Avian flu: Are we doing enough?; Anatomy of the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake; Contradictory corals

A military-style network of laboratories for the avian flu is proposed; The earthquake that unleashed the tsunami in the Indian Ocean forces some rethinking about how and where such giant earthquakes might occur; The application of neutral theory of biodiversity to real-life data is raising new questions and problems.

This press release is copyright Nature. VOL.440 NO.7080 DATED 2 MARCH 2006

This press release contains:

* Commentary: Avian flu: Are we doing enough?
* Seismology: Anatomy of the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake
* Contradictory corals

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Commentary: Avian flu: Are we doing enough? (pp 25-26)

A military-style network of laboratories for surveillance and response to
avian flu is proposed in a Commentary in this week's Nature. Jean-Paul
Chretien, David Blazes and colleagues ask how to improve influenza detection
and response, and conclude that a network of laboratories, based on an
existing US military model, would best improve preparedness in critical but
poor regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.

A small network of US laboratories already exists, built to survey
infectious disease threats to US troops during and after the Second World
War. Today, these labs work alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) on influenza detection and responses, but many have closed in the last
half-century, and the few that remain have, even recently, come under
threat. The authors call for the creation of more such laboratories, not
just for avian influenza surveillance but also for future unknown diseases.

The authors argue that in order to be most effective, such facilities must be able to operate surveillance networks, respond quickly to outbreaks, conduct research and train personnel from the host country. With multilateral support, these long-term investments in laboratory and epidemiologic capabilities could help the WHO to detect and control avian influenza and respond to future threats.

Jean-Paul Chretien (Department of Defense, Silver Spring, MD, USA).
Please contact through Debra Yourick.
Tel: +1 301 319 9471; E-mail: [email protected]

[3] Seismology: Anatomy of the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake (pp 46-51, N&V)

The earthquake that unleashed the devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day of 2004 forces some rethinking about how and where such giant earthquakes might occur, according to a study in this week's Nature by
Jean-Philippe Avouac and colleagues.

The team used accurate measurements of the ground deformation associated
with the magnitude-9.1 quake to deduce where the 'slip' happened along the
boundary of the Indian, Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, and how the
rupture was related to plate motions in the build-up to the quake. The giant
earthquake occurred along a 1,500-km boundary called the Sunda subduction
megathrust, where the Indian and Australian plates (which are joined
together) are pushed down below the Pacific plate. Such earthquakes happen
when the converging plates become locked and then come 'unstuck' in an
abrupt slippage.

Earthquakes as big as the 2004 event are very rare, and geologists don't
fully understand the conditions under which they arise. The size of the
tsunami-generating quake exceeded expectations based on previous
observations of earthquakes in the region, and the researchers estimate that
a surprising 30 per cent of additional slip occurred on the shallow portion
of the plate boundary in the weeks following the initial 500 seconds of
seismic rupture.

Jean-Philippe Avouac (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 626 395 4239; E-mail: [email protected]

Charles Ammon (Penn State University, University Park, PA, USA)
Tel: +1 814 865 2310; E-mail: [email protected]

[7] And finally...Contradictory corals (pp 83-86, N&V)

The neutral theory of biodiversity is the most exciting idea to emerge
within ecology for decades - but its application to real-life data is
raising new questions and problems. Maria Dornelas and colleagues test the
theory with coral distribution data across a 10,000-kilometre swath of the
Indian and Pacific Oceans, and report in Nature this week that this
distribution could be influenced by environmental factors on a local scale.
At its root, ecology is all about the distribution and abundance of living
things. The neutral theory of biodiversity is a simple model that boils down
ecological complexities to a few simple rules about how creatures disperse.
When applied to data from real life, divergences from the theory will
highlight the importance of any confounding factors, such as the influence
of the environment.

Neutrality predicts that communities tend to be dissimilar, and get more
dissimilar with distance. People testing the neutral theory tend to expect
that real-life communities are more 'samey' than the theory predicts, with
the same old species filling the same old niches, wherever in the world they
happen to occur. Surprisingly, this new analysis shows that coral
communities are actually more different from place to place than predicted
by neutrality. The reasons why this might be are obscure, but they could
highlight the importance of local environmental factors in governing the
diversity of species in coral reefs. Improving our understanding of reef
structure and biodiversity could help researchers find new ways to protect
these fragile ecosystems.

Maria Dornelas (James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia)
Tel: +44 79 3011 6169; E-mail: [email protected]

John Pandolfi (University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Australia)
Tel: +61 733653050; Email: [email protected]

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Published: 02 Mar 2006

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