Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Our Blue Planet

Over the last seven weeks, our Blue Planet II series has focused on the underwater habitats and marine life that live on “our blue planet”, featuring an assortment of captivating creatures, including manta rays, blennies, spinner dolphins, sea turtles, octopus, starfish, and whales; in many different habitats, from the darkest depths, to coral reefs, coastal tide pools, the open ocean, and underwater forests.

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Using evolutionary history to save pangolins from extinction

Pangolins, or scale-bodied anteaters, are a unique lineage of mammals exclusively feeding on ants and termites. Eight species are distributed across Africa and Asia. They all show extraordinary adaptation to myrmecophagy (specialized diet of ants and termites), including a scaled armor covering the body and tail that protects them from bites (both from bugs and large predators!)

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How much do you know about cheetahs? [Quiz]

Today, 4 December, is International Cheetah Day! Cheetahs are easily distinguished from other cats due to their distinctive black “tear stain” markings that create two lines from eye to mouth, their black spots on tawny fur, and black rings at the end of their long tails. Cheetahs also stand apart from other large cats due to their loose and rangy frame, small head, high‐set eyes, and slightly flattened ears.

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Citizen scientists can document the natural world

At the start of the 21st century, it may come as a surprise that we still have not catalogued the detailed anatomy or traits of most plants, animals and microbes whether they are living or fossil species. That we lack much of this basic information – how species’ cells are constructed, what their physiology is like, the details of their bones, muscles or leaves – may be remarkable given that the study of comparative “morphology” (sometimes called “phenomics”) has been underway for centuries.

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The building blocks of ornithology

Museum collections are dominated by vat collections of natural history specimens—pinned insects in glass-topped drawers, shells, plants pressed on herbarium sheets, and so on. Most of these collections were never intended for display, but did work in terms of understanding the variety and distribution of nature.

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Animal of the month: badgers at Wytham Woods [video]

Distinctive and familiar, loved and loathed by different sections of the public, the badger is iconic of the British countryside. But Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) has discovered that, due to their sensitivity to prevailing weather, badgers, like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, are also sentinels of climate change.

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Place of the Year nominee spotlight: the Arctic [video]

The Arctic sea ice has been seen to be in steady retreat since about 1950, a retreat which has recently sped up with an additional factor of thinning. In summer now there is only a quarter of the volume of ice that there was in summer in 1980. This process shows every sign of continuing, so that the Arctic will be ice-free for part of the year. Obviously we view this as a product of global warming, but why should it concern us in other ways?

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Singing insects: a tale of two synchronies

What is a chorus, what is an insect chorus, and why might we be interested in how and why singing insects create orchestral productions? To begin, chorusing is about timing. In a chorus, singers align their verses with one another in some non-random way. When singing insects form a chorus, the alignment may only be […]

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Animal of the month: nine facts about badgers

Badgers are short, stocky mammals that are part of the Mustelidae family. Although badgers are found in Africa, Eurasia, and North America, these animals are possibly best-known from their frequent appearance in literature, such as “Badger” from The Wind in the Willows and Hufflepuff’s house animal in the Harry Potter series, and for being a 2003 internet sensation.

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Herpes and human evolution: a suitable topic for dinner?

Politics and religion are always topics best avoided at dinner and it’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to add STIs to that list. But it was over dinner at King’s College, Cambridge that my colleagues Charlotte Houldcroft, Krishna Kumar, and I first started to talk about the fascinating relationship humans have with Herpes.

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A Q&A with plant scientist, Hitoshi Sakakibara

The reason for my specializing in plant science is that plants are autotrophic organisms supporting life on the earth, and plants give us a wide range of benefits, such as food, materials, and medicine. After my starting university around the mid-80s, I realized that there is great potential hidden in plant science because there are still so many fundamental unanswered questions.

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Blue Planet II returns

Blue Planet returns to our television screens tonight as Blue Planet II, 16 years after the first series aired to great critical acclaim. The series, fronted by Sir David Attenborough, focuses on life beneath the waves, using state-of-the-art technology to bring us closer than ever before to the creatures who call the ocean depths their home. Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be sharing a selection of content from our life science resources

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Are we all living in the Anthropocene?

In 2000, atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stoermer published a short but enormously influential article in Global Change Newsletter. In it, they proposed the adoption of a brand new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. Their argument: humans have had and will continue to have a drastic impact on the planet’s climate, biodiversity, and other elements of the Earth system, and the term “Anthropocene” – from the Greek anthropos, or “human” – most accurately describes this grim new reality.

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Animal of the month: Bats and humans around the world

Bats are one of the most ubiquitous mammals living on this planet. Only humans are more widespread. So it would not be an impossible assumption that humans and bats have interacted for as long as the two species have inhabited the world. Bats are found in almost every type of habitat, apart from the most inhospitable. As this is the case, we’ve taken a look at some interesting cases of human-bat interaction through the ages.

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Life in the fast lane: how quickly can a new species evolve?

The world is changing fast, and evolution is not staying behind. The curious case of a new species of flower that evolved in the north isles of Scotland shows that evolution can create new species in a matter of years. The environment around us is changing rapidly as a human population of seven billion consumes resources more quickly than the planet can replenish them, and technology helps us reach the most remote corners of the planet.

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Climate change: a call for government intervention [video]

“The world is facing a catastrophe.” It is too late for individuals to make a significant difference in the preservation of ice caps. At the current rate of global warming, government intervention is needed. In the following video and excerpt from A Farewell to Ice, Peter Wadhams, one of the world’s leading experts on polar ice, discusses the role that governments around the world need to play in order to combat global warming.

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