This May edition of the Royal Society Publishing highlights blog includes: predator olfactory networks, submesoscale interactions in the ocean, using open data to predict the impact of urban flooding, simulations of walking and running dynamics of ostriches, maths to understand the resilience of the Tube, efforts to save the wolf’s population and perception, and an elegant single molecule physiological study of myosin in zebrafish. This is just a small selection of the exciting content we publish every week. Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook to hear more. You can also search our latest content.

foxySmells like predatory spirit

For prey, a predator’s scent is associated with death, resulting in prey avoiding the scent of predators. This response is thought to reduce the risk of predation by predators. However, other prey and predators can exploit these signals, as they tend to linger in the environment. Therefore, scent marks of one species may attract other species interested in information about their competitors.

Banks and colleagues examined the responses of red foxes and competing species to odours to understand what prey are responding to when avoiding the scent of predators. The findings published in Biology Letters show that foxes are more interested in the scent of their competitors, cats and dogs than members of their own species, making competitor odours hotspots of fox activity. This suggests that odours may play an important role in mediating competitive interactions. In addition, it also opens up the possibility that prey may be responding to other species in this olfactory web of communication.


ocean currentsSubmesoscale currents in the ocean

Submesoscale currents in the ocean are a recently discovered phenomenon. They are intermediate-scale flow structures in the form of density fronts and filaments, topographic wakes, and persistent coherent vortices at the surface and throughout the interior of the ocean. They are created from mesoscale eddies and strong currents, and they provide a dynamical conduit for energy transfer toward microscale dissipation. However, dissipation and mixing rates are yet to be accurately quantified on a global scale.

In this review, published in Proceedings A, Professor James McWilliams showcases theories and modelling efforts from recent years and provides a conceptual framework and programme for further research; consideration is given to their generation mechanisms, instabilities, life-cycles, force balances, turbulent cascades, internal-wave interactions, and transport and dispersion of materials.


floodA role for open data in flood risk management

Under climate change it is difficult to predict flooding incidents that are not restricted to areas commonly affected by floods. Urban floods are particularly difficult to predict as huge amounts of rain fall can significantly rise the groundwater levels.

Tkachenko et al. explore whether there is a relationship between search patterns for flood risk information on the Internet and how badly locations are affected by flood events. The findings published in Royal Society Open Science suggest that early engagement with flood risk information correlates with less severe outcomes in locations with similar information seeking behaviour patterns.

The findings of this study have significance for flood risk management as information may stimulate resilient behaviours such as relocation, temporary evacuation, and the timely use and distribution of sandbags and other flood defences to properties at imminent risk of flooding.


wolfBlood does not buy goodwill

In order to prevent illegal hunting or poaching of endangered species, governments have relaxed policies and allowed the liberal culling or hunting of large carnivores such as wolves. However, the first quantitative study published in Proceedings B shows that such changes in wolf policies in Wisconsin and Michigan, USA, have instead promoted an increase in illegal poaching. In addition, these policies may perpetuate negative perceptions about wolves and justify their population decline. The results suggest that licensed culling of wolves to address illegal behaviour may instead promote it. You can also watch the YouTube video explaining the research using Playmobil characters.


F1.large (3)Ostrich hips don’t lie

Ostriches are among the fastest of living terrestrial animals, reaching very fast running speeds and quickly executing turning manoeuvres. And they can do all this with high metabolic economy. It is thought that this ability is largely due to their physical characteristics. Their hind-limbs have large muscles and long, elastic tendons. However, it is not known how the individual muscles of ostriches function in locomotion.

In order to estimate how the muscles are activated Rankin et al. simulated walking and running dynamics using a biomechanical model of an ostrich’s hind-leg. Their findings published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface support previous predictions in that the ankle muscles primarily act as springs. Additionally, ostriches power their locomotion with their hips, mainly using their hamstring muscles. Interestingly, passive tissues such as ligaments that are often overlooked may also play important roles around the hip in ostrich locomotion.


F1.large (4)A framework for assessing Tube resilience

Targeted disruptions and the impact of weather conditions, such as “the wrong kind of snow” and excessive sunlight, present challenges for urban transport systems. Chopra and colleagues present a network-based framework that identifies vulnerabilities within London’s underground railway system. This is based on its network structure, station location, and patterns of passenger flow.

The results published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface show that the Tube is robust to random failures. However, it is vulnerable to disruptions on a few critical stations. The results of this case study could help with identifying sources of structural and functional vulnerabilities in order to improve resilience for this and other transport systems across the world.


myosin zebraIn vivo single myosin detection

The myosin motor protein is responsible for generating the force for muscle contraction. It contributes to every move we make by converting metabolic fuel to mechanical work. In order to understand the disease mechanisms of inheritable muscle myopathies, it is crucial to understand the single myosin mechanics in combination with whole animal muscle physiology.

Burghardt et al. present a new in vivo imaging approach to characterise single myosin mechanics in contracting muscle of live zebrafish embryos. Their approach published in Open Biology presents the next level of multi-scaled in vivo imaging technology useful with zebrafish models of human disease.

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