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Popular Science

Do we know how newly introduced cultural crops are influencing the soil?
Soil is an important provider of ecosystem services, among the most important of which include the possibility of food production and the mitigation of climate change effects. This is made possible through carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling, which are processes primarily driven by soil biota. However, the intensification of agricultural production caused by the growing demand for biofuels reduces the soil biota. We are used to producing oilseed rape, Miscanthus and hybrid sorrel (Rumex patientia x R. tianshanicus) as biofuel plants. While the first two crops are already established in our country, we have very little information so far about the effects of the long-term cultivation of hybrid sorrel on soil organisms.
A way to discover the true species diversity of single-celled organisms?
What is the true diversity of organisms on our planet? That is the question that keeps many scientists awake at night. Interestingly, until now many more macroscopic organisms have been described than the very smallest ones, invisible to the naked eye. But one would probably assume that those tiny organisms will be more abundant as they have obviously had much more time for their differentiation.
Popular Science: The phenomenon of farmers’ shops in Czechia
What are the reasons of the recent expansion of farmers’ shops in the Czech Republic? Are all the goods sold there from Czechia? What are the problems faced by the owners of the shops? We can read about these and other topics in the article written by Marie Syrovátková from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development from the Faculty of Science of the Charles University.
The space distribution of farmer’s shops in 2014, source: the author of the study.
The space distribution of farmer’s shops in 2014, source: the author of the study.
The microscopic inhabitants of Antarctic waters
Antarctica is, no doubt, the wildest and least explored continent on Earth. In the challenging conditions typical for Antarctic land, few organisms can survive. Although there has been a continuously inhabited station at the South Pole for more than 60 years, not many can say that they visited Antarctica. There are a few from our Faculty of Science, though, and one of them is T. J. Kohler of the Department of Ecology. In his case it was the McMurdo Dry Valley and Ross Island in eastern part of Antarctica (situated approximately across from New Zealand).
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Prague banks in foreign hands
The geographical distribution and behaviour of banks have recently become targets of more and more research. Who and where rules the economic power mirrors wider consequences and regional development as well. The majority of studies have concerned the most important bank centres so far. Jiří Blažek and Ilona Bečicová from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development have analysed the development of Prague’s bank cluster and emphasized the (dis)advantages related to the takeover of the majority of Czech banks by multinational groups.
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The bigger lizard attacks
Meeting of two monitor lizards might be quite an aggressive business when they want to settle which one is the boss. The conflict is not only dangerous, but also energetically demanding. It would be advantageous to be able to evaluate one’s chances beforehand. In the first ritual phase of monitor lizards’ conflict males, show off to one another. Can they estimate their chances based on their rivals’ size, and choose the right strategy accordingly?
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Through categorisation to victory over invasive plants
Out of all alien organisms in Europe, plants are the most numerous taxonomic group. They can negatively influence both the original European flora and the people. Categorising invasive species according to their impact on the environment is vital for the successful management of biological invasions. That is what Zuzana Rumlerová and Petr Pyšek from our Department of Ecology decided to do together with colleagues from other workplaces. They chose 128 invasive plant species in Europe and evaluated their environmental and socioeconomic impacts.
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The relationship between abortion and contraception in Czechia and Slovakia
Is there a similar trend in abortions over time in Czechia and Slovakia? How is it influenced by using modern contraceptive methods? How do these states differ in the society’s attitude to abortion? Jiřina Kocourková from the Department of Demography and Geodemography of the Faculty of Science Charles University focused on these and more topics in her article.
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Cuckoos’ Russian Roulette
Cuckoos are known to be notorious brood parasites. The moment the host parent leaves their nest, there comes the cuckoo. Not only does the cuckoo lay her own eggs into the host nest, but she also pushes usually one of the original eggs out. How does the cuckoo choose which egg to remove to improve her offspring’s chances of survival?
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Ubiquitous cyanobacteria and how to treat them
One of the limiting factors of society development is the availability and quality of water. Due to climate change and continual pollution of water resources, it is necessary to intensify efforts to ensure a stable supply of drinking water. A number of processes and technologies used recently are now insufficient, and to ensure high-quality drinking water, it is required to find new methods. For this reason, scientists from the Institute for Environmental Studies are working to improve the methods of water treatment, this time in connection with the increasing occurrence of cyanobacteria and the amount of organic matter produced by them.
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Even bees guard their nests. Or don’t they?
The first association with the word “bee” is usually a swarm of bees in a hive. We won’t talk about these bees – such as honeybees – here today. Bees of the genus Ceratina guard their nests as well. They are commonly known as carpenter bees, since they build their nests in dead stems or sticks with pith. They are solitary, but just as good pollinators as honeybees, even though they are much smaller – only up to eight millimeters. Compared to honeybees, they are also dark without stripes on the abdomen. And it is these carpenter bees that became an interest of entomologists from our Faculty of Science.
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Cancer „supercells“ helped out by iron to escape therapy?
It is the second most abundant metal on Earth and an important biogenic element. Adults of average height have about 3-4 grams of it in their body. Iron is not only needed to make hammers or cast tubes, it is also involved in many metabolic processes that makes it indispensable for cells. The putative role of iron in development of cancer is addressed in the article published in Oncotarget as a result of co-operation between the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Department of Genetics and Microbiology at the Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague.
Community Gardens in Prague
In the cities of North America and Western Europe, community gardens have been developing for more than a hundred years. Previously, allotment gardening had also been present in Eastern Europe, while community gardening has occurred recently. Jana Spilková from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development of our faculty shows the similarities and differences between Prague and the cities, where this phenomenon was born.
Stories of Ukrainian migrants
They are the biggest group of foreigners in Czechia. But do we know their fates? Family and relationships with their homeland are factors that form the financial behaviour of the migrants. Eva Janská with colleagues from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development and the Centre of Theoretical Studies of Charles University analysed the financial consequences of migration based on interviews.
Light as a driver of the shape variety of Norway spruce needles
How do spruce needles react with their shape to the intensity of incident light? Is there a difference in the volume of irradiation of the individual needles in spruce twigs? Is the size of the needles and the shape of the cross section by the needles dependent on their orientation on the shoots? Does irradiation have a greater impact on needle shape than CO2? These questions have been examined, led by prof. Jana Albrechtová, the doctoral student Zuzana Kubínová from the Department of Experimental Plant Biology of the Faculty of Science, in cooperation with colleagues from the Institute of Physiology, the Institute for Global Change Research and the Botanical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.
Otters vs Anglers: Do they catch fish of the same species and sizes?
The stocking of fish from hatcheries into streams is a common practice in the fisheries industry. It supports the native fish population and recreational anglers have more fish to catch. When the Eurasian otter, one of the most significant predators of freshwater fish, is present in the stream, however, conflicts between anglers and ecologists occur. The anglers object that the otters catch their purposefully stocked fish and leave only little for them. Is that really the case, though?
Popular Science: Climate change and migration – case study from small islands – more complicated than we thought
The Maldives are islands in the Indian Ocean, where the impacts of climate change are already obvious. The islands lie just a few meters above sea level and face an increasing ocean surface, coastal erosion, change in the monsoon pattern and related rain. How do local inhabitants react to these changes? It was an objective for an international team of scientists, which was led by Robert Stojanov, a former member of the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development of our faculty. Robert Stojanov currently works at the Migration Policy Centre in the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.
Invasions versus reserves
The spatial protection of nature is a well-known way of protecting nature as a whole. But what is the role of reserves in the age of climate change and the impacts of invasive species? That was the question for an international group of scientists together with Petr Pyšek from the Department of Ecology of our Faculty.
Socio-economic transformation and size of animal population – how does it sound?
The results of an international team of scientists, together with Přemysl Štych from the Department of Applied Geoinformatics and Cartography, suggest that the size of the population of large mammals in Eastern Europe was significantly influenced by socio-economic transformation. How? Read further!
Passerine birds as environmental pollution indicators
Today’s city life also comprises, in addition to people, a lot of animal species adapted to this special type of environment. These organisms or whole populations could be considered to be bioindicators of environmental pollution. Despite continual monitoring of automatic or manual air quality stations, the condition and health of free-living species show us a complex evaluation of our environment. One of them is the great tit (Parus major), which is one of the most widespread species throughout Europe. A team of scientists from the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, Masaryk University in Brno and Charles University in Prague have analyzed the associations of urban environmental pollution with health-related physiological traits in this free-living bird species.
In a shared study, researchers from Charles University and from Baku State University, Azerbaijan, focused on the fear of snakes. It is one of long-running topics studied at the university and the results are more than interesting. This study is the result of projects by Eva Landová, Markéta Janovcová and Petra Poláková.
A slightly uncovered diversity of microscopic fungi in the Neotropics
There is no doubt that there has not been sufficient exploration of the diversity of organisms in tropical areas. This also applies to microscopic ascomycetous fungi, whose unexplored diversity is always in the focus of mycologists' attention in both temperate and tropical regions. This time Ondřej Koukol from the Department of Botany of the Faculty of Science, Charles University and his colleagues from the Czech Republic and abroad, during three expeditions, focused on the tropical genus Hermatomyces.
What was the original forest composition in the Bohemian/Bavarian Forest?
Pollen diagrams give us information on how long-term vegetation has developed in a particular area. The first diagram of the Bohemian/Bavarian Forest was published in 1927 and represented one of the first qualitative views on the vegetation development in this area. Today there are quantitative models of vegetation reconstruction based on pollen records, which are already methodologically advanced and form the basis for conservation and restoration ecology. In the Bohemian/Bavarian Forest, forest managers aiming at restoring the original forest structure rely on maps of natural potential vegetation that do not consider long-term dynamics of forest composition. Therefore, a group of scientists from the Department of Botany of the Faculty of Science, Charles University, the Botanical Institute of the Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic, the Czech University of Life Sciences and their colleagues from Great Britain and Switzerland tempted to analyse the long-term forest dynamics in this area.
Popular Science: Another piece of chrysophycean puzzle
Unlike plants and animals, unicellular organisms seem to be largely unexplored, even in areas that are otherwise widely studied. These unicellular organisms, which we call protists, also include chrysomonads. They are flagellates, some of which bear miniature silica scales of various shapes on the surface of their bodies. Their shape and structure are diagnostic. These algae are an important part of spring phytoplankton, where they can form dense populations until green algae or cyanobacteria overgrow them during the season. Yvonne Němcová from the Department of Botany of the Faculty of Science, Charles University and her colleague E. Rott from the University of Innsbruck in Austria focused on exploring the species richness of Alpine lakes (1,000-2,500 m) in Northern Tyrol. They have extended previous lake studies from lower locations in the same area.
How did Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) die? Science reveals possible causes of his death after more than 400 years
The death of the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe was sudden and due to the circumstances and symptoms observed in his last days, it was even assumed he might have been poisoned. Previous studies, however, refuted the speculative hypothesis of poisoning and rather suggested an acute illness as a more probable cause of death. In 2010, a second exhumation of Brahe`s body was performed in order to find the answer as to why he died so relatively young, even in his times. The research was conducted in a collaboration of Danish, Czech and English teams, including Professor Jaroslav Brůžek, a PhD. Student of the STARS program Alizé Lacoste-Jeanson from the Department of Anthropology and Human Genetics of the Faculty of Science.
Popular Science: Colloquium – Science – Visualisation – Perception
In late June the first one-day gathering about the issues of visualisation in science took place at the Department of Philosophy and History of Science, intended for both a scientific and non-professional audience. The event was organized by the department staff members (Lucie Čermáková, Eliška Fulínová, Tereza Liepoldová and Roman Figura) in collaboration with Barbora Müllerová from the Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem. Filip Jaroš (University of Hradec Králové) and Doc. Karel Stibral (Masaryk University in Brno) also took part in the event.
Popular Science: Cemetery or urban park? Where do birds have more fear?
Have you ever thought that by visiting a cemetery, you are influencing the behavior of its inhabitants? Of course, not those who have passed away, but those still living, like birds for instance. They have to deal with your presence, get used to you walking, talking, working and altering their habitat. Peter Mikula, from the Department of Zoology of the Faculty of Science, was part of an international team that compared the escape behavior of birds in European cemeteries and urban parks in order to determine the birds’ ability to adapt their behavior to different environmental conditions.
Popular Science: How did the elite and serfs chew in the Great Moravian Empire?
The human body has axial symmetry. However, the symmetry is not perfect; everyone certainly knows the unnatural pictures which result from mirroring half of a human face. Asymmetry is a common fact and occurs even in bones. It may be caused by side preferences, but it may also be a signal of long-term stress during maturation. A relationship between chewing and face asymmetry was studied by a research group led by PhD student Alexandra Ibrová from the Department of Anthropology and Human Genetics who focused on the skeletal material from the age of the Great Moravian Empire.
Citizen science – or the involvement of the public into science research – has become an integral part of research work in many fields. There are thousands of projects anybody can join. In your free time you can record a bird song, classify photos of retina neurons, build a quantum computer in an app game or search for dusty debris disks in NASA’ photos. Another possibility is to make use of a huge amount of data people unconsciously collect – photos and videos of various plants and animals. Such pictures were analyzed by zoologists Peter Mikula, Jiří Hadrava and Tomáš Albrecht from the Faculty of Science of Charles University.
Popular Science: Towards innovations with knowledge bases
The latest research reveals that “knowledge bases” have a significant influence on the performance of companies and even regions. This stems from the theory that the process of innovation can have different forms in different sectors (or even in a single company). Now, we distinguish among three types of knowledge bases: analytical (exploring of scientific frontiers in subjects like nano/bio-technology), synthetic (applying of scientific knowledge in industry) and symbolic (creative industry – design, fashion, film). Viktor Květoň and Vojtěch Kadlec from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development tried to shed a light on the development and spatial pattern of those three knowledge bases in EU regions and their influence on the innovation process.
How to score an invasion?
There are already several documents listing the one hundred worst alien species in Europe and aiming at raising awareness of the biological invasions and their possible impact. However, an international team, including Professor Petr Pyšek from the Department of Ecology of the Faculty of Science, decided to create a first list based on objective, precisely-defined criteria scoring the plant and animal species with respect to their real potential to cause ecological and socioeconomic damage in Europe.
POPULAR SCIENCE: How are holes in sandstone formed?
Larger or smaller holes are often found on sandstone walls, sometimes separated by thin protrusions creating a structure resembling honeycombs. But how do these structures form? A team of scientists from the Institute of Hydrogeology asked this very question and experimentally verified the two most common theories.
Popular Science: A trip in Baroque Bohemia
Bohuslav Balbín was a Baroque scholar, priest, writer and a very gifted natural historian. He concentrated his findings in a magnificent work entitled "Miscellanea of the Bohemian Kingdom". The first volume of the book has recently been published - for the first time in the Czech language (the original work was written in Latin). It is full of detailed and highly interesting information about many subjects. It opens a deep insight into the history of Czech science.
Popular Science: Carnivores in the shadow of bigger and more famous colleagues. How do foxes, badgers and martens live?
In recent years we can see the return of big carnivores into Central Europe. Wolves, lynxes and bears are resettling the landscape and smaller carnivores are on the edge of interest. Therefore, a team of scientists led by Klára Pyšková from the Department of Ecology of our faculty focused on them.
Popular Science: Land cover changes in Central European Mountains: Case study of Šumava
Central European mountains are predominantly covered by forest. Norway spruce is the most prevalent species and the most affected one. Windstorms and subsequent insect outbreaks are two main disturbances that influence the structure, composition, species richness and land cover changes in general. Therefore, Tomáš Janík and Dušan Romportl from the Department of Physical Geography and Geocology investigated changes in the forest after the Kyrill windstorm in the Šumava National Park.
Popular Science: Support for innovative companies in Czechia – where and who
EU funds are a frequently mentioned topic even in mainstream media. They support regional development, but also represent clientele networks and corruption or they are considered with other EU policies, for example migration policy. David Hana and Lenka Hellebrandová from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development focused on spatial and sectoral differences in support of innovative companies in Czechia from the EU funds.
Popular Science: Is there a danger from arctic mosquitoes?
Mosquitoes are known to be carriers of a wide spectrum of dangerous diseases. In this regard, tropical diseases, e.g. malaria, are the most well-known ones. However, we can also find some of them in the polar regions. A research team led by the Institute of Parasitology of Biology Centre CAS in České Budějovice focused on a survey of dangerous viruses in mosquitoes in the Arctic.
Animals are naturally trying to avoid becoming prey. Some depend on perfect camouflage, some prefer a hidden lifestyle, and some are equipped to defend themselves actively. However, even a wasp with a pointed stinger would rather fly away instead of fighting for its life. Could it somehow warn a potential predator ahead then? Aposematic signals have evolved for this exact reason. Aposematism is a easily-noticeable warning signal informing the recipient that the signaling animal is distasteful, venomous or otherwise dangerous. The striking yellow and black colors of wasps, newts or yellow-bellied toads are just that. Nevertheless, aposematic signals don’t end with coloration. Sometimes a smell is the best way to demonstrate how dangerous or distasteful one is. Whether a smell is truly a strong enough sign was investigated by a team of zoologists of the Faculty of Science, Charles University, led by Jan Raška.
Popular Science: Anton Markoš: Profil senescenta
At the occasion of his jubilee, scientist, university lecturer and writer Anton Markoš published a collection of essays, studies and short texts he had written over the past 10 years. It is a diverse collection, and in his lively language, the author invites readers to follow him on his journey through various topics. On this path, he attempts to understand the very essence of life.
Behind the fog as thick as pea soup and even further…
...we often find our country. This is because in the “Czech basin surrounded by mountains”, fog is a relatively frequent phenomenon, in part because of the geomorphology. We talk about fog when a cloud of suspension of water droplets reduces the visibility to less than one kilometer in at least one direction. If the visibility is from 1 to 2 km, it is called mist and from 2 to 5 kilometers, haze. The most intense fog in terms of visibility and density is found in the mountains, where they also have a significant impact on the water balance, so we can talk about a major influence on the mountain ecosystem. In the lowlands, fog does not occur as often. In urban agglomerations, however, the occurrence of condensation nuclei formed by aerosol particles with radii from 10-8 to 10-5 support its occurrence. At the same time, the high levels of pollutants present a great danger. Individual places in Czechia differ not only in intensity, range and type, but also in the fog frequency, from only tens of days to almost 300 days a year. Several studies from different parts of Europe show a decrease in fog frequency due to either climate change or an improvement of the ambient air quality. And how does the long-term trend look in our territory? A group of scientists under the leadership of Iva Hůnová from the Institute for Environmental Studies is dealing with the question.
If I stridulate, you won’t eat me, will you?
Stridulation is a type of acoustic signaling, which is quite widespread in various arthropods. Nevertheless, people usually associate these sounds (created by rubbing certain body parts together) mainly with insects, probably mostly with crickets. Have you heard that spiders can also stridulate and that it is obviously quite common behavior for them, as it has been documented in more than 30 spider families so far? However, the function of stridulation is still not known in many species and that is why a team of scientists from Prague and Brno universities, including František Štáhlavský from the Department of Zoology from the Faculty of Science, studied spiders of the genus Palpimanus.
How does climate affect plant traits?
Irena Šímová from the Department of Ecology of the Faculty of Science, Charles University, is one of two main authors of a study, in which scientists from a total of 23 workplaces across Europe and America participated. Its main objective was to find out what traits of woody and herbaceous plants on the American continent are affected by the climate. For the analysis, scientists used data in the BIEN and TRY databases. They contain extensive datasets on occurrences of plant species and plant traits. Woody plants have revealed a clear influence of the climate on individual traits. These two growth forms of plants - trees and herbs - seem to have different life strategies.
A focus on golf courses: devastation or a chance for nature?
Golf courses are now a natural part of our landscape. Although their history in our country dates back over 100 years, recently their development has been more rapid. Along with accelerated construction, an increased interest in this phenomenon has begun, both positive and negative. Positively, golf courses can be seen especially in connection with land reclamation, yet if they are built on high quality agricultural land, the views differ. What is their current state of development since 1990, and how do they affect the landscape? From the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice together with specialists from our faculty—Přemysl Štych from the Department of Applied Geoinformatics and Cartography and Dana Fialová and Lenka Svobodová from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development—a team of scientists focused on this question.
Are intestinal parasites of great apes and humans as closely related as their hosts are?
The clinical detection and identification of Entamoeba (intestinal parasites) is usually performed using light microscopy, which is often complicated and imprecise. An international team from Czech, Belgian and Swiss institutions, including Jakub Kreisinger from the Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, has developed a new and more effective approach consisting of advanced molecular methods. It is also the first comparison of the Entamoeba lineages in humans and wild great apes.
The role of nomadic pastoralists in the genetic history of the Sahelian/Savannah inhabitants
Previous archaeological and linguistic research suggested that the prehistoric population of the Sahel and adjacent savannahs diversified over time into sedentary farmers and nomadic pastoralists. A team from Czech, Senegalese, Sudanese and Portuguese institutions, including Martina Čížková, Iva Kulichová and Viktor Černý from the Department of Anthropology and Human Genetics and Pavel Munclinger from the Department of Zoology from the Faculty of Science, decided to verify this hypothesis using molecular-genetics methods.
Popular Science: How do we choose a partner? Do partner preferences remain stable throughout a relationship?
Choosing a partner is a key decision in a person’s life. What characteristics do we look for in a partner? Does our notion of an ideal partner change during a relationship? These are some of the questions asked by scientists Radka Kučerová, Zsófia Csajbók and Jan Havlíček from the Charles University. Their most recent paper examines ideal partner preferences and how they change during a relationship.
Giant dragonflies and their way of life – reconstruction based on fossil findings
The maximum wingspan of dragonflies these days is about 19 cm, but in the Late Palaeozoic (approximately 300 Mya), the largest representatives of the Meganeuridae family had a wingspan of about 71 cm. They were thus the largest known insects ever and previously there were already some hypotheses, based on (unfortunately often incomplete) fossil findings and on comparisons with modern-day species, about how these flying colossuses lived. However, an international French-Czech-US team, together with Jakub Prokop and Martina Pecharová from the Department of Zoology of the Faculty of Science, showed that these speculations were not correct and proposed a more probable scenario.
How can we analyse Hepatitis C virus variants?
The Hepatitis C virus, a cause of serious liver disease, infects more than 130 million people worldwide. The virus mutates rapidly and has a wide variety of genotypes, which complicates treatment. A team of scientists from the laboratory of Doctor Martin Pospíšek from Charles University invented a new method that could help describe the diverse variety of viruses present in patients.
Farmers´ markets in Czechia – unique or just a copy?
Between 2009 and 2011, Prague experienced a huge increase in the number of farmers´ markets: from zero to forty-one in the summer of 2011. This phenomenon, which is well-known from the most developed countries, had arrived in Czechia. The question, however, remains: are the Czech markets the same as the markets in the “West”? An assessment of this phenomenon was carried out by Lucie Fendrychová from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development together with Petr Jehlička.
She always steps in the same river
Surely everybody noticed that some of his friends (or even he himself) have a certain “type” when it comes to a choice of a romantic partner. Some men prefer blonds, others think that freckles are cute. Some women are attracted to muscles, others like bearded men. How does this observation stand up, however, when we look at it through the eyes of science? And is there a difference between partners we have children with and our other long-term relationships? These are the questions asked by Zuzana Štěrbová, Petr Tureček and Karel Kleisner of the Human Ethology research group, Faculty of Science of Charles University.
Sewing – when and where was it invented?
Clothing plays a very important role in human lives. It is a way of communicating social and individual identity. Moreover, sewing and clothing was of great significance for the history of humans because it enabled man to colonize the cold regions of our planet and to cope with climate change. It is, however, still unclear when, how and where this innovation first appeared. When studying the invention of clothing, needles (made of bone, ivory or antler) represent a proxy for this research. An international team of scientists, among them Martina Lázničková-Galetová from the Hrdlička Museum of Man (Charles University, Faculty of Science) and the Moravian Museum in Brno, aimed to answer questions about the invention of needles and clothing.
Popular Science: Where are Czech forests under potential risk due to the highest O3 exposures and N deposition?
Nitrogen is known as an essential nutrient for plants. However, its excess amount is harmful to the natural environment, including forest ecosystems. Nitrogen, along with ambient ozone, is currently considered to be one of the main threats for forest ecosystems, in addition to climate change. Therefore, a group of scientists under the leadership of Iva Hůnová from the Institute for Environmental Studies analyzed and indicated the areas of forest ecosystems in the Czech Republic with the highest levels of ambient ozone and nitrogen deposition.
Popular Science: Intensive agriculture keeps contaminating groundwater by nitrates
Nitrates occur in nature naturally, but at higher concentrations they are, in developed countries, also one of the most common contaminants. Nitrates in the human body can be reduced to nitrites, which prevent the absorption of oxygen after entering the bloodstream. This can be particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women. The Hydrogeology Journal published a study by scientists from the Faculty of Science of Charles University and the Czech Geological Survey on factors affecting nitrate concentrations in groundwater that serves as an important water source for Prague and the Central Bohemian Region.
Popular Science: Is it possible to save the water from the micropollutants?
Not long ago, they were not known and even today there is still a lack of information about the potentially negative effects of all groups of “micropollutants”. At present, however, together with pesticides, they pose the most significant threat to drinking water quality. What substances do we actually drink and is it possible to remove them? A team of researchers from the T. G. Masaryk Water Research Institute, p. r. i. together with Zbyněk Hrkal and David Rozman from the Institute of Hydrogeology, Engineering Geology and Applied Geophysics of the Faculty of Science is dealing with the question.
Czechs not willing to pay extra for water cleaned of pharmaceuticals
Thanks to the rapid development of analytical laboratory methods, we can now detect the presence of trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water. The wastewater treatment plants currently in use are, however, often not equipped to completely remove these substances. Zbyněk Hrkal and other scientists from the T. G. Masaryk Water Research Institute and the Charles University Faculty of Science investigated how much Czechs are willing to pay for cleaner water.
Popular Science: Judging people by their dustbins
Perhaps everyone has some experience with shopping. Just like shopping carts differ, so does the content of the dustbins. Although Czechia occupies top places in waste sorting at present, lots of things must still be improved in waste generation. The knowledge of the population’s differing patterns of behaviour may provide a vital help in this sphere. Researchers from the Department of demography and geodemography Kristýna Rybová, Boris Burcin and Tomáš Kučera, in cooperation with another three scientific centres in Czechia, focused on the research into socio-demographic factors and their influence on waste generation.
104.6 km from the confluence, or what is the water quality of Slapy Reservoir?
In recent decades, there has been a significant improvement in the surface water quality of the main streams of the Czech Republic, mainly because of the decrease of heavy industry and due to the construction of wastewater treatment plants in municipalities over 2000 inhabitants. However, the surface water quality of small rivers is still very low, because they are often found in agricultural areas, which are still affected by fertilizers and other pollutants and many of them also do not yet have wastewater treatment plants. One of these is the Mastník stream in the Central Bohemian Region, which flows into the Vltava River’s Slapy Reservoir. Luboš Mrkva and Bohumír Janský from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology at our Faculty have focused on the development and current state of the water quality of this important water body.
Do birds in our forests fare well or not?
One of the factors responsible for decline in biodiversity is land-use change, which is a result of major socioeconomic changes associated with the advancement of human society. And what about forest management? Does it influence species abundance? And how? These and other questions were studied by an international team of scientists. Jiří Reif from the Institute of Environmental Studies and his colleagues were especially interested in associations between environmental changes, forest management and forest bird abundance.
Astonishing diversity of trypanosomes in frogs
If you have ever heard about trypanosomes, probably it was in connection with sleeping sickness and Chagas disease, serious tropical illnesses. It is not so well known that the trypanosomes were actually first discovered in frogs. Many of these parasites can be found also in Czech frogs, though they do not cause human diseases and therefore remain generally neglected. An international research team, in which the Charles University was represented by Jan Votýpka from the Department of Parasitology, made an attempt to gain insight into this little-known world.
How important is Visualisation in Science?
In late June, the Second Interdisciplinary Colloquium took place at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. This year it was aimed at the phenomena of maps and graphs – which concerns any type of scientific work.
Energetic Metabolism of Agriculture in the Czech Republic and Poland after the Fall of the Communist Regime
Global processes like climatic changes, growth of the human population and dependence on fossil fuels cause biodiversity loss and the endangerment of whole ecosystems. It is possible that the potential of the biosphere will not be able to satisfy the demands of human production and consumption. Efforts for the sustainability of agricultural production require an increasingly better understanding of energy flow in ecosystems. In agriculture, energy is not only the food foundation, but it is a crucial part in the circulation of elements (esp. carbon) and in the hydrologic cycle.
Feathers can tell the origin
Rapid changes to natural conditions also cause changes in the behavior of migratory birds. The study of their migration is very important because of their protection and management. Since migratory bird flyways reach many states, international cooperation is needed. Therefore, there is an international project that monitors the movement of the greylag goose (Anser anser), the largest of the waterfowl genus Anser. One of the members and the coordinator of the international project are Michal Podhrázský from Zoo Dvůr Králové and the Department of Zoology of the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Hidden and forgotten?
Water is essential for survival, that’s why constant monitoring of this irreplaceable resource is needed. However, water chemistry monitoring is not sufficient. During extreme hydrometeorological events, the remobilization and reactivation of sediments, which often contain very toxic substances, may contaminate stream ecosystems and the environment. Due to environmental disasters in the past, attention is also focused on the Elbe River basin. Petra Havlíková, Dagmar Chalupová, Tomáš Chuman, Miroslav Šobr and Bohumír Janský from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology focused on a detailed study of the oxbow lake near the town of Poděbrady, which is connected with the Elbe River.
Popular Science: How does vegetation influence water chemistry?
In the past, forest soils were intensively acidified. Since the 1990s, there has been a gradual decline in acid depositions. What was the change of element concentrations and fluxes and what is the current state in relation to different types of vegetation? A group of scientists, together with Michal Růžek from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, compared the changes in an open area, the deciduous and coniferous forests of the Ore Mountains.
Popular Science: Subglacial silicon as another player in global nutrient cycling
As recently published in Nature, methane released from subglacial meltwater is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. However, it is not only subglacial methane which is responsible for changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. The international team of scientists, in collaboration with three polar ecologists from the Department of Ecology, found that there is another important nutrient influencing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, fortunately by the utilization of carbon dioxide. The name of this player is Silicon.
How to easily detect the presence of water in rocks
Sandstone, whether as a natural cliff or a building material, contains water in its pores. This water transports dissolved salts, which can cause surface erosion due to crystallization, creating interesting geomorphological shapes or causing the disintegration of monuments. So far, there has been no method that could reliably and cost-effectively detect water at the sandstone subsurface. However, scientists from the Faculty of Science came up with a simple but effective solution.
The mysterious history of chernozems
Chernozems, which have developed over thousands of years, are one of the most fertile soils. The typical vegetation of chernozems are steppe and forest-steppe. However, their evolution was also significantly influenced by human activity, which has been transforming the soil since the Neolithic period. Using modern methods, a group of experts, including Luděk Šefrna from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, examined their paleoenvironmental history.
Popular Science: Amazing discoveries of Pliocene flora
Karl Mädler was the first to describe in detail the Pliocene flora of Frankfurt am Main, which was found here in the first half of the 20th century during the construction of a wastewater treatment plant. This discovery was crucial for all of Europe. Now a group of experts, led by Zlatko Kvaček from the Institute of Geology and Paleontology, have focused on revising and refining the current study with new discoveries.
Soil macrofauna – help in carbon stabilization?
Carbon is an important and abundant chemical element on Earth and in space. It is a part of living as well as non-living nature. One important place where carbon is stored is in the soil, where three times more carbon is present than in the atmosphere. The decomposition of tree litter plays a crucial role in the soil’s carbon supply. How is the decomposition influenced by the type of litter, temperature and what role do woodlice play? Alexandra Špaldoňová and Jan Frouz from the Institute for the Environment focused on this topic.
Popular Science: One-night stand. That’s what ONLY men want?
If you ask which gender is more willing to change partners, to establish new relationships or engage in sex without love and commitment, almost everybody would answer men. However, is it absolutely true, or are there any differences based on sexual orientation, gender nonconformity or socio-cultural background? This is exactly what the Czech-Brazilian research team wanted to find out. Zuzana Štěrbová from the Department of Zoology of the Faculty of Science was one of the members of the team, which by chance happened to be composed mainly of women.
Popular Science: New methods of insect identification
Insects are essential both in terms of the functioning of the Earth's ecosystem and in terms of its impact on human health and society. However, the exact identification of a species is often hard and time consuming. A group of scientists including Dominik Vondráček from the Department of Zoology focused on the possibility of creating an automatic identification system using modern technologies.
Popular Science: Modern bestiary of ancient creatures
“Dear reader, you are holding a book that will be your guide to the depths of bygone ages and that will introduce you to your ancient ancestors ... come and immerse yourself in the reading, for the adventures of the days of yore have not been finished yet!” These words are the opening to a new book written and illustrated by Barbora Müllerová. Her work is extraordinary indeed – it is an illustrated encyclopedia of evolution, about 300 pages full of detailed information.
Popular Science: The Attractiveness of Our Voice
How does the voice of our speech and singing influence our attractiveness? And what can we predict from it? That was the main theme of the study done by the international scientific group in which the Faculty of Science was represented by Petr Tureček from the Department of Philosophy and History of Science and Jan Havlíček from the Department of Zoology.
Popular Science: Most of the nitrogen in the Elbe comes from wastewater, based on isotopic composition
Since the beginning of the nitrate contamination monitoring in the Elbe, its concentration has been relatively high and has not changed substantially. Researchers from the Faculty of Science and the United States studied the isotopic composition of nitrogen in the nitrates present in the Elbe and found out that between 2008-2009, most nitrates came from wastewater from human settlements, especially smaller municipalities.

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