Here are some noteworthy science and environmental links folks are Digging today:
• EcoWorldly: "Salmon-Eating Wolves Are Newest 'Marine Mammals'"
In British Columbia's coastal rain forests, several thousand island wolves are diverging from their nearby relatives, the grey wolves, in a variety of ways. In fact, according to the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, these wolves "are the most divergent population in western North America." Their fur has a red tint, they swim from island to island to find food, they have smaller skulls, and 75 percent of their diet comes from the sea — mainly salmon, seals and beached whales. They're being called "marine mammals" with tongue in cheek, but this kind of specialization may be how ancient hoofed animals eventually became whales and how ancient dog ancestors became seals. While they seem to mark a growth in the region's biodiversity, they're also threatened by habitat loss, declining salmon populations and good old-fashioned overhunting, as there are no hunting permits required to kill them.
• ABC News: "Grand Quest to Rid Island of Rats"
What would Rat Island be without rats? It used to be called "Hawadax," or "entry," by native Alaskans before rats were introduced there in 1780, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are hoping that, if their eradication efforts are successful, it can be called that again. Last fall they dropped poison onto the uninhabited island from the air, and set traps around the ground, in an effort to wipe out the vermin, which are threatening defenseless native seabirds. Officials will check back in this spring and again this fall, but it could take years before they know if the assault worked. "Ecologically, a rat spill is much worse than an oil spill," an FWS biologist tells ABC News, but recent successes at ridding other islands of rats give scientists hope for Rat Island being renamed something else soon.
• Times of London: "Hay fever brings grief to Japanese snow monkeys"
A wave of sneezing and sniffling spreads across Japan every spring, the legacy of cryptomeria trees that were planted throughout the country after WWII for use in construction, until it became cheaper to import timber. The trees, also called Japanese cedar, unleash an invisible storm of pollen that affects one in four Japanese, which is about 32 million people. But naturalists are also now reporting that an increasing number of snow macaques, the world's northernmost apes, are also suffering from hay fever. Besides eliciting adorable monkey sneezes, it's a real problem, as some of the macaques are so overcome with allergies that they have trouble eating.
• United Press International: "Scientists aim to replicate the sun"
While our Earth-based nuclear energy centers around splitting atoms, or nuclear fission, the sun generates all its power from the opposite reaction, nuclear fusion. It's always been too energy-intensive to be practical on Earth — that is, it takes more energy to initiate nuclear fusion that we can get out of it. But by bombarding a hydrogen pellet with 192 lasers capable of generating 500 trillion watts, scientists from California's National Ignition Facility believe they can create more power than they put in, which is no small task: 500 trillion watts is about 1,000 times the power of the entire U.S. electrical grid. While it's at least 25 years away from competing with fossil fuels, the researchers hope to eventually take hydrogen from seawater and use it to produce carbon-free fusion power on a large scale, and with minimal radioactive waste.
• National Geographic [photo]: "Birds Fighting, Rondeau Provincial Park, Canada"
This fight between a redheaded woodpecker and a yellow-shafted northern flicker turned ugly when the flicker bit onto the woodpecker's tongue and the two spiraled to the ground. They were fighting over a nesting spot, and the tongue-tied woodpecker gave up after this. Read the full description here. The Digg page's comment section is overflowing with jokes of varying funniness, but my favorites are all the Mortal Kombat references. That, and "What's the matter? Yellow-shafted northern flicker got your tongue?"