Daily briefing: American colonization contributed to the Little Ice Age

Epidemics killed so many indigenous Americans that it changed the climate. Plus: ‘negligent’ management of Australia’s greatest rivers and the French National Research Agency’s leader tells all.

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An ariel view of the almost dry Darling River

Low levels of water in the lower Darling River are causing problems for local communities.Credit: Jenny Evans/Getty

‘Negligent’ management of Australia’s greatest rivers

An independent inquiry into the management of Australia’s Murray–Darling Basin has delivered a scathing report, accusing the agency responsible of mismanagement and negligence. Repeated mass fish die-offs are the latest sign of trouble for the waterways, which are home to dozens of endangered species and support a huge chunk of Australia’s agricultural production.

Nature | 3 min read

One year on, France’s top funding dog tells all

Microbiologist Thierry Damerval speaks to Nature about his first year at the helm of the French National Research Agency, the nation’s main competitive funder. Grants are up, bureaucracy is down and the approach to basic science is now investigator-driven, says Damerval.

Nature | 5 min read

American colonization caused Little Ice Age

Epidemics brought by European settlers killed such a huge number of indigenous Americans that there was a drop in CO2 in the atmosphere, cooling the climate. Regrowth of forests on depopulated land caused around half of the drop in carbon that has been observed in Antarctic ice cores, and contributed to the ‘Little Ice Age’ of the 1600s. Researchers estimate that colonization led to the deaths of 56 million of the estimated 60 million inhabitants of North and South America between 1492 and 1600.

BBC | 6 min read

Reference: Quaternary Science Reviews paper

Universities shun cash from Huawei

The University of Oxford and the University of California, Berkeley, are suspending new research collaborations with the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei. Huawei has been under mounting scrutiny from international governments over security concerns. The US Department of Justice brought criminal charges against the company on 28 January, which Huawei has denied.

Nature | 3 min read


He used “freewheeling conversation” as a powerful mathematical instrument

Mathematician Michael Francis Atiyah, a Fields Medal winner and former president of the Royal Society who died on 11 January, brought a passion for collaboration and internationalism to his role at the vanguard of jet-age mathematics. Atiyah was a pioneering theorist and a leader in the scientific community, who won the Abel Prize along with Isadore Singer for a theorum probing the links between the mathematics of static shapes and dynamic flows. Atiyah’s “unchecked zeal for the social life of theorizing … reshaped the fields from which he drew”, writes historian Michael Barany.

Nature | 5 min read

Vancouverites, don’t eat street mushrooms

Fatally poisonous death-cap mushrooms are on the march, gaining toe-holds from New Zealand to North America. Take a stroll through the streets of Vancouver, Canada, with mycologist Paul Kroeger, where the mushrooms are popping up all over after spending decades dormant in the roots of imported European ornamental trees. “The death cap’s journey is only a symptom of a larger phenomenon — the global mobilization of the entire Fungi kingdom,” writes The Atlantic.

The Atlantic | 19 min read

“Suddenly, we decided that we wanted to pursue PhDs”

“It doesn’t seem terribly old now, but I was a lot older than the other students around me,” says botanist Neelima Sinha of her decision to move from India to the United States and take up graduate studies at the age of 30. Now an award-winning scientist running her own lab, Sinha tells of culture shock in Texas and how she helps her students to tackle the imposter syndrome that she once felt herself.

The Scientist | 11 min read

Stressed? Take 6 minutes to watch this mesmerizing time-lapse video showing the pulsing, folding progress of a single-celled zygote developing into an alpine newt hatchling.

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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