Monday 31 August 2015

Five near-blind monk seals become ambassadors for vanishing species

For the first time, Hawaiian monk seals are on public display outside of the Aloha State. Conservationists hope the new ambassadors at the Minnesota Zoo will help bring more attention (and funds) to the endangered, declining species

Monday 31 August 2015 09.11 BSTLast modified on Monday 31 August 201510.57 BST

The Hawaiians call their monk seals ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua or “the dog that runs in rough water,” but when I see my first one, I think: whoa, that’s more like a bear. And indeed, a female Hawaiian monk seal weighs up to 240 kilograms – about the size of a Eurasian brown bear. Although the Hawaiian monk seals are clearly powerful, hefty animals – twice as heavy as an English mastiff – their wide, black, velvety eyes make them hard to resist. And I find myself quickly enamoured.

You may think I’m on a Hawaiian beach soaking up the sun when I see my first living, breathing monk seals, but I’m not. I’m thousands of miles away in the cold, landlocked Midwest at a press event a few days before the public debut of five female seals at the Minnesota Zoo. It’s a landmark debut: these are the first Hawaiian monk seals on public display outside of the Aloha State.

“We have been working for a long time to get more high quality zoos and aquariums to house monk seals,” said Charles Littnan, a lead scientist and monk seal expert with NOAA. “Most people in the U.S. don’t realise there is species of seal, an old and unique species, struggling against extinction in Hawaii. The Minnesota Zoo brings the seals’ plight to over a million people every year, people far removed from the tropical shores of Hawaii.”

There’s only one reason for this badger cull – votes

The latest cull is not honest, scientific or even effective at containing bovine TB. It is simply a political move to appease countryside voters

Monday 31 August 2015 14.28

Join me, dear urban dwelling, bunny-hugging Guardian reader, in setting aside your ethical and environmental concerns about killing our biggest surviving carnivorous wild animal, and follow this, the most rational case that can be made in favour of England’s badger cull.

Small dairy farmers are struggling. Bovine TB is a genuine problem in West Country hotspots and although farmers receive compensation for slaughtered cattle, it doesn’t cover their costs. Cattle and badgers transmit the disease to each other, with the latter being just one “wildlife reservoir” of a poorly understood disease that is spread by everything from pigs to deer. An eight-year scientific study estimated that a rigorous badger cull could reduce the rate of increase in cattle TB by 12-16% over nine years.

Two years ago, the government ignored that study’s conclusion (a badger cull can make “no meaningful contribution” to reducing cattle TB) to commence a four-year “pilot” badger cull in parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire. During the eight-year study, badgers were trapped in cages and shot, which is considered more humane, but the pilot’s purpose was to test the safety, efficacy and humaneness of a cheaper option – shooting free-running badgers at night. It commissioned an independent panel of scientific experts to judge this, although, to save money, decided not to test whether shot badgers actually had bovine TB or scientifically measure how the pilot cull affected cattle TB.

Piglet with two heads found in China

The piglet, found on the street in Tianjin, cannot stand on its own because of its two heads

2:38PM BST 29 Aug 2015

A piglet with two heads has been found outside a Buddhist temple in China.

The pig was found on a street in Tianjin and was taken back to the man's home.

It has three ears and is able to eat out of both its mouths.

He has fed the pig baby formula with a baby's bottle, but it cannot yet stand because of its big head.

Friday 28 August 2015

Postcode Lottery grants £200,000 to Liwonde National Park

African Parks is pleased to announce that players of People’s Postcode Lottery have awarded the charity £200,000 in funding to be used for the rehabilitation of Liwonde National Park in Malawi.

In July, African Parks concluded a 20 year agreement with the Government of Malawi to manage Liwonde National Park and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. Liwonde National Park is home to the largest remaining elephant population in Malawi as well as populations of black rhino.

The funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery will be used for the socio-economic development of local communities, to restore the biodiversity of the park, to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources, to reduce the incidence of human-wildlife conflict and to enhance the tourism product. It will also be used for the development of infrastructure which will not only facilitate park operations but also benefit local communities.

Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “We have been impressed by the track record of African Parks when it comes to conservation and I am delighted that the support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery will contribute to the protection of wildlife in Malawi.”

New species of crayfish named after Edward Snowden

AUGUST 27, 2015
by Chuck Bednar

Edward Snowden is best known as the man who blew the whistle on the US National Security Agency’s surveillance activity, but thanks to researchers at the Humboldt University of Berlin, he now has another claim to fame – as the namesake for a new species of crayfish.

The new species, which is described in a recent edition of the journal ZooKeys, has been named the Cherax snowden and was found in the freshwater tributary creeks in West Papau, Indonesia, by German scientist Christian Lukhaup and his colleagues, The Washington Post reported.

So what made him Lukhaup name this new creature after Snowden, who leaked top-secret NSA documents to a trio of journalists back in 2013, exposing the agency’s surveillance program? He wrote that it was because he viewed the controversial figure as an “American freedom fighter.”

“After describing a couple new species, I thought about naming one after Edward Snowden because he really impressed me,” he told the newspaper. “We have so many species named after other famous people who probably don't do so much for humanity. I wanted to show support for Edward Snowden. I think what he did is something very special.”

Spotted: Rare nautilus seen after three decades

AUGUST 28, 2015

by Chuck Bednar

A species of nautilus that has been called possibly “the rarest animal in the world” has been found in the wild for the first time in 30 years, and as fate would have it, one of the biologists who spotted was also a member of the research team that saw it three decades ago.

Peter Ward of the University of Washington identified the creature, Allonautilus scrobiculatus, off the coast of Papua New Guinea in 1984 along with colleague Bruce Saunders of Bryn Mawr College. He also briefly saw it again two years later, according to NBC News reports. That was the last time that any scientist laid eyes on the creature – until this past July, that is.

rare nautilusAs part of an expedition to Ndrova Island, Ward and his fellow investigators set up “bait on a stick” systems hundreds of feet below the surface of the water every evening, and recorded the activity around the suspended fish and chicken for 12-hour periods. One night, the elusive creature finally made an appearance and was soon joined by a second.

They were ultimately scared off by a sunfish, and during the course of their expedition, Ward’s team used baited traps to capture Allonautilus and several nautiluses at depths of about 600 feet. They were quickly brought to the surface in chilled water, since the creatures dislike heat. Small tissue, shell, and mucous samples were taken from each, and they were measured and released.

Badger cull to be extended into Dorset, government announces

The badger cull is to be extended into Dorset following pilots in Gloucestershire and Somerset, the government has announced.

Ministers and the National Farmers' Union (NFU) say culling badgers will curb tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, but protesters say it has little effect.

Licences have been granted to allow six weeks of continuous culling in the three counties until 31 January.

Rock star and campaigner Brian May said he would fight the culls in court.

His Save Me Trust trust confirmed the "lawfulness of the decisions to issue the licences will be challenged by a Judicial Review in the High Court".

May, well-known for his anti-cull protesting, said: "We are all hugely disappointed that the government has decided to continue its cull policy, despite Natural England's scientific advisor branding the badger cull 'an epic failure'."

Thursday 27 August 2015

Creepy Kangaroos: Why They Stand So Still

by Elizabeth Goldbaum, Staff Writer | August 27, 2015 08:35am ET

A field of grey, motionless kangaroos staring down a bicyclist in a recent YouTube video is not evidence of marsupial zombies, scientists say — though the pouched Australians look eerily possessed.

The upright kangaroos peer intensely at Ben Vezina, who posted the video on YouTube on Aug. 23, as he approaches them on bike in Hawkstowe Park in Melbourne. When he gets close, the stoic-looking animals bounce away.

Although the zombielike kangaroos look ready to devour Vezina, their behavior is much more benign and typical. "It looks really normal," said Marian Powers, a zookeeper at Fort Wayne Children's Zoo in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

"Kangaroos are really curious and inquisitive animals," and are very aware of anything that is odd to them, Powers told Live Science. The kangaroos in the video were likely interrupted from their grazing when Vezina suddenly appeared, Powers added. 

What's Blue with Legs All Over? New 3D Avatar Millipede

by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | August 26, 2015 02:00pm ET

The 3D cyberportrayal of a newfound millipede looks like it hopped from the screen of James Cameron's "Avatar," with a blue body and alien appearance to boot. 

The 1.5-inch-long (3.8 centimeters) millipede was discovered in Andalusia in Spain, in 2005. It lives in the dirt underneath stones and leaf litter — a decomposer that "acts as an important component of soil fauna," said study lead researcher Nesrine Akkari, the curator of the Myriapoda Collection at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna.

After preserving the specimen in a jar of ethanol for several years, the researchers decided to introduce it to the scientific world in a novel way. Newfound species are typically photographed, illustrated or put under a microscope, but in this case — for the first time — the researchers used X-ray microtomography (micro-CT) to study it. 

Knut polar bear death riddle solved

By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent

Scientists say they can now explain what happened to Knut, the famous polar bear that drowned at Berlin Zoo in 2011.

A new investigation has shown that he had a type of autoimmune inflammation of the brain that is also recognised in humans.

Researchers hope this knowledge can help both human and animal sufferers.

Knut became an international celebrity, after being abandoned by his mother and then hand-raised by a zookeeper.

For a while, he was the most recognisable bear on the planet, with his face featuring regularly on TV and in newspapers, and even on the front cover of an edition of Vanity Fair magazine.

His death was as public as his life. Knut experienced a seizure and collapsed into his enclosure's moat - right in front of the many zoo visitors who had come to see him - and never regained consciousness.

The necropsy established he had encephalitis, a brain inflammation, but the investigating scientists could find no reason for it.

They suspected some kind of infection, however all pathogen screening drew a blank.

HIV-Related Virus Has Existed in Primates for Millions of Years

by Elizabeth Goldbaum, Staff Writer | August 27, 2015 03:05pm ET

Viruses related to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have infected Old World monkeys as far back as 16 million years ago, according to a new study. The research provides insight into how monkeys evolved and adapted to the simian version of HIV, and why some viruses can jump from one species to another, researchers say.

In the new study, researchers reconstructed the evolutionary history of a gene that produces a protein that protects mammals' cells from retroviruses — a group of viruses that includes HIV and its counterpart that affects monkeys, called simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). Both HIV and SIV are lentiviruses, a subset of retroviruses. With lentiviruses, it takes a relatively long time between when a person or animal is exposed to the virus and when symptoms show up. For instance, it may take two to four weeks for people infected with HIV to show flu-like symptoms, according to the U.S. Department of Health.

"HIV in humans is actually the result of an SIV jumping from chimpanzees in Africa into humans, and then adapting to humans and spreading in the human population," said study co-author Welkin Johnson, a biology professor at Boston College. The close genetic relationship between humans and monkeys allowed the virus to jump between species, Johnson said.

Fossil remains of Old World lizard discovered in the New World overturn long-held hypothesis of lizard evolution

Date: August 26, 2015

Source: University of Alberta

Summary: Paleontologists have discovered a new species of lizard, named Gueragama sulamericana, in the municipality of Cruzeiro do Oeste in Southern Brazil in the rock outcrops of a Late Cretaceous desert, dated approximately 80 million years ago."

The roughly 1700 species of iguanas are almost without exception restricted to the New World, primarily the Southern United States down to the tip of South America," says Michael Caldwell, biological sciences professor from the University of Alberta and one of the study's authors. Oddly however, iguanas closest relatives, including chameleons and bearded dragons, are all Old World. As one of the most diverse groups of extant lizards, spanning from acrodontan iguanians (meaning the teeth are fused to the top of their jaws) dominating the Old World to non-acrodontans in the New World, this new lizard species is the first acrodontan found in South America, suggesting both groups of ancient iguanians achieved a worldwide distribution before the final break up of Pangaea.

Invasive caterpillar 'could spread in UK'

By Claire Marshall
BBC Environment Correspondent

26 August 2015 

An invasive caterpillar that feeds on hedges is starting to spread from its established base in London across the UK, experts warn.

The box tree caterpillar is the larval stage of a moth native to the Far East and India.

An infestation can reduce the glossy green leaves of a box hedge to a faded skeleton within a few days of hatching.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) says it is now receiving three or four reports of infestations a day.

There have been more than 150 reports already this year, compared with 20 last year, and just three in 2011.

It's devastating, like a bereavement. The speed is extraordinaryPenny Tham, Gardener

Initially limited to a small area of south west London, there have now been reports of the box tree caterpillar (Diaphania perspectalis) in areas outside the M25 and in Essex.

Dr Hayley Jones, an entomologist with the RHS, said: "The key thing is that it is established - it has survived throughout the winter and is breeding. It has a foot in the door and is now building up in numbers."

The moth first became established in Europe in 2007 and was first reported in the UK in 2008. By the end of 2014 it became apparent that it had established itself in some parts of London.

Experts believe that it originated in China and either flew across the English Channel or stowed away in containers of imported plants.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

New species of robber frog discovered in Bolivia

A new species of big-headed or robber frog (Oreobates sp. nov.) from the Craugastoridae family has been discovered in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park.

The frog was found during the first leg of an 18-month long expedition called Identidad Madidi to chronicle the staggering wildlife living in what is believed to be the world's most biodiverse park.

James Aparicio, a professional herpetologists from the Bolivian Faunal Collection, said, "Robber frogs are small to medium-sized frogs distributed in the Andes and Amazon region and to date there are 23 known species. As soon as we saw these frogs' distinctive orange inner thighs, it aroused our suspicions about a possible new species, especially because this habitat has never really been studied in detail before Identidad Madidi."

Identidad Madidi is a multi-institutional effort to describe still unknown species and to showcase the wonders of Bolivia's extraordinary natural heritage at home and abroad. The expedition officially began on June 5th, 2015 and will eventually visit 14 sites lasting for 18 months as a team of Bolivian scientists works to expand existing knowledge on Madidi's birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish along an altitudinal pathway descending more than 5,000 meters (more than 16,000 feet) from the mountains of the high Andes into the tropical Amazonian forests and grasslands of northern Bolivia.

Bats wake up and smell the coffee

Date: August 19, 2015

Source: University of Leeds

Summary: Intensive agriculture is taking a toll on bats in the Western Ghats of India, one of the world's most biodiverse regions, but shade-grown coffee, remnant rainforest patches and riverine vegetation strips may help struggling species hang on, researchers have found.

A team from the University of Leeds, UK, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore and Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, surveyed bats in the southern Western Ghats, in the first detailed study of the impact of rainforest fragmentation and plantations on bats.

Professor John Altringham, of the University of Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences, said they found several species were having difficulty in the transformed landscape -- but also found hopeful signs that remaining forest fragments and wildlife-friendly agriculture could offer a lifeline.

Professor Altringham said: "The Western Ghats region is the eighth most biodiverse place in the world but has the highest human population of any of the biodiversity hotspots.

"Historical land use change and development has left only 6% of the original habitat in the region. By looking at bats--which are excellent bioindicators--we are able to learn not only what these changes in the environment mean for bats, but also for wildlife in general."

Evidence of species loss in Amazon caused by deforestation

Date: August 24, 2015

Source: Lancaster University

Summary: Researchers studying plants, ants, birds, dung beetles and orchid bees in the Brazilian Amazon have found clear evidence that deforestation causes drastic loss of tropical forest biodiversity.

Publishing this week in Ecology Letters, researchers highlighted how remaining areas of undisturbed and recovering forest provided the last refuge for many species unable to withstand the impact of human activity.

As one of the most comprehensive surveys of the impacts of disturbance on tropical forest biodiversity ever conducted, the international team, including Lancaster University, conducted a detailed analysis of nearly 2,000 species of plants, birds, beetles, ants and bees that were found across more than 300 diverse sites in the Brazilian Amazon.

They found, where forests had been cleared for cattle ranching and agriculture, plant and animal life was impoverished and remaining species invariably consisted of the same subset of the original flora and fauna.

Researchers say this is "irrefutable" evidence that biodiversity is declining across the tropics.

But some hope still remains. The researchers also found species loss could be offset by maintaining areas of forest that contain distinctly different populations of plants and animals that, while different, complement and help sustain each other.

Thousands of Saiga Antelope die in mass mortality mystery

Nearly 140, 000 of the critically endangered saiga antelope (saiga tatarica), which lives in the Central Asian steppe, have died suddenly in Kazakhstan, almost half the global population, over a two week period.

The reason for this mass die-off is still unknown, and the mystery continues to baffle conservationists, who arrived in the breeding areas to find entire herds dying or dead on the ground, the majority consisting of mothers and new born calves. Herds several kilometres apart succumbed at the same time, mystifying scientists as to what has caused this population crash.

Nida Al Fulaij, from one of the charities involved in investigating the circumstances, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, says, "PTES has been supporting work on saiga antelope through the Saiga Conservation Alliance for some years and, because we have such strong links with the teams on the ground, we are able to respond quickly to channel much needed financial support where it’s most needed. This event is simply catastrophic for the long term survival of this critically endangered species.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Wolf pack sighting could signal comeback in California

21 August 2015 
From the sectionUS & Canada

A pack of wolves has been spotted in Northern California for the first time in nearly 100 years.

The appearance of the five grey wolf pups and two adults could signal a return of the animals, which have not been found in the state since 1924.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife first discovered the pack this month in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border using a remote camera.

The wolves have been named the "Shasta Pack" after a nearby mountain.

"This news is exciting for California," Charlton Bonham of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said on Thursday. "We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state and it appears now is the time."

State officials spotted a lone adult wolf earlier this year They believe the same wolf is associated with the newly spotted ones because of where it was photographed.

Another lone wolf made headlines in 2011 when the animal wandered into California from Oregon.

Ivory poaching: UK troops sent to Gabon to fight illegal trade

20 August 2015 
From the sectionUK

British troops have been sent to Gabon to tackle an increase in ivory poaching.

The 12 Northern Ireland-based soldiers are on their way to the African country, which has seen widespread elephant killings for their tusks.

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba requested help in battling the international trade.

Most of the country's elephants have been illegally poached for trade to Asia, leaving the population dwindling.

The elephants inhabit the Minkebe National Park, which has a forest the size of Belgium.

About 15,000 of the forest's 22,000 elephants are said to have been killed by poachers.

Bizarre bat with longest tongue discovered in Bolivian park

Date: August 21, 2015

Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

Summary: A groundbreaking Bolivian scientific expedition, Identidad Madidi, has found a bizarre bat along with a new species of big-headed or robber frog (Oreobates sp. nov.) from the Craugastoridae family in Madidi National Park.

The researchers found the bizarre tube-lipped nectar bat (Anoura fistulata) -- the first record of this species in the park. Described in Ecuador just a decade ago and known from only three records. It has the longest tongue in relation to its size of any mammal -- stretching 8.5 cm to reach into the deepest flowers.

The frog was found during the first leg of an 18-month long expedition to chronicle the staggering wildlife living in what is believed to be the world's most biodiverse park.

Insect thought extinct found in Edinburgh

The Bordered Brown Lacewing (Megalomus hirtus) has been rediscovered on Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh after having not been seen for over 30 years, and feared to be extinct in the UK. 

The last record was from Edinburgh in 1982. The new specimen was found by Mike Smith, an intern with Buglife as part of a project supported by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). 

Mike Smith, Buglife intern says: “Finding the lacewing has been a really exciting start to my project and now we know that it’s not extinct, we can start learning more about it.

"We think it might live on Wood Sage but we’re not sure and so we need to investigate further to make sure that this rare Scottish insect has everything it needs to survive.”

Colin Plant, the national recorder for lacewings, who confirmed the identification, says: “The rediscovery of the Bordered Brown Lacewing in Edinburgh is really good news for biodiversity.

Humans are 'unique super-predator'

By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent

20 August 2015

Humans' status as a unique super-predator is laid bare in a new study published in Science magazine.

The analysis of global data details the ruthlessness of our hunting practices and the impacts we have on prey.

It shows how humans typically take out adult fish populations at 14 times the rate that marine animals do themselves.

And on land, we kill top carnivores, such as bears, wolves and lions, at nine times their own self-predation rate.

But perhaps the most striking observation, say authors Chris Darimont and colleagues, is the way human beings focus so heavily on taking down adult prey.

This is quite different from the rest of the animal kingdom, for which the juveniles of a species tend to be the most exploited.

Monday 24 August 2015

Seals, whales and porpoises regularly spotted in the Thames, survey reveals

A ten-year survey by the ZSL finds that marine life is thriving in the murky waters

9:37AM BST 20 Aug 2015

Large marine animals, including seals, dolphins and whales, have become regular inhabitants of the River Thames, research has revealed.

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said that over a ten-year period, more than 2,700 sightings had been reported.

It said that seals were the most common animal seen and were often spotted around from bridges around Westminster.

But most sightings of marine mammals were reported around the docks and wharfs of Canary Wharf than any area along the Thames Estuary in the past decade.

Some 1,080 harbour seals were reported, as well as 333 grey seals and 823 unknown types of seal.

A pod of eight harbour porpoises was spotted near Kew Gardens in 2009 and a pod of bottlenose dolphins visited Deptford in 2006.

Bison in Yellowstone: What can the US do with its surplus animals as herds continue to grow?

Since mid-May five visitors have been hurt - gored, trampled or tossed into the air


Sunday 16 August 2015

Even for a park with a history of unhappy encounters between people and wildlife, 2015 is shaping up as an eventful year for Yellowstone and its bison. Since mid-May, five visitors have been hurt – gored, trampled or tossed into the air – in run-ins with the park’s most famous residents.

The tourists all came away with treatable wounds. For the bison, however, the year’s brushes with humans did not always end as well. Since January, more than 500 of the woolly beasts – the most in years – have been chased on to trucks by government workers and hauled to slaughterhouses. Some 200 others that wandered off park grounds were rounded up in a similar fashion or stalked by hunters and shot. Next year’s numbers are expected to be still higher, a consequence of a surging population and strict rules that park officials themselves find difficult to carry out.

“It is hard to watch,” said Rick Wallen, Yellowstone’s lead wildlife biologist for bison, describing the methods used to capture and restrain the animals. “But we do it as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Cats vs dogs: Scientists confirm that felines are better... from an evolutionary perspective

The cat family has historically been much better at surviving than the dog clan


Friday 14 August 2015

It’s the debate that has long divided animal lovers. Now scientists have confirmed that cats really are better than dogs – at least from an evolutionary perspective.

A groundbreaking study of 2,000 ancient fossils reveals that felids – the cat family – have historically been much better at surviving than the “canid” dog clan, and often at the latter’s expense.

The research finds that cats have played a significant role in making 40 dog species extinct, outcompeting them for scarce food supplies because they are generally more effective hunters. But researchers found no evidence that dogs have wiped out a single cat species.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Honey bees rapidly evolve to overcome new disease

August 19, 2015 by Laura Petersen

An international research team has some good news for the struggling honeybee, and the millions of people who depend on them to pollinate crops and other plants.

These valuable pollinators have faced widespread colony losses over the past decade, largely due to the spread of a predatory mite called Varroa destructor. But the bees might not be in as dire a state as it seems, according to research recently published in Nature Communications.

Researchers found a population of wild bees from around Ithaca, New York, which is as strong today as ever, despite the mites invading the region in the mid-1990s.

"They took a hit, but they recovered," said Alexander Mikheyev, a professor at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) in Japan and lead paper author. "The population appears to have developed genetic resistance."

Mikheyev and his collaborators at OIST and Cornell University studied the population genetics of the wild colony by comparing the DNA of specimens collected in 1977 with bees collected from the same forest in 2010. To conduct the study, they developed a new DNA analysis tool that works especially well for degraded DNA stored in museum samples.

Frogs mount speedy defence against pesticide threat

Species’ ability to develop resistance gives conservationists hope for amphibian survival.
18 August 2015

The grey tree frog (Hyla versicolor) can develop resistance to the pesticide carbaryl.

Several species of frogs can quickly switch on genetic resistance to a group of commonly used pesticides. In one case, wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) were able to deploy such defences in just one generation after exposure to contaminated environments, scientists reported last week at a conference of the Ecological Society of America in Baltimore, Maryland.

This is the first-known example of a vertebrate species developing pesticide resistance through a process called phenotypic plasticity, in which the expression of some genes changes in response to environmental pressure1. It does not involve changes to the genes themselves, which often take many generations to evolve.

The frogs' speedy response raises hope for amphibian species, of which one-third are threatened or extinct, says Rick Relyea, an ecologist at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and the team's leader.

Salamander fossil found in amber is all kinds of cool

AUGUST 19, 2015

by John Hopton

A fossil of a salamander found in the Caribbean and encased in amber is causing excitement for several reasons, Discovery News reported.

This discovery made scientists giggly 20-30 million years after its death, because 1) It is the first salamander ever to be found encased in amber, 2) It proves that salamanders once lived in the Caribbean, and 3) It is evidence of a species (now extinct) which was previously unknown.

Scientists from Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of California at Berkeley were working in an amber mine in a mountainous region between Puerto Plata and Santiago in Dominican Republic when they found the specimen.

"There are very few salamander fossils of any type, and no one has ever found a salamander preserved in amber," said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the OSU College of Science. "And finding it in Dominican amber was especially unexpected, because today no salamanders, even living ones, have ever been found in that region."

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Paleodiversity, have named the creature Palaeoplethodon hispaniolae.

Sumatran rhino is extinct in the wild in Malaysia

Date: August 19, 2015

Source: Natural History Museum of Denmark

Summary: Leading scientists and experts in the field of rhino conservation state in a new paper that it is safe to consider the Sumatran rhinoceros extinct in the wild in Malaysia. The survival of the Sumatran rhino now depends on the 100 or fewer remaining individuals in the wild in Indonesia and the nine rhinos in captivity.

Despite intensive survey efforts, there have been no signs of the wild Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia since 2007, apart from two females that were captured for breeding purposes in 2011 and 2014. Scientists now consider the species extinct in the wild in Malaysia. The experts urge conservation efforts in Indonesia to pick up the pace.

The conclusions are published online in Oryx, the International Journal of Conservation, led by the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. Partners include WWF, the International Rhino Foundation and IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is in charge of the global Red List of Threatened Species.

Surviving rhinos are too far apart

"It is vital for the survival of the species that all remaining Sumatran rhinos are viewed as a metapopulation, meaning that all are managed in a single program across national and international borders in order to maximize overall birth rate. This includes the individuals currently held in captivity," says lead author and PhD student Rasmus Gren HavmĂžller from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate.

The experts point to the creation of intensive management zones as a solution; areas with increased protection against poaching, where individual rhinos can be relocated to, in order to increase the number of potential and suitable mating partners.

Jellyfish in North Devon

Is this North Devon's biggest jellyfish of 2015?

By NDJFran | Posted: August 21, 2015

HAVE you been spotting lots of jellyfish on North Devon's beaches this year?

Well we think we might just have found one of the biggest.

Frank Biederman took this photo at Instow beach which shows a huge, beastly-looking jellyfish on the shore.

Comparing it to the pair of feet behind it shows just how big the sea creature really is.

Large jellyfish spotted on Westward Ho! beach

By North Devon Journal | Posted: July 30, 2015

A LARGE jellyfish has washed up on Westward Ho! beach this morning.

The picture, taken by Phil Rayment, has got many people on the Westward Ho! Community Facebook page questioning what type of jellyfish the creature is.

One person thought it could be a Portuguese man o' war - a jelly fish with venomous tentacles, that candeliver a painful sting.

However, Megan Morris, a member of the Facebook page, said she believed it was a Velella, commonly called a By-The-Wind-Sailor.

PICTURES: Thousands of jellyfish invade Westward Ho! beach

By North Devon Journal | Posted: July 12, 2015

HORDES of spineless creatures invaded a popular beach on Thursday. Westward Ho! was so full of the jolly jellies that people took to Facebook to share pictures - and express amazement.

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