It is thought that cats lived alongside people for thousands of years, hunting the rodents that inevitably accompany human settlements, before they deigned to become domesticated—a state that many cat owners can attest feels provisional to this day. One research paper on the history of the house cat observes, “Let us just say that our cats do not take instruction well. Such attributes suggest that whereas other domesticates were recruited from the wild by humans who bred them for specific tasks, ancestors of domestic cats most likely chose to live among humans because of opportunities they found for themselves.”
Employees in many industries have seized on the pandemic’s upheaval to score higher pay, better benefits, flexible schedules, and more. While some gains will fade, a number of economic and demographic forces suggest workers have the edge.
A survey of cell types across tissues as part of the Human Cell Atlas, mapped with single-cell transcriptomics in three papers in this issue, lays the foundation for understanding how cellular composition and gene expression vary across the human body in health, and for understanding how genes act in disease.
Nova explosions occur when a runaway thermonuclear reaction is triggered in a white dwarf that is accreting hydrogen from a companion star. The massive amount of energy released ultimately creates the bright light source that can be seen with a naked eye as a nova. But some of the energy has been predicted to be lost during the initial stages of the reaction as a flash of intense luminosity — a fireball phase — detectable as low-energy X-rays. In this week’s issue, Ole König and his colleagues present observations that corroborate this prediction. Using scans taken by the instrument eROSITA, the researchers identified a short, bright X-ray flash from the nova YZ Reticuli a few hours before it became visible in the optical spectrum. The cover shows an artist’s impression of the nova in the fireball phase.
This week’s cover, by the designer Frank Viva, is a colorful, lyrical springtime ode to the pleasures of biking. We spoke to Viva about his love affair with cycling, his island retreat, and learning to prioritize what matters.
Conservation efforts for waterbirds, such as the Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) pictured on the cover, have centred on creating protected areas to maintain suitable habitats. But it has been unclear to what extent protected areas affect species’ population levels. In this week’s issue, Hannah Wauchope and her colleagues present an analysis that suggests protected areas have a mixed impact on waterbird populations. The researchers examined 1,506 protected areas to assess how they affected 27,055 waterbird populations across the globe. By assessing population levels before and after the implementation of protection, and comparing this change between protected and unprotected areas, the researchers identified the mixed impact, but also saw a strong indication that areas that were managed for waterbirds or their habitats were more likely to benefit populations. As a result, the team suggests that conservation strategies will require not only an increase in the number of protected areas, but active management of those areas to have the best chance of success.
The cover shows an artist’s impression of the pterosaur Tupandactylus imperator. Although feathered pterosaurs have been reported, these claims have been controversial and it has not been clear whether these leathery-winged flying reptiles had feathers of different colours like modern-day birds.
In this week’s issue, Aude Cincotta and her colleagues present evidence that not only did pterosaurs have feathers but that the feathers probably had varied coloration. The researchers analysed a partial skull of Tupandactylus, found in Brazil and dated to around 113 million years ago. They identified two types of feather along the base of the crest, one of which featured branched structures very similar to modern feathers. They also found pigment-producing organelles in both types of feather and the skin on the head crest. The team suggests that these coloured feathers would have been used in visual communication and that their presence in Tupandactylus indicates the ability to manipulate feather colour stretches back farther than was previously realized.