Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The Duke Lemur Center has added a webcam that overlooks an indoor enclosure shared by several Coquerel's sifakas, the striking brown and white leapers.

You can tilt and pan to your heart's delight, unless a thousand other users are in there too.

Nature on the Move

The global level of carbon in the atmosphere is beyond the tipping point proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (350 ppm), according to Thomas Lovejoy, founder of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment.

“Four hundred and fifty parts per million is not an acceptable target,” Lovejoy said at Duke's 2009 Oosting Memorial Lecture and Student Symposium April 15. “The last time the Earth was 2 degrees (C) warmer, sea level was 4 to 6 meters higher.”

The rise of both sea level and temperature will have immense repercussions for the natural world. Animal species, in an attempt to survive, will be forced to migrate to cooler, higher altitude areas, and areas above sea level. This migration is already starting to occur, Lovejoy said. “Nature is on the move.”

With the fragmented landscapes humans have created and the tendency of species to move at different rates in different directions, this massive re-location may result in tattered ecosystems, he warned. The changes will not be linear, and may in fact result in changes of weather patterns.

But what can be done? The Earth would continue warming for more than a hundred years, even if carbon emissions were to cease immediately. In addition to preserving wildlife corridors, clamping down harder on human energy consumption and setting more stringent greenhouse gas goals, Lovejoy advises asking the Earth itself for some help.

“The answer is biology,” Lovejoy said. “Twice in the history of the planet, high levels of CO2 have decreased from industrial levels: the origin of land plants and the expansion of angiosperms. If we act quickly, the biosphere may be able to perform this service again."

Visible Thinking

Duke Senior Megan Kuhfeld wanted to know if starting class later in the morning helps the teenaged brain work better. To find out, she surveyed principals and school district officials across the country about their opinions, before and after their high schools switched to a late-start system.

Last week, she was one of dozens of Duke students presenting their senior theses in posters during Visible Thinking, the annual wrap-up presentation of undergraduate research.

Previous studies have shown that teenagers need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, and that they often don’t get it when they have to wake up early for school. Later start times have been linked to improved attentiveness during school. However, opponents argue that later start times disrupt extracurricular activities, and that students will stay up later at night and get the same amount of sleep as before.

Kuhfeld found that most high school principals and school district officials who had tried it approved of the change, and that slightly higher student attentiveness was reported. Interestingly, elementary school principals were not as supportive, namely because later high school start times often force elementary school times to start earlier, to allow for bus scheduling.

Along a similar vein, senior Jill Kahane delved into the factors affecting students’ goal-setting, which is primarily influenced by parents. She found that certain types of goal orientation were associated with high parental confidence.

"I learned a lot about the research process,” Kahane said. Preparing a poster and standing by it engaging curious Visible Thinking attendees was really useful. “It’s helpful for wrapping my mind around everything I learned.”

“Communication and not procrastinating is really important for this type of thing,” added senior Tim Chi. “On the whole, it’s a good experience to go through if you’re interested in research. You learn a lot about yourself by doing this.”