Most siblings have memories of - happily or unhappily - listening to whatever Mum or Dad had on the car radio on long trips away.

In our unfortunate case, that was endless doses of Jim Reeves, Kenny Rogers and, if we were really unlucky, Engelbert Humperdinck.

But now researchers say sharing music can do wonders for parents' future relationships with their sons and daughters.

"If you have little kids, and you play music with them, that helps you be closer to them, and later in life will make you closer to them," said the University of Arizona's Professor Jake Harwood, co-author of a new study.


"If you have teenagers and you can successfully listen to music together or share musical experiences with them, that has an even stronger effect on your future relationship and the child's perception of the relationship in emerging adulthood."

Harwood and his colleagues surveyed a group of young adults, average age 21, about the frequency with which they engaged with their parents, as children, in activities such as listening to music together, attending concerts together or playing musical instruments together.

Participants reported on their memories of experiences they had between ages 8 and 13 and age 14 and older.

They also shared how they perceive their relationship with their parents now.

Although shared musical experiences at all age levels were associated with better perceptions of parent-child relationship quality in young adulthood, the effect was most pronounced for shared musical experiences during adolescence.

"With young kids, musical activity is fairly common - singing lullabies, doing nursery rhymes," Harwood said.

"With teenagers, it's less common, and when things are less common you might find bigger effects, because when these things happen, they're super important."

Are penguins eating enough?

Scientists have been spying on Antarctica's emperor penguins to monitor their food intake. Photo / 123RF
Scientists have been spying on Antarctica's emperor penguins to monitor their food intake. Photo / 123RF

For Antarctica's emperor penguins - the king-sized species celebrated in Happy Feet - diminishing sea ice means less fish to eat.


How the diets of these tuxedoed birds will hold up in the face of climate change is a big question scientists are grappling with.

Researchers at US-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have developed a way to help determine the foraging success of emperor penguins by using time-lapse video observations relayed to scientists thousands of kilometres away.

"Global warming may be cutting in on food availability for emperor penguins," scientist Dan Zitterbart said.

"And if their diets change significantly, it could have implications on the health and longevity of these animals, which are already expected to be highly threatened or close to extinct by the end of this century.

"With this new approach, we have a logistically viable way to determine the foraging success of these animals by taking images of their behaviour once they return to the colony from their foraging trips."

Off all the penguin species, emperor penguins tend to be the biggest eaters.

And for good reason: they make exceptionally long treks on sea ice to reach their foraging grounds - sometimes more than 100km during winter - and feed their large chicks when they return.

But as sea ice diminishes, so does the microscopic plankton living underneath, which serves as the primary food source for fish that penguins eat.

Sea ice also provides an important resting platform for the penguins between foraging dives, so melting can make foraging that much harder.

Determining the species' foraging success involves a two-step process.

First, digital photos of the birds are taken every minute throughout the day using an inexpensive time-lapse camera perched above the colony 30m away.

The camera is rugged enough to withstand up to -50C and wind speeds above 150km/h.

Images are recorded and stored in an image database and later correlated with sensor-based measurements of air temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation and wind.

The combined data sets enabled the team to calculate a "perceived penguin temperature" - the temperature that penguins are feeling.

It was much like the wind chill factor for humans: the air temperature may be minus 12C, but other factors can make it feel colder.

By correlating the penguin's "wind chill" temperature with video observations of when the penguins begin huddling, they were able to come up with a "transition temperature" at which colonies shift from a scattered, liquid-like state to a huddled, solid-like state.

If the transition occurs at warmer temperatures, it means the penguins are feeling cold earlier and begin huddling to stay warm and conserve energy.

And that indicates that the penguins had less body fat upon their return from foraging and were probably undernourished because they did not find enough food within a reasonable distance from their breeding colony.

If the transition temperature is lower later in the season, it suggests that the foraging season was a success and the animals returned well-fed and with higher amounts of body fat.

Zitterbart said the information may ultimately be used to come up with conservation measures to protect emperor penguins.

"With the information produced by our observatories, population modelling will help us to better project the fate of the different colonies that are left," he said.

"It's important to know which colonies are going to be the first most affected by climate change, so if it appears that a certain colony will remain strong over the next century, conservation measures like marine protected areas can be established to better protect them."

Facebook can help the elderly

Facebook has been shown to help the elderly feel more connected. Photo / 123RF
Facebook has been shown to help the elderly feel more connected. Photo / 123RF

Recent studies have shown the bad aspects of using Facebook - such as the platform driving up levels of stress-related cortisol.

But if your elderly grandma or grandpa "likes" one of your posts, researchers say that's something to smile about.

A new paper has found social networking sites offer tools and activities that may help older adults feel more empowered and less isolated.

In a study of Facebook use, older adults who posted a lot of personal stories on the social networking site felt a higher sense of community, and the more they customised their profiles, the more in control they felt.

Its US authors suggested using social media was not a uniform experience that is either all bad, or all good, but offered multiple functions for diverse users.

"People tend to think of Facebook as a black box that either has an overall positive effect or a negative effect," said Distinguished Professor S. Shyam Sundar, of Pennsylvania State University.

"But what distinguishes this study is that it makes an effort to go in and see what people do in Facebook - and that's what matters."

In other words, he said, social media, by itself was neither good, nor bad - and it all depended how we used it.

For older adults who may be less mobile, Facebook and similar social networking sites could play a critical role in easing isolation and making them feel like they are part of a large community, the researchers said.

"This is important, especially for older adults, because they have mobility constraints that limit their ability to socialise," Sundar said.

"And, for the past 10 years or so, we've been looking into how social networking sites can enhance the social life of older adults and reduce the social isolation that they might feel.

"These are more fine-grained findings that say certain things you do on Facebook can give you gratifications, like fulfilling the needs for activity, having interactions with others, having a greater sense of agency, and building community."

Leo honoured - with a bug

This beetle has just been named after Hollywood star and environmental activist Leonard DiCaprio. Photo / Taxon Expeditions / Hendrik Freitag
This beetle has just been named after Hollywood star and environmental activist Leonard DiCaprio. Photo / Taxon Expeditions / Hendrik Freitag

New animal species are sometimes named after celebrities because of their trademark looks.

That's how we got the blonde-haired Donald Trump moth and the big-armed Arnold Schwarzenegger fly, to name a few.

However, some well-known people are enshrined in animal names not for their looks, but rather for what they do for the environment.

This is exactly how a newly discovered water beetle, described in the open access journal ZooKeys, was given the name of Hollywood actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio.

The tribute marks the 20th anniversary of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) and its efforts towards biodiversity preservation.

"We can all have an impact," DiCaprio said in an LDF video, "but we have to work together to protect our only home."

Going by the scientific name of Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi, the new water beetle was discovered at a waterfall in the remote Maliau Basin, Malaysian Borneo, during the first field trip by Taxon Expeditions, which arranges scientific surveys for untrained people to discover previously unknown species and bridge the gap in biodiversity knowledge.

Having identified three water beetle species new to science, the expedition participants and the local staff of the Maliau Basin Studies Centre voted to name one of them after DiCaprio in honour of his efforts to protect untouched, unexplored wildernesses just like Maliau Basin itself.

"Tiny and black, this new beetle may not win any Oscars for charisma, but in biodiversity conservation, every creature counts," Taxon Expeditions' founder and entomologist Dr Iva Njunjic said.