Friday, 30 August 2019

A Pink Gene?

I am somewhat unsurprised that scientists have managed to refute the idea that there is a single 'gay' gene (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/29/scientists-quash-idea-of-single-gay-gene). Here was me thinking that it had all been sorted decades ago with a recognition that, in addition to complex genetic factors, influences like the in utero hormonal exposure, how one is responded to by parents and peers, one's own body image et cetera all play roles (to different degrees) in different individuals. Although genes are interesting, I do think there is a tendency to try to link them to every human quirk. Scientists don't seem capable to resisting the tendency to medicalise.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

French Follies?

It's nice to know that it's not only our own nationals who can be inconsistent about environmental issues. President Macron of France was vilified for months by the gilets jaunes campaign, when he attempted to increase the taxation on diesel and petrol in an attempt to discourage greenhouse gas production by cars and trucks. More recently, he has had his image 'kidnapped' from many townhalls for 'not doing enough about climate change'.

Monday, 26 August 2019

All Shook Up

They may be little earthquakes on the world scale but the generation of yet more illegal tremors near fracking operations close to Blackpool is probably a clear warning (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/26/latest-fracking-tremor-believed-to-be-uk-biggest-yet-cuadrilla-blackpool). The UK, unlike the US, is a small; relatively densely populated country. Fracking clearly to likely to make the rocky substrate of shale underpinned areas less stable as well as potentially contaminating water sources. And we really don't need to add more greenhouse gases by burning the product.

Wind Bag?

There's a typical 'he said it, no I didn't- it's fake news' about the claim that The US President asked why hurricanes were not 'nuked' before they reached the shores of his country (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/26/donald-trump-suggests-nuking-hurricanes-to-stop-them-hitting-america-report). It actually seems a suggestion that is repeatedly made by folk from time to time. I am willing to bet that the residents of Africa (and elsewhere) wouldn't look too kindly on nuclear weapons being used in their back-yard where hurricanes tend to be generated. Exporting environmental problems seems to be a poplar strategy in certain circles

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Sheepish

Researchers at the Roslin Institute have used gene editing to create sheep having the characteristics of Batten disease (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/24/mutant-sheep-may-help-cure-batten-disease-roslin-institute-genetic-research ). Batten disease is an inherited neurological condition found in children that is currently always ultimately fatal. Although the scientists admit that they may receive some criticism for engineering an animal with a fatal disorder, they claim that the sheep may enable them to develop treatments that can help the human victims. They argue that the sheep's brain is similar in size and complexity to that of a child (whereas the organ of a rat or a mouse is not a good match). Having said that, sheep and humans are rather fundamentally different.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Brazil Nuts?

It seems to be a fact of human behaviour that personal benefit generally appears to outweigh any other consideration (we are no better than any other animal, at genuine altruism). The record fires in the Amazon (the 'lungs' of our planet) are merely a recent example of this as they seem largely generated by farmers burning stubble or even forest, in attempts to generate more land for agricultural purposes (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/23/amazon-fires-what-is-happening-anything-we-can-do). This, of course, reduces the ability of the rainforest to store carbon and to generate oxygen as well as loading the atmosphere with more 'greenhouse gases'. I suspect that some of the peoples of Europe (and elsewhere) are starting to appreciate how the inhabitants of low-lying Pacific islands feel (namely that greedy folk elsewhere have no understanding of their situation and, even if they did, couldn't care less). It does seem ominous that self-centred, climate change deniers (who often appear to hate 'foreigners') have presently assumed control in many parts of the globe. The prognosis for the planet doesn't look good.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Seeing the Changes 1354


Not much change at Crymlyn burrows but Heather (Calluna vulgaris) was displaying well and spotted a first Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria tircis) in that location.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Finger Licking Lichen?

People in New Zealand have been warned not to consume 'sexy pavement lichen' in spite of its being claimed by some folk to act as a natural alternative to Viagra (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/15/new-zealanders-warned-about-the-consumption-of-sexy-pavement-lichen). Firstly, there are doubts about its sexual benefits and, secondly, the fungus is likely to be contaminated with urine, dog faeces and pollutants from road traffic. Licking it could make consumers seriously ill rather than converting them to 'sex machines'.

Seeing the Changes 1353



In Crymlyn burrows, the combination of heavy rain and sun brought out Common earthball (Scleroderma citrinum) fungi. On the dunes, Rock samphire (Crithmum maritinum) and Carline thistle (Carlina vulgaris) flowered. Mountain ash (Sorbus acuparia) and Dog rose (Rosa canina) fruited. Robber-flies were locked in a deadly embrace.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The Ragwort Dilemma


There is another debate concerning whether conservationists should be tasked with removing Ragwort (primarily Senecio jacobaea). It is designated as a 'weed' (the 'Root out Ragwort' campaign) that must be removed. It is the only food of the larva of day-flying Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) which advertises its poisonous nature to birds with its distinctive red and black colouration. The reason it is poisonous is that its larvae (also distinctively coloured and grouped on the food plant) incorporate toxins (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) produced by the Ragwort to protect it from herbivores. The larvae are grouped as ingestion of one caterpillar will cause its kin to be avoided by predators.The reason Ragwort is banned from many locations is that its glycoside can kill horses, ponies and cattle by damaging their hearts and livers. Like most of conservation, it's a question of which organisms you favour and why. Different people will have different answers to these kind of conundrums.

The New 'X' Files?

It has apparently proved possible to separate X and Y human sperm on the basis of their differential movement (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/13/sperm-separation-method-may-allow-gender-selection-in-ivf). This might well lead to the technique being used to specify sex in in vitro fertilisation programmes. Although favouring one sex is generally a bad idea (particularly seen in some cultures), there are some genetic conditions where specifying the sex could reduce the risk of passing on harmful conditions.

OK KOed

News that the OK glacier of Iceland is now defunct is pretty worrying (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/14/glaciers-iceland-country-loss-plaque-climate-crisis). Apparently, the melting of Iceland's glaciers will 'only' add about 1cm to sea levels but this would be pretty devastating for any low lying countries.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Seeing the Changes 1352





More from Crymlyn burrows with Devil'sbit scabious (Succisa pratensis) in flower. Activity by Brown argus (Aricia agestis); Small white (Pieris rapae); Small copper (Lycaena phalaeas) and Green-veined white (Pieris napi) butterflies.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

They Glow in the Dark

Studies have been carried out on 2 shark species, Chain catsharks and Swell sharks, that show bioluminescence (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/08/scientists-discover-why-two-shark-species-emit-green-glow). These fish live in the West Atlantic and the East Pacific at depths where only blue light can reach and on its exposure causes them to glow bright green. The bioluminescence is different from that seen in certain jellyfish (where it is used in medical diagnosis) and may be involved in mate-finding, as males and females have different light patterns. The skin-based chemicals may also play a role in defence against microbial infections.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

That's News to Me?

An IPCC report starkly confirms that the way most of the world farms and eats is in danger of making the planet incapable of sustaining human (and much of other) life (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/08/climate-crisis-reducing-lands-ability-to-sustain-humanity-says-ipcc). The authors particularly point to the problems associated with meat and dairy production (and its growing popularity in some developing world regions) but refuse to advocate legislation to encourage dietary changes (as they are scientists rather than policy makers), somewhat to the chagrin of others (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/08/ipcc-land-climate-report-carbon-cost-meat-dairy). I must admit to finding the current news cycle intensely un-joined up. Items appear on the dangers of climate change and then are immediately followed,without comment linking it to climate change, by suggestions that political changes might result in many dairy cows in Northern Ireland having to be killed. Yet other stories suggest that the newly burgeoning birth-rate in China could offer lots of export possibilities for food products. Perhaps one of the reasons the IPCC report strikes some people as mealy-mouthed is the fact that news items are treated as compartmentalised boxes rather than recognising that most news-worthy events involving humans have environmental, economic, political, welfare, safety and fairness aspects/consequences.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Seeing the Changes 1351

A few more changes at Crymlyn burrows. What looked like Grass of parnassus (Parnassia palustris) was in flower. A bee (Macropis eurpaea) and a Painted lady (Cynthia cardui) foraged.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Seeing the Changes 1350


Down by the Loughor estuary there was much evidence of 'Oak apples' (galls of Biorhiza pallida); the invasion of Painted ladies (Cynthia cardui) and Red admirals (Vanessa atalanta).

Seeing the Changes 1349

 
 
More flowerings in Loughor with Enchanter's nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) and Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum).

Who's a Pretty Boy, Then?

There seems to be another (late) addition to the parrots of New Zealand with the discovery of the fossil remains of a very large bird Heracles inexpectus (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/07/fossils-largest-parrot-ever-recorded-found-new-zealand-heracles-inexpectatus). This parrot weighed about 7kg, was probably flightless and may have supplemented its largely vegetarian diet with the odd mammal or bird.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Butterfly Bonanza?

Scientists have claimed that 2019 is probably a bumper year for butterflies in the UK (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/05/warm-weather-makes-it-a-boom-year-for-butterflies-say-experts) and have suggested that warm weather accounts for the beneficial effect. Although people enthuse about butterflies, one could argue that their atypical frequency is actually a confirmation of there being problems with the climate.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Seeing the Changes 1348


A few more developments in Loughor. Redshank (Persicaria maculosa) was in flower and the local Hogweed was infested with Parsnip moth (Depressaria radiella) larvae.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Middle Class Climate Activism?

The report from the head of Natural England claiming that the creation of new national parks in England will help us counter climate change seems, to me, unduly optimistic (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/31/englands-new-nature-reserves-will-help-us-tackle-global-heating). It may make a minor improvement (perhaps reduced somewhat by more folk driving their 4x4s to visit the locations) but I really think that the scale of required action is considerably greater than that.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Seeing the Changes 1347

At Crymlyn burrows, Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) flowered. Visiting critters included a wasp beetle (Stangalia maculate), Drone flies (Eristalis tenax), a male Four-spotted footman moth (Lithosia quadra) and a new influx of Painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui).

Seeing the Changes 1370

Both male and female flowers out on the Hazel ( Corylus avelana ) of Penclacwydd.