Friday 19 December 2014

How do Fireflies power their glow?

Fireflies emit light when a compound called luciferin breaks down. Scientists know that this reaction needs oxygen, but what they didn't know was how fireflies actually supply oxygen to their light-emitting cells.

According to the study, state-of-the-art-imaging revealed that oxygen distribution is key to being able to light up their cells. Fireflies divert oxygen from other cellular functions and put it towards the reaction that breaks up luciferin. Specifically, the researchers found that oxygen consumption in the cell decreased, slowing down energy production. At the same time, oxygen supply increased for light-emission  reactions.

Lappet faced vultures have their best recorded breeding season in Namibia

Lappet-faced vultures breed over most of Namibia. One of their strongholds is the Namib-Naukluft Park. This year the Lappets in the Park have raised 100 chicks.

The breeding success of these large vultures has been monitored for the past 24 years and it is the first time that 100 chicks have been found and ringed. They nest in very tops of trees and the best way to spot them is from aircraft flying low and slow. Normally there is only one egg per nest but occasionally twins are seen.

Over the past few years there have been good rains in the Namib-Naukluft Park which have resulted in increased breeding of Gemsbok, Springbok, Hartmann's Mountain Zebra and Ostrich. Now, during the drought, the limited grazing in several areas could be to the advantage of the vultures, as more animals succumb to the harsh conditions.

Although many vultures breed in protected areas, they also feed on farms and fly to neighbouring
countries. Some landowners, who use poison to control predators attacking their domestic stock, also poison the vultures in the process.

Poachers poison an elephant carcass after removing the tusks to stop vultures betraying the slaughter of these animals. The vultures are 'eyes-in-the-sky' and alert police and conservation officials. This
alarming trend has killed many hundreds of vultures in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and countries in East Africa.

Vulture populations all over Africa have suffered a massive crash in the last 10 years or so due to poison and also from Diclofenac used by farmers to treat sick cattle. The Diclofenac destroys the vultures renal system and also stops their eggs from hatching.

The loss of 96% of India's vultures caused huge health problems in that country. Rotting carcasses of cattle encourage disease and an increase in the number of feral dogs. If it weren't for vultures the plains of the Serengeti would be littered with hundreds of thousands of dead Wildebeeste every year and I suspect the smell would be pretty awful.

Good to see they have had an excellent breeding year. I hope their numbers continue to recover all over Africa and Asia.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Vast amounts of fresh water are stored deep within the Earth's crust

There appears to be far more water locked deep within the Earth's crust than scientists have previously thought.

Some of the water is ancient and has been sitting there for between 1 and 2.5 billions of years old and is stored many kilometres below the surface.

There is thought to be more fresh water than all the World's rivers, swamps and lakes combined. The volume has been calculated at around 11 million cubic kilometres, which is 2.5 cubic miles in old units

A team  of researchers found that the water was reacting with the rock to release hydrogen, which is a potential food source.

The question is - could the deep crust be harbouring as yet undiscovered life forms? The search is on to find it, and see just how much and where it is.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Methane Hydrates escaping from sea floor much faster than expected

A study of the sea floor off the West Coast of the United States has revealed that methane is escaping at 500 times its average rate of natural release.

Waters off the coast of Washington are gradually warming at a depth of 500 meters, which is the same depth at which methane transforms from a solid into a gas, helping to facilitate the release of the most powerful of greenhouse gases which can trap heat in our atmospheres 20 times better than carbon dioxide.

Methane, is continually released by the ocean from natural seafloor vents or in a simple cycle of freezing and melting, as part of the Earth's greater carbon cycle, but recently experts have expressed concern that methane (CH4) is seeing more release than ocean carbon sinks can make up for. This may be due to uncharacteristic warming of the sea as a result of climate change. This warming could be melting areas of frozen water on the ocean floor, collapsing pockets of gas called "methane hydrates, or clathrates" and causing it to be released at a much faster rate.

"If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we're f'd," Jason Box, a widely published climatologist, tweeted back in August, when it was first revealed that this could be occurring in the East Siberian Arctic Ocean.

Many experts believe that these releases have the potential to speed up climate change well beyond
standard projections.

"Methane hydrates are a very large and fragile reservoir of carbon that can be released if temperatures change," Evan Solomon, co-author of the GRL study, explained in a recent statement. "I was skeptical at first, but when we looked at the amounts, it's significant."

It is estimated that four million metric tons of methane have been released since the 1970s. That's more than 40 times the carbon equivalent of all the methane released in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Researchers are shocked by these results, because the great majority of these methane releases were
expected to occur in the Arctic. However, other recent studies have found that there are more than 500 active methane vents along the US East Coast as well, adding an extra 90 metric tons annually from the Atlantic Ocean.

Scientists aren't sure how much of the methane hydates end up in the atmosphere. Much of it could be consumed by bacteria in the sediments below the seafloor or in the sea itself.  However, a consequence of this, that we already starting to see, is increased ocean acidification.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Kenya's elephant population is increasing

The number of elephants has increased to 35,720, despite poaching in various parts of the country.

Kenya Wildlife Service director William Kiprono said the elephant population was 34,000 two years ago. He said measures put in place to stop poaching are bearing fruit.

However, he also reported that the number of tourists visiting parks has dropped by half due to fears of insecurity.

"Kenya is largely a safe country, especially within the parks, but the few cases of insecurity, especially at the Coast, cause panic among tourists," he said.

Ebola has also played its part as people don't seem to realise just how big Africa is and how far away Liberia is from Kenya. It is closer to London than Kenya.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Turkeys may be key to huge medical breakthrough

The turkey commonly plays host to a particularly "good" bacteria - one that could create a potentially life-saving antibiotic.

Antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria pose a very real threat to the world. Now a team of researchers has identified a new natural antibiotic in horse dung-dwelling fungus, offering up secrets that might help us avoid or at least understand an encroaching AMR world crisis.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the Journal of Bacteriology which details how the MP1 antibiotic is produced by a bacteria commonly referred to as "Strain 115."

MP1 has been known to target roughly half of all infectious bacteria that affect humans, even the causes of staph infection, strep throat, and several gastrointestinal diseases. Researchers have known that strain 115 can be found in turkeys, and has been keeping the birds healthy on farms for years.

The team of scientists claim to have discovered how this "good" bacteria strain produces the mysterious antibiotic - a process that could potentially help experts craft a similar functioning antibiotic in humans.

The research team used mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to identify exactly how Strain 115 makes MP1 without killing itself in the process, as the antibiotic should normally attack the strain as well.

The team found that when producing MP1, the bacteria also produces a protective plasmid, effectively shielding it from its own medicine.

Griffitts and his team are trying to see if a similar mechanism can be crafted to work in humans, which would be a life-saving boon in a world where traditional antibiotics are becoming increasingly useless.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Electrical Capacitors made from wood

When you think of advanced electronics or heavy-duty electrical storage, trees may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But a team from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center has used wood waste to produce super capacitors that are as effective as advanced activated-carbon units. This offers extremely cheap and green opportunities for energy storage from wind and solar energy production.

The new supercapacitors are made from biochar and waste products can be used for fertilizers offering a green alternative to the chemical processes needed to produce regular supercapacitors.

“Supercapacitors are power devices very similar to our  batteries,” said study leader Junhua Jiang, a senior research engineer at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois.
“Supercapacitors are ideal for applications needing  instant power and can even provide constant power – like batteries, but at  lower cost,” he said. “They are useful in transportation, electronics and solar-  and wind-power energy storage and distribution.”

The process of making biochar superconductors is relatively easy and cheap. It also does not produce large amounts of chemical pollution. The wood is baked at low temperatures and then the resulting biochar is activated using a weak nitric acid solution. The acid washes away the ash and leaves pores that are needed for ion storage. The acid waste can be used as fertilizer.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Experimental evidence shows that birds can count

A new study has found strong evidence that robins, like crows, are clever birds, and can even count.

A new study recently published in the journal Behavioural Processes, details how wild robins in New Zealand become noticeably bothered when they've been "cheated" out of a set number of promised mealworms.

In a standard test used to determine an animal's ability to measure values, researchers placed a small box with two layers in the woods. Making sure that robins were watching them, they placed a pair of small mealworms into the box's second layer. They then slid the first layer on top - this layer only containing one small worm.

From the bird's perspective, the box should contain two worms, but they will only have access to the layer with one.

"The robins clearly recognize that there is only one worm when they saw two go into the box," explained New York Times scientist writer Jim Gordan, who was not involved in the study. "That's when they search intensely with a lot of pecking."

According to the study, in nearly every instance where this experiment was done in the field, the robins started furiously pecking around the box when the maths didn't add up. This searching didn't occur for nearly as long or as vigorously as when the birds found the exact number they were expecting.

This is a strong indication that the robins can at least count in small values, but what exactly makes
counting necessary?

Study author Jason Low believes that this has to do with the robin's tendency to leave cashes of food near their homes. When males are away looking for food, their female partners have been observed raiding these cashes. Interestingly, they always go for the cache with the most stored food.

"We asked ourselves, how does she know to rob the site with the biggest food source? And that's when we started to think that these birds understood the concept of amounts," Burns explained in a statement.

However, this counting goes both ways, as males know how much they've stored."The males get very aggressive when they catch their female partners stealing from them," Burns said, adding that these squabbles over who had their hand in the "cookie jar" last are common among robins.

Emerald Ash Borer continues to Spread in North America and Canada

Even as winter closes in, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)  beetle continues to be a threatening nuisance to states across the East Coast, destroying ash trees and jacking up the price of firewood. Now it has spread to new states and Canada, sparking renewed efforts to keep it contained.

As of late last week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) confirmed the concentrated presence of EAB parts of Quebec. Disturbingly, this discovery is well outside regulated boundaries, marking Canada's first case of the invasive insects breaking through pre-established quarantines.

And while the EAB is relatively new to North America, first showing up in 2002, the United States and the Canadian regions of Ontario and Quebec have already been deeply affected by the harmful eastern Asian beetle.

23 states, largely in the eastern US along the East Coast, are currently being affected by the tiny green beetle. And while the adult EAB itself is not a huge problem, its larvae feed just below an ash tree's bark, interfering with the plant's water and nutrient uptake and causing it to die.

Symptoms are

•Thinning or yellowing of foliage
•Fissures in bark, 5-10 cm in length
•Woodpecker activity, as the birds strip away bark to get at the beetles
•D-shaped holes, 3mm in diameter, produced by emerging adults

Many trees die within 2-3 years

Because the EAB has little-to-no natural predators in North America, it's free to reproduce en masse,
posing a serious threat to the ash tree industry.

A firewood quarantine is thought to provide the best chance for slowing the spread. However, for states that have already seen what the EAB can do, a quarantine just doesn't seem enough.

It's tough on Ash trees in Europe as well, with Ash Die-back fungus spreading and killing millions of the trees over there. So far there is little that can be done to stop the advance of either the beetles or the fungus.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

9300 year old mummified Bison found in Siberia

A 9,300-year-old bison mummy was found in Siberia literally frozen in time, providing researchers with the rare opportunity to learn how this animal lived and died during the Ice Age.

Though the Yukagir bison mummy, as it's called, may have withered over time, the surprisingly well-
preserved carcass still has a full coat of fur and several major organs, including its brain, heart, blood
vessels and digestive system.

Many large charismatic mammals went extinct at the end of the Ice Age - approximately 11,000 years ago - including the Steppe bison (Bison priscus).

The steppe bison was a predecessor to modern bison species and could be found throughout the plains of Europe, Central Asia and North America, according to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. Along with the woolly mammoth and small horse, it was one of the most common plains species of its time and lived from about 2 million years ago to around 10,000 years ago.

The bison mummy presented this week dates back 9,300 years, and was discovered in 2011 by members of the Yukagir tribe in the Yana-Indigirka Lowland of Eastern Siberia.

A necropsy of the unique mummy does not indicate any obvious cause of death, though the lack of fat around the abdomen suggests that starvation may have led to its demise. Next researchers plan to study its anatomy and histology in more detail to learn more about these Ice Age beasts.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Bees and Flowers Out of Sync, Climate Change is Blamed

A new study has revealed that more and more specialized flowering plants may wind up missing out on pollinators as the spring season grows warmer for many parts of the world. As net temperatures continue to climb, researchers have found that bees are waking from their wintering earlier, disrupting a synchronized bloom that some flowers had painstakingly adapted for.

That's at least according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology, which details how the Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) usually boasts an impressively synchronized bloom with the bee Andrena nigroaenea.

According to historical records and ecological observation dating back to 1848, this flower and bee
pairing was a prime example of how flawless timing could promote absolute efficiency in nature. Compared to many less specialized flowering plants, the Early Spider Orchid only flowers for a very short amount of time. Amazingly, this narrow window is usually perfectly timed to begin when A. nigroaenea males wake from their wintering slumber before their female counterparts.

Past studies have found that the flower then releases a deceptive scent that resembles the female-produced sex pheromone of the solitary bee species, drawing in males and promoting a high rate of pollination. When the flowers' bloom peaks, the female bees wake, eventually distracting the males from their work.

"These orchids have evolved so that when spring comes, their flowers appear at the same time as this
specific bee - making pollination possible," researcher Karen Robbirt said in a statement. "But we have shown that plants and their pollinators show different responses to climate change, and that warming will widen the timeline between bees and flowers emerging."

"Warming by as little as 2 degrees Celsius causes the males to emerge much earlier, meaning they are less well synchronised with the orchids," added lead researcher Anthony Davy. "The problem is compounded by the female bees which are also emerging earlier, and attracting the attention of the male bees. This means that the male bees are more likely to copulate with the female bees, rather than pollinating the orchids."

Thursday 6 November 2014

New approaches to control pathogenic bacteria

Bacteria are becoming ever more resistant to our Antibiotics and there is a danger that many diseases will resurface and cause an increasing number of deaths Worldwide. Researchers are developing new approaches controlling bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and some of the techniques can target specific bacterial strains.

Some of the methodes include:

Bacteria have natural predators called phages—viruses that replicate inside the organisms and burst out to destroy them, Alien-style. One upcoming human clinical trial pits phages against bugs in infected burn wounds, while another targets drug-resistant staphylococcus.

Scientists can design DNA-like molecules that block specific genes so cells can't translate the code into proteins. No proteins for cell division or membrane-building means bacteria can't reproduce. This is being tested on animals currently.

Bacteria already attack each other with toxins called bacteriocins. Doctors just need to get them to go
for the specific target. Researchers have engineered a strain which will deploy these chemicals only when it detects pheromones from a pathogenic bug.

A recently discovered gene-editing system called Crispr attacks bacteria by destroying their DNA. It
searches out gene sequences unique to drug-resistant strains and then chops up the strands to kill the
organisms. Development of this as a medical option is still in its early stages.

World's largest bat cave saved from developers

The world's largest bat colony has been saved from a San Antonio (Texas) land developer thanks to efforts from conservation groups, Nature Conservancy announced on Friday, ensuring the protection of vital habitat, including the famous Bracken Bat Cave, home to 15 million Mexican free-tail bats.

As part of a $20 million deal a 5,000-acre swath of land was taken out of the hands of the development company Galo Properties and placed into the protective care of the non-profit group Nature Conservancy.

"Bracken Cave is the largest colony of bats in the world, somewhere between 15 and 20 million Mexican free-tail bats," Nature Conservancy spokeswoman Laura Hutchins told NPR. "So they deposit the baby in what we call the nursery section of the cave, which is just millions of hairless baby bats, so when you look at it, it's a ceiling of pink, hairless baby bats."

The gestation period of a female bat, according to Defenders of Wildlife, can range anywhere from 40 days to six months. And during that time, nursing mothers are gaining their weight in milk as well as eating their body weight in insects every day.

"So this colony alone, that's 100 tons of bugs every night," Hutchins explained.
Not only is this food frenzy necessary to produce healthy pups, which will only weigh up to 25 percent of its mother's weight at birth, but it also serves as a natural pest control, saving farmers billions of dollars nationwide and reducing the need to use insecticides.

Ther are about 1,000 bat species worldwide, Defenders says, and while some like those in San Antonio number in the millions, many species are in decline or becoming rare.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Even a Worldwide Ebola pandemic wouldn't stop massive overpopulation of the planet

Environmental scientists for the most part agree that the human population is growing at an unsustainable rate, to the point that even fertility restrictions and a worldwide pandemic couldn't solve the problem, according to new research.

There are currently more than seven billion people on Earth. And despite the United Nation's (UN) belief that humanity would level off, so to speak, a report published just last month shows that the 21st century may get a lot more crowded than previously thought. The global population will continue to grow to a whopping 11 billion people by the time the year 2100 rolls around.

"Global population has risen so fast over the past century that roughly 14 percent of all the human beings that have ever existed are still alive today - that's a sobering statistic," ecologist and professor Corey Bradshaw, from the University of Adelaide. However, "even one-child policies imposed worldwide would still likely result in 5 billion to 10 billion people by 2100," Bradshaw said in the statement.

Even if two billion people died over the course of a five-year period in the mid-21st century, for example, by a war or pandemic the researchers calculated that the world's population would still grow to 8.5 billion by 2100.

"We were surprised that a five-year WWIII scenario mimicking the same proportion of people killed in the First and Second World Wars combined, barely registered a blip on the human population trajectory this century," Brook added.

If current trends continue and demands for products like meat and dairy increase, the global food supply may not meet future demand. We would have to double the amount of crops we grow by 2050.

But increasing agricultural practices poses its own problems. National Geographic says that the practice is one of the biggest contributors to global warming, "emitting more greenhouse gases than all our cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes combined." Methane and nitrous oxide are released from cattle and rice farms and fertilized fields, respectively, while the infamous carbon dioxide gas builds up in the atmosphere as forests are cut down to make room for farm land.

More than a third of recent deforestation can be tied to production of beef, soy, palm oil and timber

African Lions should be on the endangered species list says US Fish and Wildlife Service

African lions are in need of protection, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said Monday, as loss of  habitat and prey, and overhunting are putting the species in danger of extinction.

"Following a review of the best available scientific information, the US Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed listing the African lion as threatened under the Endangered Species Act," the FWS said in a statement.

Most people blame competition from large predators for the drop in cheetah populations, but a new study shows that the big cats should actually be pointing the finger at humans.

"The agency's analysis found that lions are in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future."
Such protection would allow US authorities to toughen enforcement and monitoring of imports and
international trade of these animals, which are hunted for sport, and would help raise awareness of
conservation efforts.

While these majestic creatures still roam around their native Africa, the majority of the population has dwindled to 10 major strongholds. They are traditionally seen as "kings of the jungle," but African lions are quickly losing their reign. Prides once roamed most of Africa and parts of Asia and Europe, but National Geographic says that today they are found only in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The FWS decision comes after a 2011 petition from a coalition of organizations requesting the African lion be listed as endangered.

A 90-day comment period, ending in January 2015, will allow the public to weigh in on the proposed rule.

"It is up to all of us, not just the people of Africa, to ensure that healthy, wild populations continue
to roam the savannah for generations to come," FWS Director Dan Ashe said in the statement.

Arctic sea ice melt will result in more frequent harsh winters in Europe and Asia

Europe and Asia are due for some harsh winters in the future thanks to Arctic ice melt, new research says. Declining sea ice in the Arctic, Barents, and Kara seas since 2004 has been messing with the pole's wind patterns, which is sending bitter cold Arctic air more frequently over parts of the Northern Hemisphere.

So even though we live in a warming world, the risk of severe winters has more than doubled for Europe and Asia.

"This counterintuitive effect of the global warming that led to the sea ice decline in the first place
makes some people think that global warming has stopped. It has not," Colin Summerhayes of the Scott Polar Research Institute said, according to research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Researchers, led by Masato Mori of the University of Tokyo, performed some 200 computer simulations using data from years with high and low sea-ice cover. They found that years in which sea ice melted the most in the Arctic resulted in colder winters in Eurasia.

This can be attributed to what scientists call "blocking" situations, in which freezing Arctic air is
pulled southward and gets stuck in a particular pattern for days or even weeks, resulting in severe
weather that can last for long periods of time. Reduced sea ice exacerbates this phenomenon - making it more than twice as likely - and explains Eurasia's heightened risk for bitter winter months.

Eventually however, climate warming is expected to outweigh the sea ice effect - but this will result in even more wild and unpredictable weather over many areas.

New Species of frog discovered in New York

DNA analysis has confirmed that there is a previously unknown species of Leopard Frog living in New York City and the Surrounding Atlantic Coast Regions. Scientists are calling it the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog.

This species is morphologically similar to two other types of frog in the area, Rana sphenocephala and R. pipiens. The frogs  distinctive call and molecular data were used to characterize the new species

The discovery came as a surprise in one of the largest and most densely populated urban parts of the
world. It also demonstrates that new vertebrate species can still be found periodically even in well-
studied locales rarely associated with undocumented biodiversity. The new species typically occurs in
expansive open-canopied wetlands interspersed with upland patches. It also likes the coastal bogs of
Staten Island. Centuries of loss and impact to these habitats give cause for conservation concern as
amphibians are sensitive to disease, contaminants, and environmental perturbations.

This is one of the largest human population centres on earth and a region where endemic vertebrate species are rare. The long-term concealment and recent discovery of a new frog here is both surprising and biogeographically significant, and illustrates how new species can occur almost anywhere.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Researchers explain why so many things in Nature are so reflective

Researchers from the University of Bristol have revealed "a universal explanation" for many of the dazzling coloured and silvery reflections in the natural world.

The team revealed that disordered layers of crystals that are responsible for silvery reflective scales of fish reflect light in the same way as coloured, iridescent insect wings and carapaces. The research reveals just how shiny creatures have evolved nanoscale structures that exploit light.

The team also says that humans could copy the effect to produce, for example, hyper-reflective surfaces. The very silvery scales of fish, like sardines and herring, are made up of microscopic layers of crystals.

"What's important is that the crystals have a range of different thicknesses," said Dr Tom Jordan, a member of the research team.Different amounts of this nano-scale disorder is found in the surface of fish scales, butterfly wings and beetle carapaces, and produces an effect known as Anderson localisation.This a physical phenomenon whereby disorder can prevent light waves from propagating through a material.

"As the light [wave] goes in and meets these changes in the different layers, the multiple waves all interfere with with each other," lead scientist on the study, Dr Nicholas Roberts, explained. This means the light waves "bounce around inside the layers" and are eventually reflected back out. These surfaces reflect more light than many man-made structures, producing colourful metallic iridescence or dazzling silver shine that we see in the natural world.

Monday 20 October 2014

Did sex evolve in a Scottish lake?

Scientists believe they have discovered the origin of copulation.

An international team of researchers believes that a fish called Microbrachius dicki was the first animal to us copulation to mate instead of spawning. The primitive bony fish, which was about 8cm long, lived in ancient lakes about 385 million years ago in what is now Scotland.

Prof John Long, from Flinders University in Australia, said: "We have defined the very point in evolution where the origin of internal fertilisation in all animals began. "That is a really big step."
Prof Long said that he was looking through a box of fossils when he realised that one of the M. dicki specimens had an odd L-shaped appendage which was the male fish's genitals. "The male has large bony claspers. These are the grooves that they use to transfer sperm into the female,"

The female fish, had a small bony structure at their rear that locked the male organ into place.
Constrained by their anatomy, the fish probably had to mate side by side.

"They couldn't have done it in a 'missionary position'," said Prof Long. "The very first act of copulation was done sideways, square-dance style."The fish used their small arm-like fins to help stay in position. "The little arms are very useful to link the male and female together, so the male can get this large L-shaped sexual organ into position to dock with the female's genital plates, which are very rough like cheese graters. They act like Velcro, locking the male organ into position to transfer sperm."

Surprisingly, the researchers think this first attempt to reproduce internally was quickly abandoned.
As fish evolved, they reverted back to spawning. It was another few million years for copulation to make a come-back, first seen in ancient sharks and rays.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Leaves absorb significantly more CO2 than climate models have estimated

A new study suggests that Global climate models have underestimated the amount of CO2 being absorbed by plants.Scientists say that between 1901 and 2010, living things absorbed 16% more of the gas than previously thought.

These findings partly explain why climate models overestimated the rate at which carbon accumulates in the
atmosphere. However the new calculation is unlikely to make a difference to global warming predictions.
Working out the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is critical to estimating the future impacts of
global warming on temperatures. About half the CO2 that's produced ends up in the oceans or is absorbed by living things. To model the exact impacts of CO2 on a global scale is an extremely complicated business.

Scientists have re-examined the way trees and plants absorb carbon in this study. They have looked at how the gas moves inside the leaves and have come to the conclusion that more gas is absorbed than had previously been calculated, in a process called mesophyll diffusion.

The researchers believe that their new work increases the amount of carbon taken up through fertilisation from 915 billion tonnes to 1,057 billion over the whole period.

Fish species could move towards the Poles at rate of up to 26 kilometres per decade

A new study on the impact of climate change suggests that large numbers of fish species could become extinct in their present tropical home ranges and move and live further northward. Some places in the tropics will become hotspots for extinction as the sea heats up.

The climate models used were the same ones as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
They showed that if the Earth’s Oceans warmed by three degrees Centigrade then the fish might move at a rate of up to 26 kilometres in ten years. Even under the best-case scenario, where the Earth's oceans warm by one degree Celsius, fish may move up to 15 kilometres every decade.

The tropics will be the overall losers as many species of fish become extinct in this region. Corals will also continue to die as they bleach in the heat. This is already happening at an alarming rate.

Friday 10 October 2014

Garlic may save UK trees from disease

Injecting trees with a concentrated form of garlic might help save trees in the UK from deadly diseases.

Operating under an experimental government licence, a prototype piece of technology to administer the solution is being trialled on a woodland estate in Northamptonshire.

Widespread use of the injection process is impractical and expensive but it could potentially help save trees of historic or sentimental value.

Garlic is one of nature's most powerful antibacterial and antifungal agents.It contains a compound called allicin, which scientists are interested in harnessing.

The experimental injection device is made up of a pressurised chamber and eight "octopus" tubes. The pressure punches the solution through the tubes and through special injection units in to the tree's sap system. The needles are positioned in a way to get allicin evenly around the tree.The moment the active agent starts to encounter the disease, it destroys it. The poison is organic and isn't rejected by the tree.

Tests have shown a 95% success rate on trees suffereing from bleeding canker of horse chestnut and Oak trees with Acute Oak decline have improved after treatement.In laboratory conditions allicin kills the pathogen chalara which is responsible for ash dieback.

Caution has been expressed about using this method as Despite being plant-based that doesn't mean it can't harm an ecosystem.

Thursday 29 May 2014

A Peat Bog the size England has been disovered in Congo

The bog covers an area the size of England and is thought to contain billions of tonnes of peat.

Scientists say investigating the carbon-rich material could shed light on 10,000 years of environmental change in this little-studied region.

The discovery team, from the University of Leeds, the Wildlife Conservation Society-Congo and Congo-Brazzaville's Marien Ngouabi University, had to contend with dwarf crocodiles, gorillas and elephants as they explored the area. But they said the biggest challenge was soggy feet.

Dr Simon Lewis from the Univer sity of leeds, who was working with PhD student Greta Dargie, said: "You can only walk on these areas for a couple of months a year, right at the end of the dry season, so you have to time it right. Even then it is still wet every day.

The team estimates that the bog covers between 100,000 and 200,000 square kilometres (40,000 to 80,000 sq miles), with the peat-layer reaching up to 7m (23ft) beneath the ground. It spreads into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Biggest ever Creature to walk the Earth found in Patagonia

Fossilised bones of a dinosaur believed to be the largest creature ever to walk the Earth have been unearthed in Argentina, palaeontologists say.

Based on its huge thigh bones, it was 40m (130ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall. Weighing in at 77 tonnes, it was as heavy as 14 African elephants, and seven tonnes heavier than the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus.

Scientists believe it is a new species of titanosaur - an enormous herbivore dating from the Late Cretaceous period.

By measuring the length and circumference of the largest femur (thigh bone), they calculatedthe animal weighed 77 tonnes.

This giant herbivore lived in the forests of Patagonia between 95 and 100 million years ago, based on the age of the rocks in which its bones were found.

But despite its magnitude, it does not yet have a name.

Friday 16 May 2014

Water Extraction is Triggering Earthquakes in California

Extracting water for human activities is increasing the number of small earthquakes being triggered in California.

A new study suggests that the heavy use of ground water for pumping and irrigation is causing mountains to lift and valleys to subside. The scientists say this depletion of the water is increasing seismic activity along the San Andreas fault. They worry that over time this will hasten the occurrence of large quakes. So great is the demand that scientists estimate twice as much water is being consumed as is being returned through rain and snow.

All this extraction is having a significant impact on the shape of the Earth. The floors of the valleys are subsiding, the researchers found, while the surrounding mountains are on the rise.

"We are removing a weight from the Earth's crust and it is responding by flexing upwards and literally moving mountains," lead author Dr Colin Amos told BBC News.

Climate change is real, man made, and it is hitting almost every part of the US. And it is going to get a lot worse.

One of the areas that's likely to feel the full effects of warming is the second largest state: Texas. The report predicts more heat, more dry spells and more extreme weather events in a place that suffered record temperatures in 2011.

So desperate are they for water in the town of Wichita Falls, the locals are investigating the possibility of recycling toilet water for human consumption!

As Texas is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the US, there is a certain synchronicity to the scale of the impacts the state is likely to endure.

Friday 2 May 2014

Female Insects with Penises have been Discovered

Female insects with "penises" have been discovered in a cave in eastern Brazil.

Scientists think they are the first example of animals with reversed genitalia.

The females of four species of Neotrogla insert their erectile organs into males' vagina-like openings.

The structure, known as a "gynosome", is used to suck out sperm and nutritious seminal fluids, which provide the females with food as well. This may be an important survival strategy as they live in a cave environment where food is scarce.

Copulation lasts an impressive 40-70 hours.

Once inside a male, the female gynosome inflates. It has numerous spines which anchor the two insects very firmly together.

When the researchers attempted to pull a male and female apart, the male's abdomen was pulled from its thorax without breaking the coupling.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Endangered hamster-sized deer born in zoo

A baby Java mouse-deer - one of the smallest hoofed animals in the world - has been born at a zoo in southern Spain.

The newborn deer is "no bigger than a hamster" and weighs about 100 grams, staff at Bioparc Fuengirola tell the El Pais newspaper. Adult Java mouse-deer are rarely bigger than rabbits or weigh more than 1kg (2.2lb).

They are also known to be fiercely intelligent, and the species represents wisdom in many local legends in its
native Java.

The future of the species is threatened by massive deforestation in South East Asia and the replacement of
jungles with oil palm plantations.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Japan is to stop its program of whaling for "scientific research"

The UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that the Japanese government must halt its whaling
programme in the Antarctic.It agreed with Australia, which brought the case in May 2010, that the programme was not for scientific research as claimed by Tokyo.

Japan said it would abide by the decision but added it "regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision".
Reading out the judgement on Monday, Presiding Judge Peter Tomka said the court had decided, by 12 votes to four, that Japan should withdraw all permits and licenses for whaling in the Antarctic and refrain from issuing any new ones.It said Japan had caught some 3,600 minke whales since its current programme began in 2005, but the scientific output was limited.

Japan signed up to a moratorium on whaling in 1986, but continued whaling in the north and south Pacific under provisions that allowed for scientific research. Norway and Iceland rejected the provision and continued commercial whaling.

The meat from the slaughtered whales is sold commercially in Japan.

Friday 14 March 2014

Mineral hints at bright blue rocks deep in the Earth

Minerals preserved in a diamond from a 100 million year old Kimberlite found in Brazil have revealed hints of the bright blue rocks that exist deep within the Earth.It also provides the first direct evidence that there may be as much water trapped in those rocks as there is in all the oceans.

The diamond contains minerals that formed as deep as 600km down and that have significant amounts of water trapped within them.

Diamonds, brought to the Earth's surface in violent eruptions of deep volcanic rocks called Kimberlites,
provide a tantalising window into the deep Earth.

The diamond contained a mineral, Ringwoodite, that is only thought to form between 410km and 660km beneath the Earth's surface, showing just how deep some diamonds originate. While Ringwoodite has previously been found in meteorites, this is the first time a terrestrial Ringwoodite has been seen. But more extraordinarily, researchers found that the mineral contains about 1% water.

While this sounds like very little, because ringwoodite makes up almost all of this immense portion of the
deep Earth, it adds up to a huge amount of deep water - up to several times the amount in the Earth's Oceans.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Elephants recognise Human voices

Elephants are able to differentiate between ethnicities and genders, and can tell an adult from a child - all
from the sound of a human voice.This is according to a study in which researchers played voice recordings to wild African elephants.

According to Prof McComb who led the study, "If you give a Masai man a lift in your car, you can see the
elephants behave in a different way around you. "They're much more wary of the car and you see a lot of smelling and listening."

Prof McComb wanted to find out if the animals used their very acute sense of hearing to identify a potential threat from humans.The scientists recorded Masai and then Kamba (agriculturalists) men, women and children saying, in their own language, "look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming".

When the team played recordings of these different voices through a camouflaged loudspeaker, they found that elephant family groups reacted more fearfully in response to the voice of a Masai man, than to a Kamba man's voice - retreating and bunching together defensively.And the adult male Masai voices triggered far more of these defensive reactions than the voices of women or boys.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Satellites are being used to track baby Loggerhead Turtles

Satellites are tracking tagged baby loggerhead turtles to find out where they go in their early years.
The babies are tracked from leaving the US coastal waters as they head off into the Atlantic Ocean. It appears they spend a long time in the Sargasso Sea, possibly living in amongst floating mats of Sargassum seaweed.

The tags fall off after about 220 days

Other data suggests that they travel in a circle born along by the North Atlanic Sea currents and get as far as the Azores and Cape Verde before heading back to the Gulf of Mexico

Sunday 2 February 2014

Hopes to release Asian Vultures back into the Wild in 2016

After the devastation wrought by a drug on Asian vulture populations, a project hopes to begin releasing captive-bred birds into the wild by 2016.

The Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction (Save) programme says it plans to release up to 25 birds into a 30,000-sq-km drug-free "safe zone". It then wants to establish many more and bigger safe zones.

Diclofenac - used by vets on cattle - was identified as causing a crash in vulture numbers and banned by India after the population dropped by 96%.

But, says Save, the version for human use is still given illegally to cattle.Much work is being done to educate local farmers into using safer alternatives

Diclofenac was banned for use by vets and farmers in 2006 because of its effect on vultures that feed on livestock carcasses. It either causes Kidney failure or makes them infertile

Vulures are essential to clean up carcasses that would otherwise rot and spread disease

Sunday 5 January 2014

Blue Diamond found in South Africa's Cullinan Mine

A rare blue diamond has been discovered in a mine in South Africa.

The 29.6-carat stone was recovered by Petra Diamonds at its Cullinan mine, about 40km (25 miles) north-east of Pretoria.

"This stone is one of the most exceptional stones recovered at Cullinan during Petra's operation of the mine," the company said.

Petra unearthed a 25.5 carat blue diamond which sold for $16.9m (£10.3m) in 2013.

Cullinan mine has produced hundreds of large stones and is famed for its production of blue diamonds - among the rarest and most highly coveted of all diamonds.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Uranium Mining in Tanzania

The government of Tanzania is pushing ahead with uranium mining in a section of the Selous. Serengeti Watch reported,

“While authorities say the plan will affect less than 1% of the reserve, dozens of environmental groups around the world are outraged. They say the mine will produce 60 million tons of radioactive and poisonous waste during its 10-year lifespan, and up 139 million tons if a projected extension of the mine is implemented.

According to Uranium Network, “the radioactive wastes pose a serious threat to Selous Game Reserve which is home to the world’s largest elephant population and other wildlife. No proven methods exist to keep the radioactive and toxic slush and liquids from seeping into surface waters, aquifers or spreading with the dry season wind into the Reserve.”