Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Animal of the Month: the lesser known penguins

Penguins have fascinated zoologists, explorers, and the general public for centuries. Their Latin name—Sphenisciformes—is a mixture of Latin and Greek derivatives, meaning ‘small wedge shaped’, after the distinctive form of their flightless wings. The genus of penguins comprises more than just the famous Emperors of the Antarctic, and while public awareness is growing, many of the seventeen extant members of this bird family, their habitats, and threats to their survival, remain relatively unknown.

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The art of microbiology

Sir Alexander Fleming famously wrote that “one sometimes finds what one is not looking for”. The story of Fleming’s serendipitous discovery of penicillin in the 1920s is familiar to most microbiologists. While the Scottish scientist and his family were on vacation, a fungal contaminant spread across – and subsequently killed – a lawn of bacteria growing on agar plates from one of his experiments.

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An interview with March Mammal Madness founder Dr. Katie Hinde

March Mammal Madness was created by Dr. Katie Hinde of Arizona State University and is a program which presents a bracket of 64 species of animals. Participants use scientific research to predict which species would win in a face-off. Virtual “battles” between contenders are then narrated on Twitter using scientific research and an element of chance. The species are narrowed down and eventually one winner is declared.

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“Watermelon snow” on glaciers: sustaining life in colour

Glacier surfaces around the world often host active communities of specialized organisms, including annelids in Alaska , insects in the Himalayas, and rotifers in Iceland. But these organisms, like all life, need liquid water in order to survive. The most strikingly visible signs of life on glaciers come from the microbes responsible for “watermelon-snow” – so-called both for its colour, and its smell.

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The secret of the Earth

One of the questions currently keeping astrobiologists (the people who would like to study life on other planets if only they could find some) awake at night is, what is the crucial difference that allowed the emergence and evolution of life on Earth, while its neighbours remained sterile? In their violent youth, all the inner planets started out with so much surplus heat energy—from planetary accretion and radioactive decay—that their surfaces melted to form magma oceans hundreds or thousands of kilometres deep.

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Celebrating the first women Fellows of the Linnean Society of London

Diversity in science is in the news today as never before, and it is hard to imagine what it might have been like to be a woman scientist in 1900, knocking at the doors of learned societies requesting that women be granted the full advantages of Fellowship. It might seem trivial to us now, but in the past these societies were the primary arena in which discussions took place, contacts were made and science progressed.

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The science behind the frog life cycle [interactive guide]

Most of us remember learning the life cycle of a frog when we were young children, being fascinated by foamy masses of frogspawn, and about how those little black specks would soon be sprouting legs. That was a while ago, though. We think it’s about time that we sat you down for a grown-ups’ lesson on the life cycle of a frog. Frog eggs face a plethora of challenges from the moment they are laid.

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The illegal orchid trade and its implications for conservation

When most people think of illegal wildlife trade, the first images that spring to mind are likely to be African elephants killed for their ivory, rhino horns being smuggled for medicine, or huge seizures of pangolins. But there is another huge global wildlife trade that is often overlooked, despite it involving thousands of species that are often traded illegally and unsustainably.

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Animal of the Month: 13 facts about frogs

The Anura order, named from the Greek an, ‘without’ and oura, ‘tail’, contains 2,600 different species and can be found in almost every continent on Earth. These are frogs, and they comprise 85% of the extant amphibian population on earth. They hop around our gardens, lay swathes of frothy eggs in our ponds, and come in a wide variety of exciting colours, but apart from that, how much do you really know about them?

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Greenwashing the garrison state

Across the globe, the garrison state has “gone green” as national militaries have become partly involved in stewardship of the natural environment. On the face of it, this is a puzzling development. After all, protecting plants and animals from the depredations of humankind is not a job that most people expect from women and men in uniform.

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Introducing March Mammal Madness

March is a notable month for basketball enthusiasts across the United States, as college teams face off and are narrowed down to one final champion. But for those of us who aren’t as inclined to get in on the sporting excitement, there is an alternative: March Mammal Madness (MMM). MMM was started in 2013 by Dr. Katie Hinde, Associate Professor at Arizona State University.

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Animal of the Month: Interactive guide to polar bear anatomy

From white fur to large paws, we all know what the largest bear species in the world looks like, but how much do you actually know about the anatomy of polar bears? So far this month, we have explored how climate change affects our Animal of the Month. Now, we would like to take some time to appreciate the anatomy of the polar bear, particularly the ways in which the bear has adapted to its environment and lifestyle.

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The ‘most wonderful plants in the world’ are also some of the most useful ones

In the popular imagination, carnivorous plants are staples of horror films, high-school theater productions, and science-fiction stories. Many a child has pleaded with her parents to buy yet another Venus’ fly-trap to replace the one she has just killed by over-stuffing it with raw hamburger rather than the plant’s natural diet of flies, ants, and other small insects.

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Darwin Day 2018

Monday, 12th February 2018 is Darwin Day, so-called in commemoration of the birth of the father of evolutionary biology, Charles Darwin, in 1809. The day is used to highlight Charles Darwin’s contribution to evolutionary and plant science. Darwin’s ground-breaking discoveries have since paved the way for the many scientists who have come after him, with many building on his work.

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What happens when a volcano erupts?

Volcanoes are incredibly complex geological systems. They are capable of generating many dangerous effects in the form of lava follows, fallout, and lahars – as well as associated hazards such as seismic shocks, tsunamis, or landslides. About 500 million people currently live in regions of the world directly subject to volcanic risk, and it is estimated that about 250,000 persons died during the past two centuries as a direct consequence of volcanic eruptions.

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