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A man walks through a lush green forest in New Zealand

The number of plant species in New Zealand has doubled since humans settled there about 800 years ago.Credit: Matthew Lovette/Education Images/UIG/Getty

Seeking biodiversity winners and losers

Globally, we are experiencing a biodiversity crisis: a landmark report shows that some one million animal and plant species face extinction. But in some locations, the variety of species is increasing. In others, some types of plant and animal are thriving while others struggle. Scientists are scrambling for data that will help them to better understand the well-being of rapidly changing ecosystems and where conservation efforts can best be targeted. At the forefront is a European network, called EuropaBON, that will combine research plots, community scientists, satellite sensors, models and other methods to generate a continuous stream of biodiversity data for the continent.

Nature | 14 min read

Reference: Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IBPES) Global Assessment report

Road threatens Brazilian national park

Brazil’s National Congress could soon vote on a bill proposing to construct a road through the country’s Iguaçu National Park. If the proposal moves ahead, researchers fear that it will threaten the park’s lush forest, a biodiversity hotspot that is home to almost 1,600 animal species, including endangered animals such as the purple-winged ground dove (Paraclaravis geoffroyi). Environmentalists and researchers have fought off construction of the 17.5-kilometre road for years, arguing that it will bring pollution and poachers, and establish a dangerous precedent that could weaken environmental law in Brazil. Supporters say the road will connect towns and stimulate economic growth.

Nature | 5 min read

Excel is still messing up gene names

The academic literature is littered with error-riddled spreadsheets thanks to a quirk of Microsoft Excel that automatically formats gene names as dates. An analysis of more than 11,000 articles with supplementary Excel gene lists published between 2014 and 2020 found that almost one-third contained gene-name errors. Last year, dozens of human genes were renamed because of the problem. For example, the gene MARCH1 — short for membrane-associated ring-CH-type finger 1 — is now MARCHF1.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: PLoS Computational Biology paper

COVID-19 coronavirus update

A team in white protective overalls perch on a hillside in Thailand using nets to catch and bag bats as a flock flys around them

Researchers collect bats in Ratchaburi, Thailand.Credit: Adam Dean/Panos Pictures

Learn from the pandemic — or repeat it

The COVID-19 pandemic came as an unwelcome, but not unexpected, event for scientists and governments who have long been bracing for a global viral outbreak. Still, COVID-19 has demonstrated that the world was even less prepared than most had imagined. As pandemic-prevention plans shape up around the world, Nature spoke to more than a dozen researchers to ask what stands in the way of a better system for identifying and controlling new outbreaks, and what must change.

Nature | 13 min read

Notable quotable

“Everything starts with smarter surveillance. If you don’t look, you don’t see. If you don’t see, you will always respond too late.”

Infectious-disease researcher Jeremy Farrar, director of the UK biomedical funder Wellcome, emphasizes the importance of pandemic warning systems in stopping new diseases before they get out of control. (Nature | 13 min read)

Features & opinion

Why female athletes face worse concussions

A growing body of data suggests that female athletes are at significantly greater risk of a traumatic brain injury event than male athletes. They also fare worse after a concussion and take longer to recover. Possible explanations range from differences in the microstructure of the brain to the influence of hormones, coaching regimes, players’ level of experience and injury management. One thing scientists agree on is the need for more research in female athletes to inform sports-concussion protocols, which are currently based on data almost exclusively from men.

Nature | 10 min read

‘Haunted by my teaching skeleton’

As a graduate student, biological anthropologist Michelle Rodrigues became accustomed to working with human skeletal material — but one skeleton, of a woman with a physiology and ethnic background similar to her own, has lingered in her memory. The experience prompts Rodrigues to consider the origins of teaching skeletons in the United States and how researchers can grapple with the ethical issues surrounding those human remains.

Sapiens | 5 min read

Quote of the day