CLOSE
Rebecca O’Connell // Mariomassone via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0
Rebecca O’Connell // Mariomassone via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

Japanese Bears are Moving (and Conserving) Cherry Trees with Poop

Rebecca O’Connell // Mariomassone via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0
Rebecca O’Connell // Mariomassone via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

We know Earth’s climate is changing rapidly, but we don’t fully know what those changes will mean for our planet and its inhabitants. Every organism interacts with those around it, making it hard to trace or predict the effects of pollution, species loss, and global warming. For example: a recent report published in the journal Current Biology shows that bears and their poop are slowly moving the cherry trees up mountains near Tokyo, Japan, and out of the damaging heat of lower altitudes. 

Plants, of course, don’t have legs (stick with us, this is going somewhere). Instead, they rely on the wind and on organisms with legs, wings, and fins to pollinate their flowers, eat their fruit, and carry the seeds to new locations

A team of Japanese researchers wondered how the behavior of these seed-dispersing animals might affect a plant’s ability to withstand climate change. They focused their study on the wild cherry tree (Prunus verecunda) for two reasons: first, botanists have predicted that the tree, which grows in temperate regions, will be especially vulnerable to rising temperatures; and second, the tree’s fruit are a favorite of local animals, especially the moon bear (Ursus thibetanus)

To track the plants’ movement, the scientists compared stable oxygen isotopes in their seeds. Every tree has these isotopes, which it gets from its parent tree while it’s still a seed. The isotope ratios vary by altitude, which makes them useful in geotagging. If a pooped-out seed on a mountain has a ratio associated with a lower altitude, it means the seed must have been carried up. (Unlike some species, P. verecunda seeds are exclusively dispersed by animals.) 

The researchers found that mountain-climbing bears brought cherry trees with them, often transporting seeds several hundred meters above their parent trees. The trees took root at new altitudes, in climates just slightly cooler than those down below. But this slight difference in temperature, around 3°F, might be enough to keep the trees safe. 

This is good news for the wild cherry; not all trees will be so lucky. P. verecunda happens to be a spring-fruiting tree, which means that bears stop and snack on its fruit on their journey up the mountain. The reverse would be true for autumn-fruiting trees: their seeds would be carried to lower, less tolerable altitudes. 

"The most important implication of our study on a warming planet is that seed dispersal direction can be asymmetric," lead author Shoji Naoe of the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute said in a press statement. "Most previous studies have predicted future plant distributions under global warming based on the simple relationships between present plant distribution and environmental factors there, assuming that there are no seed dispersal limitations and no bias in dispersal direction. However, our study indicates that predicting future plant distributions can be very uncertain without considering the seed dispersal process that determines plant movement." 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Martin Wittfooth
arrow
Art
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
nextArticle.image_alt|e
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Animals
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios