You may have missed – sparrows, hot Jupiters & insect pollinators

Sparrows are better dads in cities

Sparrows that live in city environments can often be more aggressive than their rural counterparts, but that doesn’t mean they’re shorting on parental care, according to a study in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

“Male songbirds in temperate zones are thought to reduce parental care when they are more aggressive. Yet in this study, we show that urban male song sparrows provided more care for their young,” says lead author Dr Samuel Lane, currently a postdoctoral research fellow at North Dakota State University, US.

“Against our expectations, we found that they visited nests more frequently and were more successful parents than rural males.” The researchers watched 6 sites in the US over 4 years.

“It turns out urban males are super males – able to defend their territories and care for their young,” says Lane.

Don’t rest in driverless cars

Driverless cars aren’t necessarily going to be a good place to kick your feet up, according to research from RMIT University in Melbourne.

Cars can actually be divided into 5 levels of “driverless”: Levels 1 and 2 feature things like cruise control and automated parking, and are already on our roads.

“In Level 3 and 4 automated driving, the human driver will still need to respond in an emergency, taking control of the vehicle,” says Dr Neng Zhang, a researcher at RMIT and lead author on two papers about the research.

Zhang and colleagues tested drivers’ levels of distraction when behind the wheel of a Level 3 car.

“We had them writing business emails (working condition), watching videos (entertaining condition), and taking a break with their eyes closed (resting condition),” says Zhang.

“These tasks required drivers to invest high, moderate, and low levels of mental workload. We tested their responses after a short interval (5 minutes) or long interval (30 minutes) of participating in one of these tasks. All of these tasks worsened the takeover and led to a period of poorer driving.

“We found that resting resulted in the worst takeover response, followed by working. Social media was less disruptive. However, the longer the participant engaged in an activity, the worse their response was to an emergency.”

Fungus gnats are important pollinators

The fungus gnat doesn’t have a particularly attractive name, but it is important to a very attractive plant: a study in Annals of Botany has found that flowering plants from the group Euonymus are pollinated by the insects.

In fact, the red flowers and yoghurt-like smell of Euonymus plants are likely a symptom of pollination syndrome: growing plants and flowers specifically for one type of pollinator.

Chart showing different coloured flowers on graph
This chart estimates how fungus gnats perceive flower color, based on the available housefly color vision model. Flowers in the same quadrant are recognized as being the same color, while those in other quadrants are seen as different colors. Credit: 2023 K. Mochizuki

“Although they are important pollinators, the exact relationship of Diptera to pollination syndrome was largely unknown. In this study, we showed that unique traits in Euonymus flowers are highly likely driven by fungus gnats, which in turn indicates that fungus gnats mediate the evolution of new and unique flowers,” explains lead author Assistant Professor Ko Mochizuki, from the Botanical Gardens at the University of Tokyo.

“The flowers of fungus gnat-pollinated plants are distinct when compared to other pollination systems. So, fungus gnats are important because they contribute to floral diversification.”

A hot Jupiter that’s hotter than the Sun

Astronomers have found the hottest ever “hot Jupiter” – a gas giant planet that orbits very close to its star.

The exoplanet is about 1,400 light-years away, and described in a paper in Nature Astronomy.

“We’ve identified a star-orbiting hot Jupiter-like object that is the hottest ever found, about 2,000 degrees hotter than the surface of the Sun,” says lead author Dr Na’ama Hallakoun, a postdoctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel.

Hot Jupiters are usually difficult to view, because of the glare from the star they’re so close to.

But this hot Jupiter is very big compared to the tiny, faint star it orbits.

“This makes it a perfect laboratory for future studies of hot Jupiters’ extreme conditions,” says Hallakoun.

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