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Avian egg shape: Form, function, and evolution

ScienceNOW Daily News Feed - Jue, 06/22/2017 - 11:20

Avian egg shape is generally explained as an adaptation to life history, yet we currently lack a global synthesis of how egg-shape differences arise and evolve. Here, we apply morphometric, mechanistic, and macroevolutionary analyses to the egg shapes of 1400 bird species. We characterize egg-shape diversity in terms of two biologically relevant variables, asymmetry and ellipticity, allowing us to quantify the observed morphologies in a two-dimensional morphospace. We then propose a simple mechanical model that explains the observed egg-shape diversity based on geometric and material properties of the egg membrane. Finally, using phylogenetic models, we show that egg shape correlates with flight ability on broad taxonomic scales, suggesting that adaptations for flight may have been critical drivers of egg-shape variation in birds.

Quantum and isotope effects in lithium metal

ScienceNOW Daily News Feed - Jue, 06/22/2017 - 11:20

The crystal structure of elements at zero pressure and temperature is the most fundamental information in condensed matter physics. For decades it has been believed that lithium, the simplest metallic element, has a complicated ground-state crystal structure. Using synchrotron x-ray diffraction in diamond anvil cells and multiscale simulations with density functional theory and molecular dynamics, we show that the previously accepted martensitic ground state is metastable. The actual ground state is face-centered cubic (fcc). We find that isotopes of lithium, under similar thermal paths, exhibit a considerable difference in martensitic transition temperature. Lithium exhibits nuclear quantum mechanical effects, serving as a metallic intermediate between helium, with its quantum effect–dominated structures, and the higher-mass elements. By disentangling the quantum kinetic complexities, we prove that fcc lithium is the ground state, and we synthesize it by decompression.

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