Science Sunday: Autism, Alfv

Location, location, location

Wolf near Blacktail Pond, Yellowstone National
Park; Jim Peaco, National Park Service

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A main indicator of hunting success for Yellowstone National Park’s wolves is the terrain in which an elk is located, not the distribution of the wolf packs and elk herds, according to University of Alberta biologist Mark Boyce.

Boyce looked at 774 wolf kill sites in the park, finding that predation patterns between elk and wolves were more strongly influenced by landscape than proximity to one another.

“We found that even though wolf and elk populations overlapped in many areas of our study, the kill sites did not correlate with the areas of overlap as much as they were consistent with certain landscape features, such as proximity to roads,” Boyce said.

Fourteen wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone in 1995. While the number of wolves in the park has grown to 84, the large elk population has not declined very much.

“We’ve found that the availability of refuge areas for elk, and their ease of accessing them, should buffer the elk population in the park from extreme levels of predation,” Boyce said.

Boyce says that wolves are “inefficient predators.”  They are successful in taking down an elk only about 20 percent of the time that they make the attempt, and they preferentially target the old, the sick and the young.

Boyce’s research appears in the journal Ecology Letters.

Unlocking autism

Research conducted at the University of Colorado shows that connections in the brain cells of autistic individuals may be deficient with single regions of the brain, and not just between different regions.

The discovery may lead to earlier diagnosis and targeted medications for autistic individuals.

The work was conducted by Tony Wilson, who has since moved on to an assistant professorship of neurology at Wake Forest University. Donald Rojas, Martin Reite and Peter Teale, all of CU, also contributed to the research.

The scientists used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure electrical activity in the brain. They administered a series of tests to 20 children and adolescents, half with autism and half without. The children listened to a series of short clicks, and the electrical activity in their brains was measured in response to the sounds.

In the right hemisphere of the brain, which controls attention and spatial processing, there was no significant difference in the groups, according to a release. But the results showed a considerable discrepancy between the two groups in the left hemisphere, the area of the brain that controls language and logic.

In the auditory area of the left hemisphere, the group without autism delivered a brain response to the 40 hertz stimulation 200 ms after it began. However, the group with autism failed to respond entirely at the same 40 hertz frequency.

“Our results made sense. Both anecdotal and behavioral evidence suggest children with autism have significantly disturbed brain circuits on the local-level within an individual brain area,” said Wilson. “For example, they tend to restrict their visual gaze to a part of someone’s face, like a nose or an eye, but not the person’s whole face.”

The research was published the August issue of Biological Psychiatry.

Catching the solar wave

The corona of the sun, which extends a few million miles into space is actually hotter — about 200 times hotter, in fact — than the sun’s surface. Say two million degrees Kelvin give or take. Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research have now for the first time observed Alfv