Monthly Archives: August 2015

Three steps to save Britain’s butterflies

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on The Conversation.

By Callum Macgregor, PhD student in Ecology 

British populations of butterflies, including some of the most familiar countryside species, will begin disappearing within decades unless we take action. This is the alarming conclusion of new research published in Nature Climate Change by a group of British scientists.

Butterflies are naturally sun-loving creatures, and with the UK sat on the northern edge of many species’ ranges, previous studies have forecast possible benefits to UK populations from a warming climate. However, as the climate changes, extreme weather events including droughts are expected to become more common. Droughts can be a problem for butterflies, especially if they harm the plants upon which caterpillars rely for food. With less food around, populations can crash, and may take several years to recover to pre-drought levels.

The new study used models to predict the frequency of droughts like that of 1995 under different scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions, and examined factors affecting the likelihood and speed of recovery for populations of six species of butterflies that experienced population collapses after the 1995 drought.

While droughts as severe as 1995 have previously only occurred as little as once in 200 years, allowing plenty of time for butterfly populations to recover, the study found that they may become far more frequent. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at current rates, they might even occur on average once every 1.29 years (effectively every summer). Read more

Tianjin explosion site: Chemist provides expert comment to BBC News on dangers of sodium cyanide

University of Hull sign

A University of Hull Chemist has provided expert comment to BBC News on the dangers of sodium cyanide found at an explosion site in northern China.

Dr Benjamin Burke, a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the Department of Chemistry, provided comments to the BBC in the wake of two massive explosions in the port of Tianjin.

A store of 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide has been discovered at the site, more than 70 times the legal limit.

Dr Burke originally published a piece about the potential damaging effects of the cyanide for the independent news and commentary website The Conversation.

The article has subsequently been republished by Scientific American and IFL Science.

Dr Burke said: “Cyanide has a deadly reputation and the name itself causes fear in the public.”

“It is important that we make the facts and situation clear to the public about the real dangers of such incidents and how to mitigate their consequence.”

You can read the BBC News article here.

Explainer: how dangerous is the sodium cyanide found at Tianjin explosion site?

Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army anti-chemical warfare corps at the site of the explosions. Credit: Reuters/CDIC

By Benjamin Burke, Molecular Imaging Post-Doctoral Research Assistant

Officials investigating a huge explosion at a warehouse in Tianjin in China have discovered a store of 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide – more than 70 times the legal limit allowed. Cyanide has a particularly unpleasant reputation and finding it at a major disaster site is far from welcome. However, if officials act fast they should be able to limit its damaging effects. Read more

Humber CO2 Transport Pipeline Network Design wins top award

Professor Meihong Wang and PhD students in the Chemical Engineering Laboratory at the University of Hull

Engineers at the University of Hull have won an award for their design of a carbon dioxide (CO2) transport pipeline network that could pump millions tonnes of greenhouse gases into the North Sea.

The paper investigates different options for designing a pipeline that would transport carbon dioxide from fossil fuel power stations and industrial plants, such as refineries and steel works, across the Humber region to be stored permanently underneath the seabed.

A pipeline of this kind could help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the Humber, a region that has the largest share in the UK, emitting around 60 million tonnes per year.

Professor Meihong Wang, along with his former students Tihomir Lazic and Dr Eni Oko, co-authored the winning paper, which has been awarded the prestigious Ludwig Mond Prize by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

The prize is awarded for the best contribution to the progress of mechanical engineering of interest to the chemical industry. Read more

Mind-controlling wasps enslave zombie spiders to build them a perfect nest

Spider on a web

By Ellen Dorothea Moss, PhD candidate in Ecology

People associate wasps with memories of picnic invasions, BBQs under siege, and painful stings. There is a lot more to these much-maligned insects though, and with more than 100,000 different species, their life histories range from the quietly unobtrusive to the bizarre and gruesome. A new study in the Journal of Experimental Biology documents one such disturbing example of wasp larvae that takes control of their unfortunate spider hosts.

The Japanese scientists behind the study thought the host-parasite relationship between the wasp Reclinervellus nielseni (most wasps have only a scientific name) and its orb-weaver spider host Cyclosa argenteoalba could help us understand how parasitic organisms alter their host’s behaviour.

The adult wasps lay an egg on the outside of the spider’s body. The wasp larva hatches out and attaches itself to the spider’s abdomen, where it feeds on the fluids within, while the spider goes about its normal life. At a certain point though, the larva causes the spider’s behaviour to change. It’s as though the larva takes control of the spider and forces it to create the perfect environment for the wasp larva to transform (or “pupate”) into an adult. Read more

Success of invasive mammals depends on their reproduction rate, study finds

Wild rabbit

Invasive mammals which reproduce at a high rate are more likely to survive and become widespread, new research by the University of Hull and University of Reading suggests.

Invasive mammals live in areas that they are not normally found in, having either been deliberately or accidentally introduced by humans.

The research, led by Dr Isabella Capellini at the University of Hull, shows that invasive mammal species, such as grey squirrels in Europe and rabbits in Australia, have very high reproductive rates compared to those that fail to become widespread.

The study tested whether the most reproductive species succeed, or whether it is species that live longer that can better cope with new environmental conditions, despite being less reproductive. Read more

Grants awarded in July 2015 (over £10k)

Dr S Hull, £241,000, Heritage Lottery Fund, ‘Capturing the Coast’ marine ecology project

Dr K Earle, Dr G Abt, £15,000, Hull City Tigers Ltd, Studentship – Hull City Tigers – James Deighton

Prof T Coulthard, £25,000, Environment Agency, Collaborative research agreement relating to long-term morphodynamics and sedimentation of the Holderness coast and Humber Estuary

Dr J Purdy, £14,943, Nottingham University Hospitals, I-BiT+ Assessment and treatment of patients with Amblyopia using interactive binocular computer games

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