On the list of animals at risk are several endangered species.
- SARS-CoV-2 enters our cells by binding with ACE2 receptors.
- A study finds many animals may provide a similar point of entry for the infection.
- COVID-19 has already been seen in a range of non-humans.
ACE2<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU4MTgwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTI3NDU4NH0.BceDb6l6wcwImHgniUPCNX_F5NeJ8vSsrAWNH7DG-x0/img.jpg?width=980" id="2fb6e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="77a7d2b0d83cfc72479f2b9089e512ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="3D illustration of SARS-CoV-2 binding with ACE2 receptors" />
3D illustration of SARS-CoV-2 binding with ACE2 receptors
Image source: Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock<p>SARS-CoV-2's main point of entry into our systems, its main cellular receptor, is an angiotensin converting enzyme-2 known as ACE2. There are many types of cells and tissues in humans that contain ACE2, including the epithelial cells found in the mouth, nose, and lungs. SARS-CoV-2 binds to 25 ACE2 amino acids to get into our cells.</p><p>The researchers investigated the presence of these amino acids in other organisms on the assumption that their presence would provide SARS-CoV-2 entry to their cells as they do in ours. Says first author of the study <a href="https://www.ucdavis.edu/person/articles/27275" target="_blank">Joana Dama</a> of UC Davis, "Animals with all 25 amino acid residues matching the human protein are predicted to be at the highest risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2 via ACE2."</p><p>The precise mechanism by which SARS-CoV-2 infections occur and lead to COVID-19 is still under exploration. Nonetheless, the study operates on the principle that more of the 25 amino acids an animal has, the higher its risk of infection. "The risk is predicted to decrease the more the species' ACE2 binding residues differ from humans," says Dama.</p>
Which species are at risk?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU4MTgwMi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzA5ODY4Nn0.oZHKdhpvHJjihgp2R3E23hMotY-yazjh0vCw5S_L2F8/img.png?width=980" id="3130d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8edb6a4f609576554b9067ee019ab08b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="species risk chart" />
Image source: Matt Verdolivo/UC Davis<p>Their analysis leads Dama and her co-authors to the conclusion that about 40 percent of the species at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's <a href="https://www.iucn.org/resources/conservation-tools/iucn-red-list-threatened-species" target="_blank">"threatened" list</a>.</p><p>Sumatran orangutans, Northern white-cheeked gibbons, and the Western lowland gorillas are all critically endangered and are vulnerable to infection. Some marine animals are also at high risk, including bottlenose dolphins and gray whales.</p><p><span></span>The study asserts that many animals most likely to live among humans are apparently at low risk, including cats, dogs, cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs. Chinese hamsters carry a high risk.</p><p>It's worth noting, however, that there <em>are</em> cases on record of SARS-CoV-2 infections in <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/05/13/cats-can-catch-covid-19-from-one-another-study-finds-the-question-is-can-we/" target="_blank">cats</a> and <a href="https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/stakeholder-info/sa_by_date/sa-2020/sa-06/sars-cov-2-dog" target="_blank">dogs</a>. <a href="https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa325/5811871" target="_blank">Hamsters</a>, too. Less likely house pets like <a href="https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/news/sa_by_date/sa-2020/ny-zoo-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">lions, tigers</a>, and <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/06/25/882095588/dutch-minks-contract-covid-19-and-appear-to-infect-humans" target="_blank">mink</a> have also been infected.</p><p>Bats, the presumed <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2012-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">source of SARS-CoV-2</a>, are found by the study to be at very low risk of infection due to a lack of ACE2 receptors. Other experimental data lines up with the study's finding, which suggests that spread of SARS-CoV-2 from bats is likely to have involved intermediate hosts en route to infecting humans.</p><p>The authors have made available for <a href="https://www.pnas.org/highwire/filestream/945399/field_highwire_adjunct_files/1/pnas.2010146117.sd01.xlsx" target="_blank">download</a> the full list of animals its authors find may be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p>
Animal exposure to SARS-CoV-2<p>Lead author Harris Lewin explains the importance of the research:</p><p>"The data provide an important starting point for identifying vulnerable and threatened animal populations at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection. We hope it inspires practices that protect both animal and human health during the pandemic."</p><p>The study finds the same 40 percent of animals may also be especially likely to encounter the infection through human contact. The main locus of such interaction cited by the study is zoos. (Both the <a href="https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/news/covid-19-update" target="_blank">National Zoo</a> and the <a href="https://zoo.sandiegozoo.org/videos?playlistVideoId=6151893073001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">San Diego Zoo</a> contributed genetic material to the researchers for the study.)</p><p>Co-author Klaus-Peter Koepfli of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation explains that zoo personnel already guard against such transmissions, saying, "Zoonotic diseases and how to prevent human to animal transmission is not a new challenge to zoos and animal care professionals." The study makes keeping animals and humans apart at zoos more urgent than ever, though, and "this new information allows us to focus our efforts and plan accordingly to keep animals and humans safe."</p>
An experiment in Botswana suggests a non-lethal deterrent for predatory lions.
- Lions help maintain balance in their ecosystems, but they also kill cattle.
- The big cats are ambush predators who depend on the element of surprise.
- In an experiment, eyes painted on cow backsides appear to deter lions from attacking.
Sneak attackers<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU1NDUzMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjUwMjE0NH0.051c9pzJ5dg4Ayj6bw4MZVmYCD37YzO6mVJK6sXlbI8/img.jpg?width=980" id="c4422" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98fd6f10736c6bc91199f716d62e55fa" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Bobby-Jo Photography/The Conversation<p>Lions are ambush predators who sneak up on their quarry. <a href="https://en.wikipedia-on-ipfs.org/wiki/Ambush_predator.html" target="_blank">Ambush predators</a> are common in nature, on land and sea and in the air. They come in all sizes, from the praying mantis to the orca, and what they have in common is a sit (or swim)-wait-pounce strategy.</p><p>The element of surprise is a critical part of an ambush predator's method, and <a href="https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Leopard-and-Lion-predation-upon-Chacma-Baboons-in-Busse/4fd0d1d6409616c85948c2e7d86182fa967655bc" target="_blank">previous research</a> on lion and leopard behavior in Africa's Okavango Delta suggested that an attack may be called off when an ambush predator believes it's lost the element of surprise. </p><p>Conservation biologist <a href="https://research.unsw.edu.au/people/dr-neil-jordan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Neil Jordan</a> of UNSW's Centre for Ecosystem Science has seen this in action. He tells <a href="https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/eye-opening-conservation-strategy-could-save-african-lions" target="_blank">UNSW Newsroom</a> about how he got the idea for i-cows as he was watching a lion about to attack an impala near a village in Botswana where he was staying. "Lions are ambush hunters, so they creep up on their prey, get close and jump on them unseen. But in this case, the impala noticed the lion. And when the lion realized it had been spotted, it gave up on the hunt."</p><p>There's also support for this deterrent effect in nature, where having markings that <a href="https://sibleynaturecenter.org/photo-essays/eyespots" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">look like eyes</a> staring back at a predator appears to provide a distinct evolutionary survival advantage for a range of species, including butterflies, moths, reptiles, fish, and birds.</p><p>No mammals, however, have eyespots, and the i-cow team believes this is the first time that humans have investigated the effect of adding eye markings to them.</p>
Eyes, crosses, and bare backsides<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU1NDUzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NDM4MjczNH0.y_14zZxMEoLrUrx1CCCpXp1BCH2bzzTQG9BnL5kfd-Y/img.jpg?width=980" id="c3a84" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="12aee1df264836555c20c259fbfefeb8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Prepping a cow
Image source: Bobby-Jo Photography/The Conversation<p>Jordan and his colleagues painted markings on cattle from 14 herds. 683 cows had eyes painted on their rumps, a cross was painted on the posteriors of 543 cows to learn if a natural eye shape was required to deter predators, and 835 cows were left unpainted. </p><p>Most lion attacks occur during that day — cattle are more likely to be securely penned at night — so the test cattle were painted in the morning and released to forage as usual. There were 49 painting sessions with each lasting for 24 days.</p><p>While 15 of the unpainted cows were ultimately taken by lions, not a single eye-painted cow was killed. Unexpectedly, a painted cross seemed to help a bit, if not as much as an eye painting — only 4 cross-painted cattle were attacked.</p>
A few caveats<p>The researchers point out a couple of potential issues with their research.</p><p>First, the presence of completely unmarked cows in their experiments may have provided a more obvious target for lions in that they had no potentially off-putting (or even confusing in the case of the crosses) markings.</p><p>Second, animals learn. It may be that the area's lions would eventually habituate to or figure out the humans' subterfuge. The researchers note in an article for <a href="https://theconversation.com/lions-are-less-likely-to-attack-cattle-with-eyes-painted-on-their-backsides-142488" target="_blank">The Conversation</a> noting that this <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.190826" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">tends to be a problem</a> with non-lethal anti-predator remedies in general.</p>
The planet is making a lot less noise during lockdown.
- A team of researchers found that Earth's vibrations were down 50 percent between March and May.
- This is the quietest period of human-generated seismic noise in recorded history.
- The researchers believe this helps distinguish between natural vibrations and human-created vibrations.
Earth is quieter as coronavirus lockdowns reduce seismic vibration<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cc871d5d88a79ecc6605ce488c26a7c1"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_yFF2MziwPA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The team investigated seismic data from a global network of 268 stations spread out across 117 countries. As lockdown measures in different regions began, they tracked the drop in vibrations. Singapore and New York City recorded some of the biggest drops, though even Germany's Black Forest—famous for its association with the Brothers Grimm fairy tales—went quieter than usual.</p><p>The researchers also relied on citizen-owned seismometers in Cornwall and Boston, which recorded a 20 percent reduction from relatively quiet stretches in these college towns, such as during school holidays. </p><p>The environmental impact of lockdown has been dramatic. Indian skylines are notoriously grey. This <a href="https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-lockdown-pollution-drops-india-156b4f1d-160b-44d9-885a-148960b9e469.html" target="_blank">collection of photos</a> shows how quickly nature recovers when humans limit travel and industry. Such photographs also make you wonder why we cannot control emissions to begin with, now that we know the stakes. </p><p>Lead author, Dr Thomas Lecocq, says their research could help seismologists suss out the difference between human-created vibrations and natural vibrations, potentially resulting in longer lead times when natural disasters are set to strike. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"With increasing urbanisation and growing global populations, more people will be living in geologically hazardous areas. It will therefore become more important than ever to differentiate between natural and human-caused noise so that we can 'listen in' and better monitor the ground movements beneath our feet. This study could help to kick-start this new field of study."</p>
Stray puppies play in an abandoned, partially-completed cooling tower inside the exclusion zone at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on August 18, 2017 near Chornobyl, Ukraine.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images<p>The Earth is much stronger than us; humans are its products. In his 2007 book, "The World Without Us," Alan Weisman details just how quickly nature recovers from our insults. Chernobyl offers a <a href="http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160421-the-chernobyl-exclusion-zone-is-arguably-a-nature-reserve" target="_blank">real-world example</a>, while <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/even-if-injection-of-fracking-wastewater-stops-quakes-wont/" target="_blank">earthquakes caused by fracking-related wastewater injection</a> in Oklahoma are evidence of how much damage human "vibrations" cause.</p><p>Weisman's poetic homage imagines a symbiotic relationship with nature. This relationship depends on our cooperation, however. Weisman knows we aren't long for this world, nor is this world long for this universe: in just five billion years, give or take, Earth will implode. We all live on borrowed time. How we live during that time defines our character. </p><p>While he strikes a hopeful tone, Weisman knows nature will eventually have her way with us.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"After we're gone, nature's revenge for our smug, mechanized superiority arrives waterborne. It starts with wood-frame construction, the most widely used residential building technique in the developed world. It begins on the roof, probably asphalt, or slate shingle, warranted to last two or three decades—but that warranty doesn't count around the chimney, where the first leak occurs." </p><p>The play-by-play of our demise continues, though Weisman offers plenty of proactive advice. The question is, will we be able to live up to it? Sadly, nothing in modern society hints at the possibility. </p><p>The only way we seem willing to pause our relentless pursuit of "progress" is when we're forced to do so, as in the current pandemic. The results, as the team in Belgium shows, are measurable. Whether or not we heed the call to slow our impact remains to be seen. Given precedent, it's unlikely, though as Weisman concludes, one can always dream. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
America's Space Force has acquired a horse for an important mission.
- U.S. Space Force has acquired a new horse named Ghost.
- The horse is part of the Conservation Military Working Horse program.
- The horses help patrol a large territory, supporting threatened species.
The only Working Horse Program in the U.S. Air Force<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2cf34d0d7050a84b8ad2baa67b8b301a"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/c5wPZwM5tM8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Stone stackers enjoy the practice as a peaceful challenge, but scientists warn that moving small stones has mountainous consequences.
Stacking up the history<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUwNTg1My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjcyOTIzOX0.UtKz33QrDgK5scyJPbikuAQax_4yN2toQjkXyUf4AlM/img.jpg?width=980" id="6294c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5044ba5b984c8e2de74234ee8f590be7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A Bates cairn at Acadia National Park. Revived in the '90s by park officials, these cairns mark the park's many interlocking trails.
Eroding our natural heritage<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUwNTg1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDEwNDIxN30.0zMFQ-3YDlkJFRw453NfSO-Vg3pfK311a8usC1WRm0w/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C88%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="c8e70" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9cd939f4081d342a425d1738f616be74" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Rock cairns marking a trail at Hawai'i Volcanoes National park. These official cairns can easily be mistaken for personal rock stacks.
A problem of scale<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUwNTg2Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MDAyMzIyMn0.RVpaBb7HR7oj8SYl4AT0ycxK29rWMw0cq-Y6BTJLZV8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C59%2C0%2C60&height=700" id="98a76" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eff63ccecc069c1f658f705f9b4c3800" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A collection of rock stacks on Angels Landing summit plateau at Zion National Park that shows the "contagious effect" of such stacks.
(Photo: Mike Young / National Park Service)<p>Of course, any one stone stack isn't much of a concern; the problem is one of scale. While ancestral cairns were produced at a more artisan pace, today's stone stacking has practically become industrial, driven by an economy of clicks and likes.</p><p>"Social media has kind of popularized stone stacking as meditative, and you used to have a handful of people doing it, but it has really escalated over the past few years on public lands," Wesley Trimble, the program-outreach and communications manager for the American Hiking Society, <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/culture/rabbit-holes/people-are-stacking-too-many-stones" target="_blank">told the New Yorker</a><u>.</u></p><p>Acadia National Park, for example, is one of the most visited national parks in the U.S., hosting more than 3.5 million visitors per year. It's also relatively small—<a href="https://www.nps.gov/acad/learn/management/statistics.htm#:~:text=Acadia%20National%20Park%20protects%20more,by%20the%20National%20Park%20Service" target="_blank">47,000 acres</a> compared to <a href="https://www.nps.gov/yose/learn/management/statistics.htm" target="_blank">Yosemite's</a> 760,000 or <a href="https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkfacts.htm" target="_blank">Yellowstone's</a> more than 2 million. With such a density of human activity, even minute damages have the potential to devastate Acadia's ecology if performed by enough people.</p><p>As Christie Anastasia, Acadia's public affairs specialist, told Big Think in an interview, in 2016 and 2017 park volunteers deconstructed nearly 3,500 illicit stone stacks on just two mountains—the influence of potentially less than one percent of visitors. Luckily for park visitors, Acadia's rangers and generous volunteers have been trained to dismantle illicit stacks and replace the stones in a way that limits repercussions. But that initial displacement still damages the landscape and leaves creatures homeless during the interim.</p><p>That's just Acadia. In total, U.S. national parks hosted more than 328 million visitors in 2019, a number that clarifies the exponential damage small stone stacks can cause if even just one percent of visitors take up the hobby.</p><p>"People come to national parks for lots of different reasons, but our parks have been set aside as historic and cultural resources in an unaltered state. When people come across these stone stacks, that can hurt their experience," she said.</p>
Leave no trace<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUwNTg2NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTQzODgwNn0.XUvxWRdnB6eXCsj4mL6bBmjw8lzcxqgZHhrLOLZuF9A/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C59%2C0%2C60&height=700" id="786e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e38180145474afafedb584ac6fc15031" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Angels Landing summit plateau after being restored by park rangers and volunteers.
(Photo: Mike Young / National Park Service)<p>When it comes to nature and our national parks, writers, conservationist, and scientists all agree on one unassailable rule: Leave no trace. When it comes to obvious human influences, such as plastics, dog scat, or forest fires, few would disagree.</p><p>But for many, stone stacks are beguilingly innocent in this regard. The materials come from the land and seem perfectly attune with nature. They blend our dual loves of artistry and the environment, and when these projects step outside of time and pass down to us from our ancestors, they crown some of our most cherished historical sites.</p><p>So, it's not a question of whether stone stacking is or is not an acceptable pastime. "It's a question of where the activity belongs," Anastasia said. "At the end of the day, stone stacking is not an activity that belongs in national parks." Though she stresses that it isn't a value judgment; it is simply a question of where an activity can and should be enjoyed.</p><p>If you want to stack stones, you can do so without fault in your backyard or interurban park or man-made beach. Leave your mark there and proudly share your creations on social media. But when it comes to nature, our actions add up to a social whole we must be conscious of. We can leave our mark in both what we create and what we leave untouched.</p>