studies.”

“Our findings have substantial implications for dementia risks in particular environments where vitamin D deficiency is rather frequent. Indeed, we found that raising vitamin D levels at a normal level might have prevented up to 17% of dementia cases in this U.K. population “”Area.”

Given the increasing prevalence of dementia across the world, the findings are extremely noteworthy.

Prof Hyppönen states, “Dementia is a gradual and terrible disease that may ruin people and families alike.” “If we can modify this reality by guaranteeing that none of us is seriously vitamin D deficient, it will have additional benefits, and thousands of people’s health and well-being will be affected.”

“Most of us should be fine, but for anyone who does not get enough vitamin D from the sun for whatever reason, dietary changes may not be adequate, and supplementation may be required.”

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Plants and Animals

Seal Whiskers, the Secret Weapon for Looking

Despite the fact that the deep ocean is a gloomy region, deep-diving seals can readily discover their prey in it. Field investigations were performed by a multi-national research team to better understand how seals use their whiskers in their hunt for food.

The findings of the team were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Bioluminescence, the light that certain organisms carry in their bodies, gives illumination in deep ocean regions where no sunlight reaches. However, the amount of light produced by bioluminescence is quite restricted. Toothed whales may hunt in these dark waters by employing active biosonar, often known as echolocation, to locate their prey. Also hunting in these waters are deep-diving seals. However, they lack the active sonar that whales use to aid in hunting.

The researchers theorized that the seals use their well-developed whiskers to find food.

Most animals, unlike humans, have vibrissae, or moving facial whiskers. Vibrissae is derived from the Latin word “vibrio,” which meaning “to vibrate.” It emphasizes the receipt of vibration information and is used to characterize the seals’ whiskers. Due to the difficulties in studying whisker movement in a mammal’s natural surroundings, researchers have been unable to fully comprehend the natural movement and function of their face whiskers until now.

Previous research has used single whiskers, artificial models, or captive animals in experimental settings. The researchers sought to see how seals utilised their whiskers in their native deep-sea habitat. The researchers fitted tiny video recorders to free-ranging female northern elephant seals, selecting elephant seals for their very sensitive whiskers. The quantity of nerve fibers per whisker in these seals is the greatest of any animal. The video recorders were installed on each seal’s cheek to examine how it moved and used its whiskers in front of its mouth.

The researchers used video recorders to watch the elephant seals hunting in the harsh habitat of the deep, dark ocean. An LED red/infrared-light flash was included with the video logger. This light was invisible to the seals, but it let the researchers to monitor how they utilize their whisker as they approach their prey in a non-invasive way. The seals grabbed moving prey by feeling water movement, according to the cameras. The seals used rhythmic whisker movement—protracting and retracting their whiskers—to hunt for hydrodynamic cues with their whiskers stretched forward front of their mouth, similar to how a terrestrial mammal investigates its surroundings.

The researchers considered whether the light supplied by bioluminescence in some prey may aid the seals in their search for food. However, while bioluminescence is crucial, the seals’ sensitive whiskers are the principal means by which the mammal locates its prey.

Seals use their whiskers to hunt for, chase, and catch prey. “Our findings reveal another mammalian adaptation to complete darkness, solving a decades-long mystery about how deep-diving seals locate their prey without the biosonar used by whales,” said Taiki Adachi, Project Researcher at the National Institute of Polar Research / Assistant Project Scientist at the University of California Santa Cruz.

This study adds to previous whisker investigations on animals in captivity and advances the subject of sensory ecology of foraging. “The next step will be to perform comparative field investigations on other mammals to better understand how whisker-sensing shapes natural behavior in each mammalian species in various situations,” Adachi added.

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