These tiny, little-winged dinosaurs were probably worse at flying than chickens

The discovery of two small dinosaurs with bat-like wings a few years ago was a palaeontologist’s dream. Just how flight evolved in birds is something we’re still trying to nail down, and looking at this early evolution of bat-like wings in dinosaurs could give us a clue.  



a close up of a bird: A drawing of the theropod dinosaur Yi qi, which sported bat-like wings.


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A drawing of the theropod dinosaur Yi qi, which sported bat-like wings.

But a team of researchers has now pointed out that just because you have wings, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re actually any good at flying.

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Yi qi and Ambopteryx longibrachium are two species of theropod dinosaurs that lived around 160 million years ago, both of which had unusually elongated fingers, and a skin membrane stretching between them, similar to a bat’s wing.

This is an entirely different kind of wing to the one theropod dinosaurs evolved to fly with – the dinosaurs that eventually became birds. And, unlike them, after only a few million years, Yi and Ambopteryx became extinct, which is the first hint that these unusual wings could not match those birds-to-be. 

However, weird wings on extinct critters mean it’s likely multiple types of wings (and therefore flight) evolved over the years, and that Yi and Ambopteryx’s attempts were not the winning strategy.

But before you can write off Yi and Ambopteryx as complete evolutionary flight failures, you have to know how good (or bad, as the case may be) the two species were at flight.

In 2015, when Yi was found, that team of researchers suggested that the size of its wings and other flight characteristics could mean it was a gliding creature – however it’s unlike any other glider we know of, and its centre of mass might have made even gliding difficult. We just weren’t sure.

A new study, by researchers in the US and China, has now looked into the flight potential of Yi and Ambopteryx in a lot more detail, and come to the conclusion that they really weren’t good at getting their little feet off the trees they lived in.

“Using laser-stimulated fluorescence imaging, we re-evaluate their anatomy and perform aerodynamic calculations covering flight potential, other wing-based behaviors, and gliding capabilities,” the team writes.

“We find that Yi and Ambopteryx were likely arboreal, highly unlikely to have any form of powered flight, and had significant deficiencies in flapping-based locomotion and limited gliding abilities.”

The team’s analysis of the fossils (Yi pictured below) was able to pick up tiny details in soft-tissue that you can’t see with normal light.

Then the team modeled how the dinosaurs might have flown, adjusting for things such as weight, wingspan, and muscle placement (all stuff we can’t tell just from the fossils).

The results were … underwhelming.

“They really can’t do powered flight,” says first author, biologist Thomas Dececchi from Mount Marty University.

“You have to give them extremely generous assumptions in how they can flap their wings. You basically have to model them as the biggest bat, make

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Globalized economy making water, energy and land insecurity worse: study

globalisation
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The first large-scale study of the risks that countries face from dependence on water, energy and land resources has found that globalisation may be decreasing, rather than increasing, the security of global supply chains.


Countries meet their needs for goods and services through domestic production and international trade. As a result, countries place pressures on natural resources both within and beyond their borders.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge used macroeconomic data to quantify these pressures. They found that the vast majority of countries and industrial sectors are highly exposed both directly, via domestic production, and indirectly, via imports, to over-exploited and insecure water, energy and land resources. However, the researchers found that the greatest resource risk is due to international trade, mainly from remote countries.

The researchers are calling for an urgent enquiry into the scale and source of consumed goods and services, both in individual countries and globally, as economies seek to rebuild in the wake of COVID-19. Their study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, also invites critical reflection on whether globalisation is compatible with achieving sustainable and resilient supply chains.

Over the past several decades, the worldwide economy has become highly interconnected through globalisation: it is now not uncommon for each component of a particular product to originate from a different country. Globalisation allows companies to make their products almost anywhere in the world in order to keep costs down.

Many mainstream economists argue this offers countries a source of competitive advantage and growth potential. However, many nations impose demands on already stressed resources in other countries in order to satisfy their own high levels of consumption.

This interconnectedness also increases the amount of risk at each step of a global supply chain. For example, the UK imports 50% of its food. A drought, flood or any severe weather event in another country puts these food imports at risk.

Now, the researchers have quantified the global water, land and energy use of189 countries and shown that countries which are highly dependent on trade are potentially more at risk from resource insecurity, especially as climate change continues to accelerate and severe weather events such as droughts and floods become more common.

“There has been plenty of research comparing countries in terms of their water, energy and land footprints, but what hasn’t been studied is the scale and source of their risks,” said Dr. Oliver Taherzadeh from Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “We found that the role of trade has been massively underplayed as a source of resource insecurity—it’s actually a bigger source of risk than domestic production.”

To date, resource use studies have been limited to certain regions or sectors, which prevents a systematic overview of resource pressures and their source. This study offers a flexible approach to examining pressures across the system at various geographical and sectoral scales.

“This type of analysis hasn’t been carried out for a large number of countries before,” said Taherzadeh. “By quantifying the pressures that our

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‘We are out of time:’ Destructive wildfires in Colorado will grow worse as season lengthens, scientists warn

  • Wildfire season in Colorado would normally be nearing its end by now.
  • Instead, dry conditions fueled what’s now become the state’s largest wildfire in history.
  • The unusually late and intense fire season in Colorado is part of a larger problem of worsening destruction fueled by climate change.
  • The wildfire season in the West is now 78 days longer than it was in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.



a person is sitting in the snow: A firefighter is silhouetted as Cameron Peak Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado's history, burns outside Drake, Colorado, U.S., October 17, 2020.


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A firefighter is silhouetted as Cameron Peak Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado’s history, burns outside Drake, Colorado, U.S., October 17, 2020.

Wildfire season in Colorado would normally be nearing its end by now. Instead, dry conditions fueled what’s now become the state’s largest wildfire in history.

The Cameron Peak fire, which ignited in August, is still raging through the state, burning more than 200,000 acres and further straining already an under-resourced emergency response grappling with uncontained blazes throughout the West.

In late October, Colorado would typically experience some snowfall in the mountain regions. But dry weather and little rain, conditions exacerbated by climate change, have triggered explosive fires that have forced thousands of people to evacuate.

Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist who lives in Boulder, watched in shock as blazes and fire tornadoes from the CalWood fire tore out of the Rocky Mountains over the weekend, scorching miles of land in a matter of hours.

“To be that close to a wall of flames, it looks like the end of the world,” said Swain, who has witnessed and studied many Western wildfires but has never seen one spread so quickly.

“It’s completely overwhelming,” he added.

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Fires have burned more than 400,000 acres in Colorado during one of the worst fire seasons ever in the state. To the south, the East Troublesome fire and the Williams Fork fire are still burning, as well as the CalWood fire near Jamestown.

Fighting the Cameron Peak fire alone has cost at least $96.4 million, according to an Oct. 22 National Interagency Fire Center report.

“Climate change is here and now in Colorado,” said Jennifer Balch, director of the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Warming is setting the stage for a lot of burning across an extended fire season.”



a truck driving down a dirt road: A Loveland Fire Rescue Authority vehicle is seen as Cameron Peak Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado's history, burns trees outside Drake, Colorado, U.S., October 17, 2020.


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A Loveland Fire Rescue Authority vehicle is seen as Cameron Peak Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado’s history, burns trees outside Drake, Colorado, U.S., October 17, 2020.

The unusually late and rapidly intensifying fire season in Colorado is part of a larger problem of worsening fire destruction in the West.

‘We are out of time’

The 2020 season, fueled by climate change and outdated forest management plans, has taken a major toll on states like California, Washington and Oregon.

Scientists have repeatedly warned that the fires, along with other climate-fueled disasters, will continue to grow larger and more destructive as global temperatures rise and the country

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Nearly Half of the U.S. Is in Drought. It May Get Worse.

Nearly half of the continental United States is gripped by drought, government forecasters said Thursday, and conditions are expected to worsen this winter across much of the Southwest and South.

Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said a lack of late-summer rain in the Southwest had expanded “extreme and exceptional” dry conditions from West Texas into Colorado and Utah, “with significant drought also prevailing westward through Nevada, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.”

Much of the Western half of the country is now experiencing drought conditions and parts of the Ohio Valley and the Northeast are as well, Mr. Halpert said during a teleconference announcing NOAA’s weather outlook for this winter.

This is the most widespread drought in the continental United States since 2013, he said, covering more than 45 percent of the Lower 48 states.

“The winter forecast doesn’t bode well,” Mr. Halpert added. Warmer and drier conditions are expected across the South and Southwest and drought is likely to develop in parts of Georgia and Florida and in Central and Southern California, where the dry conditions could add to the risk of wildfire in what has already been a catastrophic year for fires in California.

But northern parts of the country may see some relief, with wetter conditions predicted across most of the north, said David Miskus, a NOAA drought specialist.

“The Pacific Northwest, the Northern Rockies, maybe the Northern Plains and also New England, probably will show improvement,” he said.

Cooler temperatures are also forecast for much of the north, he said.

Globally, 2020 has been exceptionally warm in many regions, including much of the Arctic. There is about a two-thirds chance that the year will be the warmest on record, eclipsing 2016, said Ahira Sánchez-Lugo, a NOAA climatologist.

At the least, 2020 is very likely to be in the top three. “It’s a very tight race” she said.

The American Southwest has been mired in drought for most of the past two decades. Studies suggest that the region is experiencing an emerging megadrought, similar to some periods in the past 1,200 years, when droughts persisted for 40 years or longer.

Global warming has made drought worse, in the Southwest and elsewhere, scientists say, exemplifying a trend toward more extreme weather as the climate changes.

Mr. Halpert said the likelihood of worsening drought this winter can be linked to La Niña, which developed in August and is expected to persist at least through the winter.

La Niña occurs every two to seven years on average when the upper layer of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean cools to below-normal temperatures. This leads to changes in atmospheric circulation that can affect weather around the globe.

In the United States during a La Niña, the South is usually warmer and drier, the East Coast is warmer and much of the North is cooler and wetter.

The current NOAA forecast is for a moderate to strong La Niña, as

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