Tuesday 30 April 2013

European Commission places a temporary suspension on dangerous insecticides

Bees receive some protection from EUNeonicotinoids need much more investigation
April 2013. European Commission Member States have agreed a new piece of legislation restricting the use of dangerous pesticides called neonicotinoids (neonics). The ban will start to come into effect later this year, and will restrict the use of the three most common neonics, imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam on crops which are ‘attractive to bees' and on cereals planted in the summer which cause dust clouds of toxic chemicals to be released.

This is a small step in the right direction for wildlife organisations. Buglife have been campaigning for a ban since 2009, after producing a report showing that neonicotinoids had harmful effects on wildlife and damaging the delicate relationship between pollinators and plants. Pollinator decline is a serious concern, with roughly two thirds of insects seeing worrying reduction in numbers, and more than 250 UK pollinators being threatened with extinction.

Monitoring programme needed
Vanessa Amaral-Rogers, Buglife's Pesticide Officer said "At last, the politicians are starting to listen to the science. This is a good start, but this ban will not be robust enough. In reality, a two year suspension is not enough to see our bee populations recover. Neonicotinoids have a half-life (the time taken for half of the chemical to disappear) in soil of over three years, and will still be used on winter crops. The next step is to put a monitoring programme in place which will assess how all pollinators, not just honeybees, are doing as a result of the ban."

‘High acute risk' to honeybees
This is the second time that the proposal has been put forward by the European Commission. In January, a report by the European Food Safety Authority identified a ‘high acute risk' to honeybees from Imidacloprid, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam, and an unknown risk to other pollinators such as bumblebees and hoverflies. Last month, the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health voted on the ban, but it failed to go through as a number of countries, including the UK, refused to vote. However the European Commission appealed the decision and this time the ban has met with favour, with fifteen countries voting in favour of the ban.

Vanessa said "The European Commission now needs to assess the risks from the remaining two neonics, acetamiprid and thiacloprid. Although these chemicals are relatively less potent than the other three, their toxicity can be increased by up to 560 times when combined with other chemicals such as certain fungicides. Acetamiprid and thiacloprid are used less frequently on crops, but we are concerned that they will be used to replace the main three once the ban in force, removing any benefits that the ban would have".

Pima County will pay $284,000 to protect lizards at construction site - via Herp Digest

Supervisors OK plan to keep parklands safe for desert animals
Pima County is planning to protect regal horned lizards and their habitat along with other desert creatures.
April 03, 2013 12:00 am  •  Becky Pallack Arizona Daily Star

Pima County will spend $284,000 to save horned lizards and other critters from an untimely and premature squishing at a west-side construction site.

Work is starting on a project to stabilize the banks of the Santa Cruz River from Ajo Way to Silverlake Road.

The river and surrounding parklands are home to regal horned lizards and other uncommon kinds of reptiles and toads.

But an influx of construction trucks and their noise can expose lizards to "elevated risks of road mortality," as Pima County puts it.

"There's some very unique species there, whether it's the burrowing owls or different amphibians and reptiles," said Suzanne Shields, director of the Regional Flood Control District. "They're not necessarily endangered but there aren't very many of them and they're unique to this area."

The plan is to collect certain species, hold them in specially designed corrals during construction, help them get re-established in their renovated home when the time is right and then monitor their survival.

The Board of Supervisors approved a five-year, $284,000 contract with University of Arizona research scientist Phil Rosen for this work.

Among his tasks is to tag the toes of any regal-horned, side-blotched and zebra-tailed lizards he finds in the work area.

Rosen researches ways to conserve lizard populations in urban areas.
In a report five years ago when the city was working on its Habitat Conservation Plan, he advocated preserving key populations of lizards and their habitat in the west branch of the Santa Cruz and said the city and county need to work together to get the job done.
This is part of that effort, Shields said.

The Paseo de las Iglesias bank-protection project is paid for by voter-approved bonds. The whole project, including erosion control, ecosystem restoration and river park improvements, is expected to cost $16 million.

Other considerations for animals will include improvements to an existing pond for toads and new man-made homes for burrowing owls.

Amenities for people will include the extension of the Santa Cruz River park system, a connection to The Loop trail system at Julian Wash and public art.

Preliminary work is under way now for an early fall start to the construction, which should take about two years.

On StarNet: The Critters of Southern Arizona database at azstarnet.com/critters can help you identify your backyard visitors.

Regal horned lizard population declining
These ground-dwelling lizards "are doing very poorly in residential environments of Tucson, though persisting," University of Arizona research scientist Phil Rosen said in a 2008 report to the city.

"Thus, major riparian corridors are essential for current conservation of lizard biodiversity in Tucson, although long-term, predictable declines are occurring."

Gulf Of Mexico Dolphin, Sea Turtle Deaths Point To Continued Effects Of BP Oil Spill, Group Alleges – via Herp Digest

NEW ORLEANS (AP) 4/2/13— Continuing deaths of dolphins and sea turtles are a sign that the Gulf of Mexico is still feeling effects from the 2010 spill that spewed 200 million gallons of oil from a well a mile below the surface, a prominent environmental group said Tuesday.

The deaths — especially in dolphins, which are at the top of the food chain — are "a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem," said National Wildlife Federation senior scientist Doug Inkley.

"Both species have very high mortality the first year, slightly lower the second year and the third year even lower, but still well above average," Inkley said. "To have these deaths above average for so long a period of time is unprecedented."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries service has said previously that many turtles probably drowned in shrimp nets and that brucellosis, a bacterial infection, was the only common thread in the dolphin deaths.

NOAA cannot comment about Inkley's statement because its investigation of the deaths is part of the federal tally of environmental damage for oil spill litigation, spokeswoman Connie Barclay said.

The federation's report, "Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster," was based on previously reported research by other scientists, including NOAA's updates on the dolphin and sea turtle strandings.

The key to restoring the Gulf is conserving coastal wetlands, and it's critical to make sure that any fines imposed from the trial now in progress in New Orleans go to that purpose, said Inkley and David Muth, director of the federation's Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program.

The trial will assign a percentage of responsibility among BP PLC and other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion April 20, 2010. It will also decide penalties under both the Clean Water Act and the National Resource Damage Assessment process.

NRDA uses scientific research to assess environmental damage and decide how to fix it. Under the RESTORE Act of 2012, 80 percent of all Clean Water Act fines will go to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas.

The federation looked at how coastal wetlands and six species of animals are doing in the Gulf three years after the spill, basing its assessment on historical status and what the future looks like as well as the spill's effect.

It rated the status of coastal wetlands, Atlantic bluefin tuna, and sea turtles as poor; bottlenose dolphins and deep-sea coral as fair; and shrimp and brown pelicans as good.

Bionic dog can walk again after being fitted with prosthetics

A dog can walk again after he was fitted with prosthetics following frost bite injuries that cost him his paws. 

Naki’o, from Nebraska, US, also lost part of his tail when he was abandoned in a cellar as a puppy. 

The mixed-breed had grown up unable to play with other dogs and could only move by shuffling on his belly. 

But now Naki’o is able to run, swim and jump on his prosthetic limbs, which were fitted thanks to the help of his owner, veterinarian assistant Christie Pace. 

‘I have a soft spot for rescue animals in general. I was looking for something different, unique,’ she said. 

‘I wanted to make more of a difference than a regular dog. I knew I could help him out.’ 

Pace put together a fundraiser for the dog, which initially raised enough money for two back leg prosthetics that cost between £600 and £2000. 

Baboons invade home, guys videotape the chaos

Something we've long suspected has proved to be true: Baboons are horrible houseguests. 

Howard James Fyvie and some friends saw a group of baboons climbing into a house in Betty's Bay, South Africa, whose occupants were gone. It was locked except for an open top-floor window. According to the clip's YouTube description, the guys called the police and the owner of the house, and then hurried over on their own to try to help. They climbed inside via a ladder and found the wild animals—plus a giant mess. 

The baboons, as you can see in the video above, were everywhere—in the kitchen, where they raided the refrigerator, in the bathroom, hanging out on furniture, you name it. They had ripped stuff up, defecated in various spots, and were all around enjoying themselves. Undaunted, Fyvie and company chased them out of the house. (No word on whether the guys went the extra mile and cleaned up after the animals.) 

While things worked out OK, yelling and swinging brooms at territorial primates isn't something we'd recommend. Of course, neither is leaving a window open with baboons within raiding distance. 

In an interview with "Right This Minute," Fyvie noted that when he returned to his apartment and told his roommate about the misadventure, he was told it was a stupid thing to do because "one baboon is equal to seven grown men." 

Fyvie said he responded with, "Never tell me the odds." 

Very Han Solo. 

Longer Days Bring 'Winter Blues' -- For Rats, Not Humans

Apr. 25, 2013 — Most of us are familiar with the "winter blues," the depression-like symptoms known as "seasonal affective disorder," or SAD, that occurs when the shorter days of winter limit our exposure to natural light and make us more lethargic, irritable and anxious. But for rats it's just the opposite. 

Biologists at UC San Diego have found that rats experience more anxiety and depression when the days grow longer. More importantly, they discovered that the rat's brain cells adopt a new chemical code when subjected to large changes in the day and night cycle, flipping a switch to allow an entirely different neurotransmitter to stimulate the same part of the brain. 

Their surprising discovery, detailed in the April 26 issue of Science,demonstrates that the adult mammalian brain is much more malleable than was once thought by neurobiologists. Because rat brains are very similar to human brains, their finding also provides a greater insight into the behavioral changes in our brain linked to light reception. And it opens the door for new ways to treat brain disorders such as Parkinson's, caused by the death of dopamine-generating cells in the brain. 

The neuroscientists discovered that rats exposed for one week to 19 hours of darkness and five hours of light every day had more nerve cells making dopamine, which made them less stressed and anxious when measured using standardized behavioral tests. Meanwhile, rats exposed for a week with the reverse -- 19 hours of light and five hours of darkness -- had more neurons synthesizing the neurotransmitter somatostatin, making them more stressed and anxious. 

Draft rule ends protections for gray wolves

Interior Department draft rule ends protections for gray wolves across Lower 48 states 

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Federal wildlife officials have drafted plans to lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, a move that could end a decades-long recovery effort that has restored the animals but only in parts of their historic range. 

The draft U.S. Department of Interior rule obtained by The Associated Press contends the roughly 6,000 wolves now living in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes are enough to prevent the species' extinction. The agency says having gray wolves elsewhere — such as the West Coast, parts of New England and elsewhere in the Rockies — is unnecessary for their long-term survival. 

A small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest would continue to receive federal protections, as a distinct subspecies of the gray wolf. 

The loss of federal protections would be welcomed by ranchers and others in the agriculture industry, whose stock at times become prey for hungry wolf packs. Yet wildlife advocates say the proposal threatens to cut short the gray wolf's dramatic recovery from widespread extermination. 

The proposal was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday the rule was under review and would be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment before a final decision is made. 

If the rule is enacted, it would transfer control of wolves to state wildlife agencies by removing them from the federal list of endangered species. The government has been considering such a move since at least 2011, but previously held off given concerns among scientists and wildlife advocates who warn it could effectively halt the species' expansion. 

John Vucetich, a wolf specialist and biologist at Michigan Tech University, said suitable habitat remains in large sections of the Rockies, the nation's midsection and the Northeast. Wolves presently occupy only about 15 percent of their historical range, but that could be greatly expanded if humans allow it, he said. 

"It ends up being a political question more than a biological one," Vucetich said. "It's very unlikely the wolves will make it to places like the Dakotas and the Northeast unless the federal government provides some kind of leadership." 

Scientists find ancient fossils in Panama

Scientists find fossils that are millions of years old in Panama Canal 

PANAMA CITY (AP) — U.S. and Panamanian paleontologists have discovered fossils of several species that lived in Panama more than 20 million years ago. 

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute paleontologist Bruce MacFadden says in a statement the discovery will help to better understand the biodiversity and geological formation of the Central American isthmus during the Tertiary Period.

Read on:

Endangered gopher frogs found at new breeding spot

Scientists: Endangered gopher frogs found at second breeding spot in Miss. after pond makeover 

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The snoring noise near a shallow pond in a Mississippi national forest was meant to make female frogs sit up and take notice, but it got biologists even more excited. The noise indicated that dusky gopher frogs — one of the world's most endangered species — had found a new breeding spot. 

The animals, also called Mississippi gopher frogs, live underground and breed only in rain-fed ponds so shallow that they dry up in summer. Three spots in Mississippi hold an estimated total of 100 to 200 frogs, but eggs and tadpoles have consistently shown up in only one, called Glen's Pond, in the DeSoto National Forest near Saucier. 

The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others have been working since 2000 on pond makeovers designed to please gopher frogs, which typically breed at night after heavy rain in winter or early spring. 

At a renovated pond less than a mile from Glen's Pond, Western Carolina University researcher John Tupy heard the frogs on Feb. 27. 

Since 2009, Tupy said, he's spent chilly winter and spring nights in the forest, slogging around Glen's Pond and others within reasonable hopping distance. Until then, the frogs had called only at Glen's Pond. 

"Once I finally believed that this was really happening, I was really excited," he said. "I called my wife. I called fellow researchers. And made a recording to make sure that people actually believed me." 

One of Tupy's calls was to biologist Linda LaClaire of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who is coordinating efforts to help the species recover. 

She said the move is the frogs' first natural migration and reproduction since biologists discovered them in 1988. It confirms the stability of the population in and around Glen's Pond, she said, and proves that ponds not suitable for the frogs can be modified. 

"The frogs voted with their feet," LaClaire said. 

Monday 29 April 2013

Giant skate: Powys angler David Griffiths' 107kg fish

An angler who landed a giant skate after a 90-minute struggle says it followed a "classic Jaws moment". 

David Griffiths, from Powys, hauled the 107kg (16st 12lb), 2.3m (7ft 6in) fish to the surface off Oban, Argyll. 

He said it broke the British record by about 3.6kg (8lb), but it was not official because it was not weighed on a quay or bank. 

Clicks of the rod's reel after a quiet day were the first clues to the fight ahead, but he ended up putting it back. 

After about 30 minutes it was within 100ft of the surface but then decided to go back down - it was a real battle” 

David Griffithsangler 

Mr Griffiths, a fishing book publisher from Sarn, near Newtown, said it took four people to lift the skate onto the fishing vessel Laura Dawn II during a trip with friends and his 12-year-old son William. On the same trip William landed a 51kg (113lb) skate. 

He said it was only the second time he had been skate fishing and normally stuck to rivers. 

"It was about halfway through the day and I had caught nothing. Then there was a click, click, click of the rod's reel - it was a classic Jaws moment," Mr Griffiths said. 

"The boat's skipper Ronnie Campbell told me to put my harness on and standing up I secured the end of the rod into what's called a butt pad. 

"The skate has a suction pad and was stuck to the sea bed 500ft below. After about 30 minutes it was within 100ft of the surface but then decided to go back down - it was a real battle." 

Mr Griffiths did not let his opponent off the hook and after an hour-and-a-half he and three friends lifted the fish onto the boat during their trip on 2 April. 

Genetic study finds Ice Age salmon refuge

By Mark KinverEnvironment reporter, BBC News

An area of coastal waters around North-West France has been identified as a site for a previously unknown ice-free refuge for salmon during the Ice Age. 

Researchers said the isolated marine haven would help explain the "genetic mosaic" of British and Irish salmon. 

They added that fish from this refuge bred with fish from the Iberian peninsula as they migrated into UK waters as the ice receded. 

"There has been a lot of work done on terrestrial organisms and their refugia at the time of the last glacial maximum," explained co-author Jamie Stevens, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Exeter, UK. 

In their paper, the team of European researchers said that it was possible, as a result of genetic differences, to "trace the movement of (marine) species from refugial areas into previously glaciated regions". 

Atlantic salmon in detail 

· Scientific name: Salmo salar 

· Found throughout the North Atlantic region 

· After long migrations, the fish return to their natal river to spawn 

· Abundance of Atlantic Salmon has declined markedly since the 1970s 

· Increased mortality at sea appears to be a major factor in this decline 

· Other threats include river pollution, overfishing and dams 

(Source: IUCN Red List) 

They added: "For most European species, ancestry from the Pleistocene period can be traced back to one or more of the three main refugia in the Iberian, Italian or Balkan peninsulas. 

Unrecognised refuge 
However, they explained, that there was "no evidence for their extension into the Italian or Balkan regions at that time". 

"One of the key findings of this paper is that we can now explain the genetic mosaic of salmon in Britain and Ireland as being made up from fish that migrated in from the Iberian peninsula and a previously unrecognised refuge for salmon in North-West France," Dr Stevens observed. 

"What this evidence shows is that there was almost certainly a refuge in this big scour in the ocean at the western end of the English Channel, which is referred to as Hurd Deep. 

New training and accreditation for UK whale watch operators

Sea Watch and WiSe link up to boost UK whale watch data 
April 2013. A new partnership is set to boost data collected on whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) seen around the UK at a time when warming coastal waters mean changes in species numbers and distribution are predicted. 

More marine sightings to be reported
The link-up between Sea Watch Foundation, a national UK marine research and education charity, and WiSe (Wildlife Safe), the UK standard for commercial marine wildlife watching, aims to encourage many more marine wildlife watching boat operators to become part of a nationwide network of volunteers providing data. 

Under the agreement, joint training events are being held to better equip more WiSe (www.wisescheme.org ) boat operators to provide Sea Watch scientists with reliable and detailed data on the whales, dolphin and porpoises they see on their trips. Details of the training events are available via www.wisescheme.org and www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk 

Responsible whale and dolphin watching
The waters around the UK are home to a fantastic variety of marine wildlife, but many are vulnerable to disturbance if not approached in a manner that respects their wild nature. All WiSe accredited boat operators have been trained to safeguard wildlife from unintentional disturbance. 

Sea Watch's national computer sightings database of cetaceans is the largest and longest running of any in Europe. Research Director Dr Peter Evans says: "This partnership has the potential to significantly increase the numbers of people systematically recording data on sightings at sea, and submitting them to us. Our coastal waters are frequented by 12 different species, with records of rare visitors bringing the total number of species seen off our shores to 27. As ocean waters warm we are anticipating changes in the species we see, and the distributions as they, in turn, follow changes in distribution of their prey. By collecting more data at sea we will be able to spot early trends in distribution and abundance. 

"It is only by having a full understanding of the species around the coast that we can work with Government and other policy makers to develop truly effective conservation plans." 

Training and accreditation
The WiSe Scheme trains and accredits operators of registered passenger and charter vessels that offer marine wildlife tours; working with operators of service and support boats that may interact with marine wildlife and liaising with organisations and members of the public interested in marine wildlife. 

WiSe Project Director Colin Speedie says: "Passengers choosing WiSe accredited operators for wildlife watching tours can be sure they enjoy wildlife without disturbing and endangering it. WiSE operators will also be actively contributing to scientific research. 

Rescue Me: New Study Finds Animals Do Recover from Neglect

Apr. 23, 2013 — Animal sanctuaries can play an important role in rehabilitating goats and other animals that have suffered from neglect, according to scientists at Queen Mary, University of London.

In this first scientific study of rescued animals, the researchers examined moods in 18 goats, nine of which had endured poor welfare, such as inappropriate diet, and lack of space or shelter before arriving at a sanctuary. They created a spatial awareness test, which involved giving the animals an opportunity to look for food, to understand the link between poor welfare and the goats' mental health, by comparing the behaviour of the mistreated goats with that of the goats that had been generally well treated. 

The scientists observed whether some goats were faster to explore specific areas that resulted in the reward of food and others that did not. They assessed how the goats judged previously unknown locations, described as ambiguous because they were situated between spaces known to contain food and areas without food. 

"Mood can have a huge influence on how the brain processes information. In humans, for example, it's well known that people in positive moods have an optimistic outlook on life, which means they are more resilient to stress. In the same way, measures of optimism and pessimism can provide indicators for an understanding of animal welfare," explains co-author Dr Elodie Briefer from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. 

It was thought that the goats from the poor welfare group would be more 'pessimistic' and slower than the well-treated goats to explore ambiguous locations for food, where the promise of reward was not guaranteed. However, a surprising result of the study was that female goats that had been mistreated in the past were more optimistic than the other well-treated female goats. 

Dr Briefer adds: "In this case, we found that female goats that had been previously neglected were the most optimistic of all the tested animals. They were more optimistic than well-treated females, but also the poorly treated males. This suggests that females may be better at recovering from neglect when released from stress, and might have implications for animal sanctuaries in how they tailor the care they provide for the different sexes." 

Dr Alan McElligott, also from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: "The study shows that animal rescue centres, such as Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats, where we collected our data, can provide a vital role in reversing long-term neglect once the animals receive excellent care." 

The study was published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science April 23, 2013. 

Camel Burgers Go On Sale in the Netherlands

Submitted by NewsGuy on April 15th, 2013 
The exploding dromedary population in Australia has lead to a new delicacy in the Netherlands: Camel burgers.

In the video below, Johannes Hoekstra, owner of the De Schrans restaurant in the northern city of Leeuwarden, Nl., explains why the glut of camels in Australia is a blessing for his customers. Camel meat is "just as tender as beef" but sweeter and less fattening. 

The chef has bought 50 pounds of the meat, enough to make about 250 camel burgers. He serves the delicacy on a roll with a hard boiled egg, split in two, representing the two humps of the animal which is causing lots of destruction in Australia as their population runs out of control. The government has recently approved camel meat for importation and this seems to be the first instance of a chef openly advertising the unusual dish.

Here's the video:

How long until the camel meat scandal sweeps across Europe?

Stay tuned...

Surprise – Beavers fell trees near the water’s edge - £2 million well spent

SNH publishes new report on the effect of Argyll beavers on woodland 

April 2013. The latest report on the effect of beavers on woodland has been published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), part of the ongoing monitoring work on the Scottish Beaver Trial. 

A group of European beavers was reintroduced to Knapdale forest near Lochgilphead in 2009. The five year scientific trial is run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, on land managed by Forestry Commission Scotland. Since their release, SNH has been closely monitoring the beavers, and their effects on the environment, in partnership with a number of other independent organisations. At the end of the trial, the results of the monitoring work will help the Scottish Government decide on the longer term future of beavers in Scotland. 

The woodland monitoring has been carried out by the James Hutton Institute, who regularly survey 105 vegetation plots that are located around the edges of the lochs where the beavers live and are most active. In November 2011, two and a half years after their release, 13% of trees in the plots were showing signs of beaver activity. Most of these had either been gnawed or felled. As well as feeding on bark, twigs, shoots and leaves, the beavers store felled trees and branches underwater for food in the winter and use them to build their lodges and dams.

Most beaver activity happens near the shore 

Between November 2010 and November 2011, there has been a minor shift in beaver activity to areas further from the waters edge, but the majority (72%) is still within 10 metres of the loch shores. The most intensive gnawing and felling was within 500 metres of active beaver lodges. 

Beavers prefer small trees
The beavers continued to favour trees that were 3-6cm across, although they sometimes felled much bigger trees. So far the results show that the beavers have a strong preference for willow and rowan, and tend to avoid hazel and alder. Other trees in the area are used in proportion to their availability - birch is most often used by beavers but this is because it is the most commonly found tree in the survey area. 

Lions released into Mountain Zebra National Park

Lions back in Mountain Zebra National Park after 130 year absence 

April 2013. Three lions have released into South Africa's Mountain Zebra National Park outside Cradock in the Eastern Cape, becoming the first free-roaming lions in the area after an absence of over 130 years. 

One lioness and two lions
The lone lioness was sourced from Karoo National Park outside Beaufort West, while the two males were brought in from Welgevonden Game Reserve in Limpopo. The female has been resident in the Park's boma since February, while the two males arrived earlier this month - allowing them to acclimatise to their new surroundings, and each other, before their release. 

Park Manager, Megan Taplin, says the decision to introduce lion into the Park was mainly for biodiversity reasons. "Lions would have occurred here historically and it is SANParks policy to reintroduce the wildlife species which would have occurred in an area before hunting or habitat loss forced them to local extinction in earlier centuries. They will also occupy the niche of large predator in the ecosystem, keeping the numbers of larger herbivores in the Park in check," said Taplin.

Increasing numbers of herbivores
The three were released from the Park's boma on 25th April, as the third predator species in the Park - after the introduction of cheetah in 2007 and brown hyena in 2008. "SANParks took the decision to allow cheetah to first establish themselves in the Park before introducing lion which may compete with the cheetah for food. The numbers of large herbivores such as black wildebeest, red hartebeest, eland and gemsbok have now reached levels deemed sufficient to support lion," Taplin said. 

Whales Are Able to Learn from Others: Humpbacks Pass On Hunting Tips

Apr. 25, 2013 — Humpback whales are able to pass on hunting techniques to each other, just as humans do, new research has found. 

A team of researchers, led by the University of St Andrews, has discovered that a new feeding technique has spread to 40 per cent of a humpback whale population. 

The findings are published April 25 by the journal Science

The community of humpback whales off New England, USA, was forced to find new prey after herring stocks -- their preferred food -- crashed in the early 1980s. 

The solution the whales devised -- hitting the water with their tails while hunting a different prey -- has now spread through the population by cultural transmission. By 2007, nearly 40 per cent of the population had been seen doing it. 

Dr Luke Rendell, lecturer in the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews, said: "Our study really shows how vital cultural transmission is in humpback populations -- not only do they learn their famous songs from each other, they also learn feeding techniques that allow them to buffer the effects of changing ecology." 

The team -- also including Jenny Allen from the University of St Andrews, Mason Weinrich of the Whale Center of New England and Will Hoppitt from Anglia Ruskin University -- used a new technique called network-based diffusion analysis to demonstrate that the pattern of spread followed the network of social relationships within the population, showing that the new behaviour had spread through cultural transmission, the same process that underlies the diversity of human culture. 

The data were collected by naturalist observers aboard the many whale-watching vessels that patrol the waters of the Gulf of Maine each summer. 

Dr Hoppitt said: "We can learn more about the forces that drive the evolution of culture by looking outside our own ancestral lineage and studying the occurrence of similar attributes in groups that have evolved in a radically different environment to ours, like the cetaceans." 

Humpbacks around the world herd shoals of prey by blowing bubbles underwater to produce 'bubble nets'. 

The feeding innovation, called 'lobtail feeding', involves hitting the water with the tail before diving to produce the bubble nets. 

Lobtail feeding was first observed in 1980, after the stocks of herring, previously the main food for the whales, became depleted. 

Sunday 28 April 2013

Lizards Hatch From Their Eggs Prematurely To Escape Danger, Study Suggests - via Herp Digest

04/06/2013 By David Malakoff, Huffington Post 

Video at 

Talk about hatching an escape plan. Unborn lizards can erupt from their eggs days early if vibrations hint at a threat from a hungry predator, new research shows. The premature hatchlings literally "hit the ground running—they hatch and launch into a sprint at the same time," says behavioral ecologist J. Sean Doody, who is now at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 

Researchers have long known that an array of factors can affect when eggs laid by all kinds of creatures finally hatch. Some fish eggs, for instance, hatch only at certain light or temperature levels, while fungal infections can prompt lizard eggs to crack open early. Chemical or physical signals sent by predators can prompt some frog embryos to speed up their breakouts, while others delay hatching in a bid to stay safe. In lizards and other reptiles, however, such "environmentally cued hatching" strategies aren't well understood. 

That curtain began to lift a bit a few years ago, when Doody and student Philip Paull of Monash University in Australia began studying a population of delicate skinks (Lampropholis delicata) in a park near Sydney. There, the common lizards laid white, leathery eggs the size of aspirin capsules in rock crevices. The eggs generally incubate for 4 to 8 weeks before hatching, but Doody got a surprise in 2010, when he and Paull were plucking eggs from the crevices to make measurements. "They started hatching in our hands, at just a touch—it shocked us," Doody recalls. "It turned into a real mess, they were just hatching everywhere." 

Soon, Doody launched a more systematic study of the phenomenon. In two lab experiments, the researchers compared the hatching dates for skink eggs exposed to vibrations with those of eggs that weren't shaken. And in three field experiments, they poked and prodded eggs with a small stick, or squeezed them gently with their fingers to measure how sensitive the eggs were to the kinds of disturbances a predator, such as a snake, might cause. They also measured how far the premature hatchlings could dash. 

Together, the experiments offer "compelling evidence" that embryonic skinks can detect and respond to predator-like signals, the authors write in the March 2013 issue of Copeia. The vibrated laboratory eggs, for instance, hatched an average of 3.4 days earlier than the unshaken controls. And in the field, the hatching of disturbed eggs was "explosive," they note; the newborns often broke out of the egg and then sprinted more than one-half meter to nearby cover in just a few seconds. "It's amazing," Doody says. "It can be hard to see because it happens so quick." 

There may be a downside to such emergency exits, however. "[E]arly hatching skinks were significantly smaller and left behind larger residual yolks in their eggs than spontaneously hatching skinks," the authors write, potentially reducing the chances of survival. Still, it is probably better to be stunted than eaten, Doody says. The skink study is "very cool" and "very clear—we really don't have well documented examples like this in reptiles," says biologist Karen Warkentin of Boston University. In the 1990s, she discovered a tropical frog that can hatch early in response to vibrations from predators, and has since become a prominent scholar of hatching cues. There's growing evidence, she says, that embryos are much more sensitive to the world outside their eggs than once believed. "This is not just happening in delicate skinks—I'm thinking that environmentally cued hatching is very widespread, in many groups." But exactly how embryos make the decision to stay put or bail out, she says, "is something we're still trying to understand."

An Embarrassment of Anoles - via Herp Digest

by Jonathan Losos , 4/11/13 NyTimes Blog-Scientist at Work 

Colonia Tovar, a small town in the mountains above Caracas, was founded by Germans from Baden in the 1850s. In recent years, it has become something of a tourist attraction. 

For the last leg of our lizard expedition, we’ve moved to Colonia Tovar, a quaint German-flavored town in the mountains above Caracas. Mercifully cool, the weather at 7,000 feet is a relief from the brick oven that is Maracaibo. So far, the trip has been reasonably successful. We’ve discovered new aspects of two little-known anole lizard species. We’ve also identified similarities and differences between these species and the habitat specialists that evolved on Caribbean islands. 

The last leg of the trip, however, promised to be the most challenging. Our primary quarry is the tiger anole, Anolis tigrinus. The tiger is another mystery. Living in the middle elevations, it is nearly identical in appearance to the small twig-using specialists in the Caribbean. But whether it actually uses narrow surfaces or behaves like a twig anole is unknown. 

What is known is that twig anoles are extremely difficult to find. They are well camouflaged in various shades of gray and green. Most species are small, move very slowly and often live high in thick tree vegetation. We did have good success in Colombia finding the twig anole-like variable-scaled anole, but they occupy a different habitat in the bushy Andean matorral, or scrubland, where the lizards are lower to the ground and more readily discovered. 

So if the twig anole is hard to find, and the tiger anole looks a lot like the twig anole — well, that tells you something about our prospects. As we set out to search for the tiger, we agree on a bet of unprecedented size — three candy bars — for the first person to find one. Candy bars are surprisingly expensive in Venezuela, but none of us were worried about the large ante. Rather, we all expected a fruitless day of lizardless searching, in recognition of the fact that none of us expected to find any. 

Shortly after arriving at midday, we began our search in the little patch of woods behind our rooms at CabaƱas Heidelberg. One side of the property is a grassy hill sloping down to a small stream; on the other side there is a forest. Anthony Herrel of the Museum of Natural History in Paris walked down to the stream to begin searching the woods. Rosario CastaƱeda, a Colombian biologist, and I used our binoculars to scan the treetops from higher ground. “I’ve got one,” Anthony shouted up the hillside. 

Jonathan Losos A tiger anole on the prowl. 

As with our search for the variable-scaled anole a week and a half ago in Colombia, we had struck gold quickly. But this time the story was different. Our early luck wasn’t dashed by a quickly following drought. Moments later I spotted another tiger anole perched on a vine hanging down from high in the canopy. Out came the two video cameras. Then a third lizard marched into view. 

And that’s how it went all afternoon, one lizard after another. A veritable lizard cameo queue formed as we tried to keep track of the additional tiger anoles. There were as many as four at one point, most spotted by Anthony, waiting for their 30 minutes of fame. 

From watching nature documentaries on television and reading stories about researchers like Jane Goodall, many people have a romantic view of what it’s like to study animal behavior in the field. The reality is that most animals — certainly most reptiles — spend most of their time doing nothing, remaining motionless. The thrill can evaporate quickly, replaced by boredom. And mainland anoles can really bring on this ennui. The variable-scaled and beach anoles are masters of inactivity. But perhaps this is evolution’s end game to avoid drawing the attention of the many predators found in mainland settings. 

Imagine our delight, then, to discover the tiger anole to be an exception. They are a blur of activity: eating, scratching, pooping, posturing, courting and almost constantly on the move. And not only that, but the males were displaying frequently, pumping out their beautiful white and orange dewlaps to intimidate their rivals and impress the lady lizards. A hot afternoon at the lizard revue. 

This activity, however, presented its own challenges to the lizard videographer. It’s like going from tortoises to jack rabbits. We tried to film from a discreet distance, but it was easy to lose track of them as they darted in and out of the vegetation. That lead to a frenetic — indeed, stressful — time trying not to miss valuable data if the lizard did something cool out of frame. Still, I’ll take stress over tedium any day, particularly when it means discovering interesting tidbits of what it’s like to be a tiger anole. 

Jonathan Losos The writer, tracking anoles. 

As expected, the lizards were primarily found on narrow surfaces — twigs, small branches, vines and lianas. Combined with their great anatomical similarity to their Caribbean counterparts, they seemed good candidates for membership in Club Twig Anole. But as the videotaping progressed, the tiger anoles presented us with one further surprise. Anoles that use narrow surfaces — whether Caribbean or mainland — tend to move slowly, often crawling at a snail’s pace, so we expected the same for this species. 

Wrong again. 

These guys could boogie, and they did so frequently and in a very untwiggish manner. These lizards may look like twig anoles and live in twig anole habitats, but they certainly don’t act like twig anoles. What does it mean? At this point, we don’t know, but our mental wheels are spinning just trying to come up with ideas. 

The action continued fast and furious until late in the afternoon, when cool weather and impending dusk called an end to the day’s frolicking. We returned to the room, exhausted but exhilarated. We had expected not to find any lizards and instead had found more than a dozen. We had expected a sparse smattering of drying lizard paint, but had been given a reptilian Renoir, an intimate living composition in vibrant color. What a day — one of the best ever in my three decades of lizarding. 

But as always, questions remain. 

In our observations, we found four males for every female. That may reflect greater activity or choice of more conspicuous perches by the males, but how can we test this idea? We still have some lizard-catching tricks up our sleeves, but they’ll have to wait for another day. For now, it’s off to dinner and to purchase Belgian-born Anthony his three bars of well-deserved dark chocolate. 

Discovering Species - Just a Click Away- The USGS makes finding the locations (and more) of U.S. species a lot easier with the new digital resource - BISON - via Herp Digest

Released: 4/18/2013 8:00:00 AM 

Biodiversity Information Serving Our Nation or BISON is the only system of its kind; a unique, web-based Federal resource for finding species in the U. S. and territories. Its size is unprecedented, offering more than 100 million mapped records of nearly every living species nationwide and growing. And the vast majority of the records are specific locations, not just county or state records. 

What’s more, BISON provides an "Area of Interest" search capability in which users can query by drawing the exact boundary around their area of interest, down to and including towns, villages, or even much smaller areas such as parks. For instance, New York City's Central Park has more than 100,000 "species occurrences" recorded in BISON, with each species noted in detail. Other BISON search options include querying the species by scientific or common name, year range, state, county, basis of record, or provider institution. 

As for the results, BISON displays them in both an interactive map and a list format. Users can click on each species occurrence point to retrieve more information, such as the institution providing the data, the collector, the date collected, and whether it was from a collection or an observation. Further, occurrences can be dynamically visualized with more than 50 other layers of environmental information in the system. Extensive web services are also available for direct connections to other systems. 

"The USGS is proud to announce this monumental resource", said Kevin Gallagher, Associate Director, Core Science Systems," and this is a testament to the power of combining the efforts of hundreds of thousands of professional and citizen scientists into a resource that uses Big Data and Open Data principles to deliver biodiversity information for sustaining the Nation's environmental capital". 

"BISON is destined to become an indispensable toolkit to manage species occurrence data to support scientific, educational, and policy-making activities in the US", Dr. Erick Mata, Executive Director of the Encyclopedia of Life explained. "This is highly complementary and synergistic with EOL's efforts to raise awareness and understanding of living nature." 

"With BISON, the USGS takes a big step toward making biodiversity data held within Federal agencies easier to find and use", added Mary Klein, President & CEO of NatureServe. "I am enthusiastic about future opportunities to work with USGS to increase collaboration among Federal, state and private data holders." 

USGS Core Science Systems Mission Area, which developed the resource, expects that BISON users will be broad-based and include land managers, researchers, refuge managers, citizen scientists, agriculture professionals, fisheries managers, water resource managers, educators, and more. 

Land managers, for instance, might be looking for a piece of land to purchase for conservation—but first they want to know what species have been documented for that parcel. BISON will tell them after only a few mouse clicks. 

BISON serves as the U.S. Node of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and will form an integral part of EcoINFORMA, the information delivery strategy in "Sustaining Environmental Capital: Protecting Society and the Economy," a recent report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). 

"BISON responds directly to a key need PCAST pointed out in 'Sustaining Environmental Capital' - to make Federal environmental data available, inter-operable, and usable to the public," said PCAST member Rosina Bierbaum, "We look forward to this 'biodiversity' hub being supplemented by complementary ecological data hubs by other Federal partners, to further the goal of helping communities across the Nation make increasingly wise planning and management decisions." 

BISON already includes millions of points from the Federal investment in biodiversity research. It is formally cooperating with other Federal agencies to greatly expand the delivery of federally funded biodiversity data for the greatest possible good. Hundreds of thousands of citizen and professional scientists have collected the data in BISON. Non-governmental organizations, state and local governments, universities, and many others are also participating in this enormous undertaking. 

The USGS has built and maintains BISON, which is hosted on the massive Federal computing infrastructure at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 

To learn more, visit: http://bison.usgs.ornl.gov or contact the USGS BISON Team atBISON@usgs.gov. 

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey 

Office of Communications and Publishing 

12201 Sunrise Valley Dr, MS 119 

Reston, VA 20192 

Dr. Gerald "Stinger" Guala Phone: 703-648-4311
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