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Al Gore: Climate Changes Health

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Al Gore: Climate Changes Health

Today we face a challenging political climate, but the climate crisis shouldn't be political. It is not only the greatest existential crisis we face: it is also causing a global health emergency, where the stakes are life and death.


Because of the urgency of these threats, several partners and I are hosting a Climate & Health Meeting Thursday at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The event will fill a void left when the Climate & Health Summit, originally to be hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was abruptly cancelled last month.

Experts who had been invited by the CDC felt the conference should definitely go forward because the science shows increasing direct impacts of warming temperatures and more extreme weather on public health. Increasing global temperatures are disrupting the global climate and the earth's hydrological cycle, leading not only to record high air and sea temperatures, but also to more extreme flooding, deeper and longer droughts and more frequent and severe storms. In turn, these effects jeopardize our vulnerable global food system and exacerbate fresh water scarcity and the refugee crisis.

As the planet continues to warm, vector-borne diseases and the environments in which microbes and diseases multiply are also expanding. Mosquitos, ticks and other vectors now have wider ranges as warmer weather permits them to move to higher altitudes, provides them with a longer breeding season, speeds up incubation times for the viruses they carry and increases the frequency of "blood meals."

In some parts of the world, the reemergence of malaria is directly related to increasing temperatures and disruptive rainfall; this is also true for increased instances of West Nile, Dengue and—most recently—Zika. Over the past two years we have heard from doctors and scientists something that we have never been told before: in regions of Latin America, doctors have advised women not to get pregnant for two years. And last year, the CDC advised pregnant women not to travel to Miami, marking the first time Americans have been cautioned not to travel to part of their own country to avoid infectious disease.

These particular manifestations may be new, but scientists have been warning us for many years that tropical diseases, extreme weather and risks to our global food system caused by the climate crisis are posing ever more dire threats to human health.

The need for science and health professionals to explore and discuss the impact the climate crisis is having on global health should not be a political issue. The time to act is now. Make sure to join us tomorrow, Feb. 16 at 9 EST, for live coverage of the event here.

Reposted with permission from our media association Medium.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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