A place of safety

Nature reserves provide “ecological welcome mats” for new bird species establishing themselves in Britain – often as a result of climate change.

Researchers at York University and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds studied species that have bred for the first time in the UK since 1960. They found that 18 of the 20 newcomers first became resident in protected reserves, then spread out into non-protected areas. The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Some of the arrivals were warmth-loving southern species, such as little egrets and Cetti’s warblers, apparently responding to climate change, the authors say. Others, such as the common crane, were recovering from loss of habitat or persecution elsewhere.

Species moving their ranges need high-quality protected habitats to move into – and the UK network of reserves is providing such places.

“This gives some cause for optimism in the midst of concern that climate change and other factors will imperil many species,” says York biology professor Chris Thomas. “Protected areas are helping to give birds and other species a fighting chance of moving into new regions where they can breed successfully.”

Clive Cookson

Complex superiority

Scientists have found the pathway behind the so-called “superiority illusion” in the brain, which could lead to a new treatment for depression. The superiority illusion makes people believe they are more intelligent, with a greater number of desirable personality traits and a higher cognitive ability than the average person.

The study is the first to show how this illusion is hard-wired into the brain. Due to the illusion’s pivotal role in positive thinking, scientists in Japan set out to find its neurological basis, to help understand depression.

Makiko Yamada at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences led the study, which investigated the relationship between the neurochemical dopamine and the strength of the illusion. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Yamada used PET and fMRI scans to compare the amount of dopamine in the brain with its activity. She found high levels of dopamine were linked to the illusion.

“This approach has never been used to explain the superiority illusion,” Yamada said. “Our discovery could lead to new tools and treatments for clinical practice.”

Pippa Stephens

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