Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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The precarious future of ocean megafauna

By Justin Gregg
Being an enormous, hulking beast has long been an effective defense mechanism. The plains and forests of North America were once teeming with colossal creatures like giant ground sloths and woolly mammoths, behemoths that plodded along safe in the knowledge that few predators would dare challenge them.

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The thylacine

On the 7th of September each year, Australia observes National Threatened Species Day, so we thought this would be a good time to look at a species we couldn’t save. The following is an extract from the Encyclopedia of Mammals on the extinct thylacine (or Tasmanian tiger).

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The dawn of a new era in American energy

From global climate change to “fracking,” energy-related issues have comprised a source of heated debate for American policymakers. Needless to say, assessing the economic and environmental consequences of certain developmental shifts is often fraught with difficulty, particularly when considering existing national and international frameworks.

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Crawling leaves: photosynthesis in sacoglossan sea slugs

By Sónia Cruz
“Crawling leaves” or “solar-powered sea slugs” are common terms used to name some species of sacoglossan sea slugs capable of performing photosynthesis, a process usually associated with plants. These sea slugs ingest macroalgal tissue and retain undigested functional chloroplasts in special cells of their gut (kleptoplasty). The “stolen” chloroplasts (kleptoplasts) continue to photosynthesize, in some cases up to one year.

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Krakatoa

By Bill McGuire
I know that if I ask someone to name a single volcano, the chances are that they will hit upon Krakatoa; such is the degree to which the cataclysmic 1883 blast of the volcano has etched itself into the public consciousness. Remotely located in the Sunda Strait, between the Indonesia islands of Sumatra and Java, the islands that made up the long-dormant volcano were pretty much unheard of prior to August, 130 years ago, when all hell broke loose.

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A lost opportunity for sustainable ocean management

Philip Mladenov
Russia has recently blocked the creation of two of the world’s largest marine protected areas at a special meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Bremerhaven. These marine reserves would have been massive – covering more than 3.5 million square kilometres of the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica.

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Two faces of the Limited Test Ban Treaty

By Jacob Darwin Hamblin
Fifty years ago, the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union signed a pact to stop testing nuclear bombs in the atmosphere, oceans, and space. As we commemorate the treaty, we will not agree on what to celebrate. There are two sides of the story.

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Do dolphins call each other by name?

By Justin Gregg
If you haul a bottlenose dolphin out of the water and onto the deck of your boat, something remarkable will happen. The panicked dolphin will produce a whistle sound, repeated every few seconds until you release her back into the water. If you record that whistle and compare it to the whistle of another dolphin in the same predicament, you’ll discover that the two whistles are different. In fact, every dolphin will have its own “signature” whistle that it uses when separated from her friends and family.

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How do you study large whales?

By Kathleen E. Hunt
Wildlife physiology—the study of the inner workings of an animal’s body, such as its reproductive hormones, stress responses, fat reserves, and much more—has historically depended heavily on the ability to capture an animal, assess its body condition, obtain a blood sample, and release the animal unharmed for further study.

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The third parent

By Rachel Bowlby
The news that Britain is set to become the first country to authorize IVF using genetic material from three people—the so-called ‘three-parent baby’—has given rise to (very predictable) divisions of opinion.

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Are we alone in the universe?

By David Wilkinson
As a scientist and a theologian I am intrigued by the continued fascination with questions of aliens. In Superman’s new reboot, Man of Steel, Jonathan Kent says to Clark: ‘You’re the answer, son… to “are we alone in the universe?”’. Of course, he is not the first parent to conclude that their children are not of this planet, but he does raise one of the biggest scientific questions of our time – are we alone?

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What’s the future of seamount ecosystems?

Philip Mladenov
Seamounts are distinctive and dramatic features of ocean basins. They are typically extinct volcanoes that rise abruptly above the surrounding deep-ocean floor but do not reach the surface of the ocean. The Global Ocean contains some 100,000 or so seamounts that rise at least 1,000 metres above the ocean floor.

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Oh Mother, where art thou? Mass strandings of pilot whales

By Marc Oremus and C. Scott Baker
Biologists since Aristotle have puzzled over the reasons for mass strandings of whales and dolphins, in which large groups of up to several hundred individuals drive themselves up onto a beach. To date, efforts to understand mass strandings have largely focused on the role of presumably causal environmental factors, such as climatic events, bathymetric features or geomagnetic topography. But while these studies provide valuable information on the spatial and temporal variation of strandings, they give little insight into the social mechanisms that compels the whales to follow their counterparts to an almost certain death (at least without human intervention).

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Everest, the first ascent, and the history of the world

Today, 29 May 2013, is the sixtieth anniversary of the first ascent of Everest. It’s a time to reflect not only on the achievement of which mankind is capable, but also on the power of the Earth. The crash of the tectonic plates that created the Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges is the largest known collision in geological history. Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first to conquer this remote and dangerous range, and return to share the view from the summit.

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Pornography, sperm competition, and behavioural ecology

By Michael N. Pham, William F. McKibbin, and Todd K. Shackelford
Like candy, pornography creates an adaptive mismatch. For a moment, try to see the world not from “human eyes” but from the eyes of an animal biologist. You might think that men’s enjoyment of pornography is bizarre: men are sexually aroused by the sight of ink that’s splattered on magazine pages, or computer pixels that display light. Nobody would argue that men evolved to have sex with magazines or computers. Adaptive mismatch? Quite.

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What’s the secret of bacteria’s success?

By Sebastian Amyes
Bacteria have achieved many firsts; they were the first cellular life-forms on the planet, they are the primary biomass on the planet; they are the most prevalent cell type in and on the human body outnumbering our own cells; they are responsible for more human deaths than any other infectious agents; and, in some parts of the world, they are the premier cause of all deaths. How did these small, single-cell organisms, that are invisible to the naked eye become so successful?

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