Pesky pesticides

An article published online yesterday by the Guardian (a UK newspaper) stated that a major component of slug poison has been found in one in eight of England and Wales’ drinking water sources.

The chemical, metaldehyde, which is used by farmers to protect their crops from slugs, is almost impossible to remove from drinking water, with concentrations up to 100 times greater than the maximum contaminant level set out by EU regulations. Although it was been said that a person would need to consume 1000 litres for every day of their life for the poison to affect humans, nothing has been mentioned about the possible effects on the aquatic life in these bodies of water.


Is it natural to change timing of natural events ?

Climate change is a ‘heated’ issue at the moment and we all now know that average temperatures have already risen roughly by 1° and are predicted to rise more by up to 6° by the end of this century. The already apparent changes in our ecosystems are geographical range shifts, phenology of organisms, ecosystem functioning and composition.

Latitudinal and altitudinal limits of many species are dictated by climate. Thanks to pre- and post-glacial projections, we know that in the past whole biomes had shifted – New York used to be tundra but now is covered in temperate deciduous forest, and tundra moved further north. With current temperature rise, changes like these might not stay only a legacy of the past…


But what exactly causes geographical shifts in distribution?

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Plants racing the climate

The world is changing. The climate is changing.

Whilst the world’s climate has altered repeatedly and drastically since it formed, its current rate is faster than anything we have observed in the last 12,000 years (the Holocene).  This is having varied effects worldwide depending on the location in question (yes; it doesn’t mean everywhere simply gets hotter and drier: the world happens to be a little more complex than that or otherwise we’d consider climate science with the same derision as geography and surf-science).


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The oxymoronic Toyota Prius?

The Toyota Prius, called Prii collectively, have been a topic of great interest and confusion to me since I first read about them in 2003. Branded a green and economical car, people flocked to purchase one. As of March 2013, 2.93 million Prii have been sold worldwide.

Prii come in various models, but most have 2 engines, one petrol, and one electric. With power generating gimmicks such as recycling energy wasted when braking, the latest models are reported to produce 50mpg. Very economical and green, don’t you think? The petrol motor is used to power the car when the electric motor runs out of juice (which will re-charge through useage).


The Toyota Prius, hybrid car. Source

However, when you consider the various ‘rare’ metals and minerals that are used in the production of this car and its batteries, and the method used to extract them, their green credentials drop considerably.

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The financial and environmental costs of drinking water

Most people in the developed world take for granted the fact that they have pure drinking water plumbed into various rooms in their houses. I’m sure, when you turned the tap on to brush your teeth this morning, you didn’t think about where the water came from, or how much it cost to get the water to you, or how wasting water can impact the environment.


I was procrastinating whilst writing up my thesis today and I did a couple of small calculations, which showed that the cost of treating 1000 litres of water equates to costs of about $2 USD. The average American uses 100l a day and the average Brit uses 150l a day (and we thought the Americans were gluttonous).

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They say that a dog is a man’s best friend (although asking one to be a godparent is “weird”, apparently). However, an increasing body of evidence suggests that furry companionship is not merely an enjoyable, if expensive, experience, but may in fact influence human health.

It is quite probable that you have come across the concept of the “therapet”. In the last few years, a variety of universities, retirement homes and hospitals have begun bringing small fluffy animals in for their collective inmates to stroke and interact with. This therapy comes in a variety of flavours; puppy is popular, although others, such as kittens, have their followers; porcupine has not proven successful.

It is tempting to dismiss pet therapy as a fad, chiming too strongly of the cat café and reiki for cats. Au contraire: pet therapy may actually be an excellent model for the application of alternative therapies. The use of animals as support is probably as ancient as domestication, and certainly several centuries old; the Quakers established a retreat in York specifically supplying such therapy in 1791. Animals were being used as companions for psychiatric patients in the USA by the early 20th century (although the treatment of psychiatric patients in the USA at the time is a whole other issue).

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Missing the thylacine

Two thylacines in Washington D.C. National Zoo / Credit Smithsonian Institution 1904

Two thylacines in Washington D.C. National Zoo / Credit Smithsonian Institution 1904

I was just reminded by a recent paper of a video clip from Hobart Zoo of a thylacine, sometimes called a Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf. I have always found it very moving. It’s believed to show the last of the species – it’s not actually known if it was male or female, but the nickname Benjamin seems to have stuck. I find myself wishing that I could see one, study one, that it was still here. Read the rest of this entry

Trout killing elk

One of the main intellectual draws of ecology is its deceptive complexity. Whilst topics can appear at first glance quite simple, a little study usually drags up a handful of interactions right away; illuminating the countless intricacies that make up the world we live in. It’s for this reason that I’d like to talk to you about how a paper published this month shows how trout in Yellowstone are killing elk.

Yep, honest.


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Hillside farming and the loss of biodiversity in National Parks

As I have mentioned before, I am very interested in sustainable agriculture. Whilst doing my usual morning sweep of tweets, I spotted a post about a recent report, ‘The State of Nature’, published on the RSPB website. This report looks at the current state of ecological decline in the UK, with worrying findings, such as 65% of UK upland species are in decline. The report was foreword by Sir David Attenborough and has received great interest, especially via Twitter. Attenborough suggests that increasing human population is one of the first factors affecting the loss of the UK’s wildlife.


However, a report by George Monbiot, a writer for the Guardian newspaper and author of recently published book; “Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding”, states that increasing human population is not directly to blame, and instead pins the main blame on government hand-outs and hill farmers.

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The Only Solution

Human life is a fragile, precious thing. From the moment of conception, the world is against us in all its fury, and science has shown this to be true. Today, a report in the Lancet reveals that the iodine in a mother’s diet determines their child’s future IQ. The finding, that children of mothers who ate a low-iodine diet had an average 3-point deficit on their more iodine-rich brethren, is compounded by the fact that taking too much iodine results in “adverse consequences for the mother and fetus”.

The iodine problem is just one more example of the need for total control in the diets of pregnant women. Obviously, there are negative effects of maternal addictions to drugs, including nicotine and alcohol. However, it has also been shown that women who are depressed and sleep-disordered have children who cry and fuss more and that children of obese women are significantly more likely to require specialist care. Mothers who are too young place their child at risk, as do mothers who are too old. Not just iodine, but also folic acid must be carefully controlled unless the mother wishes to harm her baby.

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