NATURE NOTES - Written by Dr Martyn Stenning
Nature Notes December 2021
COP26 is in full swing as I write. The planet is changing, and those changes are largely due to us c. 8 billion Humans. We are living in an era that the geologists have named Anthropocene or the age of human affected geology. We dig up or harvest almost everything that we use to build civilisation, we change what we have obtained then distribute it around the world to make other things, we use those things then bury them in the ground, flush them out to the oceans or burn them when we have finished with them. Just ponder, for example, the history of the structure of your computer as you type and the obsolete computers that you and I have had in the past. There are components that are made of rare metals and other materials that have been dug out of the ground. Some products are recycled which adds to the dispersal of the material. Not all human activity is bad and I am not making value judgements, but we are changing the world at a geological level as well as many other levels. It is down to us to try to put it right. This is the objective of COP26.
So, where to go from here? We are not in the business of creating problems, just solutions. We get hungry, so we eat something. We get thirsty so we drink some cool fresh water. We generate too much carbon dioxide, so we must stop doing that and find alternatives. One latest solution is aeroplanes that run on hydrogen fuel instead of petroleum from fossils. Burning hydrogen just produces water. There will soon be hydrogen cars along-side electric ones as we phase out petrol and diesel engines. Us and planet would be healthier if we eat less meat and exercise more by cycling or walking instead of driving short distances. We can plant a tree that will soak up carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but not within 7 metres of a vulnerable building. We can make a pond and not mow lawns so frequently or rewild part of a garden or countryside. We can seek alternatives to gas for heating and cooking and install solar panels. If in employment, we could either work from home or live near the job. We can buy locally produced food and other products. We can share!
We all share responsibility for global warming and its consequences and all of us can respond by sharing global resources accordingly, because 8 billion people pulling in the right direction can create a sustainable world.
Dr Martyn Stenning
Nature Notes November 2021
There are just three types of animals on planet Earth if you classify them by eye function:-
1. Those that have forward vision only, like us and most spiders, these animals are usually predators;
2. Those that have side-of-head eyes, virtual all-round vision such as chickens and butterflies, these tend to be prey animals;
3. Those that have no eyes, like worms and cave fish, live in dark places and have lost or never found the power of vision;
Eyes may be the single most improbable and miraculous organs of the body, a window on the world. Even the Evolutionary Biologist Charles Darwin exclaimed that it was “absurd” to propose that the human eye evolved through spontaneous mutation and natural selection. Yet evolve they did because evolution itself is an elegant and miraculous process.
Actually, even worms have cells that detect and inform them as to whether they are in darkness or light. From simple light sensors like these, eyes developed and improved gradually over many generations.
Predators and prey alike probably have the best eyes on the planet as their existence depends on them. A golden eagle has phenomenal eyesight and can see tiny prey movements from hundreds of metres away. Similarly, deer and antelope who have all-round vision, and who often live in herds, will spot a predator immediately unless the latter is well camouflaged, hidden and still.
Feeding and survival for these 2 groups has been a process of refinement and skill development over many generations. The same can be said of humans as athletes continue to break records every year at sports meetings. We no longer depend on the skills and agility of hunters in order to eat, but we still try to improve the capabilities of our bodies. Animals will be doing likewise. However, some animals, like us, have adopted a cultivation strategy for their food. They still need good eyes, but use them for management rather than hunting or evading being hunted. Among these are ants who ‘farm’ aphids and scale insects. Lions who live with herds of antelope, getting to know them and identifying individuals that would be easiest to catch.
Autumn is the time for spiders, hunters that set gossamer insect traps.
Dr Martyn Stenning