Random Samples

Science  16 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5976, pp. 289

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  1. Fungus Slows Fir

    Sick old Douglas firs look like bottle brushes.


    A tree fungus that used to be a minor nuisance is now causing a major loss of growth in Douglas firs, a staple of the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest. Swiss needle cast disease has “become an epidemic” in some coastal regions and has significantly lowered productivity, says Bryan Black, a forest ecologist at Oregon State University in Newport and co-author of a study appearing this month in Forest Ecology and Management. The blight is being exacerbated by warmer springs and wetter summers, the scientists say.

    Scientists used to think the disease, which causes needles to yellow and fall off, affected only young, fast-growing trees. But Black's team spotted severe growth declines in mature trees after taking tree-ring cores from 100-year-old stands on the Oregon coast. Compared with cores from western hemlock, the fir trees' growth rate has been stunted by more than 80% in the past quarter-century. The cores show the trees growing steadily until 1983, then “hitting a brick wall and shutting down,” says Black. Alan Kanaskie, a forest pathologist at the Oregon Department of Forestry in Salem, says “this is the first study to rigorously show the decline in mature Douglas fir growth and link it to this disease.”

  2. In Memoriam


    Constance Holden, who has edited this page with her singular wit and style since it was launched 20 years ago, was tragically killed on 12 April in a traffic accident. Tancy, as she was fondly known to her many friends and colleagues, was struck by a military vehicle, part of the security forces for the nuclear summit being held in Washington, D.C., as she left the Science offices on her bicycle.

    Tancy was an accomplished writer and editor for Science for almost 40 years. She covered the social and behavioral sciences, bioethics, and stem cell research, delving into the genetics of behavior long before it was fashionable. She was a true original—warm, funny, curious, direct, and always willing to challenge the conventional wisdom. She was also a talented artist and pianist. Her oil paintings grace colleagues' offices and the corridors of the AAAS building. The self-portrait above provides a unique view of a distinctive personality who has left her mark on this magazine. She will be deeply missed.

  3. How About 'Won't I'?

    The way individuals talk to themselves may influence their future behaviors. Volunteers solved more anagrams if they prepared for the task by asking themselves whether they would work on anagrams as opposed to declaring they would. In follow-up experiments, merely writing “Will I” 20 times (as part of a supposed unrelated handwriting task) resulted in better performance on solving anagrams and stronger intentions to exercise than writing “I Will” 20 times, suggesting that priming an interrogative structure of self-talk may be enough to motivate goal-directed behavior.

    —Summary of a paper published online last month in Psychological Science

  4. Jurassic Mark



    The Jurassic era—heyday of big dinosaurs, cycad ferns, and certain marine invertebrates—may soon have an official starting point. Geologists are gearing up to decide whether a sequence of 200-million-year-old rocks (see arrow) about 50 kilometers north of Innsbruck in Austria will serve as the “type section” or “global boundary stratotype section,” whose fossils define the beginning of the era for researchers worldwide.

    Geologists have been arguing for years about the best spot to mark the Triassic-Jurassic boundary. “Formally defining the beginning of the Jurassic would be the same as defining the beginning of the Renaissance,” says Stan Finney of California State University, Long Beach, chair of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which recommends type sections for the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS).

    The traditional identifying fossil for the Jurassic has been whorl-shelled sea creatures called ammonites. But they are hard to find in buried strata, and many rocks from the era have been washed away by sea-level changes or subducted in ocean crust, now deep inside the earth. Ammonites are sprinkled in potential type sections in British Columbia, Canada; the United Kingdom; and the United States, including Nevada's New York Canyon site. But the commission's preferred candidate is Tyrol's Kuhjoch section in the Karwendel Mountains, which has other tiny Jurassic fossils such as pollen and algal diatoms.

    IUGS is expected to hold an official vote on the matter this summer.