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Chronicle of bark beetle infestations
Forest mortality has been increasing in recent years. This is primarily because bark beetle populations are growing at a rapid rate, decimating sometimes relatively healthy trees. Are we really experiencing unprecedented extremes, or have similar disturbances occurred throughout history? And can past events help us to deal with the current situation? Scientists have been searching for answers to these questions in the pristine region of the High Tatra Mountains. Petr Kuneš and Helena Svitavská Svobodová from the Department of Botany at the Faculty of Science, Charles University contributed significantly to research led by Nick Schafstall from the Czech University of Agriculture.
What a difficult life plants have…
Plants can be found all over the world; therefore, it is no surprise that they have developed numerous adaptations and life strategies. Disturbances lead to a removal of biomass, and how the plant copes with this is a key factor in selection. Vegetative regeneration is one of the possible ways a plant can respond to removal of its aboveground parts. There are even plants that can survive the total destruction of these parts. A team of scientists, including Jitka Klimešová from Charles University Faculty of Science, conducted a detailed study of these plants. They investigated how the removal of the aboveground parts of plants affects their growth, root respiration, and photosynthesis.
Was the environment somehow affected by Communism? What about the birds?
Nowadays, all children in schools are taught about communism. Yet, we are used to looking at this topic mostly from a historical point of view. But what effect did these 41 years have on nature? Collectivisation, which was strongly supported by the socialist regime, not only impacted small farmers, who lost their inherited estates for generations, but also the ecosystem and animal diversity. For instance, the homogenisation of the landscape changed the composition and numbers of bird populations. This transformation has been examined by Martin Šálek and other scientists from the Faculty of Science of Charles University on both the Czech and Austrian sides of the Iron Curtain.
The sky kept crying over Smutná. What happened next?
Harsh mountain landscapes attract adventurers as well as scientists. The natural conditions there allow the formulation of unusual but also destructive phenomena and processes, often of large proportions. One such phenomenon is that of fast-moving masses of poorly sorted sediments saturated with water, known as debris flows. Studying these, along with the specific preconditions that give rise to them, is crucial for the prediction and prevention of devastating consequences. Therefore, geomorphological experts Tereza Dlabáčková and Zbyněk Engel from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University have focused on mapping and evaluating the cause of a recent event.
Whom can we hear singing in European cities?
It is a well-established fact that urbanisation causes fragmentation of the landscape and habitat loss. Moreover, urban environment presents a challenge for wildlife, as it is a dynamic system that changes easily. It is therefore important to understand how urbanisation affects ecosystems in which an increasing number of people are now living. A large international team of scientists, including Jiří Reif from the Institute of Environmental Studies, surveyed birds across 17 cities in 10 European countries. The team asked a quite simple question: Which urban characteristics affect different facets of avian diversity and how?
Are we afraid of spiders as a taxonomical group or is their categorisation unimportant?
When you react to a stimulus, neural pathways that enable various responses to different situations are created. The neural circuits responsible for these quick reactions are one of the oldest we possess and mediate responses that are among the fastest. The question is, how deeply is the fear of spiders imprinted within us? Is it a result of natural selection, learning, and reflexes or are there other reasons for this common phobia? Even newborns react negatively to spiders and children aged 9 to 13 respond more negatively to crawling invertebrates than those that fly. There has to be a reason for this! Research into the fear of spiders and other creatures is moving forward thanks to Eva Landová, Markéta Janovcová, and Professor Daniel Frynta’s team from the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Case: Waste
Do you sort waste? Or do you throw everything in the municipal solid waste bin? Have you ever thought about what happens then? If it is not placed in landfill, which is increasingly being abandoned due to the highly negative impact on the environment, it is processed. However, municipal solid waste is more difficult to treat because it is composed of a variety of materials. An expert team, led by Vojtěch Pilnáček and Libuše Benešová from the Institute for the Environment, Faculty of Science, Charles University, therefore focused on the possibilities of making optimal use of biodrying technology
Unicorn horn – what else can we find in a painkiller more than 200 years old?
People have always experienced pain, so the effort to suppress it with various forms of medication is nothing new. Until the discovery of modern analgesics, opium (dried latex from unripe poppy) was the main component of pain killers. Such medications were mainly based on an alcoholic solution of opium prepared by Paracelsus in 16th century. In the 18th century in particular, complicated mixtures of various substances were popular. An analysis of drugs from that period is now extremely valuable for analytical chemists. One such study of an 18th century preparation has been conducted by a team led by doc. Karel Nesměrák from the Faculty of Science, Charles University.
Fairy tales from the sea near the mouth of the river: How climate change has affected oysters
Once upon a time, in a place far, far away, on the very border of the Outer and Central Western Carpathians lies the fascinating paleontological locality of Hôrka. It is no ordinary locality as its geological profile has provided a wealth of interesting findings due to the presence of the often-neglected Upper Cretaceous oysters. This scientific article is based on long-term research by palaeontologist Jakub Rantuch from the Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (IGP), Faculty of Science, Charles University. It is no coincidence that this work was awarded the Zlatko Kvaček Prize for the best article by a doctoral student at IGP.
Goodbye birds…?
Just venture outside, close your eyes, and listen to the sounds of nature, especially birds singing... Maybe this will become history if society continues to develop in the same direction. The sounds of nature have changed dramatically across North America and Europe over the past 25 years. But in what way? An international team of experts led by Catriona A. Morrison and Simon J. Butler from the University of East Anglia, which included Jiří Reif from the Department of the Environment, Faculty of Science, Charles University, analysed bird songs across North America and Europe. The results of this international study were recently published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.
Socio-economic aspects of golf courses in Czechia
The spectrum of research topics at the Faculty of Science of the Charles University is extremely broad and even covers studies on the dynamics of the golf market. Dana Fialová (Department of Social Geography and Regional Development) and Přemysl Štych (Department of Applied Geoinformatics and Cartography) participated in a study led by Jiří Sláma from the University of South Bohemia which analysed the development of golf courses in the Czech Republic between 1990 and 2019.
To Cyprus for the sea? Why not for the bats?
As well as being a wonderful place for a vacation, the Mediterranean islands also contain a high diversity of bats. Why is this? It is because the islands provide the animals with a variety of habitats to live in. Regrettably, these areas are currently facing several ecological threats. A group of authors, including Assoc. Prof. Petra Benda from the Faculty of Science, Charles University, conducted an acoustic study, focusing on echolocation, to determine the habitual preferences of certain bat species.
What factors determine trends in tree growth in a changing climate?
Forests play a key role in our ecosystem. Their impact on the carbon cycle and the Earth’s climate is crucial. Approximately 20% of all CO2 emissions are absorbed by forest ecosystems. Loss of forest areas and/or disruption of their vitality has negative effects on carbon sequestration in biomass. The influence of individual factors on tree growth is thus a topical and extremely important scientific topic. A group of experts led by Jiří Mašek from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, have investigated the influence of factors (other than climate) on tree growth trends.
What are the hospitalisation costs associated with childbirth? Does the method of conception matter?
A gradual increase in the age of mothers at childbirth has been observed in Czechia in recent decades. However, postponing childbearing has certain negative consequences. One notable problem is that of infertility and an associated increase in the use of assisted reproductive technologies, one of the most common of which is IVF (in vitro fertilisation). What are the costs associated with childbirth and the subsequent rise in hospitalisations caused by the increased health complications connected with IVF? Tereza Havelková, Luděk Šídlo, Jiřina Kocourková and Anna Šťastná from the Department of Demography and Geodemography, Faculty of Science, Charles University, have conducted detailed research on this topic.
What do we know about Aristolochia toxicity?
Aristolochia are aromatic decorative plants that grow all around the world. Most species can be found in the Mediterranean and in Asia. These plants contain biologically active compounds named after the genus – aristolochic acids I and II. Both cause mutations leading to carcinogenic growth and are classified as group 1 carcinogens. However, their interactions with each other within live organisms have been underexplored. An international team of scientists, with the main contribution provided by the research group of Professors Marie Stiborová and Petr Hodek from the Faculty of Science, Charles University, decided to change this.
Popular Science: 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.
Popular Science: The work of anthropologists in commercial archaeology
While excavating human remains in commercial archaeology, anthropologists are often limited by financial and time constraints and the collection of meaningful information is therefore rather difficult. That is why technologies and work methodology need to be quicker, cheaper and simpler and the collaboration between anthropologists, archaeologists and developers needs to be better to achieve maximal results. Erika Průchová from our faculty and her colleagues examined these field techniques and their effectiveness during the recent excavation of three cemeteries in Karlín, Prague.
Popular Science: 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.
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.
Popular Science: Ageing is more pronounced in male face than in women
Ageing or senescence is a natural part of our lives, even though we often try to hide it. First senescence changes start to manifest on the human face as early as at the age of twenty. Knowledge of the facial ageing process can be crucial for face appearance predictions for long-term missing persons.
Popular Science: Does our immune system have the ability to fight off obesity?
Human adenoviruses are common pathogens that cause mild gastrointestinal, ocular or respiratory symptoms. Infections are commonly observed in young children. One virus from this group, Adenovirus 36, is associated with obesity and antibodies against it are more prevalent in overweight and obese individuals than in normal-weight individuals.
Popular Science: Do you want to be more attractive to delicate female noses? Take a dose of garlic!
Garlic is one of the favourite ingredients in within Euro-Asian cuisines, giving food a special pungent, spicy flavor and a bit of sweetness. It is a product also well-recognized for its medical purposes, and already Ancient Egyptians used garlic and onion regularly to promote good health. However, all the goodness brought to a human comes to the death point we try a kiss after a meal full of this ingredient. The garlic breath coming out of the mouth can be unbearable. But what about the regular body odour, mostly of the axillary origin? Every single one of us has some, and it can be perceived by the others either pleasantly or unpleasantly, depending also on person’s diet.
Popular Science: Even partial river restoration can help
Now and in the past, humans mainly try to control river bodies by straightening and fortifying river channels. River network modifications can result in negative impacts, such as extreme floods or droughts, because the water is quickly drained from the basin and not retained in the landscape. There is a degradation of water quality and physical river habitat quality. Milada Matoušková and Kateřina Kujanová from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology are concerned about the state of the rivers.
Popular Science: Armed plant pathogens
Since plants are sessile organisms, it may seem that they are very vulnerable to pathogens and diseases. This could not be further from the truth! All plant populations are constantly threatened by enormous number of different pathogens, but only few plants will show any symptoms or eventually die, because plants have evolved very complex defence. How does it look and how do parasites bypass it? Our biochemists had a look on an example of that.
Popular Science: How old is too old? Ideal age of parents according to children
What should be the ideal age of parents at childbirth? Many people deal with the question by starting a family, a team of scientists affiliated to the Department of Demography and Geodemography of Charles University in Prague-Jiřina Kocourková, Boris Burcin and Tomáš Kučera and Hana Konečná from the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences of the University of South Bohemia decided to focus on this topic professionally. A unique feature of this research was the fact that its respondents were children. The team has published the results of their work in Reproductive Biomedicine Online.
Popular Science: Impressions from an Expedition to Azerbajjan
I have had the opportunity to join an expedition of researchers from departments of zoology and parasitology of our faculty to Azerbaijan at the end of the June. It was an expedition indeed – for two weeks we explored local nature, places rarely or sometimes never before visited by teams of researchers. The expedition was led by RNDr. Miroslav Švátora, CSc. and from zoology department represented by doc. RNDr. Daniel Frynta, PhD., Milan Kaftan, Mgr. Barbora Kaftanová, Mgr. Zdeněk Lerch and Iveta Štolhoferová, from parasitology department by doc. RNDr. Jan Votýpka, PhD. and Barbora Kykalová.
Popular Science: Leishmanias under microscope
Leishmania are single-celled protozoa not very well known in our country. In southern latitudes, however, it is a feared parasite that annually takes the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. This alarming fact has prompted European scientists to join together to control this epidemic. Research within the EuroLeish network happens to be taking place at the Faculty of Science - Charles University.
Popular Science: Transformations of mining areas
The landscape in northwest Bohemia has been heavily modified by man. We can see rapid development, mainly in the strip mining of brown coal. Scientists from the University of Life Sciences together with Dušan Romportl, a member of the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, the Faculty of Science, Charles University, analysed changes in the forest cover using a Geographic information system (GIS).
Popular Science: Immigrants - Where are they heading in the USA and Australia and how will it be in the future?
Nowadays Europe, the old continent, is talking about a huge wave of immigrants and their distribution to the individual countries. The authors analysed the data from two traditional immigrant countries, the USA and Australia. Josef Novotný and Jiří Hasman from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development, the Faculty of Science, tested a method for the prediction of the development of the distribution of migrants and the population structure of the regions.
Popular Science: Man and nature are connected vessels
All of us are aware that humankind tries to preserve cultural heritage. However, how can geomorphologists contribute? Every significant site and building is established in a specific environment. Natural processes at the site are very important for us and are worth watching. This is a reason why the LACUNHEN scientific network was founded. The Faculty of Science is member of it, specifically Vít Vilímek from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology.

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