Tuesday, 20 November 2012
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2235329/Chimpanzees-orang-utans-suffer-mid-life-crises-New-research-claims-ape-cousins-happiness-dips-middle-age.html?ito=feeds-newsxml). It is a bit difficult to work out why these animals would show the human equivalent of the mid-life crisis (chasing young women and buying a sport's car?) but it could simply reflect the fact that more male apes reach mid and old age in zoos than is the case in the wild. I suspect that the age profile of these animals in nature and in zoos is very different. Breeding is often very restricted. Another difference, is that it is impossible for zoo-based animals to leave their group even for limited periods.
- November 20, 2012
Monday, 19 November 2012
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/19/uk-breeding-bird-population-decline?INTCMP=SRCH). House sparrows, Wrens, Willow tits and Arctic skuas have all shown big declines but some species, including the Chaffinch, have increased breeding activities. The results are not particularly unexpected as there have been big changes over these 40+ years in the UK human population, agricultural practises, urbanisation, pet keeping, gardening practises (including converting land to car parking), waste disposal, increased survival (by eating human waste) of crow family members (with propensities for eating the eggs and chicks of 'song' birds) over winter periods, possible climate change impacts on seasonality of fruits and insects etc etc, Chaffinches may have partly benefited by their efficient utilisation of bird feeders (an option not available to all species). I suspect that the reasons for declines in different species will vary but the basic trend is for a further impoverishment of the UK biodiversity.
- November 19, 2012
Friday, 16 November 2012
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/15/shale-energy-implications-geopolitics-america?INTCMP=SRCH). It would, of course, be beneficial to cut out the impact of political vagaries in 'difficult' parts of the world on availability and prices as well as negating the environmental and fiscal costs of transporting the hydrocarbons. Having said that, much of the proposed independence is linked to a proposed dramatic increase in the fracking of oil shale deposits in the country. Even if this extraction causes no environmental problems (perhaps a big ask), there are claims that increasing dependence on this technology will increase the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere over and above that that would be generated by using traditional hydrocarbon products. I certainly think that oil and gas independence is a benefit that has to be balanced against not making climate change more likely.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/15/ecuador-poison-galapagos-islands-rats?INTCMP=SRCH). The hope is to eradicate rats (inadvertently introduced by sailors in earlier times) that are decimating island populations of endemic reptiles and birds. Hawks and Iguanas have been temporarily re-located for the duration. It's amazing how frequently conservation efforts boil down to pest (as defined by humans) eradication! The prognosis is not particularly good as the participants note that, if even one pregnant female survives, the whole process will have to be repeated again and again.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/15/gm-trees-bred-world-energy?INTCMP=SRCH). The company reportedly suggest that countries with good growing conditions for the trees, in terms of climate and soil, could benefit economically. Brazil might be an obvious contender. Although the trees might help to reduce atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide when growing, it sounds as if their use is likely to put a lot of the greenhouse gas back. It should be noted that monocultures of plants (crops) are typically more prone to disease (although I suspect that the claim will be made that resistance can be rapidly engineered) than mixed assemblages. An area of concern is the obvious fact that areas of varied forest would have to be removed to make way for the GM planting. This would remove not only plant species but any the animal species associated with them, with obvious effects on biodiversity. I confidently predict that the GM Eucalyptus forests will not feature populations of Koalas!
Tuesday, 13 November 2012
http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2012/45/richard-hammonds-miracles-of-nature.html). One is 'why is petrol-head Richard Hammond aka 'hamster' being given responsibility for such a programme, knowing as little as he does about the natural world?' The other is that 'It is nice to see an engineering enthusiast being turned on by the extraordinary abilities developed in animals by evolutionary processes'. I expected to belong to the first group but find myself liking the scenarios developed in the programme and their potential for changing attitudes. The hamster is amusing and shows fear and wonder in appropriate amounts. I particularly enjoyed programme 2 ('Super-Senses) as it featured one of my former Masters students, Kate Evans (http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/kate-evans.html), showing Hammond that African elephants have the potential to communicate using infra-sound over long distances through rocks (although the mining application was a bit contrived).
- November 13, 2012
Monday, 12 November 2012
Sunday, 4 November 2012
Friday, 2 November 2012
Thursday, 1 November 2012
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/31/biosecurity-nature-hurricane-sandy-ash?INTCMP=SRCH). Biosecurity seems very weak in the UK with fungal infections of other trees including the Horse chestnut, Processionary moth caterpillars decimating oak trees in the SE and long-horn beetles arriving from China in wood packaging around imported stones. It has even been noted that it is highly likely that the replanting of native trees from UK seeds can involve their transport to the Netherlands where they are grown up before being repatriated. It is pretty obvious that there is much scope for improving the biosecurity of our native habitats.
- November 01, 2012
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