News this Week

Science  08 Feb 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6120, pp. 632

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  1. Around the World

    1 - Naka, Japan
    Assembly Starts on the JT-60SA Fusion Reactor
    2 - Sofia
    Reshuffle in Science Leadership
    3 - Timbuktu, Mali
    Manuscripts Escaped Burning
    4 - Cape Town
    New TB Vaccine Fails in Large Infant Study
    5 - Tokyo
    Research Loses—And Wins

    Naka, Japan

    Assembly Starts on the JT-60SA Fusion Reactor


    Japan and the European Union last week started assembling the JT-60SA, an experimental nuclear fusion device. JT-60SA will supplement research using ITER, the international fusion reactor now under construction in France that will hopefully demonstrate the feasibility of producing more energy from fusion than is used to produce it. The new machine's predecessor, JT-60, had been the workhorse of Japan's fusion research since the mid-1980s. Upgrading it became an international project under the E.U.-Japan Broader Approach, part of the deal that sent ITER to Europe. JT-60SA features superconducting coils that will magnetically confine the superhot plasma needed for fusion for up to 100 seconds, generating data and experience useful for optimizing ITER operations, says Yutaka Kamada, a plasma physicist with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. The first assembly step was placing the components of a 12-meter-diameter, 250-tonne base that were fabricated in Spain. Originally scheduled to come online in 2016, the $450 million reactor faced a redesign to reduce costs and then was further delayed by procurement problems and the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Kamada says they now aim to start operations in 2019.


    Reshuffle in Science Leadership

    After months of protests by scientists and a government report that found corruption and mismanagement of funds, Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has shaken up leadership at the country's ministry of research and education, sacking research minister Sergei Ignatov and Hristo Petrov, the head of the Bulgarian National Science Fund (BNSF). Hundreds of scientists had protested BNSF's latest round of funding decisions in November and December. After a government probe confirmed long-running accusations that the ministry had hired people lacking the required qualifications and that the grant review process was prone to corruption, Borissov asked for and received the officials' resignations on 28 January. A few days later, he nominated the president of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Stefan Vodenicharov, to replace Ignatov. Emil Horozov, a mathematician at Sofia University who helped organize the protests, says that the departures are "a very good sign," but says the law governing the ministry also needs to be overhauled to prevent future corruption. As Science went to press, the parliament was expected to vote on Vodenicharov's appointment on 6 February.

    Timbuktu, Mali

    Manuscripts Escaped Burning


    Thousands of historical manuscripts, initially thought destroyed when Islamic fundamentalists fled Timbuktu as French and Malian troops retook the city on 28 January after 9 months of occupation, have in fact survived. Islamic militants burned down Timbuktu's Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research, which opened in 2009, and burned what they could find, according to reports from journalists and researchers within the country. But that amounted to only about 5% of the library's original collection of 30,000 manuscripts—many had already been hidden away by archivists who earlier fled to Mali's capital, Bamako, while a cache was stored within an older building on the other side of town, says Susana Molins-Lliteras, a historian at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and a researcher at the Cape Town–based Tombouctou Manuscripts Project, which helped construct the library building.

    Cape Town

    New TB Vaccine Fails in Large Infant Study

    Hopes that the experimental tuberculosis vaccine MVA85A would boost the benefits of a partially effective 90-year-old TB vaccine known as BCG have been met with disappointment. BCG offers some protection to infants against serious forms of the disease, but it has a checkered success in preventing infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis and the common lung ailments it causes. A study, published online on 4 February in The Lancet, of nearly 3000 infants who live in a rural area near Cape Town reveals that those who received both vaccines had roughly the same amount of new infections and disease as infants in a control group who received only BCG. On the upside, the investigators noted that MVA85A was safe, and that adults have a stronger immune response to the vaccine than do infants, holding out the prospect that it may work in older populations. This was the first efficacy trial of a TB vaccine in infants in more than 45 years. Now, groups such as the nonprofit Aeras (based in Rockville, Maryland) and the Wellcome Trust—both of which funded the study—have teamed up with academia and industry to aggressively address BCG's shortcomings.


    Research Loses—And Wins

    At first glance, the Japanese ministry of education's 2013 science and technology budget, approved on 29 January, looks grim for scientists, with a decline in research spending of 3.3% to $13.2 billion. But two-thirds of the reduction reflects the transfer of nuclear safety research to a new regulatory agency. And a stimulus package adopted last month also more than makes up for cuts in some programs. For example, the budget includes a $42 million cut for large research facilities such as the K supercomputer and the SPring-8 synchrotron, but those facilities will receive $299 million in stimulus spending.

    The new budget showers money on a few programs that received hefty chunks of money from the stimulus, too, such as the commercialization of regenerative medicine, including the use of induced pluripotent stem cells, and drug discovery—in line with the new government's goals of supporting innovative research that will have an economic payoff and spending on hardware to immediately boost the economy. Support for investigator-driven research is holding steady, with funding for grants to individual scientists and small groups up a mere 0.5% to $2.5 billion.

  2. Newsmakers

    NSF Director Named President of Carnegie Mellon University


    The director of the National Science Foundation is leaving the $7-billion agency to become president of Carnegie Mellon University. Subra Suresh, an engineer and materials scientist, told NSF staff members this week that he will depart at the end of March and take up his post at the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, institution on 1 July. He will have served less than half of a 6-year term that began in October 2010.

    As has become standard practice for Obama appointees, Suresh announced his departure in a lengthy letter that listed his many accomplishments. He has paid particular attention to expanding NSF's international footprint, integrating research and education across the foundation, and encouraging NSF-funded scientists to think harder about the commercial potential of their discoveries. As one of three agencies targeted for major increases as part of a proposed 10-year doubling of federal support for the physical sciences, NSF has benefited from bipartisan support from Congress despite increasing pressure to trim overall spending.

    Lubchenco Earns Spanish Research Prize

    Marine scientist Jane Lubchenco has won the €400,000 Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation Biology, bestowed on 5 February by the Madrid-based BBVA Foundation. Lubchenco, who will head the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration until the end of this month, was distinguished for work that advanced "understanding of coastal ecosystems and laid the scientific groundwork for the design of marine reserves."

    Lubchenco joins six other 2012 winners announced earlier this year. Atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) received an award for contributing to "the safeguarding of our planet." Electrical engineer Lotfi A. Zadeh of the University of California, Berkeley, was distinguished for inventing fuzzy logic. Mathematicians Ingrid Daubechies of Duke University and David Mumford of Brown University were jointly rewarded for contributions to data compression and pattern recognition. Chemist Douglas Coleman of The Jackson Laboratory in Maine and physician Jeffrey Friedman of The Rockefeller University in New York City shared an award for furthering our understanding of obesity.

    Honoring the Best and Brightest


    Twelve researchers and 11 inventors gathered in the East Room of the White House on 1 February to receive the U.S. federal government's highest honor for researchers: the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Pictured here are Medal of Science winners (left to right) physicist Sidney Drell of Stanford University; biologist Leroy Hood of the Institute for Systems Biology; astronomer Sandra Faber of the University of California, Santa Cruz; chemist M. Frederick Hawthorne of the University of Missouri; physicist Sylvester James Gates Jr. of the University of Maryland, College Park; mathematician Solomon Golomb of the University of Southern California; and physicist John Goodenough of the University of Texas (UT), Austin. The five other Medal of Science winners are chemist Allen Bard of UT Austin, biologist Sallie Chisholm of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, mathematician Barry Mazur of Harvard University, biologist Lucy Shapiro of Stanford University, and psychologist Anne Treisman of Princeton University. Technology and Innovation Medal winners ranged from an inventor studying astronomical phenomena in the ultraviolet to the retina surgeon who invented LASIK eye surgery. President Barack Obama praised the group, noting that "it's clearer than ever that our future as a nation depends on keeping that spirit of curiosity and innovation alive in our time."

  3. Random Sample

    A Kingdom for a Hearse?


    Where a medieval Franciscan monastery once stood in Leicester, U.K., there is now a humble parking lot—which concealed a historical treasure. Human remains found there are "beyond reasonable doubt" those of England's much-maligned monarch Richard III, scientists announced on 4 February at a press conference.

    Richard III (inset) died at age 32 at the Battle of Bosworth Field, a battle that ended the bloody civil war known as the Wars of the Roses and established the House of Tudor as the next English dynasty. Last summer, archaeologists excavating the monastery, demolished in the 16th century and long rumored to be Richard III's final resting place, dug up a skeleton in a small grave. The individual was male, in his late 20s to late 30s, and had a feminine build, squaring with historical sources, osteoarchaeologist Jo Appleby of the University of Leicester said at the press conference.

    Scientists extracted DNA from the teeth and a thigh bone and compared it to mitochondrial DNA from two known living relatives of the king, both descendants of his sister, Anne of York. It was a match, said geneticist Turi King of the University of Leicester at the press conference.

    It's "a spectacular find and a great bit of research," says battle archaeologist Tony Pollard of the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom. But, says Ross Barnett, an expert on ancient DNA at the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, "my preference would have been for this to have occurred in tandem with publication of a peer-reviewed paper."

    Richard III will be reinterred at Leicester Cathedral probably early next year, the mayor of Leicester said.

    By the Numbers

    93 — Number of recently published micro-RNA articles, out of 127, that did not comply with data-sharing guidelines, according to an analysis published this month in Clinical Chemistry.

    $100 million — Amount of funding provided by the National Football League players union for a 10-year research project at Harvard Medical School to reduce the impact of on-the-field injuries and improve the long-term health of players.

    1,000,000 — Number of Twitter followers of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who Time called one of the world's most influential tweeters in 2011 and 2012.


    Next week, Science will be reporting from the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston. Visit for breaking news, podcasts, and live video chats.

  4. Giant Marine Reserves Pose Vast Challenges

    1. Christopher Pala

    Huge no-fishing zones might save widely traveled tuna and other species, but monitoring their effectiveness—and enforcing catch bans—will require new approaches.

    No go.

    New reserves are off-limits to commercial fishing boats, such as this tuna seiner in Micronesia.


    HERNDON, VIRGINIA—On a typical workday, Alyson Kauffman pores over oceanographic data streaming into her computer from all over the world, including maps of plankton concentrations and water temperatures. Then, the analyst at GeoEye, a satellite company headquartered in this Washington, D.C., suburb, sends reports to her clients, who are fishing vessel captains at sea. Each report highlights otherwise invisible "hot spots" where they might find concentrations of valuable species such as tuna and swordfish. "Our job is to make fishing vessels more efficient," she says.

    A growing number of those hot spots, however, are becoming off-limits to such high-tech fish killers. Over the past 6 years, the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom have created huge marine reserves that have banned fishing in more than 1.9 million square kilometers of ocean—an area equivalent to the size of Mexico. And more "megareserves" are on the way, with nations seriously considering plans to ban fishing in an additional 3.6 million square kilometers of marine habitat over the next few years (see map). Unlike an older generation of preserves that mostly focused on small patches of coral or coastal fish stocks, these vast new sanctuaries are designed to protect high-seas ecosystems that include fish and other animals that routinely wander over huge territories.

    Eye in the sky.

    Satellite images designed to help fishermen could also be used to spot poachers.


    The trend delights conservation scientists who are worried about overexploitation of the world's oceans. The reserves "are a real game-changer," says fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in Canada. Fishing fleets now have technology that allows them to penetrate even remote, deep waters that once "served as refuges for a lot of fish," he notes. "There's an urgent need to replace them with big, manmade protected areas."

    Giant reserves are also posing unprecedented challenges to scientists and policymakers, however. Researchers are struggling to design and fund studies that will enable them to monitor changes over vast areas and determine whether the reserves are actually helping to rebuild marine populations. And managers are trying to figure out how they can affordably enforce fishing bans in remote waters. Some environmentalists, meanwhile, fear that the push to create megareserves could become a charade if nations are allowed take credit for conservation without actually giving the new sanctuaries real protection.

    The big three

    Three giant reserves have so far attracted most of the attention. In 2006, then-President George W. Bush designated some 362,000 square kilometers around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a U.S. Marine National Monument in which all exploitation would be banned. The United Kingdom followed in 2010 by creating a much bigger reserve around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. Last year, Australia banned all fishing in much of the Coral Sea—at 989,842 square kilometers, the biggest no-take zone in the world.

    Of the trio, only the Chagos Islands reserve had been heavily fished—primarily for tuna. Most of those stocks are now depleted, and conservationists hope the sanctuary will help restore them. But commercial fishers—who largely opposed the creation of the reserve—have their doubts. Speedy tuna can travel great distances, notes Julio Moron of OPAGAC, the Spanish tuna fleet association headquartered in Madrid, so even a megareserve will have "have negligible effects on the pelagic [open-ocean] ecosystem," he predicts.

    Mainstream marine biologists are more optimistic. Studies in the nearby Pacific have found that tuna there don't necessarily swim vast distances, so some scientists believe that some Chagos tuna could spend their entire lives inside the nearly 1000-kilometer-wide preserve. "Tuna don't migrate randomly," says Heather Koldewey, a geneticist at the Zoological Society of London. "They stay near seamounts, islands, upwellings, and good feeding grounds—and the Chagos provide all these." Bruce Collette, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., predicts that Chagos stocks could "reach a density not seen on Earth in many decades." And tuna won't be the reserve's only beneficiaries, adds marine ecologist Charles Sheppard of the University of Warwick in Coventry, U.K. "The tuna ban also stops the loss of sharks, billfish, seabirds, and turtles" that tuna fishers once killed unintentionally.

    A monitoring challenge

    Proving that the reserve is helping tuna and other species, however, could be difficult. Prior to the ban, researchers relied largely on catch data to make population estimates. Now, with fishing boats banned there, they are exploring alternatives.

    On a cruise through the Chagos reserve late last year, for example, researchers tested some electronic eyes that can count creatures without killing them. Jessica Meeuwig, a quantitative ecologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, suspended in midocean a crosslike device with two cameras pointed at a bag of bait designed to attract fish. The cameras record for 3 hours, enabling the researchers to "determine what species are present, their relative abundance, and their size," she says. And by returning to study sites repeatedly over time, researchers should ultimately be able to determine if the populations are, in fact, increasing.

    Biological oceanographer Andrew Brierley of the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom has taken a complementary approach, using a state-of-the-art echo sounder to survey the waters around Meeuwig's cameras for fish and other animals. The sonar data "will tell us how representative the pictures are of that part of the ocean," he says.

    Sanctuary managers, meanwhile, are trying to get their arms around how best to prevent poaching within their vast domains, which can take days to cross in ships. One option, using satellite imagery and data to spot poachers, is getting a close look in studies funded by the Pew Environment Group of Washington, D.C. "Satellite sensing is not cheap, but it's a lot cheaper than sending [an airplane] to patrol a big area," says John Amos, president of SkyTruth, a nonprofit organization based in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, that is exploring the idea. He believes companies like GeoEye that help fishers find their catches now produce imagery that is detailed enough to help identify vessels that are breaking the law. (GeoEye officials say they would be ready to help.)


    The enforcement challenge could soon get bigger. Five more giant no-take reserves are now on the drawing boards, notes Jay Nelson, director of Pew's Global Ocean Legacy program, which has played a major role in promoting the idea. They include efforts to protect the United Kingdom's Pitcairn Islands and Bermuda, the Kermadec Islands of New Zealand, and Chile's Easter Island. "The time to create large, well-protected marine reserves is before they're targeted by the industrial fishing fleets," Nelson says. "Ten years from now will be too late."

    Still, the public and the press may need to carefully scrutinize any new grand marine conservation claims to avoid misunderstandings. For instance, President Anote Tong of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati won several environmental prizes after he created the 408,000-square-kilometer Phoenix Islands Protected Area in 2008. He has repeatedly called it "a fully protected marine park, … off limits to fishing and other extractive uses." But, in fact, fishing is forbidden in just 3% of the reserve, which is located in the Central Pacific, home to the world's last major tuna stocks. In the rest of the reserve, just as in the rest of the Central Pacific, fishing by foreign fleets has continued at a pace that regional fisheries scientists have warned is excessive. This was news to the administrators of the Hillary Institute of International Leadership awards in New Zealand and the U.S. Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, who said that they thought the whole reserve was fully protected when they gave awards to Tong last year. Current plans, developed with the assistance of the nonprofit Conservation International in Arlington, Virginia, call for increasing the total no-take area to 25% of the Phoenix reserve in 2014. "Because of its strategic location, it could play an important role conserving tuna if all of it became a no-take area," Pauly says.

    Similar fine print accompanies some other recent announcements of megareserves. This past summer, the Cook Islands announced that it would create the world's biggest marine park, covering 1 million square kilometers of the southern Pacific. New Caledonia quickly trumped that with the announcement of a 1.4-million-square-kilometer preserve. Neither, however, plans to restrict fishing.

    Still, conservationists are pleased that nations are thinking big. If nothing else, megareserves that ban fishing can be cost-effective, notes Ashley Strub, a fisheries economist at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Her research has found that a small reserve can cost 100 times more per square kilometer to set up and administer than a giant one. But big reserves don't necessarily replace small ones, she adds. "Coastal and small-island reserves protect different species than open-ocean ones," she says. "You need both."

  5. Profile: John Shea

    Archaeologist Hammers Away At 'Modern' Behavior

    1. Michael Balter

    Stone tools suggest that the earliest modern humans were as smart as we are—they just had different problems to solve, an archaeologist argues.

    STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—One day in the late 1980s, an alarmed secretary at Harvard University called campus police. An apparently crazed young man had cornered a deer in the courtyard of the university's Peabody Museum and was hurling spears at it. Once on the scene, however, the police established that the deer was dead when it arrived on campus, and that archaeology graduate student John Shea was simply doing research: He was trying to understand how striking a large mammal damaged stone points.

    That episode, says then-fellow Harvard grad student Daniel Lieberman, was a prime example of "John Shea being John Shea." It demonstrates Shea's hands-on, take no prisoners approach to prehistory, says Lieberman, who is now a paleoanthropologist at Harvard. "John is always a little on the edge. … He doesn't just sit back in the lab and ponder the Paleolithic, he tries to understand it on its own terms."

    Making his point.

    John Shea thinks modern humans were cognitively advanced long before they etched this piece of ochre (inset) 77,000 years ago.


    Shea, now at New York's Stony Brook University, has remained on archaeology's cutting edge despite his reputation for occasional outrageousness. His stone tool studies have helped archaeologists identify how stone points were used, and he has documented the sophisticated toolmaking skills of the oldest known Homo sapiens. More recently, Shea has been doing his best to shake up human origins research with a radical proposal: That the idea of "behavioral modernity"—a term long used by scientists to describe behaviors such as the use of symbolism, art, and elaborate tools—should be thrown into the scrap heap.

    Shea argues that the first H. sapiens about 200,000 years ago had cognition fully equal to ours today. Instead of studying how our species gradually acquired "modernity," he urges analyzing our "behavioral variability," or the number of different ways we adapted to changing conditions. "The concept of modernity has been like a security blanket," Shea says. "But it's a 19th century model, the idea that evolution is directional and ends with us modern humans. It's an embarrassment, and we don't need it anymore."

    Although many researchers agree that the concept of modernity has lost much of its usefulness, many are less eager to embrace Shea's proposed alternative. "The traditional concept of behavioral modernity does need to be replaced," says archaeologist Curtis Marean of Arizona State University, Tempe, who calls Shea "a major figure" in the field. But "I am unconvinced that John's behavioral variability is the correct replacement."

    A wild child

    The young man who brought a woodland creature to a Harvard courtyard was himself a child of the forest. Shea grew up in eastern Massachusetts, the oldest of three sons born to working class parents of Irish and French ancestry, and spent his early years hiking and fishing in nearby woods. "Mom and Dad would have been perfectly happy if I worked in a factory," says Shea, whose stocky body seems ready-made for manual labor. But a local biology teacher, seeing his love of nature, encouraged him to go to college.

    In high school, Shea became interested in flint knapping, and while an undergraduate at Boston University, he perfected his technique so that he could fashion a hand ax in a matter of minutes. "It was instant gratification, and you can do it outdoors."

    Shea's proficiency at making stone tools spurred his success as an archaeologist, says his Stony Brook colleague John Fleagle. "He has a deep appreciation of the effort that goes into the creation of different kinds of tools, and he is less bound by abstract typology and closer to the perceptions of the prehistoric people who made them."

    Indeed, it was in part his flint-knapping talents, Shea says, that won him a spot as a graduate student at Harvard. Yet Shea feels that he never really fit in there. "Academia requires you to think before you talk, whereas I talk before I think."

    Shea's self-critique is shared by many colleagues, although not all view it negatively. "He often comes up with outlandish ideas and just blurts them out," says Harold Dibble, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Dibble recalls one conference where graduate student Shea "shocked most of the archaeologists in the room" by arguing that impact fractures on a common type of stone artifact showed that they had been used as projectile points. That idea is now widely accepted. "This is a trait of some very intelligent people," Dibble says. "They are not afraid to be wrong and enjoy throwing out ideas and seeing what happens."

    The road from modernity

    The turning point in Shea's thinking about modernity came around 2002, when he, Fleagle, and others reopened excavations at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia. Back in the 1960s, Richard Leakey's team had found H. sapiens fossils at this site, and the new team redated those fossils to 195,000 years ago, making them the oldest known modern humans.

    Many researchers had long perceived an apparent gap between when humans started to look modern in anatomy and when they started acting modern, as shown by their stone tools and other artifacts. But Shea was sitting at the site one day, looking at stone points the team had found, when he had an epiphany. The points "were very well made, nothing primitive about them at all—they were like what I would make to show off," he recalls. "Suddenly it hit me right in the head. These were people just like me. They just had different challenges to face." There was no sense trying to track these humans' progression to modernity, Shea says, because they already were modern.

    To test this insight, Shea undertook a broad study of African stone tools. In a 2011 paper in Current Anthropology, entitled "Homo sapiens Is as Homo sapiens Was," Shea analyzed stone tools from 10 sites in Africa associated with either H. sapiens or its immediate ancestors, dated from 284,000 to less than 7000 years ago. If the modernity concept was correct, Shea argued, there should be significant behavioral differences over time, with younger sites having more types of stone tools—showing specific and flexible adaptations to the environment—as well as more sophisticated tools overall.

    Instead, Shea found that with just one exception, the oldest modern humans in Africa used just as wide a variety of stone tools as later humans of the early Upper Paleolithic period—long considered the time when modern behavior began to flourish—whose tools fell into four widely accepted types.

    Shea concluded that early H. sapiens were as cognitively advanced as those today. Differences in the most ancient artifacts did not reflect a different level of cognition in their makers, but simply the need to create objects to suit different environmental and social conditions. Indeed, fully modern people haven't always used "sophisticated" tools. For example, 40,000 years ago the first Australians used relatively simple tools compared with the spectacular artifacts of the European Upper Paleolithic (EUP) of the same time.

    Shea noted that traditional definitions of "modernity" were biased by lists of artifacts characteristic of the EUP, such as stone blades, tools made of carved bone, personal ornaments, and cave paintings. He decided that the concept of "modernity" could no longer be used as a guide to understanding modern humans, who first emerged in Africa more than 150,000 years earlier.

    Tooling up.

    Shea bases his arguments on stone tools, such as these drawings of projectile points.


    Indeed, a decade before Shea's article, an influential paper had warned against defining "modernity" with EUP behaviors. In 2000, Sally McBrearty of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and Alison Brooks of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., argued that modern human behavior had deep roots in Africa long before H. sapiens colonized Europe (Science, 15 February 2002, p. 1219). Other researchers have noted that symbolic and artistic behaviors flicker in and out of the record tens of thousands of years before becoming permanently established, perhaps because of demographic rather than cognitive factors (Science, 9 April 2010, p. 164).

    But Shea's critique "is probably the most comprehensive to date," says archaeologist James O'Connell of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Shea argues that no one set of behaviors—such as art—proves advanced cognition. Thus, he remains unimpressed by discoveries that some others see as milestones of "modern" behavior, such as 77,000-year-old pieces of ochre with etched patterns from Blombos Cave in South Africa, sometimes heralded as the earliest art (Science, 11 January 2002, p. 247). Shea thinks the Blombos people created those etchings because that was their style, not because they suddenly had become able to think abstractly for the first time. "What, were the Blombos people retarded?" Shea asks rhetorically. "That's a pretty pessimistic view of early humans, that scratching a rock with a tic-tac-toe pattern is some kind of threshold of cognition."

    Shea seems confident that his assault on behavioral modernity will end up killing off what he sees as a fatally flawed concept. "Sally and Alison led the way," he says of McBrearty and Brooks. "They wounded the beast; I'm cutting off its head and putting it on a stick."

    But Brooks says that the concept still has advantages: "It implies an evolutionary trajectory, which variability does not." Thus, she sees key differences between the etched ochre at Blombos and the South African site of Pinnacle Point, 100,000 years earlier, which has ochre but no etchings.

    Other researchers are giving Shea's new ideas qualified praise. "Unlike modernity, the concept of behavioral variability is quantifiable and amenable to statistical analysis," says archaeologist Metin Eren of the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. All the same, O'Connell says, the research community "will need to hear more before buying in." Dibble agrees: "The problem is how to test" Shea's idea.

    Some testing has already begun. In a paper published last month in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Eren's team analyzed variability in the use of a specialized technique for producing stone flakes—placing a stone core on an anvil and striking it with a hammer instead of performing this task in midair—at the Mumba Rockshelter in Tanzania. The team found that the use of this technique came and went over time, and that it was more likely to have correlated with changing climate and demographic factors than any cognitive "revolutions."

    Shea and Fleagle are planning more tests: They have just received grants to return to Omo Kibish to compare behavioral variability between older and younger archaeological layers, and hope to start next year. "We're focusing on the actual properties of the archaeological record," Shea says, rather than searching for elusive signs of modernity, "which is just a metaphorical construct."

  6. Climate Change

    Losing Arable Land, China Faces Stark Choice: Adapt or Go Hungry

    1. Christina Larson*

    To ensure food security, China is racing to develop new cultivars of staple grains that thrive in a warmer world.

    YUCHENG, CHINA—Hou Ruixing weaves his way through plots of winter wheat, stopping beneath an infrared heater suspended from wooden crossbars. The make-shift lamp and others arranged at 15-meter intervals at Yucheng Integrated Agricultural Experimental Station are simulating climate change by nudging up the thermometer an extra 1.6°C—the average annual temperature increase that models predict will take hold here by 2030. Hou, a graduate student who lives 8 months a year on station grounds, points at two rows of wheat, explaining how traditional hand tilling and machine tilling trap different amounts of heat and water in the soil. "There are many experiments in the lab," Hou says. But nothing beats testing how new cultivars perform in the field.

    Hard row to hoe.

    Warming is expected to trigger more episodes of heat stress that can sterilize the pollen of China's most important staple grain: rice.


    For half a century, Chinese scientists have been flocking to this spot on the eastern rim of the North China Plain, China's breadbasket, to probe pressing agricultural questions. The region just north of the Yellow River is ground zero for tackling food-security challenges such as flood control, drought, wind erosion, and soil alkalinity. To this list of concerns, researchers have now added climate change and its potential impact on grain yields. "We want to know how crops will reflect global warming," says Tao Fulu, an agricultural meteorologist at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

    Across the globe, scientists and policy-makers are studying how climate change will affect agriculture. But in China, the question is especially urgent. The country has roughly 20% of the world's population but only 7% of its arable land—a share that is shrinking in the face of rapid urbanization. From 1998 to 2006, more than 860,000 hectares of arable land were swallowed up by cities each year on average, according to data from China's Ministry of Land and Resources. Changing dietary habits, meanwhile, are fueling a rapid rise in food consumption. Accompanying the expansion of China's middle class is a growing appetite for meat, which heaps more pressure on land and water resources. In 1978, China's total meat consumption was 8 million tons, but by 2012 it had ballooned to 71 million tons, according to the Earth Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. In 2011, one-third of China's total grain harvest was converted to feed for livestock and aquaculture.

    Climate change could exacerbate the fallout. According to the Chinese government's Second National Assessment Report on Climate Change in 2011, rising sea levels are likely to threaten China's eastern rice-growing regions by 2050, about the time that eight provinces in the north expect to face severe water shortages.

    Already, annual mean temperatures near Yucheng rose 0.8°C between 1955 and 2011, according to China Meteorological Administration (CMA) records. The uptick is felt most in winter and spring—coinciding with the growing season for winter wheat, the region's most important staple crop. Charting how warming affects various plant growth stages, from seed maturation to flowering to maturity, is "very important to understanding the impact of climate change," Tao says.

    His group has discovered that contrary to conventional wisdom, rising temperatures in China's heartland are translating into shorter overall growing periods. Although warming accelerates the early stages of wheat growth, the length of the reproductive period—the phase spanning flowering and maturity—remains roughly the same for cultivars now commonly grown in the region. Tao and others are trying to tease out what that means for future yields, which are determined by grain number multiplied by the weight of each grain. "The number of grains is determined in the middle of the season, while the weight of each grain is determined during the reproductive phase," explains David Lobell, an agricultural scientist at Stanford University's Center on Food Security and the Environment in Palo Alto, California. At Yucheng, Lobell suggests, faster growth may mean fewer grains, spelling lower yields. Unless, that is, researchers develop cultivars better suited to the changing conditions, Tao notes.

    By comparing records compiled by CMA and provincial agricultural departments between 1980 and 2008, Tao has attempted to tease out the climate signal from other factors affecting yield, such as crop management and fertilizer use. In a paper published online last October in Climate Research, Tao linked changes across China in temperature, precipitation, and solar radiation over those 3 decades with 1.3% and 1.7% reductions in projected wheat and maize yields, respectively. That translates to hundreds of thousands of tons of lost harvest. A team at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., has also identified a significant impact from climate change. They reported in Agricultural and Forest Meteorology in 2009 that warming caused a 4.5% decline in growth of wheat yields across China from 1979 to 2000.

    Regional variation complicates the picture. In frigid northern China, where annual mean temperatures have risen faster than the national average, warming has extended arable land northward. But the potential agricultural benefits may be hard to reap, Tao warns, as climate change is expected to increase the frequency of drought and extreme weather events in an already water-stressed region.

    Much of northern China is dry, making agriculture dependent upon irrigation from the Yellow River and the northern China aquifer. But pollution has degraded the quality of China's "Mother River" and growing cities are siphoning off water for urban uses. Some 120 billion cubic meters more water were pumped from the aquifer than were replaced by rainfall over the last 4 decades, resulting in a steadily retreating water table (Science, 18 June 2010, p. 1462). "The main problem in this region is water," Tao says.

    Food security frontlines.

    Rapid plant maturation and water shortages are threatening wheat in the north; heat stress and rising sea levels are the big worries in rice-growing areas in the south and east.

    In a pilot project launched in Yucheng in 2009, farmers are charged for the actual amount of water they draw from irrigation networks, rather than according to their acreage. Old concrete irrigation channels have been equipped with ultrasonic wave sensors to measure water levels; data are fed in real time to a local water-use association. On the experimental station's grounds, farmers can check their water usage data at a computer terminal set incongruously next to a mound of dried corn kernels.

    Grain pains.

    Switching cultivars can improve crop resiliency, Tao says.


    In rice-growing southeastern China, warming may boost yields in the short term, but it is also likely to heighten damage from heat stress. "The increasing frequency of high temperature days is a risk factor," Tao says. Timing is critical: If rice is subjected to temperatures greater than approximately 37°C during pollination—as happened during a particularly roasting stretch during the summer of 2003—the pollen may be sterilized. "Even a brief exposure to high temperatures can lead to extremely reduced yields," says Jerry L. Hatfield, an agricultural scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service in Ames, Iowa.

    Faced with such threats, China is mulling adaptation strategies. "The government doesn't yet have a very clear idea" of how to design adaptation policies, but it wants to understand the whole situation," says CMA scientist Zhou Guangsheng, who is compiling data on climate change and agriculture from Chinese research bodies. Among the trends he has noted so far is an upward spike in the frequency of weather-related disasters, including drought and wild temperature extremes.

    Potential adaptation strategies for food security include altering sowing and harvesting dates, adjusting irrigation schemes, and selecting or developing cultivars equipped to thrive in new climate conditions. Research from other parts of Asia could prove useful in China. At the Los Baños, Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), scientists are working to identify cultivars that release pollen during the early morning hours, before temperatures climb too high. The institute has also developed cultivars with greater flood and drought tolerance that are now in pilot trials in eastern India, where rice harvests largely depend on variable rainfall. "We are cautiously optimistic that we can develop rice varieties that will tolerate much of what climate change has to throw at us," says IRRI Director Robert Zeigler.

    Back here in Yucheng, some locals are not waiting for a scientific verdict on how to adapt. Zhao Xiazhen, a 47-year-old farmer sporting a bright orange headscarf, says that in recent years, temperatures have been creeping up in late October, the sowing season for winter wheat. About 5 years ago, her family noticed that their wheat was growing more rapidly than before. If it were to mature too quickly, they would risk losing part of their harvest to frost damage; here, fast-maturing wheat plants are more fragile. To avert crop losses, they began delaying sowing by 5 or 6 days. Their harvests have held steady. Other farmers who have stuck with what has worked in the past haven't been so lucky, Zhao says: "Their crop was damaged."

    Translating such observations into policy will ultimately require more research into shifting temperatures and precipitation patterns, says Li Yunsheng of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research. Employing a standard refrain for adapting any system to China's circumstances, Li says: "We are studying climate change with Chinese characteristics."

    • * Christina Larson writes on science in China.