Random Samples

Science  05 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5894, pp. 1275


    Cane toad races are a barroom pastime in parts of northern Australia. Now the pestiferous amphibians are racing for science.

    Researchers led by zoologist Michael Kearney at the University of Melbourne have been trying to predict the potential range of the country's plague of cane toads, which were first introduced in the 1930s to attack sugar cane beetles in Queensland.

    The toads have been expanding their range roughly at a rate of 60 kilometers a year. To see how far south the population could extend, the scientists tried to gauge how far the animals can hop under various temperature conditions. They tested 89 toads on a 2-meter course, measuring hopping speed at five temperatures ranging from 15° to 35°C. Hopping speeds ranged from a molasses-like 300 meters per hour at 15°C to a brisk 2.2 km at 30°C, they report in the August issue of Ecography.

    Combining data on toad movements with information on reproductive needs (ponds for eggs and larvae) and climate, the researchers predicted that, contrary to some previous analyses, the toads won't be invading major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Even with predicted climate change, they say, adults would be too slowed down by cool, dry weather to spawn or find enough to eat. Biologist A. Marm Kilpatrick of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who does research on the West Nile virus, calls it a “neat” study that “offers a bottom-up mechanistic way to look at an animal's distribution” by combining data on climate, physiology, and behavior.


    This 80-centimeter-long foot—in what archaeologists describe as “exquisitely carved army boots covered with a lion skin and decorated with tendrils and Amazon shields”—is part of a 5-meter-tall statue of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who ruled from 161 to 180 C.E. The fragments were found last month in the rubble of a huge bath complex in the Turkish town of Sagalassos by a team led by Marc Waelkens of the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. The baths were destroyed by an earthquake about 600 C.E., according to carbon dating of owl pellets at the site.


    The statue was part of a gallery of 2nd century emperors that the scientists believe stood in niches around the cross-shaped, mosaic-covered frigidarium, into which people plunged for cold baths. Last year, the team uncovered chunks from a giant statue of Hadrian, who ruled from 117 to 138 C.E., that are currently on display in the British Museum in London.


    Perfect pitch is thought to be a rare capacity, possessed by about one in 10,000 people. But researchers at the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music in New York state have developed a way to test nonmusicians for perfect pitch that they hope will yield a more accurate estimate.

    The usual test—playing a note and seeing if a person can identify it by the sound—can be done only with subjects who know musical notation. Betsy Marvin, a musical theorist, and Elissa Newport, a neuroscientist, devised a test in which people listen to a three-note motif played repeatedly for 20 minutes. Then they hear either those notes again or the same motif transposed to a different key and are asked to identify the original notes. The researchers first validated the test with music students, comparing results with the results of the traditional pitch test. Then they tried it on 24 volunteers with little or no musical training. Six of those proved to be as accurate or almost as accurate in recognizing pitches as the music students with perfect pitch. That suggests perfect pitch is more common than has been thought, says Marvin, who presented preliminary results last week at the International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition in Sapporo, Japan.

    Peter Gregersen, a geneticist at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York who studies absolute pitch, says such a test could help in determining if people are born with perfect pitch or if learning plays a role.


    Economic modelers are having a hard time keeping up with the Chinese industrial juggernaut. Based on recalibrated modeling and the latest economic data, a new working paper from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, California, forecasts that by 2030 China's energy sector will be emitting about 4 billion tons of carbon—twice as much as estimated in a 2005 International Energy Agency (IEA) projection. “Growth in China is so rapid that it is difficult to predict emissions just 2 years from now,” says the unpublished paper by Geoffrey J. Blanford and colleagues at EPRI and the Centre for Energy Policy and Economics in Zürich, Switzerland.