Monday, 19 February 2018

Irritatingly Resilient Old Fogies


'Superagers' are old folk who show remarkably preserved cognitive functions when in their 80s and older (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/19/scientists-unravel-secrets-of-superagers). Such individuals cope well with the stresses of life and are generally more extrovert and less neurotic than the general population. It is only a correlation at the present time, but a US post-mortem study of the brains of 10 superagers has revealed that this organ has a much higher proportion of special Von Economo neurons (also found in the brains of long-lived mammals like the elephant) than their contemporaries (or even much younger people). This is especially so in an area, called the anterior cingulate, that is implicated in attention and working memory. Their cognitive thinning rate is also remarkably reduced. Other studies suggest that superagers can evidence protein plaque in their brains without accompanying dementia and even smoke and drink without obvious negative consequences. It seems that such folk 'got lucky' in genetic roulette.   

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Which Half and Who Will Decide?


An article in the UK press asks the bold question "should we give up half the planet to other species?" (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/18/should-we-give-half-planet-earth-wildlife-nature-reserve). Certainly, anthropogenic effects are having catastrophic effects on wildlife throughout the entire globe and the idea of 'giving up' 50% of the Earth to become a gigantic nature reserve is superficially attractive. Presumably, we are talking here about half of the planet's entire surface, as both terrestrial and marine habitats are in need of some TLC. It might be superficially a nice idea to people currently living a fairly comfortable and sheltered existence but I can't see the suggestion having any real currency because a) it would require the approval and cooperation (with compensation?) of all the peoples on the planet; b) where the protected (human-free?) areas would be located would have to be decided (by experts?); c) humans and animals are unlikely to stay in 'their' locations (it doesn't even work for current small scale reserves); d) people currently exploit animals and plants for gain in many ways (eating them, using them as 'medicines', providing decoration and generating 'pets) and e) we already know that human influences (e.g. plastics and  'greenhouse gases') spread over the entire planet from current concentrations of our species. It looks to me as if we are stuck with the current mechanisms for conservation with all their inherent inadequacies and lack of scope!

Friday, 16 February 2018

Cross My Palm Oil With Silver?


Very disturbing news of a dramatic decline in the numbers of Borneo Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) over  the last 16 years with a decline of circa 150,000 animals (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/15/dramatic-decline-in-borneos-orangutan-population-as-150000-lost-in-16-years). The decimation of this very arboreal, rainforest ape seem to be largely consequences of hunting (for bush-meat or to kill the mother inorder to take any young for sale as 'pets') and habitat loss (basically by forest clearance to convert areas to palm oil or acacia plantations). Unsurprisingly, these apes are reported to be often killed by farm workers when they 'stray' on to agricultural land. You apparently even get hunting of these beasts in one part of the country and attempted conservation nearby. It is certainly possible that the losses are an under-estimate as the figures include a large element presumed from known habitat loss rather than being based on actual carcasses.

Seeing the Changes 1251




Returning to the topic of seasonally early flowerings. Red valerian (Centranthus ruber) and Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) were in flower in Mumbles and Bynea, respectively.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Sound of Silence


Another example of speedy evolution? It has been reported that crickets, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, have lost the sound production structures carried on their wings that are normally used to generate the song to attract a mate (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/14/evolution-in-real-time-silent-crickets-still-singing-for-a-mate). These crickets still make the energetic movements that would normally result in courtship song but apparently benefit in the resulting silence by failing to attract  parasitic flies that would normally kill them. It is highly likely that the movements will rapidly disappear as well unless they signal mating vigour to females in the near vicinity.

Anty (Re) Natal


There is an interesting account of the treatment of wounded Matabele ants (Megaponera analis) from  the Ivory Coast by their nest-mates, after raids on termite mounds to feed on these insects (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/14/nursing-in-nature-matabele-ants-observed-treating-injured-comrades). It appears that only potentially viable, but wounded ants, produce odours ('pheromones') that elicit retrieval by their comrades and, once located, are capable of adopting a posture facilitating their being carried back to the nest. There, they are cleaned (and possibly treated with antibiotics?) enabling around 80% of them to recover to fight again. This simple system essentially mirrors triage and paramedic treatment as practised by our own species.

Birder's Bonus 178


Awful weather on Loughor estuary, so 100+ waders plus accompanying Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) retired to the neighbouring campsite.

Irritatingly Resilient Old Fogies

'Superagers' are old folk who show remarkably preserved cognitive functions when in their 80s and older ( https://www.theguard...