When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Alabama authorities say a home burglary suspect has died after police used a stun gun on the man.  Birmingham police say he resisted officers who found him in a house wrapped in what looked like material from the air conditioner duct work.  The Lewisburg Road homeowner called police Tuesday about glass breaking and someone yelling and growling in his basement.  Police reportedly entered the dwelling and used a stun gun several times on a white suspect before handcuffing him.  Investigators say the man was "extremely irritated" throughout and didn't obey verbal commands.

It can be hard to distinguish among the men wearing grey suits and regulation haircuts on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. But David Margolis always brought a splash of color.

It wasn't his lovably disheveled wardrobe, or his Elvis ring, but something else: the force of his flamboyant personality. Margolis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, didn't want to fit in with the crowd. He wanted to stand out.

Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit Montgomery-ed.org

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.


Birds Hang Around Mistletoe For More Than A Kiss

Dec 27, 2012
Originally published on December 27, 2012 9:40 pm

For the Druids, mistletoe was sacred. For us, it's a cute ornament and maybe an excuse to steal a kiss. And of course it's a Christmas tradition.

But for a forest, mistletoe might be much more important. It's a parasite, shows up on tree branches and looks like an out-of-place evergreen bush hanging in the air.

Its seeds drill through bark with a threadlike probe and then grow by sapping the energy of its host. And certain types can be nasty pests, especially dwarf mistletoe in the American West.

But it may actually be useful, and more than just as an excuse to make out with someone.

David Watson, an ecologist at Charles Sturt University in Australia, had long suspected this. But nobody had really proved it experimentally. So he did an experiment in an Australian forest.

He just took the mistletoe out.

"Me and a team of 12 volunteers in cherry pickers" — he recalls — "we removed just over 41 tons of mistletoe."

It took five months and then another visit the next season to get it all out.

Three Years Later ...

"The simple act of removing mistletoe led to losses of over a third of the woodland dependent species [of bird]," Watson says. All these birds just left. And weirdly, the birds that took the biggest hit were insect-eating birds.

"Especially the ones that eat insects on the forest floor," Watson says.

What do insects have to do with mistletoe? "It's a byproduct of how parasitic plants do their parasitizing," explains Watson. Parasitic plants are packed with nutrients that they gobble up from their hosts. They suck up all these salts and minerals to create a water gradient between them and their host so they can draw water out of their hosts.

"Parasitic plants the world over have 15 [to] 20 times more concentrated nutrients than their hosts," Watson says.

And because they're moochers, they don't really care about conserving their resources — they can just suck out more. Not so with regular trees, which pull out the good stuff from their leaves before allowing them to fall. But mistletoes just drop their leaves with all the vitamins inside.

"So there is this rain of enriched litter — a bit like mulch, a fertile mulch," as Watson puts it, that falls onto the forest floor under infected trees.

More goodies on the soil, more bugs, more birds that eat the bugs — it might mean more lizards and more mammals too, says Watson. Because of the apparently significant and widespread effects of mistletoe on a forest, he calls it a "keystone resource." He published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Brian Geils, a retired forest pathologist for the U.S. Forest Service, says the jury is still out. As to whether mistletoe in the United States improves forest biodiversity in the way that it appears to in Australia, dwarf mistletoe in the Western U.S. doesn't have the same amount of leaf litter. And that particular type of mistletoe can kill trees. So he's hesitant to credit the parasitic plants with a blanket mantle of positive effects.

"It's quite complex to come up with a simple good or bad, more or less," Gelis says

Even so, he does agree that mistletoe has, for its size, a lot of bang for its buck in a forest ecosystem. For example, he says, it can cause some conifers to grow into what are known as "brooms" — strange-looking, twiggy, bushy poles that can act as ladders for fire and that attract a population of insects not normally found in the canopy.

Daniel Nickrent, a professor of plant biology at Southern Illinois University, is convinced mistletoes do have a similar role in North American forests as they do in Australian ones, particularly the phoradendron mistletoe found in the Eastern U.S.

"So does this keystone idea apply to some of the North Americans ones? I think they do," Nickrent says. "There's evidence they do."

Endangered snowy owls, for example, prefer to nest even in the pathogenic dwarf mistletoe. And, Nickrent says, some mistletoes appear to expand the fungal community that lives in soil beneath infected trees. The biggest instances of tree death by mistletoe aren't in natural forests but rather in human-created groves for lumber.

"This is like a beautiful petri dish that's not inoculated yet," he says of the large tree plantations that can be so afflicted by dwarf mistletoe. They're "just waiting for the mistletoes to come in and feed on this. So the human-altered ecosystems are heavily damaged by dwarf mistletoes."

However you look at mistletoe — keystone font of diversity or pathogenic parasite — being under one is a big deal, and not just for people.

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