Ecology & Zoology

Let’s be honest – environment news isn’t always the jolliest, and 2018 was no exception. From climate change, to recycling, to energy policy, at times it has felt like we’ve been lurching from one crisis to the next.

So here are ten upbeat environmental stories from this year that prove it’s not all doom and gloom.

Wind turbines are a leading source of green energy which could supply 12% of the world’s energy by 2020. But their use is often criticised for its impact on wildlife, particularly birds. Larger birds can collide with turbines and some have even learned to avoid flying near them.

What factors sustain the diversity of life on our planet? You might be surprised to learn one answer is sexual harassment. 

By Nala Rogers, Inside Science -- When do you need a broadsword, and when would you be better off with a dagger? That's the question that faced artiodactyls, the group of mammals that includes deer, antelope, goats, giraffes, pigs, buffalo and cows, during their evolution.

Lyme disease is the most prevalent tick-borne disease and is caused by the bacterial spirochete Borrelia. Using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended two-tier method, Garg et al., claim that 72 percent of individuals they examined classified "negative" by the CDC two-tier lyme disease test showed positive for the Borellia biomarker, and other microbes such as Babesia, Bartonella, and Ehrlichia.

That means some lyme disease patients do not follow the "one microbe, one disease" Germ Theory, according to an analysis of patients at different disease stages which found they respond to various microbes 65 percent of the time. And that ticks carry more than just lyme disease.
In my back yard I have three bluebird houses and a Koi pond which over the years have brought my family and I countless hours of calm, natural serenity. Over the last few years however I have noticed a few disturbing trends including the total absence of frogs in my pond and few, if any bluebirds.

I wondered if this was a local phenomenon or something more global… According to Yale Environment 360, Over the years 1989-2014 entomologists set up insect traps over the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Dog owners think dogs are exceptionally intelligent - a whole television show was made about a dog named Lassie who got humans out of all kinds of fantastic situations - while cat owners believe the same about their pets.

But are dogs smarter than other animals or pets? Not really, according to a review of over 300 papers which compared the brain power of dogs with other domestic animals, other social hunters and other carnivorans (which includes dogs, wolves, bears, lions, hyenas, and more). 
The Bahama Nuthatch, native to a small area of native pine forest on the island of Grand Bahama, was feared extinct after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, but researchers are pleased to announce that the little-known bird is still out there.

But there may be only two left, they worry.

The Bahama Nuthatch has a long bill, a distinctive high-pitched squeaky call, and nests only in the mature pine trees of the Caribbean island. There may have been a sharp decline in its estimated population, from a believed 1,800 reported in a survey in 2004 to just 23 being seen in a survey in 2007, but it is hard to be sure.


Credit: Matthew Gardner, University of East Anglia
Ground sharks (Carcharhiniformes) are the most diverse shark group living today, with over 200 different species, and they are one of the major groups that survived the Cretaceous–Palaeogene mass extinction which is why we have the Tiger, Hammerhead, and Blacktip Reef sharks and lamniforms by the Great White and Mako sharks.

Before the mass extinction that killed-off non-bird dinosaurs and marked the end of the Cretaceous period and the Mesozoic era 66 million years ago, dinosaurs dominated terrestrial environments and Mackerel sharks (Lamniformes) were the dominant shark forms of the sea.
Impulse control is associated with larger cognitively advanced animals like humans and other primates, but there are exceptions, like ravens. Now a recent study shows that the great tit, a common European songbird, has a tremendous capacity for self-control - almost the same as chimpanzees. 

Biologists learned this by placing food in a small translucent cylinder. The great tits that started pecking at the cylinder to get to the food failed the test as the behavior was considered an impulsive act. Those that, on the other hand, moved to an opening in the cylinder and thereby were able to access the food without pecking at the cylinder wall passed the test.