Thursday, 31 December 2015

Monday, 28 December 2015

Delta Plan Needed to Get an Alpha on Flood Management


At last, a decent account of what the Dutch did after 1800 deaths in the 1953 North Sea floods and how water control remains a serious, ongoing issue in that country (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/27/dutch-style-delta-plan-floods-uk-netherlands) and why the UK response to, what are now annual floods, remains at the puny end of intervention. Apparently, UK politicians regularly 'flood across' to the Netherlands when we have local water issues but seem to return with only 'watered down' responses. Climate change is going to mean a much greater degree of joined up thinking. 

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Seeing the Changes 1020


Yet another indication of changing climates! Our path back into Wales yesterday (approaching Monmouth) was lined with Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) blossom.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Seeing the Changes 1019



There has been a plethora of stories about untimely activity in the UK's December flora. In Loughor, I can add the Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris) and the Lesser celendine (Ranunculus ficaria).

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

It Might Be a Washout!


A report suggests that, over the last 40 years, some 45-46 of the existing 59 species of 'UK' butterflies have been in rapid decline here (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/15/decline-in-over-three-quarters-uk-butterfly-species-final-warning-says-chris-packham). The report notes that the losses are more marked in England and Wales than they are in Scotland perhaps suggesting that climate change is driving some species north (but there would be limits to such a process). The only butterfly species where there is slightly happier news are the really endangered populations where intensive conservation efforts are having modest beneficial effects and the migratory species (such as the Red admiral and Painted lady) who might be arriving in greater numbers (along with species only occasionally found on these islands). Chris Packham maintains that, if brightly-coloured butterfly species are falling in numbers, less obvious (but important) insects species (such as beetles and bees) must also be in marked decline. Farming practices and use of pesticides may also have a role.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Proof of the Pudding


People are generally speaking optimistically about the climate change 'agreement' reached in Paris (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/paris-climate-change-conference/12047233/Paris-climate-change-agreement-at-a-glance.html). Whilst, clearly any agreement is much better than 'no agreement', I must admit to being a tad pessimistic. It is nice that 200+ countries can agree a common wording but much depends on what actually happens (a 5 yearly marking of one's own homework doesn't sound especially reliable). As some experts have pointed out, promises to achieve reductions 'in the future' a) will not lead to an immediate reduction in 'greenhouse gas' emissions, the melting of ice caps or rising sea levels; b) can be overturned by political changes in the governance of some of the major participants and c) might be subject to tricky 'fudges'. I suppose one can only hope for (rather than expect) the best.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Seeing the Changes 1018


Still mega mild (and wet) in Loughor and the Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera xylosteum) is still in bloom.

Off Message?


The climate change talks continue in Paris (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/09/paris-cop21-climate-talks-ambitious-proposals-protect-countries-rising-sea-levels-flawed) and parts of the North in the UK flood, following record rainfalls. The UK Government, apparently concerned about these problems a) pulls the plug on the funding of carbon capture technology; b) slashes the support for solar and wind power; c) commits to the building of several nuclear power stations (extracting the radioactive fuel and the building of the structures generate quite a lot of 'greenhouse gases'); d) insists that fracking will go ahead with or without the support of local populations and e) agonises over where to best place major airport extensions in the SE. None of this sounds especially helpful to the cause of limiting climate change and countering flood risk (especially as the designated sites for a new generation of 'starter homes' appear to be mainly existing flood plains of rivers).

Bottling: Going to the Dogs


The first reports of applying the in vitro technique to dog reproduction are coming in (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/science-nature/these-baby-beagles-are-first-dogs-born-vitro-fertilization-180957499/). This has, apparently, proved quite difficult as the ovulated dog eggs have to mature in the oviduct before they are ready for fertilisation and the fluid for maintaining the sperm in a viable state had to be adjusted (it's actually easier in humans). The claimed utilities of the technique are to a) help save endangered wild dog species from extinction (the danger here is that they might have very little genetic diversity) and b) gene edit out some of the inherited diseases that breeders of strains have inadvertently introduced to the lines (it will be interesting to see how much of a priority this is in breeders of show dogs) and c) help dogs who find it difficult to conceive (I'm not sure how much of a real problem this is). I suspect, it will also be used to engineer characteristics of  drug-searching and rescue dogs and also for people wanting perpetual pets?

Monday, 7 December 2015

Seeing the Changes 1017




A break in the rain, so my Loughor garden is a fungus forest and a Blue bottle fly (Calliphora vomitoria) suns itself on my wall.

Spinning a Yarn


A company in California (Bolt Threads) has been using genetic modification of yeast to 'grow' spider silk in vats from simple ingredients such as sugar (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/dec/06/the-innovators-californian-scientists-bolt-threads-reinventing-the-web). This light but strong ('tougher than steel') material has long been prized as a potential item for use in commerce. The generated goo can apparently be converted into threads that might well end up being utilised in clothing. How this would fit with aspects of our current 'throw away' fashion society is yet to be determined (mountains of indestructible but out-dated clothes?) but some stuff you might want to wear for decades. As was pointed out in the article, however, a spider make at least 5 different types of threads with varied properties, meaning that the commercial applications might be quite wide.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Seeing the Changes 1016



In spite of horrendous wind and rain in Loughor, there were appearances of the Shaggy parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes) and Winter heliotrope (Petsites fragrans).

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Sex on the Brain?


Yet another study showing that a) male and female brains show some subtle differences but b) you have a continuum in these features with a great deal of overlap (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/nov/30/brain-sex-men-from-mars-women-venus-not-so-says-new-study). This is hardly surprising as it has been known for decades that the developing brain is a product of genetics (largely the sex chromosomes); early hormone influences (the developing testis tends to blast the system with androgens before the ovaries get around to secreting), how people treat the maturing child seems to influence neural architecture and hormones at puberty/in adulthood play a role. Add to this that the timings of physiological (and experiential?) effects may influence the degree of change and you have a recipe for subtle variation. In deed, one could argue that such phenotypic variation would be useful to an adaptable species like our own.

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...