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Troubled waters

The easiest way to create a nature reserve from a car park is simply to declare it as such. The land is then designated as protected, and counts towards the relevant government’s targets to set aside a certain amount of its territory from development. That is a ridiculous example, of course, and would never happen on land — so why do we allow a similar exercise to happen in the sea?

troubled-watersNo one should doubt that our seas need protection. Overfishing, pollution and climate change are fundamentally changing some of the most important regions on the planet. And the conservation response — marine protected areas (MPAs) — should be a key tool to safeguard the world’s maritime environment. By setting aside areas in which human activity is tightly regulated, the thinking goes, governments can ensure that key habitats and species are preserved. Read more

Tableau waters your plants as nature intended

Many of us like to have houseplants in our homes, bringing a little of the outside inside. The problem is remembering to water them on a regular basis. Tableau is a new take on an automatic watering system for houseplants that aims to make it easy to avoid either over- or under watering these fussy lodgers.

10Dutch design start-up Pikaplant based the Tableau irrigation system based on nature’s own method for keeping plants healthy and happy. In contrast to other “self-watering” products we’ve seen, it attempts to mimic the wet-dry cycle in which the roots of a plant absorb water for a period of time before drying out once again. Ad infinitum. Read more

Marine biology network launches into choppy waters

Ambitious European project hopes to navigate uncertain funding future.


The sea squirt could become a top model organism at Europe’s new marine biology centre.

Sometimes good ideas take a while to be picked up. In 1872, Anton Dohrn, a pioneering German biologist, wrote a commentary in Nature proposing the foundation of “a net of scientific stations” along European coasts, focusing on marine biology (A. Dohrn Nature 5, 277–280; 1872 ). Almost 140 years later, an institute that bears Dohrn’s name is leading a twenty-first-century realization of his idea.

The European Marine Biological Resource Centre (EMBRC) will launch this week at a meeting in Naples, Italy, with the Anton Dohrn Zoological Station in Naples (SZN) taking the lead. Linking 15 existing research centres in 8 countries (see ‘Marine network’), the project will create an overarching organization for European research on marine biology, and provide model organisms for studying fundamental molecular biology and for screening drug candidates, for example. But the project has yet to secure the ambitious budget needed to realize its full potential. Read more

How to avert a global water crisis

A dearth of data on water resources is holding up improved management practices.


Colin Chartres. International Water Management Institute

If current trends continue, global annual water usage is set to increase by more than 2 trillion cubic metres by 2030, rising to 6.9 trillion cubic metres: 40% more than can be provided by available water supplies.

Without immediate action to improve the monitoring and management of existing water resources, and in particular to reform water use in agriculture, the world will face a water crisis.

But researchers at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Battaramulla, Sri Lanka, have come up with plan for averting disaster1. Nature asked Colin Chartres, director of the IWMI and a co-author of the plan, how to avoid running out of water. Read more

Balancing water supply and wildlife

Study warns of threats to water security and biodiversity in the world’s rivers.


Only isolated parts of the Amazon have low levels of threat to water security and biodiversity.

Nearly 80% of the world’s population — 4.8 billion people as calculated in 2000 — live in areas experiencing a high level of threats to human water security or biodiversity.

Water-management strategies aimed at improving human water security, such as building dams to provide access to water-starved regions, often detrimentally affects wildlife that also depends on freshwater resources, such as migrating fish.

But a study published in Nature today is the first to consider factors affecting both human water security and biodiversity in its analysis of threats to global freshwater resources, such as pollution and the density of dams1.

“If you analyse water-security issues from both a human and biodiversity perspective, you find that the threats are shared and pandemic. Even rich countries, which you would expect to be good stewards of water, have some of the most stressed and threatened areas,” says Charles Vörösmarty, a civil engineer at the City University of New York, one of the lead investigators of the analysis. Read more