Thursday, 16 January 2014

A look at ladybirds, drugs and floods - CEH paperblog 9

For our first paperblog of 2014 we take a look at ladybirds, drugs and floods.

We start with three new papers highlighting different aspects of ladybird research (although the invasive Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) figures prominently in each!).

In a paper in Biological Invasions, Richard Comont and colleagues from CEH and Rothamsted Research explore the relative importance of life-history and resource-use traits, as well as climate, habitat and the impact of the Harlequin ladybird, in driving local extinction and colonisation dynamics across 25 ladybird species. They found that the only factor that both increased the local extinction likelihood and reduced colonisation likelihood was urban land cover, while ecological overlap with the Harlequin ladybird greatly increased extinction rates.

Richard was also lead author of the paper "Escape from parasitism by the invasive alien ladybird, Harmonia axyridis", published in Insect Conservation and Diversity. The astonishing success of the Harlequin ladybird in Britain has given researchers a unique opportunity to investigate a key ecological theory, the Enemy Release Hypothesis. You can find out more in our news story, Harlequin ladybirds escape enemies while native species succumb.

Both studies above featured Dr Helen Roy (@UKLadybirds) as a co-author. Helen also features on the final ladybirds paper we highlight, in PLOS ONE, in which scientists used radar data to reveal the astonishing heights (up to ~1100 metres) and speeds (up to ~60 km per hour) of ladybird flight paths. Average flight time was estimated to be 36.5 minutes, although flights of up to two hours were observed. The results have important implications for predicting long-distance dispersal of these important aphid predators (the paper is open access).

We move from ladybirds to the aquatic environment, in particular the presence of pharmaceuticals in the wider aquatic environment, an area of growing concern and research. "The apparently very variable potency of the anti-depressant fluoextine" (you may have heard of one of its trade names, Prozac) is examined in an open access paper in Aquatic Toxicology. Professor Andrew Johnson of CEH is a co-author. The researchers admit that not very much can be concluded at the moment, as the apparent variability in sensitivity of different aquatic species prevents a consensus being reached. It will take years and a lot more reproducible research to answer the question of whether it presents an environmental risk.

Anticancer drugs are the focus of another paper, again featuring Prof Johnson as well as CEH colleagues Neville Llewellyn and Richard Williams. In "Prioritising anticancer drugs for environmental monitoring and risk assessment purposes", published in Science of the Total Environment, scientists establish a shortlist of drugs that can 'breakthrough' to receiving waters, being sufficiently persistent to warrant inclusion in environmental screening programmes.

We finish with a new floods research paper published in Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences which attempts to reassess flood frequency for the Sussex Ouse by including historical information. Systematic flood level readings from 1960 and accounts detailing past flood events within the catchment are compiled back to c.1750. This extended flood record provides an opportunity to reassess estimates of flood frequency over a timescale not normally possible within flood frequency analysis. The researchers say their findings support calls for greater use of historical flood information in flood frequency analysis, as a means by which uncertainty can be reduced in high magnitude flood estimation. The paper is still in the discussion stage and is open for comments until 13 February.

Paulette Burns, Media Coordinator

Additional information

If you'd like a fuller picture of new papers from CEH, just follow the CEH Paper Alerts Twitter feed, which lists CEH peer-reviewed papers newly published online. Full details of Centre for Ecology & Hydrology science publications, including those published in peer-reviewed science journals, are eventually catalogued on the NERC Open Research Archive (NORA).

Those of you who follow the scientific literature will know some journal websites require registration and some are subscription-only. CEH, as part of NERC, is working with publishers and funders to make more of our output open access, and we have indicated above where this is the case.

We also publish lots of our other outputs including biological records atlases and project reports. More details can be found in the publications section of the CEH website.

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