Wild bison to return to UK for first time in 6,000 years

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

Wild bison to return to UK for first time in 6,000 years , with the release of a small herd in Kent planned for spring 2022:

The £1m project to reintroduce the animals will help secure the future of an endangered species. But they will also naturally regenerate a former pine wood plantation by killing off trees. This creates a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life.

During the initial release, one male and three females will be set free. Natural breeding will increase the size of the herd, with one calf per year the norm for each female. The bison will come from the Netherlands or Poland, where releases have been successful and safe.

[...]

Bison kill selected trees by eating their bark or rubbing against them to remove their thick winter fur. This creates a feast of dead wood for insects, which provide food for birds. Tree felling also creates sunny clearings where native plants can thrive. The trust expects nightingales and turtle doves to be among the beneficiaries of the bison’s “ecosystem engineering”.

The steppe bison is thought to have roamed the UK until about 6,000 years ago, when hunting and changes in habitat led to its global extinction. The European bison that will be released in Kent is a descendant of this species and its closest living relative.

The European bison is the continent’s largest land mammal and bulls can weigh as much as a tonne.

They too were paid to die

Sunday, August 2nd, 2020

At the start of the Korean War, casualties among officers of high rank in the United States Army were greater in proportion to those of any fighting since the Civil War, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

They had to be. There were few operable radios with the regiments in Korea, and almost no communication from command posts down to the front positions.

If commanders wanted to know what was happening, or make their orders known, they had to be on the ground.

And the troops themselves, who had never developed any respect for N.C.O.’s or junior officers, often would ignore their orders — particularly if the order involved something unpleasant or unpopular.

Understandably, the junior leaders soon became defeatist. A great many of them died, recklessly, but it was not enough.

It was not because the colonels and generals had lost their minds that so many of them began to stand with bazooka teams or to direct rifle fire. There was no other way. So it was that men like Bob Martin were blown apart doing a rifleman’s job, or battalion commanders like Smith of the 3rd, 34th Infantry, collapsed and had to be evacuated, and men like Major Dunn, marching ahead of a rifle company, were lost.

The high-priced help was expendable, true. They too were paid to die. But it was no way to run a war.

Closer threats inspire a more primitive kind of fear

Saturday, August 1st, 2020

Your brain handles a perceived threat differently depending on how close it is to you;

“Clinically, people who develop PTSD are more likely to have experienced threats that invaded their personal space, assaults or rapes or witnessing a crime at a close distance. They’re the people that tend to develop this long-lasting threat memory,” said Kevin LaBar, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University who is the senior author on a paper appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We’ve never been able to study that in the lab because you have a fixed distance to the computer screen,” LaBar said.

But Duke graduate student Leonard Faul and postdoc Daniel Stjepanovic figured out a way to do it, using a 3D television, a mirror and some MRI-safe 3D glasses.

“It’s like an IMAX experience,” LaBar said. “The threatening characters popped out of the screen and would either invade your personal space as you’re navigating this virtual world, or they were farther away.”

The VR simulation put 49 study subjects into a first-person view that had them moving down either a dark alley or a brighter, tree-lined street as they lay in the MRI tube having their brains scanned. Ambient sound and visual backgrounds were altered to provide some context for the threat versus safe memories.

On the first day of testing, subjects received a mild shock when the “threat avatar” appeared, either two feet away or 10 feet away, but not when they saw the safe avatar at the same distances.

The data from the first day showed that near threats were more frightening and they engaged limbic and mid-brain “survival circuitry,” in a way that the farther threats did not.

The following day, subjects encountered the same scenarios again but only a few shocks were given initially to remind them of the threatening context. Once again, the subjects showed a greater behavioral response to near threats than to distant threats.

“On the second day, we got fear reinstatement, both near and far threats, but it was stronger for the near threat,” LaBar said.

Tellingly, the nearby threats that engaged the survival circuits also proved harder to extinguish after they no longer produced shocks. The farther threats that engaged more higher-order thinking in the cortex were easier to extinguish. The near threats engaged the cerebellum, and the persistence of this signal predicted how much fear was reinstated the next day, LaBar said. “It’s the evolutionarily older cortex.”

The more distant threats showed greater connectivity between the amygdala, hippocampus and ventral medial prefrontal cortex and the areas of the cortex related to complex planning and visual processing, areas the researchers said are more related to thinking one’s way out of a situation and coping.

(Hat tip to Greg Ellifritz.)