Tag Archives: The Conversation

How DNA evidence could be a game-changer in monitoring freshwater fish

Water may well be everywhere, but freshwater lake ecosystems are among some of the most vulnerable on Earth. In recent decades, freshwater species have suffered double the rate of decline of land species. And nearly 50% of fresh water lakes, rivers and streams across Europe failed to meet the EU Water Framework Directive, which aimed to achieve “good ecological status” of freshwater in Europe by 2015.

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No time to exercise? Then this training programme might be for you

When it comes to exercise, what’s your excuse? Whether it’s lack of time, money or motivation – sometimes the lure of the sofa can just be too strong – it can be all too easy to put off that run for another day. But whatever your reason, it’s still recommended that adults aged between 19 and 64 should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise a week. This roughly works out at about half an hour of brisk walking or cycling five times a week. Read more

Can trees really cool our cities down?

WanderingtheWorld (www.ChrisFord.com)/Flickr, CC BY-NC

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

By Roland Ennos, Professor of Biomechanics

In cities around the world, trees are often planted to help control temperatures and mitigate the effects of the “urban heat island”. But while trees have been called “nature’s air conditioners”, in practice, scientists often have difficulty demonstrating their cooling properties.

The most obvious way to measure the cooling effect of trees would be to compare the air temperature in parks with that in nearby streets. But this method often comes up with disappointing results: even in large, leafy parks, the daytime air temperature is usually less than 1°C cooler than in the stuffy streets, and at night the temperature in parks can actually be higher.

To explain this contradiction, we need to think more clearly about the physics of heat flows in our cities, and the scale of the measurements we are taking. Read more

Animals are evolving faster than you think – here’s the living proof

Galapagos finch: evolution in action? Paul Krawczuk/flickr, CC BY-SA

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

By Hugo Dutel, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Medical and Biological Engineering Research Group

Biological evolution, the changes in living organisms over time, is often considered an elusive and long process that cannot be observed during a human lifespan. But is that really the case? And is there evidence that we can see it happening right before our eyes?

Evolution is a process that occurs at a different pace in different organisms. For instance, paleontologists have shown, thanks to the fossil record, that it took a million years for whales to evolve from their land-dwelling mammalian ancestors.

But evolution can also be observed and monitored in living organisms within a human lifetime. This is true for infectious agents, such as bacteria and parasites, that can evolve extremely quickly to resist the drugs we use to fight them. But it is also the case for larger organisms, such as vertebrates – the back-boned animals. Read more

Can we really prevent floods by planting more trees?

Cycling man/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

By Roland Ennos, Professor of Biomechanics

As heavy rain continues to contribute to the devastating flooding in Cumbria, there have once again been calls – notably from the environmentalist George Monbiot – for the reforestation of our uplands, to help tackle rural flooding. The government has stated that it is funding the planting of 11m trees over the next five years to this end. It has also been suggested that trees could help reduce the number and severity of flash floods in cities, such as those that devastated Hull in June 2007.

To determine whether the humble tree really can provide such robust defences, we first need to understand the role they play in soaking up excess rain water. All floods, whether fluvial (when rivers burst their banks) or pluvial (when rainfall overwhelms drainage systems before it reaches rivers), are caused because the rain cannot soak into the soil fast enough. Instead, it runs rapidly over the surface of the land.

And while climate change is causing bigger and bigger storms, our alterations to the environment – especially to the ground surface – have been one of the major causes of the increased frequency of flooding events in modern times. Read more

Wealth in waste? Using industrial leftovers to offset climate emissions

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

By Helena I. Gomes, Postdoctoral researcher in Environmental Sciences; Mike Rogerson, Senior Lecturer in Earth System Science; and Will Mayes, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science.

More than a billion tonnes of potentially toxic, bleach-like waste is produced and piled in landfills every year, with often devastating effects. And yet most people haven’t even heard of these “alkaline wastes”.

We want to change this. Our research has identified nearly two billion tonnes of alkaline residues that are produced in the world each year, most of which can contaminate groundwater and rivers if not proper managed. We should be doing much more about the problem – these wastes can even be put to good use. Read more

How Minecraft could help teach chemistry’s building blocks of life

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The Converation.

By Mark Lorch, Senior Lecturer in Biological Chemistry, and Joel Mills, technology enhanced education

Children should be playing more computer games in school. That idea might enrage you if you think kids today already spend too much time staring at screens or if you are already sick of your offspring’s incessant prattling about fighting zombies and the like. But hear me out. Read more

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