The U.N. biodiversity conference kicks off today in Montreal, bringing attention to another environmental crisis unfolding during our lifetimes. In one of a series of stories on this conference, wildlife ecologist David Jachowski from Clemson University explains why the focus of his research has been small carnivores, such as weasels, skunks and foxes. Because they use small areas in their relatively short lives and need to adapt to minor habitat changes, he sees them as better barometers of biodiversity health than so-called charismatic megafauna such as pandas or polar bears.

A subject that has come up many times during our daily news meetings in recent weeks has been artificial intelligence and the astounding pace of development, particularly in public-facing areas such as AI-generated sound, images and text. Computer scientist Hany Farid, who develops forensic techniques to distinguish real images from fake ones, takes us through a tour of the powerful capabilities of the latest text-to-image generators and offers some warnings for individuals and society overall. “Regulators are going to have to start taking more seriously how these technologies are being weaponized against individuals, societies and democracies,” he writes.

It’s not too surprising that a story on seasonal affective disorder – also known as the winter blues – is one of the most popular science stories of the past week, given how many people it affects. Nutritional neuroscientist Lina Begdache from Binghamton University answers many questions about how circadian rhythms get disrupted when daylight saving time ends and offers some tips on how to fend off seasonal depression. It might motivate you to get outdoors more often during this time of year to soak in the sun’s available rays.

Also in this week’s science news:

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A short-tailed weasel in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Jacob W. Frank, NPS/Flickr

Weasels, not pandas, should be the poster animal for biodiversity loss

David Jachowski, Clemson University

Polar bears and wolves may get the glory, but small predators like weasels, foxes and their cousins play outsized ecological roles. And many of these species are declining fast.

A synthetic image generated by mimicking real faces, left, and a synthetic face generated from the text prompt ‘a photo of a 50-year-old man with short black hair,’ right. Hany Farid using StyleGAN2 (left) and DALL-E (right)

Text-to-image AI: powerful, easy-to-use technology for making art – and fakes

Hany Farid, University of California, Berkeley

Text-to-image generators like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion portend a future where anyone with a computer can fake a photograph of just about anything.

For those prone to seasonal affective disorder, a shift in the sleep cycle can impact energy levels. Ben Akiba/E+ via Getty Images

Shorter days affect the mood of millions of Americans – a nutritional neuroscientist offers tips on how to avoid the winter blues

Lina Begdache, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Research shows that young adults and women are particularly susceptible to seasonal affective disorder.

Mosquitoes are not repelled by vitamins and other oral supplements you might take

Matan Shelomi, National Taiwan University

A medical myth persists that the B vitamin thiamine is a systemic insect repellent that wards off mosquitoes when taken orally. But scientists have disproven this mistaken belief again and again.

Satellites detect no real climate benefit from 10 years of forest carbon offsets in California

Shane Coffield, NASA; James Randerson, University of California, Irvine

Millions of dollars have gone into California’s forest carbon offset program – with little new carbon storage to show for it, a new study suggests.

Harnessing the brain’s immune cells to stave off Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases

Kristine Zengeler, University of Virginia

Microglia, immune cells disguised as brain cells, are known as the janitors of the brain. Dialing up their usual duties just enough could provide an avenue to treat neurodegenerative disease.

Twitter lifted its ban on COVID misinformation – research shows this is a grave risk to public health

Anjana Susarla, Michigan State University

A wealth of research on social media shows that COVID-19 misinformation is damaging to public health.

Brain-computer interfaces could allow soldiers to control weapons with their thoughts and turn off their fear – but the ethics of neurotechnology lags behind the science

Nancy S. Jecker, University of Washington; Andrew Ko, University of Washington

From warfare to entertainment and VR, brain-computer interface development has extended beyond prosthetics for patients with disabilities. Missing is full ethical consideration of the consequences.

How does a television set work?

Jay Weitzen, UMass Lowell

Pictures and sound, flying through the air to a box in your house? Back in the 1940s, it seemed like a miracle.

How parents can play a key role in the prevention and treatment of teen mental health problems

Toria Herd, Penn State; Sarah A. Font, Penn State

Nearly 1 in 5 US teenagers battle depression. But parents can help by communicating openly, creating a behavior contract and finding low-pressure opportunities to interact with their teen.

Nurses’ attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccination for their children are highly influenced by partisanship, a new study finds

Filip Viskupič, South Dakota State University; David Wiltse, South Dakota State University

Nurses who identify as Democrats have a significantly higher likelihood of having their children vaccinated against COVID-19 than those who identify as Republicans.