Friday, 13 January 2017
There is an odd interpretation of a study involving the activation, using lasers, of 'chase and grab' areas of the brain in genetically-modified laboratory mice (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jan/12/scientists-use-light-to-trigger-walking-dead-killer-instinct-in-mice-optogenetics). The claim is that the 2 circuits (the chase and the grab) could be operated, to some extent, separately and that the mice behaved in a zombified fashion when activated by the laser. There was also some speculation about the relationship of this certainly predatory behaviour to 'aggression'. The first thing to note, is that it is well-established that the laboratory mouse is derived from an omnivorous ancestor (wild House mice have stomach contents that are often 40% insect and spider remains and laboratory strains will routinely kill and consume locusts introduced to their cages). The second thing to note is that predation and other forms of murine attack seem to be completely unrelated. I personally think that describing the triggering of predation by activating of neural circuits as "assuming the qualities of zombies" is poetic licence.
Thursday, 12 January 2017
It is always sad to hear of problems occurring at places you have used for teaching and the outbreak of h5n8 avian influenza at Abbotsbury swannery in Dorset certainly falls into that category (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/09/bird-flu-outbreak-avian-influenza-h5n8-virus-abbotsbury-swannery-dorset). The swannery was set up by monks on the Fleet lagoon to supplement their food supply but has been maintained as an impressive visitor location where people can get close to birds (exactly what is not needed whilst trying to prevent the spread of the virus to domestic crops). The centre (as a consequence of its feeding regime) attracts around a 1000 free-flying Mute swans (Cygnus olor) but also many other bird species (including geese, ducks, Moorhens and Coots). To date, it has been confirmed that 9 swans have died from this strain of avian 'flu which, of course, means closure of the swannery to the public. Such events can challenge the financial viability of such centres (as well as the health of the birds in the centre and in the locality).
Wednesday, 11 January 2017
A study suggests that birds that prefer cool conditions are finding it impossible to adapt to warming temperatures in Southern England because intensive farming precludes their having locations to 'chill out' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/11/birds-vanish-england-climate-change-habitat-loss). Species affected include the Meadow pipit; Willow tit and Willow warbler. The findings are at variance with the claim that species will simply move north in response to Global warming.
Disturbing news (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/10/bristol-man-in-court-accused-of-capturing-protected-large-blue-butterflies) that a man is one trial accused of capturing and killing the UK's rarest butterfly, the Large Blue (Maculinea arion). The actual species shown above is an Adonis blue, subject to a similar process. The Large blue became extinct in the UK in 1979 and cannot be bred in captivity (it requires closely-grazed habitat with Thyme and a particular species of red ant that is chemically persuaded to take in the larvae where they feeds on ant grubs). The species has been reintroduced into specially prepared habitats in Somerset and Gloucestershire, using eggs from Swedish populations and it is claimed that adult butterflies were illegally taken from these locations in 2015. Collectors (some are obsessives and some profit-motivated) can be a real problem for conservation efforts!