Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Wool odour could be key to protecting sheep from flystrike


JULY 22, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain
A global research project led by The University of Western Australia in collaboration with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Western Australia has identified compounds in Merino sheep wool that are attractive to Australian blowflies.
The discovery, published in Medical and Veterinary Entomology, could help breeders develop fly-resistant flocks of sheep, which will improve animal welfare and productivity.
Professor Phil Vercoe from the UWA Institute of Agriculture and UWA School of Agriculture and Environment said the findings could help to prevent flystrike, a distressing disease caused by blowflies which poses a significant health risk to sheep.
"This research is a step in the right direction towards the development of more clean, green and ethical approaches to preventing flystrike," Professor Vercoe said.
"If future studies find that the wool odor is inherited, then the compounds we've identified could lead to a more effective way to breed sheep that are resistant to flystrike.

New species of flying squirrel from Southwest China added to the rarest and 'most wanted'


JULY 18, 2019

Described in 1981, the genus Biswamoyopterus is regarded as the most mysterious and rarest amongst all flying squirrels. It comprises two large (1.4-1.8 kg) species endemic to southern Asia: the Namdapha flying squirrel (India) and the Laotian giant flying squirrel (Lao PDR). Each is only known from a single specimen discovered in 1981 and 2013, respectively.
Recently, in 2018, a specimen identifiable as Biswamoyopteruswas unexpectedly found in the collections of the Kunming Institute of Zoology (KIZ), Chinese Academy of Sciences by in-house expert Quan Li. It had been collected from Mount Gaoligong in Yunnan Province, Southwest China.
Initially, the individual was considered to belong to the "missing" Namdapha flying squirrel: a species considered as critically endangered due to hunting and habitat loss. The latter had not ever been recorded since its original description in 1981 and was already listed as one of the top 25 "most wanted" species in the world by the Global Wildlife Conservation.
However, a closer look at the specimen from KIZ made it clear that the squirrel exhibited a colouration, as well as skull and teeth anatomy, distinct from any of the previously known species in the genus.
Subsequently, joined by his colleagues from China (Xuelong Jiang, Xueyou Li, Fei Li, Ming Jiang, Wei Zhao and Wenyu Song) and Stephen Jackson from Australia, the team of Quan Li conducted a new field survey. Thus, they successfully obtained another specimen and, additionally, recorded observations of two other flying squirrels. As a result, they included a third member to the enigmatic genus: Biswamoyopterus gaoligongensis, also referred to as the Mount Gaoligong flying squirrel. This new to science species was described in a paper published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.


Manmade ruin adds 7,000 species to endangered 'Red List'


JULY 18, 2019

by Patrick Galey
The Roloway Monkey of Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana has fewer than 2,000 left in the wild
Mankind's destruction of nature is driving species to the brink of extinction at an "unprecedented" rate, the leading wildlife conservation body warned Thursday as it added more than 7,000 animals, fish and plants to its endangered "Red List".
From the canopies of tropical forests to the ocean floor, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said iconic species of primates, rays, fish and trees were now classified as critically endangered.
The group has now assessed more than 105,000 species worldwide, around 28,000 of which risk extinction.
While each group of organisms face specific threats, human behaviour, including overfishing and deforestation, was the biggest driver of plummeting populations.
"Nature is declining at rates unprecedented in human history," said IUCN acting director general, Grethel Aguilar. "We must wake up to the fact that conserving nature's diversity is in our interest."
In May the United Nations released its generational assessment of the state of the environment. It made for grim reading.
The report warned that as many as one million species were now at risk of extinction, many within decades, as human consumption of freshwater, fossil fuels and other natural resources skyrockets.


Two-headed turtle born in Malaysia


JULY 18, 2019

A baby turtle with two heads born in Malaysia

A two-headed baby turtle has been born in Malaysia, captivating conversationists, but it only survived a few days after being discovered.

It was found Monday on Mabul island, off the Malaysian part of Borneo, in a nest alongside more than 90 other recently hatched green turtles.

David McCann, marine biologist and conservation manager for group SJ SEAS—which oversees the nesting site—said the creature was "utterly fascinating."

"The right head seems to control the front right flipper, and the left head the front left flipper. Yet they are capable of coordinating their movements in order to walk and swim," he said in a statement.

SJ SEAS chairman Mohamad Khairuddin Riman added: "We have released around 13,000 hatchlings from the hatchery and have never seen anything like this before."

But the turtle died late Wednesday, Sen Nathan, a vet from Sabah Wildlife Department, told AFP.

He said the cause of death was not yet known but added the turtle would have had little chance of surviving long in the wild.

"It would have been poached by an eagle because it could not swim well," he said.

While rare, it was not the first time a two-headed baby turtle has been found.



Tourist photographs are a cheap and effective way to survey wildlife


JULY 22, 2019


Tourists on safari can provide wildlife monitoring data comparable to traditional surveying methods, suggests research appearing July 22 in the journal Current Biology. The researchers analyzed 25,000 photographs from 26 tour groups to survey the population densities of five top predators (lions, leopards, cheetahs, spotted hyenas, and wild dogs) in northern Botswana, making it one of the first studies to use tourist photographic data for this purpose.

The idea came to lead author Kasim Rafiq after hours with his Land Rover grill-deep in an abandoned warthog burrow. Rafiq, then a Ph.D. candidate at Liverpool John Moores University, had been following the tracks of a one-eared leopard named Pavarotti that he'd been searching for for months.

"Eventually I got out of the hole and spoke with the safari guides who I met on the road nearby, and who were laughing," says Rafiq, who is about to begin a Fulbright Fellowship to expand the project further at UC Santa Cruz. "They told me that they'd seen Pavarotti earlier that morning. At that point, I really began to appreciate the volume of information that the guides and tourists were collecting and how it was being lost."




Monday, 29 July 2019

Koala and kangaroo culling considered as numbers become 'overabundant'


Species’ expansion threatens South Australia’s habitat and biodiversity, report says
Fri 12 Jul 2019 01.58 BSTLast modified on Fri 12 Jul 2019 13.55 BST
Animals including koalas and kangaroos could be culled in parts of South Australia, where high population numbers are damaging the landscape.
A report from a parliamentary inquiry has recommended the state’s environment minister make an immediate decision to declare koalas, western grey kangaroos, long-nosed fur seals and little corellas overabundant in some areas.
Culling is an option that could be suggested, although the report acknowledges there is reluctance to communicate publicly the need for culling because “some community stakeholders find the concept of culling an abhorrent approach in managing overabundant species”.
The inquiry, by the parliament’s natural resources committee, investigated the impact and management of certain overabundant and pest animals and the effectiveness of current measures to keep numbers under control.
If the recommendation is adopted to declare population numbers of certain species too high, it would trigger ministerial powers to order control options.
In relation to koalas, the committee took evidence from Kangaroo Island’s natural resource management board urging culling of populations on the island.
“The board is concerned that the koala population will continue to increase to a point where irreparable habitat damage occurs,” the report said.
The committee heard that sterilisation of the Kangaroo Island koala population had had little success.
“Population numbers on the Island continue to rise and their impacts are threatening its biodiversity,” the report says.

A small town's economy. Endangered caribou. Which do we protect?



British Columbia faces extreme protections to help the caribou, which would decimate the economies of towns like Revelstoke – prompting a ‘moral crisis’
Mon 15 Jul 2019 06.00 BSTLast modified on Mon 15 Jul 2019 06.48 BST
On 15 April, with less than a week’s notice, 700 people squeezed into a community center in Revelstoke, British Columbia, for a last-minute meeting with Canadian government officials. Snowmobilers, skiers, loggers, activists, berry-pickers and business owners were all drawn there to discuss the threat of a widespread closure to the mountains that are the lifeblood of this community.
At stake: three herds of caribou. Or, potentially, the entire town.
British Columbia is rushing to put plans in place to manage the endangered woodland caribou before the Canadian federal government loses patience and invokes the most extreme protections across herd ranges, which would likely involve year-round blanket closures to the mountains to protect caribou habitat. Such mass closures would decimate the economies of neighboring small towns, like Revelstoke, that depend on those same mountains for tourism and resource extraction, like logging.
This debate leaves residents with a troubling question: how much are they expected to sacrifice to save a dying species?
A recently released UN report reveals that the planet is on the brink of the sixth mass extinction. Caribou have long been a symbol of the north, once roaming in vast herds and numbering at least 40,000 in BC alone. Known as “grey ghosts” for their elusive nature, they are in danger of becoming literal ghosts: in May 2018, the federal government declared that the remaining southern mountain population of woodland caribou in the country’s western reaches faced an “imminent threat” to survival. The South Selkirk caribou herd that roamed the US border disappeared earlier this year, taking with it the last caribou from the lower 48. And many of the herds left in Canada have too few animals for a likely chance at long-term survival.


Why Haven't All Primates Evolved into Humans?



By Grant Currin, Live Science Contributor | July 14, 2019 09:38am ET
While we were migrating around the globe, inventing agriculture and visiting the moon, chimpanzees — our closest living relatives — stayed in the trees, where they ate fruit and hunted monkeys.
Modern chimps have been around for longer than modern humans have (less than 1 million years compared to 300,000 for Homo sapiens, according to the most recent estimates), but we've been on separate evolutionary paths for 6 million or 7 million years. If we think of chimps as our cousins, our last common ancestor is like a great, great grandmother with only two living descendants.
But why did one of her evolutionary offspring go on to accomplish so much more than the other? [Chimps vs. Humans: How Are We Different?
"The reason other primates aren't evolving into humans is that they're doing just fine," Briana Pobiner, a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., told Live Science. All primates alive today, including mountain gorillas in Uganda, howler monkeys in the Americas, and lemurs in Madagascar, have proven that they can thrive in their natural habitats.
"Evolution isn't a progression," said Lynne Isbell, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis. "It's about how well organisms fit into their current environments." In the eyes of scientists who study evolution, humans aren't "more evolved" than other primates, and we certainly haven't won the so-called evolutionary game. While extreme adaptability lets humans manipulate very different environments to meet our needs, that ability isn't enough to put humans at the top of the evolutionary ladder.
Take, for instance, ants. "Ants are as or more successful than we are," Isbell told Live Science. "There are so many more ants in the world than humans, and they're well-adapted to where they're living."
While ants haven't developed writing (though they did invent agriculture long before we existed), they're enormously successful insects. They just aren't obviously excellent at all of the things humans tend to care about, which happens to be the things humans excel at.

Wee Lizard Found in Dinosaur's Belly from 120 Million Years Ago


By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | July 14, 2019 10:16pm ET
About 120 million years ago, a small dinosaur gulped down a lizard, swallowing the reptile whole. The wee lizard's story might have ended there, but the dinosaur died soon after and was preserved as a fossil. Millions of years later, paleontologists discovered the scaly meal in the dinosaur's belly.
Scientists found the lizard when they examined the fossil of a feathered dinosaur named Microraptor zhaoianus, a small carnivore from the early Cretaceous period (145.5 million to 65.5 million years ago) in what is now northeastern China. In Microraptor's abdomen was a near-complete skeleton that the researchers identified as a previously unknown lizard species.
This "exceptional specimen" paints a clearer picture of the animal diversity in this region during the Cretaceous, and it hints at what was on the menu for dinosaur predators like Microraptor, the scientists reported in a new study.
Microraptor belongs to the theropod (meat-eating) dinosaur group known as the dromaeosaurids — small to medium-sized bird-like dinosaurs — which also includes Velociraptor and Deinonychus. It had flight feathers on its front and back limbs, and it could likely glide or even fly, according to the study.
The fossilized lizard's skeleton was still whole and nearly complete, and it appeared to belong to a juvenile. Its position inside the dinosaur's gut showed that it was gulped down headfirst, "consistent with feeding behavior in extant carnivorous lizards and birds," the study authors wrote.
They dubbed the ingested lizard Indrasaurus wangi: The species name honors paleontologist Yuan Wang, director of the Paleozoological Museum of China, and Indrasaurus refers to a legend from ancient Indian texts about the deity Indra, who was swallowed whole by a dragon.

Nine deer dead in Japan after eating plastic: wildlife group


JULY 10, 2019

Nine deer have died after swallowing plastic bags in Japan's Nara Park, a wildlife group said on Wednesday, warning that a surge in tourism may be to blame.
The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation said that masses of plastic bags and snack packets were found in the stomachs of the deer which died between March and June this year.
"The biggest litter found in one of the nine amounted to 4.3 kilograms (9.5 pounds)," foundation official Yoshitaka Ashimura told AFP.
"We were surprised. It was so big," he said.
The picturesque park in Japan's ancient capital is home to more than 1,000 deer, which can even be found roaming the streets in search of special tasty crackers offered by tourists.
Tourists are forbidden from feeding the deer any food besides the crackers but Ashimura said some visitors offer the animals other types of snacks.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Permafrost thaw sparks fear of 'gold rush' for mammoth ivory


Prospectors in Russia dig up remains of extinct animals for trade worth an estimated £40m a year
Andrew Roth in Moscow
Sun 14 Jul 2019 10.43 BSTLast modified on Mon 15 Jul 2019 00.50 BST
Activists and officials in northern Russia have warned of a “gold rush” for mammoth ivory as prospectors dig up tusks and other woolly mammoth remains that can net a small fortune on the rapacious Chinese market.
Melting permafrost from global heating has made it easier for locals to retrieve the remains of woolly mammoths, which have been extinct for thousands of years, and sell them on to China, where the ivory is fashioned into jewellery, trinkets, knives, and other decorations.
Woolly mammoth ivory preserved in the permafrost in Russia’s Yakutia region make up 80% of Russia’s trade in a largely unregulated market worth as much as £40m each year, according to Russian officials.
“The process of harvesting mammoth remains needs to be regulated,” said Vladimir Prokopyev, a regional official in Yakutia who has warned about the dangers that the business poses for locals. Local officials have warned that large business interests or an outright ban on harvesting mammoth remains could disenfranchise locals, who should have the right to collect a limited amount of tusks and live off the proceeds.


1.5-metre jellyfish spotted off coast of Cornwall


Divers stayed close to giant animal for an hour before it swam away
Mon 15 Jul 2019 11.58 BSTLast modified on Mon 15 Jul 2019 13.45 BST
A giant barrel jellyfish has been spotted off the coast of Cornwall by divers.
“I’ve never seen one that big,” said Lizzie Daly, a biologist who saw the creature near Falmouth. “We had seen a few smaller jellyfish at a beautiful reef nearby, and then out of the murk came this huge, beautiful jelly fish. You just take a double look and ask yourself if it’s actually a metre and a half long.”
She said swimming alongside the “gentle giant” was “such a serene, grounding experience”.
Thousands of the creatures, the largest jellyfish found in British coastal waters, flock through the Atlantic Ocean towards warm coastal waters in the west of the UK each year and are often found washed up on beaches across May and June.
Owing to the late summer, the animals, which normally measure up to about a metre with their tentacles, were still being spotted in south-west England, south Wales and elsewhere. This was not unusual, Daly said, and the sightings were not part of a “freak jellyfish wash-up”.
Daly and an underwater camera operator, Dan Abbott, were diving in Falmouth as part of the online series Wild Ocean Week and stayed with the abnormally large, translucent bell-mushroom-shaped animal for about an hour before it swam away.
The pair said they were not surprised by the animal’s behaviour. “It has got a very mild sting and poses no threat to humans – some people don’t even feel it,” Daly said. “Many people would be immediately worried, but it is not dangerous. Its a majestic creature.”
However, she said her response may have differed if it was a Portuguese man o’ war, which carries a potentially deadly sting.
Dr Michele Kiernan from the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth said little was known about the lifestyles of barrel jellyfish, including where their young live, and that their movements were at the mercy of winds and currents.

Don't Be Confused If This Starfish Makes Your Mouth Water


By Isobel Whitcomb, Live Science Contributor | July 15, 2019 07:21am ET
If this starfish is making your mouth water, you're not alone. When a photo of Plinthaster dentatus went viral on Twitter last week, pasta-lovers did a double take — the sea star looked just like a piece of ravioli.
ravioli starfish.
The photo of the starfish, captured on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's recent expedition to the deep Atlantic Ocean, propelled the tasty looking echinoderm to fame. But until now, the "ravioli" star (also called the cookie star) was a bit of a nobody.
Even though scientists have known of the ravioli star for some time, only recently did the creature get a common (non-Latin) name, Christopher Mah, an invertebrate biologist at the Smithsonian Museum at Natural History, told Live Science. Instead, the starfish was known only by its formal scientific name, P. dentatus


Goats can distinguish emotions from the calls of other goats


JULY 9, 2019

Goats can probably distinguish subtle emotional changes in the calls of other goats, according to a new study led by Queen Mary University of London.
The researchers measured behavioural and physiological changes in goats to determine if they can differentiate between calls linked to positive and negative emotions.
They found that when the emotion of a call changed, the likeliness of the goats to look towards the source of the sound also changed suggesting that they can distinguish the emotional content of calls of another goat.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology, also shows that the goats' heart-rate variability—the variation in time between each heartbeat—was greater when positive calls were played compared to when negative calls were played.
Together, these results provide the first strong evidence that goats are not only able to distinguish call variants based on the emotion that they convey, but also that their own emotions are potentially affected.
The study was carried out in collaboration with the University of Roehampton, ETH Zurich and University of Turin.
Luigi Baciadonna, lead author of the study from Queen Mary University of London, said: "Despite its evolutionary importance, social communication of emotions in non-human animals is still not well understood. Our results suggest that non-human animals are not only attentive, but might also be sensitive to the emotional states of other individuals."

Gorillas found to live in 'complex' societies, suggesting deep roots of human social evolution


JULY 9, 2019

Gorillas have more complex social structures than previously thought, from lifetime bonds forged between distant relations, to "social tiers" with striking parallels to traditional human societies, according to a new study.
The findings suggest that the origins of our own social systems stretch back to the common ancestor of humans and gorillas, rather than arising from the "social brain" of hominins after diverging from other primates, say researchers.
Published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study used over six years of data from two research sites in the Republic of Congo, where scientists documented the social exchanges of hundreds of western lowland gorillas.
"Studying the social lives of gorillas can be tricky," said lead author Dr. Robin Morrison, a biological anthropologist from the University of Cambridge. "Gorillas spend most of their time in dense forest, and it can take years for them to habituate to humans."
"Where forests open up into swampy clearings, gorillas gather to feed on the aquatic vegetation. Research teams set up monitoring platforms by these clearings and record the lives of gorillas from dawn to dusk over many years."
Some data came from a project in the early 2000s, but most of the study's observational data was collected from the Mbeli Bai clearing, run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, where scientists have recorded gorilla life stories for over 20 years.


Friday, 26 July 2019

Sturgeon, America's forgotten dinosaurs, show signs of life


JULY 10, 2019
by Ben Finley, Patrick Whittle And John Flesher
Sturgeon were America's vanishing dinosaurs, armor-plated beasts that crowded the nation's rivers until mankind's craving for caviar pushed them to the edge of extinction.
More than a century later, some populations of the massive bottom feeding fish are showing signs of recovery in the dark corners of U.S. waterways.
Increased numbers are appearing in the cold streams of Maine, the lakes of Michigan and Wisconsin and the coffee-colored waters of Florida's Suwannee River.
A 14-foot Atlantic sturgeon—as long as a Volkswagen Beetle—was recently spotted in New York's Hudson River.
"It's really been a dramatic reversal of fortune," said Greg Garman, a Virginia Commonwealth University ecologist who studies Atlantic sturgeon in Virginia's James River. "We didn't think they were there, frankly. Now, they're almost every place we're looking."
Following the late 1800s caviar rush, America's nine sturgeon species and subspecies were plagued by pollution, dams and overfishing. Steep declines in many populations weren't fully apparent until the 1990s.
"However, in the past three decades, sturgeon have been among the most studied species in North America as a result of their threatened or endangered status," said James Crossman, president of The North American Sturgeon and Paddlefish Society, a conservation group.


The wild relatives of livestock and crops are disappearing


JULY 10, 2019
by Philip Mcgowan, Friederike Bolam And Louise Mair, The Conversation
"Transformative change" is needed to prevent a million species going extinct, according to a new report on the world's biodiversity. Based on information gathered over three years from land, freshwater and marine ecosystems, and drawing heavily from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the report from the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warns that Earth's life-support systems may collapse if humanity doesn't change the way it values and uses nature.
But what does this mean for everyday life? Biodiversity—which describes the variety and abundance of species living on Earth—is a term which doesn't travel far outside debate between scientists and policymakers. The consequences of the biodiversity crisis can seem abstract and difficult for many people to understand, particularly the implications for their own lives.
Think food, though, and the implications become clear.

'Plan Bee' gets Indian elephants to buzz off railways


JULY 10, 2019
Indian Railways have come up with a novel way of getting elephants to buzz off from train tracks: speakers that play the sound of bees to scare the jumbos away.
Almost 70 elephants were killed by trains between 2013 and June this year, mostly in the north-eastern state of Assam and northern West Bengal.
But nearly 50 buzzing amplifiers have been deployed as part of "Plan Bee" at a dozen "elephant corridors" in the vast forests of Assam state, home to nearly 6,000 elephants, 20 percent of the country's total.
"We were looking for means to stop the elephants from coming on to the tracks and our officers came up with this device," Pranav Jyoti Sharma, an Indian Railways spokesperson, told AFP.
The buzzing is played as trains approach vulnerable points and can be heard up to half a mile (600 metres) away, the spokesman said.
The devices were tested for efficiency in 2017 on domesticated elephants, and then wild ones, before they were deployed for real last year.
The novel approach has won the team accolades from animal conservationists and on Tuesday an award for "best innovative idea" from Indian Railways for regional operator Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR).


Early first pregnancy is the key to successful reproduction of cheetahs in zoos


JULY 9, 2019

Cheetah experts in many zoos around the world are at a loss. Despite all their efforts, cheetahs often do not reproduce in the desired manner. Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), together with colleagues from the Allwetterzoo M√ľnster, have now found a key to the issue: The age of the mothers at the first pregnancy is the decisive factor. In contrast to animals in the wild, felines kept in zoos are often bred only years after they have reached sexual maturity. From the study results, the researchers derive recommendations for keeping cheetahs in zoological gardens. The study was published in the journal Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research.
The concentration of cheetah stress hormones, as measured over several weeks as metabolites in the feces, was as high in mothers as in females who had no offspring. Instead, the age of the mothers is the decisive factor. "We saw from the stud books that the reproduction failed when the females were six years or older at their first introduction to a male," says Bettina Wachter from Leibniz-IZW, head of the study.


Clownfish reproduction threatened by artificial light in coral reefs


JULY 10, 2019

The popular story about a clownfish that got lost at sea in the movie Finding Nemo could have a much darker sequel—as artificial light in coral reefs leaves the famous fish unable to reproduce offspring, according to a new study.
Results from a new study published in Biology Letters show an increasing amount of artificial light at night (ALAN) in coral reefs, even at relatively low levels, masks natural cues which trigger clownfish eggs to hatch after dusk.
Lead author Dr. Emily Fobert, Research Associate in biodiversity and conservation at Flinders University, says test eggs that were incubated in the presence of artificial light had a zero success rate of hatching, with no offspring surviving as a result.
"The overwhelming finding is that artificial light pollution can have a devastating effect on reproductive success of coral reef fish," says Dr. Fobert
"When ALAN is present, no eggs hatched but when the light was removed during the recovery period, eggs from the ALAN exposure hatched like normal, so the presence of light is clearly interfering with an environmental cue that initiates hatching in clownfish."
"The results indicate increasing amounts of light have the potential to significantly reduce the reproductive fitness of reef fish who settle in a habitat near shore lines."


Thursday, 25 July 2019

Marine scientists discover an important, overlooked role sea urchins play in the kelp forest ecosystem


JULY 10, 2019
Sea urchins have gotten a bad rap on the Pacific coast. The spiky sea creatures can mow down entire swaths of kelp forest, leaving behind rocky urchin barrens. An article in the New York Times went so far as to call them "cockroaches of the ocean." But new research suggests that urchins play a more complex role in their ecosystems than previously believed.
A team led by Christie Yorke, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Santa Barbara's Marine Science Institute, studied how urchins might function to break up tough kelp into more manageable pieces that can feed other scavengers, also known as detritivores, living on the kelp forest floor. The paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to look at sea urchins' role as shredders in the kelp forest ecosystem.
Urchins can have an outsized effect on kelp forests, especially when their predators aren't around to keep their population in check, Yorke explained. Overhunting of the sea otter, one of urchins' most significant predators, has allowed some urchin populations to clear cut vast tracts of kelp forest, drastically reducing the productivity and biodiversity of sites they've munched through. Some groups have even taken to indiscriminately smashing urchins to stem this scourge.

Decades-long butterfly study shows common species on the decline


JULY 9, 2019
The most extensive and systematic insect monitoring program ever undertaken in North America shows that butterfly abundance in Ohio declined yearly by 2%, resulting in an overall 33% drop for the 21 years of the program.
Though the study was limited to one group of the insect class and one geographic area, the findings provide an important baseline for what's happening more broadly with insect populations amid climate change and other human-caused disturbances, the study's corresponding author said. The findings also are in line with those of butterfly monitoring programs in multiple European countries.
"These declines in abundance are happening in common species," said Oregon State University researcher Tyson Wepprich, who led the study. "Declines in common species concern me because it shows that there are widespread environmental causes for the declines affecting species we thought were well adapted to share a landscape with humans. Common species are also the ones that contribute the bulk of the pollination or bird food to the ecosystem, so their slow, consistent decline is likely having ripple effects beyond butterfly numbers."
Findings were published today in PLOS ONE.

New research helps managers and ship crews predict locations of blue whales so ships can maintain safe distances


JULY 10, 2019

A new model based on daily oceanographic data and the movements of tagged whales has opened the potential for stakeholders to see where in the ocean endangered blue whales are most likely to be so that ships can avoid hitting them.
The research was published in Diversity and Distributions by Dr. Briana Abrahms, research ecologist at NOAA Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and related the movements of more than 100 tagged blue whales to daily oceanographic conditions. Abrahms found that ocean conditions affected the whales' travels in very predictable ways.
Abrahms and her colleagues are now developing an app that will allow managers and ship crews to predict the location of blue whales as they transit along the West Coast. The app will also be accessible to the public and to managers making recommendation on vessel slow-downs or the use of alternative shipping lanes.
"The more we learn about how the physical ocean affects whales and other marine life, the better we are able to predict where those species will be," Abrahms said. "The goal is to put this technology into the hands of managers, the shipping industry and other users who can most use it to help protect these animals from ship strikes and other human threats."

Chimp champ Jane Goodall enlists advanced mapping technology for nature and humanity


JULY 10, 2019
by Bradley J. Fikes
In groundbreaking research beginning nearly 60 years ago, Jane Goodall has devoted her life to understanding our closest relatives, chimpanzees.
Goodall, 85, lived among chimps in Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park, gathering observations that reached the public in a series of popular books. She was first scientist to describe chimpanzees as individuals, giving them memorable names such as Flo, Fifi and Flint. She also depicted how chimps live in societies, in peace, conflict and even war.
Now the English primatologist has enlisted a provider of 21st-century mapping science to understand and protect nature, and help their human neighbors thrive alongside wildlife without conflict.
Goodall and Geographic Information System, or GIS, provider Esri announced the partnership Monday at Esri's 2019 user meeting in San Diego.
The Redlands-based company will provide the Jane Goodall Institute GIS software tools to document natural and human resources, including wildlife reserves, towns, and flood control areas. The institute, fellow scientists and local volunteers will collect the information and with Esri's help, use that knowledge to refine their conservation efforts.

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