The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories are ancient frog fossils, even more collisions planned for the Large Hadron Collider, and humans forcing animals to become nocturnal.
Article written by Lindsay McGregor
Frogs: The Lost World
From Kermit to Crazy, everyone has a soft spot for the croakers, however not much is known about their evolutionary history. A recent discovery of four specimens trapped in tree amber from Myanmar has provided valuable information about early amphibians.
The discovery dates back 99 million years, indicating that the frogs were evolving to live in wet forests before the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous era. It also suggests that the frogs who have come to live in more temperate regions today may have had a varied diversity of habitats in the past. One of the reasons this finding is so important is that it is unlikely for the small amphibian creatures from tropical forests to end up a fossil.
Other creatures were also found preserved in amber such as spiders, insects and plants, providing some much need information about this period in time that we are still trying to understand.
Hard Cash for the Large Hadron Collider
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is getting a funding boost of 950m Swiss francs (£720m) in order to increase its capacity. The facility sits just outside Geneva, on the border between France and Switzerland, and consists of a 27 km tunnel based 100 m underground.
The LHC investigates the fascinating world of particle physics by firing sub-atomic particles at each other at close to the speed of light. There are two beams of protons (the positive particles found in atoms), travelling in opposite directions to each other around a massive ring. Junctions at intervals around this ring enable the two streams to cross, causing the beams to crash into each other – it is this process that particle physicists are interested in and any new particles that are formed from these collisions. The biggest claim to fame that the LHC has had is the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle in 2012. This resulted in Nobel prizes for both Peter Higgs and François Englert who first theorised the existence of such a particle in the 1960s. This represented the last piece of the puzzle in the Standard Model (SM), the best theory that we have that explains the inner workings of our universe.
The 8 year upgrade will increase the sensitivity of the machine, and also increase the number of collisions possible. The number of collisions will increase by 5 – 10 fold and function as part of the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC). This will be achieved by fitting extremely strong magnets in order to collimate the protons into finer, more powerful beams. These upgrades may increase the chance of finding new particle and subsequently tip the world of particle physics upside down.
Mammals take the night shift
Human activity has been found to have a strong impact on the behaviour of wild animals, in many cases, shifting their behaviour towards being active at night and sleeping during the day – known as ‘nocturnality’.
Recent research looked at data from 76 studies of 62 different species, ranging across 6 continents, and found that the mammals were sensitive to ‘human disturbance’. As a result of this, overall nocturnal activity increased by 1.36 times on average in 62 species studied.
The types of human activity considered included hunting, hiking, general presence in the animals habitat, and aspects such as urban development. All activities that mainly take place during daylight. It is well known that humans have an impact on animals’ lifestyle, as has been documented in the shifts of the spatial distribution of wildlife – human interaction changing where animals live. Humans cause fear as chief predator and animals seek avoidance tactics to prevent direct contact. This is usually done through spatial refuge, however, due to human expansion, finding some free space is getting harder. However, it seems that now animals are seeking refuge in a change of daily habits. It has been proposed that this change in behaviour may facilitate human-wildlife coexistence.
Coexisting with our furry neighbours is obviously a good thing but many are concerned that this may have an impact on the wellbeing of the animals. Finding food and a mate may become more difficult, having an impact on survival and reproduction rates. The study also found that there was no difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ human activity, so our impact is felt regardless. This indicates we need to make more of an effort to reduce our presence for the sake of the animals involved.