BBC Inside Science

A weekly programme that illuminates the mysteries and challenges the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

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Human use of plants beyond the limits of history.


Human impact on planet earth’s plant life might be detectable several thousand years back in fossil pollen cores taken from mud columns around the world. As Suzette Flantua and Ondrej Mottl describe in a paper published in the journal Science, a rapid acceleration in the changes in pollen species goes back further than we might have expected. This matters particularly when it comes to decisions around re-wilding and re-planting areas today in the name of conservation. As they hope to build on in future work, learning more about the state of ecosystems further back into the past might prevent us making the mistake of simply recreating different types of post-agricultural situations which might not solve the problem we are trying to fix. One of the biggest impacts on the earth’s flora today is of course influenced by our meat consumption. The BBC’s Melanie Abbott has been to see a new exhibition opening at Oxford University’s Musuem of Natural History. Produced in association with the University’s Livestock, Environment and People research programme, this exhibition “Meat the Future”, seeks to raise awareness of the issues for health and the environment around eating – or not eating meat - and is open until January 2022. At the same time, a travelling interactive experience called Meat Your Persona will be moving around the UK, starting in Cardiff. And there's an online interactive questionnaire you can try from home. See the links at the bottom of the BBC Inside Science programme page. Researchers in the US are working on devices that might be able to connect with people’s brains to allow them to manipulate robotic or digital devices to regain abilities lost to disease or injury. As Dr Frank Willett and Prof Krishna Shenoy - both at Stanford University’s neural prosthetics translational laboratory - describe in the journal Nature, they have managed to create a device that allows one patient to create text using just thought. Rather than trying to guide a cursor over a keyboard, their technique works by learning which letter the patient is thinking of drawing by hand, despite being unable to wield a pen. And Jacob Dunn, associate professor at Anglia Ruskin University describes his team’s work which finds that tamarin monkeys will use the “accent” of another species when they enter its territory to help them better understand one another and potentially avoid conflict. His paper, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, describes findings in the Amazon rainforest near Manaus where a species that ordinarily use quite distinct long distance calls subtly change their call to sound more like a neighbouring species’ equivalent call when they are sharing the same area of forest. Not so much an aggressive intrusion as a polite lingua franca, it may be that the shared understanding reduces unnecessary and costly territorial fights between the two species. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield


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 2021-05-27  35m