Weird World 

Scientists can predict which storks will migrate to Africa in autumn and which will remain in Europe

For little Louis, it is the most exciting day of his life: just six or seven weeks ago, the young stork came into the world on a birch tree in Radolfzell on Lake Constance. Up to this day in June 2014, he has only known his parents and three siblings. But suddenly strange beings have appeared at the nest and are holding the four small white storks captive. They are Andrea Flack and Wolfgang Fiedler of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Konstanz. In the coming years, the scientists will learn from Louis and other young storks that, on their migrations south, storks follow other storks who are particularly good at exploiting thermals, allowing them to flap their wings as little as possible as they fly. The efficient fliers migrate to West Africa, while the others spend the winter in southern Europe. From their data, the researchers can tell which storks will fly where just ten minutes after the birds take off.

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Plant symbioses — fragile partnerships

All plants require an adequate supply of inorganic nutrients, such as fixed nitrogen (usually in the form of ammonia or nitrate), for growth. A special group of flowering plants thus depend on close symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing bacteria as a source of fixed nitrogen. The plant provides specialized root nodules as ‘housing’ for its bacterial benefactors, which allows them to make use of energy-rich organic carbon compounds in return for the ammonia they generate from atmospheric nitrogen. Thus, both partners reap advantages from the relationship. Nevertheless, a comparative study of 37 plant genomes carried out by Munich molecular biologists based at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU) and the Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU) in cooperation with French and Chinese colleagues, demonstrates that the capacity to form root-nodule partnerships has repeatedly been lost during the course of evolution. The new findings appear in the leading journal Science.

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Plants & Animals 

Reconstructing Zika’s spread

The urgent threat from Zika virus, which dominated news headlines in the spring and summer of 2016, has passed for now. But research into how Zika and other mosquito-borne infections spread and cause epidemics is still very active. In a paper published May 24 in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, an international team of researchers reports new details of how Zika emerged from Brazil and spread throughout Mexico and Central America, with evidence that some locations had more than one outbreak.

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Plants & Animals 

Tick bite protection: New CDC study adds to the promise of permethrin-treated clothing

The case for permethrin-treated clothing to prevent tick bites keeps getting stronger.In a series of experiments conducted by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, clothing treated with an insecticide known as permethrin had strong toxic effects on three primary species of ticks known to spread disease-causing pathogens in the United States. Exposure to permethrin interfered with the ticks’ ability to move properly, making them sluggish and likely interfering with their ability to bite. This effect has been previously documented in just one tick species. The results of the study are published today in the Entomological Society of America’s Journal of Medical Entomology.

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