Sunday 31 January 2016

Freshwater turtle (Mauremys rivulata) crosses the Aegean Sea-Turtle Found in Eastern Mediterranean, from southeast Europe and Greece to western Turkey and as far as Lebanon, Israel, Syria and the islands of Crete and Cyprus. – via Herp Digest

 Date: April 7, 2014
Source: Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum

Scientists at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Dresden, together with an international team of researchers, have studied the widely distributed freshwater turtle, Mauremys rivulata. In spite of geographical barriers, the turtles are genetically very similar throughout their vast distribution range. This would indicate that that animals cross hundreds of kilometres of sea. The study is published in the scientific journal Zoologica Scripta.

Mauremys rivulata is a turtle, no more than 24 centimetres in size, which is widely distributed in lakes and streams in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean, from southeast Europe and Greece to western Turkey and as far as Lebanon, Israel, Syria and the islands of Crete and Cyprus.

The wide range of the species led the research team of Prof Dr Uwe Fritz, Managing Director at Senckenberg Dresden to study this species of turtle genetically.

"Because of the many geographical barriers in the range of this freshwater turtle -- especially the Aegean Sea -- we assumed that there would be many genetically different populations. This was based on the consideration that there was no gene flow between the isolated distribution patches, as the sea divides the populations," says Fritz.

The story that emerged, however, was quite a different one: Using different genetic methods, the scientists examined 340 turtle samples from a total of 63 localities across the entire region of distribution. "The astonishing thing is that even turtles living at great distances from each other display an almost identical genetic pattern, for instance, in southeast Europe and Asian Turkey" explains Fritz. This means that the turtles must have found a means to exchange their genes across large distances -- and indeed over hundreds of kilometres of sea.

But how do the animals manage to live on both sides of the Aegean without developing into an individual species over time? "One idea is that the turtles were brought to the different regions by humans, which meant that the gene pool could mix constantly," explains Melita Vamberger, lead author of the study, and adds: "Yet in contrast to other turtles, Mauremys rivulata was never popular as food, because these animals stink terribly. There is therefore no obvious reason why these turtles should have been transported in such large numbers."

Thus, only one other -- unexpected -- possibility remained for the researchers: "We assume that this freshwater turtle is dispersed across the sea. It is likely that turtles are swept repeatedly from their habitats in coastal swamps into the sea by storms. They can obviously survive for a long time in the sea, long enough until they are washed onto some shoreline somewhere. And this occasional exchange is sufficient!"

In fact, some time ago a Mauremys rivulata was caught on open water near Cyprus, which would support this theory.

And whatever a turtle can do might also be a feasible option for others. "It might well be possible," says Fritz, "that other turtle species take the route across the sea. For instance, this could also explain the weak genetic structure found throughout the widely distributed and endangered North American diamond terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)." This could necessitate rethinking conservation measures for this and other species.

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
Melita Vamberger, Heiko Stuckas, Dinçer Ayaz, Petros Lymberakis, Pavel Široký, Uwe Fritz. Massive transoceanic gene flow in a freshwater turtle (Testudines: Geoemydidae:Mauremys rivulata). Zoologica Scripta, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/zsc.12055

Cite This Page:
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. "Freshwater turtle crosses the Aegean Sea." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 April 2014. <>.

11th Duke of Bedford blamed for unstoppable grey squirrel invasion

The 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Russell, was one of the worst culprits of Victorian "squirrel spreading"

By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor
1:31PM GMT 26 Jan 2016

With its seemingly unstoppable spread through Britain, the grey squirrel has come to exemplify the danger posed by non-native species.

But a new study suggests that without the bungling actions of well-meaning Victorians, the squirrel would not have reached such huge numbers, or ventured so far.

Imperial College has found that the 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Russell, was one of the worst culprits of ‘squirrel spreading.’

“The most important introduction occurred in 1890, when 10 grey squirrels imported from New Jersey were released at Woburn Abbey."

The Duke, an eminent animal conservationist, not only imported 10 of the creatures from America, but released them into the grounds of his home of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, and sent them to friends across the country as presents for their own estates.

He also released populations in Regent's Park, creating the current London epidemic of greys.

“It was a time when we didn’t know invasive species could cause so much damage,” said lead author Dr Lisa Signorile whose study shows that the popular notion of a grey ‘super-squirrel’ is nonsense.

“The most important introduction occurred in 1890, when 10 grey squirrels imported from New Jersey were released at Woburn Abbey.

"Woburn squirrels were later distributed as gifts across a minimum of seven sites in the UK and Ireland, but no systematic documentation of these translocations was kept, so the number of propagules from Woburn may have been greater.

“Grey squirrels are not as crazy invaders as we think – their spread is far more our own fault.”

Public shocked as poacher shoots and beheads 'tourist favourite' Hollywood the elk

Hollywood was apparently friendly to tourists before he was killed for a trophy by a poacher

3:32PM GMT 21 Jan 2016

The friendly nature of this magnificent elk appears to be what got him killed.

Hollywood the elk was found dead on a nature reserve, which has upset visitors as the noble beast was a tourist favourite.

The star animal, who lived at Nickel Preserve in Oklahoma was shot by a crossbow and arrow.

Poachers took his head and one hindquarter, and left the rest for visitors to find.

The reserve is privately owned by The Nature Conservancy, an environmental non-profit.

Hollywood was much-loved by visitors for its excellent relations with children and keenness to be around people.

Preserve Director Jeremy Tubbs told the Tulsa World : "People with kids could drive through, and it was almost guaranteed they would see him.

"There are no other elk like that on the preserve; they are typically pretty secretive animals."

Yahoo Japan defends online ivory trade

Petition signed by over 1 million people calls on company to halt ‘appalling’ trade estimated at 12m tonnes in recent years

Wednesday 27 January 2016 12.05 GMTLast modified on Wednesday 27 January 201612.14 GMT

Japan has defended its online trade in ivory amid mounting pressure calling on the company to stop selling thousands of products on its auction site.

The company sold an estimated 12 tonnes of elephant tusks and fashioned pieces of ivory on its Japanese auction site between 2012 and 2014, prompting the activist network Avaaz to launch a petition that has attracted more than 1m signatures.

Referring to the trade as Yahoo’s “bloody secret”, the petition calls on the chief executive of the company, Marissa Mayer, and Japanese head, Manabu Miyasaka, to “urgently stop all ivory sales from sites/platforms in Japan and all other markets”.

“As global citizens, we are appalled that you allow ivory to be sold … fuelling elephant extinction,” the petition says.

On Wednesday, the company defended the practice, insisting that it prohibited the sale of raw ivory and ivory products that violates a 1989 trade ban.

The firm said its auction site permitted only the sale of items that were produced before the ban went into effect. “Since there is a chance some sales may be illegal we are strengthening our policies. If we find a sale was illegal we cancel it straight away,” Takako Kaminaga, a Yahoo Japan spokeswoman, said. “We ‘patrol’ 24 hours a day.”

Yahoo Japan is a joint-venture between Yahoo and the Japanese telecoms firm SoftBank. SoftBank said it had no comment.

Residents of Australian state warned of snakes in "plague proportions"- via Herp Digest

Xinhua   1/21/16- MELBOURNE,  -- The authorities have urged residents in the Australian state of Victoria, especially those living in country areas, to be on high alert following a string of recent snake attacks across the state.

The warning comes after at least three people were hospitalized and three dogs were killed by suspected snake bites around Victoria over the past fortnight.

One snake catcher told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Thursday that conditions were ideal for snakes this summer and the growing urban sprawl meant this would be an ongoing problem for people living in the outer suburbs.

A man aged in his 20s was hospitalized on Wednesday night after being bitten by a snake near Seymour, north of Melbourne, and a Kyabram resident, also in the state's north, suffered a suspected snake bite early on Thursday morning.

After spending three days in Dandenong Hospital, Barbara McDougall, who was bitten at her home south-east of Melbourne, told the local newspaper she had been badly shaken following her ordeal.

"It was absolutely terrifying," McDougall told the Cranbourne Leader on Thursday.

"I was putting my rubbish out when a one-metre long tiger snake grabbed my leg and wouldn't let go. I was screaming and shaking my leg as hard as I could until I finally got it off."

McDougall said three dogs in the neighbouring area had been killed in similar incidents over the past two weeks. She said she had never known a snake season as bad as the current one and that the state could be headed for a plague.

"From what I've heard, they're in plague proportions in this area," McDougall said.

Wildlife authorities in Victoria were moved on Thursday to issue the following tips to anyone helping a snake bite victim: ask the patient not to move, apply a broad crepe bandage over bite, seek medical help quickly, do not wash venom off skin or cut bitten areas, do not try to suck venom out of wound or use a tourniquet and do not try to catch the snake. 

Friday 29 January 2016

Devils Hole pupfish found to be a lot younger than thought

January 27, 2016 by Bob Yirka report

 (—A team of researchers from several institutions in the U.S. has found evidence that suggests that pupfish living in Devils Hole are not nearly as ancient as has been previously assumed. In their paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team describes a genetic study they conducted on the fish and others that are related to them, and what they found as a result.

The existence of small, goldfish sized, dark blue fish living in a water filled fissure in the Mojave Desert has led to many theories regarding how they got there and how they have survived. For many years, the consensus has been that they got there due to flooding during the Pleistocene epoch, approximately 10 to 20,000 years ago. How they managed to survive for so long in such a remote, small and hot environment has been a mystery. But now, new evidence suggests that the pupfish may not have been living in the Hole for nearly that long.

Prior research has shown that the pupfish are a unique species—with features that are unique to them alone among pupfish, such as the lack of a dorsal fin, bigger eyes and darker scales. To learn more about the origins of the species, which scientists have described as having the smallest range of any vertebrate on Earth, the group conducted a genetic analysis of 56 pupfish from around the Death Valley area (including one of the pupfish from Devils Hole which was found dead) and other parts of the world, sequencing over 13,000 different stretches of DNA—a process that allowed them to create a family tree. To gauge the historical age of the pupfish from Devils Hole, the team averaged the rate of gene mutations in its cousins. Doing so showed that the fish likely first inhabited their isolated environment approximately 105 to 830 years ago and then evolved very quickly to allow them to survive.

The researchers did not find any evidence that might explain how the fish got there during that time frame, but suggest it is possible that people living in the area put them there as a means of maintaining a food source in the desert, or perhaps birds carriedfish eggs from other, less remote water sources.

Sri Lanka destroys huge illegal ivory haul

Government publicly destroys biggest ever illegal ivory haul in bid to show poachers it will not tolerate the violent trade

Tuesday 26 January 2016 10.19 GMTLast modified on Tuesday 26 January 201610.22 GMT

 The Sri Lankan government on Tuesday publicly destroyed its biggest ever illegal ivory haul in what customs officials said was an attempt to show poachers that the island will not tolerate the violent trade.

More than 350 tusks were displayed at the Galle Face promenade in the island’s capital Colombo before being fed into a 100-tonne crusher to be sent to an industrial furnace.

The haul, which experts said came from African elephants slaughtered for their tusks, was seized at Colombo’s port nearly four years ago en route to Dubai from Kenya.

“There are some very small tusks which would have come from baby elephants,” Colombo customs director, Udayantha Liyanage, told reporters.

“We are trying to demonstrate that there is no value for blood ivory ... It is horribly cruel and the elephants suffer for about a week before they die,” he said.

Blood ivory is a term used by activists to describe tusks obtained illegally by slaughtering elephants.
The organisers observed a two-minute silence for the slain elephants before Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim leaders performed funeral rites for the animals.

Liyanage detected the container-load holding 359 pieces of ivory in May 2012 while it was in transit to Dubai from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, falsely labelled as storing plastic waste.

Officials confiscated the ivory in line with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna regulations, the customs director said.

The illegal trade in ivory from African elephants is driven by Asian and Middle Eastern demand for their tusks, which are used in ornaments and medicines.

Most Sri Lankan elephants do not have tusks and the animals are venerated and protected by law.

South Africa imposes year-long leopard hunting ban for 2016

Conservation groups hailed the year-long ban, saying it was crucial to protecting the species given that the size of the country’s leopard population is unknown

AFP in Johannesburg
Monday 25 January 2016 21.38 GMTLast modified on Tuesday 26 January 201618.51 GMT

South Africa has imposed a year-long ban on leopard hunting in 2016 in a decision hailed Monday by conservation activists.

“Provincial conservation authorities were informed that leopard hunts should not be authorised in 2016,” the department of environmental affairs said, adding that the ban would be reviewed at the end of the year.

The department said it was acting on recommendations from South Africa’s scientific authority, which had suggested an intervention to ensure the survival of the leopard population.

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), South Africa can allocate 150 permits each year for the trophy-hunting of leopards destined for export.

The size of South Africa’s leopard population remains a mystery.

“We just don’t know how leopards are faring in South Africa,” said Guy Balme of environmental group Panthera.

“They’re secretive, mainly nocturnal, solitary and range over huge areas.”

Conservation groups hailed the year-long ban, saying it was crucial to protecting the species given that the size of the population is unknown.

“Until we know population numbers and carrying capacity we should not hunt them,” said Andrew Muir of the Wilderness Foundation.

Kelly Marnewick, carnivore conservation manager at the Environmental WildlifeTrust, added: “It’s important to ensure that any wildlife trade we do is sustainable.”

“If we can’t do that, it’s highly problematical. We need a trade ban until we can get to that.”

The mismanagement of trophy hunting and the illegal trade in leopard fur are the main threats to South Africa’s population of the big cat, according to the government.

Fifth dead whale found on English beach

Experts investigate possible causes of worst stranding on the English coast since records began in 1913, while people flock to sites to take photos

Josh Halliday, north of England correspondent, and Patrick Barkham

Monday 25 January 2016 19.03 GMTLast modified on Tuesday 26 January 201611.28 GMT

A fifth dead whale has been found washed up on the Lincolnshire coast, several miles from four other members of the same pod, marking the worst sperm whale stranding off the English coast since records began in 1913.

The fifth whale was discovered by a member of the public on Monday afternoon on a former weapons range in Lincolnshire where the second world war Dambusters squadron practised bombing runs.
Onlookers have been told to stay away from the land, which was sold by the Ministry of Defence six years ago, and it remains inaccessible to scientists amid warnings that it may be strewn with unexploded bombs.

The male sperm whale was found five miles down the coast from where three others were found in Skegness at the weekend and across the shallow waters of the Wash from where another whale was found on Hunstanton beach in Norfolk.

Scientists believe that the whales, all members of the same pod, were hungry and dehydrated but alive when they were stranded in shallow waters during their search for food. Sperm whales are deep sea creatures and can easily become disoriented if they get into shallow water.

One of the Skegness whale bodies “exploded” when pathologists cut it open, and Rob Deaville, project manager at the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, a Defra-funded group that investigates whale deaths, said the quickly decomposing state of the carcasses made it “much harder to gain any pathologically useful information”.

According to Deaville, their investigations found little in the whales’ intestines apart from “some squid beaks and some little fragments of plastic”. He said this suggested the whales died when the weight of their own bodies caused their internal organs to collapse.

 “This is an unusual event and the question hanging is why they were in the North Sea in the first place,” said Deaville. With a lack of food and shallow, disorientating waters for a deep sea animal, “they were always up against it unless they could find their way out through the big open end between Norway and Scotland.”

Thousands of people have flocked to the tourist resort of Skegness to see the whales since Sunday, with onlookers taking selfies in front of the huge carcasses as marine biologists cut away chunks of flesh and bone.

How Lizards Can Teach Planners About Designing Cities – via Herp Digest

Cities have long been understood to be human constructs; that is, its history of builders have bent nature to human’s needs. Coastlines were re-contoured for harbours or casinos. River-valleys were filled in for reservoirs or highways. Forests were replaced with houses or stadiums. The day’s logic dictated the need to shape the earth to provide humans with the goods needed for their survival (food, water, shelter and so on).

This anthropocentric view, however, is displaying disastrous consequences—from psychological disorders associated with a lack of exposure to nature, to flooded cities, to collapsed ecological processes that are needed to provide us with food, water, shelter, and so on.

Studies continue to push back against this view. We're advancing to recognize that the equation is not society and nature but rather society in nature, that how we plan cities is a way of organizing nature. Studying the needs of lizards is one way to parse this equation.

Authors in the journal Urban Ecosystems state that climate change will drive "half of the world’s lizard population to extinction." Exacerbating the collapse may be the warmer temperatures experienced in cities. Termed the urban heat island effect, this phenomenon occurs when the temperature in the city becomes higher than the surrounding rural areas. Reports indicate these temperatures can range from 1-3°C to as much as 12°C hotter.

Using a location in metropolitan Phoenix, the main objective of the study investigated "which landscaping styles and microhabitat variables can most effectively reduce the surface temperatures experienced by lizards." Exposed under the hot sun lizard activity time was restricted to a few hours, the authors said. "While heavily irrigated grass and shade trees allowed for continual activity during even the hottest days." Those areas under shade with increased humidity and access to a view of the sky explained the cooling effect needed for lizards to survive in the metropolitan climate.

This work continues to cast a bright light informing that planning cities for humans is not divorced from planning cities for nature; they are not mutually exclusive. For example, the research provides planners with scientifically-based work indicating a type of urban form that could mutually benefit humans and wildlife.

The ecologists warn that with continuing urbanization and climate change over the coming decades heat stress will continue to become an increasingly important facet of city living for humans, plants, and animals. The authors suggest that maintaining an existing diversity of landscaping styles necessary for the lizards parallels the ongoing mitigation strategy to lessen the urban heat island effect targeted at humans.

Thursday 28 January 2016

South Africa stabilises rhino poaching as threat spreads across the region

South Africa today announced its first decrease in rhino poaching since 2007, but this slight improvement was offset by an alarming increase in the number of rhinos killed in neighbouring countries.

South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, revealed that 1,175 rhinos were lost in South Africa in 2015 – slightly down from the record 1,215 in the previous year.

However, at least 130 rhinos were poached in Namibia and Zimbabwe during the same period – up almost 200 percent from 2014.

“After seven years of increases, a decline in the rate of rhino poaching in South Africa is encouraging and the result of the government's leadership and the tireless efforts of so many committed people,” said Carlos Drews, WWF Director, Global Species Programme. “However, the rate remains unacceptably high – and soaring poaching levels in Namibia and Zimbabwe are cause for serious concern”.

While poachers are still focusing primarily on South Africa, official figures from Namibia and Zimbabwe suggest that criminal networks are expanding their reach across the region – targeting rhinos in previously secure areas.

In Namibia, 80 rhinos were lost to poachers in 2015 – up from 25 in 2014 and just 4 in 2013. In Zimbabwe, 50 animals were killed – more than double the previous year’s total.

These three countries are home to nearly 95 per cent of all remaining African rhinos.

Bizarre, two-legged fish whose bite is as fast as a speeding bullet found in New Zealand - via Elizabeth Clem

January 21, 2016 by David Strege

Two New Zealand snorkelers were mystified when coming across a bizarre, all-black, two-legged fish on a white seafloor in a bay near Auckland.

So James Beuvink, 20, and his girlfriend, Claudia Howse, 19, scooped up the specimen and put it into the boat’s livewell where it started slowly walking around, according to Fairfax Media.

“It had these little legs … I’d never seen anything like it,” Beuvink told Fairfax Media. “It was pretty chilled out. It’s not the biggest fish I’ve ever caught, but it was certainly the strangest.”

The two-legged fish was identified as a striped frogfish

The two-legged fish was identified as a striped
frogfish. Photo: Courtesy of
They eventually sent the fish to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, New Zealand, where collection manager Andrew Stewart examined it and put photos of it on Facebook, where it started gaining world-wide attention.

In an email to GrindTV, Stewart identified the specimen as a striped anglerfish, also popularly known as a striped frogfish.

“The last time this species was sent to us was 2008, which gives you an idea of how ‘rare’ they are here,” Stewart wrote. “Elsewhere, the striped anglerfish is very common especially in the tropical and subtropical waters from the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

“The Frogfishes family (Antennariidae) are rare in our waters and seem to be at their southern limits of tolerance, water temperature-wise. They are taken as single captures, and have only been found along the east coast of the northern North Island.”

Coexisting with dangerous carnivores

Date: January 22, 2016
Source: Boise State University

Life is replete with things we don't like that are good for us. For instance, Brussels sprouts when you were a kid, or common house spiders under your eaves. But with enough information about benefits and risks, combined with the passage of time, we learn to accept and sometimes embrace formerly unpleasant or misunderstood things.

But what if those things are potentially dangerous? How can you sway a population to tolerate, say, endangered tigers and thus enhance worldwide conservation efforts? That was the question facing Neil Carter, assistant professor in the Human-Environment Systems program in Boise State University's College of Innovation and Design.

Carter was part of a study to measure the psychological predictors of tolerance for tigers in the Bangladesh Sundarbans, where the large carnivores have a rocky and sometimes violent relationship with local communities.

That study recently was published in the journal PLOS ONEwith the title, "Toward Human-Carnivore Coexistence: Understanding Tolerance for Tigers in Bangladesh." Lead author is Chloe Inskip; additional authors include Carter, Shawn Riley, Thomas Roberts and Douglas MacMillan.

Last Known Frog of its Species Projected Onto Vatican Church (Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog) - via Herp Digest

by Tex Dworkin, 12/12/15

To coincide with the final days of the climate negotiations in Paris, the Vatican has permitted St. Peter’s Basilica to be turned into a huge backdrop for a conservation-themed art installation, with huge images of various species being projected on to the building, including mammals, fish, insects and amphibians.
One of the projected amphibians is believed to have dwindled down to a population of one—and the sole survivor lives in Atlanta, Ga.
For Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home, National Geographic photographers had their work projected onto the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Renaissance church located within Vatican City, along with selections from Joel Sartore’s Photo Ark, a project supported by the National Geographic Society that aims to bring attention to the plight of animals at the hands of human beings.
An extension of the riveting film Racing Extinction, giant images of various creatures covered the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica for three hours last Tuesday in an effort by humanitarian groups to bring attention to the ongoing Paris Climate Talks, and to recognize Pope Francis for his recent encyclical on environmental protection.
It’s not surprising that the Vatican has acted on behalf of nature’s voiceless creatures. Pope Francis chose his papal title in homage to St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, and in his encyclical letter released in June 2015, Pope Francis wrote, “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever.”
The Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog is one such disappearing species, and his image was among those projected onto the Vatican church. To find out more about this frog, I reached out to Mark Mandica, Amphibian Conservation Coordinator of the Department of Research and Conservation at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. He is the only person known to have recorded this frog’s call (on Dec 15, 2014, to be exact), which you can hear here.
Mandica says that the animal projections have had a large turnout. Sometimes they are just images and sounds of endangered species from around the world, and other times they include a ‘countdown’ which also displays the estimated number left of each species on earth. That’s where the Amphibian Conservation Program at the Atlanta Botanical Garden comes in. These countdown events end by displaying the Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog, which Mandica says “has been reduced to just one lone male on earth.”
The loner resides in a biosecure facility at the Atlanta Botanical Garden called the frogPOD, along with some other frog species that were rescued from Panama in 2005. When the frog’s image is projected onto the Vatican church, Mandica describes, “Generally, the audience just gasps when they see that there is (most likely) only one of these magnificent frogs left.”
Three of the amphibian species from the Amphibian Conservation Program in Atlanta have been featured in the projection events and in the recently released documentary Racing Extinction; the Eyelash Marsupial Frog, the Lemur Leaf Frog, and the lone Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog, which is a large gliding tree frog from Central Panama about the size of an adult’s hand.
Mandica explains the plight of the Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog:
“The species was only described in 2008 so we haven’t had much of an opportunity to learn about them. A small number were collected as part of a collaborative rescue mission to Central Panama in 2005. An emergent infectious amphibian disease – chytridiomycosis – was wiping out 85% of the amphibians in that region back then, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Zoo went to Panama, ahead of the fungus, to try and save as many frogs as possible.”
He likens this mission to trying to grab your treasured belongings from a burning house. After the disease hit central Panama several species disappeared entirely from that region. The Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog was previously only found from that area and is now believed to be extinct in the wild.
Unfortunately what few captive specimens did exist have all died out over the last 10 years except for this one lone male in Atlanta and no one has been able to breed these frogs successfully in captivity. So presumably when this last frog dies, so will its entire species. Mandica says they have no way of telling exactly how old the last Fringe-limbed Tree Frog is or how long its life expectancy is.
About the frogs he studies, Mandica say, “They are disappearing, and their declines are trying to tell us something is seriously out of balance globally.” In fact, a number of years ago, he actually changed career paths from amphibian biology to conservation biology when it became harder and harder for him to simply find the frogs he was studying.
About the Vatican illuminations, Mandica says, “I think they are a visually magnificent, non-threatening way to get the message out about the global extinction crisis. It is an important message and the public needs to be more aware of what beauty is disappearing right before our eyes.”
Mandica makes the point, “Generally speaking, amphibians are not highlighted as endangered species, but there are more endangered amphibian species than mammals and birds combined,” and that “40% of the world’s amphibian species are documented as in decline or already extinct and that is just a huge number.”

Service Lists 201 Salamander Species as Injurious to Help Keep Lethal Fungus Out of U.S. - via Herp Digest

Press Release, USF&WS, January 12, 2016 
To help prevent a deadly fungus from killing native salamanders, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today declared 201 salamander species as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act prohibits the import and interstate trade of listed species. The fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, also known as Bsal or salamander chytrid, has wreaked havoc on salamander species overseas and poses an imminent threat to native salamander populations. The fungus is not yet known to be found in the United States, and to help ensure it remains that way, the Service is publishing an interim rule that will take effect on January 28, 2016.
“The United States has the greatest diversity of native salamanders in the world, which play a critical role in maintaining our nation’s rich and diverse ecosystems,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “The Bsal fungus has the ability to devastate our native salamander populations, and we are doing everything in our power to protect and preserve these essential amphibians for future generations.”
A species can be listed under the Lacey Act because it is injurious to the health and welfare of humans; the interests of forestry, agriculture, or horticulture; or the welfare and survival of wildlife or the resources that wildlife depend upon. In listing these species, the Service is responding to science that shows that Bsal is an imminent threat to U.S. wildlife.
Permits may be granted for the importation or transportation of specimens of injurious wildlife for scientific, medical, educational or zoological purposes. For purposes of this listing, the prohibition includes importation or interstate transport of live and dead animals, including parts. The Lacey Act does not restrict intrastate (within state) transport.
Owners of any of the animals listed as injurious will be allowed to keep them under this rule. For animals already in the United States, this rule only restricts interstate transportation. It will be lawful for pet owners to keep their pets (if allowed by state law).
Concurrent with publication of the interim rule in the Federal Register, the Service is opening a 60-day comment period. All comments will be considered before the Service makes its final rule on the designation. The instructions for submitting public comments can be found by visiting and entering the docket number FWS-HQ-FAC-2015-0005. More information on this interim rule, including supporting documents is available at:
Christina Meister,, (703) 358-2284

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Over-hunting threatens Amazonian forest carbon stocks

Date:January 25, 2016
Source:University of East Anglia

Over-hunting of large mammals in tropical forests could make climate change worse according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Tropical forests worldwide store more than 460 billion tonnes of carbon. The Amazon is the largest and most species-rich tropical forest on Earth.

Researchers studied the large-scale impact of wildlife extinctions induced by over-hunting on carbon storage right across the Amazon.

The research shows that much of the above-ground carbon stock of Amazonian forests could be lost if large-bodied fruit-eating mammals continue to be hunted out, and that over-hunting adds to the Amazon's many threats which include deforestation, timber extraction and wildfires.

The research team included authors from UEA (UK), the National Institute of Amazonian Research and Fiocruz Amazônia (both in Brazil), and Oregon State University (USA).

Lead researcher Prof Carlos Peres, from UEA's School of Environmental Sciences, said: "Amazonian forests provide globally important ecosystem services, including carbon storage in the forest biomass.

Animals with larger brains are best problem solvers, study shows

Date:January 25, 2016
Source:University of Wyoming

Why did some species, such as humans and dolphins, evolve large brains relative to the size of their bodies? Why did others, such as blue whales and hippos, evolve to have brains that, compared to their bodies, are relatively puny?

It has long been thought that species with brains that are large relative to their body are more intelligent. Despite decades of research, the idea that relative brain size predicts cognitive abilities remains highly controversial, because there is still little experimental evidence to support it. However, a new paper describes a massive experiment that supports the theory.

Sarah Benson-Amram, an assistant professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiology at the University of Wyoming, is the lead author on a new paper, titled "Brain size predicts problem-solving ability in mammalian carnivores." It shows that carnivore species with larger brains relative to their body size are better at solving a novel problem-solving task. The paper appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Other authors of the study include Kay Holekamp, a University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University; Ben Dantzer, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan; Eli Swanson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota; and Greg Stricker, also from Michigan State University.

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