Sorry about the long wait, but work comes first. Anyway, I am getting back in the swing of things for a little while.
Science News in Brief
The Large Haldron Collider has resumed operation and set a new world record for energy. Its particle beams were accelerated at over one trillion volts. This was just a precursor to the Collider’s primary scientific tests set for the year 2010.
Still No Black Hole: Just to give you a sense of the energy involved here: a lightning strike hits with about 1 billion volts.
A cross-disciplinary team of researchers from universities across America have released a study which indicates that climate change could increase the likelihood of civil war in sub-Saharan African countries by as much as 50% in the by 2050. These wars would be fueled by decreased water supplies, fewer food sources, and increased poverty rates.
Talking World War III Blues: Already, 5.4 million people have died from civil war the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II.
Scientists seem to have discovered the reason for the hammerhead shark’s strange head shape. The shape allows sharks to see almost in 360 degrees in binocular vision.
Weird Animal Fact: The mantis shrimp has the best eyesight in the animal world. It is the only animal to to have hyperspectral colour vision. That is, it can see across the electromagnetic spectrum. We can only see visible light.
I already covered the kakapo, but I have been dying to post this video.
Feature Story: Remember Me
Are some animal species more important than others? A recent study which examined 222 carnivore species around the world points to the fact that certain carnivores should be more protected than others due to their ecological importance and individuality.
Even though carnivores are probably the most studied animal group, their taxonomic connections are not well understood. Thanks to genetic testing, scientists are now able to construct much more accurate taxonomic maps.
The study supports the theory that describes the split of carnivores into two main evolutionary groups: dog-like carnivores (Caniforms) and cat-like carnivores (Heliforms). The same study also revealed some so-called Confused carnivores which do not fit neatly into the aforementioned classification.
Researchers performing the study also isolated a number of carnivores which are unique in the ecological services they perform and the way they evolved. They suggest that these species, including monk seals, red pandas, and walruses, should be more protected than others because they are so unique. Because they are evolutionarily distinct, they have genes and evolutionary history not found in any other species. This makes it important with regards to biodiversity: by increasing genetic variability.
The Cosmic Perspective
All people value equality: the right to be treated with equal respect and dignity as any other human being. Those who value the environment tend to extend that to the animal world. We do not like to show preferential treatment to certain animals just because they are cute and cuddly. So, this study which claims that certain animals are more important from an evolutionary perspective comes as a bit of a shock. Why should a walrus be more important than a snow leopard?
I look at this from two points of view: that of a scientist and that of an environmentalist, because I consider myself to be both. As a scientist, I definitely see the merit of protecting certain species. Different animals perform different tasks in an ecosystem. Certain animals’ roles are more critical to the functioning of the system as a whole than others. It is a principle of network systems thinking that nodes (animals) in a system (ecosystem) can be ranked based on the number of nodes which connect to them and the importance of those nodes. So, the more important connections an animal has, the more important it is in an ecosystem. However, even a few important links can prove to elevate a species to a higher status than one with many relatively commonplace connections.
That being said, all animals play an important role in biodiversity. Biodiversity provides for the astounding variety of different organisms, genes, ecosystems in which they exist, and biological services these organisms provide for life to adapt to changing environmental conditions throughout history. It would be foolish not to save as much as we can of the already dwindling amount of biological diversity we have on this planet. We often do not know how important something is before it is gone altogether.