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Exotic ‘big cat’ prowled Britain in 1900s

The rediscovery of a mystery animal in a museum’s underground storeroom proves that a nonnative “big cat” prowled the British countryside in the early 1900s.

The animal’s skeleton and mounted skin was analyzed by a multidisciplinary team of Durham University scientists and fellow researchers at Bristol, Southampton and Aberystwyth universities and found to be a Canadian lynx – a carnivorous predator more than twice the size of a domestic cat.

The research, published in the academic journal Historical Biology, establishes the animal as the earliest example of an “alien big cat” at large in rural Britain.

The academics believe such feral “British big cats” as they are known, may have lived in the wild much earlier, through escapes and even deliberate release. There is no evidence that such animals have been able to breed in the wild.

The study of the Canadian lynx, rediscovered by research team member Max Blake among hundreds of thousands of specimens at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, showed that the animal had originally been mislabeled by Edwardian curators in 1903.

Eurekalert.org

Formula calculates speed by looking at footprints

Two Spanish scientists have designed an equation that provides a highly accurate estimate of an individual’s speed based on stride length.

They used data from professional athletes and walking and running experiments on a beach to come up with the equation. The result has applications in the study of fossil trackways of human footprints.

The results, published in the journal Ichnos, show that, without needing any other data – such as leg length – they were able to achieve quite a high degree of accuracy, with a margin of error of 10 to 15 percent.

To come up with their equation, Javier Ruiz and Angelica Torices compared the data obtained in the experiments with the students with data from professional athletes who compete in 100 and 400-meter races.

Until now, the individual’s leg length or at least an estimate of the length was required to calculate speed based on tracks. Eurekalert.org

U.S. has large reservoir of crop plant diversity

North America isn’t known as a hotspot for crop plant diversity, yet a new inventory has uncovered nearly 4,600 wild relatives of crop plants in the United States, including close relatives of globally important food crops such as sunflower, bean, sweet potato, stone fruits, grape and strawberry.

The findings, published last week in the journal Crop Science, are good news for plant breeders, who’ve relied increasingly in recent years on the wild kin of domesticated crops as new sources of disease resistance, drought tolerance and other traits.

The not-so-good news: Many of these “crop wild relatives” are threatened by habitat loss, pollution and climate change, says lead author Colin Khoury of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia.

In fact, an estimated 30 percent of U.S. plant species are now of “conservation concern,” Khoury said.

His list includes wild relatives of the world’s most important food crops as well as relatives of forage crops such as alfalfa; fiber crops such as flax and cotton; ornamental plants such as roses and lilies; medicinal herbs; and what Khoury calls “iconic U.S. crops,” including sugar maple and wild rice. Eurekalert.org

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