As a mathematical concept, the idea of zero is relatively new in human society—and indisputably revolutionary. It’s allowed humans to develop algebra, calculus and Cartesian coordinates; questions about its properties continue to incite mathematical debate today. So it may sound unlikely that bees—complex and community-based insects to be sure, but insects nonetheless—seem to have mastered their own numerical concept of nothingness.
Despite their sesame-seed-sized brains, honey bees have proven themselves the prodigies of the insect world. Researcher has found that they can count up to about four, distinguish abstract patterns, and communicate locations with other bees. Now, Australian scientists have found what may be their most impressive cognitive ability yet: “zero processing,” or the ability to conceptualize nothingness as a numerical value that can be compared with more tangible quantities like one and two.
While seemingly intuitive, the ability to understand zero is actually quite rare across species—and unheard of in invertebrates. In a press release, the authors of a paper published June 8 in the journal Science called species with this ability an “elite club” that consists of species we generally consider quite intelligent, including primates, dolphins and parrots. Even humans haven’t always been in that club: The concept of zero first appeared in India around 458 A.D, and didn’t enter the West until 1200, when Italian mathematician Fibonacci brought it and a host of other Arabic numerals over with him.
But animal cognition researchers at the RMIT University of Melbourne, Monash University in Clayton, Australia and Toulouse University in France had a hunch that honey bees might just be one of the few species able to grasp the concept. Despite the fact that they have fewer than one million neurons in their brain—compared to 86,000 million in a human brain—the team recognized their cognitive potential.
“My lab was starting to accumulate some evidence that bees could do some advanced cognitive tasks, such as tool use, playing ‘soccer’—manipulating a ball to get a reward—and learning to encode information in human faces,” says Adrian Dyer, a postdoctoral student at RMIT University of Melbourne and co-author on the study. “We were aware that this animal model was very capable of learning complex things … it was the right time to formalize an experiment to see if the bee brain could process the concept of zero.”
To test this hypothesis, the team first taught the bees the concepts of “greater than” and “less than,” which previous research suggested the bees would be able to do. The researchers figured that if the bees could successfully show they understood that zero was less than various positive numbers, this would demonstrate the insects’ understanding of zero’s numerical value.
To do this, they first lured two groups of 10 bees each to a wall where two white panels containing different numbers of black shapes were displayed. They decided to teach half the bees “less than” and the other half “greater than,” using food rewards to train the bees to fly toward the panel with fewer or more shapes, respectively. When comparing two white panels with positive numbers of shapes in each, bees quickly learned to fly toward the correct one.
The real challenge, however, came when one of the panels contained no shapes at all. In several trials, the “less than” bees flocked to the empty panel, and the “greater than” bees to the panel with shapes. Despite the study’s small sample size, the researchers believed the bees were exhibiting zero processing capability.
The bees’ success at zero processing was much better when the blank panel was compared with a panel with many shapes—say, four or five—than when it was compared with a panel containing fewer. In other words, the further the comparison number got from zero, the better the bees were at determining which panel had fewer shapes. Interestingly, this is consistent with the results that researchers have found in human children using a similar experimental design, says Dyer. He says that this similarity in bees’ and humans’ development of zero processing capability suggests that bees and humans are likely conceptualizing zero in analogous ways.
Other bee cognition experts, however, doubt that this experiment definitively proves bees get the zero concept. Clint Perry, a research fellow at the Queen Mary University of London who has spent much of his career studying bee cognition, says that there likely could be other explanations for the bees’ behavior that make him “not convinced” that bees truly are understanding the concept of zero.
“The more parsimonious explanation for the results is the bees were using ‘reward history’ to solve the task—that is, how often each type of stimulus was rewarded,” Perry says. It’s possible the “less-than” bees, for example, were truly just learning that the blank panel earned them a reward 100 percent of the time, the one-shape panel 80 percent of the time, and so on. In other words, they were simply playing the best odds they could with the panels they were shown, without necessarily understanding the concept.
“I could see [bees’ zero processing] as a possibility—being able to count and being able to evaluate the value of numbers could give an adaptive advantage for survival,” says Perry. “I don’t see why [bees] couldn’t. But these experiments should be repeated and the interpretation verified to get at that.”
Dyer remains optimistic about the validity of his team’s results. He also says that this research suggests that the ability to conceptualize zero could be more common than we think—ancient humans, he postulates, likely had the potential for zero processing, cognitively speaking.
“We had some human ancient cultures which appear not to ever have used the concept of zero… but as we look across animal species, we see that their brains are capable of processing this information,” says Dyer. “So ancient civilizations had brains that for sure could process zero. It was just something about how their culture was set up; they were not so interested in thinking about number sequences.”
One practical implication for the research lies in the development of artificial intelligence; Dyer thinks reverse-engineering how the brains of animals like bees work could help us improve the abilities of artificial minds. But the first step is investigating the brain processes behind this ability.
“We’re at the dawn of trying to understand the concept of zero and how our brains might encode it,” he says. “This study produced high-quality behavioral data, and from that you can make some inferences. But we don’t know the exact neural networks at play—that is future work we hope to do.”
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/bees-may-understand-zero-concept-took-humans-millennia-grasp-180969282/#UG6ksM62RUMAOtDz.99
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Ruining things since 298,000 BCE.
Humankind is pathetically lightweight in comparison to the mass of almost all other living things on Earth, but while our bodies (and thinking) may be tiny, our crushing footprint is not.
The most comprehensive study ever of the weight of all living biomass on the planet has discovered humans account for only about 0.01 percent of life on Earth – but despite our physical insignificance compared to the teeming masses around us, history shows there’s no doubt over whose dominion this is.
“I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” biologist Ron Milo from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel told The Guardian.
“It is definitely striking, our disproportionate place on Earth.”
Milo and fellow researchers spent three years combing the existing scientific literature on the planet’s biomass to provide the most up-to-date and comprehensive estimate on the mass of all the kingdoms of life.
In terms of carbon content – which means we don’t need to factor in the varying water masses of different kinds of animals, plants, and other life forms – the team’s census suggests the total biomass of the planet amounts to approximately 550 gigatonnes of carbon (Gt C).
Of this, approximately 450 Gt C, or 80 percent of the total biomass, is made up of plants, which far outweighs the mass of anything else living on the planet; bacteria come in second, at about 70 Gt C (15 percent).
In fact, animals only account for a mere 2 Gt C, and humans make up only an incredibly tiny fraction of that. And yet, the overall animal landscape has been irrevocably altered by human design.
While the biomass of humans is only about 0.06 Gt C, we’re almost 10 times more abundant than wild mammals, which represent only 0.007 Gt C.
But there’s a different kind of mammal, which – by uniquely serving human needs – has also come to dominate the rest of the animal kingdom: livestock.
Livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, makes up about 60 percent of all mammals on Earth (at 0.1 Gt C).
When it comes to bird life, the same picture emerges, with the biomass of domesticated poultry being about three times greater than that of wild birds.
“When I do a puzzle with my daughters, there is usually an elephant next to a giraffe next to a rhino,” Milo told The Guardian.
“But if I was trying to give them a more realistic sense of the world, it would be a cow next to a cow next to a cow and then a chicken.”
It didn’t use to be this way, of course.
Prior to the domestication of livestock and the innovation of agriculture – and the Industrial Revolution on their heels – the natural landscape would have looked much different.
The researchers acknowledge it is difficult to accurately estimate the pre-human biomass of animals, but their analysis suggests human civilisation has slashed the total biomass of wild mammals by as much as 85 per cent, and has cut plant biomass in half.
This inadvertent culling has had a massive effect on the overall biosphere, leading to a situation where scientists say we’re now in the midst of a mass extinction event that is almost without precedent.
While entirely regrettable, our actions also constitute a frighteningly outsized effort for a delicate species of bipeds that only makes up a hundredth of a percent of the world’s living things.
“The fact that the biomass of fungi exceeds that of all animals sort of puts us in our place,” evolutionary biologist James Hanken from Harvard University, who wasn’t involved in the study, told AP.
If only that were true.
The findings are reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Professor David Goodall, Australia’s Oldest Working Scientist
With an Exit Member number of #1848, David Goodall has been a member of Exit longer than most people.
Well organised to the end, he thought he had his plans in place. However, it seems that David’s advanced age has finally caught up with him.
At work in the 1950s.
Very recently he has realised that things were not going to be as easy as he anticipated. He is now left with little alternative other than to travel to Switzerland.
With the cooperation of the good people at Life Circle in Basel, Exit has been able to organise a fast-track for David.
He will be accompanied by his long-time friend and Exit’s West Australian Coordinator, Carol O’Neil.
Carol and David plan to leave Perth for Basel in early May.
Carol & David at an Exit workshop in 2016
A pathetic state of affairs? You bet!
Especially given West Australia is currently considering the introduction of a voluntary euthanasia law; a law which the West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has said would not help a person like David Goodall who is not sick.
Elder abuse? Quite possibly.
Age discrimination? Absolutely.
Who is David Goodall?
Born in London in 1914, Professor Goodall is an eminent botanist and ecologist. A graduate of Imperial College of Science and Technology (University of London) where he received his PhD in 1941, David came to Australia in 1948 to take up a lecturing position at the University of Melbourne .
David was awarded a Doctor of Science from Melbourne University as well as an honorary doctorate from the Università degli Studí di Trieste in Italy. He held a range of academic positions in the UK, US and Australia (CSIRO ) before retiring in 1979.
After his retirement, he edited the 30 volume series of Ecosystems of the World with over 500 authors.
David with his edited series: Ecosystems of the World
At 103, David travelled by gyrocopter to the remote Kimberley station (Kachana) near to Kununurra to visit the eco sustained cattle station of Chris and Jacqueline Henggeler.
At Kachana, David was back ‘in the field’ courtesy of the station’s tractor service.
David will be remembered for the burst of media in 2016 that followed the decision by Edith Cowan University to take away his office.
See: ABC News
The University argued the working scientist was a safety risk to himself and others.
In response to this unwelcome age discrimination, David went public and the University acquiesced, eventually providing him with an alternative, ground floor office closer to home.
WHAT NEXT FOR DAVID?
Having celebrated his 104th birthday in early April, David has decided wow is the time to go. Indeed, if his plans had gone accordingly, this birthday would not have happened and he would not be in the dilemma he now finds himself.
David on his 104th Birthday (4 April 2018, in Perth). His birthday cake was a cheesecake, his favourite.
It is just crazy that at the very time the West Australian Parliament has a committee inquiry to determine if their State should pass a voluntary euthanasia/ assisted suicide law, that one of its oldest and prominent citizens should be forced to travel to the other side of the world to die with dignity.
David receiving his Order of Australia in 2016
As if to add insult to injury, the West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has now pre-empted the Committee’s findings stating that the WA Parliament will only consider a law for the terminally ill.
Of course the Premier has added that he feels ‘sympathy’ for David’s plight.
The calculated politics of the Mr McGowan’s remarks are breath-taking, although hardly surprising since Mr McGowan’s reported mentor is Kim Beazley.
Be that as it may, rarely in living memory can one recall a senior citizen being treated with such disdain and even contempt by a Premier of the day.
The situation of Professor Goodall drives home the absolute limited value of an end of life law that is based solely upon a person’s health status.
As Dr Philip Nitschke argued in his presentation to the WA Parliamentary Committee in April, it is totally unacceptable for a law to discriminate between the sick and everyone else.
All rational adults deserve a peaceful death at a time of their choosing.
Forcing the ‘well’ elderly to travel overseas is exporting a problem, rather than addressing a growing social need. Shame!
David Goodall is a life-long economy class flier.
To do otherwise offends his egalitarian sensibility.
On this occasion, Dr Philip Nitschke has convinced David to upgrade.
It is a very long way from Perth Australia to Basel Switzerland at any age, especially104!
Philip says he doesn’t want the stress of the flight to kill him.
Exit will be reporting on David’s journey to Switzerland in the coming days and weeks.
Thank you in advance for your support.
Commentary by Jim Robertson
Despite humans’ best efforts to destroy her, it seems Nature is not going down without a fight. And regardless of what humans may believe about themselves and their place at the pinnacle, Nature is ultimately much bigger, heavier and vastly more significant in the so-called ‘scheme of things.’
Harassed by their bird-dog, a sow grizzly bears charges pheasant hunters (who, of course, shoot and kill her–leaving three cubs motherless); a ‘serial-killer’ elephant tramples 15 Indians (out of over a billion); and just yesterday a new article tells us a about a ‘hunter gored to death by a cornered deer.’
Could it all be part of a long-suffering and normally highly (even saintly) tolerant Mother Nature finally fighting back against her one fatal blunder–the fleshy, hairless, upright, arrogant apes armed with their weapons of mass extinction?
Homo sapiens may have won countless battles and the arms race hands-down, but Nature will ultimately win the day and eventually, the war, wiping the slate clean for another burst of evolutionary creativity that won’t include the conceited carnivorous primates or their puffed-up fantasies of self-importance.
It came to me while reading the nonfiction book What Evolution Is by the famed evolutionary biologist, Ernst Mahr, that the only way Mother Nature is ever going to get rid of the species plaguing her perfection is with a good old-fashioned mass extinction, because, sadly, humans aren’t going anywhere without taking just about every other species with them.
Humankind have backed Nature into a corner and at this point all she can do is turn and fight, like sow grizzly bear defending her beloved offspring.
Humans have gotten away with killing and eating, killing for sport and/or taking trophies of any and all of Natures’ finest treasures for so long now we’re starting to think we’re entitled to simply help ourselves to the spoils of our war on the world.
Well; if humans don’t shape up and show some respect, things could really start get ugly on this planet soon for everyone involved… and that’s not just talking weather-wise.
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Press release from BC Nature – for immediate release
Nature-lovers across BC are expressing concern over a proposed new method for managing wildlife in the province. Speaking on behalf of BC Nature, the federation of naturalist clubs across BC, president Dr. Alan Burger said “Our members are alarmed by recent statements by government ministers indicating that wildlife management might be handed over to an external agency supported by special interest groups, specifically hunters and guide- outfitters”. This model of wildlife management will undoubtedly work against the interests of the vast majority of British Columbians, added Burger.
Recent statements by Ministers Steve Thomson (Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Management) and Bill Bennett (Energy and Mines) suggest that, if the BC Liberals win this election, much wildlife management will be handed over to an independent agency, funded in part by hunting and fishing licences. Both ministers made these statements while flanked by members of the BC Wildlife Federation, the influential hunting and fishing advocacy group. It is well known that BCWF has long been lobbying the government for a greater say in wildlife management, citing the millions of dollars paid in hunting and fishing licences as the reason for greater input.
“This proposal is flawed at several levels” stated Burger. First, the economic argument is false. Hunting and fishing licences are an important source of revenue and BC Nature agrees that there should be a greater share contributed to wildlife management. But, there is much greater input to the BC economy from the non-consumptive users of wildlife – the tourism and wildlife-watching industry, people selling binoculars, camera gear, field guides, outdoor gear etc. and, most importantly, the vast majority of British Columbians that spend money traveling and camping to simply enjoy seeing animals alive in the wild.
BC has not undertaken research recently to investigate the economic benefits of wildlife- watching, but in neighbouring Washington the research shows that wildlife-watching contributes five times the economic benefit ($1.5 billion) that hunting does. A study in 2006 by the US Fish and Wildlife found that over 71 million Americans spent nearly $45 billion on retail sales while observing, feeding or watching wildlife in the US. Canadians are likely to spend even more per capita. Wildlife viewing is a growing business and BC is becoming a world-class destination for this highly sustainable activity.
Second, the proposed method for implementing wildlife management is flawed. There is no doubt that much more money is needed to enhance wildlife and ecosystem management, secure critical habitat and deal with the increasing impacts of industrial and human footprints in our province. Habitat loss, in particular, is a huge issue across many ecosystems in B.C. But this needs to be done by government and not through some external agency, which might be heavily biased towards consumptive users of wildlife. The B.C. Fish and Wildlife Branch and related departments within the provincial government have a long and proud history of serving the people of this province. They haven’t always made the right decisions and their hands are often tied by the political goals of the ruling party, but
they are professional, accountable to the electorate, can bring in expertise and resources from other government departments and outside consultants, and remain independent of powerful lobby-groups like the BCWF. “This new proposal verges on privatization of our wildlife management” said Burger.
Proponents of this new wildlife management plan indicate that it will follow the model of the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, which currently manages recreational fishing as well as freshwater hatcheries in B.C. “There is a fundamental difference between recreational fishing and terrestrial wildlife management”, continued Burger, who taught wildlife ecology at UVic for many years, “Wildlife, like mammals and birds, is enjoyed for many more reasons and in a much wider range of habitats and locations, than the fish taken by recreational fishing. One cannot equate the two management scenarios”.
Third, the words of the two ministers and the enthusiastic endorsement of the hunting lobby indicates that there is a very real risk of wildlife management in BC being more narrowly focused on big game. This is a retrograde step, because the BC government has been slowly moving towards a more scientifically sound ecosystem-based approach, giving appropriate value to the 99% of organisms that are not game animals. This proposal pulls out one component of our ecosystems (big game) and plans to manage it separately. Nature is not compartmentalized. We cannot manage one aspect of the system in isolation.
Finally, it appears that only the hunting-fishing lobby was consulted on this proposal. The ministers’ announcements came as a complete surprise to BC Nature. There is also no evidence that the tourism and wildlife-watching industries, First Nations or the general wildlife-enjoying public was consulted.
People who enjoy viewing wildlife and who endorse a broad ecological approach to managing our province will be watching closely to see where this proposal goes. “It will be good to see wildlife management become an election issue” concluded Burger, “It has been a neglected topic by all major political parties for too long. But this new proposal by the current government is clearly not in the interests of the BC public and seems to serve only a narrow interest-group”.
For further information contact:
Alan Burger – president BC Nature (Federation of BC Naturalists)
China is setting up a mega national park that will rival the Yellowstone National Park of the United States with an area more than 60 percent of the latter. The vast national park will serve as a sanctuary to protect two endangered species — the Siberian tiger and Amur leopard.
The national park, modeled on the lines of national parks in the United States, will be located on the border of Russia and North Korea at northeast China’s Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces.
The park will cover an area of 14,600 square kilometers (5,600 square miles) and will be 60 percent bigger than Yellowstone in the United States, which is close to 4,000 square miles in terms of area.
Chinese media reported that the plan for the national park has been approved by the central authorities and the “comprehensive plan and pilot for the national park is expected to be carried out before 2020.”
Threat To Siberian Tigers
Notwithstanding the conservation efforts, the number of wild Siberian tigers just increased from 9 in 1998, to 27 in 2015, indicating that the numbers were not encouraging to make the species thrive.
To tighten conservation, China has clamped a ban on logging with curbs on gun licenses. Compared with China’s concerns on falling numbers of Siberian tigers, some 400 of them are living in Russia.
Amur leopards are another endangered species whose numbers plunged below 30 in 2007 because of hunting and human activities.
According to latest data, in 2015, their numbers showed some increase and conservation groups like the World Wildlife Fund can take credit for that.
In an update, the WWF said the Amur leopard population had a jump since 2008.
China’s Ecological Initiatives
China decided to start national parks in 2013 after seeing that many endangered species including the Siberian tiger, Amur leopard, giant panda, Tibetan antelope, and Asian elephant required safer habitats.
The Chinese government wanted to develop a national park system of international standards and it roped in Paulson Institute, a Chicago-based research center in 2015.
The government also announced a three-year period to start a series of pilot national park projects in nine provinces. The goal was to address the governance and policy shortfalls in environmental protection while extending conservation efforts to other habitats and ecosystems.
President Xi Jinping has committed a series of environmental reforms to usher in an “ecological civilization,” which clubs economic progress with the sustainability of the environment.
Green Activists Hail National Park
Meanwhile, environmentalists like Dale Miquelle of the Wildlife Conservation Society has welcomed the move. He said the sanctuary will be one of the largest tiger reserves in the world.
“China’s commitment represents an extremely important step in recovering both subspecies in northeast Asia,” Miquelle said.
However, the park is also raising concerns of many urban colonies at Hunchun city in the Jilin province, which is very close to the animals’s range.
Hunchun is a key corridor linking tiger habitats of Russia and China. There the residents are uneasy about the animals getting too close.
In 2016, a Forestry Department spokesman mentioned about a plan to relocate some communities and factories from the national park area to avoid conflict between wildlife and human activities.
According to Fan Zhiyong, WWF’s species program director in Beijing, the park will be a boon to the endangered cats and also protect the unique biodiversity of the northern temperate zone.
Attractions Of Yellowstone Park
In the United States, the Yellowstone National Park is spread across the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
It covers an area of 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2) and comprises lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. The Yellowstone Lake is a high-elevation lake centered around the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano in North America.
The National Park is home to thousands of species including mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles, many of which are endangered. The vast forests also house many unique species of plants.