Monday, August 14, 2017

vanishing wilderness

Open Archive Day

A year ago I wrote about the threats to one of the last true wilderness areas in Europe, the Białowieża forest, on the border of Poland and Belarus. It appears that the risks we worried about then are now becoming a harsh reality, as the Guardian has reported earlier this year:

'My worst nightmares are coming true': last major primeval forest in Europe on 'brink of collapse'


(The Guardian, 23.5.2017)

My feature is now on open access:

Europe’s last wilderness threatened

Friday, August 11, 2017

very hungry caterpillars

the roundup of German pieces published in July and August includes my take on the plastic-degrading caterpillars, along with the surprising regulatory role of ribosomal proteins, the quest for better fertilisers, and musings on a ban of concentrated hydrogen peroxide.


Raupen zerlegen PE
Chemie in unserer Zeit Volume 51, Issue 4, August 2017, Page 223
Access via Wiley Online Library


Netzwerk Leben: Die Proteinfabrik reguliert sich selbst
Chemie in unserer Zeit Volume 51, Issue 4, August 2017, Pages 282-283
Access via Wiley Online Library


Besser düngen
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 65, Issue 7-8, Juli - August 2017, Pages 764-765
Access via Wiley Online Library

Jäger und Sammler
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 65, Issue 7-8, Juli - August 2017, Page 859
Access via Wiley Online Library

Monday, August 07, 2017

seafood genes

long chain omega 3 fatty acids, as found in fatty fish, are important for our health - this much is clear. But from this, one cannot conclude that everybody should eat more fish.

In fact they are so important that human evolution has adapted our metabolism to the availability or lack of the fish oil compounds. Thus people from a fish-eating genetic heritage may need the fish oils, while others from a long vegetarian tradition have evolved their own ways of producing the compounds in their body.

Thus, the answer is complicated, as I have explained in my latest feature which is out now in Current Biology:

How our diet changed our evolution


Current Biology Volume 27, Issue 15, 7 August 2017, Pages R731–R733

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In Inuit and other populations traditionally relying on seafood, researchers have found gene variants that weaken the endogenous synthesis of the fatty acids that these people take up with their regular doses of fish. (Photo: Louise Murray/Science Photo Library.)

Friday, August 04, 2017

old tunes

reviving the series of antiquarian books from my shelves, here are some musical titles I bought from the book stall at the Oxford Music Festival this year:




Giesbert, F.J. (Hrsg.):
Deutsche Volkstänze. Eine Sammlung der schönsten Volkstänze und Reigenlieder für 1 oder 2 Blockflöten oder andere beliebige Melodieinstrumente nach Belieben mit einer Laute. Hefte 1 und 2.

My edition is undated but the internet ventures all sorts of guesses ranging from 1910s to 1940s. The serial numbers 2361 and 2362 are not that far away from the Rohr-Lehn recorder book for schools (2661) which is ancient, but was still in use in the 1970s. In fact, you can still get these from Schott Music today, apparently, but they don't reveal the publication date either. The editor, Franz Julius Giesbert, lived 1896-1972, so that narrows it down a bit ...




Der Flötenmusikant - Volkslieder und Tänze für 1 oder 2 Blockflöten gleicher Stimmung edition Schott, Band I-III.

These are also from Schott, and a different version under the same title is still available today, presumably the three booklets merged into one. My three little books have numbers on the back cover and month of printing, reading:

158 XII.61 on the first two volumes, and then 158 VII.63 on the third.

Funnily enough, Giesbert No 1 also has 158 in the same place (but no date) and No. 2 has the number 33 - I think these numbers specify the lists of other works available, but the dates are still likely to be close to the date of printing, right?



Monday, July 31, 2017

nature on fire

Open Archive Day

It's wildfire season in the Northern hemisphere, so a good time to re-consider my feature from two years ago on how nature can live with fire, but humans have managed to turn it into a problem - partly by stopping it from happening.

My feature is on open access here:

Learning to live with landscape fires




A forest fire near Sydney, Australia, dwarfs a fire truck sent to contain it. (Photo: Stefan Doerr, Swansea University.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

what is life

the latest issue of C&I contains my review of a book called "What is life?" - sadly not Schrödinger's take on the matter though.

Free access.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

fragmented forests

Brazil hosts a pioneering experiment designed to study the ecological damage done by forest fragmentation. After making some real progress in slowing down deforestation, however, the country is now once again speeding up the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. The lessons learned in decades of research in the Amazon clearly haven't made much of an impact on the people now in power.

Read all about it in my latest feature, which is now out:

Brazil's fragmented forests


Current Biology volume 27, Issue 14, 24 July 2017, Pages R681–R684

Restricted access to full text and PDF download

(will become open access one year after publication)

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Oh, and I think this must be the 150th contribution in the series of features started in February 2011.



Research at the BDFFP has shown that forest fragmentation and edge effects significantly alter the abundance of bats. (Photo: Oriol Massana and Adrià López-Baucells.)

Monday, July 10, 2017

climate canaries

So I came across a story about albatrosses and how they are affected by ocean warming, and I wanted to do effects of warming more widely (other than corals), but all roads led to birds. Ocean warmings leads to more frequent extreme climate events, and it turns out that birds with their complex life cycles including migration, nest-building and parental care routines, are often quite vulnerable to these events. So they are our modern day coalmine canaries in a way.

All will be explained in my latest feature out now:


Volatile climate stirs bird life cycle


Current Biology Volume 27, Issue 13, pR623–R625, 10 July 2017


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Sea birds like albatrosses are sensitive to changes in ocean temperatures. In one recent study, a well-studied population was shown to suffer from the increasing temperature variations but to benefit from recent warming bringing it closer to its temperature optimum. (Photo: Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo/NOAA Corps. (CC BY 2.0).)

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

dvořák sonatina

I've just finished off the Dvořák sonatina op 100, having played all four movements over the last few months. I love it mainly for its echoes of the other "American" works, including the cello concerto and the New World symphony, which Dvořák wrote around the same time.

I started this adventure by buying a flute arrangement by James Galway, but soon realised he needlessly transposed the entire work as high up as physically possible, which in my ears doesn't sound very nice even if it is played competently, never mind when I try it. So I went back to the violin version (which is free online) and started from that, made it a bit more flutey with my teacher's help, looking at Galway's version for inspiration only where changes were necessary.

You can find a version that follows similar lines and uses the richer colours of the lower register here, played by Julien Beaudiment.

Next up: Albert Einstein's favourite Mozart sonata.

Monday, July 03, 2017

ecosystem service update

Open Archive Day

The ecosystem services concept aims to quantify the commercial value of all the natural resources we generally use without thinking, from the air that we breathe to the rain that waters our plants. The idea is that businesses have so far failed to protect these natural resources because they don't show up on balance sheets, and they appeared to be in unlimited supply, although we now know that they aren't and that in some respects we have already exceeded the capacity of our planet.

I learned about these things in 2011 and wrote a feature about them which is now openly accessible:


Valuing nature


The ideas have become more widely known since then but haven't quite managed to save the world as yet. It has also been criticised by some environmentalists, eg George Monbiot, on the grounds of turning nature into just another commodity.



Monday, June 26, 2017

coral conundrum

Open Archive Day

After several features on threats to coral reefs, including ocean acidification, warming, El Niño, and overfishing, I wrote one last June on what if anything can be done to save them.

Still, the threats keep coming and the solutions don't seem to be moving quite as fast as the problems.

This feature (like the earlier features it references) is now on open access:


Can science rescue coral reefs?




Aerial view of the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island, which is surrounded by coral reefs that provide study material for research into the stress resilience of corals. (Photo: Doug Peebles.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

primate problems

There are around 500 primate species on our planet. Two thirds of them are threatened with extinction, because one, Homo sapiens, isn't quite as wise as the binomial name suggests. In my latest feature I have discussed some of the threatened species and the problems they are facing:

Primates in peril

Current Biology Volume 27, Issue 12, pR573–R576, 19 June 2017



Restricted access to full text and PDF download

(will become open access one year after publication)


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Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta) at Berenty Private Reserve in Madagascar. Source: Wikimedia
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