Daily briefing: Insect decline threatens “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”

Intensive agriculture is wiping out the foundation of the food web, Australia rejects coal mine over global warming, master Twitter to further your research career

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An open cut coal mine from above in Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia

Australia is the world's leading exporter of coal.Credit:

Landmark Australian ruling rejects coal mine over global warming

For the first time, a new coal mine has been rejected in Australia because of the potential contribution to global warming. The New South Wales Land and Environment Court turned down an appeal by a company that wanted to establish a new mine in the Hunter Valley. The ruling is notable in a country that faces a plethora of climate-change challenges: it is the world’s leading coal exporter, it faced its hottest month on record in January and it is reeling from several devastating extreme weather events.

Nature | 2 min read

Insect decline threatens “catastrophic collapse”

If dramatic population declines continue, 40% of the world's insect species will face extinction within decades, finds a review of 73 studies from across the globe. “Industrial-scale, intensive agriculture is the one that is killing the ecosystems,” says ecologist Francisco Sánchez-Bayo. Pollution, climate change and introduced pathogens and invasive species round out the list of culprits. “Unless we change our ways of producing food ... the repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

The Guardian | 7 min read

Reference: Biological Conservation paper

Controversial bird-flu experiments to resume

The US government has given the green light for controversial avian-influenza-virus experiments to resume after four years on hold. ‘Gain of function’ experiments modify the H5N1 virus so that it can spread between ferrets, allowing researchers to study the pathogen more closely. Critics say that boosting the virus’s ability to infect mammals raises the risk of misuse or accidental release. “We know that it does carry risks. We also believe it is important work to protect human health,” says virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka.

Science | 6 min read

Read more: Kawaoka argues the case for his research in Nature (from 2012)


Male-led committees respond to quota by hiring fewer women

An effort to bring more women into academia by mandating gender quotas on hiring committees at French universities might have backfired, according to a study of decisions by 455 hiring committees at 3 institutions. The analysis suggests that committees affected by the quota were significantly less likely to hire women — especially if they had male presidents. “It could be a backlash,” says economist Pierre Deschamps.

Nature | 4 min read

How to use Twitter to further your research career

Last week, we heard how to make the most of Instagram — now, it’s time to turn to Twitter. From informal networking to job seeking, chemist Jet-Sing Lee explores how to tweet your way to success.

Nature | 4 min read

Top tea countries must lead the way to a better cuppa

Efforts to enhance the flavour and yield of the world’s favourite hot beverage are falling short of their potential, says plant geneticist Jeff Bennetzen. He argues that the field is being held back by the parochial way in which research is conducted in countries that dominate tea production.

Nature | 6 min read

This opinion article is editorially independent and produced with financial support from the Hunan Agricultural University.


“Science progresses one funeral at a time.”

Cancer biologist Darren Saunders repurposes a quote from physicist Max Planck to call out the slow pace of change when it comes to stopping sexism in science — and explores how men can step up to the challenge. (ABC News)

Happy International Day of Women and Girls in Science! Brighten your day with these stunning posters of female science and technology innovators by female artists, thanks to the Nevertheless podcast. Send your female science icons (or any other feedback) to

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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