Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Super Schnozzle: Dinosaur with Exceptionally Large Nose Discovered

By Jeanna Bryner, Managing Editor | September 22, 2014 01:10pm ET

The remains of a big-nosed dinosaur that stalked the Earth some 75 million years ago, possibly luring mates with its beauty of a schnozzle, have been discovered in central Utah.

The beast's giant nose earned the dinosaur the name Rhinorexcondrupus, with the Latin word Rhinorex meaning "king nose." And it surely sported a large sniffer, having the largest nasal opening, relative to its size, of any duck-billed dinosaur and among the largest of any dinosaur, according to Terry Gates, a joint postdoctoral researcher with NC State and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

"The purpose of such a big nose is still a mystery," Gates said in a statement. "If this dinosaur is anything like its relatives then it likely did not have a super sense of smell; but maybe the nose was used as a means of attracting mates, recognizing members of its species, or even as a large attachment for a plant-smashing beak."

Slowing wind speeds could affect predator-prey balance

A researcher at the University of Wisconsin Madison has undertaken research indicating that a decline in wind speed due to global warming could affect predator-prey balance. 

Although climate change is a very well known and well documented phenomenon, our attention is most often captured by more dramatic weather, severe storms, and melting sea ice. But UW-Madison postdoctoral researcher Brandon Barton has focused his attention on the impact of climate change on wind speed. 

As the planet’s polar regions are warming faster than the equator, it reduces the temperature differential that creates wind. Wind speeds in the Midwest US are expected to decline by as much as 15 percent this century.

“There are all sorts of other things that are changing in the environment that affect animals and plants and their interactions,” explains Barton. “My students and I were standing out in a cornfield one day as big gusts of wind came by, and the corn stalks were bending almost double. From the perspective of an animal living in the corn, we thought, ‘That’s got to have a big effect.’”

Wildlife numbers halved over past four decades: WWF

Paris (AFP) - Wildlife numbers have plunged by more than half in just 40 years as Earth's human population has nearly doubled, a survey of over 3,000 vertebrate species revealed on Tuesday.

From 1970 to 2010, there was a 39-percent drop in numbers across a representative sample of land- and sea-dwelling species, while freshwater populations declined 76 percent, the green group WWF said in its 2014 Living Planet Report.

Extrapolating from these figures, "the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe is, on average, about half the size it was 40 years ago," it said.

The 52-percent decrease confirmed mankind was chomping through Nature's bounty much faster than the rate of replenishment, the WWF warned.

The last Living Planet Report, in 2012, found a 28-percent drop in numbers from 1970-2008, but that was based on only 2,688 monitored species.

The new report tracks the growth or decline of more than 10,000 populations of 3,038 species ranging from forest elephants to sharks, turtles and albatrosses.

Blind Cavefish Froze Its Internal Clock to Save Energy

By Elizabeth Palermo, Staff Writer | September 24, 2014 02:13pm ET

Some creatures will go to great lengths just to save a little energy. Take the blind Mexican cavefish; this super-efficient animal uses almost 30 percent less energy to survive than its counterparts in surface waters, and it accomplishes this in a rather interesting way, a new study suggests.

The blind Mexican tetra or cavefish (Astyanax mexicanus) saves energy by forgoing circadian rhythms, according to researchers at Lund University in Sweden. Sometimes referred to as an internal clock, circadian rhythms help many organisms — including animals, plants, fungi and even certain bacteria — coordinate their behavior and physiology with the day-night cycle, according to study researcher Damian Moran, a postdoctoral student in the Lund University department of biology.

This clock provides one of its most important functions by controlling metabolism, or the chemical reactions involved in maintaining healthy cells and breaking down molecules to gain energy. Circadian rhythm helps ensure these reactions occur in advance of when an organism will most need energy, Moran told Live Science.

Climate change appears a mixed bag for common frog

September 29, 2014

Case Western Reserve University

After warmer winters, wood frogs breed earlier and produce fewer eggs, a researcher has found. The same study also found that frogs produce more eggs during winters with more rain and snow.

New report identifies actions needed to curb illegal ivory and rhino horn trade

A new report by the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC has identified actions needed to curtail illegal ivory and rhino horn trafficking before it is too late.

The assessment identified capacity gaps and key intervention points in countries combating wildlife trafficking. Their recommendations included developing coordinated, specialised intelligence units to disrupt organised criminal networks and improving training, law enforcement technology, and monitoring judiciary processes at key locations in Africa and Asia.

Between 1998 and 2011 illegal trade in ivory has increased by nearly 300 per cent while the illegal rhino horn trade has reached the highest levels since the early 1990s and according to the report “the fundamental trade dynamic now lies between Africa and Asia.”

Lonesome No More: George the Giant Tortoise on Public Display in NYC

By Elizabeth Palermo, Staff Writer | September 19, 2014 08:01am ET

NEW YORK — With head held high outside of his enormous shell, the giant tortoise proudly looks out from his rock-strewn box at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. Just as in life, the painstakingly preserved reptile appears to extend his neck for a better view of his surroundings.

The creature on display is none other than Lonesome George, once known as one of the rarest creatures in the world. The last known giant tortoise from the island of Pinta in the Galápagos archipelago, George died of old age in June 2012 after what scientists say was about 100 years on Earth.

For the past two years, taxidermy experts have worked tirelessly with scientists at AMNH to preserve Lonesome George for future generations. And that team of professionals has done an impressive job.

Dolphins are attracted to magnets: Add dolphins to the list of magnetosensitive animals, French researchers say

September 29, 2014

Springer Science+Business Media

Add dolphins to the list of magnetosensitive animals, French researchers say. Dolphins are indeed sensitive to magnetic stimuli, as they behave differently when swimming near magnetized objects.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Hyenas, jackals feast at vulture restaurants

24 September 2014 Last updated at 12:18

By Jonathan WebbScience reporter, BBC News

"Restaurants" of dead meat set up for endangered vultures also attract an undesirable clientele of hyenas and jackals, according to a six-year study.

The research consisted of repeated "scat surveys" (dung counts) at two nearby sites in South Africa.

There was a surge in numbers of both the cheeky mammals, specifically at the site with extra food, which went back down again when the restaurants closed.

The scientists have recommended a new strategy to help boost vulture numbers.

The birds have been in decline worldwide for a number of reasons.

Specifically, the researchers suggest using fences to exclude the unwanted, earthbound customers, and dishing up the extra meat for the vultures in random locations instead of re-stocking a regular carrion pantry.

Young sea stars suffer more from ocean acidification than adults

September 26, 2014

Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR)

Young sea stars from the Baltic Sea suffer more from the effects of ocean acidification than adults. In a laboratory experiment, scientists showed that younger animals already eat less and grow more slowly at only slightly elevated carbon dioxide concentrations.

Almost 20,000 tortoises and turtles smuggled in six years

Nearly 20,000 tortoises and freshwater turtles have been smuggled through Thailand in six years says a new report by the wildlife monitoring agency TRAFFIC.

Their report, entitled Seizures of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in Thailand 2008-2013, analysed 53 reported seizures, more than half of which took place at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok.

But despite this staggering number they found just a third of the seizures resulted in the arrest of 40 suspects, and only six successful prosecutions were recorded. 

“It is encouraging that enforcement officers in Thailand are carrying out such significant seizures, but it really is the follow-up investigations and successful prosecutions that make these seizures effective,” said Dr Chris Shepherd, Regional Director for TRAFFIC in South-East Asia.


A 3.3 m long, 386 kg whale was found by hikers on Friday (26th September 2014) on the rocky shoreline at Fung Hang village near Sha Tau Kok (NE New Territories). Due to the remote location of the site, AFCD staff decided to suspend the investigation, as night fell. Officers tied the dead whale with a rope to fix it on the beach and prevent it from drifting away during the rising tide. Experts joined the investigation the following day to identify the dead whale species and the cause of death.

Chimpanzees raised as pets or performers suffer long-term effects on their behavior

September 23, 2014

Lincoln Park Zoo

Although the immediate welfare consequences of removing infant chimpanzees from their mothers are well documented, little is known about the long-term impacts of this type of early life experience. In a year-long study, scientists observed 60 chimpanzees and concluded that those who were removed from their mothers early in life and raised by humans as pets or performers are likely to show behavioral and social deficiencies as adults.

Warming Atlantic waters could see tropical species further north

Invasive tropical species such as the lionfish could be expanding into new areas due to warming water temperatures. This is bad news for Atlantic reefs, as lionfish (native to the Indo-Pacific) have been found to reduce coral cover on coral reefs.

Scientists from National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and University of North Carolina have analysed the bottom water temperature on the North Carolina continental shelf, and found that the fish in deeper, warmer water were mainly tropical, dominated by lionfish in depths of 122 to 150 feet. They found that tropical species that previously hadn’t been found in certain areas looked at in the study had since expanded into these areas. This hadn’t been possible previously, as water temperatures had been too cool.

Paul Whitfield, research ecologist at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and lead author of the study, explains, “Globally, fish communities are becoming more tropical as a result of warming temperatures, as fish move to follow their optimal temperature range.

Thailand: Campaign to free gorilla from high-rise zoo

24 September 2014 Last updated at 13:42

News from Elsewhere.....media reports from around the world, found by BBC Monitoring

Officials in Bangkok have agreed to meet activists campaigning for the release of a female gorilla which has been on display in a department store's zoo since 1987, it's reported.

The campaign to re-house Bua Noi (Little Lotus) from the zoo on the top two floors of Bangkok's Pata department store has more than 35,000 signatures and has resulted in the director of the country's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) agreeing to speak to activists about the case, the Bangkok Post reports. Sinjira Apaitan, who organised the petition, told the paper: "I don't think animals should be locked up in such unnatural habitat. I hope to help all other animals being held captive in this high-rise zoo as well." Speaking to Bangkok's Nation newspaper Sinjira hopes that the zoo, which has been criticised for its cramped conditions in the world's media for several years, would lose its licence.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

'Extinct' cat-sized chinchilla found alive in shadows of Machu Picchu

Jeremy Hance for Mongabay, part of the Guardian Environment Network

theguardian.com, Friday 26 September 2014 15.17 BST

Below one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, scientists have made a remarkable discovery: a living, cat-sized mammal that until now was only known from fossils.

The Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rat (Cuscomys oblativa) was first described from two enigmatic skulls discovered in Incan pottery sculpted 400 years ago.

Dug up by Hiram Bingham in 1912, the skulls were believed to belong to a species that went extinct even before Francisco Pizarro showed up in Peru with his motley army. Then in 2009, park ranger Roberto Quispe found what was believed to be a living Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rat near the original archaeological site.

“In conservation biology, this type of rediscovery is called the Lazarus effect,” said a team of Mexican and Peruvian scientists, who have sought to confirm Quispe’s discovery.

Fossil has evidence of limb regeneration in 300 million year old amphibian

(Phys.org) —A trio of researchers with Germany's Museum für Naturkunde, Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions und Biodiversitätsforschung, has found evidence of limb regeneration in a 300 million year old amphibian fossil, which suggests that the ability to regenerate entire limbs by such creatures is not restricted to modern salamanders. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Nadia Fröbisch, Constanze Bickelmann and Florian Witzmann describe the fossil they've been studying and why they believe it was able to regenerate its limbs.

Scientists believe that salamanders are the only modern four-legged animals that can regenerate entire limbs throughout their lives. What's not clear, however, despite a great deal of research, is if the ability is a recent evolutionary trait or if it came about long ago and has been passed along for many years. The findings by the researchers with this latest effort suggest the latter—the fossil appears to be an ancient relative of the salamander.

New evidence of ancient multicellular life sets evolutionary timeline back 60 million years

(Phys.org) —A Virginia Tech geobiologist with collaborators from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found evidence in the fossil record that complex multicellularity appeared in living things about 600 million years ago – nearly 60 million years before skeletal animals appeared during a huge growth spurt of new life on Earth known as the Cambrian Explosion.

The discovery published online Wednesday in the journal Nature contradicts several longstanding interpretations of multicellular fossils from at least 600 million years ago.

"This opens up a new door for us to shine some light on the timing and evolutionary steps that were taken by multicellular organisms that would eventually go on to dominate the Earth in a very visible way," said Shuhai Xiao, a professor of geobiology in the Virginia Tech College of Science. "Fossils similar to these have been interpreted as bacteria, single-cell eukaryotes, algae, and transitional forms related to modern animals such as sponges, sea anemones, or bilaterally symmetrical animals. This paper lets us put aside some of those interpretations."

New poison dart frog species discovered in Donoso, Panama

September 26, 2014

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

A bright orange poison dart frog with a unique call has been discovered in Donoso, Panama. Because this new frog species appears to be found in only a very small area, habitat loss and collecting for the pet trade are major threats to its existence. The authors recommend the formulation of special conservation plans to guarantee its survival.

Rhesus macaques find darker red skin more attractive

A new study reveals that rhesus macaques with darker red skin are more successful breeders

A new study on rhesus macaques has shown that variation in skin colour directly correlates to sexual success, which is the first time this has been seen in a large mammal.

Rhesus macaques with darker red faces and hind-quarters were found to be more successful in breeding, and their offspring were more likely to possess the same trait.

The research reveals that skin colouration in male and female rhesus macaques is an inherited quality, and is thought to be the first demonstration in a mammal of heritability of a physical trait (or ornament) selected through mate choice, rather than through fighting.

Brazil releases 'good' mosquitoes to fight dengue fever

24 September 2014 Last updated at 22:38

Brazilian researchers in Rio de Janeiro have released thousands of mosquitoes infected with bacteria that suppress dengue fever.

The hope is they will multiply, breed and become the majority of mosquitoes, thus reducing cases of the disease.

The initiative is part of a programme also taking place in Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The intracellular bacteria, Wolbachia, being introduced cannot be transmitted to humans.

The programme started in 2012 says Luciano Moreira of the Brazilian research institute Fiocruz, who is leading the project in Brazil .

"Our teams performed weekly visits to the four neighbourhoods in Rio being targeted. Mosquitoes were analysed after collection in special traps.

"Transparency and proper information for the households is a priority. "

Ten thousand mosquitoes will be released each month for four months with the first release in Tubiacanga, in the north of Rio.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Small, fast, and crowded: Mammal traits amplify tick-borne illness

September 18, 2014

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

In the U.S., some 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease annually. Thousands also suffer from babesiosis and anaplasmosis, tick-borne ailments that can occur alone or as co-infections with Lyme disease. In our struggle to manage the ever-growing list of tick-borne diseases, we need to understand which animals magnify human disease risk. New results suggest when generalist pathogens emerge, small mammals with large populations and a fast pace of life warrant careful monitoring.

Monitoring Ebola in wild great apes -- using poop

September 18, 2014

Wildlife Conservation Society

A group of international scientists has developed a new method to study Ebola virus in wildlife. The new methodology exploits the fact that, like humans, apes surviving viral infections develop antibodies against them. Typically, those antibodies are measured in the blood. The scientists, however, developed a laboratory technique that can isolate antibodies from ape feces.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Climate Change: Dwindling wind may tip predator-prey balance

September 19, 2014

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns may get the lion’s share of our climate change attention, but predators may want to give some thought to wind, according to a zoologist’s study, which is among the first to demonstrate the way “global stilling” may alter predator-prey relationships.

Sea Shepherd to switch campaign from whales to toothfish

Sydney (AFP) - Conservation group Sea Shepherd Australia said Wednesday it will switch its Southern Ocean campaign from whales to toothfish -- a rare species famed as "white gold" -- if Japan cancels this year's hunt in Antarctica.

Sea Shepherd, which has spent a decade harassing the Japanese harpoon ships during the southern hemisphere summer, said it would still keep its eye on any whaling vessels.

But provided Tokyo abided by its promise not to kill whales, the group would instead target the illegal fishing of Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish.

"If the Japanese are indeed suspending the slaughter this year we will conduct a Southern Ocean patrol mission with a focus on the illegal poaching of toothfish," spokesman Adam Burling told AFP.

Wildlife corridors could offer new hope for orangutans

Orangutan populations could be better protected with wildlife corridors

Researchers from Cardiff University, University of Adelaide, NGO HUTAN, and Sabah Wildlife Department have been looking at ways to improve wildlife corridors in Borneo as a new method of protecting the endangered orangutan.

According to the researchers, more than 80 per cent of the primate’s habitat has been destroyed in the past 20 years due to demand for agricultural land, leaving the remaining forest fragmented, isolating orangutans from one another and resulting in a major threat to their survival.

The study highlights that establishing wildlife corridors that connect fragmented protected areas will allow animals to move freely from one territory to another. This will be beneficial to gene diversity, as it will minimise the negative impact of inbreeding caused by animals being forced to live in small, isolated territories.  

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Dogs can be pessimists too

September 18, 2014

University of Sydney

Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life. In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, new research shows.

Young 'Nemo' clownfish roam further than thought, study shows

Australian and British scientists reveal why it was so hard to find Nemo – baby clownfish can swim up to 400km to find a home

Australian Associated Press

theguardian.com, Thursday 18 September 2014 02.10 BST

Scientists have revealed why it may be so difficult to find Nemo – baby clownfish can swim up to 400km in search of a new home.

A study, co-authored by James Cook University (JCU) researchers, shows the larvae cross large tracts of ocean to find new coral to settle on, making them better able to cope with environmental change.

“Knowing how far larvae disperse helps us understand how fish populations can adapt,” said Hugo Harrison from JCU’s centre of excellence for coral reef studies. “The further they can swim, the better they can cope.”

Results from Abu Dhabi dolphin survey revealed

EAD used drones equipped with cameras to photograph dolphins off Abu Dhabi's coast

The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) recently undertook the first vessel-based survey of dolphins in coastal waters of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi as part of its new Dolphin Conservation Programme, which has the goal of monitoring the Emirate’s dolphin population and supporting their long-term conservation.

The survey identified two species; the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphin, and the Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphin. In total, 77 bottlenose were recorded, of which 19 were calves, and 61 humpback, of which 10 were calves. The team also sighted two new born calves, which could indicate that dolphin calving season might occur late spring to early summer in Abu Dhabi.

The 15-day survey – which was conducted in partnership with the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute in Spain – was carried out using a custom-made 45-foot boat fitted with an observation platform, and covered 2,000km of Abu Dhabi’s coastal waters, extending from Sila Peninsula in the west to the border of Dubai in east.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Nature of war: Chimps inherently violent; Study disproves theory that 'chimpanzee wars' are sparked by human influence

September 17, 2014

Lincoln Park Zoo

Of all of the world's species, humans and chimpanzees are some of the only species to coordinate attacks on their own members. Since Jane Goodall introduced lethal inter-community killings, primatologists have debated the concept of warfare in this genus. New research from an international coalition of ape researchers has shed new light on the subject, suggesting that human encroachment and interference is not, as previous researchers have claimed, an influential predictor of chimp-on-chimp aggression.

Japan defies IWC ruling on ‘scientific whaling’

Tokyo announces new round of culls in the Southern Ocean despite a majority ‘no’ vote at International Whaling Commission

theguardian.com, Thursday 18 September 2014 12.39 BST

Japan has responded to a non-binding International Whaling Commission (IWC) vote to impose strict limits on its ‘scientific whaling’ programme, by announcing that it will proceed with a new round of culls in the Southern Ocean next year regardless.

The 65th meeting of the world’s whale conservation body voted by 35 to 20 with five abstentions in favour of a resolution by New Zealand, requiring members to put future scientific whaling programmes to the IWC’s scientific committee and the biennial commission itself for guidance.

Had Japan respected the vote, it would have extended until 2016 a one year moratorium that Tokyo declared after the International Court of Justice judged it in breach of IWC rules on scientific whaling.

But Japanese diplomats at the summit in Slovenia said that they would not be bound by the resolution because they took a different interpretation of the ICJ ruling, and would proceed with the new round of research whaling in the Southern Ocean that they had already declared.

Spider app launched by ecologists

Spider in Da House will help identify 12 of the most common invaders frequenting homes during autumn mating season

The Guardian, Tuesday 16 September 2014 16.39 BST

As the annual invasion of eight-legged males entering British homes gets underway, ecologists have launched an app to help people identify common house spiders. 

Autumn marks the mating season for spiders, leading to reports of male spiders wandering into homes in search of a mate as early as August.

This season is already shaping up to be a bad one for arachnophobes, according to Prof Adam Hart, an entomologist and ecologist at the University of Gloucestershire and one of the creators of the app, Spider in Da House.

“This year has been seemingly a good one for the invertebrates which spiders are feeding on, and it’s quite mild out there. My prediction is that there’s going to be a reasonable amount of activity of house spiders this year,” said Hart, who admits himself to being scared of spiders.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Victory and defeat for whales at the 65th International Whaling Conference

Sperm whales were one of the whale species that Japan was previously able to kill on the grounds of scientific research in the Antarctic

The 65th International Whaling Conference meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia – which saw the attendance of more than 60 member countries – was something of an emotional roller-coaster for those involved, including theInternational Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), with victory and defeat on both sides of the table. 

Pivotal milestones were achieved toward the conservation and preservation of whales, with a resolution being passed to provide increased protection and support to whales, and a further ruling that Japan’s ‘scientific whaling’ in Antarctica was illegal, with no further permits to be issued in the future. 

The resolution by Monaco on Highly Migratory Species aims to provide greater global protection for whales, allowing international bodies such as the UN to become involved. This victory was made despite pro-whaling countries opposing it. Japan prevented the resolution being passed by consensus, forcing a vote to take place, which went through 37 to 15, with seven abstentions. 

Yorkshire's hidden fossil haven reveals an exotic past

A derelict mining tip in Doncaster has given up its 310-million-year-old secrets after a host of new fossils – including some fossilised plants and creatures that may even be new to science – were found. One of the most exciting finds was that of a fossilised shark egg case, hinting at Yorkshire’s more exotic history.

Also among the fossils were some horseshoe crabs and previously unrecorded seed pods, all of which were found in preserved rocks that formed within the coal and shale deposits in what is one of the few fossil locations of its kind left in the UK.

The tip, located in Edlington, southwest of Doncaster, has been identified as being the only tip in the borough where fossils could still potentially be collected. All others in the area have been landscaped, or turned into parks, leaving any fossils that may be lying beneath inaccessible.

Giant jellyfish pops up in the north-west

An unusually huge toxic jellyfish has been found off the north-west coast of Western Australia.

The Keesingia gigas is one of two new species of Irukandji jellyfish recently discovered by scientist and Marine Stinger Advisory Services director Dr Lisa-Ann Gershwin.

Dr Gershwin says this jellyfish is of particular interest because it is so much larger than usual jellyfish causing Irukandji syndrome, resulting in pain, nausea, vomiting and in extreme cases, stroke and heart failure.

"It's just a whopping huge animal. We normally measure Irukandji in terms of size of your pinky or thumb nail—this one is more the size of an arm," Dr Gershwin says.

Dr Gershwin says the Keesingia gigas was first photographed in the 1980s but a specimen was only captured in 2013 near Shark Bay by marine scientist and Dr Gershwin's previous supervisor John Keesing, after whom the jellyfish is named.

No place to hide for Africa's pangolins amid China buying spree

By Emma Farge and Gerauds Obangome

DAKAR/LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Alongside dirt roads twisting through the dense tropical forests of Gabon, the scaly bodies of lifeless long-snouted pangolins dangle from sticks stuck in the ground by hunters.

The pangolin, a mammal that looks like an anteater but has the tough scales of a crocodile, has long been prized in central Africa as a bushmeat delicacy.

But growing demand for it from Asia, where pangolin scales are used in Chinese medicine to help women lactate and to cure skin disorders, now threatens to hasten its demise and rob African countries of a precious resource.

Conservationists say the demand boom is due to declining wild populations in Asia as well as high numbers of Chinese workers in Africa's resource and timber sectors, located in remote regions of the continent's interior.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Responsible tourism can positively impact whales, says travel company

Leading ethical travel agent Responsibletravel.com have put together a guide to whale-friendly tourism, outlining the ways in which people can take responsible whale watching trips that will result in supporting and protecting vulnerable whale species.

A recent US report indicates that populations of California blue whale have almost returned to their pre-whaling levels. According to researchers at the University of Washington, population levels are now 97 per cent of their historic levels.

The report also highlighted the plight of other blue whale populations across the globe. In Antarctica things are quite different for blue whales, with the population at just 1 per cent of their historic levels. This is due to international commercial whaling, and reports have found that busy international shipping routes put the whales at further risk.

New nature reserve to open in London

East Reservoir in London will be transformed into Woodberry Wetlands in 2015

London Wildlife trust will be transforming what was formerly Stoke Newington Reserve into Woodberry Wetlands, a new nature reserve in north east London set to open to the public in 2015.

The Wildlife trust has secured a total of £1.5 million in order to complete the reserve, on which will be built a bridge, boardwalk, café and visitor centre, designed to provide public access while minimising disturbance to wildlife.

The site – which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and owned by Thames Water, Hackney Council, and Berkley Homes – will give people the chance to enjoy nature in the heart of north east London. Visiting school and community groups will learn about urban wildlife, and volunteers will gain skills in practical nature conservation.

Chief Executive of London Wildlife Trust Carlo Laurenzi said: “The creation of Woodberry Wetlands shows that we can bring nature back into people’s lives, even in the heart of north east London. A new visitor centre and walkways will give free access to large parts of the site and we will significantly increase areas of reed bed and wildflower meadow to enhance the wildlife habitat.”

Concerns raised that South Africa set to reduce protection for elephants

Posted by: Ainsley Hay / posted on September 16th, 2014

At a recent stakeholder meeting called by the Department of Environmental Affairs to discuss proposed amendments to the Elephant Norms and Standards, it became apparent that the Department appears to be intending to remove all welfare-based provisions relating to elephants.

The Department states that it is experiencing difficulties enforcing and implementing the Elephant Norms and Standards. This has been highlighted by the recent civil charges laid regarding the four elephant calves illegally removed from the wild at Sandhurst Safaris, and placed into captivity at Elephants of Eden and now Knysna Elephant Park, an elephant-back safari operator.

The Department is essentially proposing that instead of addressing its shortcomings in enforcement and implementation, it will simply remove the pieces of the law that are being broken. No other concrete motivations have been provided.

Tropical fish a threat to Mediterranean Sea ecosystems

The tropical rabbitfish which have devastated algal forests in the eastern Mediterranean Sea pose a major threat to the entire Mediterranean basin if their distribution continues to expand as the climate warms, a new study warns.

The study, by an international team of researchers led by Dr Adriana Vergés of UNSW Australia and Dr Fiona Tomas of the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies in Spain, is published in the Journal of Ecology.

Members of the team surveyed more than 1000 kilometres of coastline in Turkey and Greece, where two species of rabbitfish have become dominant since they moved into the region via the Suez Canal.

"The study identified two clearly distinct areas – warmer regions with abundant rabbitfish and colder regions where they were rare or absent," says Dr Vergés.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Iberian pig genome remains unchanged after five centuries

September 17, 2014

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

A team of Spanish researchers have obtained the first partial genome sequence of an ancient pig. Extracted from a sixteenth century pig found at the site of the Montsoriu Castle in Girona, the data obtained indicates that this ancient pig is closely related to today's Iberian pig. Researchers also discard the hypothesis that Asian pigs were crossed with modern Iberian pigs.

Liuwa's only male lion found dead

Liuwa’s lion pride has suffered a major setback as its only male lion has died. It is thought that the death of the lion was caused by either poisoning or disease.

Last year, three cubs were born to the pride in Liuwa Plain National Park, Zambia, and as they have not yet reached maturity no new adult male can yet be introduced. Liuwa Park manager Rob Reid explains: “We will have to wait about a year before introducing new male lions to the park – lions typically kill cubs that they have not sired in order to stimulate the female coming into oestrus.”

Results of the 2014 Big Butterfly Count

The results are in for the 2014 Big Butterfly Count, held over three weeks in July and August and involving nearly 45,000 people spotting almost 560,000 butterflies.

The big winners were the Common Blue (up 55 per cent), Red Admiral (up 43 per cent), Speckled Wood (up 28 per cent) and Small Tortoiseshell (up 22 per cent). The summer was also good for Peacock, which was the most abundant butterfly in this year’s count.

The Small Tortoiseshell, one of the UK’s favourite butterflies, continued its fight back this summer after years of decline, despite enduring the coldest August since 1993.

This is the highest-ever ranking for the Small Tortoiseshell in the Big Butterfly Count and represents an amazing comeback for a species that had become scarce in parts of southern England.

This little butterfly, the populations of which have declined by 78 per cent since the 1970s, saw numbers rise by almost a quarter compared to last summer.

World Land Trust ups the ante to protect big cats

World Land Trust's Big Cat Big Match sets out to raise money for big cats such as jaguar, which has already benefitted from WLT's protection

As part of its ongoing work to protect big cats, World Land Trust (WLT) is urgently raising money to protect large areas of habitat for species such as tiger, puma, and jaguar.

WLT’s Big Cat Big Match will take place during the first two weeks of October. During this time, any donations made to the charity’s Big Cat Appeal will be matched pound for pound. So far £250,000 has already been pledged for the match funding pot.

Funds that will be raised during the Big Cat Big Match will be used to enable WLT’s worldwide partners to extend existing reserves, and create important new wildlife corridors to connect fragmented protected areas. The funds will also support WLT’s Keepers of the Wild Programme, which supports the employment of wildlife rangers in the reserves.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Researcher Reveals How Amphibians Crossed Continents-Assistant Professor of Biology Alex Pyron has created the only large-scale biogeographic analysis of its kind.- via Herp Digest

July 28, 2014-By Lauren Ingeno, George Washington University’s ON-line News Service

There are more than 7,000 known species of amphibians that can be found in nearly every type of ecosystem on six continents. But there have been few attempts to understand exactly when and how frogs, toads, salamanders and caecilians have moved across the planet throughout time.
Armed with DNA sequence data, Alex Pyron, an assistant professor of biology at the George Washington University, sought to accurately piece together the 300-million-year storyline of their journey.
Dr. Pyron has succeeded in constructing a first-of-its-kind comprehensive diagram of the geographic distribution of amphibians, showing the movement of 3,309 species between 12 global ecoregions. The phylogeny—or diagram of evolutionary relationships—includes about half of all extant amphibian species from every taxonomic group.
"There have been smaller-scale studies, but they included only a few major lineages and were very broad,” Dr. Pyron said. “What we needed was a large-scale phylogeny that included as many species as possible. That allows us to track back through time, not only how different species are related, but also how they moved from place to place.”
His findings, which appear in the journal Systematic Biology, suggest that, contrary to popular belief, certain groups of amphibians may have swam long distances from one landmass to another within the past few million years.
Biologists have long hypothesized the distribution of extant lineages of amphibians has been driven by two major processes: vicariance and dispersal.
Vicariance occurs when a population is separated following a large-scale geophysical event. After the fragmentation of supercontinent Pangaea and the subsequent split of the Laurasian and Gondwanan landmasses, certain groups of amphibians were able to “hitch a ride” from one continent to another, Dr. Pyron explained. The researcher’s biogeographic analysis supports this hypothesis, showing that continental movement can explain the majority of patterns in the distribution of extant species of amphibians.
Dr. Pyron also found that dispersal during the Cenozoic Era (66 million years ago to the present), likely across land bridges or short distances across oceans, also contributed to their distribution.
Given their ancient origin, it is unsurprising that the history of amphibians is a mixture of both vicariance and dispersal. But the third and final distribution pattern that Dr. Pyron notes in his study was an unexpected finding.
Past studies have assumed that long-distance over water dispersal was essentially impossible for amphibians due to salt intolerance. However, when Dr. Pyron began completing his analysis, he noticed a number of cases of distribution that could not be explained by old age.
For instance, one group of frogs found in Australia and New Guinea (pelodryadine hylids) that originated around 61 to 52 million years ago is deeply nested within a group of amphibians that exist only in South America. By the time pelodryadines originated, all major continental landmasses occupied their present-day positions, with South America and Australia long separated from Antarctica.
“They’re 120 million years too late to have walked to Australia,” Dr. Pyron said.
So how could this group of South American amphibians be related to frogs on the other side of the world?
“You wouldn’t think that frogs would be able to swim all the way there, but that seems like one of the more likely explanations for how you could have such a young group nested within South America and have it somehow get to this other continent,” Dr. Pyron said.
In his study, Dr. Pyron points two other instances of long-distance oceanic dispersal.
“What you have is this mixture of processes. You have vicariance, which over 300 million years has put certain groups in Africa, some in Australia and others in South America,” Dr. Pyron said. “But even more recently, within the last few million years, you have these chance events of long distance dispersals across the ocean, which can influence distribution patterns.”
Dr. Pyron’s next research question is whether there is any specific quality, such as tolerance to salt water, which allows some groups of amphibians to be better dispersers. He has also begun to conduct a similar analysis with lizards and snakes to see if the same distribution patterns hold up. And as new species are discovered, Dr. Pyron will continue to revise his model.
These findings not only provide evidence for the unlikely hypothesis of long-distance oceanic dispersal, but they also provide a model for explaining the distribution of other species and learning about the geographic diversity of different groups. For example, an endangered frog in South America unconnected to any other major lineages would need to be a high conservation priority.

“That’s something we can only learn from a biogeographic analysis,” Dr. Pyron said
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