Guest Work

This is the Sciblogs guest blog, where we run science-related submissions from the Sciblogs community and beyond. Contact Sciblogs editor Peter Griffin about making a submission - or about hosting a blog on Sciblogs.

Widespread invasive species control is a risky business - Guest Work

May 26, 2017

By R. Keller Kopf, Charles Sturt University; Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University, and Paul Humphries, Charles Sturt University In 1977, on the islands of French Polynesia, government authorities released a predatory snail. They hoped this introduction would effectively control another species of invasive snail, previously introduced to supply escargot. Instead, by the early 1980s, scientists reported alarming declines of native snail populations. Within ten years, 48 native snail species (genus Partula) had been driven to extinction in the wild. The extinction of the Partula is notorious partially because these snails were, before going extinct, the study subjects of the first test in nature of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. In the decades since, attempts to control and eradicate invasive species have become common, generally with far better results. Read More

Maybe we can, but should we? Deciding whether to bring back extinct species - Guest Work

May 19, 2017

Gwenllian Iacona, The University of Queensland and Iadine Chadès, CSIRO De-extinction – the science of reviving species that have been lost – has moved from the realm of science-fiction to something that is now nearly feasible. Some types of lost mammals, birds or frogs may soon be able to be revived through de-extinction technologies. But just because we can, does it mean we should? And what might the environmental and conservation impacts be if we did? Prominent conservation biologist Stuart Pimm has been one of the vocal opponents of de-extinction because, among other concerns, Without an answer to “where do we put them?” — and to the further question, “what changed in their original habitat that may have contributed to their extinction in the first place?” — efforts to bring back … Read More

New Zealand’s Alpine Fault reveals extreme underground heat and fluid pressure - Unsorted

May 18, 2017

By Rupert Sutherland, Victoria University of Wellington An international team that drilled almost a kilometre deep into New Zealand’s Alpine Fault, which is expected to rupture in a major earthquake in the next decades, has found extremely hot temperatures and high fluid pressures. Our findings, published today in Nature, describe these surprising underground conditions. They have broad implications for understanding what happens in the buildup to a major earthquake, and may represent the discovery of a new type of geothermal energy resource. Seismic forces building up The Alpine Fault is one of the world’s major plate boundaries and New Zealand’s most hazardous earthquake-generating fault. It runs for 650 kilometres along the spine of New Zealand’s South Island and we know that it ruptures on average every 300 years, producing an earthquake of about magnitude 8. The … Read More

Distrust of experts happens when we forget they are human beings - Guest Work

May 15, 2017

By Rod Lamberts, Australian National University In 2016, conservative, pro-Brexit, British politician Michael Gove announced that people in England “…have had enough of experts with organisations from acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong”. In the US, Donald Trump famously doesn’t believe any expert who doesn’t agree with him. Our most recent former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also been accused of having trust issues. Growing distrust of experts is linked with changing social and political climates. But it also stems from misunderstandings about what experts are, and what their obligations to society entail. At their heart, criticisms of experts often imply that they are servants, commodities or so vested in their field they can’t relate to reality. To restore trust in experts, we need to … Read More

Not a lizard nor a dinosaur, tuatara is the sole survivor of a once-widespread reptile group - Guest Work

May 12, 2017

By Marc Emyr Huw Jones, University of Adelaide Have you ever heard of the tuatara? It’s a reptile that decapitates birds with its saw-like jaws, lives to about 100 years old, and can remain active in near-freezing temperatures. It’s also the sole survivor of a lineage as old as the first dinosaurs. May 2017 marks 150 years since the tuatara was first recognised not to be a lizard. Most tuatara exist on windswept offshore New Zealand islands, where they spend their days in burrows or basking lazily in the sun. In the evening they are more active, and use their large eyes to spot a variety of prey such as beetles, spiders and snails. They also occasionally eat lizards, frogs, baby tuatara and birds – the headless bodies of birds are … Read More

Evidence of ancient life in hot springs on Earth could point to fossil life on Mars - Guest Work

May 11, 2017

By Tara Djokic, UNSW Fossil evidence of early life has been found in old hot spring deposits in the Pilbara, Western Australia, that date back almost 3.48 billion years. This extends the known evidence of life at land-based hot springs on Earth by about 3 billion years. Not only is the find exciting for what it might say about the evolution of early life on Earth, but it also has implications for the search for life on Mars. Our understanding of these deposits would not be possible without the foundations laid by earlier researchers. Ancient stromatolites In the late 1970s, fossilised stromatolites – rock structures built by communities of microorganisms – were discovered within these Pilbara deposits. These were interpreted as once living in a quiet, shallow water coastal environment much like we see in … Read More

To serve and protect? Strategies for an artificially super-intelligent future - Stick

May 11, 2017

Guest post from David Miller, Vantage Consulting We need to be thinking about the long-term risks of super-intelligence. Next week I’ll be giving a talk on this as part of the Hutt STEMM Festival.  It’s an area I’ve had a keen interest in for several years. Despite not having any domain expertise in the technical disciplines associated with artificial intelligence, it has been fascinating to read about the potential for the so-called “singularity” – a hypothetical point when artificial intelligence exceeds and then accelerates far beyond human intelligence. While argument from authority is never valid, it is interesting to note that some of the world’s relevant leading thinkers on the subject have expressed significant concerns, e.g. Stephen Hawking, Eion Musk. The writings and thinking of Prof Nick Bostrom at Oxford University are especially stimulating, and I will draw on … Read More

Junk food packaging hijacks the same brain processes as drug and alcohol addiction - Guest Work

May 10, 2017

By Bernd Weber, University of Bonn Food is important for our survival, which is why all living beings have developed an urge for high energy foods, like those high in sugar and fat. Historically, this hadn’t been an issue, as energy dense foods weren’t always as available as they are today. But in modern societies, we not only have easy access to cheap, high-energy food, we also have marketing companies pushing them at us. Food packaging plays a big part in triggering brain processes that influence our food choices – similar brain processes that get us stuck on addictive behaviours. How our brain works in addiction Some people who eat too much high-calorie food show similar behavioural patterns to those with addictions. An important behavioural component of addiction is a longing to experience the drug again … Read More

Exploring the past to understand the ecological requirements of de-extinction candidate species - Guest Work

May 09, 2017

If we are going to resurrect an extinct species, where will it live and what will it eat? Sciblogs is running a series of posts on de-extinction to coincide with a special issue of the journal Functional Ecology focusing on the topic. In this guest post, special issue author Dr Jamie Wood from Landcare Research looks to the past to find answers about the future of de-extinction.  As research into overcoming the technical challenges of reviving extinct species rapidly progresses, due consideration should also be given to how the ecological requirements of such species might be determined and provided for. Understanding the ecological requirements of extinct species can be a challenging task, yet ensuring that these requirements are met will ultimately play a major role in determining the success of de-extinctions. In a recent paper myself and co-authors Janet Wilmshurst … Read More

Conservation genetics of de-extinction: a primer - Guest Work

May 09, 2017

Could we really bring an extinct species back from the dead, and, if we did – what happens next? Sciblogs is running a series of posts on de-extinction to coincide with a special issue of the journal Functional Ecology focusing on the topic. In this guest post, special issue author Dr Tammy Steeves from the University of Canterbury examines the genetic hurdles involved in de-extinction .  Somebody has to say something When I returned from my second stint of parental leave approximately 3 years ago, the first scientific paper I read was Phil Seddon and colleagues’ provocative paper entitled Reintroducing resurrected species: selecting DeExtinction candidates. To realise the ecological benefit of de-extinction (that is, to restore lost ecological function), they argued, resurrected animals must be released to the wild. Thus, de-extinction is a translocation issue. Yes, of course, I thought. Excellent point. Read More