Earth ChangesS


Museum butterfly collections chronicle evolutionary war against male-killers

Blue Moon butterfly
© UnknownBlue Moon butterfly
The drawers of the world's museums are full of pinned, preserved and catalogued insects. These collections are more than just graveyards - they are a record of evolutionary battles waged between animals and their parasites. Today, these long-dead specimens act as "silent witnesses of evolutionary change", willing to tell their story to any biologist who knows the right question to ask.

This time round, the biologist was Emily Hornett, currently at UCL, and her question was "How have the ratios of male butterflies to female ones changed over time?" You would think that the sex ratios of insects to mirror the one-to-one proportions expected of humans but not if parasites get involved.


Killer birds bite off bats' heads

It sounds like the avian equivalent of an Ozzy Osbourne legend. Great tits have been discovered killing and eating bats by pecking their heads open.

Bizarro Earth

Greece: Earthquake Magnitude 4.5 - Crete

Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 07:43:47 UTC

Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 10:43:47 AM at epicenter

34.013°N, 25.465°E

10 km (6.2 miles) set by location program

149 km (92 miles) S (171°) from Iraklion, Crete, Greece

213 km (132 miles) SE (141°) from Chania, Crete, Greece

255 km (159 miles) NNE (32°) from Tubruq, Libya

470 km (292 miles) SSE (160°) from ATHENS, Greece

Bizarro Earth

Venezuela rocked by strong earthquake

Caracas - A strong 6.4 magnitude earthquake sent people rushing into the streets from shaking buildings across Venezuela on Saturday and knocked out power in some parts of the oil exporting nation.

The head of Venezuela's emergency services, Luis Diaz Curbelo told Reuters the quake, which hit at about 3:40 p.m. local time/2010 GMT, was felt across the country.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake occurred 23 miles north-northeast of Puerto Cabello, one of the OPEC nation's main oil ports. The epicenter was below the sea at a depth of 6.2 miles.

Television reported smaller aftershocks in some regions.

One of Venezuela's main oil refineries, El Palito, and a petrochemicals complex are located in the region where the tremor was felt most strongly.

The quake also hit the country's oil heartland of Zulia, where buildings wobbled in state capital Maracaibo. But there were no initial reports of damage to oil installations.

Comment: With the military build-up encircling Venezuela, it's worth noting that the US military has long studied and pioneered the Earth as a Weapon in 21st Century Wars.

Bizarro Earth

Fertilisers reducing plant diversity

Scientists have identified why excessive fertilisation of soils is resulting in a loss of plant diversity. Extra nutrients allow fast growing plants to dominate a habitat, blocking smaller species' access to vital sunlight, researchers have found.

As a result, many species are disappearing from affected areas.

A team from the University of Zurich, writing in Science, warned that tighter controls were needed in order to prevent widespread biodiversity loss. Estimates suggest that the global level of nitrogen and phosphorous available to plants has doubled in the past 50 years.


Atmospheric Solar Heat Amplifier Discovered

For decades, the supporters of CO2 driven global warming have discounted changes in solar irradiance as far too small to cause significant climate change. Though the Sun's output varies by less than a tenth of a percent in magnitude during its 11-year sunspot cycle, that small variation produces changes in sea surface temperatures two or three times as large as it should. A new study in Science demonstrates how two previously known mechanisms acting together amplify the Sun's impact in an unsuspected way. Not surprisingly, the new discovery is getting a cool reception from the CO2 climate change clique.

Scientists have long suspected that changes in solar output may have triggered the Little Ice Age that gripped Europe several centuries ago, as well as droughts that brought down Chinese dynasties. Now, in a report in the August 28 issue of the journal Science entitled "Amplifying the Pacific Climate System Response to a Small 11-Year Solar Cycle Forcing," Gerald A. Meehl et al. have demonstrated a possible mechanism that could explain how seemingly small changes in solar output can have a big impact on Earth's climate. The researchers claim that two different parts of the atmosphere act in concert to amplify the effects of even minuscule solar fluctuations.
© ScienceSolar irradiance variation during 11-year cycles.

Bizarro Earth

Flooding Kills at Least 31 in Turkey

© Reuters
Flash floods killed at least 31 people in and around Istanbul on Wednesday, the government said, as the area continued to struggle with its heaviest rainfall in 80 years.

The floodwaters rose quickly. After just a few hours of heavy rain, water had covered many of the city's low-lying areas as well as one of the primary highways connecting the city center and the main airport. Drivers who were caught by the heavy rains told the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency that the fast-rising waters were strong enough to push heavy trucks off the road. News stations showed video of people running and climbing on top of vehicles to escape the rising waters.

Ikitelli, a crowded business district along the highway, was among the hardest hit areas.

Arrow Down

Canada: Grizzlies starve as salmon disappear

First the salmon vanished, now the bears may be gone too.

Reports from conservationists, salmon-stream walkers and ecotourism guides all along British Columbia's wild central coast indicate a collapse of salmon runs has triggered widespread death from starvation of black and grizzly bears. Those guides are on the front lines of what they say is an unfolding ecological disaster that is so new that it has not been documented by biologists.

"I've never experienced anything like this. There has been a huge drop in the number of bears we see," said Doug Neasloss, a bear-viewing guide with the Kitasoo-Xaixais tribes in Klemtu, about 180 kilometres south of Kitimat.


Why Are Native Ladybugs Disappearing?

Researchers in New York are breeding colonies of ladybugs from those found by scientists in Oregon and Colorado during a year-long search.

Last year, entomologist John Losey from Cornell University first introduced the Lost Ladybug Project in an attempt to find out why the once-common native ladybug species had almost completely disappeared across the nation.

The project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, rounds up citizen scientists, or individual volunteers who may have no scientific training, to search for ladybugs and relay photos of them to Losey and his team.

Researchers are particularly interested in the nine-spotted, two-spotted and transverse ladybugs. They are three native species whose populations have drastically dropped over the past ten years, likely due to the introduction of foreign species to control crop pests.

Bizarro Earth

Are wheat varieties losing disease resistance?

Questions of whether old reliable wheat varieties are losing their resistance to common diseases continue to pop up as growers in the upper Southeast begin getting ready for wheat planting.

It has been widely reported that sister varieties Tribute and McCormick have had increasing problems with powdery mildew over the past two years. Whether this is a true loss of resistance, a shift in disease race, or a permanent problem continues as growers make decisions on which varieties to plant for the 2009-2010 growing season.

Carl Griffey, a Virginia Tech Professor and leader of one of the top small grain breeding programs in the country says the explanation is complicated.