Monday, 11 November 2013

David Attenborough at the The Open University - free ecology course

November 2013: Legendry naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough features in the The Open University’s first free, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), called Introduction to Ecosystems. The six-week course starts on 18 November on the FutureLearn social-learning platform and is aimed at those who are new to the subject.

Sir David features in video case studies used in the course and said: “It’s tremendously important for us all to understand the world we live in and our own place in nature.  I am delighted to play a part in helping The Open University teach people about the delicate balance of our ecosystems.”

Dr David Robinson, who developed the course, said: “Understanding ecosystems transforms our view of the natural world. Those taking this course will discover how organisms are linked together by complex interrelationships, how such links are studied and the adaptations that organisms have to the physical properties of a particular habitat. It’s an exciting development to be able to extend this course free to anyone in the world who wants to learn.”

The course requires no special knowledge and is a commitment of just three hours per week.  Using high-quality video case studies throughout, OU academics illustrate how individual ecosystems function and the impact of humans on the natural world.

Registration is open now, and a trailer of the course is available to view at:

Fossil prehistoric giant toothed platypus discovered in Australia

 November 2013: A giant carnivorous platypus with razor sharp teeth once roamed the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in Queensland, Australia, researchers from the University of New South Wales have discovered. Named Obdurodon tharalkooschild it is believed to have lived around 15 million years ago and was about one metre in length, twice the size of its modern day relative the peculiar looking, egg-laying, otter footed, beaver tailed duck-billed platypus. And unlike today’s relation it had functional, sharp teeth, which were used to slice and chew crayfish, frogs and small turtles.

The discovery of the new species’ tooth in a limestone deposit was made by Rebecca Pian, a PhD candidate at Columbia University and former UNSW Honours student, and Professor Mike Archer and Associate Professor Suzanne Hand, of the UNSW School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences.
 “A new platypus species, even one that is highly incomplete, is a very important aid in developing understanding about these fascinating mammals,” says Rebecca Pian.

 It is believed that, like other platypuses, it was probably a mostly aquatic mammal, and would have lived in and around the freshwater pools in the forests that covered the Riversleigh area millions of years ago.
“Discovery of this new species was a shock to us because prior to this, the fossil record suggested that the evolutionary tree of platypuses was a relatively linear one,” says Mike Archer. “Now we realize that there were unanticipated side branches on this tree, some of which became gigantic.”

The name Obdurodon tharalkooschild derives from the Greek for "lasting tooth" and an Australian folk story about the genus' origin that features a strong-willed female duck who ignored her parents' warnings and was set upon by Bigoon, a water-rat, leading to unusual-looking offspring.