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Science Notes: Lovebirds turn heads at incredible speeds; no food fights among big African herbivores; mothers’ sounds build babies’ brains

Lovebirds turn heads at incredible speeds

Lovebirds can rotate their heads up to 2,700 degrees a second, researchers report in the journal PLOS One. The speedy rotations allow for improved sight and reduced blur as they fly through dense forest environments.

After recording the birds in high-speed videos, researchers at Stanford University and elsewhere found that lovebirds turned their heads precisely at the moment their wings covered their eyes, minimizing the time that their vision was obscured.

The researchers hope the study will inspire camera rotation design in drones.

No food fights among big African herbivores

How is it possible that so many large herbivores coexist in Africa? That incredible diversity is possible because each species has a distinct diet, a new study concludes. Little is known about the specific plants that elephants, impalas, zebras and other large herbivores eat.

With a technique called DNA metabar coding, researchers at Princeton University analyzed the feces of seven species, matching gene sequences they found to a reference library of plant DNA. All of the species consumed different diets, the scientists found, even those similar in size, digestive physiology and location.

The findings, which appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, may help researchers maintain wildlife diversity in the African savannas.

Hearing mothers’ sounds helps build babies’ brains

The sound of a mother’s voice plays a critical role in a baby’s early development, multiple studies have shown. Now, researchers have demonstrated that the brain itself may rely on a mother’s voice and heartbeat to grow.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston studied 40 babies born eight to 15 weeks prematurely. Like most severely premature babies, the infants were confined to incubators and spent limited time with their mothers.

“Preemies born this early are basically fetuses that happen to be out there by accident,” said Amir Lahav, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the study.

Using tiny speakers placed inside the incubators, half the babies were exposed to the sounds of their mothers’ voices and heartbeats for three extra hours every day. The other half received no additional exposure to such sounds.

After 30 days, babies in the first group had developed a significantly larger auditory cortex – the hearing center of the brain – than those in the second group. The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help guide doctors and parents caring for premature babies, who often suffer from developmental and cognitive disabilities.

– New York Times