You may have missed… birdbots, bumblebees play, smiling makes you feel happier, and shrinking ozone hole.

Keeping birds away from airports with RobotFalcon

Our first piece of research this week is for farmers, orchardists and horticulturalists and it’s something they can go and play with immediately if they are innovative enough: birdbots.

Bird collisions with aircraft cost the international civil aviation industry more than US$1.4 billion annually. But current methods for deterring birds are limited, so innovative new techniques are needed.

One way of scaring birds away from runways (and perhaps farms) to prevent collisions could be using “birdbots”, according to new research in the journal Royal Society Interface. A team has built a robotic peregrine falcon – which they’ve named “RobotFalcon” – that’s designed to scare away flocks of birds at airports in the Netherlands.

They found that the birdbot outperformed drones and pre-recorded ‘distress calls’ in chasing away flocks of corvids, gulls, starlings and lapwings and preventing early returns. They also found no evidence for habituation – where birds respond less after repeated exposure.

The authors conclude that the RobotFalcon is “a practical and ethical solution to drive away bird flocks with all advantages of live predators but without their limitations.”

First ever study shows that bumblebees “play”

Bumblebees play, according to new research published in Animal Behaviour.

In a series of experiments researchers showed that bumblebees went out of their way to roll wooden balls repeatedly – despite there being no apparent incentive for doing so. Younger bees also rolled more balls than older ones, mirroring playful behaviour in young children and other juvenile mammals and birds.

In one experiment researchers gave 45 bumblebees the option of walking through an unobstructed path to reach a feeding area or diverting from this path into areas with wooden balls. Individual bees rolled balls between 1 and 117 times over course of the experiment

Several bumblebees rolling balls in real time. Credit: Samadi Galpayage.

In a subsequent experiment, 42 bees were given access to two coloured chambers (blue and yellow) – one containing movable balls and the other nothing. When given the choice the bees consistently showed a preference for the colour of the chamber associated with the wooden balls.

“It is certainly mind-blowing, at times amusing, to watch bumble bees show something like play. They approach and manipulate these ‘toys’ again and again,” says first author Samadi Galpayage, a PhD student at Queen Mary University of London in the UK.

“They may actually experience some kind of positive emotional state, even if rudimentary, like other larger fluffy, or not so fluffy, animals do. This sort of finding has implications for our understanding of sentience and welfare of insects and will, hopefully, encourage us to respect and protect life on Earth ever more.”

A bumblebee rolling balls in x0.5 speed. Credit: Samadi Galpayage.

Fake it till you make it – if you put on a happy face, you’ll feel a little happier

A new international study has assessed whether people’s subjective experiences of emotion could be influenced by their facial expressions. Researchers found a noticeable increase in reported happiness or initiation of happiness in people who mimicked smiling photographs or pulled their mouth toward their ears.

The study collected data from 3878 participants across 19 countries, testing the effect of three well-known techniques: 

  1. Mimicking facial expressions of actors seen in photos
  2. Moving the corners of their mouths to their cheeks using only their facial muscles
  3. The ‘pen-in-mouth’ technique (with the pen held in the teeth) which moves the facial muscles in a simulated smile shape.

“The concept of being able to influence our emotions by simply moving our facial muscles has long been debated by researchers, but until now, no test or theory has been globally agreed upon,” says co-author Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos, a research fellow in human and artificial cognition at the Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning (C3L) at the University of South Australia. 

“In this study, we assembled a team of sceptics and a team of believers (called the ‘Many Smiles Collaboration’) to test a mutually agreed methodology, and what we found was reliable evidence that the physical formation of a smile can produce feelings of happiness.”

The research has been published in Nature Human Behaviour.

The ozone hole is still shrinking in 2022

In some welcome news, NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists say that the Antarctic ozone hole is continuing to shrink – reaching an average area of 23.2 million square kilometres between September 7 and October 13 this year.

The so-called “ozone hole” is a thinning of the ozone layer in the stratosphere – which is important for protecting our planet from the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation – that begins in September each year as reactive chlorine and bromine (from human produced-compounds) initiate ozone destroying reactions.

Researchers at NASA and NOAA use instruments aboard the AuraSuomi NPP, and NOAA-20 satellites to measure the ozone hole.

This map shows the size and shape of the ozone hole over the south pole on o
This map shows the size and shape of the ozone hole over the South Pole on Oct. 5, 2022, when it reached its single-day maximum extent for the year. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens

Last year, observations showed the ozone hole reached a maximum 24.8 million square kilometres. On October 5, 2022, the satellites observed a single-day maximum ozone hole of 26.4 million square kilometres.

“Over time, steady progress is being made, and the hole is getting smaller,” says Paul Newman, chief scientist for Earth sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the US.

“We see some wavering as weather changes and other factors make the numbers wiggle slightly from day to day and week to week. But overall, we see it decreasing through the past two decades. The elimination of ozone-depleting substances through the Montreal Protocol is shrinking the hole.”

You can view the latest status of the ozone layer over the Antarctic with NASA’s ozone watch.

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