The first skeletons evolved multiple times independently because of unusually chalky seas, later becoming essential for survival even when chalk became scarce. Calcium-based skeletons appeared suddenly in the fossil record around 550 million years ago, fundamentally changing the global carbon cycle and introducing a wealth of new predatory strategies to the sea.


My #230 Papers Challenge

You might have heard of the #360papers challenge – to read one journal article a day for a whole year – you might be less familiar with the related #230 papers challenge. This makes the more realistic goal of reading one journal article each working day of the year, which is apparently 230 days in total (I haven’t checked their maths). This is a record of my feeble attempt to reach this lofty goal – I will update every ten articles or so and try to give a one sentence summary (or link to an article or a longer blog).

Last updated: 04.04.17

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Geological uplift creates mountain biodiversity hotspots

Mountains tend to have more species than valleys, and new research provides support for the theory that mountain formation itself might be responsible.

Yaowu Ying and Richard Ree from The Field Museum in Chicago compared regional rates of plant colonisation and speciation in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, a high-altitude biodiversity hotspot. Within the QTP, the Hengduan mountain region is the most biodiverse, harbouring an astonishing 12,000 species in just 500,000 km2. The authors used published datasets to compare the spread of over 4,500 plant species across Hengduan, the Central Asian Mountains and the Himalayas.

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Trading Aliens:
How Politics Helps and Hinders Invasive Species

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

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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How much land on Earth is inhabited?

Question: How much of the land on Earth is covered by humans?

Answer: Approximately 10%.

This question is an interesting one because, when my friend asked me the other day, I could tell her confidently that not only did science know the answer, science had multiple different ways to quantify that answer, but that I had absolutely no idea what it was.

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Edible Insects: The Alternative Protein People are Buzzing About

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. So here’s a guest post for Curious Meerkat by Tafline Laylin for Ghergich.com, with a special introduction by Kaitlyn Blakeley. This article was originally posted on Fix.com.

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. How are they environmentally friendly? For starters, they need less water and less feed than traditional sources of protein. They also don’t release the same amount of greenhouse gases and don’t have the same troubling welfare issues as other animals that are harvested for their meat.

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Study tracks young sea turtles in Pacific for first time

What do those cute little baby sea turtles do after their epic sprint to the water? Until very recently, we simply didn’t know. Nobody had been able to study the movement of juvenile sea turtles in natural conditions – they were simply too small and too difficult to track. But a new study reveals for the first time just what the young turtles have been up to in the Pacific ocean – 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.
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Invertebrate hunting in Dominica

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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