Friday, 30 March 2018

Why are whales so big?

Why aquatic mammals need to be big, but not too big

Date:  March 26, 2018
Source:  Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

Examining body sizes of ancient and modern aquatic mammals and their terrestrial counterparts reveals that life in water restricts mammals to a narrow range of body sizes -- big enough to stay warm, but not so big they can't find enough food.

Vulnerability and extinction risk of migratory species from different regions and ecosystems worldwide

Date:  March 26, 2018
Source:  University of California - Santa Barbara

Forty million miles of major roads crisscross the Earth's continents -- enough to circle the planet 1,600 times. For humans, these thoroughfares are a boon, enabling them to move with ease from place to place. But for migrating animals who are also hemmed in by dams, rivers, shipping lanes, urban development and agriculture, they create another barrier.

Olive Ridleys of India Genetically different from other Olive Ridley turtles – via Herp Digest

By Ashis Senapati  |  New India Express News Service  | 3/24/18

File photo of a turtle fitted with satellite transmitter | Express

KENDRAPARA: There is a significant genetic difference between Olive Ridleys of India and the turtles of Costa Rica, Mexico, Australia and other countries. A large number of sea turtles which lay eggs in the world’s largest rookery at Gahiramatha Marine Sanctuary of Kendrapara district and Rushikulya river mouth in Ganjam every year are an isolated population who live in the Bay of Bengal. These turtles have no link with the ones of the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, said Dr Basudev Tripathy, noted biologist and Deputy Director of Zoological  Survey of India, Kolkata.

Dr Tripathy has been doing research on Olive Ridley sea turtles in Odisha for more than two decades.

  “Our research work on Olive Ridley turtles on Odisha coast also showed that the turtle population in the State is quite different from the ones which visit other mass nesting sites of Costa Rica, Mexico and Australia. It also demolished the myth that Olive Ridleys come from Australia, Costa Rica and other countries from the Pacific Ocean for laying eggs at Gahiramatha and Rushikulya, said Dr Tripathy.

 “In 2008, we had fitted Platform Transmitter Terminals (PTTs) on 30 Olive Ridleys at Gahiramatha, Devi and Rushikulya. Around 14 turtles with PTTs arrived at Gahiramatha marine sanctuary from Sri Lanka a few years back. This proves that the turtles move around the coast of Sri Lanka. Olive Ridleys migrate long distances between their feeding grounds in the deep sea of the Bay of Bengal and nesting sites in Odisha. It is a myth that the turtles come from the Pacific Ocean, he said.

In April 2001, the Forest department, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and turtle biologist Jack Frazier of Smithsonian Institution had also fitted four turtles with PTTs at Devi beach and monitored their migratory routes online. The PTT-fitted turtles circled the waters and only one was seen migrating south towards Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, all four turtles stopped transmitting within two to four months either due to some technical problems or trawler-related mortality, the official said.

The Forest department, in collaboration with  WII, Dehradun had also fitted tags on the flippers of 35,000 turtles from 1996 to 1999 in Gahiramatha, Rushikulya and Devi river mouths. “In the past, we have also sighted many tagged turtles on the same beach where they were marked.  Finding some tagged turtles in Gahiramatha and Rushikulya proved that the females return to the same beach where they first laid eggs. It has been proved by turtle researchers that female turtles lay eggs where they were born decades back,” he informed. Recently, more than a million Olive Ridleys laid eggs at Gahiramatha and Rushikulya due to sincere efforts of turtle researchers, forest officials, locals and others, Dr Tripathy added.

Research Result

Around 14 turtles with PTTs arrived at Gahiramatha marine sanctuary from Sri Lanka a few years back
PTT-fitted turtles circled waters and only one was seen migrating south towards Sri Lanka

In April 2001, the Forest department, Wildlife Institute of India and turtle biologist Jack Frazier of Smithsonian Institution had also fitted four turtles with PTTs at Devi beach and monitored their migratory routes online.

How Do You Deliver Crocodiles to Handbag Makers? Very Carefully – via Herp Digest

Farmers in Australia, supplying material for the hot fashion item, get creative to move reptiles across the Outback

A saltwater crocodile in Australia. PHOTO: EVOLVE/PHOTOSHOT/ZUMA PRESS
By Rob Taylor-Wall Street Journal, 3/23/18

SAVAGES ISLAND, Australia—In his latest attempt to satisfy the world’s snappiest dressers, Adam Lever recently found himself coaxing yard-long live crocodiles into “travel pods” made of pipes purchased from a plumbing shop. Mr. Lever needed to move the crocodiles without getting a scratch—on them.

The PVC pipes are the latest tactic in a man-versus-beast conflict that affects millions of dollars worth of goods in the global fashion industry. Damaged crocodile skins aren’t worth nearly as much when turned into boots and handbags—which can easily run $50,000. By placing thousands of juvenile saltwater crocodiles in the refrigerated tubes, Mr. Lever says he can safely move them vast distances across the Outback from far-flung hatcheries to his farm.

“A scratch on a croc is a massive thing,” said Mr. Lever, estimating even one could lower a skin’s value by up to 40%. “You wouldn’t be happy if you just paid a million bucks for a Ferrari and it had a scratch in the paint and a flat tire.”

A crocodile Birkin bag

The crocodile skin business is booming, with especially strong demand from Asia, and Australia’s crocs are coveted for their particularly fine skin patterns—American alligators tend to have horny backs—and because more of the hide can be used.

The animals are both culturally significant and an important income source for indigenous communities in the Outback, who collect the eggs by hand from swamps and incubate them until they’re hatched. Then, the juvenile reptiles are sold to farmers like Mr. Lever, who transport them to farms in less remote areas where they grow for a couple of years before the skins are harvested. A farmer can sell a high-end skin for about $1,000, while an egg can be worth about $35 to a collector. (Farmers also sell the meat, for food, and things such as claws and gall bladders for alternative medicines.)

Farmer John Lever adjusts a ‘croc pod’ used to transport the young saltwater crocodiles he raises for skins near Rockhampton, in Australia. 

Eventually the supply chain leads to the catwalks of Paris or the boutiques of New York, where it’s common for a customer to wait up to two years for a popular style. In 2016, an Hermès Birkin bag made of albino Nile River crocodile skin and encrusted with 245 diamonds set in white gold sold at auction for an eye-popping US$300,168 to a Hong Kong buyer, the most expensive ever. It was similar to one owned by Kim Kardashian.

To fetch and move animals with as many as 72 razor-sharp teeth and a notoriously bad attitude, farmers get creative. Saltwater crocodiles, which can grow to 22 feet long and weigh 2,200 pounds, are among the world’s largest ambush predators, using their teeth and strong jaws to clamp down on prey.

“Sometimes we collect eggs and the mother comes back. We hit her on the nose to make her go away,” says Otto Campion Bulmaniya, of the Arafura Swamp Ranger Aboriginal Corp. “Or sometimes we stay and talk with her, to make her calm down.”
Government regulations promote Outback collection of eggs to spread the economic benefits of the industry and support biodiversity, while at the same time impose quotas to protect the species.

One innovation in egg collecting is slinging someone into a wild crocodile nest from a helicopter to spare a heart-stopping walk through swamp and reeds. “Up here it’s like a little bit of Alaska. There are still freedoms,” said Grahame Webb, an expert in crocodile behavior who now runs the Crocodylus wildlife park and skin farm in Darwin.

Crocodiles at the Crocodylus wildlife park and skin farm in Darwin run by Grahame Webb. PHOTO: ROB TAYLOR/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Still, collectors must keep on the right side of the health and safety bureaucracy. The 73-year-old lamented a recent government directive for egg collectors to wear steel-capped boots as protection against bites. “Let me tell you, if an adult croc comes back the thing to do is run or get up a tree,” Mr. Webb said. “I find steel boots aren’t the best for climbing.”
At Ramingining, in a remote part of the Northern Territory, indigenous rangers pressed an old, out-of-order fridge into service as a temperature-regulating incubator, together with used aquarium equipment and a thermometer. To avoid overheating in the sweltering monsoon heat, they simply propped open the fridge door with a stick, said Mr. Bulmaniya.

Hatchlings were transferred into two large plastic “grow” bins, each holding 40 or so foot-long crocodiles until they were ready to transport. With the industry booming, Mr. Bulmaniya is planning a commercially sized hatchery able to hold almost 1,000 crocodiles in 22 bins, for completion later this year.
Australia accounts for 60% of the trade in saltwater skins, worth US$78 million a year in a global crocodile and alligator fashion sector worth up to US$1 billion, according to the Crocodile Farmers Association of the Northern Territory.

Australia’s edge over rivals in Asia and South America is cemented by its status as one of a few nations allowed to export saltwater crocodile skins into the U.S. under treaties safeguarding endangered wildlife. Wild saltwater crocodile numbers have recovered strongly since protection in the 1980s.

Some farmers move developing crocodiles in the egg, but rough Outback roads make that a fraught process. One bump can destroy an embryo. Moving live crocs presents other, sharp problems.

John Lever, Adam Lever’s father, once opened a truck with 200 juvenile crocodiles inside to find some had loosened themselves from restraining ties on their jaws. “They are pretty good escapists, and even a small one can do some serious damage,” said Mr. Lever, who runs a farm with his son on a low scrub spit known as Savages Island, ringed by mud flats near the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef.


Employee Tiffany Smith at Vervain, a crocodile product shop in Darwin. PHOTO: ROB TAYLOR/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

That’s where the croc pods come in. While plumbing pipes have been used before to move hatched crocodiles, Mr. Lever’s Koorana Crocodile farm near Rockhampton said it was the first to construct a cluster of pipes to create a “pod.”
Each pod cluster holds between 60 and 130 crocodiles, in ventilated tubes built onto a pallet and loaded into a refrigerated truck. By lowering the temperature to around 64 degrees, the baby crocs become drowsy and less bellicose over a journey lasting up to a week.

Once in their new homes, the pods are removed from the truck by forklift and placed into a farm pen before a sliding-door lid is opened, allowing the crocs to slowly warm up in the tropical air.

“You open up the pods and you’ve got 70 pairs of crocodile eyes staring at you,” Adam Lever said. “For a heart-stopping moment you’re hoping like hell that the refrigeration worked and they don’t come rushing out in a waterfall of crocs.”

That’s happened a couple of times, he said, and “you have to move fast.”

Scientists witness first reported case of killer-whale infanticide

‘His blubber shook like Jell-o,’ says researcher of the attack on newborn orca by unrelated 32-year-old male

Ashifa Kassam in Toronto
Fri 23 Mar 2018 07.00 GMT Last modified on Fri 23 Mar 2018 07.41 GMT

Scientists in the Canadian province of British Columbia have documented what is believed to be the first reported case of an orca whale killing an infant of the same species.

“We knew right away that this was a remarkable event,” said Jared Towers, a Cetacean researcher with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, of the encounter he and two colleagues witnessed in December 2016.

“We’ve been looking at killer whales for years on this coast and around the world – I study populations in different parts of the world – and witnessing aggressive behaviour between killer whales is almost unheard of.”

Details of the incident were published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.The group had headed out to the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island after reports of strange vocalisations from killer whales in the area. When they arrived, they found a group of whales including one that appeared to be just a few hours old.

They were about to leave when they heard splashing. “So we went over and that’s when we saw that the calf wasn’t surfacing anywhere,” said Towers. They then saw a male swim under their boat holding the newborn calf in his mouth.

Researchers soon realised they were watching two different family groups interact –the family to which the calf belonged was being attacked by an unrelated 32-year-old male and his mother. “We started to realise that this is a chase and these two whales have attacked this group already,” he said. “It was fascinating but we were horrified too.”

The male refused to let go of the newborn. In what researchers described as “infanticidal teamwork,” his mother appeared to be helping him in the attack, manoeuvring to fend off an attempt by the infant’s mother to chase the male.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Mystery surrounds '20ft' Devon sea creature which 'left man in disbelief'

The 'shark-like' creature was described as being 20-feet long

13:23, 26 MAR 2018
UPDATED13:27, 26 MAR 2018

Mystery surrounds a creature spotted off the Devon coast which the photographer claims was 'a huge shark.'

Tristan Severn-Jones noticed a fin in the water just off Bovisand Beach, near Plymouth on Friday morning.

Severn-Jones, who is a caretaker at Fort Bovisand, said he and his colleagues were left "in disbelief."

“It was sheer luck that I got a picture,” he said. “I was standing there with the guys who own the fort, and it just appeared in front of us.

New genetic research shows extent of cross-breeding between wild wolves and domestic dogs

Date:  March 21, 2018
Source:  University of Lincoln

Mating between domesticated dogs and wild wolves over hundreds of years has left a genetic mark on the wolf gene pool, new research has shown.

The international study showed that around 60 per cent of Eurasian grey wolf genomes carried small blocks of the DNA of domestic dogs, suggesting that wolves cross-bred with dogs in past generations.

The results suggest that wolf-dog hybridisation has been geographically widespread in Europe and Asia and has been occurring for centuries. The phenomenon is seen less frequently in wild wolf populations of North America.

Researchers examined DNA data from grey wolves -- the ancestors of the domestic dog -- to determine how much their gene pool was diluted with the DNA of domestic canines, and how widespread the process of hybridisation is.

Despite the evidence of hybridisation among Eurasian grey wolves, the wolf populations have remained genetically distinct from dogs, suggesting that such cross-breeding does not diminish distinctiveness of the wolf gene pool if it occurs at low levels.

The results could have important conservation implications for the grey wolf, which is a keystone species -- meaning it is vital to the natural balance of the habitat it occupies. The legal status of hybrids is still uncertain and unregulated.

The study was led by researchers from the University of Lincoln, UK, the Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dr Malgorzata Pilot, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: "The fact that wild wolves can cross-breed with dogs is well-documented, but little was previously known about how widespread this phenomenon has been and how it has affected the genetic composition of wild wolf populations.

The problem of jaguars and space in western Paraguay

Researchers use GPS technology and new analytical tools to produce the first rigorous estimates of jaguar spatial needs and movements in the Gran Chaco and Pantanal ecosystems of Paraguay

Date:  March 21, 2018
Source:  De Gruyter

The jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas and historically was found from southwestern USA to central Argentina. Today, jaguars are an endangered species throughout their natural habitat, and have almost been completely eliminated from the United States. The species has been lost from 50% of its original range, and outside of the Amazon it is present in only 20% of its original range. This drastic change is a result of human factors: habitat loss leading to reduced prey availability and persecution for cattle depredation.

An important component of jaguar conservation is understanding the species' spatial needs. Although there have been multiple studies of jaguar space use, there has been no such research in Paraguay up to now.

Read on  

Research suggests low density of snow leopards in Nepal`s Conservation Area

Date:  March 22, 2018
Source:  INASP

The snow leopard is a mammal species of the cat family found at high altitudes in Nepal and other countries around the Himalayan range. However, it has been included in the vulnerable category of IUCN Red list of threatened species in recent years for various reasons.

A recent research article published in the journal Banko Janakari suggests that the snow leopard density in the Manaslu region of the country is low despite abundant prey density and cooperation from humans in its conservation.

"We conducted the research in the Manaslu conservation areas because there had been limited studies in this region in the past," says Bishnu Devkota, lead author of the article. "Our research re-established the generally accepted and proven fact that the snow leopard population is dwindling in protected and unprotected regions of Nepal."

What's Up with This 'Smoke-Breathing' Elephant?

By Jeanna Bryner, Live Science Managing Editor | March 23, 2018 02:34pm ET

An elephant in India seems to have a smoking habit. Conservation scientists spotted the pachyderm hoisting chunks of ashen wood into its mouth and then blowing out puffs of smoke.

"I believe the elephant may have been trying to ingest wood charcoal," Varun Goswami, Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) India program scientist and an elephant biologist, said in a statement. "She appeared to be picking up pieces from the forest floor, blowing away the ash that came along with it, and consuming the rest."

Goswami, an elephant biologist, and his team came across what they are calling the "smoke-breathing" elephant in Nagarahole National Park while checking their "hidden" cameras (also called camera traps) as part of a study of tigers and their prey.

During their forest trek, they saw the elephant standing in a "burnt patch" of the woods. "In India, the Forest Department burns fire lines to create fire breaks that can help control forest fires," Vinay Kumar, assistant director of WCS-India, told Live Science. "And this effort leaves behind wood charcoal on the forest floor."

Read on  

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Did Human Noise Pollution Drive 150 Whales To Beach Themselves in Australia?

By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | March 23, 2018 09:20am ET

A commercial fisherman in Australia spotted an alarming site this morning: Upward of 100 whales were stranded and dying on a beach at Hamelin Bay, about 180 miles (300 kilometers) south of Perth. (And we're all pulling for a happy ending.) 

Rescuers rushed to the scene, but only 15 of the 150 whales, thought to be short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), were still alive as of 12 p.m. local time, the Western Australia Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions reported.

The 15 still-breathing whales were in shallow waters, and rescuers planned to herd them into deeper water by late afternoon, said incident controller Jeremy Chick. [Whale Album: Giants of the Deep]

"Unfortunately, most of the whales beached themselves on dry land overnight and have not survived," Chick said in a statement. "There are only 15 surviving in shallow waters, and we hope to move them out to sea later today."

To make matters worse, windy and rainy weather has made the rescue challenging, he said.

"Rescue operations will be hampered by deteriorating weather conditions, and we need to ensure the safety of everyone involved before we move the whales," Chick said.

It's unclear why the whales became stranded in this case, but large groups of short-finned pilot whales have become stranded before. It's thought that the species is vulnerable to loud, human-made sounds, such as those made by navy sonar, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Researchers have yet to show a conclusive cause-and-effect relationship between noise pollution and beached G. macrorhynchus whales, but other mass-stranding events involving this species have happened during times of high human-made noise in the environment, according a 2006 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Deep impact: Deep-sea wildlife more vulnerable to extinction than first thought

Date:  March 22, 2018
Source:  University of Oxford

The existence of the unusual yeti crabs (Kiwaidae) -- a family of crab-like animals whose hairy claws and bodies are reminiscent of the abominable snowman -- since 2005, but already their future survival could be at risk. New Oxford University research suggests that past environmental changes may have profoundly impacted the geographic range and species diversity of this family. The findings indicate that such animals may be more vulnerable to the effects of human resource exploitation and climate change than initially thought.

First IVF bison calf joins wild herd

Reproductive technology has implications for conservation efforts

Date:  March 26, 2018
Source:  Colorado State University

Eight bison -- four calves and their mothers -- were released in mid-March on public lands in northern Colorado. A 10-month-old calf known as IVF 1 was among the newcomers.

And then there were... 44. Eight bison -- four calves and their mothers -- were released in mid-March on public lands in northern Colorado, bringing the total number of animals in the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd to 44.

A 10-month-old calf known as IVF 1 was among the newcomers. She is the first bison calf conceived using in vitro fertilization, or IVF, at Colorado State University.

Jennifer Barfield, a reproductive physiologist with the CSU Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory, was beaming with pride as she described the landmark moment.

"It's a really good feeling to see a herd grow and to know that the animals from our research are going to have a real impact, not only in our herd but as we produce animals in this herd and help support other conservation herds," she said.

Nearly 50 dolphins die as 61 wash up on Argentinian beach ‘after being driven to the shore by killer whales’

Sixty-one short-beaked common dolphins found washed up in Puerto Madryn

According to authorities, 49 died on the coast of a Patagonian national park
Secretary of Protected Areas Nestor Garcia noted a killer whale increase nearby

PUBLISHED: 11:03, 26 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:25, 26 March 2018

More than 60 dolphins have been found stranded on a popular beach resort - and experts have said killer whales could be responsible.

Sixty-one short-beaked common dolphins were found washed up in Puerto Madryn, an Argentinian city in northern Patagonia.

According to local authorities, 49 of them died on the coast of the El Doradillo Protected Natural Area while 12 were returned to the sea alive.

Tiny victims of roadside litterbugs: Three million mice and voles die trapped in bottles and cans thrown from cars

Volunteers checking empty bottles and cans found the remains of tiny animals 
Some 3.2million voles, shrews and mice die as they crawl in and cannot escape
One RSPB member found a dead animal in one in ten bottles in south Norfolk 

PUBLISHED: 23:21, 26 March 2018 | UPDATED: 00:27, 27 March 2018

Millions of Britain’s smallest mammals are killed each year because of litter dumped on the roadside, a disturbing study has found.

As many as 3.2million voles, shrews and mice die when they crawl into discarded bottles and cans and are unable to get out.

Volunteers who checked hundreds of bottles and cans for the study found the remains of dozens of tiny animals. Desperate for shelter, they had ended up trapped and had starved to death.

Plastic bottles were the worst offenders, with one in eight containing a tiny dead animal and some packed with as many as seven.

Small mammals are integral to the food chain – eating insects and plants and providing food for larger animals and rare birds such as owls and kestrels.

The 18-month study was led by RSPB volunteer Graham Moates, who had help from charity Keep Britain Tidy.

Mr Moates was appalled at what he found in the rubbish littering the roads, mainly around south Norfolk. Of the 2,174 bottles and cans collected, there were 230 dead animals inside – one for every ten discarded containers. Of these, 118 were common shrews and 59 were bank voles. Based on what he found, Mr Moates calculates that across the country, up to 3.2million animals end up dying this way every year.

‘I never thought it could be this many before I began the research,’ he said.

‘I was expecting an occupancy rate of about one per cent, but it was more than five times that. It is very upsetting to think of how many small creatures die in this way because of human carelessness.’ New regulations making it easier for councils to clamp down on littering motorists come into force next month.

As many as 3.2million voles, shrews and mice die when they crawl into discarded bottles and cans and are unable to get out

Fines can now be issued to the registered keeper of the vehicle, regardless of who threw the litter. And Keep Britain Tidy has unveiled a campaign aimed at motorists, urging them to think before they throw rubbish from their cars.

TV presenter and Keep Britain Tidy ambassador Chris Packham said those who care about the country’s wildlife must act now, adding: ‘We have all seen the impact of plastic bottles on our marine environment in recent months. Now, thanks to this research, we know it is killing millions of the small mammals that are a vital source of food for our native birds of prey.’ Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Allison Ogden- Newton urged councils to use CCTV footage and their new powers to fine offenders.

‘We are spending millions every year cleaning up after selfish drivers who seem to think it is acceptable to throw their rubbish out of their cars, turning our roadsides into a giant heartless wasteland,’ she said.

Monday, 26 March 2018

How IVF and stem cell science could save the northern white rhino from extinction

Scientists believe they can bring the species back from the brink after the death of the last male last week

Science editor

Sun 25 Mar 2018 00.05 GMTLast modified on Sun 25 Mar 2018 00.10 GMT

Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, was put down last week because of ill health, leaving only two ageing females. Photograph: Georgina Goodwin/Barcroft Media

The story of humanity’s interaction with the northern white rhino is one of the conservation movement’s grimmest tales of recent years. “In the 60s there were 2,500 northern whites left in central Africa,” said Paul De Ornellas of the Zoological Society of London. “Poaching brought that down to 30 by the end of the 20th century, and now to the last two.”

Last week the species’ last male, Sudan, had to be put down because of ill health, leaving only two ageing females on the planet as representatives of a creature that once roamed in its tens of thousands across Africa. It is a sad history which, most of the world assumes, is nearing its end.

But human ingenuity could yet save a species that has been brought to the brink of extinction. The plan, which involves in vitro fertilisation (IVF), stem cell science and gene editing, could also pave the way to rescue other animals at risk, such as the Sumatran and Javan rhinos.

Hamelin Bay: Nearly 150 beached whales die in Australia

23 March 2018

Over 100 whales die in mass stranding in Australia

Only six whales have survived a mass stranding of pilot whales on the coast of Western Australia.

About 150 of the animals were found beached at Hamelin Bay, about 300km (180 miles) south of Perth.

Their discovery by a local fisherman on Friday prompted a major rescue effort to return them to deeper waters.

However, by nightfall, more than 140 of the whales had died, with deteriorating weather conditions and the threat of frenzied sharks impeding efforts.

More than 100 volunteers, wildlife personnel and others came to the aid of the beached pilot whales, a species known to strand en masse.

Wild quolls take bait of cane-toad sausages, offering hope for species

Wildlife managers hope taste aversion technique can help safeguard the endangered northern quoll

Mon 19 Mar 2018 05.19 GMTLast modified on Mon 19 Mar 2018 05.47 GMT

Scientists are a step closer to stopping the devastating march of toxic cane toads across northern Australia, as the introduced species continues to decimate what is left of the native quoll populations.

Field trials of a technique used to turn quolls off the taste of toads has yielded positive results, which were published in this month’s Austral Ecology journal. 

Science is back! To help educate quolls about cane toads. With sausages
The method involves feeding northern quolls sausages made of toad mince laced with a chemical that makes them nauseous.

Cane toads have poison in their glands that kills predators such as quolls and snakes when they eat the toads. The researchers had previously found captive quolls that were fed the sausages showed less subsequent interest in cane toads and were less likely to attack them than those that were not fed the baits.

The latest trial found wild quolls were also attracted to the sausage baits and that almost two-thirds of them ate the baits when they came across them. Between 40% and 68% of the wild quolls that ate the bait developed an aversion to the taste.

Researchers are hoping to use cane toad sausages to create a food aversion in northern quolls to save them from extinction. Photograph: University of Technology Sydney

Cane toads, which were introduced into Queensland in the 1930s to control crop pests, have been responsible for wiping out many native animals, including local populations of the endangered northern quoll, the smallest of Australia’s four quoll species.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Male loggerhead turtles also go back to their nesting beaches to breed – Herp Digest Date: 3/14/18

Source: Universidad de Barcelona

This new study breaks with the classical view on the breeding behaviour of the loggerhead turtle.
Credit: UB-IRBio

Most male loggerhead turtles go back to the nesting beaches to breed -a common behaviour among female turtles-, according to a study in which the researchers Marta Pascual, Àlex Aguilar, Carles Carreras, Lluís Cardona and Marcel Clusa, from the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (IRBio) took part.

Also, experts from the Cyprus Wildlife Society (Cyprus), University of Tripoli (Libya) and the University Adnan Menderes (Turkey), among other institutions, collaborated in the study.

The study, published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, outbreaks the classical view on the breeding behaviour of these marine turtles, and explains how the species could also breed in feeding areas or during their journey towards nesting beaches.

New paradigm: male turtles return to the nesting beach to breed
The loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) is a marine species that travels long journeys to tropical and temperate areas around the world. In the eastern Mediterranean, in particular, it nests in the coasts of Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Libya, Lebanon and Israel, although there have been some sporadic nesting episodes in the western Mediterranean.

It was believed that only female turtles went back to the nesting areas to lay the eggs -philopatric behaviour- after reproducing with male turtles from different areas. Philopatry is a studied phenomenon among female C. caretta turtles. The process of detection, marking, and the chelonian genetic study (for instance, with the mitochondrial DNA, transmitted by maternal inheritance), are easily conducted if females are the ones that go back to the beach of birth to lay the eggs.

However, markers in males are not abundant and results have never been conclusive. Previous studies with few genetic nuclear markers ─microsatellite loci, the biparental inheritance─ suggested male turtles did not show philopatric behaviour and mated with females from different areas.
"Our study reveals the breeding behaviour of the C. caretta marine turtle can be more complex. In most populations, female turtles are not the only ones with philatropic behaviour: males also mate near nesting beaches," says the lecturer Marta Pascual, member of the Department of Genetics, Microbiology and Statistics of the UB and IRBio.

In the study, the UB-IRBio team increased the number of microsatellite markers to analyse the gene flow among loggerhead turtle populations in the Mediterranean. The results show a higher gene differentiation in the nesting beaches in the Mediterranean and suggest the possibility that turtles breed in feeding areas or during their journey towards nesting beaches.
"Therefore, the accepted belief that males do not display philopatry could be due -in some cases- the low number of molecular markers that were used so far," states Marta Pascual. "Also, if we compare mitochondrial and nuclear markers, we can compare the spreading behaviour of male and female turtles in different areas, which shows complex and particular breeding behaviours in each area.”

Higher temperatures, more female turtles in the marine habitat
In most cases, philopatry happens in male and female turtles. However, there are cases of opportunistic breeding patterns between males and females in different areas other than their place of birth. According to the experts, the obtained results could be explained with some hypotheses that have to be tested in future studies.

"The breeding behaviour can change depending on the population; it can even be affected by the amount of male turtles that are born in a specific area," says Pascual. The sex of marine turtles is determined by the temperature of incubation. If the temperature is high, there will only be female turtles: "with global warming, high temperatures would cause a feminization of the populations, a phenomenon that could be balanced through opportunist breeding with males from other areas," concludes the expert.

Although the Mediterranean can be understood as a regional unit to manage globally, when it comes to the loggerhead turtle there are genetically differentiated units that should be protected. In some cases, these are big populations -according to the annual number of nests in their beaches- but there are examples that show a lower balance. In a planet affected by global change, a more comprehensive study of different areas is necessary to identify bottlenecks -which reduce the number of population individuals- and to study the impact of the increase of consanguinity over the viability of the different units.

There are still many unknown issues on the breeding biology of the species C. caretta. Migratory routes that have been observed with telemetry on females in Cyprus show that they feed in Libya and travel near this area's nesting beaches. New studies with genomic scale markers are necessary to get deeper in the biology and ecology of the most abundant marine turtle in the Mediterranean (sporadic nesting, non-philopatric breeding, ect.).

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Materials provided by Universidad de Barcelona. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
            1          M Clusa, C Carreras, L Cardona, A Demetropoulos, D Margaritoulis, AF Rees, AA Hamza, M Khalil, Y Levy, O Turkozan, A Aguilar, M Pascual. Philopatry in loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta: beyond the gender paradigm. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 2018; 588: 201 DOI: 10.3354/meps12448

Groups seek to protect unique salamander species in Oregon (The Siskiyou Mountains salamander) – via Herp Digest

Salem, Oregon. (AP) 3/14/18 — Four conservation groups are seeking federal protection for a unique species of salamander that lives in the Klamath-Siskiyou region of Southern Oregon and Northern California.

The petition filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Monday said increasing logging of old-growth forests is threatening the Siskiyou Mountains salamander, The Capital Press reported.

The petition by Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Environmental Protection Information Center said the long-bodied, short-limbed terrestrial salamander deserves immediate protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“Increased logging of mature forests in the Applegate Valley could jeopardize the very survival of the salamander,” said George Sexton with KS Wild.

Two timber industry groups issued a joint statement against the petition. The Oregon Forest Industries Council and American Forest Resource Council accused the groups of overwhelming federal agencies with petitions and litigation, The Press reported.

The Siskiyou Mountains salamander lives only in isolated locations along the Klamath River, on stabilized rock talus in old-growth forests covered with thick moss.

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