The Daily Dose: Public Health workers killed in Afghanistan; Red squirrels an urban evolutionary wonder.

Tragedy has struck international efforts to vaccinate people in Afghanistan. According to Reuters, “Officials at the United Nation Childrens’ Fund (UNICEF), one of the agencies helping in the large-scale polio vaccination drive across Afghanistan that was launched this week, said they were reviewing the involvement of women in the role after unidentified gunmen killed three frontline workers in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Tuesday.” Afghanistan has had a history of vaccine workers being targeted.

An article in Science highlights the ascendancy of China’s scientific status in terms of how it has become an increasingly appealing location for foreign scientists. “For a generation, China played scientific catch-up to more advanced nations, but the tables are turning. China has the world’s largest radio telescope and the first Moon rocks in 45 years. Now, it is offering foreign researchers access to those scientific treasures. Many are eager, but others are uneasy about what they see as collaborating with an authoritarian regime.” The soon-to-open Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) is the world’s most sensitive single-dish radio telescope since its completion in 2016.

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Researchers have examined how four urban environmental characteristics (direct human disturbance, indirect human disturbance, size of green coverage and squirrel population size) may influence novel problem-solving performance of the Eurasian red squirrel by presenting them with a novel food-extraction problem. According to the authors, “We found that increased direct human disturbance, indirect human disturbance and a higher squirrel population size decreased the proportion of solving success at the population level. At the individual level, an increase in squirrel population size decreased the latency to successfully solve the novel problem the first time. More importantly, increased direct human disturbance, squirrel population size and experience with the novel problem decreased problem-solving time over time.” Their findings highlight that some urban environmental characteristics shape two phenotypic extremes: individuals either demonstrated enhanced learning or they failed to solve the novel problem.

A historically warm spring in Japan has thrown off the country’s annual cherry blossom ritual. The BBC reports, “The cherry blossom season, Japan’s traditional sign of spring, has peaked at the earliest date since records began 1,200 years ago, research shows. The 2021 season in the city of Kyoto peaked on 26 March, according to data collected by Osaka University. Increasingly early flowerings in recent decades are likely to be as a result of climate change, scientists say.” The records from Kyoto go back to 812 AD in imperial court documents and diaries.

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