Image Credit: Oregon State University, CC BY-SA 2.0
Quantitative analysis of selected plastics in high-commercial-value Australian seafood by pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry (2020) Ribeiro et al., Environmental Science & Technology, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c02337
Plastic is one of those things that we hear about all the time these days. More specifically, we hear about how there is an absolute ton of it in the environment thanks to human negligence and the lack of concern that a large amount of people have for where their plastic goes when they are finished with it. Plastic isn’t like paper or metal, it takes a long, LONG time for it to break down. Plastic bags take anywhere from 10-20 years, but the normal time it takes for most plastic waste to decompose is about 1000 years. To put that into perspective, Leif Erikson led an expedition from Greenland to the coast of what is now North America in the year 1002. If his crew had some plastic with them and left it in the places they visited (typical tourists) there’s a good chance that it would STILL be there today.
I hope I’ve convinced you why plastic is bad, but another danger that plastics pose are microplastics, small bits of plastic that have come from a larger piece, all of which are less than 5mm in size. Our environment is full of them, and the ocean in particular has been saturated with microplastics. In 2014 a research expedition sailed from Bermuda to Iceland (a trip of 2500 miles/4023 km) and found microplastics in every single sample they took. And that was just plastic in the environmental samples they took, the real threat to marine life comes from what happens to all of that microplastic.
Image Credit: ksblack99, Public Domain, Image Cropped
Exposure to potentially cannibalistic conspecifics induces an increased immune response (2020) Murray et al., Ecological Entomology, https://doi.org/10.1111/een.12806
Plasticity is a powerful force in nature that allows organisms to change the way they look, the way they act, and even their own physiological processes. Prey species commonly exhibit plastic responses when they are exposed to predators, and recent studies have shown that these predator-induced effects can affect the immune function of the prey species. Because of this, predators have the potential to modify disease dynamics, either increasing disease/parasite infection by reducing the prey’s immune function, or decreasing disease by increasing immune function.
Interestingly, predators are not the only organisms that consume prey species. Some prey species eat both members of their own trophic level (an intraguild predator, see Did You Know) and members of their own species (a cannibal). Because they act like a predator (by eating a prey organism), there’s a possibility that these cannibalistic individuals may have the same effect on their potential victims. Today’s authors used larval dragonflies to investigate that exact question.
Rasmus Hansson, former leader of the Norwegian Green Party and the Norwegian WWF (Image Credit: Miljøpartiet de Grønne, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)
Environmental politics is a tricky business. We live in a world where environmental crises are at the forefront of the news cycle, and in which science is simultaneously becoming the subject of distrust. So it makes sense that at this point, politics should be adapting and evolving as science does.
So when Rasmus Hansson stopped by NTNU last month, Sam Perrin and I took the chance to sit down with him and see whether this was the case. Rasmus studied polar bears at NTNU in the 70s, before later becoming the leader of the World Wildlife Fund in Norway and then of the Norwegian Green party. We spoke with Rasmus about the transition from conservation to politics, the clash of ideologies and the future of environmental politics.
With the age of consumption well and truly upon us, we cover some of the more important things to consider when trying to eat sustainably (Image Credit: Love Food Hate Waste NZ, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)
Here at the Centre of Biodiversity Dynamics, we all pride ourselves in being a little more eco-conscious than most people (let’s not talk about the carbon footprint of our travels though). It is rare that we can make a meal together that involves meat since we are lousy with vegetarians. However, what we eat and how eco-friendly our diets actually are is a regular debate. This piece comes at the presupposition that the person reading this already has taken basic measures to be eco-friendly in their diet (i.e. not nomming on McDonalds’ reconstituted meat with a side helping of franken-fries). I am not going to talk about everything because there is frankly too much out there to discuss (and I’m not going to open a genetically modified can of worms).
Image Credit: Wibowo Djatmiko, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped
Almost a year ago, the current President of the United States pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. At that point, the scientific community, climate change activists, and anyone with a passing interest in science (and, you know, the survival of our species) could have been forgiven for thinking that we had finally forsaken our planet. Yet at the STARMUS Festival last year in Trondheim, I was particularly struck by American coral reef biologist Nancy Knowlton’s words on Earth Optimism, and why all may not be lost just yet.