Birds evolve bigger beaks thanks to backyard feeders

Echoing Charles Darwin’s study of Galapagos finches, biologists in Great Britain have found that the size of birds’ beaks is adapted to help them eat certain types of food. But unlike Darwin’s finches, the British food sources influencing bird evolution aren’t natural features of the environment. They’re backyard bird feeders.

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How much does pollution increase as cities grow?

People worldwide are increasingly living in cities. Urban life has many benefits including economic growth, but large concentrations of people and their activities can lead to increased pollution. A recent study evaluated the trade-offs between pollution and urbanization to see if the economic benefits outweigh the negative health impacts.

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Betcha won’t drink it! The natural chemicals hiding in water, and how a new technique hopes to remove them using an unlikely ally- bacteria

The amount of natural organic matter, or NOM, in water has been increasing for the past 20 years and is expected to increase. Higher amounts of NOM mean more expensive clean water- a high priority especially when considering communities at risk for clean water shortages due to storms. Environmental engineers work on ways to reduce NOM effectively in drinking water treatment plants, and sometimes, this means making unusual allies: bacteria.

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Connecting to nature and understanding ecosystem services: the urban perspective

Food and water – two resources vital for life on Earth. These are two prime examples of the products that arise from ecosystem services. There are four broad categories of ecosystem services: provisioning regulating, supporting, and cultural. Food and water are a form of ecosystem service provisioning – these are the products that directly benefit humans. Globalization and climate change are increasingly threatening food and water security, and other vital ecosystem services throughout the world.

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Fat and happy in the city

Wildlife may not always struggle when living in the city. For example, many birds and mammals benefit from access to human food and in some cases, encounter fewer predators in the city. Learning more about how wildlife deals with life in the city can help us learn what features of the city benefit or harm different species. Eastern chipmunks are abundant in both forest and urban habitats making them a suitable species to study to determine whether populations living in the city do better or worse. Researchers found that chipmunks in the city were fatter than forest chipmunks and less stressed, highlighting how some animals can thrive because of urbanization.

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Under a wave of global change, lakes remain placid

Swimmers, boaters, and fishing enthusiasts care about keeping our lakes healthy. As climate and patterns of land development change, scientists are diving into the challenge of understanding how these interacting forces impact water quality. In a recently published paper, researchers assembled a database of thousands of lakes across the northeastern United States to address this question. They found that water quality has remained surprisingly stable over the past twenty years.

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Green = Healthy? Think again. Using data on scenic values as an indicator for human health

We usually assume that any greenness is good for our health: grass, trees, pastures, mountains. Researchers from the Warwick Business School set out to challenge this assumption using crowd-sourced data and found that it actually is “scenicness” (think castles, parks, and aqueducts) that is a better predictor for health. They show that this finding not only holds true in the countryside, where we usually assume we’ll find healthier people, but also extends into cities. Now they are using this information to inform policymakers on which areas to protect for improved human well-being.

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Of feces and fertilizer: residential sources of urban water pollutants

Excess nutrients from pet waste and lawn fertilizer contribute to degraded water quality in cities. Due to the widely dispersed nature of these pollutants in residential areas, decisions made at the household level can go a long way towards solving—or exacerbating—water quality problems.

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