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News at a glance: Logging’s effects, endangered abalone, and a contract for UC postdocs

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Life can thrive in a partially logged forest, study finds
Forest plants and animals can thrive in selectively logged areas, calling into question their designation as degraded ecosystems, a study in Malaysia has found. An international team of researchers studied differences among an intact old forest, partly logged forest areas, and sites cleared for oil palm plantations, all of them in Sabah state on northern Borneo. The scientists used data—gathered over 12 years by the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems project, one of the world’s largest ecological studies—about local plant productivity, animal populations, and what they ate. In each plot, the team calculated how photosynthetic energy flows through the ecosystem, a measure of its vitality and resilience. The selective logging created open space that fostered plant growth, which led to a 2.5-fold increase in consumption of vegetation by animals compared with the old-growth forest, the researchers report this week in Nature. The diversity of birds and mammals stayed roughly the same. In the monoculture palm plantations, animals consumed as much as in the old-growth forest, but their species diversity plummeted. The research was funded primarily by the U.K. Natural Environment Research Council.


Museum head pushes for diversity
The American Museum of Natural History last week named as its new president biochemist Sean Decatur, who will be the first African American to lead the institution. “It matters,” says Decatur, now president of Kenyon College. “It’s important for an institution to reflect the broader diversity of the community it serves.” In April 2023, he will succeed lawyer Ellen Futter, the first woman to lead the 153-year-old institution. The 54-year-old Decatur sees expanding its dual roles in research and education as the logical next step in a career spent at liberal arts colleges.


California postdocs ratify deal
Postdoctoral researchers and non–tenure-track staff scientists in the University of California system ended their nearly monthlong strike on 9 December after voting to ratify new contracts. The terms guarantee that postdocs’ minimum salary will rise to $71,490 by October 2026. The pact also improves benefits such as family leave and child care subsidies. Staff scientists would receive raises of up to 4.5% each year over the contract’s 5-year term. Graduate student researchers and teaching assistants, who make up 36,000 of the 48,000 workers who began the strike—the largest of its kind in the United States—remain on the picket line to press their case that their existing salaries don’t provide a living wage in California. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg was brought in this week to mediate what the university described as a “negotiation gridlock.”

If your infection spreads … don’t feel guilty. Infection will be a common phenomenon in the future, it is inevitable.

Feng Zijian of the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association
quoted by the Sina Finance website, speaking to university students after China relaxed zero-COVID controls.


Zantac lawsuits fail over science
Thousands of consumers who sued makers of the popular heartburn drug Zantac, alleging it caused them to develop cancer, failed to present a reliable scientific basis for their claims, a U.S. District Court judge in Florida said when she dismissed their lawsuits last week. In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration requested recalls of the product after research found its original active ingredient, ranitidine, could over time and in certain storage conditions develop unsafe levels of an impurity, the compound N-Nitrosodimethylamine, categorized as a probable human carcinogen. (Zantac’s makers switched out the compound that year.) But Judge Robin Rosenberg said experts hired by the plaintiffs did not establish that ranitidine causes cancer. The pharmaceutical giants GSK, Pfizer, and Sanofi, which have made Zantac, were among the defendants in the more than 50,000 claims covered by her ruling. The decision does not directly affect thousands more such lawsuits in state courts.


Methane studies need beefing up
Belching cows emit much of the methane emitted in the United States, but research on how to lessen this source of greenhouse gas is underfunded, a report suggests. Agricultural lands provide roughly one-tenth of all U.S. climate-altering emissions, and 28% of this agricultural portion comes from methane created by feed fermenting in the multichambered stomachs of cattle, sheep, and goats. But research to reduce livestock emissions—by supplementing their feed with red seaweed, for example—has received just $2 million of the $241 million that U.S. federal agencies spend each year for agricultural research to mitigate the effects of climate change, according to an analysis released this week by the Breakthrough Institute, a nonprofit environmental think tank. The report found that between 2017 and 2021, most agricultural R&D funding on climate went to studying carbon sequestration by soils and crops.


Many abalone species may face extinction

Perlemoen abalone, newly listed as endangered in the wild, are farm raised in South Africa.PETER CHADWICK/SCIENCE SOURCE

Facing numerous risks, 20 species of abalone—shellfish highly prized as seafood—have been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List of species threatened with extinction. Abalone are marine snails that can live for several decades and grow up to 30 centimeters long. For the first time, researchers consulting for IUCN reviewed the conservation status of all 54 species and identified overharvesting, including poaching, as a key threat. For example, criminal networks have pushed populations of South Africa’s perlemoen abalone (Haliotis midae) to the brink. Marine heat waves linked to climate change have hammered other species. Diseases, such as withering syndrome, are also hitting some species, including the critically endangered black abalone (H. cracherodii) in California and Mexico. Consumers should buy farmed or sustainably harvested abalone, says Howard Peters of the University of York, who led the review team.


Wellcome head moves to WHO
Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust since 2013, will become the new chief scientist at the World Health Organization in early 2023. At Wellcome, Farrar oversaw one of the world’s biggest nongovernmental science funders, expanding its portfolio from basic research into areas including mental health, the health impacts of climate change, and infectious diseases, including groundbreaking clinical trials for vaccines and treatments during the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Before leading Wellcome, Farrar, a trained neurologist, spent nearly 2 decades heading a Wellcome-funded infectious disease research group in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.


Portal speeds access to U.S. data
Researchers can now use a single website to request access to more than 1000 restricted data sets maintained by 16 U.S. agencies. The Standard Application Process was launched on 8 December at It is expected to make it faster and easier for scientists to analyze U.S. education, health, labor, housing, and demographic trends from data sets otherwise inaccessible to the public because they involve national security, intellectual property, or personal privacy. Researchers still must be vetted before being granted access. But those seeking data from multiple agencies won’t have to re-enter basic information about themselves and their research teams, and reviewers vetting the application will apply the same criteria regardless of which agency holds the data set. Nick Hart of the Data Foundation says he welcomes the one-stop shopping. But he calls for more improvements, including a publicly accessible catalog of all federal data now being collected, to satisfy a 2018 law promoting evidence-based policymaking through better use of federal data.

Source : ScienceMag

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News at a glance: Logging’s effects, endangered abalone, and a contract for UC postdocs  
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