On the horizon

Baby music

Move over Gershwin; these babies "got rhythm."

Researchers at Cornell University and the University of Toronto wondered if newborns show the same responsiveness to different forms of music that they do to languages and facial features. For the first six months, it appears, babies are open to everything - only to begin narrowing the range of their responses to species-specific or culture-specific cues at about nine months.

The team exposed newborns from Western parents to patterns in Balkan folk tunes. Then they disrupted the rhythm patterns to see if the babies could sense the change as readily as they could in music from their own culture. They did. Once the newborns hit nine months, however, they had become increasingly tuned to their own culture's music. By 12 months, their ability to detect rhythm disruptions in the more exotic tunes had vanished. Yet once the scientists briefly exposed the 12-month-olds to the Balkan tunes again, they once again could sense the disruptions in those tunes.

The results, the team concludes, established that the emergence of cultural preferences for music mirror the emergence of preferences for languages and facial features. They also suggest that music must be added to the list of socially and biologically significant stimuli for newborns.

The results appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Grass can only do so much

Don't rely on California's grasslands to help soak up the extra carbon dioxide human activities are pumping into the atmosphere.

That's the conclusion Stanford University biologist Jeffery Dukes and colleagues have reached after the first five years of a long-term experiment on grassland carbon uptake. The team set up 36 test patches of grasses scattered over two acres at Stanford's Jasper Ridge biological preserve. The grasses are typical of California's grasslands.

Then the researchers subjected the patches to changes in temperature, carbon dioxide, water, and nitrogen to simulate a range of climate-change scenarios. Increases in nitrogen led to the largest increase in "net primary production," using growth in roots and shoots as evidence - at least up to the plants' limit for taking in nitrogen. Higher CO2 levels, more "rainfall," and higher temperatures had minimal effects. One reason: High levels of CO2 and nitrogen appear to limit the amount of phosphorus - another key nutrient - the grasses can take up.

The results appear in the online journal Public Library of Science Biology.

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