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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Ig Nobel Prizes 2017

The Ig Nobel Prizes is one of my favourite events of the year, and this year the winning research is particularly great. On the 14th September, The 27th First Annual Ig® Nobel Prize Ceremony & Lectures took place at Harvard University in Massachusetts. In case you’re not familiar with the awards, they were set up in 1991 to celebrate research that makes you laugh, and then makes you think. Here are this year’s awards:

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An End to Superfluous Salad

I’d like to talk about a problem. It might seem like quite a small problem, but it’s a pervasive one. That problem, is salad.

Yes, that’s right, I said salad. Not high on the list of major world perils, but perhaps it should be. I mean, for starters, it’s everwhere. Lurking in every supermarket-bought sandwich, mocking you from the side of every pub lunch, withering beneath every take-away spring roll. And that sad bit of salad that came with your meal, that you never even for a moment considered eating, has caused a surprising amount of damage to the environment.

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Can bees only sting me once?

Question: Can bees only sting me once?

Answer: Honeybees are generally killed by stinging you, but most other stinging insects can survive to sting you again.

It’s a common urban myth that bees can only sting once, but it’s partially based in truth. Honeybees have a barbed stinger, and if they sting a thick-skinned mammal like a human, the barbed hook gets stuck as they try to pull away, ripping their insides out and killing the bee within a few minutes. But if they were to sting another insect, or a vertebrate with thinner skin, they’d probably live to tell the tale.

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CRISPR MutAnts Lose Interest in Socialising

New gene editing technologies have revolutionised genetic science, but social insects like ants have proved difficult to genetically modify because of their complex lifecycle and social structure. Now, two separate labs have succeeded in using the CRISPR-CAS9 system to genetically modify two unusual ant species, switching off genes and disrupting their social behaviour in the process.
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Plankton Brought Back from the Dead

Scientists bring marine plankton back to life to study past climate change

Phytoplankton such as are responsible for half the global primary production (GPP), and some form resting cysts that can lie dormant in marine sediments for up to a century. Earlier this year, scientists succeeded in making use of these cellular time-capsules to understand changing ocean conditions in a Swedish fjord.

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Dinoflagellates are single-celled marine organisms, many of which are able to photosynthesis. They can be useful indicators of environmental change because they are abundant, have short life cycles and are highly sensitive to temperature, salinity and the availability of nutrients and / or sunlight.

Sedentary hunter-gatherers domesticated mice

House mice outcompeted their wild relatives to become domesticated as soon as long-term human settlements appeared, some 5000 years before agriculture took hold.

The advent of farming marks a huge change in human populations – a change in diet, social structure and a switch to a more sedentary lifestyle. Agriculture also had a profound impact on wild animals, and is thought to have led to the domestication of many species, from wolves to cattle and chickens. But other species became domesticated accidentally – as humans started storing grain for lengthy periods of time, the house mouse adapted to thrive in this new ecosystem. Now, a new study shows that it was our sedentary lifestyle, not agriculture, that domesticated one of our most prolific pests.

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Tibetans evolved to cope with UV

Study identifies seven new loci associated with high-altitude living.

Tibetan populations have evolved at least nine specific genetic variants to help them survive the extreme conditions of the Tibetan Plateau. Living permanently at over 4,000 m above sea level, these populations have been coping for millennia with 40% less oxygen and 30% stronger UV radiation, as well as exposure and limited food.

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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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