Monday, 25 July 2016

Vibrantly Colored 'Starburst' Scorpionfish Discovered in the Caribbean

By Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor | July 25, 2016 05:20pm ET

A riotously colorful new species of scorpionfish has been found deep in the Caribbean near Curaçao.

The fish is orange-red, with splashes of yellow and pink decorating its fins and face. Its scientific name is Scorpaenodes barrybrowni, after nature photographer Barry Brown, who works with the Smithsonian Institution mission that discovered the deep-sea-living fish.

S. barrybrowni is a denizen of the rocky seafloor and underwater cliffs, spending its time between about 310 and 525 feet (95 to 160 meters) down. Researchers discovered the new species during the Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP), a Smithsonian Institution mission to explore reefs deeper than scuba divers can go. Researchers used a manned submersible, Curasub, to collect samples of scorpionfish from near the island of Curaçao and discovered that several were of a species never seen before.

"The 50- to 300-meter [160 to 980 feet] tropical ocean zone is poorly studied — too deep for conventional scuba and too shallow to be of much interest to really deep-diving submersibles," Carole Baldwin, the lead scientist at DROP, said in a statement. "The Curasub is providing scientists with the technology needed to remedy this gap in our knowledge of Caribbean reef biodiversity."

Walk this way: desert ants move backwards with heavy loads, study finds

Study shows that deserts ants can walk and navigate backwards when moving oversized food, a discovery that could inform robotics, researchers say

Naomi Stewart

Wednesday 20 July 201623.00 BST

There comes a time in a desert ant’s life when a piece of food is too large to ignore, but too heavy to lift, and the only way to get it home is to adopt a new style of walking.

The long-legged and speedy Cataglyphis fortis normally covers ground with a three-legged stride that moves two legs forwards on one side, and one on the other. For the next step, the insect mirrors the move with its other three legs.

But recordings of ants in the Tunisian desert reveal that when faced with oversized lumps of food 10 times their own weight, the forward “tripod” walking style is abandoned. Unable to lift the morsels in their mandibles, the ants drag the food backwards instead, moving all six legs independently. “This is the first time we have seen this in any ants,” said lead author Sarah Pfeffer at the University of Ulm in Germany.

The ants’ long legs already help keep their bodies away from the scorching desert floor and enable them to speed around at up to 60cm per second.

“Think of Usain Bolt, who has very long legs compared to body size. The desert floor is also very hot, so the further away their bodies are from the surface, the better,” said co-author Matthias Wittlinger. The ants have also evolved to function at body temperatures of 50C in a desert where temperatures can soar to 70C. “They’re basically just trying to get out of the heat,” he added.

But more intriguing to the researchers was the ants’ skill at navigation. “At any point, they know the direction and distance back to their place of origin. Most ants are capable of this, but desert ants live in dried out salt lakes, which are flat and bare,” said Wittlinger. When they drag food backwards though, the ants cannot see where home is at all.

Traveling chimpanzees are more likely to use tools, study finds

JULY 20, 2016

by Brett Smith

There’s an old Malay folk saying, “The crab living under the coconut does not see the world,” and it turns out the same maxim applies to chimpanzees, as a new study found chimps that travel more are more likely to acquire tool-using abilities.

Published in the journal eLife, the new study also found a low availability of ripe fruit also increases chimpanzees' propensity for acquiring new skills, but the connection isn’t as strong as travel.

"Our results show that travel fosters tool use in wild chimpanzees and it may also have been a driving force in early technological evolution by humans," study author Thibaud Gruber, a biologist from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said in a press release.

Studying Chimps Who Travel

For the study, researchers tracked a group of chimps living in the Budongo Forest of Uganda over the course of 7 years. During that time, they watched as one chimp named Hawa replenished his energy spent traveling by foraging for honey, while another chimp, Squibs, was more sedentary and hadn’t figured out how to find the sweet treat.

Study researchers examined information from nine other chimpanzee communities to confirm the connection between travel and acquiring new skills.

Before animals, evolution waited eons to inhale

July 25, 2016

A couple of times in four billion years, evolution has slowed to a crawl. And an eon or so has passed before more complex life forms, such as simple animals, could arise.

Evolution may have been waiting for a decent breath of oxygen, said researcher Chris Reinhard. And that was hard to come by. His research team is tracking down O2 concentrations in oceans, where earliest animals evolved.

By doing so, they have jumped into the middle of a heated scientific debate on what rising oxygen did, if anything, to charge up evolutionary eras. Now, Reinhard, a geochemist from the Georgia Institute of Technology, is shaking up conventional thinking with the help of computer modeling.

Smash the beaker

That thinking goes like this: "Atmospheric oxygen had a value of 'x' back then, and so we just assume that the whole ocean is a beaker that equilibrates with that value," Reinhard said. Then all evolving animals everywhere had the selfsame concentration of oxygen to live on.

But oceans are expansive and asymmetrical; deep here, shallower there, frosty at the poles, soupy at the girth. Turbulences, streams and temperatures distribute sediment, algae, salt—and gases like oxygen—into lopsided stores.

Oceans leave some areas teeming and others vacuous. Then they reshuffle their loads. Even today, concentrations of dissolved oxygen vary widely from ocean region to ocean region.

Equating the global ocean to a placid lab beaker? "This is an okay thought experiment to start with, but I think everybody would acknowledge over a beer that it's simplistic," said Reinhard, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Create a stir

So, he and his team modeled how oxygen entered oceans from the atmosphere and from aquatic sources, and how oceans might have shuffled it around during the mid to late Proterozoic Eon. That was 0.6 to 1.8 billion years ago, when the Earth's atmosphere had only fraction of the breathable oxygen it does today.

Animal welfare groups push US to classify all leopards as endangered

Conservationists are calling on the US to raise the protection level for leopards, severely curbing hunters’ ability to import body parts as trophies

Oliver Milman in New York

Monday 25 July 201618.04 BSTLast modified on Monday 25 July 201622.28 BST

Conservationists have demanded a crackdown on the import to the US of leopards killed by American hunters, in an attempt to replicate the protections introduced in the wake of the furore caused by the death of famed lion Cecil.

A coalition of animal welfare groups have petitioned the US Fish &Wildlife Service (FWS) to classify all leopards as endangered, the Guardian can reveal. This would severely curtail the ability of American hunters to bring home “trophies”, such as leopard skulls, paws or skins, from hunting trips to Africa.

America is a leading collector of leopard parts. According to a Humane Society analysis of data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, US trophy hunters imported parts of 5,575 leopards between 2005 and 2014.

It is unclear how many leopards remain across Africa and Asia but the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has warned the species has “declined substantially” due to habitat loss, paucity of prey and targeted poaching for sham medicinal products in south-east Asia and China that can generate $3,000 for a leopard carcass.

The IUCN states that “poorly managed trophy hunting adds to pressure on local leopard populations”. In 2016, South Africa stopped the hunting of leopards, over concerns that untold damage was being wrought.

Currently, the FWS classifies leopards in northern Africa as endangered and sub-Saharan animals south of Gabon and Kenya as threatened. This distinction, drawn up in 1982 following lobbying by hunters, means that much less scrutiny is placed upon leopard imports from the southern half of Africa.

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