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Most protected areas are vulnerable to invasive species

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June 8 (UPI) — Protected areas are helping preserve biodiversity by providing a buffer against invasive species, but new research suggests many wildlife preserves and national parks are vulnerable to invasion by non-native plants and animals.

Much attention is paid to the habitat destruction and pollution caused by humans, but people have also severely damaged global ecosystems through the introduction of invasive species.

“These species may kill or compete with native species, or destroy habitats, amongst other impacts,” Tim Blackburn, professor of invasion biology at the University College London, said in a news release. “Invasions by alien species are regarded as one of the top five direct drivers of global biodiversity loss, and aliens are establishing themselves in new areas at ever increasing rates.”

“Protected areas are a cornerstone of biodiversity conservation, but aliens don’t know where their boundaries lie,” Blackburn said. “It’s important to know whether these areas might protect against the spread of invasive species.”

For the new study, scientists analyzed the territorial conquests of nearly 900 terrestrial animal species, including mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates, that have successfully colonized regions outside of their native ranges.

Next, researchers looked at how many alien populations were established inside or near protected areas, such as wilderness areas and national parks.

While only 10 percent of the planet’s 200,000 protected areas are currently home to invasive species, researchers found alien species living within a few dozen miles of 99 percent of the surveyed areas.

What’s more, their analysis — published Monday in the journal Nature Communications — showed most protected areas across the globe feature habitat and ecological conditions suitable to nearby invaders.

The protected areas most likely to host invasive species were those with a larger human footprint index — parks and preserves with large human populations nearby and where humans frequently come and go. Parks that were newer and bigger were also more likely to host non-native species.

“At the moment most protected areas are still free of most animal invaders, but this might not last,” said study co-author Li Yiming, research ecologist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “Areas readily accessible to large numbers of people are the most vulnerable. We need to increase efforts to monitor and record invasive alien species that people may bring into protected areas, deliberately or by accident, especially damaging species like the American bullfrog, brown rat and wild boar.”

Scientists found new evidence that high concentrations of biodiversity rendered protected areas immune to invasion by non-native species.

“If alien species continue to spread — and we would expect many to do that — many more protected areas will have their boundaries reached, and potentially breached, by these alien species,” Blackburn said.



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Space companies use Earth-imaging satellites to combat climate change

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The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four astronauts is pictured approaching the International Space Station for docking on November 16, 2020. The trip from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida took 27 and a half hours. Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo



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Google honors physician and microbiologist Dr. Stamen Grigorov with new Doodle

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Oct. 27 (UPI) — Google is celebrating Bulgarian physician and microbiologist Dr. Stamen Grigorov with a new Doodle Tuesday, on what would have been his 142nd birthday.

Grigorov, who was born in 1878 in the village of Studen Izvor in the Trun region of Bulgaria, is the first scientist to discover the bacterium essential to the fermentation of yogurt. He also helped with the development of the first tuberculosis vaccine.

Google’s homepage features artwork of Grigorov being surrounded by multiple bowls of yogurt.

Grigorov, who worked as a research assistant at the Medical University of Geneva, Switzerland, started to inspect yogurt under a microscope after being intrigued by its reported health benefits.

The scientist found the rod-shaped microorganism that causes yogurt’s fermentation in 1905 after thousands of experiments. The bacterium was named Lactobacillus bulgaricus, in honor of his home nation of Bulgaria.

The following year, Grigorov released a groundbreaking paper demonstrating the first use of penicillin fungi against tuberculosis while working as chief physician at a hospital in Trun.

Studen Izvor is home to the world’s only yogurt museums.



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Vampire bats socially distance when they fall ill

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Oct. 27 (UPI) — New research suggests vampire bats are better at following CDC guidelines than some humans.

When a vampire bat gets sick, they spend less time around other members of the colony, helping to slow the spread of disease, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

Scientists had previously observed vampire bats practicing social distancing in captivity, but the latest research suggests wild bats also work to flatten the curve.

For the study, researchers captured 31 adult female vampire bats from a roost located in a hollow tree in Belize. To simulate the influence of illness, scientists injected half the bats with lipopolysaccharide, an immune-challenging substance. The control bats were injected with saline.

After attaching proximity sensors to the bats, researchers released them back into the wild.

The data revealed shifting interaction patterns among the different bats during the six-hour treatment period — before the effects of the injection wore off. The sick bats interacted with fewer members of the colony and spent less time their peers.

In the hours following their release back into the wild, the data showed a control bat had a 49 percent chance of interacting with another control bat, but only a 35 percent of interacting with a sick bat. Sick bats also spent 25 fewer minutes with their partners than control bats.

“The sensors gave us an amazing new window into how the social behavior of these bats changed from hour to hour and even minute to minute during the course of the day and night, even while they are hidden in the darkness of a hollow tree,” lead study author Simon Ripperger said in a news release.

“We’ve gone from collecting data every day to every few seconds,” said Ripperger, an ecologist at Ohio State University.

For most species, illness symptoms, such as lethargy and sleep, or reduced movement and sociality, prevent infected individuals from interacting with the rest of the community — a kind of involuntary social distancing. But the latest research suggests bats are part of a minority group of animals that purposefully self-isolate in cooperation with their colony mates.



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