Thursday, 30 April 2015

It All Boils Down To?


A recent report suggests that climate change could eliminate 1 in 6 of the current species on this planet (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/30/one-in-six-of-worlds-species-faces-extinction-due-to-climate-change-study). Pretty obviously, the species most likely to go are a) those that are relatively temperature intolerant b) those that, because of their life-style and/or location, are unable to migrate (laterally or upwards) to curtail the effects of the changed conditions. A mass extinction on this scale would clearly pose serious problems for human populations and this is without even considering the impoverishment of species diversity.

A Hole in the Accounts?


George Monbiot has become very excited by proposals for open cast coal extraction in South Wales that seemingly leave the tax payer with the most of the expense of remediation i.e. 'clearing up' after the process has finished (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/28/big-coal-keep-it-in-the-ground-energy-opencast-mines). It is certainly the case that local communities can be left with gigantic holes in their adjoining environment, unstable masses of land and contaminated water courses. He claims that the companies who push for such developments often are required to post bonds that only pay for a fraction of the 'clean up' but exert pressures on planning bodies by making claims about local employment. Only rarely do the environmental costs seem to feature much. This seems to have a long tradition as many old quarries leave holes in many parts of the world. I have also worried about whether activities as diverse as the current hydroelectric developments in the Indian Himalayas (an earthquake zone) or the 'lagoon' proposed for Swansea Bay have adequate remediation costs built in if they eventually prove to be non-viable?

Monday, 27 April 2015

When It's Gone, It's Gone!


A sad little story about further collapsing of the populations of endangered sub-species of rhinoceros, largely due to poaching (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/27/ol-pejeta-kenya-sudan-worlds-last-male-northern-white-rhinoceros). This includes an account of a 'pampered', 42-year old male from a Czech zoo who is the last surviving member of his sex among the Northern white rhinos. I do think that, when one gets down to this level in populations of such animals, that extinction is inevitable. Even if breeding is possible, the amount of genetic diversity in any resulting populations is likely to be too low for viability. It might be better to put resources into animals with better chances of avoiding the grim reaper's scythe.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Seeing the Changes 962







Around Penclacwydd, spotted Silverweed (Potentilla anserina); Field mouse-ear (Cerastium arvense); Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna); Red campion (Silene dioica) and Common cleavers (Gallium aparine) in bloom. The surfeit of Cuckoo flowers now attracted Orange tip butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines).

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Seeing the Changes 961






In Bynea, Sea raddish (Raphanus raphanistrum maritimus); Sea pea (Lathyrus japonicus) and Red clover (Trifolium pratense) were all in flower. A Seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata) desired aphids and a Common shrew (Sorex araneus) was an ex-shrew.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Seeing the Changes 960



Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) and Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) were blooming in Bynea.

The Wind of Change for Malaria?


News that there is now a vaccine for the mosquito bite-transmitted disease of malaria which can offer partial protection to young children (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/24/malaria-vaccine-breakthrough-partially-effective-scientists-children). The jabs offer limited protection (>30%) but maximal efficiency involves a) children receiving treatment at an age (5-17 months) which is later than when they receive other routine vaccinations, b) a series of 3 injections and c) a later booster dose. These factors will make it difficult to run an effective treatment campaign in some parts of the world (getting people in place for repeated injections and even refrigerating the vaccine can be challenging). It was noted that this 'partially effective vaccine' has taken 20 years to develop at a cost of around £330m. This might seem a lot for partial effectiveness but considerably more has been spent on developing treatments for male baldness over the same period! Malaria kills many young children each year.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Seeing the Changes 959




In Bynea, Greater celendine (Chelidonium majus); a white Umbellifer (possibly, Pignut Conopodium majus) and Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) were in flower.

Hair Today?


Two concurrent stories about the seeming misuse of science by unqualified folk. The first concerns the FBI's repeated claim to US juries over many years (and well before DNA testing) that they could definitively identify an individual by the appearance of a single hair left at a crime scene (http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/21/fbi-jail-hair-mass-disaster-false-conviction). They now admit that this is not at all true and are having to look into hundreds of cases where individuals have sent to prison or even executed on the basis of this pseudoscience. The other story reiterates the claims of a mixed bag of food-focused and anti-vaccination bloggers who attempt to convince their 'readership' about issues such as a) curing terminal cancer by cutting out sugar and gluten (now admitted to be untrue) and b) a link between vaccination and autism that can be corrected by dietary changes (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/22/wellness-gurus-belle-gibson-pseudoscience ). These both seem to be cases where people are convinced by appearances (e.g. an alleged 'expert' in a trial or a strawberry-eating attractive woman). In actual science, we generally consider the qualifications of the authors of published material as well as their track record (I accept that this is not 100% reliable). It's good that science information is now freely accessible on the web but people may have to learn not to believe all they read and to accept that not all scientists are in hock to big business. People who claim to be telling you as it is because others won't (I know this could apply to this post) can be sometimes on an ego trip and sometimes just confused.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Birder's Bonus 152





Lots of bird activity at Pembrey Country Park. The Swallows (Hirudo rustica) have arrived. Carrion crows (Corvus corone corone) foraged; a Warbler sang and a Pied wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) hung around hopefully.

Seeing the Changes 958










In Loughor, spotted a Brimstone moth (Opisthograptis lutea). At Pembrey Country Park, Thrift (Armeria maritima); Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris); White dead nettle (Lamium album); possible Sweet william catchfly (Silene armeria) and Wild pansy (Viola tricolor) were all in bloom. A beetle dashed across a sandy path, a Green-veined white butterfly (Artogeia napi) flitted and a Caddis fly (possibly Phryganea grandis) rested.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Seeing the Changes 957








In Bynea, Field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) was moving to the mature stage. In Loughor, Ribwort plantain (Plantago lancelata); Pineapple mayweed (Chamomilla susveolans) and Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) were coming into flower. We also had visits from the Foxglove pug (Eupithecia pulchellata) and the Common carpet (Epirrhoe alternata) moths. In Bynea, I spotted an unusual beetle.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Seeing the Changes 956


Warm in Loughor and Bynea, so the Speckled woods (Parage aegeria tircis) made an appearance.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Seeing the Changes 955




Summer must be on the way with the night time visits of the Herald (Scoliopteryx libratrix), Early thorn (Selenia dentaria) and a Peppered moth (Biston betularia).

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Mouse Studies Suggest Alternative Approaches for Alzheimers?


People working on the distressing condition of Alzheimer's disease may be been concentrating on the wrong feature, according to new studies (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/15/alzheimers-disease-cause-study-caveats-aside-findings-encouraging). To date, scientists have devoted much attention to trying to develop treatments to remove amyloid plaque from the brains of people with the condition (recent studies suggest, unfortunately, that, once the plaque has accumulated, it is too late). One study has recently shown, however, that blocking the uptake of the amino acid arginine by the immune cells that normally protect the brain prevents both the build up of plaque and memory loss in a mouse model. It has been suggested that the build up of pre-plaque sticky proteins destroys memory because the body switches off all neural protein production in an attempt to limit amyloid plaque deposition. If protein production is switched back on, the mice reportedly regained their memories even though their brains appeared abnormal (whether there would be complete recovery of complex memory remains to be assessed). It seems that Altzeimers may be caused by the immune cells protecting the brain going 'rogue'. If this is so, why this happens in some people and not others also needs determining.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Seeing the Changes 954





More flowerings! In Loughor, Shepherd's purse (Capsella bursica) and Common fumatory (Fumaria officinallis) were in bloom. Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) was out in Bynea.

Monday, 13 April 2015

There's One Born


It's always nice to see ex-students make the big time. Today's 'The One Show' included a quite large section on Dr Dan Forman's studies on the importance of hoverflies as pollinators in the UK. This involved washing the flies to remove pollen from their bodies and then using DNA markers to identify which plants they had been visiting. It appears that these flies are important pollinators especially in the Spring before the bees have got their act together.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

A Song Unheard?

There is a somewhat odd finding that highly toxic Pumpkin toadlets from Brazil apparently cannot hear their own mating calls ( https://w...