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.

New Zealand’s urban freshwater is improving, but a major report reveals huge gaps in our knowledge - Guest Work

Apr 18, 2019

Troy Baisden, University of Waikato Environment Aotearoa 2019, a major report released today, provides the first snapshot since 2015 of New Zealand’s environment across five “domains” – air, climate, freshwater, land and ocean. This is the first synthesis report produced under environmental reporting legislation that came into effect in 2016. Here, I’ll focus on freshwater and how this report updates an earlier assessment of freshwater quality in 2017. Sadly, the standout message is the scale and importance of the gaps in the data on environmental change. Trends in a range of water quality attributes have been re-assessed, but the causes remain poorly understood. This is mostly because of a lack of a “national-scale database or map of farm management practices”. Gaps in understanding The gap widens when assessing impacts of changing water quality on … Read More

Taxonomy for Sale to the Highest Bidder - Guest Work

Apr 15, 2019

Shaena Montanari Last December, the environmental group Rainforest Trust celebrated its 30th anniversary by auctioning off the rights to name 12 newly discovered species, including orchids, frogs, and an ant. The Virginia-based nonprofit group claimed the auction raised $182,500 for its conservation programs. The most valuable animal turned out to be a wormlike amphibian from Panama, which drew a winning bid of $25,000 from a British sustainable building materials company called EnviroBuild. Shortly afterward, the company proudly announced the name they want to bestow on the blind amphibian: Dermophis donaldtrumpi. EnviroBuild said they chose it to bring attention to climate change, which President Trump is “blind” to. “Realising the similarities between the amazing but unknown creature and the leader of the free world, we couldn’t resist buying the rights in your president’s honour,” Aidan Bell, the co-founder … Read More

Fighting fungi with feijoa - Guest Work

Apr 12, 2019

Dr Andrew Munkacsi Many of us have heard of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, either through the media or perhaps knowing someone who died from such a bacterial infection. Just as there are bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics, there are fungal infections resistant to antifungal drugs.    Fungi are microbial organisms (not visible to the naked eye) that can infect plants, animals and humans. Yes, mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms. Approximately 300 fungal species are known to be pathogenic to humans; these include well-known species such as Candida albicans (the causal agent of vaginal yeast infection and oral thrush) as well as the numerous species that cause athlete’s foot. Unfortunately, not all fungal infections are able to be treated successfully. Fungal infections cause approximately 1 million deaths per year, an alarming number that exceeds the annual deaths caused by breast … Read More

Why do we mix up faces? Game of Thrones might help us find the answer - Guest Work

Apr 11, 2019

Christel Devue, Victoria University of Wellington and Gina Grimshaw, Victoria University of Wellington In the Game of Thrones universe, confusing a photograph of actor Jack Gleeson, who played the popular HBO TV show’s despised sadist Joffrey Baratheon, for one of Maisie Williams, the beloved Arya Stark, is an egregious case of mistaken identity. Admittedly, Gleeson is sporting dark hair rather than Joffrey’s customary blond, but even so. If nothing else, Gleeson is male and Williams female. This is just one of the failures we have seen when we used characters from Game of Thrones to develop a new test of human face recognition. Thanks to the series, our research shows that becoming familiar with a face and reliably recognising a person are complex processes. Facial recognition feels deceptively easy Humans … Read More

A Classic Case of Science “He Said”, “She Said”: How Psychologists Trying to Prevent PTSD Got Controversial - Guest Work

Apr 11, 2019

Hilda Bastian Natural disasters have a lot in common with other major traumas, like life-threatening accidents and mass shootings – especially the emotional distress they leave in their aftermath. Hilda Bastian, CC BY-NC-ND. As predictable and common as the psychological distress is, though, what those psychologists should or shouldn’t be doing is still controversial. It’s the centre of a heated scientific debate that stewed and bubbled through the 1990s and then boiled over. It began when a technique from the battlefield crossed over to civilian life. Soldiers traditionally debrief to share information and learn from missions and incidents. Psychological debriefing evolved along with military psychiatry: instead of only discussing what happened, groups discussed feelings and coping too. Psychological debriefing spread far and wide. It spread to civilian first responders. Like soldiers, trauma was in the line of normal duty … Read More

The replication crisis is good for science - Guest Work

Apr 10, 2019

Eric Loken, University of Connecticut Science is in the midst of a crisis: A surprising fraction of published studies fail to replicate when the procedures are repeated. For example, take the study, published in 2007, that claimed that tricky math problems requiring careful thought are easier to solve when presented in a fuzzy font. When researchers found in a small study that using a fuzzy font improved performance accuracy, it supported a claim that encountering perceptual challenges could induce people to reflect more carefully. However, 16 attempts to replicate the result failed, definitively demonstrating that the original claim was erroneous. Plotted together on a graph, the studies formed a perfect bell curve centred around zero effect. As is frequently the case with failures to replicate, of the 17 total attempts, the original had both the smallest … Read More

Squid team finds high species diversity off Kermadec Islands, part of stalled marine reserve proposal - Guest Work

Apr 10, 2019

Kat Bolstad, Auckland University of Technology and Heather Braid, Auckland University of Technology Squids and octopuses could be considered the “parrots of the ocean”. Some are smart, and many have complex behaviours. And, of course, they have strange, bird-like beaks. They are the subject of ancient myths and legends about sea monsters, but they do not live for decades. In fact, their high intelligence and short lifespan represent an unusual paradox. In our latest research, we have discovered several new species that have never been reported from New Zealand waters. Our study almost doubles the known diversity for the Kermadec region, north of New Zealand, which is part of the proposed, but stalled, Kermadec–Rangitāhua ocean sanctuary. More than we bargained for Collectively, squids and octopuses are known as cephalopods, because their limbs … Read More

Dissecting the Insect Apocalypse - Guest Work

Apr 09, 2019

Tom Saunders Studies on insect declines published over the last few years have thrown up some scary headlines. “The insect apocalypse is here” proclaims the New York Times, warning the pace of insect declines could spell catastrophe within decades. It’s a grim picture, but how accurate is it? In late 2017, European scientists reported a 75% decline in insects over the last 30 years. On the surface, an alarming find. But when faced with any scientific study, always check the methods. The Europeans weighed insects caught in traps from two regions of Germany. But most of the sites were only sampled during one year. This didn’t stop the New York Times from describing the study as providing “exactly the kind of longitudinal data [scientists] had been seeking” to confirm fears about a global crisis. Biomass in itself is problematic. Could part of the … Read More

Slow-slip event off the coast of Gisborne - News

Apr 05, 2019

Dr Laura Wallace Scientists have been monitoring a slow-slip event that started in the last week off the east coast near Gisborne. Slow-slip movement model showing direction of movement of GeoNet GPS sites and amount of displacement at the plate boundary. So far we’ve recorded 10-15 cm of movement at the red area. Slow-slip events are quite common in this part of New Zealand, due to the subducting Pacific Plate moving westward under the Australian Plate. We’ve recorded dozens of these events since we first detected them in 2002 after installing a GPS (Global Positioning System) network around New Zealand to monitor land movement. Slow-slip events (sometimes called silent earthquakes) are undetectable by both humans and our seismograph network because they move faults over weeks to months instead of within seconds like the earthquakes that you typically think of. Read More

Island focus to reduce extinction - News

Apr 04, 2019

Erin Maessen Focusing conservation efforts on 169 islands, including five in New Zealand, could help to combat the global extinction crisis. This is according to the findings of a collaborative study between forty institutions, including universities and conservation organisations, published in PLOS ONE last week. The researchers combined conservation benefit with feasibility to assess 1,279 islands worldwide, whittling the list down to 169. These are the islands on which concentrating of conservation efforts could prove most valuable for protecting species biodiversity. Eradicating invasive species such as rats and cats from the islands identified by the study could improve the chances of survival for 9.4% of the world’s most highly threatened terrestrial vertebrates. That’s 111 of the species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians that are currently listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Read More