In our rush to plant more trees, are we creating an environmental nightmare?
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In our rush to plant more trees, are we creating an environmental nightmare?
New Zealand’s second-biggest climate challenge is how we get around. This is what we could do about it.
Agricultural emissions New Zealand’s biggest climate challenge is different from that of other nations: it originates in the stomachs of cows, sheep and deer. This is what we could do about it.
A few short generations ago, New Zealand was beset by a virus that closed schools, churches, cinemas and campgrounds and put people in quarantine. Polio killed at least 835 New Zealanders and paralysed many more. Regular epidemics were only banished in the 1960s by a vaccine decades in the making. Now, as the world awaits the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, how have things changed? What has science learned about designing tools to help our immune systems fight back?
Wildfires were rare in Aotearoa prior to humans. That changed, but it is climate change that will fuel the inferno of the future.
As winters get warmer, bumblebees are emerging from hibernation earlier. They urgently need sustenance, but many of the plants they rely on haven’t yet flowered. So they force them to. Consuelo De Moraes, a chemical ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, noticed bumblebees chewing distinctive holes in plant leaves. At first, she thought they were taking leaf material back their nest. But it turns out that by inflicting such damage, bumblebees can prompt flowers to bloom as much as a month early. Researchers still don’t know exactly how, but the behaviour may help bumblebees cope better with the impacts of climate change.
Adolescence is just as tough on dogs as it is on humans, researchers have found. What’s more, family dynamics can make it tougher still. A team led by Lucy Asher at the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution at Newcastle University found that when dogs hit puberty at around eight months of age, they get rebellious. Asher suspects this is down to the conflict between the dogs’ urge to seek out mates of their own kind, and their attachment to human families. Researchers found that, as with human teens, when that attachment is already weak, puberty in dogs sets in earlier, and triggers more conflict. It’s temporary—and yet, more adolescent dogs are handed in to animal shelters than any other age group.
Elephant seals hunt fish and squid in the total darkness of the deep. Biologists think the seals’ eyes are sensitive to the faint bioluminescent light emitted by their prey, but a new study has found that the hunted have a way of turning that to their advantage. After researchers fitted very fast light sensors to five elephant seals on the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean near Antarctica, they discovered that some fish and squid wait until the seal is almost upon them before dazzling them with very bright bursts of bioluminescence. The scientists also found, however, that one seal had apparently learned how to trick their prey into flashing early—thus giving their position away.
COVID-19 has Coasters pondering their future. Some see salvation in mining. Others see an opportunity to do things differently.
Hundreds of millions of years ago, mantis shrimps evolved technologies we’re still trying to copy.
As some humans ponder their own extinction, others are figuring out the best places to run when the bomb drops, or the power goes off, or the supermarkets shut their doors. In a study published in the journal Risk Analysis, researchers Matt Boyd and Nick Wilson rated the appeal of the world’s islands as sanctuaries from a catastrophe such as a global pandemic. “The results indicate that the most suitable island nations for refuge status are Australia, followed closely by New Zealand, and then Iceland, with other nations all well behind,” they concluded. In particular, they considered subnational islands, such as Australia’s Tasmania, Japan’s Hokkaido, and New Zealand’s South Island. “Nevertheless, some key contextual factors remain relatively unexplored,” they cautioned, such as the willingness of those islands to accept refugees. And would we have enough cheese rolls for everyone?
As social researchers seek ways to defuse hostility towards “outgroups”, one United States study has found a simple means to get people to rethink their attitudes towards, in this case, Muslims. First, the researchers asked their Spanish study subjects whether they considered themselves responsible for the actions of white supremacists such as Anders Breivik. Overwhelmingly, they felt that they were not. Then the researchers asked whether individual Muslims should be held responsible for the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, which were committed by Islamic extremists. The subjects again said no. People’s natural desire to be consistent, say the authors, moderates prejudice and delivers more considered views on conflict.
Many of our skinks and geckos are so new to science that they don’t even have names. Much of what we do know about our lizards is thanks to an amateur herpetologist from Invercargill with no academic training.
Why we’re programmed to care for all creatures small and cute.
New Zealand and United States researchers have found a link between slow walking speed at 45 years old and accelerated ageing. Their research, which used data from the long-running Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, also pegged slow walking to declining brain function, and indicators of reduced brain health in early childhood. The authors recommend that a walking-speed test be introduced in regular doctors’ check-ups, since gait proves to be an inexpensive indicator of general health.
When did the Anthropocene, the current geological epoch, actually begin? In research published in Science in August 2019, Australian social scientists say humans have been the main influence on the Earth’s climate and environment since 2000 BCE. “The activities of farmers, pastoralists and hunter-gatherers had significantly changed the planet four millennia ago,” writes co-author Andrea Kay from the University of Queensland. “The long-term cumulative changes that early food producers wrought on Earth are greater than many people realise.”
Poachers are raiding fragile caves to make a quick buck flogging moa bones to the highest bidder. Is it right?
Did our ancestors really chase animals until they collapsed from fatigue?
Artificial intelligence can spot diseases with about the same accuracy as human professionals, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in The Lancet Digital Health in September. Across 14 studies, ‘deep learning’ algorithms correctly detected conditions ranging from cancers to eye diseases in 87 per cent of cases, compared to 86 per cent by doctors. Artificial intelligence was also marginally better at identifying patients who had a clean bill of health.
Genetic reanalysis in the Amazon has revealed that the electric eel is, in fact, three different species, including one—Electrophorus voltai—that can deliver an 860-volt shock. (That won’t kill a healthy person, says ichthyologist and lead author Carlos David de Santana, from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.) The new species is now officially the strongest bioelectricity generator known, making the previous record of 650 volts a mild tingle.
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