Monday, February 05, 2007

Just Science day 1: cave bugs and shoot-em-ups

Not much time today (or tomorrow), so just a quick one drawing attention the juiciest morsels that popped into my inbox this morning.

First, and most closely related to this blog’s core themes, we have an interesting paper in Micobial Ecology by Raina Maier and her colleagues looking at the impact of tourists on the bacteria living in Kartchner Caverns, AZ.

These caves were opened to tourists in 1999. With admirable foresight (it’s depressing how rare this kind of thing is), researchers surveyed the caves’ microbial biota before opening, and now they reveal what’s changed as a consequence of having 200,000 people pass through the caves each year.

Raina's team found that the most heavily used areas had higher diversity, and different community composition — more Proteobacteria, fewer Firmicutes. This is probably a mixture of people bringing in bugs, and an increase in organic matter in the caves, say the researchers.

What we don’t know is what these changes mean for, say, nutrient cycling, food webs and so on in the caves, and whether they are something that should be of conservation concern. Microbial conservation is something I’d like to know more about, so if anyone has any pointers, please point them.

Three other things caught my eye:
1. Technological Forecasting and Social Change has a special issue of interesting-looking articles on terrorism and technology.

2. The Journal of Experimental Psychology reports that ‘action gaming enhances visuospatial attention throughout the visual field’ – i.e. playing Halo and its ilk makes you sharper-eyed. Whether this does you any good, and whether you get worse at anything else (insert your own joke about leaving the house, talking to girls etc.), is another matter.

3. And Psychopharmacology (always a favourite) finds that people who drink more coffee get more of a kick out of it. Which, given habituation and everything, seems to be the wrong way around. But I can’t tell from this abstract whether this is a consequence or cause of drinking lots and lots of lovely coffee.

There. That wasn't too bad. Back tomorrow.

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