Planet Earth online 2009 - our favourites

This year we brought to you about 250 environmental research news -- here are some of our favourite stories of 2009, in no particular order.

30 December 2009

This year we brought you about 250 pieces of environmental research news. Here are some of our favourite stories of 2009, in no particular order.

Grey squirrel

May (or may not) contain nuts

Grey squirrels learn where to look for hidden nuts by watching where their peers dig them up. The research supports growing evidence suggesting that animals are primed to learn what is most important to their survival, and that they learn by watching their peers.

Ancient barley holds key to drought resistance

A long-lost barley variety farmed for thousands of years in ancient Egypt may hold the key to drought-resistant crops as scientists uncover the secrets of its ancient DNA. The extinct barley variety was rediscovered in the ruins of Qasr Ibrim, located between the first and second cataracts of the River Nile, south of Aswan. It was cultivated by the Qasr Ibrim farmers as cattle fodder for 3,000 years up until the early 19th century.

Bad diet makes roaches fat

Cockroaches get fat and unhealthy if they don't get a balanced diet while they are young. The effects of unbalanced nutrition cannot be compensated for later in life, and lead to less reproductive success and shorter life as adults.

Great tit

Great tits were a fixture in our news over 2009

Sea ice may prolong shelf life

Sea water freezing onto the bottom of the massive Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula could be helping stop it collapsing, say researchers. The Larsen B ice shelf - made famous in the Hollywood movie, 'The Day After Tomorrow' - had been stable for around 12,000 years before its collapse in 2002.

Posh great tits ignore cousins

City dwelling great tits sing a different song to their country cousins. So much so, that they have a stronger response to their fellow city dwellers' songs than those of their country cousins. And rural great tits are just as discerning.

Penguin poo helps scientists find new colonies

British scientists have found ten new emperor penguin breeding colonies in Antarctica using satellite images in which their guano is visible as brown smears. Knowing where the colonies are will help researchers monitor how they respond to a changing climate.


This year we covered many exciting discoveries in archaeology

Viper's venom is tailored to its prey

A snake has venom adapted to kill its favourite quarry, new research suggests. This might seem obvious, but it contradicts a common idea among biologists. Many experts on the evolution of snakes have thought they are so toxic, and inject so much more venom than is strictly needed to kill their prey, that the composition of their venom isn't subject to evolutionary selection.

Where have all the bees gone?

The UK bee populations have declined by between 10 and 15 per cent in the last two years, and the situation is similar across Europe. Climate change and colony collapse disorder have been blamed for bees' woes.

Horses domesticated 5500 years ago

The earliest known evidence of horse domestication has been unearthed in Kazakhstan in central Asia. New research suggests the Botai Culture have been riding horses and using their milk for the last 5500 years. This is around 2000 years before horses were domesticated in Europe and 1000 years earlier than previously thought for Kazakhstan.

Vomiting leads to romantic success for fruit flies

For young men trying to impress girls, there aren't many tactics less likely to help than vomiting at them. But for male fruit flies vomiting isn't just acceptable - it's a vital ingredient for successful wooing. A male will regurgitates drops of its stomach contents as a 'nuptial gift' during courtship and offer them on its proboscis for a female to eat.