The sixth mass extinction will hit harder than expected, according to a collaborative study between Stanford and the University of Mexico. 32% of all vertebrate species are steadily decreasing, even if one third of them classify as low concern species.

We already knew that animals and plants are going extinct 100 to 1 000 times faster than what is normal  (and those are the most conservative estimates). If we stay on this course, the general consensus is that around 30% of all species will be gone by 2050. The scientific community went from asking if the next mass extinction is underway to asking if it’s going to be worse than the last one – which, keep in mind, killed most of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Now, researchers say that assessments based on species extinctions, alarming as they may be, might be underestimating the problem. According to the article published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States:

“Our data indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations [EN: local extinctions], which will have negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization. We describe this as a “biological annihilation” to highlight the current magnitude of Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.”

This huge study is based on a sample of 27 600 vertebrate species (which is roughly half of them). All of the 177 mammal species among them have seen their natural range significantly shrink, 40% of them have seen their populations decrease by 80% or more.

The article concludes: “we emphasize that the sixth mass extinction is already here and the window for effective action is very short, probably two or three decades at most…”

*Featured image by Robert Young under Creative Commons

In February of 2013, the world watched as a meteorite blazed over Central Russia, shocking citizens and shattering glass with its immense sonic boom. The unanticipated meteorite almost overshadowed Asteroid 2012 DA14 which passed by in close proximity to our little planet that very same day. These were two completely unrelated and rare events and them both occurring on February 15th was astronomically coincidental!

Surprisingly, March doesn’t look like it’s going to pale by comparison, in terms of exciting heavenly happenings. Quite the opposite, March is upon us with an impressive celestial agenda. For the majority of this month, sky watchers in the Northern Hemisphere can look up and observe comet Pan-STARRS in its flashy splendor.

Pan-STARRS, or Comet C/2011 L4, was discovered in June of 2011, just outside of Jupiter’s orbit. This long tailed baby comet was flung from its origin in the Oort Cloud (a massive cloud of icy planetary debris) and can be expected to gradually get brighter as it approaches the sun. Despite being millions of years old it is still categorized as a “baby comet” and gets its name from the team that discovered it: PANSTARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) based in Hawaii.

Photo Credit: NASA

Have your fingers crossed for some clear weather in the next few days, because PANSTARRS is said to be visible without any visionary aid (although a telescope or binoculars would be ideal). NASA says: “To see the comet, look low on the western horizon just after the sun has gone down. Comet Pan-STARRS can appear as a bright head with a wispy trail, weather permitting, though some stargazers have said the bright evening twilight can make spotting it tricky.”

This comet was rumored to have been its brightest on the 10th of March, so if you haven’t caught a glimpse of it in the Western sky yet, you should grab your binoculars and do so soon. The closer April gets the dimmer Pan-STARRS will become.

Unlike “The Terminator” Pan-STARRS won’t be back anytime soon. Pan-STARRS’ elliptical orbit around the sun causes it to only be near us approximately every 100 million years.

So, good luck and keep your eyes peeled, stargazers. From March 14th on, the comet will be visible at a low point in the Western twilight sky. If you have a knack for spotting constellations Pan-STARRS will be near Andromeda or Pegasus. However, if you’re like me and can only find the Big Dipper in the night sky; do not fret! Simply direct your eyes towards the crescent moon, and Pan-STARRS shouldn’t be too far off.

We finally passed that venerable point in the year when the days have started getting longer again. This week marked the vernal equinox, the official kickoff of spring. Usually, this day of transition is nothing more than a figurehead, as winter remnants like snowbanks still linger on the sidewalks.

For the first time in recent memory, the weather has exceeded expectations for a summer day, let alone a spring one. People are crawling out from their winter hibernation, popping on their favorite pair of sunglasses and hitting the closest terrace they can find for pitchers of sangria.

Needless to say spring makes people horny. Known colloquially as spring fever, the increased energy and overall vitality could have something to do with shedding the winter layers to reveal pale skin itching for a healthy dose of vitamin D. Getting out of the house more often means meeting more people, which in turn leads to more chances for spring romance.

There are also biological and chemical factors at play that cause this increased libido. According to Dr. Sanford Auerbach, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Boston University, the fluctuation in daylight hours between winter and spring triggers a reaction in the retina that signals the brain to produce less melatonin, which in turn can lead to elevated mood and energy levels.

Furthermore, mammals have developed seasonal breeding patterns to promote long-term survival, which helps to explain the increase in birth rates in the springtime. “From a biological perspective, most types of animals, and maybe even plants, have a seasonal variation in behavior and physiology; there are seasonal cycles in human rates of conception,” noted Thomas Wehr of the National Institute of Mental Health.

For example, a late-spring increase in the luteinizing hormone that is known to trigger biological changes like increased ovulation or testosterone production leading to an increase in spring births. Logically, if you’re going to be carrying and nurturing a baby for nine months, it makes sense for the latter ones to occur during winter when you spend most of your time hunkering down and hibernating anyways.

So what are some of the best ways to harness this added energy and channel it into something positive? Try working off some of that winter weight by starting a new exercise program. Incorporate outdoor activities like cycling or jogging to bask in the warming glow of the sun. And for those of your ladies out there who might need a little extra motivation to get back to the gym, researchers from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University have found that approximately 40% of the women they surveyed had experience exercise-induced pleasure, sometimes resulting in orgasm even when the women weren’t having any sexual thoughts at the time.

Of the women who experienced orgasms during their workouts, a little less than half were engaging in abdominal exercises at the time, while almost 20% were biking or spinning, and nearly 10% were climbing poles or ropes.

Photo credit: darkuangel.deviantart.com

Pro ·mis ·cu ·ous adj, \prÉ™-mis-kyÉ™-wÉ™s\

1 – composed of all sorts of persons or things

2 – not restricted to one class, sort, or person

3 – not restricted to one sexual partner

4 casual, irregular

– Merriam-webster.com

Promiscuity, or at least the open acknowledgment of it, has been on the rise since the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, although it has been around as long as the human race in one form or another. Some sexologists speculate that male promiscuity hearkens back to the hunter-gather society, where it was advantageous for men to spread their seed often and with many partners, thereby increasing their chances of procreating and carrying on their blood line.

However, a recent study by a research team at Binghamton University suggests that a predisposition towards risky sexual behaviors in contemporary society, including one night stands and infidelity, is inherent in our DNA, specifically one particular gene variant of the dopamine receptor gene DRD4.

According to the study by researcher Justin Garcia, a postdoctoral fellow at the New York State University, “The motivation seems to stem from a system of pleasure and reward, which is where the release of dopamine comes in… In cases of uncommitted sex, the risks are high, the rewards substantial and the motivation variable – all elements that ensure a dopamine rush.”

For the study, the team collected DNA samples from a group of 181 young adult volunteers, and tested them for the presence of the variant of the DRD4 that causes thrill-seeking behavior. They also gathered information on the sexual history, relationships and behaviors of the volunteers.

People with the thrill-seeking variant of the gene reported a significantly higher rate of adultery (50 percent versus 22 percent for those without the variant) and were twice as likely to report a history of one-night stands. While it goes without saying that not everyone with this genotype is doomed to become a lying, cheating, easy lay, it does seem like they are at a much higher risk of going down this road.

It will be interesting to see where this research takes us in the future. Perhaps one day they’ll start testing for the presence of this variant at a young age so they can adequately educate those children and adolescents with a predilection towards these risky behaviorsmand sort of nip the problem in the bud, so to speak.

However, an intangible behavior like promiscuity can be very hard to measure, since actions considered promiscuous to one person or culture may be quite commonplace to another. In an effort to examine this as scientifically as possible, in a separate study the International Sexuality Description Project created a seven-question test to measure the taker’s “sociosexuality”, or promiscuity.

The number-based questionnaire include questions about the number of sexual partners in the past year, the number of one-night stands and attitudes towards sexuality on a scale between one and nine.

Interesting, Finland landed at the top of the pile, with a median score of 50.5. I suppose it is a great way to stay warm through those cold winter nights. Next were New Zealand and Slovenia, with Canada coming in at number 28 with an average score of 34.52. Out of curiosity I answered the questions for myself and while I won’t reveal my score here, suffice it to say I’d be a very popular lass in Scandinavia or with the Kiwis.

To see how you stack up against takers from 48 different countries, take the promiscuity quiz

Photo by – Channelate.com