The 2013–2016 epidemic of Ebola virus disease in West Africa was of unprecedented magnitude and changed our perspective on this lethal but sporadically emerging virus. This outbreak also marked the beginning of large-scale realtime molecular epidemiology. Here, we show how evolutionary analyses of Ebola virus genome sequences provided key insights into virus origins, evolution and spread during the epidemic.

Methane has the second-largest global radiative forcing impact of anthropogenic greenhouse gases after carbon dioxide, but our understanding of the global atmospheric methane budget is incomplete. The global fossil fuel industry (production and usage of natural gas, oil and coal) is thought to contribute 15 to 22 per cent of methane emissions to the total atmospheric methane budget.

Matthew Hansen uses satellites to spot deforestation as it happens.

Sustainably feeding the world’s growing population is a challenge, and closing yield gaps (that is, differences between farmers’ yields and what are attainable for a given region) is a vital strategy to address this challenge. The magnitude of yield gaps is particularly large in developing countries where smallholder farming dominates the agricultural landscape. Many factors and constraints interact to limit yields, and progress in problem-solving to bring about changes at the ground level is rare.

It is fitting that the United Nations Habitat III conference in October will be held in Quito, Ecuador. In April, the city and nearby Portoviejo and Manta suffered an earthquake that killed more than 660 people and injured at least 10,000. Around 73,000 people were displaced. Some 700,000 needed emergency assistance, such as drinking water, sanitation and hygiene kits. Many water-supply systems and hospitals were destroyed or disrupted. Insurance companies estimated the damage at US$2.5 billion, of which only 16% was insured.

Stromatolite fossils formed around 3,700 million years ago in what is now Greenland predate the previous oldest fossil evidence for life on Earth by more than 200 million years.

Analysis of multi-year nutrient enrichment experiments carried out on 45 global grassland sites show that an addition of an increasing number of nutrients leads to a reduction in plant species diversity, and competition for multiple below-ground resources promotes plant species diversity.

Recent salinity changes in the Southern Ocean are among the most prominent signals of climate change in the global ocean, yet their underlying causes have not been firmly established. Here we propose that trends in the northward transport of Antarctic sea ice are a major contributor to these changes. Using satellite observations supplemented by sea-ice reconstructions, we estimate that wind-driven northward freshwater transport by sea ice increased by 20 ± 10 per cent between 1982 and 2008.

During the Last Glacial Maximum, continental ice sheets isolated Beringia (northeast Siberia and northwest North America) from unglaciated North America. By around 15 to 14 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (cal. kyr BP), glacial retreat opened an approximately 1,500-km-long corridor between the ice sheets. It remains unclear when plants and animals colonized this corridor and it became biologically viable for human migration. We obtained radiocarbon dates, pollen, macrofossils and metagenomic DNA from lake sediment cores in a bottleneck portion of the corridor.

The evolution of industrial-era warming across the continents and oceans provides a context for future climate change and is important for determining climate sensitivity and the processes that control regional warming. Here we use post-AD 1500 palaeoclimate records to show that sustained industrial-era warming of the tropical oceans first developed during the mid-nineteenth century and was nearly synchronous with Northern Hemisphere continental warming.