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Economic benefits of protecting 30% of the planet outweigh the costs at least 5-to-1

News from this site - Fri, 10/07/2020 - 09:05

In the most comprehensive report to date on the economic implications of protecting nature, over 100 economists and scientists find that the global economy would benefit from the establishment of far more protected areas on land and at sea than exist today. The report considers various scenarios of protecting at least 30%...

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Learn from the pandemic to prevent environmental catastrophe, scientists argue

Cam ac uk zoology department feed - Thu, 02/07/2020 - 11:24

The dynamics of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic share “striking similarities” with the twin environmental crises of global heating and species extinction, argue a team of scientists and policy experts from the UK and US.

They say that lessons learned the hard way in containing COVID-19 – the need for early intervention to reduce death and economic damage; the curbing of some aspects of people’s lifestyles for the good of all of us – should also be at the heart of averting environmental catastrophe.

“We’ve seen the consequences of delayed action in the fight against COVID-19. The consequences of continued inaction in the face of catastrophic climate change and mass extinction are too grave to contemplate,” said Prof Andrew Balmford, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, Balmford and colleagues argue that the spread of coronavirus shares common characteristics with both global heating and the impending “sixth mass extinction”.

For example, each new COVID-19 case can spawn others and so lead to escalating infection rates, just as hotter climates alter ecosystems, increasing emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause warming. “Both are dangerous feedback loops,” argue the scientists.

The team also draw comparisons of what they term “lagged impacts”. For coronavirus, the delay – or lag – before symptoms materialise means infected people spread the disease before they feel effects and change behaviour.

The researchers equate this with the lag between our destruction of habitat and eventual species extinction, as well as lags between the emissions we pump out and the full effects of global heating, such as sea-level rise. As with viral infection, behaviour change may come too late.

“Like the twin crises of extinction and climate, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic might have seemed like a distant problem at first, one far removed from most people’s everyday lives,” said coauthor Ben Balmford from the University of Exeter.

“But left unchecked for too long, the disease has forced major changes to the way we live. The same will be true of the environmental devastation we are causing, except the consequences could be truly irreversible.”

The authors find parallels in the indifference that has long greeted warnings from the scientific community about both new zoonotic diseases and human-induced shifts in climate and habitat.

“The lagged impacts, feedback loops and complex dynamics of pandemics and environmental crises mean that identifying and responding to these challenges requires governments to listen to independent scientists,” said Dr Brendan Fisher, a coauthor from the University of Vermont. “Such voices have been tragically ignored.”

The similarities between the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and environmental disaster lie not just in their nature but also in their mitigation, say the scientists, who write that “there is no substitute for early action”.

The researchers include an analysis of the timing of lockdown across OECD countries, and conclude that if it had come just a week earlier then around 17,000 lives in the UK (up to 21 May 2020) would have been saved, and nearly 45,000 in the US.

They say that, just as delayed lockdown cost thousands of lives, delayed climate action that gives us 2oC of warming rather than 1.5 will expose an estimated extra 62-457 million people – mainly the world’s poorest – to “multi-sector climate risks” such as drought, flooding and famine.

Similarly, conservation programmes are less likely to succeed the longer they are delayed. “As wilderness disappears we see an accelerating feedback loop, as a given loss of habitat causes ever-greater species loss,” explained Princeton Professor and co-author David Wilcove.    

The scientists point out that delayed action resulting in more COVID-19 deaths will also cost those nations more in economic growth, according to IMF estimates, just as hotter and more disruptive climates will curtail economic prosperity.

Intervening to contain both the pandemic and the environmental crises requires decision-makers and citizens to act in the interests of society as a whole, argue the researchers.

“In the COVID-19 crisis we’ve seen young and working age people sacrificing education, income and social connection primarily for the benefit of older and more vulnerable people,” said co-author Prof Dame Georgina Mace from UCL.

“To stem the impacts of climate change and address biodiversity loss, wealthier and older adults will have to forgo short-term material extravagance for the benefit of the present-day poor and future generations. It’s time to keep our end of the social bargain,” Mace said.

Cambridge’s Andrew Balmford added: “Scientists are not inventing these environmental threats, just as they weren’t inventing the threat of a pandemic such as COVID-19. They are real, and they are upon us.”

COVID-19 is comparable to climate and extinction emergencies, say scientists from the UK and US – all share features such as lagged impacts, feedback loops, and complex dynamics.

The consequences of continued inaction in the face of catastrophic climate change and mass extinction are too grave to contemplateAndrew BalmfordBalinda O'NealUS National Guard working to extinguish wildfires in Alaska


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Human interactions with wild and farmed animals must change dramatically to reduce risk of another deadly pandemic

Cam ac uk zoology department feed - Thu, 25/06/2020 - 10:10

The authors of the new report argue that well-meaning but simplistic actions such as complete bans on hunting and wildlife trade, ‘wet markets’ or consumption of wild animals may be unachievable and are not enough to prevent another pandemic. Measures like these can be difficult to implement so must be carefully planned to prevent proliferation of illegal trade, or alienation and increasing hardship for local communities across the world who depend on wild animals as food.

Zoonotic diseases of epidemic potential can also transmit from farmed wildlife (such as civets) and domesticated animals (as exemplified by swine flu and avian flu), with greater risks occurring where humans, livestock and wildlife closely interact. 

Compiled by a team of 25 international experts, the study considered all major ways that diseases with high potential for human to human transmission can jump from animals to humans (termed zoonotic diseases). The authors say that dealing with such a complicated mix of potential sources of infection requires widespread changes to the ways humans and animals interact.

“A lot of recent campaigns have focused on banning the trade of wild animals, and dealing with wild animal trade is really important yet it’s only one of many potential routes of infection. We should not assume the next pandemic will arise in the same way as COVID-19; we need to be acting on a wider scale to reduce the risk,” said Professor William Sutherland in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and the BioRISC Research Initiative at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, who headed the research.

Potential ways another human pandemic could arise include: wildlife farming, transport, trade and consumption; international or long distance trade of livestock; international trade of exotic animals for pets; increased human encroachment into wildlife habitats; antimicrobial resistance - especially in relation to intensive farming and pollution; and bioterrorism.

Some of the ways to reduce the risk of another pandemic are relatively simple, such as encouraging smallholder farmers to keep chickens or ducks away from people. Others, like improving biosecurity and introducing adequate veterinary and hygiene standards for farmed animals across the world, would require significant financial investment on a global scale. 

The 161 options include:
• Laws to prevent the mixing of different wild animals or the mixing of wild and domestic animals during transport and at markets;
• Increase switching to plant-based foods to reduce consumption of, and demand for, animal products;
• Safety protocols for caving in areas with high bat density, such as use of waterproof coveralls and masks;
• Improve animal health on farms by limiting stocking densities and ensuring high standards of veterinary care.

“We can’t completely prevent further pandemics, but there are a range of options that can substantially reduce the risk. Most zoonotic pathogens are not capable of sustained human-to-human transmission, but some can cause major epidemics. Preventing their transfer to humans is a major challenge for society and also a priority for protecting public health,” said Dr Silviu Petrovan, a veterinarian and wildlife expert from the University of Cambridge and lead author of the study. 

“Wild animals aren’t the problem - they don’t cause disease emergence. People do. At the root of the problem is human behaviour, so changing this provides the solution,” said Professor Andrew Cunningham, Deputy Director of Science at the Zoological Society of London and co-author of the study.

Solutions were focused on measures that can be put in place in society at local, regional and international scales. The study did not consider the development of vaccines and other medical and veterinary medicine options. It does not offer recommendations, but a set of options to help policy-makers and practitioners think carefully about possible courses of action. 

All categories of animal - wildlife, captive, feral, and domestic - were included in the study. The focus was on diseases, particularly viruses, which could rapidly become epidemics through high rates of human-to-human transmission once they have jumped from an animal. This excludes some well-known zoonotic diseases such as rabies and Lyme disease that require continuous transmission from animals.

The report is currently being peer reviewed. The findings were generated by a method called Solution Scanning, which uses a wide range of sources to identify a range of options for a given problem. Sources included the scientific literature, position papers by Non-Governmental Organisations, industry guidelines, experts in different fields, and the expertise of the study team itself.

This work was funded by The David and Claudia Harding Foundation, Arcadia, and MAVA.

Reference (unpublished report available as preprint)
Petrovan, S. et al: Post COVID-19: a solution scan of options for preventing future zoonotic epidemics. DOI: 10.17605/OSF.IO/5JX3G. 
 

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Compiled by a team of international wildlife and veterinary experts, a new study has identified seven routes by which pandemics could occur and 161 options for reducing the risk. It concludes that widespread changes to the way we interact with animals are needed; solutions that only address one issue – such as the trade in wild animals – are not enough.

We can’t completely prevent further pandemics, but there are a range of options that can substantially reduce the risk.Silviu PetrovanPig farm by Harriet BartlettPig farming


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Stick like a limpet? It's all in the mucus

News from this site - Sun, 21/06/2020 - 09:32

Limpets are renowned for their powerful attachments to rocks on wave-swept seashores: previous studies showed large limpets can withstand more than 80 kg of force. Unlike barnacles and mussels, limpets do not stick permanently to rocks; instead, they switch from strong attachment to free locomotion depending on the tide...

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Rapid and finely-tuned evolutionary change in wild burying beetles

News from this site - Thu, 28/05/2020 - 16:18

A new paper published in Evolution Letters shows how quickly animals can adapt to new environments, and how well they can fine-tune their adaptations to match local conditions. Until about 4000 years ago, England was covered in ancient forest – ‘the Wild Wood’, as Oliver Rackham called it. In the Iron Age deforestation...

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Invasive species in the Galápagos

News from this site - Thu, 21/05/2020 - 09:19

Two species introduced to the Galápagos, the cat (brought to the islands decades ago) and the smooth-billed ani (a more recent arrival) have been studied by PhD student Sophia Cooke . The results of both these studies have just been published: Cooke, S.C ., Anchundia, D., Caton, E. et al. Endemic species predation by the...

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Praying Mantids can adjust the timing of their strikes on prey

News from this site - Wed, 13/05/2020 - 15:09

praying_mantid_strike.gif Most predators must be flexible to capture prey trying to evade them, but ambush predators are often thought to have a stereotyped behaviour. One such predator is the praying mantid who ambush their prey with raptorial strikes, often snatching them from mid-air. In a new paper published today in...

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The Persistence of Polymorphisms across Species Radiations

News from this site - Tue, 12/05/2020 - 11:26

In a recent paper published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Joana Meier explore the phenomenon that the same polymorphisms often recur in many members of a species radiation (e.g. colour/pattern morphs, heterostyly, mating types, shell chirality). This phenomenon is puzzling because speciation...

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Adult skates can spontaneously repair cartilage injuries

Cam ac uk zoology department feed - Tue, 12/05/2020 - 09:14
Shorthand Story: YZ2JHMaNw3Shorthand Story Head: Adult skates can spontaneously repair cartilage injuries " + "ipt>"); } })(navigator, 'userAgent', 'appVersion', 'script', document); //--> Shorthand Story Body:  TwitterFacebook Adult skates can spontaneously repair cartilage injuries

Researchers have found that adult skates have the ability to spontaneously repair injured cartilage, using a type of cartilage stem cell. Human cartilage has very limited capacity for repair, and the finding may lead to new stem cell treatments for human cartilage injuries.

Published today in the journal eLife, the study identified a new type of cartilage stem cell in the skeleton of adult skates, Leucoraja erinacea. These cells enable skates to keep making new cartilage throughout their life, so their skeleton can keep growing and any cartilage injuries can be repaired.

Current stem cell therapies for cartilage repair in humans are not very effective because lab-engineered cartilage from adult stem cells has a tendency to start turning into bone. Previously, no animal has been found to have the ability to make new cartilage during adulthood that stays as cartilage, rather than turning into bone, or have the ability to spontaneously repair injured cartilage.

“Cartilage injury in humans – for example because of osteoarthritis or a sports injury – is a huge problem, and a huge economic burden,” said Dr Andrew Gillis from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, USA, who led the research.

“We are tremendously excited to find that skates can spontaneously repair injured cartilage, and to have an insight into how this happens. It paves the way for developing better treatments to repair cartilage injuries in humans, which are currently very limited in their effectiveness.”

Cartilage cells within the fin cartilage of a skate hatchling

Cartilage cells within the fin cartilage of a skate hatchling

The cartilage stem cells, called chondroprogenitors, were found in the fibrous tissue, called the perichondrium, which wraps around cartilage in the adult skate. By labelling these stem cells with a fluorescent marker, the researchers could trace the cells they created - and found that they ended up as cartilage in the adult skeleton. These cells were also shown to express genes that control cartilage development.

Fin cartilage of a skate embryo, showing expression of the gene encoding collagen (green) in cartilage cells

Fin cartilage of a skate embryo, showing expression of the gene encoding collagen (green) in cartilage cells

This study found that embryonic development of cartilage in the skate closely mirrors that in humans, but unique features of the adult skate skeleton – including the presence of cartilage stem cells in the perichondrium – facilitate the continued growth of cartilage throughout life.

Most cartilage in humans is formed as the skeleton first develops, and this is later replaced by bone. By the time adulthood is reached, cartilage only exists in a few places in the body such as the joints. Human cartilage has no blood or nerve supply, and it has no resident stem cell population, so it has very limited capacity for repair.

Osteoarthritis is a debilitating deterioration of joint cartilage, with symptoms ranging from stiffness and joint pain to complete immobility. It can severely impact quality of life, and has an extremely high economic burden, so there is great interest in identifying novel therapeutic strategies to promote joint cartilage repair.

The researchers warn that taking ‘shark cartilage’ tablets should not be considered as a cure for joint pain or any other illness, as there is no scientific evidence that they work.

Their next step is to understand the molecular mechanisms that allow this specialised stem cell type to make cartilage as a stable tissue in adult skate. They hope this will allow them to manipulate human stem cells to behave in a similar way, and enhance their ability to generate stable cartilage for transplantation and repair.

This research was funded by Wellcome, the Royal Society, the Isaac Newton Trust and the Fisheries Society of the British Isles.

Reference: Marconi, A. et al: ‘Adult chondrogenesis and spontaneous cartilage repair in the skate, Leucoraja erinacea’, ELife, May 2020, DOI: 10.7554/eLife.53414

Image credits: Andrew Gillis

TopBuilt with Shorthand Summary: 

Researchers have found that adult skates have the ability to spontaneously repair injured cartilage, using a type of cartilage stem cell. Human cartilage has very limited capacity for repair, and the finding may lead to new stem cell treatments for human cartilage injuries.

Image: Affiliation (schools and institutions): Department of ZoologySchool of Biological SciencesExternal Affiliations: Marine Biological LaboratoryWoods HolePeople (our academics and staff): Andrew GillisSection: ResearchNews type: News
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A review of northern Mozambique’s Afromontane birdlife

News from this site - Mon, 20/04/2020 - 11:57

The birdlife of northern Mozambique is very poorly known. Much of the area was inaccessible during the country’s civil war, before which few expeditions studying the region’s avifauna had been undertaken. In recent years, however, northern Mozambique’s mountains, a series of isolated granitic inselbergs, have received...

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Study identifies 275 ways to reduce spread of coronavirus following lockdown

Cam ac uk zoology department feed - Wed, 15/04/2020 - 14:52

The study identified 275 ways to reduce transmission of the coronavirus. Medical possibilities were not considered. It does not offer recommendations: a shortlist of the most appropriate options for specific regions and contexts should be considered in the context of their likely effectiveness, cost, practicality and fairness.

“There’s increasing pressure to re-open the economy and get people back to work and out of isolation. But if we return to operating as we did before the pandemic, there will be a second wave of the virus. All activities will need to be considered individually, and phased back in carefully, depending on the risk they pose to spreading the virus,” said Professor William Sutherland in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, who led the study.

Strict lockdown measures are proving to be effective in controlling the spread of coronavirus in many countries, but are putting a major strain on the population’s mental and physical health, and on the economy. Mass vaccination is not likely before the second half of 2021.

Measures such as physical distancing, enhancing personal hygiene and reducing contamination are likely to remain central elements of all control strategies for some time. The study, which has not been peer reviewed, lists the range of practical options available to achieve these measures, including:

• Café owners could open outdoor areas only at first, and wipe down tables - spaced well apart - after each customer.
• Access to public parks could be restricted to different age groups at different times of day, with gates left open so they don’t need to be touched, and users asked to walk on the right side of the pavement or clockwise around large open spaces.
• Petrol stations could become fully contactless, with attendants serving customers who pay from inside their car.
• Patients with doctors’ appointments could be asked to wait in their car outside the surgery until called in.
• School classes could be split into smaller groups with dedicated teachers, who only go into school one week in every three.

“It’s basically about how to stop people hanging around together, and phasing in activities starting with the ones that are the safest. Making this happen will be up to the people responsible for every element of society,” says Sutherland. 

Identifying, assessing and applying a wide range of options could enable some of the stricter lockdown conditions to be lifted earlier, and make the transition period shorter, say the researchers. The ultimate aim of a successful transition is to achieve ‘Resilient Normality’ - a new way of existing in the world that makes us less susceptible to future pandemics. 

Information was gathered by a method called Solution Scanning, which uses a wide range of sources to identify a range of options for a given problem. Sources included experts in a variety of fields, crowdsourcing on social media, and published research. 

“In starting a process of decision-making or guidance-production, it’s sensible to be aware of the range of possible options. Policy makers and practitioners must decide which strategies are appropriate to phase in at different stages of the transition from lockdown,” said Sutherland. 

The list of potential options is available online at https://covid-19.biorisc.com

This work was a collaboration between BioRISC (the Biosecurity Research Initiative at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge), Conservation Evidence in the Department of Zoology, and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.  It was funded by The David and Claudia Harding Foundation, Arcadia and MAVA.

Reference (preprint)
Sutherland, W.J. et al: ‘Informing management of lockdowns and a phased return to normality: a Solution Scan of non-pharmaceutical options to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission.’ 2020. DOI: 10.17605/OSF.IO/CA5RH

 

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Phased re-opening of schools, businesses and open spaces should be considered alongside a range of practical ways to keep people physically apart, say the authors of a new study on how lockdown can be eased without a resurgence of coronavirus infections. 

Policy makers and practitioners must decide which strategies are appropriate to phase in at different stages of the transition from lockdownWilliam SutherlandMabel Amber from Pixabay


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Tropical Ecosystems in the 21st Century

News from this site - Mon, 06/04/2020 - 10:24

logging_truck.jpg Tropical ecosystems are highly diverse and provide myriad ecosystem services to humanity. However, these habitats are increasingly threatened by human activities. A special issue of Advances in Ecological Research, brings together papers describing these anthropogenic threats, including the impacts of...

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Professor Jenny Clack, FRS, 1947-2020

News from this site - Thu, 26/03/2020 - 14:16

clack_prof_jenny_hres.jpg Professor Jenny Clack, F.R.S., F.L.S. 1947-2020. Jenny was a palaeontologist. Why restate what everyone who knew Jenny already knows? Well, the fact that they already know it, without having to think, is the point: Jenny was resolute in her dedication to her chosen field of study. Her ability to...

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