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24 April 2018

Interactions of microplastic debris throughout the marine ecosystem [Nature Ecology & Evolution]

Keywords : ecotoxicology, marine biology, marine chemistry

Marine microscopic plastic (microplastic) debris is a modern societal issue, illustrating the challenge of balancing the convenience of plastic in daily life with the prospect of causing ecological harm by careless disposal. Here we develop the concept of microplastic as a complex, dynamic mixture of polymers and additives, to which organic material and contaminants can successively bind to form an ‘ecocorona’, increasing the density and surface charge of particles and changing their bioavailability and toxicity. Chronic exposure to microplastic is rarely lethal, but can adversely affect individual animals, reducing feeding and depleting energy stores, with knock-on effects for fecundity and growth. We explore the extent to which ecological processes could be impacted, including altered behaviours, bioturbation and impacts on carbon flux to the deep ocean. We discuss how microplastic compares with other anthropogenic pollutants in terms of ecological risk, and consider the role of science and society in tackling this global issue in the future.(...)

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24 April 2018

The gender gap in science: How long until women are equally represented ? [Plos Biology]

Subject Areas : careers, bibliometrics, open access publishing, scientific publishing, computer and information sciences, sexual and gender issues, engineering and technology, peer review

Women comprise a minority of the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM) workforce. Quantifying the gender gap may identify fields that will not reach parity without intervention, reveal underappreciated biases, and inform benchmarks for gender balance among conference speakers, editors, and hiring committees. Using the PubMed and arXiv databases, we estimated the gender of 36 million authors from >100 countries publishing in >6000 journals, covering most STEMM disciplines over the last 15 years, and made a web app allowing easy access to the data (lukeholman.github.io/genderGap/).(...)

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24 April 2018

Renewing Felsenstein’s phylogenetic bootstrap in the era of big data [Nature]

Keywords : phylogenetics, phylogeny, software, statistical methods, taxonomy

Felsenstein’s application of the bootstrap method to evolutionary trees is one of the most cited scientific papers of all time. The bootstrap method, which is based on resampling and replications, is used extensively to assess the robustness of phylogenetic inferences. However, increasing numbers of sequences are now available for a wide variety of species, and phylogenies based on hundreds or thousands of taxa are becoming routine. With phylogenies of this size Felsenstein’s bootstrap tends to yield very low supports, especially on deep branches. Here we propose a new version of the phylogenetic bootstrap in which the presence of inferred branches in replications is measured using a gradual ‘transfer’ distance rather than the binary presence or absence index used in Felsenstein’s original version. The resulting supports are higher and do not induce falsely supported branches. The application of our method to large mammal, HIV and simulated datasets reveals their phylogenetic signals, whereas Felsenstein’s bootstrap fails to do so.

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24 April 2018

A million and more trees for science [Nature Ecology & Evolution]

TreeDivNet is the largest network of biodiversity experiments worldwide, but needs to expand. We encourage colleagues to establish new experiments on the relation between tree species diversity and forest ecosystem functioning, and to make use of the platform for collaborative research.

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24 April 2018

Increasing thermal stress for tropical coral reefs: 1871–2017 [Scientific Reports]

Keywords : climate change, ecology

Tropical corals live close to their upper thermal limit making them vulnerable to unusually warm summer sea temperatures. The resulting thermal stress can lead to breakdown of the coral-algal symbiosis, essential for the functioning of reefs, and cause coral bleaching. Mass coral bleaching is a modern phenomenon associated with increases in reef temperatures due to recent global warming. Widespread bleaching has typically occurred during El Niño events. We examine the historical level of stress for 100 coral reef locations with robust bleaching histories.(...)

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