Monthly Archives: February 2013

Where the wild things go (Folia Primatologica)

P.kirkii adult female 540

A lack of fresh water makes swamp life hard for animals such as the endangered Zanzibar red colobus monkey, pictured here drinking from a container of fresh water provided by locals. (Photo by Katarzyna Nowak)

by Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications

Ecologists have evidence that some endangered primates and large cats faced with relentless human encroachment will seek sanctuary in the sultry thickets of mangrove and peat swamp forests. These harsh coastal biomes are characterized by thick vegetation — particularly clusters of salt-loving mangrove trees — and poor soil in the form of highly acidic peat, which is the waterlogged remains of partially decomposed leaves and wood. As such, swamp forests are among the few areas in many African and Asian countries that humans are relatively less interested in exploiting (though that is changing).

Yet conservationists have been slow to consider these tropical hideaways when keeping tabs on the distribution of threatened animals such as Sumatran orangutans and Javan leopards, according to a recent Princeton University study in the journal Folia Primatologica. To draw attention to peat and mangrove swamps as current — and possibly future — wildlife refuges, Katarzyna Nowak, a former postdoctoral researcher of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, compiled a list of 60 primates and 20 felids (the large-cat family that includes tigers and leopards) known to divide their time between their natural forest habitats and some 47 swamp forests in Africa and Asia.

Because swamp forests often lack food sources, fresh water and easy mobility, few mammals are exclusive to these areas, Nowak reported. Consequently, conservation groups have not intensely monitored the animals’ swamp use.

But the presence of endangered cats and primates in swamp forests might be seriously overlooked, Nowak found. About 55 percent of Old World monkeys — primates such as baboons and macaques that are native to Africa and Asia — take to the swamps either regularly, seasonally or as needed. In 2008, the Wildlife Conservation Society reported that the inaccessible Lake Télé swamp forest in the Republic of the Congo was home to 125,000 lowland gorillas — more than were thought to exist in the wild. Among big cats, the Bengal tiger, for instance, holds its sole ground in Bangladesh in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.

Fig. 1 Site map_w mangrove 640

Princeton University research compiled 21 swamp forests in Africa (left) and 26 in Asia where primates and felids (a large cat family that includes tigers and leopards) are known to seek refuge from human encroachment. The colored dots indicate the overall “threat score,” or vulnerability, of species living in a particular site. Purple denotes a site with high species diversity, and where some resident primates and felids are likely listed as a conservation concern on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Image by Katarzyna Nowak)

Life in the swamps can still be harsh for some animals. Species such as the crab-eating macaque and fishing cat can adapt somewhat readily to a life of swimming and foraging for crustaceans. Meanwhile, Zanzibar’s red colobus monkey — driven to coastal mangroves by deforestation — can struggle to find the freshwater it needs, as Nowak reported in the American Journal of Primatology in 2008. Such a trend could result in local extinction of the red colobus nonetheless, she said.

Nowak concludes that swamp forests beg further exploration as places where endangered species such as lowland gorillas and flat-headed cats have preserved their numbers — and where humans could potentially preserve them into the future.

Read the abstract.

Citation: Nowak, Katarzyna. 2013. Mangrove and Peat Swamp Forests: Refuge Habitats for Primates and Felids. Folia Primatologica. Vol. 83, no. 3-6, pp. 361-76.


Forecast is for more snow in polar regions, less for the rest of us (Journal of Climate)


A new climate model predicts declines in snowfall in the U.S. over the next 70 years. Source: GFDL
Click on image to enlarge.

By Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research

A new climate model predicts an increase in snowfall for the Earth’s polar regions and highest altitudes, but an overall drop in snowfall for the globe, as carbon dioxide levels rise over the next century.

The decline in snowfall could spell trouble for regions such as the western United States that rely on snowmelt as a source of fresh water.

The projections are the result of a new climate model developed at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) and analyzed by scientists at GFDL and Princeton University. The study was published in the Journal of Climate.

The model indicates that the majority of the planet would experience less snowfall as a result of warming due to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Observations show that atmospheric carbon dioxide has already increased by 40 percent from values in the mid-19th century, and, given projected trends, could exceed twice those values later this century. In North America, the greatest reductions in snowfall will occur along the northeast coast, in the mountainous west, and in the Pacific Northwest. Coastal regions from Virginia to Maine, as well as coastal Oregon and Washington, will get less than half the amount of snow currently received.

In very cold regions of the globe, however, snowfall will rise because as air warms it can hold more moisture, leading to increased precipitation in the form of snow. The researchers found that regions in and around the Arctic and Antarctica will get more snow than they now receive.

The highest mountain peaks in the northwestern Himalayas, the Andes and the Yukon region will also receive greater amounts of snowfall after carbon dioxide doubles. This finding clashes with other models which predicted declines in snowfall for these high-altitude regions. However, the new model’s prediction is consistent with current snowfall observations in these regions.

The model is an improvement over previous models in that it utilizes greater detail about the world’s topography – the mountains, valleys and other features. This new “high-resolution” model is analogous to having a high-definition model of the planet’s climate instead of a blurred picture.

The study was conducted by Sarah Kapnick, a postdoctoral research scientist in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Princeton University and jointly affiliated with NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, and Thomas Delworth, senior physical scientist at GFDL.

Read a plain-language summary of the article on GFDL’s web site.

Read the abstract.

Citation: Kapnick, Sarah B. and Thomas L. Delworth, 2013. Controls of Global Snow Under a Changed Climate. Journal of Climate.  Early online release published Feb. 6.

This work was supported by the Cooperative Institute for Climate Science, a collaborative institute between Princeton University and GFDL.

New light shed on pesky “snakes” that cool fusion reactions (Physical Review Letters)

By John Greenwald, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Corkscrew-shaped instabilities called “snakes” have long been a common feature of the hot, electrically charged plasma gas that fuels fusion reactions, which could provide a future source of clean and abundant energy for generating electricity. Such snakes trap impurities released from the plasma-facing walls of experimental fusion vessels called tokamaks, and these impurities radiate away copious amounts of energy, cooling the plasma to temperatures below those required to create fusion reactions. Understanding the formation and survival of snakes can thus be essential to eliminating the problem so that fusion can take place.

New experimental data reported today in Physical Review Letters sheds light on how snakes form and survive in fusion plasmas. The paper, whose lead author is Luis Delgado-Aparicio of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), cites recent experiments on the Alcator C-Mod tokamak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Plasma Science and Fusion Center (MIT-PSFC). The findings compiled by a multidisciplinary team show that the formation of snakes cannot be explained, as previously thought, by plasma pressure alone. Instead, the formation reflects complex interactions among phenomena that include the separately evolving plasma density and temperature conditions that produce the plasma pressure. This separate evolution of density and temperature also enables the snakes to survive periodic relaxations of plasma pressure known as sawtooth instabilities.

Left: Time sequence of a snake, in red, depicted by x-ray detectors. The sawtooth crash occurs halfway through the sequence and barely perturbs the snake.  Right: X-ray reconstruction of cross-section of crescent snake inside Alcator C-Mod.  Credit: Luis Delgado-Aparicio

Left: Time sequence of a snake, in red, depicted by x-ray detectors. The sawtooth crash occurs halfway through the sequence and barely perturbs the snake.
Right: X-ray reconstruction of cross-section of crescent snake inside Alcator C-Mod.
Credit: Luis Delgado-Aparicio

Read the abstract.

Delgado-Aparicio, Luis; Linda Sugiyama, MIT; Robert Granetz, MIT; David Gates, PPPL; John Rice, MIT; Matthew Reinke, MIT; Manfred Bitter, PPPL; Eric Fredrickson, PPPL; Chi Gao, MIT; Martin Greenwald, MIT; Kenneth Hill, PPPL; Amanda Hubbard, MIT; Jerry Hughes, MIT; Earl Marmar, MIT; Novimir Pablant, PPPL; Yuri Podpaly, MIT; Steven Scott, PPPL; Randy Wilson, PPPL; Steve Wolfe, MIT; and Steve Wukitch, MIT. 2013. Formation and stability of impurity “snakes” in tokamak plasmas. Physical Review Letters 110, 065006.

This work was performed under U.S. DOE contracts including DE-FC02-99ER54512 and others at MIT and DE-AC02-09CH11466 at PPPL. Computational support was provided by the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center under DE-AC02-05CH11231.

Organizations shape pharmacists’ work as gatekeepers (Social Science and Medicine)

By Michael Hotchkiss, Office of Communications

Pharmacists regularly face a range of ethical dilemmas, from deciding whether to dispense emergency contraception to managing requests for narcotics, and must navigate a range of relationships with other health-care professionals.

Using 95 interviews with pharmacists working in retail and hospital settings, Princeton researcher Elizabeth Chiarello shows how organizations shape the way pharmacists exercise their roles as medical, legal, fiscal and moral gatekeepers. An article by Chiarello based on the research was published online by the journal Social Science and Medicine.

According to the paper by Chiarello, a sociologist working as a postdoctoral research associate at the Office of Population Research within the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs, the findings suggest new directions for theorizing about ethical decision-making in medical contexts.

Read the abstract.

Chiarello, Elizabeth. 2013. How Organizational Context Affects Bioethical Decision-Making: Pharmacists’ Management of Gatekeeping Processes in Retail and Hospital Settings. Social Science and Medicine. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.11.041

Funding for this research was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the U.S. Department and Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Princeton University Office of Population Research, the Princeton University Center for Health and Wellbeing, and a grant from the University of California, Irvine Center for Organizational Research.