Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Florida looks to ease alligator hunting law (Via Herp Digest)

Florida looks to ease alligator hunting law
By David Fleshler
Sun-Sentinel Staff Writer, Monday, Nov. 28, 2011

A generation after Florida reopened alligator hunting, state wildlife managers plan their first review ever of the law that has allowed thousands to pursue the state's most famous reptile with gaffs, bangsticks and harpoons.

Alligator hunting resumed in 1988, after this former endangered species rebounded so vigorously that it was showing up in backyards, parking lots and playgrounds. The number of alligators killed - and transformed into gator nuggets, shoes and wallets - rose steadily as quotas expanded, from 2,551 in 2000 to 7,736 last year.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, at its most recent meeting, authorized its staff to begin working on a package of amendments to the alligator hunting law to be presented to the state Legislature. Harry Dutton, coordinator of the alligator management program, said the review may simply streamline a statute that was probably overloaded with rules because of the sensitivity of hunting a former endangered species.

"It was a time when the alligator was just considered fully recovered and there was a lot of concern," he said. "It's been 23 years now. It's probably long overdue."

Charles Lee, advocacy director for Audubon of Florida, said the alligator appears to have stood up well. But he said the population remains too low in some regions, including possibly the Everglades.
And he said the tendency of hunters to go for trophy prey has deprived many parts of the state of the huge, decades-old alligators that had been a part of Florida's natural heritage.

"They are an iconic feature of the natural landscape, so I lament the areas I go to where these big, grandfather alligators have been snuffed out," he said. "They're pretty rare these days, and I think hunters had something to do with that."

Under the current hunting program, the state establishes quotas for different lakes, rivers and regions to prevent excessive hunting in particular areas.

A drawing is held for permits, with more than 6,000 issued for the statewide hunt that ran from Aug. 15 through Nov. 1. Each permit holder may kill up to two alligators.

The hunt is tightly controlled, with tags and forms required for each kill.

Al Hernandez, a Dania Beach electrical contractor who has been hunting alligators for about 12 years, said the state's hunting program appears to have made little dent in alligator populations.
"When I go up the Kissimmee River I see easily 100 gators," he said. "On Lake Okeechobee some nights I see 50 or 60."

Hernandez hunts after midnight, when the alligators are hunting. On one occasion, he encountered a 10-footer consuming a smaller alligator. "You could hear the crunching of the bones," he said.
On a recent hunt on Lake Okeechobee, he saw a nine-footer head out to hunt. He brought his boat behind the gator, and when it turned he snagged it with a hook, used a bangstick to fire a shotgun charge into its brain and - just to be safe - severed its spine at the neck.

He takes his gators to a processing plant that yields gator cubes, which he deep fries with Cajun seasoning.

There are about 1.3 million alligators in Florida swamps, rivers and lakes, with the number fairly stable over the past few years, Dutton said.

Nuisance alligator complaints are up sharply over the past 20 years - from 11,965 in 1991 to 14,418 last year - although they're down from their peak of 18,307 in 2006.

Dutton said the review may result in the removal of extra rules that aren't applied to game animals such as deer. For example, the review may remove the rule requiring minors hunting with a parent to have a separate license, he said. And it may remove the lifetime ban imposed on anyone with a poaching violation.

But he said the review was unlikely to result in an increase or decrease in hunting.

The review will begin with internal staff work as well as public outreach sessions. The aim is to bring proposals late next year to the wildlife commission, a seven-member board appointed by the governor. If the commission approves the proposals, they would go to the state Legislature in 2014.

Rare salamander, other species prompt state questions (Via Herp Digest)

Rare salamander, other species prompt state questions (Hellbender)
Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011By SAMMY FRETWELL -, from the

No one knows much about hellbenders in South Carolina, but recent federal action has focused attention on whether the big salamanders need special protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The slithering amphibians are among 46 plants and animals being studied in South Carolina for possible listing under the law.

But while environmentalists say the review will help save many dwindling species, state wildlife officials say the federal initiative comes with a price.

Protecting many of these species could restrict development on private land and cost the state a pile of money, say officials with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. One DNR estimate placed the cost in the millions of dollars, although state officials note that it's too early to say definitively.

"We don't know for sure yet what is going to happen," DNR board chairwoman Caroline Rhodes said. "But the expectation is that if these particular species are listed, then you have to have the money to do whatever it is to protect them or re-establish them.''

Rhodes, recently appointed to chair the board by Gov. Nikki Haley, said she supports the goal of the federal law - to save endangered plants and animals - but she is skeptical that so many species might need special protected status in South Carolina. The review is a sweeping look at species and is not normally taken by the federal agency.

"If a species is clearly endangered, it's something we would try to do,'' she said. "But if this is just a stumbling block for economic development ...Well, I hope that wouldn't happen."

In response to a legal petition by environmentalists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in September that it would review the status of 374 species in the South to see whether they should receive special protection under the endangered species law. The Fish and Wildlife Service is soliciting comments from the public about the multitude of plants and animals that one day could be listed as a federally protected endangered species.

After the comments are received, the government eventually will determine whether more research is needed or whether to list the plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act. The listings aren't expected immediately because the Fish and Wildlife Service has several hundred other species already under review, agency spokesman Tom Mackenzie said. Action may not be taken to list any of the 374 species for five years or more, he said.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said he's glad the Fish and Wildlife Service has taken action. As information comes in, the agency will learn more about which plants and animals need extra protection and which do not, he said. His group filed the legal request that prompted the federal review.

"To the extent this does cost money, I'd say it's money well spent,'' Greenwald said. "It's something (wildlife agencies) are supposed to be doing: ensure species are not lost. This is a good thing.''
In South Carolina, the 46 species that could be listed include four kinds of crayfish, 25 different types of flowering plants, two kinds of fish and numerous insects, the Fish and Wildlife Service reports. Also included on the study list is the Carolina Hemlock, a tree found almost exclusively on dry mountain sides in the southern Appalachians.

As for hellbenders, DNR officials don't think the animals exist in South Carolina, but they can't say for sure because they've never done an extensive study. Still, they're hoping their professional opinion will persuade the federal government not to list hellbenders as endangered in this state or initiate costly state studies.

Hellbenders, which can grow to more than two feet long, are among the largest salamanders in North America. Typically, they are found in cold rocky streams across the South. One South Carolina DNR report says two hellbenders were caught in Lake Tugaloo in the state's northwest corner. Officials suspect the animals were brought there as fish bait and escaped, but they were not native to the lake, the agency's Breck Carmichael said.

Carmichael also said the robust redhorse, a fish species once thought to be extinct in South Carolina, is making a recovery through efforts to raise them in hatcheries. As a result, they don't need to be listed, Carmichael said.

Praised by conservationists as a way to protect species that could become extinct, the Endangered Species Act sometimes draws criticism from landowners and businesses worried that the discovery of a rare species will restrict use of their property. The presence of endangered animals or plants, for instance, can require landowners to take extra steps so they won't disturb the species when developing property.

That has hit home recently with the state-owned Santee Cooper power company. The company says it might have to spend a billion dollars to help protect and revive populations of shortnose sturgeon, a bony fish already listed under the endangered species law. Shortnose sturgeon populations dropped after Santee Cooper built dams to form lakes Marion and Moultrie in the early 20th century.
In the 1990s, landowners also had to work out agreements to protect red-cockaded woodpeckers, which are also endangered in South Carolina.

Greenwald questioned whether the DNR would have to spend much money because of the review. And he said claims that people lose property rights when endangered species are found on their land is an overblown argument.

"Generally, if there is a conflict, the Fish and Wildlife Service goes out of its way to work things out in a way that is equitable to landowners,'' he said. "I'd also say that if you are a landowner and you are blessed to have unusual species or habitat on your land, in some ways that's a treasure. You have an opportunity to help preserve species for future generations.''

But John Frampton, the DNR's outgoing director, said the state's budget woes don't make the matter any easier. The DNR's budget has been slashed dramatically in recent years.

"We've got no money for endangered species," Frampton said, noting that "if you think you've got problems with sturgeon and red cockaded woodpeckers, you haven't seen anything yet."

EU resolution passed to help protect bees

In a resolution passed this month European Parliament are taking action to protect bees. The resolution was voted in by an overwhelming majority, with 534 votes in favour, 16 against and 92 abstentions highlighting an urgency and popularity to protect bees.

The resolution focuses on the Honey bee and calls for better access to new medicines to treat bee disease, monitoring of bee imports and a call for shared research and dissemination of scientific knowledge.

Of particular interest to Buglife and the wild pollinators we strive to conserve is the call for stricter rules, sustainable use and better risk assessment methodology for pesticide use. Buglife’s report 'The Impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bumblebees, Honey bees and other non-target invertebrates' produced in 2009 called for reliable and effective testing of pesticides, properly considering and setting standards for sub-lethal and chronic toxicity in the risk assessment of pesticides as well as a suspension of the use of this harmful group of pesticides.

During the European Parliament meeting Ban Eickhout, a Dutch Green MEP presented the house with an alternative resolution asking for a suspension on the use of harmful pesticides, which Buglife support and was backed by a quarter of the house.

Vicky Kindemba, Buglife Conservation Projects Manager said “Although neonicotinoids have not yet been suspended it is good to hear that the European Parliament is taking other forms of action to protect bees. The resolution calls to consider sub-lethal toxicity in the risk assessment of pesticides – something Buglife have been working towards for the last few years”.

The resolution also calls for the conservation of bee biodiversity including the promotion of green spaces along roads, verges of railway lines and in private gardens. Another step forward for wild pollinators is the call for pollen and nectar resources for bees and pollinating insects to be considered in land management.

Vicky Kindemba said “it is really important that needs of wild pollinators are considered as well as those of the honey bee. For the European Parliament to pass a resolution that encourages the planting of pollen and nectar rich plants is great news for invertebrates. A lot of Buglife’s conservation work strives to create wildflower rich habitats for pollinators so having encouragement to do this from the EU is great support for our work”.

The UK Government has been waiting for long term changes to the European pesticide approvals process, before making a decision to remove harmful pesticides such as neonicotinoids from the environment.

Vicky Kindemba said “This new EU resolution should encourage the UK Government to take urgent action to protect pollinators in the UK. We have already seen local authorise take action, passing a motion to make their council neonicotinoid fee. Buglife will be looking forward to the UK Government’s action to protect bees soon”.

To find out more about Buglife’s neonicotinoid report please click on the link. To find out more about Buglife’s work to create wildflower habitats for pollinators please click on this link.

Littering and starting wild fires. All good fun?

Chinese lanterns pose a threat as well as littering the countryside
November 2011. A while ago Wildlife Extra supported a campaign to stop balloon releases as they litter the countryside and can be lethal to marine life. In recent years another, potentially more dangerous, littering fad has become popular in the UK and elsewhere.

If I suggested that it would be fun to throw a burning plastic bag out of a car window you might think I am mad - Yet so called Magic or Chinese lanterns are becoming increasingly popular.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust report than an owl has been found dead inside a Chinese Lantern, and that in July alone the coastguard had no less than 12 alerts caused by Chinese lanterns - yet there are no rules and regulations covering their usage or manufacturing standards.

Counting snow leopards in Nepal - Fewer than thought

Counting cats: the endangered snow leopards of the Himalayas
November 2011. The elusive snow leopard (Panthera uncia) lives high in the mountains across Central Asia. It is thought to occur across 12 countries but the actual numbers of this beautiful large cat are largely unknown.

350-500 in Nepal
It is thought that there might be somewhere between 350 and 500 distributed across Nepal's northern frontier. New research has used genetic analysis to show that the numbers of snow leopards in the central Himalayas is actually much lower than suggested.

Snow leopards prefer to live solitary lives in rugged, inaccessible habitats. Most estimates of the number of snow leopards depends on counting signs, such as tracks (pugmarks), scrapes, their droppings (scat), camera trapping and talking to local residents. Researchers from Nepal analyzed snow leopard scats originally collected to look at leopard diet from Shey Phoksundo National Park and Kangchanjunga Conservation Area of Nepal.

DNA testing to determine population numbers

Despite the age of these samples (some had been stored for up to three years prior to this study) the team, led by Dibesh Karmacharya, was able to isolate and interpret genetic data from scats identified as snow leopard in the field.

Fewer than thought
They found that only 19 of the original 71 samples were actually P. uncia (the rest were other carnivores or were too degraded for genetic analysis). Of the 19 positively identified samples only 10 were successfully genotyped, these were found to come from nine individuals, three males and six females, with a mix of males and female in both of the national parks.

Mr. Karmacharya commented, "In conjunction with our national and international partners we are the first team using genetics to look at conservation of snow leopards in Nepal. This method has the advantage over traditional methods - it is non-invasive and does not require us to disturb the cats in any way. We have also been able to show that traditional methods of counting snow leopards overestimate the size of the population. With more (and fresher) samples) we will be able to investigate the family relationships, genetic diversity, social structure and territories of snow leopards, and better understand how to conserve this endangered animal."

The research was published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Research Notes

Hunting A Bushy-Tailed Killer

We shouldn't have laughed, but we did and it was wrong, what with the plight of the victims. But…

At 4.16pm, Scotland Yard put out an appeal for help in finding the killers of three wallabies at an animal park in West London.

Acting Detective Inspector Steve Mayes was suitably grim: "These sorts of incidents are very unusual and we are determined to find the person or people responsible. Our wildlife team is investigating."

Councillor Bassam Mahfouz could barely contain his anger: "I am utterly disgusted that someone has broken into the park for a second time and killed these gentle animals. Three new wallabies were brought in this week to keep 'Rolph' company after his companion died in the previous attack. It's awful to think that within days of arriving in their new enclosure, they have been attacked.

“We are installing CCTV at the site and in the meantime we have introduced additional overnight security patrols. The surviving wallabies are being moved to an alternative location overnight to keep them safe."

In less than an hour a new message from my friends at the Yard's press bureau: "It might have been foxes."

So now they are hunting a red-haired suspect with a long nose and a bushy tail, but isn't that illegal?

Lone wolf outfoxes hunters in 1,000km quest for mate

A young wolf has become a US celebrity while evading capture – dead or alive – in an epic search for a mate.
The animal has traced a zigzag path across 1,200km (730 miles) of mountains, deserts and highways, from Oregon to the California border.
He left his home turf on September 10 just before state officials issued a death warrant on members of his pack – including his alpha male father – for killing cattle.
The fear is that the wanderer, known only as OR-7, may be the target of a poacher, rancher or government hunter.
His progress has been tracked thanks to a GPS collar he was fitted with by a state biologist last February.
His appearance startled lodge owner Liz Parrish who locked eyes with him on the edge of Upper Klamath Lake in southern Oregon. ‘I was stunned – it was such a huge animal. We had a stare-down, then he just evaporated into the trees,’ she said.
But her neighbour, cattle rancher Nathan Jackson, said: ‘We worked hard to exterminate wolves 50 years ago or so. They don’t seem so beautiful and majestic when they are ripping apart calves and colts.’
While wolves are state protected in Oregon, federal protection has been lifted in the east of the state.
One government hunter shot at but missed him before conservation groups won a stay-of-kill order.
OR-7 is following a well-worn instinct to strike out alone when reaching the age of two in the search for empty territory and a mate.
His meandering route from home has taken him across numerous county lines and each time he enters a new area, he makes it on to the local news.
Oregon wolf co-ordinator Russ Morgan said he was surprised by the way the public and media have embraced the wolf. ‘People have taken a shine to him,’ he said.
However, not everyone feels the same way, so a competition has been launched to change his name to something more people-friendly – and make him too famous to be shot.
The first entry, from a little girl in OR-7’s home territory, is already catching on: Whoseafraida.

Read more:

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Big Pest, Small Genome: Two-Spotted Spider Mite Genome Decoded

ScienceDaily (Nov. 23, 2011) — A University of Utah biologist and an international research team decoded the genetic blueprint of the two-spotted spider mite, raising hope for new ways to attack the major pest, which resists pesticides and destroys crops and ornamental plants worldwide.

The voracious mites, which technically are not insects, can eat more than 1,100 plant species -- a rare trait. The mites' newly revealed and sequenced genome contains a variety of genes capable of detoxifying pesticides as well as toxins plants use to defend themselves, the scientists report in the Nov. 24 issue of the journal Nature.

"One key thing that makes spider mites unique is they can eat many, many different plant species," says Richard M. Clark, one of five main authors of the study and an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah. "These mites are often house plant pests -- a major cause of people's house plants turning yellow and getting sick. They also are a major problem for agricultural nurseries and greenhouses, and for field crops."

Primary targets are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, corn, soybeans, apples, grapes and citrus.

Clark says the new study's "importance is largely in understanding how animals eat plants, with the long-term goal of developing effective ways to prevent crop damage from mites and insects. If we can identify the biological pathways mites use to feed on plants, we can potentially identify chemical and biological methods to disrupt those pathways and stop the mites from feeding."

The two-spotted spider mite, which is no more than 1 millimeter long, "is a major global pest, and is predicted to be a growing concern in a warming climate because they multiply extremely fast at high temperatures -- 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more," he adds. "They do really well in hot and dry climates like Utah."

Yet, the two-spotted spider mite "has been found to rapidly develop resistance to multiple types of pesticides, often within a couple of years after a pesticide is introduced," says Clark. "It is resistant to many common pesticides used against insects."

The Nature study deciphering the genome of Tetranychus urticae, the two-spotted spider mite (which has two red spots), was conducted by an international research team of 55 scientists from North America, Europe and South America.

Besides Clark, the other primary authors are biologists Yves Van de Peer of Ghent University and the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology in Belgium; Miodrag Grbic of the University of Western Ontario, Canada; Thomas Van Leeuwen of Ghent University; and Rene Feyereisen of the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France.

Read more here ...

New Butterfly Species ID'ed by DNA

New research into the particulars of butterfly DNA has unmasked as many as nine new butterfly species previously lumped together with known butterfly species.

The interloping butterflies, all found in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, have long remained incognito in the collection of El Colegio de la Frontera Sur-Chetumal (ECOSUR), a research center in Mexico. They are known as "cryptic species," because, although their markings and body types are nearly identical to previously identified butterfly species, their genes tell a different story.

"We expect all nine cryptic species will be new to science," said lead scientist Carmen Pozo, in an email.

The ECOSUR team used a technique known as DNA barcoding for their research, which is published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

By looking at the same stretch of DNA in 857 butterfly specimens in the institution's collection, the technique allowed the researchers to root out genetic differences large enough to set one species apart from another and compare the genetic sequences with a large database of known species.

In addition to identifying nine butterfly species that are likely new to science, the genetic study allowed scientists to sort 71 caterpillar specimens into 16 different species and match them with their adult counterparts — a difficult task when relying on appearance alone, since there's notoriously little resemblance between a caterpillar and its more elegant, fully grown form.

Pozo also said that following the life cycle of each species in the field is time-consuming and expensive. "Barcoding helps link the adults with caterpillars of each species in an easy, quick, cheap and accurate way," she told OurAmazingPlanet.

The researchers noted that having the ability to quickly identify which caterpillar turns into which butterfly could aid conservation efforts for threatened species and allow crucial caterpillar habitat to be identified and conserved.

The researchers also found four butterfly specimens in the collection that were incorrectly labeled as one species when, in fact, their DNA revealed they belonged to a different species altogether. Two of the newly-labeled butterflies represent new records for both the region and the country as a whole.
One of the specimens, Adelpha iphiclus, belongs to a species that has never before been seen in the Yucatan Peninsula. Another, Taygetis lache, has never before been found in all of Mexico.
All of the specimens studied belong to more than 100 different species in the Nymphalidae family, which encompasses about one-third of the 160,000 known butterfly and moth species worldwide.

The scientists noted that the revelation of the mislabeled species and the nine entirely new butterfly species adds to the evidence that many butterfly species around the world await discovery.

"This is exciting, because we are discovering new species in a well-known butterfly family," Pozo said, "which means we have more biodiversity than we thought." And yet, she said, the excitement that comes with new discovery is tempered by the fact that habitat loss is threatening several of the species.

This story was provided by OurAmazingPlanet, a sister site to LivScience. Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanet and on Facebook.

Guereza colobus monkeys join dawn chorus to 'show off'

Scientists have revealed some of the secrets of the loud, growling monkey dawn chorus in the forests of Uganda.

Guereza colobus monkeys appear to join the chorus to advertise their size and dominance.

The scientists managed, for the first time, to trigger a forest-wide chorus using a recording.

They reported their lastest insight into this early morning "wall of sound" in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.

Anne Marijke Schel carried out the work at Budongo Conservation Field Station, Uganda, as part of her PhD project.

She and her colleague, Prof Klaus Zuberbuhler from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, wanted to find out why the monkeys took part in what they described as a "vocal spectacle".

"The behaviour usually starts before dawn by one individual calling somewhere in the forest," said Dr Zuberbuhler.

Read more here ...

A new species of ferret-badger discovered in Vietnam

New species in Vietnam
November 2011. In March 2005, a living ferret-badger of an unknown ferret-badger was confiscated by rangers from Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam. This individual died and the carcass was not preserved. In January 2006, a newly deceased individual with the same characteristics was found at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center, Cuc Phuong National Park. It was noted that due to several different characteristics these individuals varied greatly from the current species.

This ferret-badger has been described as a new species, Melogale cucphuongensis from northern Vietnam, which occurs in simlar areas with M. moschata and M. personata, but differs from both species clearly in skull morphology and other features.

DNA tests

Based on a 423 bp-long fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, M. cucphuongensis sp. nov. is a member of the genus Melogale and represents a sister lineage to M. personata and M. moschata.
Ferret-badgers, genus Melogale, are distributed across the Indochinese region, Java, Bali and NE-Borneo. There are currently four species described.

The paper was published in the biological journal Der Zoologische Garten

Alaska grizzlies targetted to boost moose and caribou hunts

Grizzlies targetted to increase moose and caribou hunts

November 2011. A report, written by 3 retired Alaskan Department of Game bear experts and a scientist from the US National Wildlife Federation, shows that Alaska has been quietly increasing the hunting of grizzlies in the hope that reducing grizzly numbers would lead to an increase in caribou and moose numbers. A license to hunt a caribou or moose costs $3-500 on average; Are the Alaskan Department of Game trying to increase their revenue on moose and caribou hunts by reducing grizzly numbers?

There is no science to show that if grizzly numbers are repressed then moose and caribou numbers will increase. And why not? Because since 2000, long-term research studies on grizzly populations in the Liberal Hunt Area have been terminated without replacement.

Hunting regulations for grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in much of Alaska since 1980 increasingly were designed to reduce bear abundance in the expectation such regulations would lead to increased harvests by hunters of moose (Alces alces) and caribou (Rangifer tarandus). Regulations were liberalized during 1980-2010 primarily in the ‘Liberal Grizzly Bear Hunting Area' (or Liberal Hunt Area) which encompassed 76.2% of Alaska.

213% increase in Grizzly hunts
By 2010, these changes resulted in longer hunting seasons, more liberal bag limits, and widespread waiver of resident tag fees. During 1995-2010, there were 124 changes that made grizzly bear hunting regulations more liberal and two making them more conservative. The 4-year mean for grizzly bear kills by hunters increased 213% between 1976-1980 (387 grizzly bears) and 2005-2008 (823 grizzly bears).

Current grizzly bear management in the Liberal Hunt Area is inconsistent with the recommendations of the National Research Council's 1997 report on predator management in Alaska. Current attitudes, policies and absence of science-based management of grizzly bears in Alaska are increasingly similar to those that resulted in the near extirpation of grizzly bears south of Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries.

If current trends continue, they increase risks to portions of the largest and most intact population of grizzly bears in North America.

2011 The Wildlife Society. Read the full report.

Experts call for people to look out for 'super spider'

THE mere sight of a spider is often enough to send some people scurrying from a room.

And with central heating cranked up and fires lit for winter the long-legged beasties seem to be more and more willing to emerge from underneath the sofa.

But wildlife experts in the North are hoping a few brave souls may be willing to help them discover more about a new breed of “super spider” that is making itself at home in the region’s houses.

As part of a new ecological research project Northumberland Wildlife Trust are calling for people to not only stand their ground against the nightmarish arachnids, whose legs can reach 10cm across, but capture them and send them to the University of York. Scientists are studying where the six species of large UK house spiders live, why only one type is found more often here in the North and where the two most often found species are now breeding to create an even larger and more frightening cross-breed.

The trust’s own “spider-man”, head of conservation Steve Lowe, said he hoped people would find “the supermodels of the spider world.”

“You know the sort - the ones with massive legs and small bodies which can empty a room in five seconds,” he said.

Here in the North you are most likely to find a Western House Spider, which only grow to have a leg span of up to 16mm, but it is still possible you might find a Giant House Spider, which could easily top three inches and be capable of biting through human skin.

“If you do happen to spot one scurrying across the floor, simply collect it alive inside half a toilet roll tube, pack it with a small amount of damp tissue and post it in a crush proof container such as a margarine tub together with details of where you found it to the university,” said Steve.

All packages, also containing your postcode and contact details, should be sent to Dr Geoff Oxford, Department of Biology (Area 14), University of York, Wentworth Way, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD. All specimens will be acknowledged and postage reimbursed.

Wildlife laundering through breeding farms threatens wild populations

Wild populations threatened by illegal trade through snake farmsNovember 2011. Wildlife breeding farms have been promoted in some quarters as an aid to biodiversity conservation by alleviating the pressure of harvest on wild populations. There is, however, growing concern that many breeding farms are being used to launder illegally caught wildlife.

Surveys of wildlife traders in the Indonesian provinces of Maluku, West Papua and Papua were conducted between August 2009 and April 2011 to assess the trade of the green python (Morelia viridis), the species currently exported in the largest numbers from Indonesia and declared as captive-bred.

4,227 illegally collected pythons
In total, 4227 illegally collected wild green pythons were recorded during surveys and high levels of harvest were found to have depleted and skewed the demographics of some island populations. Snakes were traced from their point of capture to breeding farms in Jakarta where they are to be exported for the pet trade, confirming the reports of wildlife laundering.

80% green python exports are illegal
Extrapolation of monthly collection estimates provided by traders revealed that at least 5337 green pythons are collected each year, suggesting that at least 80% of the green pythons exported from Indonesia annually are illegally wild-caught.

The results of examination of 139 eggshells from five python species suggest that reptilian eggshells may be used as proof of provenance for each individual reptile exported. This method, in addition to the evidence that breeding farms play a significant role in the illegal exploitation of wildlife, allows conservation managers to begin to adequately monitor, regulate and determine the role of breeding farms in the conservation of wild populations.

The full paper, written by Jessica A. Lyons & Daniel J.D. Natusch, appeared in the journal Biological Conservation

Read the full paper here

Monday, 28 November 2011

Oldest Hairy Microbe Fossils Discovered

Ancient rock deposits, laid down between two massive ice ages, reveal the oldest known fossils for two types of single-celled creatures: Tube-shelled foraminifera and hairy, vase-shape ciliates.
Both closely resemble microbes living today. But the climate they lived in may have been quite different. The fossils appear in limestone deposited on the ocean floor between 635 million and 715 million years ago. This period was marked by two "Snowball Earth" events, when ice may have covered the entire planet.

These fossils date back more than 100 million years earlier than the oldest foraminifera and ciliates previously known. Even so, scientists think these organisms were around much longer, based on changes accumulated in their DNA since they split from close relatives. Some believe these types of single-celled creatures have been around for considerably more than 1 billion years, said Tanja Bosak, a study researcher and assistant professor of geobiology at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.

Read more here ...

Short Snouts Gave Fruit Bats a Forceful Bite

What would you do for a bite of a tasty fig? Some fruit bats rearranged their whole face to get a morsel. Their unique head shape gave them the strong bite that allows them to gnaw hard fruits, and eventually grow into a diverse array of species.

"There is this really spectacular group of bats that have tons of different species that eat tons of different kinds of things," study researcher Elizabeth Dumont, of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told LiveScience. "We were interested in finding out why they are so diverse and what makes them so special."

The researchers focused on leaf-nosed bats found in the New World (a type of microbats in the suborder Yangochiroptera), that includes about 200 bat species that live in Central and  South America. They include the blood-sucking vampire bats, bats that eat insects and fruits, and even some that eat lizards and frogs.

Of these 200 leaf-nosed bats, more than a quarter (65 species) seem to have evolved from a fruit-eating bat in the last 15 million years. The researchers wanted to know how this fruit-eating group was able to grow and expand their diversity so quickly.

To do so, they analyzed the bats' genetic code and placed them in a family tree ranked by how recently they had evolved. They then compared this data to diet information (collected from feces samples) and head size and shape information from museum samples. The researchers also tested the bite strength of wild bats, since chomping on hard fruits can be tough on the jaw.

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Rare butterfly sighted in State

GUWAHATI, Nov 26 – Branded Yeoman butterfly, known as Algia fasciata (earlier Paduca fasciata) to the scientists, which is not known to have been found in the North Eastern part of India before, was sighted at Kaliabor in Nagaon district by a Gauhati University (GU) research scholar Prarthana Mudai recently.

This development has proved the authenticity of the statement made by Isaac Kehimkar, the General Manager of the Bombay Natural History Society that the NE region is the ultimate Mecca for a butterfly enthusiast, Prarthana said.

On the significance of her discovery, Prarthana, who is now also working as a project assistant in the Numaligarh Refinery Ltd’s Butterfly Valley, described it to be a path-breaking finding. This has underlined the need of serious work in the area of butterfly diversity of the NE region, recognised to be one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world, she said.

She said that the butterfly she had sighted was confirmed to be the Branded Yeoman by Nikhil Bhopale, Programme Officer of the Bombay Natural History Society recently. Prarthana had sighted the butterfly on April 13 last.

Referring to The Identification of Indian Butterflies (1932) in which WH Evans, one of the most distinguished entomologists, she said the presence of this butterfly was reported from Karens-South Burma, Andaman and Nicobar Island. The distribution of this species of butterfly is reported by various sources to be spread in South Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Indonesia, Taliabu Island and The Philippines. Its habitat is hill forests, Prarthana said.

Fresh wave of killings by hunters takes Indonesian orangutan to the brink of extinction

Conservationists urge authorities to take action as report finds great ape population of Kalimantan region gravely endangered.

Conservationists have called on the Indonesian authorities to take urgent action to save the orangutan after a report warned that the endangered great apes were being hunted at a rate that could bring them to the brink of extinction.

Erik Meijaard, who led a team carrying out the first attempt to assess the scale of the problem in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, said the results showed that between 750 and 1,800 orangutans were killed as a result of hunting and deforestation in the 12 months to April 2008.

The numbers, which were higher than expected, indicated that most orangutan populations in Kalimantan could be in serious danger "within the foreseeable future", said Meijaard, of the Jakarta-based People and Nature Consulting International. "At that rate… you're talking about 10-15 years until pretty much all orangutans [in Kalimantan] are gone."

Home to 90% of the world's orangutans, Indonesia also has one of the highest rates of deforestation – a phenomenon driven by a combination of illegal logging, palm oil plantations and gold mining. Loss of habitat is the main reason behind the steep decline in both the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and its critically endangered Sumatran counterpart (Pongo abelii). The Sumatran orangutan population is believed to be less than 7,000 and has featured on the World's 25 Most Endangered Primates list since its inception in 2000. In Borneo, an estimated 54,000 orangutans survive, half the number of 25 years ago.

Habitat loss is compounded by hunting, which, though anecdotally well known as a cause of orangutan decline, has been a neglected issue. While much of the killing documented by Meijaard and his researchers appears to have been motivated by opportunism, with villagers hunting for food, a significant proportion could be related to habitat loss. "There is conflict-related hunting where you've got plantations going in. You've got people expanding their fields and gardens and infringing on orangutan habitat, so they are being squeezed into smaller and smaller pockets of forest and automatically come into contact with people more frequently," Meijaard said.
"If you find an orangutan sitting in your garden or eating the fruit from your fruit tree or pulling up your oil palm, the logical reaction is either to scare it off or to kill it. That's what people do."

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Albatrosses off the hook in the nick of time

Hope as legislation forces fishing nations to take action

November 2011: Accidentally snagged on longline fishing hooks and then left to drown, the albatross populations in the South Atlantic are among the fastest-declining in the world.

But a new resolution brokered and ratified at the ICCAT (The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) meeting in Istanbul earlier this month is giving hope to these beleaguered birds as Atlantic tuna and swordfish fishing nations will have to ensure vessels take preventative action to avoid accidentally catching these birds.

Worryingly fast decline in numbersOne third of the world's albatrosses nest on the South Atlantic UK Overseas Territories: the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha. ICCAT manages all tuna and swordfish fisheries in the Atlantic outside territorial waters. These measures will significantly reduce the number of birds being killed.

At the ICCAT meeting, the seabird measure was jointly proposed by the EU, Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay, as well as the UK on behalf of its overseas territories.

Dr Cleo Small, representing the RSPB and BirdLife International, attended the meeting. Speaking from Turkey on the meeting's outcome, she said: ‘This offers significant hope to the protection of these iconic UK birds, whose population declines are among the fastest of any seabird species worldwide. We now have an agreement that all boats working in the open waters of the South Atlantic will have to adopt at least two measures to avoid catching seabirds.'

Great news for other seabirds too'This is great news for albatrosses and other seabirds, many of which die needlessly every minute of the day; the accidental casualties in the tuna and swordfish fisheries.'

The new legislation requires all longline vessels fishing south of latitude 25 degrees S - roughly Brazil to Namibia - to use two out of three measures to reduce bycatch, from a choice of bird streamer (tori) lines, setting lines at night, or adding weight to their baited hooks.

The UK's overseas territories host one third of the world's population of albatross and they have more than half of the population of the Southern Ocean. The South Atlantic has seven species of albatross which nest regularly, and six of these are considered to be facing extinction and overlap with the tuna and swordfish fishing fleets: wandering albatross; sooty albatross; grey-headed albatross; Tristan albatross; black-browed albatross; and Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross.

84 new species of ant-like flower beetles discovered in Wallacea and New Guinea

Expert takes fresh look, revealing staggering new numbers

November 2011: International Anthicidae specialist Dr Dmitry Telnov, of the Entomological Society of Latvia, Riga, writes about the amazing discovery of 84 new ant-like flower beetles in Wallacea and New Guinea.

During the past 15 years, I have discovered and scientifically described more than 150 species of ant-like flower beetles from various regions of our planet, from Peru to Madagascar and from southern China to Australia .

But I was surprised by the results of a recent revision of these beetles in Indo-Australia. Three expeditions to Halmahera, Seram, Misool and some areas of West Papua proved the diversity of Macratria of this region was previously underestimated.

Twenty-eight species of this genus were previously known from Sulawesi, Lesser Sundas, the Moluccas and New Guinea. Specimen records were available from eight islands of this area.

But now I can describe a further 84 species - all new to science. Data was collected from 23 islands (compared to the eight known until now) for biogeographical analysis.

Surprisingly, only two species are shared with the neighbouring Oriental realm and not a single species is shared with so close Australian mainland. Now 108 Macratria species are known from the study region, 99 per cent being endemic to the region. This makes Indo-Australian transition zone to the main diversity hotspot of Macratria on the planet.

According to my studies, Macratria are most abundant in lowland and lower montane rainforests, but more local endemics are to be found in high and mid-high montane rainforests. In total, only few species are known from more than one island or single mountain ridge. Most of species seems to be strictly locally endemic to geographically little areas.

Results are published in a new book series, Biodiversity, Biogeography And Nature Conservation In Wallacea And New Guinea. The major goal of this book series is to establish a discussion board to give biologists the opportunity to publish results of their studies at one issue series and not split them among hundreds of magazines. To find out more, go to:

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Last chance for Sage-grouse in Canada

Call for Canadian Government to protect Sage Grouse

November 2011. An international coalition of environmental groups on Wednesday called on Canada's federal environment minister to take the endangered Greater sage-grouse under his wing with an emergency protection order.

Environmental law group Ecojustice submitted a legal petition today on behalf of 12 groups, including Canadian BirdLife partner Nature Canada, demanding that Environment Minister Peter Kent use a provision in the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) to protect Canada's few remaining sage-grouse, found only in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

"Without emergency protection for their grassland habitat, sage-grouse are expected to disappear from Alberta within two years and from Saskatchewan within ten years," said Carla Sbert, Nature Canada's manager of conservation programs. "This is still avoidable, but action must be swift."

Just 55 males left in Canada
The iconic bird, known for its elaborate courtship dance, saw almost 90 per cent of its Canadian population die off between 1988 and 2006. As few as 13 male birds currently remain in Alberta and at last count, as few as 42 males were left in Saskatchewan.

The petition calls for Minister Kent to recommend an emergency order to protect the sage-grouse and stop further human disturbance of the habitat these birds need to survive. Recent scientific research suggests that rapid encroachment of oil and gas development on the areas where sage-grouse spend the winter, breed, nest and raise their young is the leading factor in their extreme population drop.

Alberta and Saskatchewan each have a Wildlife Act and voluntary guidelines for energy development near sage-grouse habitat, but provincial protections are so lax that sage-grouse continue to decline. In addition to seeking federal protection for sage-grouse under SARA, the environmental groups are calling on the oil and gas industry to voluntarily provide sage-grouse with the protection they need.

"We have strong science telling us how and where oil and gas development must be regulated if sage-grouse are to survive in Canada, but the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan and the oil and gas industry are refusing to act on it," said Dr. Mark Boyce, sage-grouse expert and professor at the University of Alberta. "Unless they change course immediately, sage-grouse will become the first species extirpated because of the oil and gas industry."

Members of the public are encouraged to send letters of support for immediate, emergency action to prevent the extinction of the Greater sage-grouse in Canada. An online letter can be sent on Nature Canada's web site.

In addition to Nature Canada, signatories to the petition include Alberta Wilderness Association, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the David Suzuki Foundation, Lethbridge Naturalists Society, Nature Alberta, Nature Saskatchewan, National Audubon Society - Rockies, Sierra Club of Canada - Prairie Chapter, the Society of Grasslands Naturalists, WildEarth Guardians and the Wilderness Committee.

Sage Grouse

Sage grouse are more common in the USA. They are notable for their elaborate courtship rituals. Each spring males congregate in leks and perform a "strutting display". Groups of females observe these displays and select the most attractive males to mate with. The dominate male located in the center of the lek typically copulates with around 80% of the females on the lek. Males perform in leks for several hours in the early morning and evening during the spring months. Lek generally occur in open areas adjacent to dense sagebrush stands, and the same lekking ground may be used by grouse for decades.

How Crabs Avoid Getting Eaten

Despite their simple compound eyes crabs have evolved a smart way to tell the difference between friend and foe, new scientific research has revealed.

Scientists from The Vision Centre have found that fiddler crabs quickly learn to recognize if an approaching creature is a threat, a mate or a harmless passer-by – according to its direction of approach.

“Fiddler crabs have extremely poor sight, with no depth perception and no ability to see in detail,” says Ms Chloe Raderschall, a researcher from The Vision Centre and The Australian National University. “In a situation where every ‘blob’ that moves in the environment can be a threat, they have to strike a balance between succumbing to paranoia – and ending up as bird feed.

“Crabs achieve this through a process called habituation where they learn from repeated events to differentiate threats from harmless objects. Humans too use habituation: for instance we learn to ignore the sound from an air conditioner once we grow accustomed to it.

‘We found that crabs have a very selective and finely tuned habituation response – instead of relying solely on the physical appearance of an object, they associate the object with its past behavior in their living environment, such as its direction of approach.”

In the study, the researchers used dummy predators to approach groups of fiddler crabs from two different compass directions.

“We did two dozen runs of a dummy approaching from direction A without attacking the crabs, and within five runs, the crabs started to ignore it,” Ms Raderschall explains. “When we switched to another dummy coming from direction B, the crabs were scared witless and headed straight to their burrows.”

When the researchers switched back to direction A, they found the crabs did not attempt to escape, indicating that they clearly distinguish between the dummies approaching from the two directions, she says.

“As both dummies were identical and there was no difference in the timing of their movements, we conclude that the crabs used the direction of approach to determine whether an approaching object was a threat or not.”

Ms Raderschall explains that this finding confirms that crabs have an extremely specific habituation response. This contradicts previous assumptions found in most text books that habituation is a simple learning mechanism based mostly on physical appearances.

“Their identification of a dangerous or harmless object is closely associated with their memory of how the object behaves, rather than how it looks.

“Apart from very simple visual cues, they don’t really have other ways to detect predators, and this study provides clues as to how animals with relatively poor vision can adapt and survive over time.”

The paper ‘Habituation under natural conditions: model predators are distinguished by approach direction’ by Chloe A. Raderschall, Robert D. Magrath and Jan M. Hemmi was published on 23 November 2011 in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

The study was conducted in the Research School of Biology at The Australian National University.

The Vision Centre is funded by the Australian Research Council as the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science.

Source: redOrbit (

Mastodon Fossils Discovered At Daytona Beach

Prehistoric animal bones found at a Daytona Beach construction site have been confirmed as belonging to a mastodon, officials at the local Museum of Arts and Sciences confirmed on Tuesday.

According to reports by both and The Daytona Beach News Journal, the bones were discovered by crews working on a storm water retention pond near Nova Road. The construction site was closed down in order to preserve the fossils — a jawbone, some vertebrae, two tusks, pieces of femur and some additional bones belonging to the large-tusked, Ice Age-era mammal.

“We’re finding some significant pieces — tusks and vertebrae. We don’t know completely what’s down there yet, so it gets more exciting the more we dig,” Museum of Arts and Sciences representative Zach Zacharias told WESH on Wednesday.

Officials from the museum added that they did not know as of that time whether or not there was a single partial skeleton, a full set of remains, or bones from multiple creatures located at the fossil site. However, they said that they kept finding more and more bones at the retention pond’s location, and they believe that they are between 13,000 and 150,000 years old.

Officials from the museum added that they did not know as of that time whether or not there was a single partial skeleton, a full set of remains, or bones from multiple creatures located at the fossil site. However, they said that they kept finding more and more bones at the retention pond’s location, and they believe that they are between 13,000 and 150,000 years old.

“If the bone fragments add up to a full skeleton, it would only be about the 13th such find in Florida, according to a top official with the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville,” Daytona Beach News Journal Staff Writer Eileen Zaffiro-Kean wrote on November 23.

“It’s not extremely rare, but it’s not common, either,” that official, vertebrate paleontology expert Richard Hulbert, told Zaffiro-Kean. After seeing pictures of the jaw and bone fragments via email, Hulbert said that the specimen “definitely looks like an American mastodon… The size and nature of the teeth are very distinctive. It looks pretty nice. It’s definitely of scientific interest.”

The News Journal notes that since the fossils were found on city property, the city owns them. Hulbert said that he would come to assist at the site if the city were willing to donate the fossils to his museum, and pledged his long-distance assistance should they decline to do so, Zaffiro-Kean said.

“Museum officials, who are being aided by a local amateur paleontologist, are making most of their discoveries on one end of the site. They’re worried about people drifting in and taking souvenirs, and they’ve asked the media not to pinpoint the area where the retention ponds are being built by identifying nearby side streets and landmarks,” she added.

Monarch Butterfly Genome Sequenced

Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies from across the Eastern United States use a time-compensated sun compass to direct their navigation south, traveling up to 2,000 miles to an overwintering site in a specific grove of fir trees in central Mexico. Scientists have long been fascinated by the biological mechanisms that allow successive generations of these delicate creatures to travel such long distances to a small region roughly 300 square miles in size.

To unlock the genetic and regulatory elements important for this remarkable journey, neurobiologists at UMass Medical School are the first to sequence and analyze the monarch butterfly genome.
"Migratory monarchs are at least two generations removed from those that made the journey the previous fall," said Steven M. Reppert, MD, professor and chair of neurobiology and senior author of the study. "They have never been to the overwintering sites before, and have no relatives to follow on their way. There must be a genetic program underlying the butterflies' migratory behavior. We want to know what that program is, and how it works."

Understanding the relationship between genes, behavior and physiological adaptations in monarchs may also lead to new insights into similar connections in humans. Circadian clocks, for instance, are a crucial component in the complex time-compensated sun compass system governing a monarch's ability to navigate long distances, and are now understood to play a pivotal role in human biology. Temporal variations in hormone levels, pharmacokinetics and disease processes, such as the increased incidence of heart attacks in the early morning, reveal the prominent influence of the circadian clock on human physiology. Understanding the molecular mechanisms of the circadian clock has already helped reveal how clock gene mutations contribute to disorders of the timing of sleep, and new insights could illuminate how clock gene mutations contribute to diseases such as major depression and seasonal affective disorder.

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Scientists Unlock the Mystery Surrounding a Tale of Shaggy Dogs

ScienceDaily (Nov. 24, 2011) — Researchers from the University of York have produced the first clear evidence that textiles made by the indigenous population of the Pacific coast of North America contained dog hair.

In recent years, scientists have hotly debated whether textiles such as blankets and robes made by the skilful Coast Salish weavers before contact with Europeans were made of dog hair as oral histories have claimed.

Coast Salish oral tradition refers to a special dog which was bred locally until the mid 19th century for its woolly hair or fleece for use in the textile industry.

Using highly sensitive equipment at the University's Centre for Excellence in Mass Spectrometry, York researchers from BioArCh (Departments of Biology, Archaeology and Chemistry) analysed the protein composition of 11 textiles in different locations, representing 25 samples in total.

The samples were taken from artefacts in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian collections and included blankets, a sash and a robe of fur. Some of the textiles were collected during the American expeditions to the West Coast, including the Lewis and Clark (1803-1806) and Wilkes (1838-1842) expeditions. The samples dated mainly from early to mid 19th century.

Researchers found evidence of dog hair in the robe of fur and six of the woven textiles, primarily in a blend with goat hair.

However, the results published in the journal Antiquity, show there is no real proof of a preference for dog hair in high status fabrics and the researchers did not find any textiles made entirely of dog hair. Instead, researchers conclude that dog hair appears to have been used to supplement mountain goat hair, possibly as a bulking material.

Surprisingly too, the results also indicate that commercial sheep wool was also incorporated into textiles in the 19th century. Previous investigations had implied that sheep wool was not used in Salish weaving.

The research was led by Dr Caroline Solazzo, a Marie Curie Research Fellow from York's Department of Archaeology, and a former Postdoctoral Fellow at the Museum Conservation Institute at the Smithsonian Institution.

Dr Solazzo said: "Dogs have a long history of interaction with humans, from companionship to guarding and hunting; but raising dogs for fibre production was a unique cultural adaptation in the Pacific Northwest. It is perhaps the unusual strategy that has led some to doubt the use of dog wool.

"We found dog hair in all textiles produced before 1862, but it was absent from blankets woven in the late 19th century to early 20th century. Noticeably, dog hair is absent from all plain twill-woven ceremonial-type blankets, indicating a strong preference for mountain goat hair, in both aesthetic and technical aspects."

Bio-archaeologist Professor Matthew Collins, from York's Department of Archaeology, said: "Protein mass spectrometry is a useful new tool for the study of textiles, and indeed cultural artefacts composed of proteins, such as silk, wool, ivory, leather, bone and parchment, in which the original source of production is difficult to identify.

"Despite the minute quantities of fibres used, the analytical sensitivity of the instrumentation at York was able to reveal the use of dog hair in Salish weaving."

The Coast Salish peoples are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest coastal areas of northern Washington and southern British Columbia, and are particularly notable for their large, finely woven blankets. In pre-contact times, the blankets were important items and their gift and distribution were present in all aspects of social life. As well as having a functional use, they were important in ceremonies such as marriages and funerals.

Co-author Susan Heald, Senior Textile Conservator, from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, said: "Salish weaving is undergoing a resurgence. With this revival it is crucial to have the use of dog hair in older blankets confirmed.

"The research at York has finally provided confirmation for the Coast Salish oral history of the use of dog hair. It appears that dog hair mixed with goat wool was used in every day textiles, with goat hair alone being used in ceremonial textiles."

The existence of a woolly dog is supported by historic accounts of 18th century European explorers. The dogs were reported to be corralled on small islands off the coast to prevent inter-breeding with short-haired village dogs. The dog disappeared less than 100 years after the first contact with Europeans.

Dr Solazzo said: "Based on our results, the description of textiles in museum collections as 'dog hair blankets' should be reconsidered; in no case did we find a textile made solely of this fibre. It may have been the case that pure dog hair blankets were once more common, but considered of lower value and consumed in use and lost."

Norfolk Broads are wildlife hot spot for rare species

Britain's largest area of wetland is a haven for wildlife that shelters a quarter of Britain's rarest species, a new study of the Norfolk Broads has revealed.

The research, which was commissioned by the Broad's Authority, identified nearly 11,000 species in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, which covers an area of 322 square miles and accounts for just 0.4% of the UK.

The biological "stock-take", carried out by the University of East Anglia, showed that the Broads have 66 species unique to the area while they also boast another 31 species that are rarely seen elsewhere in Britain.
Among the species that are restricted to the area are the Broads Dolly Fly, the Slender Amber Snail and the Scarce Marsh neb, a rare type of moth.
The Norfolk Hawker Dragonfly, which is the symbol of the Broads Authority, and the Swallowtail Butterfly are among the better known species to be restricted to the area.
The study, however, also reveals that 67 species have become extinct in the past 23 years.
Read more here ...

Alleged masterminds of orangutan killings arrested

EAST Kalimantan Police have arrested and named two people suspects, PCH, a Malaysian, and his Indonesian cohort, W, in connection with the recent death of several orangutans in plantation areas in Kalimantan, The Jakarta Post reported yesterday.

According to earlier reports, PCH acted as the mastermind for the killing. He hired two locals to carry out the killings, East Kalimantan Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Wisnu Sutirta said Thursday as quoted by

Wisnu said that PCH, a manager of PT Khaleda Agroprima Malindo, believed the orangutans were a pest that could ruin his company's assets in the local forests, and had thus made efforts to exterminate them.

Wisnu said police were seeking information on where the money came from to pay for the orangutan killings.

Meanwhile, Antara news agency reported yesterday that the two were suspected of involvement in the orangutan (pongo pygmaeus morio) killings at Puan Cepak village, Muara Kaman sub-district, Kutai Kartanegara (Kukar) District, East Kalimantan province.

"Based on the investigations by the Kukar and East Kalimantan Police offices, we name and detain W bin W, 29, and PCH, 46, a senior manager," Inspector General Saud Usman Nasution, spokesman for the Indonesian National Police, said as quoted by Antara as saying.

Antara said that W was suspected to be the person who had recruited the main suspect, caught and shot orangutans.

He had also allegedly provided the facilities.

PCH was the person who had suggested and instructed the establishment of a team to hunt pests (including orangutans and monkeys) in the plantation area of PT Khaleda Agroprima Malindo, a Malaysian oil palm plantation company operating in Kalimantan.

"We are still waiting for further investigations to look for other possible suspects. For sure, whoever was involved in this case will be thoroughly investigated, without any discrimination, including the company's employees or others," Saud said.

The police have so far grilled 25 witnesses in the orangutan and monkey killing case.

Police had earlier named two suspects - M alias G and M - in the case.

The two suspects are pest eradication workers of PT KAM.

They said they killed the animals based on instructions from PCH and A, another PT KAM manager, two years ago. They were paid 200,000 rupiah (S$30) per one monkey and 1 million rupiah per orangutan.

If found guilty, they are liable to a five-year jail sentence each and a fine of 100 million rupiah in accordance with Law No 5/1990 on Natural Resource Biodiversity and Ecosystem Conservation.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Grey seal personalities affect pups

Grey seals have different types of personality that affect the extent to which they guard and care for their young, according to new research.

Researchers from the universities of St Andrews and Durham found seal mothers were often unpredictable and adopted a wide variation of mothering styles.

Some were attentive to their pups while others were not, the experts found.

The study shows, for the first time, the extent of personality differences in marine mammals in the wild.

It shows how individual animals have differing behavioural styles, and how they may be limited in their ability to respond to different environments.

The researchers said the findings could have benefits for future conservation policy, habitat management and reveals new information about the process of evolution.

Researchers observed seals on the Scottish island of North Rona during the breeding season between September and November over a two-year period.
The team targeted the animals in their natural habitat to analyse individual variation and consistency in behavioural response.

Using a remote controlled vehicle with a fitted video camera, the researchers set up tests to assess how seals reacted to external stimuli and potential threats, including wolf calls played from the vehicle.

The seals' reactions ranged from disinterested to aggressive.

The team checked the responses of seal mothers by recording the number of pup checks made (where the mother raises her head off the ground and moves it in the direction of her young to check their well-being) during a specific time period.

Individual patterns on their fur meant the researchers could identify the seals over two years

Read more here ...

Europe’s freshwater snails under threat

The European Red List, a part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has assessed around 6000 species of European flora and fauna to provide status reviews for different animal groups.

Status reviews have been completed for mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, dragonflies and saproxylic beetles with the mollusc, vascular plant and freshwater fish reviews being presented this week.

Out of all the groups assessed by the European Red List freshwater molluscs are now the most threatened group with 44% of all freshwater molluscs and 20% of a selection of terrestrial molluscs now under threat.

Duncan Sivell, Buglife Biodiversity Officer said “this European report reflects the situation in Britain where we have several mollusc species that have declined to the point where they are just clinging on. Rare snail populations are struggling to survive at a number of locations around the country; from the very centre of London to remote mountain streams in the Highlands.”

But there is some positive news for the species that have been designated conservation measures. For example, Spengler’s Freshwater Mussel (Margaritifera auricularia) is now restricted to a handful of rivers in France and Spain. Considered extinct in the 1980s is now listed as endangered with a European-level Action Plan designed for the conservation of this species.

The related Fresh water pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) is not doing so well in Britain where we have a globally important population. These mussels can live for more than a hundred years but many populations are entirely made up of old individuals; the current generation of mussels is missing.Unless this trend reverses these populations are effectively dead.

Duncan said “the report does show that we can pull species back from the brink if there is a willingness to do so, and there is certainly a need to focus our efforts on conserving these enigmatic species.”

To find out more about The European Red List, a part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species please click on this link.

New 'uncontacted' group found in the Amazon

Largest forested indigenous territory in the world
November 2011: Survival International has released new pictures of an uncontacted Yanomami village in Brazil, 20 years after one of its crucial campaigns created the biggest forested indigenous territory in the world.

Survival International, Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa and Brazil's Pro Yanomami Commission were instrumental in securing the victory.

These new pictures emphasize how important the territory is in protecting the Yanomami from goldminers who devastated the tribe in the 1980s. The ‘Yanomami Park ' is one of many initiatives spearheaded by Survival International.

This sighting represents a huge success – but the fight isn't overSurvival's director Stephen Corry said: ‘Survival's supporters can be immensely proud of the success that this sighting represents. Of course many tribal peoples, including the uncontacted Yanomami, are still threatened by the illegal occupation of their land, so we can't afford to give up the fight.

‘The very existence of uncontacted Yanomami, however, proves that persistent campaigning pays off. Here's to many more such victories.'

The Yanomami suffered years of oppression at the hands of gold-miners. Violence and disease saw their population fall by 20 per cent in just seven years. Brazil announced its decision to outline the borders of a Yanomami territory in November 1991. It was signed into law the following year.

To find out more about the Yanomami people by visiting Survival International's website.

Hiking the Redwoods with California's 'Squatchers'

Amateur researchers in the United States continue to eagerly search for the mysterious creature known as Bigfoot, staking out California's redwood forests at night in their hunt for the elusive beast. Despite many claimed sightings, the existence of Sasquatch has never been proven. Yet that hasn't stopped the obsessed from pursuing his giant footprints.

The plaintive howl echoes through the forest sounding like a muffled "whoop, whoop, whoop." Brandon Kiel pauses to listen in the dark, holding his breath for a moment before drawing air into his lungs.

Once again, Kiel cups his hands in front of his mouth and imitates the call: "whoop, whoop, whoop." The sound echoes back through the night, but all else is silence. Bigfoot isn't answering.

"The season is favorable," Kiel says, with a touch of disappointment. "But it's always possible that the animals are not in the area." The blueberries are ripe, and the calves of the Roosevelt elk, one of Bigfoot's favorite foods, haven't matured yet.

Kiel, 41, is a field researcher with the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), a group based in the United States. The creature he is looking for is said to be clever, shy and stealthy -- an expert at camouflaging itself. But here in the redwood forests of northern California, Kiel is hoping he'll be blessed with hunter's luck. He and 20 fellow field researchers are on an expedition to track down Bigfoot.

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Russian woman keeps 'alien corpse' chilling in fridge for two years

A Russian woman claims to have found proof of extra-terrestrial life - and has kept the 'alien corpse' chilling in her fridge for two years.

The 61cm-long ‘creature’ was allegedly found by Marta Yegorovnam near the flaming wreckage of a crashed UFO beside her summer house in the Russian city of Petrozavodsk.

She claims to have heard a deafening crash one evening in 2009 but when she went outside to investigate, found that ET had not survived.

Ms Yegorovnam then lovingly wrapped the creature in plastic and shoved it in the fridge, not uttering a word to anyone.

The remains have apparently been examined by the Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, although this has not been confirmed.

Paranormal writer Michael Cohen said the ‘possibility that this might be a genuine alien should not be discounted’.

But astronomer Dr Ian Griffin told Metro: ‘If aliens were smart enough to travel vast distances between the stars, they’re probably smart enough to avoid being stored in a fridge for two years.’

Fortean Times editor David Sutton added: ‘The alien in the 1951 movie of The Thing was a super-intelligent vegetable, so who knows?’

Fury as Dutch court prevents young orca's return to the wild

Morgan to be moved to Canary Islands zoo

November 2011: A court in the Netherlands has decided that a rescued young female orca being held at a Dutch dolphinarium is to remain in captivity.

Morgan, who was rescued from the Wadden Sea in June last year, has been kept at Harderwijk dolphinarium but will now be transferred to the LoroParque zoo in the Canary Islands.

WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society) says it is disheartened by the decision, which flies in the face of expert advice, who agreed the orca was a potential candidate for release.

Any hope of release has now goneFears now grow for Morgan's health and welfare as she will be introduced into a new captive environment, to orcas who are strangers to her, and to the circus-style shows at LoroParque.

WDCS is a member of the Free Morgan Group which has developed a multi-stage release plan for Morgan in the hope of providing her with the opportunity to return to the wild rather than remain in captivity.

Sadly, it looks as though that hope is now gone. In captivity, orcas suffer a significantly reduced survival rate, low breeding success and stress, which can lead to aggression between themselves and towards trainers, illness and even death.

Orca live less than 9 years in captivity – in the wild it's nearer 50A Free Morgan Group spokesperson said: ‘Despite overwhelming evidence provided by world renowned orca researchers, the best interests of Morgan have not been met. It has been designated that she will be sent to a life of permanent captivity in a barren concrete tank. Realistically this is nothing short of a death sentence for Morgan, as orca in captivity only live an average of 8.5 years, compared to more than 50 years in the wild.

‘It is disgraceful that a country such as the Netherlands, known around the world for their humanitarian and animal welfare compassion, should have allowed this to happen. Clearly, ulterior motivations such as money and entertainment have presided over the welfare interests of Morgan.'

Two dolphins who died after two-day techno party at marine park 'were fed drugs by ravers'

A pair of dolphins may have died after being fed drugs by ravers after a second animal died.

Police looking into the deaths in Connyland, Lipperswil, Switzerland, initially thought the deafening music from the rave may have killed dolphins Shadow and Chelmers.

But zoo vets are awaiting toxicology test results to see if they were poisoned by narcotics thrown into their enclosure during the rave.

Shadow was found soon after the event but Chelmers died two days later after a 'drawn out and painful' death.

Connyland keeper Nadja Gasser told local media: 'The death was very drawn out and painful. The death went on for over an hour. It was horrendous. I have not been able to sleep since.'

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33 rhino horns and a quantity of ivory seized in Hong Kong

Rhino horns shipped from South AfricaNovember 2011. Hong Kong Customs have seized 33 rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets that were concealed inside a container shipped to Hong Kong from South Africa. This seizure may provide a unique opportunity to gain insights into the criminal syndicates trafficking wildlife goods between Africa and Asia, according to TRAFFIC.

Track the DNA
TRAFFIC supports the South African Department of Environmental Affairs in requesting the authorities in Hong Kong to send DNA samples of the seized goods to the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pretoria in South Africa for examination. If the horn samples can be matched with records in the rhino DNA database it may be possible to identify the individual animals that were poached for their horns.

“Such an effort could yield major clues about who is behind this consignment,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s rhino expert.
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Friday, 25 November 2011

EU proposes outright ban on shark finning

THE EU has finally proposed an outright ban on shark finning, in a move welcomed by European Parliament fisheries committee Vice-President Struan Stevenson MEP, a longstanding campaigner against the practice.

Shark finning is the practice where fishermen cut the valuable fins from a shark and throw the rest of the shark back in the water - often while still alive. The practice has officially been illegal since 2003 but a loophole in the law only requires the weight of the fins caught to be around five percent of the total shark catch. As the average fin-to-shark ratio is around two percent, this effectively means that at least half of the sharks that are finned need not be landed.

Now EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki is proposing a complete ban on 'finning' on all EU vessels around the world.

Mr Stevenson fought off Spanish efforts in 2006 to increase the fin to fish ratio to 6.5 percent, and he has long campaigned for a complete end to the barbaric practice so that every shark caught must be landed, rather than thrown back to die a lingering and agonising death.

Mr Stevenson, Conservative MEP for Scotland, said: “Sharks may have an image problem but they are crucial to the ocean's ecosystem. The practice of shark finning is both detrimental to our marine environment and unacceptably cruel to the shark.

"Sharks that are finned often list around on the ocean bed until they are attacked or they starve to death. Many people may not love sharks but they all see the cruelty in leaving a creature to die a painful and slow death.

"The shark finning trade is extremely lucrative and the punishments are miniscule compared to the rewards. EU law and monitoring need to change so that European fishermen are harshly punished for enacting cruelty and threatening some shark species.

"When these proposals come before MEPs I have no doubt that a few countries will seek to water them down. However, we will push for a rigorous ban.

"We need a ban on finning that enables fishermen to catch sharks in a way that puts conservation and humane treatment before making a quick buck."

Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, has commended the European Commission on its proposal to amend the EU ban on shark finning.

Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director for Oceana in Europe said: “By opting for a fins-attached approach, the European Commission has heeded the advice of experts worldwide: landing sharks with their fins still naturally attached is the only possible way to guarantee that finning does not occur. The current ‘ban’ has been of little value for shark management and conservation, because loopholes make it impossible to even detect whether finning occurs. Furthermore, if all sharks must be landed with their fins attached, it will be much easier to identify the species caught, and therefore, to gather critical data about the status of shark populations.”

“A stronger ban on shark finning will bring significant benefits for shark fisheries management and conservation, not only in Europe, but in all of the oceans where European vessels are catching sharks,” added Dr. Allison Perry, marine wildlife scientist with Oceana in Europe. “We trust that the European Parliament and Council will support the Commission’s proposal, and that this positive step will be followed by action on other important measures that Europe has committed to under its Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.”

The EU includes some of the world’s major shark fishing nations – Spain, France, Portugal, and the UK. The largest EU shark fisheries occur on the high seas, where Spanish and Portuguese pelagic longliners that historically targeted mainly tuna and swordfish now increasingly catch sharks, particularly oceanic species such as blue sharks (Prionace glauca) and shortfin makos (Isurus oxyrinchus). More than half of large oceanic shark species are currently considered threatened.

Pregnancy is a drag for bottlenose dolphins

Lumbering around during the final weeks before delivery is tough for any pregnant mum. Most females adjust their movements to compensate for the extreme physical changes that accompany the later stages of pregnancy. However, no one had been able to find a distinct gait change – such as a change in stride length or frequency – associated with the latter stages of pregnancy.

Intrigued by the ways that newborn dolphins learn to swim after birth, Shawn Noren from the Institute of Marine Science, University of California Santa Cruz, realised that she had the perfect opportunity to find out how affects female dolphins. Joining a pod of dolphins at Dolphin Quest, Hawaii, just before two of the females gave birth, Noren analysed the impact of pregnancy on the animals' streamlined shape and mobility. She publishes her discovery that pregnant dolphins are significantly disadvantaged by their burden and adopt a new swimming style (gait) in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

'The pregnant females had huge protrusions where the fetus was sitting towards the back end of the body', says Noren, who donned SCUBA gear and spent a large portion of the final fortnight of the dolphins' pregnancies filming under water as they swam parallel to her camera between their trainers. Noren also filmed the dolphin mothers immediately after their calves were born and at regular intervals until the calves were 2 years old. Comparing the footage before and after delivery, Noren realised that pregnant females were slower. Their top speed was restricted to 3.54 m/s, whereas they were able to swim at much higher speeds after giving birth. 'Two to three metres per second is a comfortable speed for most bottlenose dolphins,' says Noren, 'but these pregnant animals did not feel comfortable going beyond that.'

She also measured the animals' girth and calculated their frontal surface area, and realised that the pregnancy had a colossal impact, increasing their frontal surface area by an enormous 51%. And when Noren measured the drag experienced by the animals as they glided through the water, she discovered that it doubled when the mothers were close to delivery.

The pregnant dolphins also had another problem: their increased fat stores in preparation for lactation had also increased their buoyancy. 'The buoyancy issue is going to be problematic when you are going down on a dive to capture prey and they are going to need extra energy to overcome that buoyant force', says Noren. So, pregnancy had a dramatic effect on the dolphin's hydrodynamics, but had it changed their swimming style? Did the pregnant dolphins move with a different gait?

Manually digitising the position of the animals' flukes (tail fins) as they beat up and down, Noren discovered that the pregnant females were unable to sweep their flukes as far as they could after birth. They had reduced the amplitude of their tail beat by 13% and they compensated for the reduced propulsion by beating their flukes faster. The pregnant dolphins had changed gait.

Having found how pregnancy affects soon-to-be dolphin mothers, Noren outlines the additional risks that the females face. Unable to outrun predators, heavily pregnant are more vulnerable to attack and they may not be able to keep up with the pod if pursued by fishing vessels. Explaining that tuna are still fished using massive nets in the eastern tropical Pacific, Noren says, 'Here is a fast speed event, so it is possible the near term pregnant females are being left behind in the chase. They are reliant on a large pod for protection and cooperative feeding and once the animal is separated it would be hard for it to find the pod again.'
More information: Noren, S. R., Redfern, J. V. and Edwards, E. F. (2011). Pregnancy is a drag: hydrodynamics, kinematics and performance in pre- and post-parturition bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). J. Exp. Biol. 214, 4149-4157.
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