Wednesday, 8 July 2020

To protect threatened beetle, entomologists hope new colony takes hold

JULY 7, 2020

by Rodger Gwiazdowski, University of Massachusetts Amherst

As thousands of hopeful coronavirus shut-ins look forward to heading to Atlantic beaches for the July 4 holiday, University of Massachusetts Amherst entomologist Rodger Gwiazdowski and colleagues are also heading to the beach—but they'll visit the last quiet natural one protected by the National Park Service at Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

There, Gwiazdowski and a team of biologists will visit part of the Gateway National Recreation Area to survey the beach above the tide line for what they hope is the beginning of a new population of the federally threatened Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetle. In early May they had released almost 200 grub-like larvae at Sandy Hook, which is about 15 miles south of Staten Island with a clear view of Coney Island. On their early July re-visit, the researchers hope to find the larvae emerged as adult beetles.

In collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies, Gwiazdowski and colleagues including Joe Elkinton at UMass Amherst plan three years of relocating larvae that are in the last growth stage before they pupate into adults. "We'll do two pre-surveys in early July," Gwiazdowski says. "If we find some, we'll go back later to see if we can determine a peak number."

He points out, "These insects used to be found on seaward beaches all up and down the East coast but their numbers crashed after 1945. In the 1990s, some were left on Martha's Vineyard and, a few of those were moved to nearby Monomoy Island off Cape Cod. "Now, the Monomoy population has exploded and we're seeing what a pre-discovery population looked like before Henry Hudson and other Europeans arrived."

Making a list of all creatures, great and small

JULY 7, 2020


A paper published July 7, 2020 in the open access journal PLOS Biology outlines a roadmap for creating, for the first time, an agreed list of all the world's species, from mammals and birds to plants, fungi and microbes.

"Listing all species may sound routine, but is a difficult and complex task," says Prof. Stephen Garnett of Charles Darwin University, the paper's lead author. "Currently no single, agreed list of species is available." Instead, some iconic groups of organisms such as mammals and birds have several competing lists, while other less well-known groups have none.

This causes problems for organizations and governments that need reliable, agreed, scientifically defensible and accurate lists for the purposes of conservation, international treaties, biosecurity, and regulation of trade in endangered species. The lack of an agreed list of all species also hampers researchers studying Earth's biodiversity.

The new paper outlines a potential solution—a set of ten principles for creating and governing lists of the world's species, and a proposed governance mechanism for ensuring that the lists are well-managed and broadly acceptable.

"Importantly, it clearly defines the roles of taxonomists—the scientists who discover, name and classify species—and stakeholders such as conservationists and government and international agencies," says Dr. Kevin Thiele, Director of Taxonomy Australia and a co-author on the paper. "While taxonomists would have the final say on how to recognize and name species, the process ensures that stakeholders' needs are considered when deciding between differing taxonomic opinions."

Animals who try to sound 'bigger' are good at learning sounds

JULY 7, 2020



Some animals fake their body size by sounding bigger than they actually are. Maxime Garcia from the University of Zurich and Andrea Ravignani from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics studied 164 different mammals and found that animals that lower their voices to sound bigger are often skilled vocalists. Both strategies—sounding bigger and learning sounds—are likely driven by sexual selection, and may play a role in explaining the origins of human speech evolution.

"If you saw a chihuahua barking as deep as a rottweiler, you would definitely be surprised," says Andrea Ravignani, a researcher at the MPI and the Dutch Sealcentre Pieterburen. Body size influences the frequency of the sounds animals produce, but many animals found ways to sound smaller or bigger than expected.

"Nature is full of animals like squeaky rottweilers and tenor chihuahuas," explains Ravignani. Some animals fake their size by developing larger vocal organs that lower their sound, which makes them sound larger than you would expect. Other animals are good at controlling the sounds they produce. Such strategies (called dishonest signalling by biologists) could be driven by sexual selection, as males with larger body size or superior singing skills (hitting very high or low notes) attract more females (or vice versa).

Garcia and Ravignani wondered whether some animals may have learned to make new sounds as a strategy to attract mates. Few animal species are capable of vocal learning, among them, mammals such as seals, dolphins, bats and elephants. For instance, seals can imitate sounds, and some seals copy call types of successfully breeding individuals. Would animals who often 'fake' their body size also be the ones capable of learning new sounds?




Monday, 6 July 2020

Crunch, crunch: Africa's locust outbreak is far from over

JULY 5, 2020

by Khaled Kazziha and Cara Anna

Locusts swarm on a tree south of Lodwar town in Turkana county, northern Kenya Tuesday, June 23, 2020. The worst outbreak of the voracious insects in Kenya in 70 years is far from over, and their newest generation is now finding its wings for proper flight. (AP Photo/Boris Polo)

The crunch of young locusts comes with nearly every step. The worst outbreak of the voracious insects in Kenya in 70 years is far from over, and their newest generation is now finding its wings for proper flight.

The livelihoods of millions of already vulnerable people in East Africa are at stake, and people like Boris Polo are working to limit the damage. The logistician with a helicopter firm is on contract with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, helping to find and mark locust swarms for the targeted pesticide spraying that has been called the only effective control.

"It sounds grim because there's no way you're gonna kill all of them because the areas are so vast," he told The Associated Press from the field in northwestern Kenya on Thursday. "But the key of the project is to minimize" the damage, and the work is definitely having an effect, he said.

For months, a large part of East Africa has been caught in a cycle with no end in sight as millions of locusts became billions, nibbling away the leaves of both crops and the brush that sustains the livestock so important to many families.

"The risk of significant impact to both crops and rangelands is very high," the regional IGAD Climate Prediction & Applications Center said Wednesday in a statement.


DNA helps conservation of elusive tequila bat



JULY 6, 2020




Scientists studying the near-threatened tequila bat, best known for its vital role in pollinating the Blue Agave plant from which the drink of the same name is made from, have analyzed its DNA to help inform conservationists on managing their populations. The findings are published in Global Ecology and Conservation.
Native to the Americas, the tequila bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) lives in caves in some of the hottest desert areas in Mexico. Given that bats are highly mobile, and that migratory species tend to mix constantly with other bat populations, it is hard for conservationists to know whether they are protecting the best sites for the tequila bats to roost.

While known that some tequila bat populations migrate in Mexico's spring months to the Sonoran Desert to give birth to their pups and pollinate a variety of plants iconic to the region, including the economically important Blue Agave plant. Other tequila bat populations inhabit Southern Mexico year-round, forming large breeding colonies in the winter months.

This study aimed to help better inform conservationists of the species' breeding and migratory patterns by determining whether the bats inhabiting Southern Mexico year-round have a similar ancestral origin to those that migrate to the Sonoran Desert.

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