Why Are We So Obsessed With Ivory?

A guest post for Curious Meerkat by Emily Folk.

Have you ever considered a world without elephants? This is a world we’re heading toward with the profound level of poaching that has occurred. As a result of almost institutionalized poaching over many decades, we have decimated the population of wild African elephants to between 400,000 and 600,000 individuals.

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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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Epigenetics Affect How Corals Respond to Climate Change

Genes associated with stress tolerance in corals have fewer epigenetic markers, enabling a rapid response to environmental change. In six species of coral, the team from the University of Washington found DNA methylation, a common epigenetic molecular marker, differed between different genetic regions, and was extremely low in genes relating to stress tolerance. Epigenetics could play a key role in determining how corals cope with climate change.
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Light Pollution Puts Marsupials Out of Sync

Wallabies living near humans breed later in the season, potentially missing valuable resources that could mean the difference between life and death for their growing offspring.

New research published last month in Proceedings B that found that light pollution in Australia is putting the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) out of sync with the seasons. Robert and colleagues from La Trobe University in Melbourne studied wallaby breeding near urban areas and in natural bush, and found that human light pollution prevents the marsupials from responding to light cues that normally signal the start of the breeding season. Wallabies living near humans had lower levels of melatonin, a hormone linked to the sleep-wake cycle, and gave birth on average 27 days later than wallabies in wild conditions. The authors say that this may lead to a mismatch between the birth of young wallabies and food availability.

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Estimating Extinction

We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and everyone is in a hurry to tell us about it – we are constantly bombarded by statistics about how many species are threatened, but how do scientists work out which species are threatened and which are not? The recent Living Planet Report tells us that over 50% of wildlife has been lost from Earth since 1970. But what are those estimates based on, and how do you even begin to try and monitor the population statuses of the 9 million or so living species on Earth??

With an estimated 9 million species on Earth today, the task of monitoring and assessing the status of the World’s biodiversity is no small one. Yet if we have any hope of putting a halt to the astonishing loss of species occurring worldwide, we must try to understand what species are threatened and by which human activities.

In this feature article, I summarise recent research into extinction risk and ask the experts their views on estimating extinction during the sixth mass extinction. Includes interviews with Dr Monika Böhm (Institute of Zoology, Indicators and Assessment) and Prof Andy Purvis (Natural History Museum, PREDICTS Project).

Download the PDF here

The Truth Behind the Badger Cull

In the UK, the Badger Cull has become a national news item, and has stimulated fierce public debate, campaigns, protests and petitions from both sides. Many impassioned articles have been written over the last few months and years, but in many cases, even reputable authors have been guilty of cherry-picking data to support their claim. Everybody seems to have an opinion on the UK badger cull, and this often obscures the real science that is being done to investigate this crucial social and economic issue.

A Little Background

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, the badger cull is a UK government policy aimed at reducing the incidence of bovine tuberculosis (Mycobacterium bovis) by reducing transmission rates from a suspected infection reservoir in the European badger (Meles meles). It has been implemented on and off since the early 1970s, despite legal protection of the badger since 1986.

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Martha: The Last Passenger Pigeon

The passenger pigeon used to be the most numerous bird on Earth. Then, in less than a century, it was driven to extinction at the hands of humans. This month marks the 100th anniversary of Martha, the last passenger pigeon’s death.

There used to be billions of passenger pigeons. Literally. And that’s passenger pigeons, not carrier pigeons by the way, which are still alive and well today. When Europeans arrived in North America, there were between 3 and 5 billion passenger pigeons there. The passenger pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, were highly sociable, living in huge colonies with up to 100 nests in a single tree. Continue reading

Is There Such a Thing as Sustainable Fishing?

Globally, seafood represents 15% of animal protein consumed by humans, and the fishing industry employs around 35 million people world wide. Fish are big business, but not for long. That business is set to vanish in the next few decades, unless we make some major changes. Massive cuts to global fishing quotas and to our consumption of fish are necessary if we are to avoid totally eradicating all remaining edible fish in the space of a generation. The loss of our fish would be catastrophic – millions of people unemployed, millions of people without adequate nutrition, a collapse of the ocean ecosystem and the loss of many crucial ecosystem services. It may even make global warming worse, too!

But for us consumers, what can we do? Is there any way to sustainably include fish in our diets?

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