Saturday 31 January 2015

Ancient Human Fossil Could Be New Primitive Species

by Charles Q. Choi, Live Science Contributor | January 27, 2015 11:01am ET

An ancient human fossil discovered from the seafloor near Taiwan reveals that a primitive group of humans, potentially an unknown species, once lived in Asia, researchers say.

These findings suggest that multiple lineages of extinct humans may have coexisted in Asia before the arrival of modern humans in the region about 40,000 years ago, the scientists added.

Although modern humans, Homo sapiens, are the only surviving human lineage, others once walked the globe. Extinct human lineages once found in Asia include Neanderthals, the closest extinct relatives of modern humans; Denisovans, whose genetic legacy may extend from Siberia to the Pacific islands of Oceania; Homo erectus, the most likely ancestors to modern humans; and the hobbitlike Homo floresiensis, who lived in Indonesia. These all are hominins — the group of species consisting of humans and all their relatives after the split from the chimpanzee lineage.

Blue mussels not yet the bellwether of NE coastal environment

January 30, 2015

Brown University

Mussels could be the perfect 'sentinel' species to signal the health of coastal ecosystems. But a new study of blue mussels in estuary ecosystems along 600 kilometers of coastline in the Northeast uncovered three key mysteries that will have to be solved first.

55,000-year-old human skull found in Israel sheds light on migration and sex with Neanderthals

An ancient skull found in a cave in northern Israel has cast light on the migration of modern humans out of Africa and the dawn of humanity’s colonisation of the world.

For most palaeontologists that might be enough for a single fossil, but the braincase has offered much more: a likely location where the first prehistoric trysts resulted in modern humans having sex with their heavy-browed Neanderthal cousins .

Discovered in a cave in western Galilee, the partial skull belonged to an individual, probably a woman, who lived and died in the region about 55,000 years ago, placing modern humans there and then for the first time ever.

Homo sapiens walked out of Africa at least 60,000 years ago, but the harsh climate in parts of Europe at the time hampered their spread across much of the continent until about 45,000 years ago.

The skull reveals that modern humans reached the Levant where the population may have given rise to those who later colonised Europe when the frozen climate abated and the territory became more habitable.

Invasive species in the Great Lakes by 2063

January 29, 2015

McGill University

The vulnerability of the basin to future invaders has been demonstrated by a new study that calls for regulations to mitigate this threat. The Great Lakes have been invaded by more non-native species than any other freshwater ecosystem in the world. In spite of increasing efforts to stem the tide of invasion threats, the lakes remain vulnerable, according to scientists. If no new regulations are enforced, they predict new waves of invasions and identify some species that could invade the Lakes over the next 50 years.

New research could help the critically endangered Saharan cheetah survive

The critically endangered Saharan cheetah, of which fewer than 250 individuals remain, requires vast areas to survive and adapt their behaviour to cope with the harsh desert environment scientists have discovered. They are active at night, probably to avoid heat or contact with humans, and must cover a vast amount of ground to find prey.

Scientists and conservationists at WCS, ZSL, University College London, UK, and Université de Béjaïa, Algeria, in collaboration with the Office National du Parc Culturel de l'Ahaggarthe, used infra-red camera traps to monitor Saharan cheetahs at Ahaggar Cultural Park, Algeria.

“This is the first time we have been able to collect scientific data on the rare Saharan cheetah, as in the past we have had to rely on anecdotes and guesswork,” said Farid Belbachir, lead-author from Laboratoire d'Ecologie et Environnement, Université de Béjaïa, Algeria.

Friday 30 January 2015

Baleen whales hear through their bones

January 29, 2015

San Diego State University

Understanding how baleen whales hear has posed a great mystery to marine mammal researchers. Biologists reveal that the skulls of at least some baleen whales, specifically fin whales in their study, have acoustic properties that capture the energy of low frequencies and direct it to their ear bones.

Frogs Prove Ideal Models for Studying Developmental Timing - Herp Digest

University of Cincinnati research shows that thyroid hormone receptor alpha plays an important role in hind limb development in frogs. The results of this study may shed light on the importance of hormones in early development in humans.
University of Cincinnati endocrinology researchers were recently able to mutate the thyroid hormone receptor (THR) in one of two cells during the first step of early egg division in tadpoles. As a result, they have successfully disrupted the developmental timing of the hind limbs, showing clear evidence for the importance of THR in the early development of vertebrates. The results of this study may also have the potential to shed light on the importance of hormones in early development in humans. 

With new gene mutation technology developed in the last two years, UC researcher Daniel Buchholz, associate professor of biological sciences and graduate student Jinyoung Choi, along with scientists in the Department of Mathematical and Life Sciences at Hiroshima University, were able to successfully mutate the gene in the tadpole models. Together, they found the value of tadpoles as ideal models for studying the role of hormones in development because of the timely metamorphosis from tadpole to juvenile frog, and because that transition is completely dependent on hormones. 

Choi and Buchholz recently published this research in the prestigious journal Endocrinology, titled Unliganded thyroid hormone receptor alpha regulates developmental timing via gene repression as revealed by gene disruption in Xenopus tropicali. Choi will also present their research at the 2015 ENDO Conference in March in San Diego, and Buchholz will present their work at the NASCE (North American Society of Comparative Endocrinology) biannual meeting in Toronto, June 21-25.

In earlier studies, Buchholz found that tadpoles don’t metamorphose in the absence of hormones. They instead just become larger tadpoles.

Hind limb phenotype in F1 offspring. Representative sibling offspring from a pair of TR! TALEN founders were imaged at feeding stage (upper panel). The developmental difference in hind limbs is shown in the lower panels. The hind limbs are bracketed.

This phenomenon was first discovered in 1916 when scientists were able to surgically remove the thyroid gland and found out that thyroid hormone is required for metamorphosis. Now, at the almost 100-year anniversary of this revelation, Buchholz and Choi are now able to study the other part of the story. 

“Now we can manipulate the genes and the proteins that are the receptors to look even further into what these receptors do,” says Buchholz. “This new technology has been cited in Science and Nature Magazines and could very well revolutionize the study of non-model organisms. Other scientists have been using this technology in other organisms, but we are one of the first to use the technology in tadpoles.”

Since Hiroshima University was already using this new technique, they supplied Buchholz and Choi with the technology and sent the reagents here to make the mutation. 

During the first step of development where the egg divides into two, Choi was able to mutate the THR in only one of the cells. While that cell makes up half the body, Choi was able to label what cell she manipulated, which gave rise to that half of the body. From that she could determine which side had the mutation and which side was normal. They then looked at what happened during development and consequently had a perfect control inside the same animal.

Buchholz explained that the study gets even more remarkable. Ironically, his post-doc advisor Yun-Bo Shi at the National Institutes of Child Health and Development (NICHD) –– where Buchholz first looked at molecular biology in frogs from 2000 to 2006 –– also studied this exact technology on tadpole models at the same time. While Buchholz, Choi nor Shi at NICHD knew about each others' studies until recently, they all found the same result after mutating only one hormone receptor. 

In a sort of twin study, UC and NICHD replicated each others' studies and found identical results. As a consequence, both papers are published in Endocrinology at the same time and the publication will also produce a News and Views article on this topic because of the unique situation. 

In mice, Buchholz points out that scientists have been able to knock out the gene for quite awhile because of the special structure of their reproduction system that can make embryonic stem cells. But in tadpoles, Choi and Buchholz were able to remove just one of the two (alpha and beta) thyroid hormone receptors. By knocking out only the alpha-receptor, Choi was better able to determine what each receptor controls in an organism.

“We already know what will happen if there is no thyroid hormone signal, as it will simply take away the hormone,” says Buchholz. “In humans, no hormone at all creates cretinism where the person has short stature and mental retardation. So in that case it becomes quite severe.”

In humans, Buchholz also explains that THR alpha controls heart rate, and THR beta controls thyroid hormone levels, and during development, also controls hearing. So being able to distinguish what one receptor does to the other is pretty important and has distinct consequences, especially when compared to just no hormone at all.

Frog metamorphosis has been compared to birth in humans because during frog metamorphosis there is a peak in blood levels of thyroid hormone dependence, and there is also a peak in thyroid hormone blood levels at the moment of birth in humans. Since humans and frogs are both vertebrates, Buchholz explains that there are many other similarities and the thyroid hormone receptors alpha and beta are expressed in similar cells types. 

The cells can respond to similar agonists and antagonists, which are chemicals that can block or induce thyroid hormone function. With this technology, we can test those kinds of chemicals and study what effects they have on the role of the receptors. 

“Knowing that what the THRs do in frogs is very similar to what they do in people, we can hopefully better understand what is happening in people during the developmental stage, which is very difficult to study in humans,” says Buchholz. 

Date: 1/26/2015 7:00:00 AM/By: Melanie Titanic-Schefft
Phone: (513) 556-5213/Other Contact: M.B. Reilly
Other Contact Phone: (513) 556-1824/Photos By: Daniel Buchholz

Funding:  Junyoung Choi earned a $3,000. Sigma Chi grant in aid of this research.

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| University of Cincinnati | 2600 Clifton Ave., Cincinnati OH 452

Urban sprawl promotes worm exchange across species

January 28, 2015

University of Adelaide

The complex exchange of parasitic worms between wildlife, rats and humans is a little more clear, thanks to new research. “We developed a model concept that allows us to link the probability of worm species occurring in wildlife and occurring in rats, and linked them to the probability of this occurring in a certain geographical area,” he says the lead author says.

Record sea lion pup strandings reported in Southern California

By Marty Graham15 hours ago

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - California sea lions – mainly pups – are turning up stranded and starved on Southern California beaches in record numbers this year, leaving experts worried that this winter may be the worst season ever documented for the marine mammals.

The precise cause is not clear, but scientists believe the sea lions are suffering from a scarcity of natural prey that forces nursing mothers to venture farther out to sea for food, leaving their young behind for longer periods of time.

Postal strike ends boxed lizards’ lives - Herp Digest

Durban-January 24 2015 - By Arthi Sanpath The Independent on Saturday

Stuffed into a tiny box crammed with sweets and toys, six spiny rock and green crocodile lizards were smuggled from Mexico to South Africa.
But this became their final resting place as five died, lying in the box for nearly four months when the postal service went on strike.
Only one survived the journey in the box, which had no ventilation, and the wait in the rooms of the mail centre, but was put down after its rescue by the National Council of SPCAs.
“It was incredibly sad,” said its Wildlife Protection Unit’s Arno de Klerk.
The illegal trade in wild animals was prevalent across the whole country, he said.
NSPCA inspectors had been called to the Expedited Mail Services international mail centre at OR Tambo International Airport, in Joburg, by a customs official after a rotten smell was noted coming from a package lying among piles of undelivered mail.
“On inspection, five dead and decomposing rock and green crocodile lizards were found, as well as a dehydrated lizard hanging on to life. The lizard was humanely euthanased to prevent further suffering,” said De Klerk.
The lizards had been posted to an address in Joburg from Mexico and the live animals were packed among sweets and toys. De Klerk said no provision had been made for the welfare of the animals.
“It is believed that, as a result of the strike, the box had been lying at the mail centre for four months before discovery.”
The recipient was tracked down by the NSPCA and SAPS and faces cruelty charges.
“We are shocked that so little regard was paid to these suffering animals that were treated as commodities.
“NSPCA inspectors remain vigilant to the on-going illegal trade in wild animals and we will take a hard line against perpetrators of cruelty, wherever this is encountered. This cruelty has to stop.”
He said it was not illegal to import them. “You are allowed to import animals if you have all the proper paperwork in place and do so in the proper manner.
This incident is considered illegal smuggling because animals are not allowed to be transported via the postal service, and there was no paperwork attached or submitted.
There was no provision made for them.”

Thursday 29 January 2015

Florida 'zombie cat' crawls out of grave

28 January 2015 Last updated at 10:37

Owner's neighbour Dusty Albritton: "I knew there was something wrong because I knew this cat was buried five days earlier"

A cat in Florida has had surgery after apparently clawing its way out of his grave following a collision with a car.

Bart was discovered by its owner's neighbour in Tampa five days after he was found lying in the road stiff in a pool of blood, and was presumed dead.

He is now recovering after treatment for a broken jaw and ruptured eye.

The Humane Society of Tampa Bay, which is caring for the animal they have dubbed "Bart the Miracle Cat", say they have never seen a case like it.

Bart's owner, Ellis Hutson, told the Tampa Bay Times he "couldn't stand" to bury the animal and asked his neighbour Dave to dig him a shallow grave.

Chimps with higher-ranking moms do better in fights

January 28, 2015

Duke University

For chimpanzees, just like humans, teasing, taunting and bullying are familiar parts of playground politics. An analysis of twelve years of observations of playground fights between young chimpanzees in East Africa finds that chimps with higher-ranked moms are more likely to win.

Museum's 'Dippy' dinosaur makes way for blue whale

29 January 2015 Last updated at 00:15

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

London's Natural History Museum is re-modelling its entrance, moving out the dinosaur and moving in a blue whale.

The exchange will not happen overnight: the complex logistics involved mean it will be 2017 before the great cetacean is hanging from the ceiling of the iconic Victorian Hintze Hall.

The museum thinks the change will increase the wow factor for visitors.

But it also believes the whale can better convey all the cutting-edge science conducted at the institution.

That is something a plaster-cast model of a Diplodocus skeleton - as familiar and as popular as it has become - can no longer do effectively.

"Everyone loves 'Dippy', but it's just a copy," commented Sir Michael Dixon, the NHM's director, "and what makes this museum special is that we have real objects from the natural world - over 80 million of them - and they enable our scientists and thousands like them from around the world to do real research."

England's beavers allowed to stay in the wild

Government rolls back on plan to trap England’s first wild beavers in 300 years, saying they can be released into Devon’s river Otter once they have been confirmed as disease free and of Eurasian origin

Wednesday 28 January 2015 14.30 GMT

The first beavers to live in the wild in England for 300 years are to be allowed to continue to swim free in a Devon river as long as it can be proven they are free of disease and of Eurasian origin.

Initially the government announced plans to trap the beavers, which are roaming wild in the River Otter, and confine them to a zoo or wildlife park, arguing they were an invasive species and could be carrying a disease.

But environmental campaigners – and many people who live and work along the river – launched a passionate campaign arguing the beavers were defined as non-native only because man hunted them to extinction.

Natural England’s board decided on Wednesday to grant a licence to Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) to allow the “managed release” of the beavers back into the Otter once they had been captured and proved to be of Eurasian origin free of theEchinococcus multilocularis parasite. The trust will be allowed to study the beavers and their impact on the environment over five years.

More than 2300 turtles seized at Jakarta international airport-Friday, January 23, 2015 at 2:02-(UPDATE: Just days after more than 2,350 Pig-nosed Turtles were seized in Jakarta, another 5,284 have been seized in Bali. - HERP DIGEST

The turtles were seized on 22nd January 2015 at the Ngurah Rai airport by the Fish Quarantine (BKIPM) and the Ngurah Rai airport sub-district police force.  The turtles, crammed in checked-in bags and boxes, arrived on a flight from Mozes Kilangin airport in Timika, Papua.  The investigation is now being handled by the police in Timika and Ngurah Rai and three passengers were detained for questioning.  TRAFFIC congratulates the authorities for intercepting these illicit shipments.  “Given what we know about the seasonality of the illegal harvest and trade in this species, it is highly likely that more such attempts will be made in the near future”, says Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. “We strongly encourage the authorities to punish offenders to the full extent of the law, to deter further smuggling of this threatened species.”)

TRAFFIC in Enforcement, Herpetological, In Asia
 Authorities in Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport have foiled a bid to smuggle an astonishing 2,350 Pig-nosed Turtles out of Indonesia this week, highlighting the continuing pressure on a species sought after for its rarity and exotic looks.

The turtles, found only on the island of Papua (shared between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea) and Australia, were packaged in boxes falsely labelled as mangrove crabs and were bound for Shang Hai, China, via Singapore, where they would have been sold as pets or, in some cases, for consumption.

The seizure, made on 17th January by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries via the Fish Quarantine Inspection Agency, is not the first of its kind.  In January 2014, Indonesian officials seized more than 8,000 baby Pig-nosed Turtles hidden in suitcases suspected to be destined for Singapore and China.  Shortly after that, on 12th January 2014, authorities in Hong Kong intercepted a shipment of some 2,700 Pig-nosed Turtles coming from Jakarta, Indonesia, falsely declared as live tropical fish. 

Pig-nosed Turtles are totally protected by Indonesia’s national legislation, and are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“Pig-nosed Turtles are being absolutely hammered for the lucrative, but illegal pet trade” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.  “It is highly unlikely this species can withstand such enormous offtake.”

TRAFFIC asks that the would-be buyers of this species, and shops selling them as pets, think again.

“When you buy a Pig-nosed Turtle for a pet, you are not only supporting illegal wildlife traders, but you are also directly contributing to the decline of this species in the wild.”

Already, the Pig-nosed Turtle has been assessed as being Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List and potentially faces extinction in the wild.

 Assessing the trade in Pig-nosed Turtles Carettochelys insculpta in Papua, Indonesia, in October 2014, revealed the ongoing massive illegal trade in this species, with thousands being illegally harvested from the wild to feed international demand. The report highlighted that while legislation in Indonesia was adequate on paper, actual enforcement on the ground was insufficient to prevent the large-scale poaching and smuggling.

The report strongly recommended that the Indonesian authorities increase their vigilance and take strong action against the illegal trade, at point of collection, through the trade chain to the final exporter.  The report also called upon recipient countries, such as China, to increase their efforts in preventing the species from being smuggled in.  The TRAFFIC report warned that authorities should be especially attentive between January–March when new hatchlings are increasingly trafficked.

“The seizure is timely and stands as one example of a worrying illegal trade between wildlife-rich Indonesia and large consumer markets in China,” said Shepherd.

The seizure follows a move by the governments of Indonesia and China to strengthen co-operation on wildlife trade issues. In September, 2014, the two governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to increase direct trade in wildlife from Indonesia to China, without a third country intermediary and also strengthen co-operative efforts to reduce illegal trade in wildlife.

Too wet for frogs: changes in a tropical leaf litter community coincide with La Niña - via Herp Digest

Ecosphere Volume 6, Issue 1, Art4 (January 2015).

Mason J Ryan1, Norman J Scott1, Joseph A Cook1, Beatriz Willink2, Gerardo Chaves3, Federico Bolaños3, Adrián García-Rodríguez4, Ian M Latella1, and Sally E Koerner5
1Department of Biology and Museum of Southwestern Biology, University of New Mexico, MSC03-2020,
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131 USA
2Department of Biology, Lund University, SE-223 62, Lund, Sweden
3Escuela de Biología, Universidad de Costa Rica, San Pedro, San Jose´ 2060 Costa Rica
4Departamento de Botanica, Ecologia e Zoologia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte,
59020-100 Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
5Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523 USA
Corresponding author: Mason J Ryan:

Extreme climatic events such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation profoundly affect many plants and animals, including amphibians, which are strongly negatively affected by drought conditions. How amphibians respond to exceptionally high precipitation as observed in La Niña events, however, remains unclear. We document correlation between the exceedingly wet 2010-2012 La Niña and community-level change in a leaf litter frog assemblage in Costa Rica. Relative abundances of species shifted, diversity and plot occupancy decreased, and community composition differed and homogenized with the onset of La Niña. These aspects remained altered for over 20-months but rebounded to pre-La Niña levels after approximately 12-months. We hypothesize that complex ecological cascades associated with excess moisture caused short-term declines in abundances of species and associated changes in community structure. If additional stressors such as disease or habitat loss are not co-occurring, frog communities can rapidly recover to pre-disturbance levels following severe climatic events.

Hadrosaurs would have run cross country in dino high school

January 26, 2015

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

In the struggle to survive against big meat-eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex, some smaller dinosaurs evolved the ability to sprint, while others developed long-distance running abilities.

The duck-billed hadrosaur fell into the latter category, according to a report from the University of Alberta. The physiology of the herbivore allowed it to outrun T. rex, but only over longer distances. The legendary predator was a faster sprinter.

Published by Indiana University Press, the report describes how hadrosaurs’ large tail muscles (caudofemoralis) affected their running abilities.

Using data from the 3-D modeling of modern reptiles, researchers know T. rex could sprint fast because “the physical distance the muscle has to contract to swing the leg through a single arc is very, very short,” report author W. Scott Persons, a paleontologist from the University of Alberta in Canada, told Scientific American.

In contrast, hadrosaur’s caudofemoralis muscles were attached much farther down on the femur. This made its muscle contractions longer and its strides slower, meaning it wasn’t quick, but could travel greater distances.

The study is based on 75-million-year-old fossils of two hadrosaurs from Alberta, one of an adolescent and one of an adult. The comparison between the hadrodaurs and T. rex is relevant not just because of their potential predator/prey relationship, but also because their physical make-ups are quite similar.

Why Wasps Massacre Each Other ... Over Figs

by James Cook, University of Reading | January 27, 2015 12:05pm ET

This article was originally published on The Conversation. The publication contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is a common refrain. But usually it is not followed by the words “because your neighbours may kill you”. However, this is precisely the scenario faced by some female Brazilian fig wasps – and a recent report of their “mortal combat” provides an intriguing, if chilling, example of how natural selection shapes animal behaviour.

As Charles Darwin realised, individuals compete for limited resources such as food, territory or mates – and natural selection favours those adopting the most effective competitive strategies. Often a specific behaviour involves both costs and benefits – so, for example, foraging efficiently for food may expose an animal to predators.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Dog disease in lions spread by multiple species

January 27, 2015

Washington State University

Canine distemper, a viral disease that's been infecting the famed lions of Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, appears to be spread by multiple animal species, according to a study published by a transcontinental team of scientists.

Their findings demonstrate that in natural ecosystems, a deadly virus can jump between species and thrive, thereby threatening vulnerable animal populations.

"Our study shows that the dynamics of canine distemper virus are extremely complex, and a broadened approach -- focusing not only on domestic dogs--is required if we are to control the disease among lions and other wild animal species," said veterinary researcher Felix Lankester of Washington State University's Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, a co-author based in Tanzania.

Change way we test and house cattle to control bovine TB, says new research

Cattle testing, not badger culling will beat TB say researchers

According to new research, the culling of badgers will potentially reduce the number of Bovine TB infected cattle by just 12 out of a herd of 15,000.

However, reducing the interval between TB tests on cattle by one month could reduce the number of sick cattle by 193.

The Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) research found that regular and frequent testing of cattle could eventually lead to the eradication of the disease, whether or not badgers were culled, and despite the current test being at most 80 per cent accurate.

Badger culling alone, however, did not lead to TB eradication in the study and is therefore thought unlikely to be a successful control strategy.

The model also suggested that housing cattle in large sheds over winter could potentially double the number of infected animals in a herd, because under such conditions there is a much greater chance of TB being passed between cows.

5 New Species of 'Shimmering' Goblin Spider Discovered

by Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, Contributing Writer | January 28, 2015 07:07am ET

Five new species of tiny, shimmering spiders have been discovered in Madagascar, according to a new study.

The new species belong to the family of goblin spiders, which are extremely small arachnids with body lengths ranging from about 0.04 to 0.12 inches (1 to 3 millimeters).

In the study, researchers looked at 326 spider specimens they had previously collected in Madagascar over the course of a few years. After examining the spiders' physical characteristics, such as their genitalia, the investigators determined that the animals should be classified as five species under a new genus that they namedVolborattella.

Holy mackerel! Belfast warned not to eat free fish

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — This fish tale might be a wee bit hard to stomach.

Belfast City Council is advising its citizens: Don't eat fish found lying on the roadside. They're too fishy.

Tuesday's health warning follows the accidental dumping of thousands of mackerel on to the busy Ravenhill Road, apparently by a delivery truck with a loose back door. Locals grabbed bags to haul in their catch before passing cars could turn the stranded school to pulp.

Tommy Bardsley says he bagged 25 mackerel and deemed them off-the-boat fresh. "I know fish," the 61-year-old declared.

The world's oldest known snake fossils: Rolling back the clock by nearly 70 million years

January 27, 2015

University of Alberta

Fossilized remains of four ancient snakes have been dated between 140 and 167 million years old -- nearly 70 million years older than the previous record of ancient snake fossils -- and are changing the way we think about the origins of snakes.

First step in plan to save northern white rhino

28 January 2015 Last updated at 09:54

By Paul RinconScience editor, BBC News website

Experts are pinning their hopes on in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to save the northern white rhino from extinction.

Just five of the animals remain on the planet, after two adult males died within months of each other at the end of 2014.

At a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday, conservationists decided to harvest eggs from the remaining females.

The eggs will be stored with a view to being used for IVF in the future.

While offering some hope for the rhino sub-species, it also underlines the dire prospects for the last animals.

The eggs will join frozen northern white rhino sperm already stored an institute in Berlin, Germany.

Company ordered to pay $90,000 for fishing in Ningaloo reef reserve

Federal court fines company after skipper ‘inadvertently’ trawled in protected area of what is now world heritage site, Tuesday 27 January 2015 08.47 GMT

The federal court has ordered a commercial fishing company to pay almost $90,000 for trawling in what is now a world heritage-listed marine park at Ningaloo reef, off the Western Australian coast.

The boat, operated by South Australian company Lucky S Fishing Pty Ltd, was spotted fishing in the Ningaloo commonwealth marine reserve by a surveillance aircraft on 2 September 2010.

Its fishing activities were later confirmed by the ship’s logs.

Fishing has been prohibited in the area since 1987, and it received a world heritage listing in June 2011.

Ningaloo is one of only three marine world heritage areas in Australia, alongside the Great Barrier Reef and Shark Bay, and is host to six endangered and vulnerable marine species, including the whale shark.

It stretches for 300km from Carnarvon to Exmouth and is the longest fringing barrier reef in Australia.

In a decision handed down in the federal court in Canberra on Thursday, Justice Lindsay Foster said the skipper of the fishing boat Nansei, which was contracted to Lucky S, “inadvertently” trawled in part of the protected area that overlaps the Western Deepwater trawl fishery.

Maps tabled in court show the reserve overlaps the deepwater fishery, which is popular for snapper and orange roughy, along its western fringe.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Freshwater Fish are Disappearing: Where is the Global Response? (Op-Ed)

Sue Nichols, Michigan State University | January 26, 2015 03:13pm ET

Sue Nichols is the assistant director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University. Nichols contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights

Freshwater fish are global assets — like the waters they swim, they're practically everywhere. To millions of people in the developing world, they're a crucial source of food, often caught one line or net at a time. To the developed world, they are the backbone of lucrative recreation and sport industries.

Yet freshwater fish are shy on lobbyists. Because they're often the catch and sport of individuals or small groups, their number — and thus their true value — is largely uncounted, giving them a small voice.

Lolita the killer whale closer to freedom with inclusion on endangered list

Sunday 25 January 2015 20.10 GMT

Lolita, a killer whale that has lived in a tank at Miami’s Seaquarium for 44 years, could move a step closer to freedom this week.

After decades of campaigning, animal rights activists hope US officials will include the orca on a list of endangered whales that frequent the waters where she was captured, off Washington state. That decision could trigger a lawsuit by activists who want to fly 7,000lbs (3.2-tonne) Lolita across the country and prepare her for release into the wild.

About 1,000 protesters gathered outside the Seaquarium this month to demand the release of Lolita, who performs in shows seven days a week and was the subject of the 2003 video documentary Lolita: Slave to Entertainment. Officials at Miami Seaquarium, where the orca has lived since 1970, say the release plan is dangerous and Lolita would not survive in the wild after so many years in captivity.

Evolution of marine mammals to water life converges in some genes

When marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, manatees and walruses moved from land to water, a series of physical abilities —– limbs adapted for swimming, less dense bones that make them more buoyant and a large store of oxygen relative to their body size – made it possible. Yet these animals made the transition from land to water millions of years apart.

In a report that appears online in the journal Nature Genetics, an international consortium of researchers that includes those at Baylor College of Medicine looked at the genomes of these four marine mammals and compared them to their closest land kin. The genomes of the whale and dolphin were compared to that of the cow, the walrus to the dog and the manatee to the elephant.

Chinese police alleged to have eaten endangered giant salamander at banquet

The group of 28 diners turned violent towards journalists when they tried to photograph the feast in Shenzhen, reports say

Agence France-Presse, Tuesday 27 January 2015 06.47 GMT

Chinese officials feasting on critically endangered giant salamander turned violent when journalists photographed the luxury banquet, according to media reports.

The 28 diners included senior police officials from the southern city of Shenzhen, the Global Times said in a report which appeared to show a flouting of Beijing’s austerity campaign.

“In my territory, it is my treat,” it quoted a man in the room as saying.

The giant salamander is believed by some Chinese to have anti-ageing properties, but there is no orthodox evidence to back the claim.

The species is classed as “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list of threatened species, which says the population has “declined catastrophically over the last 30 years”.

“Commercial over-exploitation for human consumption is the main threat to this species,” the IUCN said.

Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Sunday 25 January 2015

The freshwater pearl mussels of the Lake District have a perilous start to life. Every summer each of the half a million adult mussels on the river Ehen in the wilds of Ennerdale in Cumbria release up to four million larvae. Most of these simply wash out to sea and oblivion, but a few will latch on to the gills of the passing Atlantic salmon or Arctic char who visit the river to spawn.

The tiny mussels, less than a tenth of a millimetre long, will harmlessly “live on the gill” of the fish for up to 18 months as it heads out into the depths of the Atlantic. When the fish finally makes it back to spawn in the river, the mussels drop off to burrow into the clean, sandy and gravelly riverbed and go on, potentially, to live for 100 years. And, like the oyster, freshwater mussels occasionally produce a pearl. Or at least that’s what should happen. A century of habitat degradation, over extraction of water and even poaching, have made its life even more perilous

Giant polar bear shocks travellers on Tube

27 January 2015, 11:01

Passengers on the London Underground were stunned to see an eight foot polar bear climb aboard a train.

The giant bear, created by Hollwood special effects experts FX, was spotted at Charing Cross tube station, as well as Hampstead Heath and the South Bank of the Thames.

The huge puppet was made by a team of 19 prop specialists and made from more than 60 different materials including 90 sq ft of white fur.

It was controlled by two puppeteers who spent weeks studying footage of real polar bears in the wild before spending five days rehearsing with the device.

Why is so little attention paid to Madagascar's incredible wildlife?

Alison Clausen in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Tuesday 27 January 2015 12.44 GMT

Type “Madagascar” into any internet search engine and you are more likely to get reviews of the latest DreamWorks cartoon franchise followed by depressing snippets of news on poverty, disease, and economic hardship than any positive information on the country’s truly amazing natural resources.

To conservationists such as myself, who have been working in the world’s fourth largest island to preserve the country’s forests and wildlife, many of which evolved uniquely and are found nowhere else, the limited awareness of Madagascar’s natural riches leaves us scratching our heads.

In these ‘green times’, when conservation and wildlife stories are prominent, eco-tourists roam the globe, and public interest in all things ecological continues to grow steadily, why is so little attention paid to a country that houses a staggering 5% of global biodiversity while occupying a mere 0.4% of the global landmass?

Monday 26 January 2015

Millions of GMO mosquitoes could soon be released in Florida

January 26, 2015

Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online

A British biotech firm is planning a unique experiment designed to help combat a pair of painful viral diseases, but residents of the Florida Keys are not exactly welcoming their efforts.

In fact, according to UPI reports, more than 140,000 people living in that state have signed a petition attempting to prevent the organization, Oxitec, from moving forward with their research – which just happens to involve the release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes.

The media organization explains that the bloodsucking insects have been altered to produce offspring incapable of surviving to adulthood. Once released into the wild, they will seek out female mosquitoes, mate with them, and ultimately help reduce the insect’s population – helping to combat the potentially-lethal dengue fever and chikungunya fever in the process.

In theory, it may sound like an effective way to combat two painful and life-threatening viruses, but those living in the communities where the experiment is scheduled to take place are balking at the thought of being bitten by insects that have been genetically modified in a laboratory.

Oxitec has to get approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they can start their experiments, and residents in Florida have turned to an online petition to voice their displeasure with the proposed release of the mosquitoes. In the petition, they decry the “mutant bugs” and noted that genetically-modified crop experiments have gone wrong in the past.

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