Guest Author

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.

Civilization VI: Gathering Storm shows video games can make us think seriously about climate change - Guest Work

Feb 18, 2019

Noam Obermeister, University of Cambridge and Elliot Honeybun-Arnolda, University of East Anglia A new expansion has added environmental challenges to Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, the latest in a popular series of strategy video games that has been running since the 1990s. The expansion – called Gathering Storm – adds new features to the game, most notably anthropogenic climate change and natural disasters. The game involves developing a civilisation from its humble beginnings in the Stone Age to nowadays and beyond, while choosing from a vast array of technologies and cultural policies. As the game and the ages progress, your energy choices become increasingly important. Indeed, Gathering Storm is based on a simple model of global warming wherein CO₂ emissions from energy sources induce sea level rise, as well as more frequent and intense extreme … Read More

Vets can do more to reduce the suffering of flat-faced dog breeds - Guest Work

Feb 13, 2019

Paul McGreevy, University of Sydney and Anne Fawcett, University of Sydney Veterinarians have a professional and moral obligation to reduce or prevent any negative health impacts of disorders in animals. But what if animals are bred with known disorders? And what if those disorders are a big part of what makes them cute? In a paper, published earlier this year in Animals, we argue that veterinarians must do more to discourage the breeding of animals with conditions known to seriously compromise their welfare. This is the case with extreme brachycephalic or short-skulled dogs, including French bulldogs, pugs, British bulldogs, Boston terriers, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. The trend towards shorter skulls seems to have taken hold since the 1870s and the development of breed standards that inadvertently encouraged extreme “conformation” (shape, size and anatomical … Read More

New Caledonian crows smart enough to plan three steps ahead to solve tricky problem - Guest Work

Feb 08, 2019

Alex Taylor, University of Auckland My ideas about animal behaviour were turned upside down in 2002 when I watched Betty, a New Caledonian crow, fashion a hook from a piece of wire and use it to pull a small container with meat from a tube. Betty’s behaviour captivated scientists because it seemed so creative: there was no obvious solution to the problem yet Betty had found a way. How could this crow be thinking, given it was separated from humans by 620 million years of independent evolution? Our latest research, published today, helps us answer this question. It provides conclusive evidence that, like a chess player thinking several moves ahead, New Caledonia crows can plan out a sequence of three behaviours while using tools in order to solve a problem. New Caledonian crows demonstrate … Read More

Old bones reveal new evidence about the role of islands in penguin evolution - Guest Work

Feb 07, 2019

Theresa Cole; Jonathan Waters, and Kieren Mitchell, University of Adelaide Ever since Charles Darwin’s voyage to the Galapagos, biologists have been trying to figure out what determines the number of species that exist at any point in time. Our research, published this week, provides an answer to this question, at least when it comes to penguins. The discovery of two new penguins from the Chatham Islands, east of New Zealand, has revealed that the emergence of islands played a key role in penguin evolution. Artist’s reconstruction of the extinct penguin, Eudyptes warhami, which was endemic to the Chatham Islands east of New Zealand. Sean Murtha, CC BY-ND Island isolation drives penguin evolution There are currently 20 different penguin species, spread around the southern hemisphere. By analysing bones from the Chatham Islands, we discovered a new … Read More

Ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica predicted to bring more frequent extreme weather - Guest Work

Feb 07, 2019

Nick Golledge, Victoria University of Wellington Last week, rivers froze over in Chicago when it got colder than at the North Pole. At the same time, temperatures hit 47℃ in Adelaide during the peak of a heatwave. Such extreme and unpredictable weather is likely to get worse as ice sheets at both poles continue to melt. Our research, published today, shows that the combined melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is likely to affect the entire global climate system, triggering more variable weather and further melting. Our model predictions suggest that we will see more of the recent extreme weather, both hot and cold, with disruptive effects for agriculture, infrastructure, and human life itself. We argue that global policy needs urgent review to prevent dangerous consequences. Accelerated loss of ice Even though the goal … Read More

Just the latest attack on penguins - Guest Work

Feb 05, 2019

Spencer McIntyre Last week, many of us scrolling through newsfeeds or popping on the news were horrified to see that two kororā-little blue penguins were stolen from their nest in Napier and a third killed in the process. We were right to be horrified; this offence is both highly illegal, punishable by imprisonment up to two years and a fine up to $100,000, and morally reprehensible. However, in the uproar of this story, we are forgetting daily injustice done to these birds. Just two days following the thefts, a report came out of two more attacked by a … Read More

Farmed fish dying, grape harvest weeks early – just some of the effects of last summer’s heatwave in NZ - Guest Work

Jan 30, 2019

Jim Salinger, University of Tasmania and James Renwick, Victoria University of Wellington As the Australian heatwave is spilling across the Tasman and pushing up temperatures in New Zealand, we take a look at the conditions that caused a similar event last year and the impacts it had. Last summer’s heatwave gave New Zealand its warmest summer and the warmest January on record. It covered an area of four million square kilometres (comparable to the Indian subcontinent), including the land, the eastern Tasman Sea and the Pacific east of New Zealand to the Chatham Islands. In our research, we looked at what happened and why, and found that the heatwave affected many sectors, leading to early grape harvests and killing farmed fish in parts of the country. Drivers of warmer than average conditions We used … Read More

Bringing science stories to life - Guest Work

Jan 23, 2019

Ceridwyn Roberts I think of my temper as a chemical reaction. Mostly it’s stable and inert, but add just a touch of tired grumpiness and BOOM you have the equivalent of caesium in a swimming pool. As a science geek, I can share with you that the thing I love about caesium is that if there’s no water around it doesn’t react, but if it rains on caesium’s parade, oh boy, you’re in trouble. Just like I was when I broke my sister’s arm throwing her off the trampoline when I was nine. I learned most about caesium and keeping my temper from my 11-year-old, who adores chemistry. He’s far less temperamental than I am, and mostly manages to keep calm when his school science lessons don’t involve anything exploding. I tell … Read More

Coastal seas around New Zealand are heading into a marine heatwave, again - Guest Work

Jan 23, 2019

Craig Stevens, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and Ben Noll, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research As New Zealanders are enjoying their days at the beach, unusually warm ocean temperatures look to be a harbinger of another marine heatwave. Despite the exceptional conditions during last year’s heatwave in the Tasman Sea, this summer’s sea surface temperatures to the north and east of New Zealand are even warmer. The latest NIWA climate assessment shows that sea surface temperatures in coastal waters around New Zealand are well above average. Marine heatwave conditions are already occurring in parts of the Tasman Sea and the ocean around New Zealand and looking to become the new normal. Changing sea surface temperature anomalies (conditions compared to average) in the oceans around New Zealand during the … Read More

Video games could teach spatial skills lost to a society dependent on devices - Guest Work

Jan 22, 2019

Lloyd White, University of Wollongong Video games have long been criticised for encouraging violence and antisocial behaviour. And parents often express concern that they could have detrimental effects on their child’s learning abilities. But research has shown that off-the-shelf video games can also aid learning – particularly when it comes to the development of spatial skills. These issues have arisen once more with the most recent release from Rockstar Games: Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2). The game certainly contains a lot of violence, but it might inadvertently aid development of spatial skills – perhaps even more so than other video games. What are spatial skills and why do we need them? Spatial skills refer to our ability to rotate and conceptualise 3D objects, and to decipher maps, graphs and diagrams. These are … Read More