Friday, 30 November 2018

De-Recycling?

Even, highly successful (albeit relatively modest) attempts to bring safe cycling to UK cities get attacked by vested interests and their hired lobby groups (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2018/nov/30/whos-behind-the-bid-to-get-londons-flagship-bike-lane-ripped-up). The London Embankment cycle way, used by tens of thousands of cyclists per day and occupying 1 lane of a 4 lane road, is being threatened by a combination of property groups, motorised transport bodies and taxi companies. I would have thought we needed more provision for cyclists in our cities, not less!

Add a Dash of Spider Milk

Scientists in China claim to have identified a jumping spider that produces nutritious 'milk' for its spiderlings (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/29/scientists-discover-spider-species-that-feeds-its-young-milk).Although we normally associate milk production with Mammals, other species, e.g. pigeons, produce 'crop milk'. Consequently, the idea of producing body secretions to give one's offspring a helping start is, perhaps, more widespread than was earlier thought. Some species even donate their bodies to their progeny (they get eaten).

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Elastic Plastic

Record numbers of people reportedly turned up on beaches around the UK to remove masses of washed up plastic (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/29/great-british-beach-clean-attracts-record-number-of-volunteers). There was, however, a record amount of plastic and, I suspect, it will not be reducing anytime soon.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Turning Turtle

The weather and geography plays havoc with some animals. More than 200 sea turtles have reportedly washed up (dead or just alive) in the last few days around Cape Cod in Massachusetts (https://nationalpost.com/news/world/sea-turtles-some-dead-some-barely-alive-wash-ashore). Apparently, the cold seas result in these cold-blooded animals becoming moribund and geography makes in difficult for them to escape to warmer waters. There have also been a recent mass stranding of whales in a remote area of New Zealand.

Trackside Trees

The rail track providers are being forced to reconsider their plan to decimate the trees that line the rails in many parts of the UK (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/28/report-urges-network-rail-rethink-scale-line-side-tree-felling). The rail folk seem to 'hate' the trees, whose falling autumn leaves can cause delays and storms can blow trees onto the tracks. Having said that, trees are important removers of greenhouse gases (which diesel trains contribute to); provide an effective visual (and even a bit of sound deadening) screen for people living near the tracks; give rail passengers something nice to look at and might even reduce the possibility of landslides. The rail track system (like motorway verges) makes up a surprisingly high area of unbuilt and unfarmed land in the UK. Viva the trees! 

Periwinkles, Predation and Plastics

Yet another illustration of the perils of microplastics,that have now been recorded in a wide range of organisms on land and in the sea! It has been demonstrated that toxic microplastics, added to the seawater block the periwinkle's chemically-mediated attempted escape from predator crabs (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/28/microplastic-toxins-leave-shellfish-at-mercy-of-predators-research). This behavioural change is likely to have a real impact on marine populations and at least raises the question whether these plastics can change human cognition. We are certainly getting doses of them when we eat seafood.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Life With the Lions

The BBC Dynasties programme on lions in Kenya (with a controversy surrounding a young male poisoned with meat by the locals) contained some interesting footage (https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/dynasties-bbc-poisoned-lion-cub-vets-crew-call-africa-a8651726.html). It reminded me of the Masters programme carried out, under my distant supervision, by Dr  Kate Evans before she became @elephantkate, after changing her beast. Her animals (especially the females) also had a complex social life.  It was also remarkable how much of the water obtained by the animals at certain times of the year came from their prey. There were also some interesting associations between social status and their burdens of worm parasites as evidenced by eggs in the faeces (as these had to be collected fresh, there was a fraught risk assessment for the project).

Monday, 26 November 2018

Keeping Up With the Jones

It's always nice to have helped someone get a foot-hold in conservation work so it's warming to read about someone I supervised for both his Masters and PhD. Carl Jones has become renowned for his work in Mauritius (home of the Dodo), saving the Mauritius kestrel, Pink pigeon and Echo parakeet (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/26/its-very-easy-to-save-a-species-how-carl-jones-rescued-more-endangered-animals-than-anyone-else). He has also gone on to do excellent work on the Rodrigues fody and warbler and received the prestigious Indianopolis prize. Carl is now Chief Scientist at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust with responsibilities for both plants and animals. I agree with Carl that conservation often involves difficult choices (such as killing or removing potential dangers for your focus organism) but I am less convinced by his basic claim that "It's very easy to save a species". The trouble is a) there are so many species (think about the hundreds of thousands of beetle species!), sometimes with conflicting needs; b) the locations for conservation are becoming more and more limited; c) humans don't always support (or are even antagonistic to) conservation efforts; d) money for such exercises is very restricted and e) there are some issues (e.g. plastic pollution and climate change) that are not in the hands of the conservationist.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Blowing Hot: Blowing Cold

A US Government Report suggests that global warming (climate change) will substantially effect the lives of many US citizens (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/23/climate-change-america-us-government-report) and that too little is being done about it. It's just a pity that there are votes to be obtained by ignoring (or even robustly contradicting without any actual evidence) the advice presented. I have frequently noted that that the basic problem is that the time courses for global change and the political cycles have very different periodicities. Short-termism wins every time.

How Far Does Patient Confidentiality Extend?

These are difficult times for medics. There is news that a woman in the UK is to sue a hospital for not informing her that her father had the fatal, neurodegenerative disease of Huntington's chorea (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/25/woman-inherited-fatal-illness-sue-doctors-groundbreaking-case-huntingtons). The hospital doctors presumably did not formally inform the immediate family of the man because of patient confidentiality (but they might have suggested that the man should inform his children as they would have a 50% chance of inheriting this condition which currently has no cure). The woman claims that, had she been informed, she would have had an abortion rather than giving birth to her daughter 8 years ago (as the woman has inherited the condition, also giving her daughter a 50% chance of developing the disease). This is a difficult one (and not, in my view, one for the legal eagles). The situation seems straight forward as described but the availability of gene testing techniques is reportedly revealing odd family secrets and misconceptions (no pun intended). What if the father had not actually conceived his 'daughter' and, because she was informed of his condition, she had an entirely unnecessary abortion? Would hospital be liable for this? I think that medical ethics needs to get on the case and give some clear guidance.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Kippered Humans?

I know I have rabbited on about this for some time but a report suggests that air pollution, world-wide, knocks some 2 years off the life-expectancy of we humans (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/20/air-pollution-cuts-global-average-lifespan-by-nearly-two-years-study). That's one 'bonus' that the US President is presumably not thanking the Saudis for (they are reducing the oil price).

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

PPPick-up a Penguin?

Quite a fuss has developed about the Attenborough 'Dynasty series' filming crew in the Antarctic digging an escape route from a ravine for some trapped penguins (https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/nov/19/top-filmmakers-back-penguin-intervention-on-attenborough-show). Arguments seem to revolve around the issue of the natural history film maker's code requiring them to not normally interfere with the lives of the animals they are studying (e.g. they would not be expected to intervene, on either side, in a predator versus prey encounter). The camera folk argue (not unreasonably) that no animal was probably directly disadvantaged by digging the escape slope (picking the penguins out of the ravine would have been different). Having said that, it could be the case that some, as yet unarrived, scavengers missed out as a result of the film-makers actions. I suspect, however, that I would have done the same under these circumstances.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Not Exactly Peanuts

Peanut allergies endanger a growing cohort of young people but it appears that possibly life-long immunotherapy by exposing sufferers to increasing doses of medical grade peanut protein is just around the corner (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/18/peanut-allergy-treatment-around-the-corner-but-cost-raises-concerns). Having said that, concerns have been raised that the cost might be a further challenge to a cash-strapped NHS as one would have to use a very purified material to get the safe doses needed. The thing is, however, that the allergy can (and does) kill.

'Energy Drinks' and Age of Consent?

I do wish they would stop calling them 'energy drinks' as you might well, using similar criteria, also call sugar cubes 'energy food'. Yes, the drinks contain sugar and glucose (which are actually likely to lower blood sugar levels in the short term by an insulin-mediated process termed 'reactive hypoglycaemia') but many also have high doses of caffeine. There is now a move to limit the age, at which they can be consumed, to 18 rather than 16 (https://www.theguardian.com/food/2018/nov/19/set-age-ban-on-sale-of-energy-drinks-at-18-government-told). This is primarily an attempt to stop these drinks producing unruly behavioural changes in school settings. I personally think that more effort ought to be directed to convincing young (and older?) folk that these concoctions are of little benefit rather than attempting to cut off the supply by making the age of legal consumption higher.

Dicing It Up?

The Wombat appears unique in its ability to produce cuboidal faeces. Their function is pretty obvious, as the cubes will not roll away from locations where they are deposited as territorial markers but there has been a question of how the marsupial produces this shape (and, no, they haven't got square anuses!). A study (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/18/scientists-unravel-secret-of-cube-shaped-wombat-faeces) has suggested that the last portion of the wombat's intestine (unlike that of e.g. the pig) has sections of periodic stiffness enabling it to generate 2cm cubes. The Hippopotamus also marks its territory with faeces using a 'muck-spreader' approach. If they could generate cuboidal faeces, they might look like bricks!

Czech-Mate for the Tiger?

Yet another illustration of the depths to which some people will stoop for money, is the discovery in the Czech Republic of a criminal conspiracy to deal in pelts and tissues from Tigers, Lions and Cougars desired (and purchased at great expense) by purveyors of Chinese 'Medicine' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/19/gruesome-discovery-of-czech-tiger-farm-exposes-illegal-trade-in-heart-of-europe). The 'farm' had lots of rotting animal parts in freezer chests lacking the necessary electrical supply as well as strange 'stews' of animal bones and meat. This finding gives the lie to the claim that Europeans would never be involved in such an unsavoury trade.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Plastic Piranhas

I really don't know why people are surprised to find plastic contaminants in the bodies of fresh-water, Amazonian fish (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/16/sad-surprise-amazon-fish-contaminated-by-plastic-particles). Given the duration and ubiquitousness of plastic use, I would be astounded if they weren't found in all living things in every location on the planet.

Gulling the Gulls?

The description of Herring gulls as a 'seagull' is a bit of a misnomer as these birds are essentially opportunistic agents in a variety of locations (not always by the sea). The prediction that they might well decline in our cities with improvements in our treatment of human waste is, I feel, a tad optimistic (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/16/gulls-gulls-gulls-how-the-seaside-birds-took-over-urban-britain). Many of our high-rise buildings seem to have characteristics of the elevated, predator free nesting locations that these birds favour and edible rubbish still exists outside treatment areas. I predict that they will still thrive in our cities.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Uplifting?

What is essentially a meta-analysis has strongly suggested that male symptoms of depression and anxiety can be alleviated by treatment with testosterone (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/14/testosterone-therapy-could-help-tackle-male-depression-study). This essentially means that the disturbed mood in males is strongly linked to their endocrine status (so, either depression lowers testosterone or lowered testosterone, as in aging cohorts, tends to elevate depression). Although not currently recommended by NICE, testosterone might be a relatively cheap therapy for some forms of male depression.

London Calling?

Today, it is reported, that a substantial number of protesters have gathered to block 5 major bridges in London in an attempt to draw attention to the climate change challenges resulting from human behaviour (and the failure of governments to do much about it)(https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/17/thousands-gather-to-block-london-bridges-in-climate-rebellion). It is difficult to know whether such challenges will achieve very much (although they will certainly annoy travellers in that city) but London is a good place to do it because UK media reporting is still Londonocentric. The protest, however, stands in contrast to France where people are protesting about fuel price increases. Actual change needs joined up thinking including accepting that improving the situation is likely to cost some folk.

Big Beasts and Climate Change

A study has predicted that the current energy policies of Canada, China and Russia will result in 5 degree Centigrade increase in global temperature by 'the end of the century' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/16/climate-change-champions-still-pursuing-devastating-policies-new-study-reveals). This (if we get there) is twice the 2.5 degrees optimistically guesstimated to be the maximum the planet could accommodate. The policies of the US and the UK are not much better, as they would generate an elevation of 4 degrees. So one has a situation where some of the industrialised countries that are most vocal about the dangers of 'global warming' are the biggest offenders.

What's Your Poison?

A study carried out in North America, limited to subjects presumably of 'European extraction' has attempted to determine whether genes influence one's preference for coffee or tea (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/15/coffee-tea-drink-choice-study-linked-genes-how-we-perceive-bitterness). One must firstly note that the study relied on the subject's self-reports of their beverage drinking habitats but seemed to show that preference is linked to genes that alter perceptions of bitterness. In general, subjects with a gene that slightly increased the perception of bitterness of caffeine tended to drink more coffee. In addition, having genes that elevated the sensation of bitterness associated with quinine and propylthiourea produced, in contrast, small reductions in coffee drinking. The opposite seemed to be true for subjects with a preference for tea drinking. The findings might well be limited to subjects from this limited background (and Geography) and one might ask whether sugar and cream additions alter preferences.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Trees on the Range?

The UK Committee for Climate Change (CCC) is advocating that farmers across this country should halve their numbers of cattle and sheep as these animals are sources (at both ends) of methane, which is a very potent 'greenhouse gas' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/15/tree-planting-double-uk-climate-change). They suggest that pigs and chickens would be less problematic in terms of climate change. The CCC also recommends that farmers should be financially rewarded for planting trees to take up surplus carbon dioxide. These are all sensible suggestions but some environmental organisations evidently feel that the magnitudes of the suggested changes are too small to deal with the developing crisis. Clearly, one would hope for similar drives in other areas of the globe.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Beetling Away

Coleoptera, or beetles, are incredibly diverse with hundreds of thousands of species currently on our planet. Although some are feared pests of crops and  products, many are important pollinators and removers of waste. Beetle species have been in rapid decline for some years with habitat loss and overuse of pesticides generally being cited are primary causes. If has now been noted, however, that climate change can have a devastating impact on these beasts (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/13/heatwaves-wipe-out-male-insect-fertility-beetles-study) as heatwaves can completely destroy the fertility of the male beetles. No tight underpants were involved.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

California Scheming?


It is pretty certain that the tragic, unusually intense Californian wild fires are much more a consequence of climate change (although fire, generally more manageable, is actually a natural phenomenon in such localities) than they are of inappropriate vegetation management (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/12/california-wildfire-latest-camp-woolsey-fires-refugees). Do the claimants to the contrary expect every tree and bush in the state to be removed as a potential 'fire hazard'? 

Weight of Expectations?

A very substantial study has, perhaps unremarkably, demonstrated that people with genes making them likely to develop a high BMI are more likely to evidence clinical depression than counterparts without such markers (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/13/researchers-discover-why-being-overweight-can-lead-to-depression). It has been suggested that developing a poor body image is one causative factor. Yet another repudiation of the jolly, fat person stereotype!

Throwing Rocks at Brocks?

So, the expert report on the link between badgers and bovine TB (bTB) is out (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/nov/13/farming-industry-to-blame-for-tb-crisis-not-just-badgers-report). The results are hardly surprising with a note that wild animals (including the badger, a species which may not always be a prime suspect) can make a modest contribution to the spread of bTB in dairy herds. The actual main conclusion is that cattle-to-cattle transmission is a major factor and that farmers need (even though it is an expensive option) put into place improvements in biosecurity (using better, more sensitive tests for bTB; taking more care when purchasing cows and restricting the movement of animals when there are any doubts about disease-free status). Somewhat predictably, some farming lobbies are pushing for a continuation of badger culling, claiming that it is 'one string to their bow' when fighting bTB spread. Still, I suppose someone else would be paying for this.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Seeing the Changes 1382




Pretty well perfect conditions for fungi in Loughor. These were all found on one small lawn.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Doubling Down Dutchman?

A 69 year old Dutchman has gone to court to try to get his date of birth reduced by 20 years (https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2018/nov/08/i-suffer-under-my-age-dutch-man-seeks-to-legally-change-his-age-video). His argument seems to rest of the observation that, in that country, people can now officially change their gender on documentation. The self-designated 'young god' also maintains that his actual age discriminates against him in terms of e.g. taking out a mortgage and getting hits on Tinder. I can see where he is coming from but, if you can officially change every bit of factual information about yourself, we have the end of data!

Saint or Sinner?

There has recently been some criticism of David Attenborough in relation to his natural history programmes (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/07/david-attenborough-world-environment-bbc-films). The charge is essentially that he 'does not tell it how it is' preferring to present images of a pristine world with lots of animal and plant wonders (in deed, he has gone on record as saying that too much concentration on the environmental challenges facing life on the planet is 'a turn off'). It is really difficult to strike a balance on this one as Attenborough appears to be one of the few individuals who can front natural history programmes that appear relatively frequently and are viewed by a substantial audience (sometimes leading to intense media attention as in the case of effects of marine plastics on wildlife). I seem to also remember that he had the bravery to suggest that limiting human population growth was a worthwhile undertaking if one really wanted to save the planet. There is no doubt that the films with which he is associated tend to give a somewhat 'Disneyfied' view of the real state of nature but, without him, I suspect there would be much less natural history on the BBC. Perhaps, as in the case of many prominent figures, the truth is that  they have their good points but you can't expect them to be flawless?

Monday, 5 November 2018

Seeing the Changes 1381

An Angle shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) dropped in at Loughor last night!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Downsides of Fireworks

Firework displays have an enduring popularity, especially in this country around the fifth of November. Although they are somewhat obvious, it is worth listing their drawbacks. They include:- a) the high incidence of burns resulting from their use; b) their contribution to 'green-house' gases and climate change; c) their expense; d)the fact that their use terrorises many companion animals and e) old folk, in care homes, reportedly sometimes link the explosions to bombing experienced in the Second World War.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Unlucky Horseshoe (crab)

The ancient Horseshoe 'crab' is reported to be under considerable threat of extinction as consequences of habitat loss, fishing, algal red tides and, especially, the use of its blood in pharmaceutical tests (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/03/horseshoe-crab-population-at-risk-blood-big-pharma). Strange how a beast can outlive the dinosaurs and fall victim to a medical procedure.

Forget About an Antarctic Reserve?

The proposal to get International agreement to designate a large reserve in Antarctica with benefits to the organisms in that area (and outside it) has apparently been rejected after opposition primarily from China, Norway and Russia (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/02/plan-create-worlds-biggest-nature-reserve-antarctic-rejected). It really does appear to be very difficult even to stop people exploiting some of the last semi-pristine areas of the planet that are not even within their borders. The prognosis for protected areas within their own (and other countries) land masses appears even worse.

A Boost for Chinese Medicine: Curtains for the Rhino and the Tiger?

Conservationists fear that the decision of the Chinese government to relax the trade on body parts of the rhinoceros and the tiger (apparently to give Chinese medicine parity with 'Western' medicine) will threaten the continued existence of these animals, along with a number of other 'medicinal' species (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/03/experts-fear-impact-of-china-lifting-trade-ban-on-tiger-and-rhino-parts). Even if the parts traded are from historical or even 'farmed' sources, it makes it easier to bring poached materials to the market place (and poaching continues to threaten these mammals even when they are maintained in zoos).

Auto-Destructive?

The UN has warned that humankind's destruction of the planet's biodiversity might well lead to the collapse of the ecosystems that maintain much of current life on the planet Earth(https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/03/stop-biodiversity-loss-or-we-could-face-our-own-extinction-warns-un). They feel that a likely consequence would the destruction of our own species. The loss of biodiversity, it is claimed, is at least as much a challenge to our survival as climate change. Unfortunately, it is just much less obvious to most people than are extreme weather events.

Friday, 2 November 2018

All Hands to the Pumpkin?

The amount of land and water involved in the production of pumpkins for Halloween in the UK seems a tad wasteful, especially given the fact that they are hardly ever eaten in this location.

Tipping Points?

News that the world's climate may have already passed tipping points is concerning. Such events including things such as the loss of ...