Question: How much of the land on Earth is covered by humans? According to the FAO Global Land Cover SHARE database, produced in 2014, 0.6% of Earth’s land surface is defined as ‘Artificial surfaces’. Artificial surfaces include any areas that have an artificial cover as a result of human activities such as construction (cities, towns, transportation), extraction (open mines and quarries) or waste disposal. This figure gives us an estimate of roughly 900,000 km2 of human-covered land worldwide.

I’ve previously blogged on the topic of edible insects, so I was thrilled to hear from Ghergich about their new blog and infographics on the subject. It is great to see real recipes using insects as an ingredient and I’m pleased to see how far the industry has progressed since I wrote my original post. Thinking about ways to increase your protein intake? You might want to think about bugs. Yes, that’s right, we said it: Edible insects are an environmentally friendly addition to your dinner plate.

What do those cute little baby sea turtles do after their epic spring to the water? Until very recently, we simply didn’t know. But a new study reveals for the first time just what the young turtles have been up to in the Pacific – and it shows that they are just as determined and tenacious as they were on land, fighting strong currents to reach their preferred feeding grounds.


Trading Aliens:
How Politics Helps and Hinders Invasive Species

Featured image created using public domain images of invasive species - Fire Ants and a Signal Crayfish Claw, as well as a House Mouse by George Shuklin used under a CC-BY 1.0 licence.

The spread of non-native species across the globe is a major concern – species out of their natural range can cause millions of pounds of damage, spread diseases to humans and livestock and threaten native wildlife. They are a huge financial burden to control, but almost impossible to eradicate. New invasive species reach foreign lands by hitching a ride on our trade routes, so changes to global trade could have serious implications for our economies and our ecosystems.
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Cholesterol and fats prime immune cells to clog arteries

Featured image by Christoph Bock used under a creative commons license from WIkimedia Commons.

A fatty diet could change your genetic make-up, priming the immune system and causing clogged arteries.

Epigenetic changes – which often involve adding methyl to particular DNA sequences in a process known as DNA Methylation – can alter gene expression in response to environmental stimuli. The field of epigenetics has excited biologists because it allows animals to adapt their genetics to fit the environment, while also passing some of that experience on to the next generation.

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Invertebrate hunting in Dominica

All images in this blog are copyright of Erica McAlister, used with permission.

A Guest Post for Curious Meerkat by Erica McAlister

I have just finished four weeks of fieldwork collecting insects in Dominica. I can’t really complain about that except that the fieldwork did not follow my usual routine. Generally when employed at The Natural History Museum your fieldwork is either part of a general collecting trip hoping to find as much as possible (work with Dipterists Forum); part of a research focused group (me collecting flies from Potatoes in Peru); or part of a consultancy project (Mosquitoes in Tajikistan). However this trip was different, I wasn’t marauding around the countryside with collector’s glee, this time I had to teach as well as collect.

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Habitat Disturbance leaves a genetic legacy

Featured image from Herrera and Bazaga (2016)  Ecology and Evolution.

Habitat disturbance, be that logging, agriculture, or roads and infrastructure, can be hugely damaging to biodiversity. But even after the visible wounds have healed, the genetic scars of past disturbance remain in the genome, according to results from a two-decade-long study of shrubs in Spain.

The effects of habitat disturbance on plants can be seen in the genomes of the next generation, a new study reports for the first time. The team compared the genetic and epigenetic profiles of shrubs (Lavandula latifolia) that had been experimentally disturbed 20 years previously, with those left undisturbed for more than 50 years.

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The costs of a big brain outweigh the benefits

Featured image is in the public domain.

Brains rather than braun may have guided our ancestors out of Africa, but new research suggests primates’ big brains are no longer the assets they once were.

A study published in the journal Evolution reports that larger brains are directly related to an increased risk of extinction in modern primates. Researchers led by Alejandro Gonzalez-Voyer at Doñana Biological Station in Spain, compared published data on 474 species of mammal, with their IUCN Redlist categorisations, to find out how different biological traits influence extinction risk. The team found that larger brains tend to be associated with a longer gestation period, longer weaning period and smaller litter sizes, all of which indirectly increase extinction risk.

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Chimps use tools to get tipsy

Featured image by Alain Houle used under a creative commons licence from Wikimedia.

Did you hear the one about the drunken monkey? Primates frequently encounter and consume alcohol in their natural environment, most commonly through fermented fruit. But a study published last year showed that some Chimpanzees are actively seeking it out, and have even developed tools to help them access their preferred tipple!

I’ve written before on the topic of animals and recreational drug use. Research has shown that many animals consume alcohol in their diet, from treeshrews drinking alcoholic nectar in Malaysia to Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) drinking fermented berries of the Brazilian Pepper Tree (Schunus terebinthifolius). But deliberate consumption of alcohol – which is, let’s not forget, a poison – is harder to find.

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Ancient fossil arachnid reveals the origins of spiders

Featured image from Garwood et al (2016), open access.

A new fossil discovered in France promises to shed light on the murky evolutionary history of spiders. The rare three-dimensional fossil of the new species shows that it is nearly, but not quite, a spider, lacking the key silk-spinning adaptation that defines spiders. This 300-million-year-old arachnid is our closest view yet of the ancestor to all spiders.
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Cuckolding common in nature, but rare in humans

Featured image by Tomfriedel, used under a creative commons licence from Wikimedia.

Fathers can breath a sigh of relief. Although biologists have found cuckolding, where one male unwittingly raises the offspring of another male, is common in animal societies, it appears humans are one of the few exceptions.

A recent review published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution on 5th April claims that across modern and ancient human societies, women tended to be faithful to their partners.

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