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A woman wearing a face mask feeds pigeons in an almost deserted Marble Arch in London.

Sightings of some common bird species increased during the United Kingdom’s 2020 lockdown.Credit: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty

How lockdowns changed bird behaviour

As people shifted their behaviour during lockdowns in the United Kingdom, so did birds. But far from the cheerful tales of dolphins in the Bosphorus, for example, not all common British bird species benefited from curtailed human movement.

• Small birds, such as Eurasian blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and house sparrows (Passer domesticus), were spotted less frequently than in previous years, possibly because people at home disrupted their backyard habitats.

• Corvids and gulls seemed to be more plentiful, maybe because people littered more food refuse outdoors.

• City pigeons (Columba livia) seemed unaffected. “They don’t give a crap about what we do,” says behavioural ecologist and co-author Miyako Warrington.

Nature | 8 min read

Reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper

Astronomers rethink early Webb findings

Many astronomers started analysing data from the James Webb Space Telescope right after the first batch was released, on 14 July, and quickly posted their results on preprint servers — but are now having to rework them. The telescope’s detectors had not been calibrated thoroughly when the first data were made available, and that fact slipped past some astronomers in their excitement. So far, the revisions don’t seem to substantially change many of the exciting early results, such as the discovery of a number of candidates for the most distant galaxy ever spotted. But the ongoing calibration process is forcing astronomers to reckon with the limitations of early data from Webb. “For those including myself who had written a paper within the first two weeks, it was a bit of — ‘Oh no, is everything that we’ve done wrong, does it all need to go in the bin?’” says astronomer Nathan Adams.

Nature | 6 min read

Sea levels rising faster near China

Sea levels are rising fast along China’s coast, and researchers are trying to find out why. Compared with the global average of 3.6 millimetres a year, sea levels on the Chinese coast are rising at an average of 3.9 millimetres a year, with some regions seeing increases of close to 5 millimetres a year, according to an analysis of ocean sensors and satellite data, published this month. Researchers in China propose several reasons, including seas in the region warming faster, and more freshwater runoff into those seas, as well as lower air pressure. More than 40% of people in China live in coastal areas with low elevation, making them very vulnerable to sea-level rise.

The Guardian | 3 min read

Reference: Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans paper

Features & opinion

‘We want to learn from our history’

Nature published several papers by statistician Francis Galton and other eugenicists — part of “a shameful seam” running through the publication’s history. A Nature editorial recognizes offensive and harmful material published in the journal, including racist, sexist and antisemitic views. And, in the lead up to a forthcoming special issue on racism in research, the editorial reiterates the journal’s current goal of fostering equity, diversity and inclusion.

Nature | 8 min read

Olympian discovered the grapefruit effect

Pharmacologist David Bailey, who was an Olympic runner and the first Canadian to break the four-minute mile, has died aged 77. While researching whether a blood-pressure medication interacted with alcohol, Bailey went through the juices in his fridge at home, looking for something to mask the taste of ethanol in a double-blind trial. Instead, he discovered ‘the grapefruit effect’: the juice can dramatically increase the absorption of dozens of oral medications. “His discoveries have improved the quality of life for millions of patients using [prescription] drugs,” says George Dresser, one of Bailey’s colleagues.

The Globe and Mail | 7 min read (intermittent paywall)

Read physician-scientist David Juurlink’s very readable Twitter thread relating the discovery of the grapefruit effect as Bailey told it.

Video: this is your brain on drugs

People are getting their brains scanned after taking psychedelic drugs to help researchers to investigate the systems that underpin consciousness.

Nature Video | 12 min watch

Nature Outlook: Psychedelic medicine is an editorially independent supplement produced with the financial support of Atai Life Sciences.

Where I work

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka collects gorilla faeces from their night beds, to analyse.

Conservation scientist and veterinarian Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is the founder and chief executive of Conservation Through Public Health in Entebbe, Uganda.Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals/Nature Picture Library

Conservation scientist Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka looks after the health of mountain gorillas and livestock in southwest Uganda and works to improve the health of the people living near the park. Here, she is holding a sample collection pot and faeces from the Habinyanja gorilla group, ready to test it for diseases. (Nature | 3 min read)