Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Ecology

Puffins are starving to death because of climate change

New Scientist reports: Hundreds of “severely emaciated” puffin carcasses have washed ashore on an Alaskan island, and researchers believe thousands more have died at sea as warming waters continue to shrink their food supply. Between October 2016 and January 2017, inhabitants of St Paul Island in the Bering sea found the starved bodies of more than 350 seabirds, primarily tufted puffins. Analysing the location of bird carcasses and wind data,

The fast food of coral reefs

Ed Yong writes: Although coral reefs are home to bustling communities of gaudy marine life, half the fishes that live there are hardly ever seen. Aptly known as cryptobenthics—literally “hidden bottom-dwellers”—these species are mostly shorter than two inches and usually hidden in crevices. If you snorkel past, they’ll scurry away. But Simon Brandl of Simon Fraser University has made a career of studying them. And he and his team have

Humans are killing off most large wild animals as sixth mass extinction advances

The Guardian reports: Humanity’s ongoing destruction of wildlife will lead to a shrinking of nature, with the average body size of animals falling by a quarter, a study predicts. The researchers estimate that more than 1,000 larger species of mammals and birds will go extinct in the next century, from rhinos to eagles. They say this could lead to the collapse of ecosystems that humans rely on for food and

I’m an evolutionary biologist – here’s why this ancient fungal fossil discovery is so revealing

Do fungi like this Penicillium mold, which produces the the antibiotic penicillin, trace their origins to an ancestor that lived a billion years ago? Rattiya Thongdumhyu/Shutterstock.com By Antonis Rokas, Vanderbilt University Biologists don’t call them “the hidden kingdom” for nothing. With an estimated 5 million species, only a mere 100,000 fungi are known to scientists. This kingdom, which includes molds, yeasts, rusts and mushrooms, receives far less attention than plants

‘Wood wide web’ — the underground network of microbes that connects trees — mapped for first time

Science reports: Trees, from the mighty redwoods to slender dogwoods, would be nothing without their microbial sidekicks. Millions of species of fungi and bacteria swap nutrients between soil and the roots of trees, forming a vast, interconnected web of organisms throughout the woods. Now, for the first time, scientists have mapped this “wood wide web” on a global scale, using a database of more than 28,000 tree species living in

Loss of biodiversity is just as catastrophic as climate change

Robert Watson writes: A colleague recently described how fish would swim into her clothing when she was a child bathing in the ocean off the coast of Vietnam, but today the fish are gone and her children find the story far-fetched. Another recalled his experiences just last year in Cape Town – one of the world’s most attractive tourism and leisure destinations – when more than 2 million people faced

Biodiversity crisis is about to put humanity at risk, UN scientists to warn

The Guardian reports: The world’s leading scientists will warn the planet’s life-support systems are approaching a danger zone for humanity when they release the results of the most comprehensive study of life on Earth ever undertaken. Up to 1m species are at risk of annihilation, many within decades, according to a leaked draft of the global assessment report, which has been compiled over three years by the UN’s leading research

Insects have ‘no place to hide’ from climate change, study warns

The Guardian reports: Insects have “no place to hide” from climate change, scientists have warned, following an analysis of 50 years of UK data. The study showed that woodlands, whose shade was expected to protect species from warming temperatures, are being just as affected by climate change as open grasslands. The research examined the first springtime flights of butterflies, moths and aphids and the first eggs of birds between 1965

The plague killing frogs everywhere is far worse than scientists thought

Carl Zimmer reports: On Thursday, 41 scientists published the first worldwide analysis of a fungal outbreak that’s been wiping out frogs for decades. The devastation turns out to be far worse than anyone had previously realized. Writing in the journal Science, the researchers conclude that populations of more than 500 species of amphibians have declined significantly because of the outbreak — including at least 90 species presumed to have gone

Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal

The Guardian reports: The number of heatwaves affecting the planet’s oceans has increased sharply, scientists have revealed, killing swathes of sea-life like “wildfires that take out huge areas of forest”. The damage caused in these hotspots is also harmful for humanity, which relies on the oceans for oxygen, food, storm protection and the removal of climate-warming carbon dioxide the atmosphere, they say. Global warming is gradually increasing the average temperature

The ocean is running out of oxygen, scientists warn

Laura Poppick writes: Escaping predators, digestion and other animal activities—including those of humans—require oxygen. But that essential ingredient is no longer so easy for marine life to obtain, several new studies reveal. In the past decade ocean oxygen levels have taken a dive—an alarming trend that is linked to climate change, says Andreas Oschlies, an oceanographer at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany, whose team tracks ocean

John Ruskin: A prophet for our troubled times

Philip Hoare writes: In 1964, Kenneth Clark set out the problems of loving John Ruskin. One was his fame itself. Like his sometime pupil Oscar Wilde (who, along with other of his Oxford students he persuaded to dig a road in Hinksey in order that they learn the dignity of labour), Ruskin defined the art and culture of his century. “For almost 50 years,” Clark wrote in his book, Ruskin

World’s food supply under ‘severe threat’ from loss of biodiversity

The Guardian reports: The world’s capacity to produce food is being undermined by humanity’s failure to protect biodiversity, according to the first UN study of the plants, animals and micro-organisms that help to put meals on our plates. The stark warning was issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation after scientists found evidence the natural support systems that underpin the human diet are deteriorating around the world as farms, cities

How the world got hooked on palm oil

Paul Tullis writes: Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there grew a magical fruit. This fruit could be squeezed to produce a very special kind of oil that made cookies more healthy, soap more bubbly and crisps more crispy. The oil could even make lipstick smoother and keep ice-cream from melting. Because of these wondrous qualities, people came from around the world to buy the fruit

My generation trashed the planet. I salute the children striking back

Wow this is really quite something. Thousands and thousands of children protesting against climate change in Westminster. pic.twitter.com/umE5ZtcpS6 — Joey D'Urso (@josephmdurso) February 15, 2019 George Monbiot writes: The disasters I feared my grandchildren would see in their old age are happening already: insect populations collapsing, mass extinction, wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, floods. This is the world we have bequeathed to you. Yours is among the first of the unborn generations

Humans cannot survive without them yet within a century the world’s insects may be extinct

The Guardian reports: The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review. More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a