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TrekEast’s John Davis Surpasses 6,000 Miles on Man-Powered Conservation Journey

TrekEast’s John Davis Surpasses 6,000 Miles on Man-Powered Conservation Journey

Wildlands Network

Wildlands adventurer John Davis has been on the trail so long that he feels like he lives outside. Having spent most of the past 235 nights in his tent in some of the wildest places in the eastern U.S., no one would be surprised. And Davis has all but stopped thinking about the distance he’s traveled. According to his colleagues at Wildlands Network, the organization sponsoring his journey, Davis’ human-powered expedition has now covered more than 6,300 miles through sixteen states since he launched his trek via kayak from a tropical beach in Key Largo, Florida nearly 34 weeks ago.

The tropics are far behind him now, as Davis hikes through Maine’s cold Autumn air along the breathtaking northern reaches of the Appalachian Trail, heading for his final destination at Canada’s Forillon National Park at the tip of the wild and remote Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec.

While Davis admits that he has become accustomed to occasionally blistered feet, bad weather and terrifying attempts at crossing major highways on his bike, he remains happy as he negotiates the final trail. “I’m thrilled that this journey has been without injury and has allowed me to attain so many goals,” he says with a weathered smile.

One of Davis’ biggest goals—telling the story of the east’s last remaining wildlands and the threats to wildlife habitat connectivity they face—is clearly being achieved. Since last February, his adventures and observations have received national attention through hundreds of regular posts and blogs on his social networks and through major media coverage, including all the major television networks, 65 print and Internet stories, and dozens of radio interviews including NPR and Voice of America.

After all this, has TrekEast been a success? “We’ve learned a tremendous amount and reached a much wider audience with our Eastern Wildway message than ever before,” says Davis. “We’ve made significant progress in attracting many new partners, reached a very large new audience of regular people who care deeply about protecting pathways for wildlife, and identified scores of actions that people can take to make sure wildlands in their regions stay healthy and connected.”

For more information, click here.

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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