Nature Blog Network Future Earth: January 2008

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Biodiversity loss a minority concern?

Well, perhaps the reality of a changing climate is starting to hit home - even in the U.S a recent survey showed that over two thirds of the American public voted it as the major threat to the planet (listening George?). But where does biological diversity come in the priorities of the voting public? (Answer... "Bio-what?) Two singing canaries to consider:

First a smidgeon of good news. A BMRB report on green values found that two thirds of the UK public agree that we cannot afford to lose any more biodiversity around the world (thank you, Sir David).

Then there's the Chairman's report just released from the 2007 Trondheim biodiversity conference that supports the Convention on Biological Diversity. This argues that unless we do a vigorous outreach campaign reaching into boardrooms and coffeeshops, "biodiversity will continue to be a minority concern" around the world -

It took more than 5 years of detailed, documented scientific research for the climate change evidence to overwhelm (most) sceptics. Biodiversity? Well fortunately we already have the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment pointing the way for the world's ecosystems and the services they provide - see Up to us now to get the stories out there.... how loss of pollinators will lead to the loss of the pollinated, how medicine will suffer from degradation of the natural gene pool, how impoverished we will be by empty forests and drained swamps... even if we manage to avoid meltdown.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Delightful - Dinner with Darwin

What fun, and thank you New Humanist for allowing me a fun-filled fantasy. Charles Darwin is 199 and coming to my house for dinner. You have asked:

What would you tell him? About the Darwin Initiative and about the Beagle Project

What would you ask him? For some advice on how to convince a doubting global public about an astonishing idea (to whit, that we might have to use our brains and consider altruism if the future earth is to support human life).

What would you bring him? Some fetching, intelligent, witty and gentle female biologists as company. There’s a surprise.

How would you describe the evening? Immediately, in purple prose, on this blog.

What book would you bring him?Darwin made easy” by Edward B. Aveling, D.Sc 2nd edition published in London by the Progressive Publishing Company in 1889.

What film? C’m on – it would have to be “The Life of Brian”, no?

What would he think of the fact that his ideas and personality are under attack from Intelligent Design and creationism? He might express some surprise that debate remained – but then we’d show him the Tom Cruise “vox pop” on Scientology and he’d realize how effectively 21st Century mankind had disconnected itself from evolutionary fitness.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Red rag to a bull (elephant)

Buried within "The Revengeful Elephant" on UKTV's Channel 5 this week (part of the "Nature Shock" series that tends to focus on shock rather than nature) was a fascinating insight. Young, traumatised male elephants that had been translocated into a small South African park had grown up without the benefit of a normal social structure, rules and role models. Firstly, in the absence of older bull elephants, they came into musth years earlier than normal. Secondly, full of testosterone but lacking in experience, they rushed around molesting anything that moved (in this case rhinos) and killing them as an outlet for frustration. This was well documented by the resident scientists, as was the solution - adding some mature bulls to the mix.

As we are forced globally into increasingly active management of wildlife within decreasing habitats, this is just one of the cautionary tales we can grasp from southern Africa. But this is also an alarm for our own species on the consequences of social disintegration, to add to those already beeping in megacities around the world.

Ravishing Recycling

Out of Africa, even out of a troubled Kenya, here's something to relish:

A small business that is good for the local economy and the global environment at the same time. Beautiful woods, seasoned over decades of service along the trade routes of the Swahili coast and rescued from wrecks to be transformed into tactile, expressive objets d'art. Frame your family in environmental friendliness, rather than picturing them in polluting plastic. Feel good, fabulous wood - you really should.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

And Pigs might Fluoresce...

Those “glow in the dark” plastic toys falling out of cereal packets are sooooo last year. Look forward instead to livening the murky winter mornings with glowing green bacon on your breakfast plate.

It would appear that scientists in Taiwan have succeeded in combining genetic material from jellyfish and pigs and produced 3 piglets that fluoresce from the inside -

Worrying or amusing? Not lighting up my alarm buttons. I’m not yet trotting off to complain about this genetic manipulation. Increasing demand for pigs in China with the burgeoning economy is a greater threat, as it puts more pressure on land around the world to produce cereal crops to grow the pigs in the first place. And that primary productivity is our limiting factor. Might become a delicacy though as those who can afford the luxury compete for novelty (all pigs being equal but some being more equal than others).

Monday, 7 January 2008

Music, maths and mystery

It is just an observation, but music and maths seem connected by more than their “m & m”s. Why are so many mathematicians musical? And more broadly, why are so many scientists (definitely physicists, chemists, botanists... possibly also engineers) also skilled, particularly at classical music? Why is it that Early Music is the best background to stimulate learning (sorry kids)? Something to do with patterns, timing and neurons, but just what? Another mystery to unravel – but perhaps we are outpaced here by our inability to formulate the questions in this space between culture and science.

It came upon a (quarter to) midnight clear

Not sure about a quarter to midnight, or even 5 minutes to midnight – with the rate of change faster than predicted, 15 seconds to midnight might be more accurate. So thank you to the Archbishop of Canterbury for stressing care for the environment in his Christmas address to his faithful. Cut back on consumerism, protect the glorious bounty and diversity of nature or, according to the Primate of the Worldwide Church, “God’s creation”. Ah. Some of us might have a bit of an issue with this last (and those who do, spend some time “Goring Creationist Oxen” on the Beagle Project blogg Quite honestly though, with the clock ticking, let’s not worry about how biological diversity came about. I’m still grateful for his leadership in noticing that we all need to change our behaviour. And with so many following his teaching around the world, this Primate may have done more for non-human primates than those of us working to conserve them.