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.