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Feature Articles
Editor's Note
Audubon in Action
Audubon Living
One Picture
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Colonial Power
At First Blush
Numbers Game: Into the Woods
Shaky Ground
Moby Din

News Stories
Canine conservationists; wolf update; EPA chief Lisa Jackson speaks; more.

Alex Wild

Colonial Power
Odorous house ants, named for their rotten-coconut-smelling defense mechanisms, are swarming U.S. cities in unprecedented numbers, and forcing researchers to take note. Wild colonies usually have one nest and a single queen, and in forest environments “a whole colony fits inside of an acorn or a hickory nut,” says urban entomologist Grzegorz Buczkowski of Purdue University. Recently Buczkowski’s team discovered a megacolony—six million workers, 25,000 queens, and 100 nests—in West Lafayette, Indiana. These ants have attitude, becoming aggressive and snatching up every available food morsel nearby. What it is about urban living that suits these gargantuan colonies remains a mystery, but it may be the concrete jungle’s abundance of food and warm nesting options. “People basically provide the ants with anything they need,” Buczkowski says. “Ants in the forest, the ones nesting in the acorns, don’t have access to the same resources.” For the urbanites among these pungent ants, life smells just a little bit sweeter.—Michele Wilson
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Kang Kim

At First Blush
Greater flamingos primp, preen, and even apply makeup, according to researchers from Spain’s Doñana Biological Station who are unlocking the secret to how the birds restore their color when their feathers fade. Flamingos pale after their chicks hatch, but their pigment returns when they dab oil on their plumes to make them pinker and more attractive to mates, says ornithologist and project leader Juan Amat. The carotenoid-rich crustaceans the birds eat give them their pink plumage, but the oil produced by their glands also contains the compound, helping to imbue their feathers with a deep coral tint. Using telescopes and a color scale, the researchers discovered that the birds had the deepest coloring during the mating season, when they increasingly use their beaks to apply the oil to their feathers. “We found that the more colorful flamingos were the first to start breeding,” he says, “and we knew that flamingos that starting breeding earlier have higher breeding success.” Other bird species have their own line of cosmetics. Bearded vultures, for example, coat their feathers in mud to change their tinge, potentially helping them woo mates.—Susan Cosier
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Numbers Game
Into the Woods

United Nations International Year of Forests

Percent of the world covered by forest

Billions of acres of total worldwide forest

Acres required to define land as a forest,
along with 16-foot-tall trees and 10 percent canopy cover

Number of tree species worldwide

Number of threatened tree species

Number of critically endangered tree species

Gigatons of carbon sequestered by forests
and vegetation worldwide

Percent of the world’s forests dedicated
to conserving biodiversity

Percent of the world’s forests used primarily for wood and other forest products

Amount, in dollars, of total forest products exported (2006)

Hectares of forest the 10 countries with the largest annual net increase in forest area gained in the past 20 years

Hectares of forest the 10 countries with the largest annual net decrease in forest area lost in the past 20 years

Percent of the world’s remaining intact temperate rainforest represented by Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest
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Shaky Ground
When we don’t get enough sleep, we’re cranky. We crave coffee. We might slur our words, jumble sentences, mumble mumbo-jumbo. We’re not alone in our hazy stupor, it turns out. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University, and Cornell University have found that honeybees have similar trouble communicating when they don’t get their 40 winks. The researchers built a magnetic “insominator” to wake up bees whose backs had been fitted with a bit of metal. The sleep-deprived buzzers subsequently performed their waggle dances—used to relay directions and distance to nectar sources—with less precision, indicating the correct distance to food but over a wobbly course. The study suggests that shut-eye is a key to making honey: Sleep-deprived hives may be less productive overall, since misled worker bees presumably arrive at fewer flowers. This research is the first to demonstrate how fewer ZZZ’s may affect an insect in a colony outside of the lab, and it offers evidence that sloppy communication is a trait all social organisms share.—Nick Neely
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    Dea Picture Library/Photo Library

Moby Din
Susan Parks was listening to whale calls in the field for the first time when a motor on an approaching ship drowned out the sounds. The incident led her to investigate whether the modern cacophony in the oceans hampers whale communication. It does, Parks reports in the journal Biology Letters. Beginning in 2001 she and colleagues at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and at Duke University placed acoustic recording devices on the tails of North Atlantic right whales. They found that the mammals have increased the volume of their calls so they can be heard over roaring ship engines and coastal development’s reverberating boom. This exertion, she notes, may tire them out “the same way screaming can be exhausting to us.” As an endangered species with much stacked against them, Parks adds, “any potential threat is something we have to consider.” Newly proposed federal legislation is calling for guidelines for restricting whaling and ship strikes and traffic.—Nathan Ehrlich
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