Tuesday 31 May 2016

How to live alongside flying foxes in urban Australia

May 31, 2016 by Justin Welbergen And Peggy Eby, The Conversation

The conflict between urbanites and wildlife recently developed a new battleground: the small coastal New South Wales town of Batemans Bay, where the exceptional flowering of spotted gums has attracted a huge influx of grey-headed flying foxes from across Australia's southeast.

In response to intense and highly publicised community concern, federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has announced he will seek an immediate National Interest Exemption to facilitate dispersal of these bats – a move that risks undermining legal protections afforded to this and other threatened species.

Similar conflicts are occurring elsewhere in NSW, such as the Hunter region, where some unscrupulous members of the public lit a fire in a flying fox roost at Cessnock.

With the ongoing expansion of the human urban footprint, animals are increasingly confronted with urban environments. Human encroachment into natural habitats generally negatively affects biodiversity. However, urban landscapes can present wildlife with an irresistible lure of reliable food supplies and other resources. While urban wildlife can provide a range of benefits to health and wellbeing, it can also be cause for frustration and conflict.

Urban human-wildlife conflict is a growing area of management concern and scientific research. But the research suggests that the current strategies for addressing NSW's conflicts between humans and flying foxesmight not have the intended results.

Ruling the urban roost
Australian flying foxes are becoming more urbanised, and the noise, smell and droppings from their roosts can have huge impacts on local residents.

Bob Katter calls for crocodile shooting safaris after suspected fatal attack

Northern Queensland MPs at loggerheads after Warren Entsch said the attack in the Daintree national park was the result of ‘human stupidity’

Australian Associated Press

Monday 30 May 201622.54 BSTLast modified on Tuesday 31 May 201601.42 BST

Independent MP Bob Katter says crocodile shooting safaris should be allowed in Queensland’s far north following a suspected fatal attack.

On Tuesday police were due to resume the search for the body of Cindy Waldron, 46, who was dragged under water after entering the water late at night at Thornton beach in the Daintree national park on Sunday.

Her friend Leeann Mitchell, 47, tried in vain to drag her mate to safety and later raised the alarm. The pair were celebrating Mitchell’s recovery from cancer andthe ABC is reporting they were were walking in knee depth water.

So far an extensive search has found no trace of Waldron.

Warren Entsch, federal MP for the electorate where the attack occurred, said it was entirely avoidable.

“You can’t legislate against human stupidity. If you go in swimming at 10 o’clock at night, you’re going to get consumed,” Entsch said on Monday.

But Katter, who holds the neighbouring electorate of Kennedy, said croc numbers had reached unprecedented levels and shooting safaris could reduce the risk to humans.

“The numbers of crocodiles have exploded. All of crocodiles’ predators have been removed,” he said in a statement. “We can put nature back in balance if we have shooting safaris.”

Katter criticised Entsch’s comments.

“I can’t believe that Warren Entsch is attacking the people over this. Defending crocodiles instead of people is stupid.”

Entsch said there was no way the women could have been unaware of the risks involved in taking a late-night dip in crocodile country.

“Let’s not start vendettas. It’s hard enough for some families to make a quid up there in the Daintree, showcasing crocs in their environment,” he said.

Kangaroo attacks and injures two cyclists in South Australia

The suspected male buck jumped on to Sharon Heinrich and her friend when they paused on a cycle tour of the Reisling Trail in Clare Valley
Staff and agencies

Monday 30 May 201606.15 BSTLast modified on Tuesday 31 May 201610.05 BST

Two women have been attacked by a kangaroo while cycling in South Australia’s wine country.

Sharon Heinrich, 45, suffered cracked ribs and internal injuries while Helen Salter, 47, was concussed after being attacked along the Riesling Trail in Clare Valley.

“Just out of the corner of my eye I’ve seen this kangaroo up on this ledge. I thought ‘he’s cute’ ... and then he jumped on top of me and used me to launch off and on to my girlfriend,” Heinrich said.

“We flew probably one-and-a-half metres after he hit us. I was on the ground and couldn’t breathe for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t talk,” she said.

“Helen got up and she stayed with me until I could breathe, got on my bike and rode to a business about half a kilometre away [at Penwortham].”

Heinrich believed the kangaroo was a male buck, judging by its size.

“I’m 5ft 4in and he was taller than me, and so heavy,” she told the Northern Argus newspaper. “Once he landed on me, he used me to launch off again, which caused more damage.”

Heinrich, who lives in the region, said she would require surgery to fix the injuries.

The Great Barrier Reef warnings that Australia tried to hide have now been published

The chapter warned that the natural wonder is ‘deteriorating’ because of ‘multiple threats’ – but it then disappeared from the official report following objections from the Australian government

Friday 27 May 2016

A damning report about the Great Barrier Reed that Australia demanded was pulled from the internet has been leaked online.

The chapter was written by climate experts for a Unesco report on tourism and climate change, and describes the ways that the natural wonder is under threat. But after pressure from the Australian government it was removed from the official report – which now doesn’t mention the Great Barrier Reef at all.

The deleted report stressed both the beauty of the reef and also pointed to the threats – mostly from climate change - that are destroying large parts of it. Almost all of the reef is now “bleached” – when warm water expels algae and turns it white – and researchers have said that half of it is dead or dying.

The report – written by Adam Markham from the Union of Concerned Scientists – pointed out simply that the site was at risk from global warming and that its future is at risk.

But Australia said that it had removed the report because concern about the natural wonder appeared to be discouraging tourism.

“Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism,” a spokesperson for Australia’s environment department told The Guardian.

Study shows sharks have personalities

May 27, 2016

For the first time a study led by researchers at Macquarie University has observed the presence of individual personality differences in Port Jackson sharks.

A team of researchers from Macquarie's Department of Biological Sciences observed the behaviour of sharks from the east coast of Australia and found that individual sharks had distinct and consistent responses when exposed to an unfamiliar environment and stress.

In humans our personality defines who we are and how we are likely to respond to certain situations. If you know someone well enough, it is possible to predict how they will likely respond in given situations. That is, their behaviour tends to demonstrate repetition over time or in similar situations. It is this behavioural stability and predictability that defines personality.

"Over the past few decades, personality research has shown that nearly 200 species of animals demonstrate individual personality. Personality is no longer considered a strictly human characteristic, rather it is a characteristic deeply engrained in our evolutionary past," says lead author Evan Byrnes.

Trials were designed to test the sharks' boldness, which is a measure of their propensity to take risks, but also an influencer of individual health through its correlation with stress hormones and associated physiological profiles.

The sharks were first introduced to a tank where they were provided with shelter, and timed to see how long it took for each shark to emerge from their refuge box into a new environment. The second behaviour test exposed each shark to handling stress, similar to handling by a fisherman, before releasing them again and observing how quickly they recovered.

The results demonstrated that each shark's behaviour was consistent over repeated trials, indicating ingrained behaviours rather than chance reactions. That is, some sharks were consistently bolder than others, and the sharks that were the most reactive to handling stress in the first trial were also the most reactive in a second trial.

Read more at:

Dancing hairs alert bees to floral electric fields

Date: May 30, 2016
Source: University of Bristol

Tiny, vibrating hairs may explain how bumblebees sense and interpret the signals transmitted by flowers, according to a study by researchers at the University of Bristol.

Although it's known that flowers communicate with pollinators by sending out electric signals, just how bees detects these fields has been a mystery -- until now.

Using a laser to measure vibrations, researchers found that both the bees' antenna and hairs deflect in response to an electric field, but the hairs move more rapidly and with overall greater displacements.

Researchers then looked at the bees' nervous system, finding that only the hairs alerted the bee's nervous system to this signal.

The findings, published in the international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) today, suggest that electroreception in insects may be widespread.

Electroreception may arise from the bees' hairs being lightweight and stiff, properties that confer a rigid, lever-like motion similar to acoustically sensitive spider hairs and mosquito antennae.

Dr Gregory Sutton, a Research Fellow in the University of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences, led the research. He said: "We were excited to discover that bees' tiny hairs dance in response to electric fields, like when humans hold a balloon to their hair. A lot of insects have similar body hairs, which leads to the possibility that many members the insect world may be equally sensitive to small electric fields."

Monday 30 May 2016

Tigers seized from Thailand temple over wildlife trafficking claim

Officials remove three animals following raid at temple, which has been investigated for animal abuse in recent years

Reuters in Kanchanaburi

Monday 30 May 201616.17 BSTLast modified on Monday 30 May 201618.10 BST

Wildlife authorities in Thailand have raided a Buddhist temple where tigers are kept, taking away three of the animals and vowing to confiscate scores more in response to global pressure over wildlife trafficking.

The Buddhist temple in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, has more than 100 tigers and has become a tourist destination where visitors take selfies with tigers and bottle-feed their cubs.

The temple promotes itself as a wildlife sanctuary, but in recent years it has been investigated for suspected links to wildlife trafficking and animal abuse.

Wildlife activists have accused the temple’s monks of illegally breeding tigers, while some visitors have said the animals can appear drugged. The temple denies the accusations.

The raid on Monday was the latest move by authorities in a tug-of-war since 2001 to bring the tigers under state control.

Adisorn Nuchdamrong, the deputy director general of the department of national parks, said the team had been able to confiscate the tigers thanks to a warrant obtained a few hours before the operation.

“We have a court warrant this time, unlike previous times, when we only asked for the temple’s cooperation, which did not work,” Adisorn said.

“International pressure concerning illegal wildlife trafficking is also part of why we’re acting now.”

Officials from the department of national parks, wildlife and plant conservation said they planned to confiscate and remove more tigers from the temple on Tuesday and send them to a state-owned sanctuary.

Saving north america's salamanders, newts

Date: May 30, 2016
Source: University of Saskatchewan

The fate of the world's richest biodiversity of salamanders and newts is in the hands of pet owners across North America, said Natacha Hogan, an environmental toxicologist specializing in amphibians at the University of Saskatchewan.

At issue is salamander chytrid disease, caused by a fungus that infects both salamanders and newts with near total lethality. The fungus, known as B.sal, infects the skin, causing wart-like lesions. As the disease progresses, the animal stops eating, becomes lethargic, loses control of its body movements and eventually dies.

Originally from Asia, the disease has completely wiped out wild populations where it has appeared in Europe and the UK, said Hogan.

"It's basically the pet trade," she said. "It's when you start moving salamanders; this is what this spread has been attributed to. There have been millions of salamanders imported -- how many kids own fire belly newts from a pet store?"

While the fungus has not yet been spotted in Canada, she said the U.S. has already instituted strict regulations on trade in salamanders and newts.

The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) is leading efforts to raise the alarm, urging immediate action. The group compares the threat to a similar invasive fungal disease that all but wiped out entire species of frogs in South and Central America, and white nose disease, which has killed entire colonies of bats -- millions of animals -- across North America, including Canada.

While Canada has only two species of newt -- both in Ontario -- salamanders are wide spread, Hogan said, with about 15 species across the country. Some of these have a small geographic range, but others, such as the two species of tiger salamander found in Saskatchewan, can be found right across the Prairie Provinces.

The rest of North America is even more richly endowed.

"The U.S. has among the greatest biodiversity of amphibians in the world, so this is also true of salamanders and newts," Hogan said.

Slithery new species: Silver boa discovered in the Bahamas Islands

Date: May 27, 2016
Source: Harvard University

In July of 2015 a team of scientists discovered a new species of boa during an expedition to a remote corner of the Bahamian Archipelago. They have named the new species the Silver Boa, Chilabothrus argentum. Significantly, this is the first new species of boa discovered in situ in the Caribbean since the 1940s. This new boa species is considered Critically Endangered, and is one of the most endangered boa species globally.

The team encountered the first individual, a beautiful meter-long silvery female, climbing in a Silver Palm tree near the water's edge on a remote island in the southern Bahamas. As dusk approached, Harvard graduate student and team member Nick Herrmann called out on the radio: "Hey, I've got a snake here." The rest of the team came crashing back to his position, and collectively gasped when they saw the boa. Expedition member Dr. Alberto Puente-Rolón, a professor at Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico Arecibo and global expert on West Indian Boas, remarked that this animal appeared unlike any species of boa yet known. The group then set about a systematic survey to locate additional animals, turning up four more individuals by the middle of the night. After recording data from these specimens, the team had lain down on the beach to rest until dawn. During the night, as Dr. Reynolds slept, a boa crawled down from the forest, across the beach, and directly onto his head. This caused him to awake with a start, and upon realizing what had happened, he awoke the others to inform them that they had found their sixth animal.

After returning to Harvard, the team quickly set about analyzing the data they had collected from the new snakes, including genetic data from tissue samples they had obtained. These analyses demonstrated that this unusual silvery boa was indeed a new species, having diverged from other boas in the last several million years. They named it the Silver Boa, Chilabothrus argentum, based on its silver coloration and the first specimen's location in a Silver Palm (Cocothrinax argentata).

Dr. Reynolds led a second expedition to the islands in October 2015, directly after Hurricane Joaquin had slammed the Bahamas. That expedition yielded an additional 14 captures despite the hurricane damage and loss of most of the leaves off of the trees. These animals were measured and sampled, as well as permanently marked with internal electronic tags so that they will be easily identifiable. Importantly, the team discovered that feral cats also roam the island, and as major reptile predators their presence is almost certainly threatening these newly discovered boas. Dr. Reynolds and his co-authors have also determined that the Silver Boa is Critically Endangered based on Red List Criteria proposed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and hence is one of the most endangered boid snakes globally. Conservation measures are being put into place with the cooperation of local organizations such as the Bahamas National Trust. The hope is to protect these new animals, and to prevent them from going extinct not long after having been discovered.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Cincinnati zoo gorilla shot dead as boy falls into enclosure

29 May 2016 

Zoo officials have shot dead a gorilla after a four-year-old boy fell into its enclosure in the US city of Cincinnati.

The boy climbed through a barrier and fell into a moat, where he was grabbed and dragged by the gorilla.

The zoo said it took action to shoot the 400lb (180kg) gorilla as the situation was "life-threatening". The boy is expected to recover.

Last week two lions were shot dead in a zoo in Chile after a man entered their pen in an apparent suicide attempt.

Cincinnati zoo has temporarily shut its gorilla exhibit following the incident on Saturday.

The boy had fallen about 10ft into the moat. Video shows the boy being dragged through the shallow moat. The gorilla then stops, with the child below him and looking up at him.

But the boy was reportedly dragged by the 17-year-old male western lowland gorilla named Harambe for about 10 minutes.

The child was taken to a local hospital and although no information about his condition has been released it is believed he will recover.

Zoo director Thane Maynard said: "[The officials] made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy's life. It could have been very bad."

He said a tranquilliser would not have had a quick enough effect.

Mr Maynard said that although the boy was not under attack, he "certainly was at risk".

He added: "We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically-endangered gorilla. This is a huge loss for the zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide."

Harbour porpoises are skilled hunters and eat almost constantly

Date: May 26, 2016
Source: Cell Press

Harbour porpoises have sometimes been described as "living in the fast lane." Being smaller than other cetaceans and living in cold northern waters means that the porpoises require a lot of energy to survive, making them prone to starvation. Now researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 26 have monitored harbour porpoises in the wild with tiny computers attached to them by suction cups show that the animals hunt and eat almost constantly.

The findings by researchers in Denmark, Germany, and Scotland suggest that even a moderate level of disturbance in the busy shallow waters that they share with humans--anything that might limit their ability to feed--could put the animals in serious jeopardy.

"Our results show that porpoises hunt small fish, typically less than five centimeters, nearly continuously day and night at ultra-high rates, attempting to capture up to 550 fish per hour, and frequently more than ten per minute with a remarkable success rate of more than 90 percent," says Danuta Wisniewska of Aarhus University in Denmark. "The tiny fish targeted by porpoises are not of interest in commercial fisheries; however, relying on such small prey makes porpoises especially vulnerable to disturbances, because there is no room for compensation."

To study the animals' foraging behaviors, the researchers attached miniature computers developed at University of St. Andrews to five wild porpoises. The computers recorded the porpoises' echolocation calls and the echoes that came back as those calls bounced off of nearby prey. By analyzing the sound, the researchers were able to determine how often porpoises attempted to catch fish. They could also estimate the size of those fish and whether the fish managed to escape.

Antarctic fossils reveal creatures weren't safer in the south during dinosaur extinction

Date: May 26, 2016
Source: University of Leeds

A study of more than 6,000 marine fossils from the Antarctic shows that the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs was sudden and just as deadly to life in the polar regions.

Previously, scientists had thought that creatures living in the southernmost regions of the planet would have been in a less perilous position during the mass extinction event than those elsewhere on Earth.

The research, published today in the journal Nature Communications, involved a six-year process of identifying more than 6,000 marine fossils ranging in age from 69- to 65-million-years-old that were excavated by scientists from the University of Leeds and the British Antarctic Survey on Seymour Island in the Antarctic Peninsula.

This is one of the largest collections of marine fossils of this age anywhere in the world. It includes a wide range of species, from small snails and clams that lived on the sea floor, to large and unusual creatures that swam in the surface waters of the ocean. These include the ammonite Diplomoceras, a distant relative of modern squid and octopus, with a paperclip-shaped shell that could grow as large as 2 metres, and giant marine reptiles such as Mosasaurus, as featured in the film Jurassic World.

With the marine fossils grouped by age, the collection shows a dramatic 65-70% reduction in the number of species living in the Antarctic 66 million years ago -- coinciding exactly with the time when the dinosaurs and many other groups of organisms worldwide became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

James Witts, a PhD student in the University's School of Earth and Environment and lead author of the new research paper said: "Our research essentially shows that one day everything was fine -- the Antarctic had a thriving and diverse marine community -- and the next, it wasn't. Clearly, a very sudden and catastrophic event had occurred on Earth.

"This is the strongest evidence from fossils that the main driver of this extinction event was the after-effects of a huge asteroid impact, rather than a slower decline caused by natural changes to the climate or by severe volcanism stressing global environments."
The study is the first to suggest that the mass extinction event was just as rapid and severe in the polar regions as elsewhere in the world.

New veterinary research helps distinguish accidents from abuse

Researchers find different injury patterns in abused animals, animals hit by cars

Date: May 25, 2016
Source: Tufts University

A veterinarian sees a canine patient with severe rib and head injuries whose cause of injury is unknown. Without having witnessed the incident, how can the veterinary professional distinguish an accident from abuse?

Using data from criminal cases of animal abuse, researchers from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) have demonstrated that motor vehicle accidents and non-accidental blunt force trauma cases in dogs and cats present with different types of injuries. The research, which appears online in advance of the September 2016 print edition of the Journal of Forensic Sciences, can help in the effort to uncover and address animal abuse.
While the veterinary community, health professionals and public officials have acknowledged the need to address animal cruelty and have developed general guidelines for identifying suspicious behavior, clinicians face many difficulties in identifying specific injuries caused by abuse.

In cases of injury caused by animal abuse, commonly referred to as non-accidental, the cause reported by the abuser typically differs from the actual cause. Motor vehicle accidents are often falsely cited when an animal presents with skeletal injuries.

Friday 27 May 2016

Oldest well-documented Blanding's Turtle recaptured at reserve at age 83

Date: May 25, 2016
Source: University of Michigan

A female Blanding's turtle believed to be at least 83 years old was captured at a University of Michigan forest reserve this week. Researchers say it is the oldest well-documented Blanding's turtle and one of the oldest-known freshwater turtles.

The turtle was captured Monday at U-M's Edwin S. George Reserve, about 25 miles northwest of Ann Arbor in southwestern Livingston County, near Pinckney. This individual, known as 3R11L, was first captured and marked in 1954, one year after the start of the reserve's long-running turtle study. It has been recaptured more than 50 times since then.

Blanding's turtles reach sexual maturity at around age 20. Since 3R11L was sexually mature when first captured in 1954, she is believed to be at least 83 years old, according to turtle researcher Justin Congdon, who began studying the E.S. George turtles in the mid-1970s.

"There was a lot of excitement and a lot of high-fives when we caught it, and we celebrated with a bottle of Cabernet," said Congdon, a professor emeritus at the University of Georgia who studied the E.S. George turtles every nesting season from 1975 through 2007. He came out of retirement to return to the reserve this month.

"We knew that we were down to fewer than 15 of the turtles that were marked in the 1950s," he said. "We figured we still had a chance to catch one, and it has been one of our goals to do so."

The previous longevity record for a Blanding's turtle was a 76-year-old individual from Minnesota, he said. Other types of turtles, including box turtles, wood turtles and sea turtles -- as well as tortoises -- are thought to live longer.

"This is just one example that shows the importance of our multigenerational investment in the biological sciences," said Andrew Martin, dean of the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

"If we hadn't continued this work over the decades, we would have no idea how long-lived these turtles are or how they respond to ecological changes," said U-M biologist Christopher Dick, director of the E.S. George Reserve.

Saving Nemo: Bleaching threatens clownfish

Study reveals clownfish, the star Disney fish, and their sea anemone homes are at risk

Date: May 25, 2016
Source: University of Delaware

Clownfish became a household name over a decade ago when Disney released the movie "Finding Nemo."

Found exclusively in the Indo-Pacific, clownfish are symbiotic animals that only live in sea anemones, a close relative of corals that don't have a hard outer shell. The anemone provides a home and protection for the clownfish, while the clownfish provides food for the anemone.
As global concern grows for Australia's Great Barrier Reef -- which is experiencing the worst bleaching event in its history due to sustained high ocean temperatures amid a strong El Nino weather pattern -- University of Delaware researcher Danielle Dixson has co-authored a paper demonstrating how vulnerable clownfish are to the increased frequency of bleaching events.

Published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences and co-authored with Anna Scott, a researcher at Southern Cross University in Australia, the paper illustrates that while clownfish can identify -- through smell alone -- if their potential home is bleached or healthy, they are inflexible in selecting a habitat.

"Unfortunately, our research has shown that bleaching does not break the symbiotic relationship between the anemone and clownfish. Clownfish are so behaviorally linked to one or a few particular anemone species for a home, that it limits their ability to acclimate if an entire reef bleaches," explained Dixson, an assistant professor of marine science and policy in UD's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

"This means that clownfish are setting themselves up for bigger risk because we know that fish that go to bleached coral or anemones have an increased predation risk."

Beavers released into Devon river in bid to boost gene pool

Male and female set free as part of five-year trial to monitor the impact of England’s only wild population of the mammals

Press Association
Thursday 26 May 201606.01 BST

A new pair of beavers has been released into a river in Devon to boost the genetic diversity of England’s only wild population of the mammals.

The male and female were set free on the river Otter as part of a five-year trial monitoring the impact of Eurasian beavers, a species hunted to extinction hundreds of years ago in the UK, on the surrounding landscape, wildlife and economy.

Beavers have been living wild on the river Otter for up to a decade but faced being re-homed in captivity after evidence emerged that they were successfully breeding.

Plans for a monitoring trial were put forward by Devon Wildlife Trust, with the backing of local people, and were given the green light by government agency Natural England, subject to the adults being temporarily captured for disease testing.

Genetic screening of the captured adults - which were re-released last year – revealed they were all closely related, and a decision was taken to introduce a new pair to increase the gene pool and boost the number of breeding animals.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Peter Burgess said the results had shown it was likely there was one mother potentially breeding with her offspring.

There were also concerns that with just two breeding pairs, if one or more of the females died, there would be a declining population.

For the release the new beavers, both around two years old, were carried in separate crates through a boggy field down to the riverbank, where the team of wildlife experts had constructed two lodges for them in a quiet spot under willow trees.

The crates were pushed up against the entrance to the lodges and the beavers were moved in with a bit of encouragement, before the team sealed up the manmade homes and retreated to watch what was going on inside via infrared cameras.

Tiny vampires

May 26, 2016 by Julie Cohen

Vampires are real, and they've been around for millions of years. At least, the amoebae variety has. So suggests new research from UC Santa Barbara paleobiologist Susannah Porter.

Using a scanning electron microscope to examine minute fossils, Porter found perfectly circular drill holes that may have been formed by an ancient relation of Vampyrellidae amoebae. These single-celled creatures perforate the walls of their prey and reach inside to consume its cell contents. Porter's findings appear in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"To my knowledge these holes are the earliest direct evidence of predation on eukaryotes," said Porter, an associate professor in UCSB's Department of Earth Science. Eukaryotes are organisms whose cells contain a nucleus and other organelles such as mitochondria.

"We have a great record of predation on animals going back 550 million years," she continued, "starting with the very first mineralized shells, which show evidence of drillholes. We had nothing like that for early life—for the time before animals appear. These holes potentially provide a way of looking at predator-prey interactions in very deep time in ancient microbial ecosystems."

Porter examined fossils from the Chuar Group in the Grand Canyon—once an ancient seabed—that are between 782 and 742 million years old. The holes are about one micrometer (one thousandth of a millimeter) in diameter and occur in seven of the species she identified. The holes are not common in any single one species; in fact, they appear in not more than 10 percent of the specimens.

"I also found evidence of specificity in hole sizes, so different species show different characteristic hole sizes, which is consistent with what we know about modern vampire amoebae and their food preferences," Porter said. "Different species of amoebae make differently sized holes. The Vampyrellid amoebae make a great modern analog, but because vampirelike feeding behavior is known in a number of different unrelated amoebae, it makes it difficult to pin down exactly who the predator was."

Study documents African monkeys eating bats

First to report implications for animal-human disease transmission

Date: May 24, 2016
Source: Florida Atlantic University

Although Cercopithecus monkeys, a widely distributed genus in Africa, usually have a discerning palate for fruits and leaves, they are opportunistic omnivores that sometimes consume lizards, snakes, birds and mice. These forest-dwelling primates share habitat and food resources with bats, which are known reservoirs for zoonotic diseases such as Ebola, Marburg and Henipa viruses as well as bacteria and parasites that can be spread between animals and humans. This has led researchers to hypothesize that primate consumption of fruits contaminated with an infected bat's saliva or feces facilitates zoonotic disease transmission. Scientists estimate that more than six out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals.

Primates and bats also may interact directly, but their behavioral and predator-prey interactions are poorly documented, and detailed reports of their interactions have been rare, until now. Researchers in the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters at Florida Atlantic University initiated a study of Cercopithecus predation on bats after observing monkeys preying on two different bat species in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. They are the first to document monkeys consuming bats with photos and video. Observations from this study suggest an alternative pathway for bat-to-monkey disease transmission that has implications for zoonotic disease transmission to humans. The study titled, "Bat Predation by Cercopithecus Monkeys: Implications for Zoonotic Disease Transmission," is published in the current issue of the journal EcoHealth.

Study of fungi-insect relationships may lead to new evolutionary discoveries

Date: May 24, 2016
Source: Penn State

Zombie ants are only one of the fungi-insect relationships studied by a team of Penn State biologists in a newly compiled database of insect fungi interactions.

"I couldn't find a place with broad information about all groups of fungi that infect insects in the same study," said Joao Araujo, graduate student in biology. "When we organized the information, we started to understand things we wouldn't see before, because the literature was so spread."

From the 150 years of literature, the researchers found that about 65 percent of insect orders can be infected by fungi and Oomycetes, fungi-like organisms that also infect insects. The results were published in the May issue of Advances in Genetics.
Sap-sucking insects, such as cicadas, are the most frequently attacked by fungi. The researchers believe this is because of the way this order of insect evolved. They have specialized mouth parts for sucking sap making them susceptible to fungi that originally infect plants.

"The fungi may have found a good environment inside the insect and then they would have established in the new host by host-jumping from plants to insects," said Araujo.

Host-jumping occurs when the fungi, in this case, are able to infect new groups of hosts like insects, animals or plants and so jump from one species or groups of hosts to others.

The researchers also discovered that flies are the only order of insects that are infected at all stages of development -- from when they are eggs until they are adults. They believe flies are especially susceptible to infection because they are found all over the world and get their food in a wide variety of ways. Their larvae often occupy a wide range of breeding sites, ranging from ponds to tree trunks. This diversity within the order is a potential explanation for the susceptibility to fungal infections in all stages of flies.

Get Up-Close-And-Personal with Devon’s Wildlife

RSPB Press Release: Get Up-Close-And-Personal with Devon's Wildlife ** 

Media release 


The RSPB in Devon are offering a special opportunity to join their outdoors Volunteer Work Party, which takes place every Thursday. This practical work is carried out across the RSPB’s Devon nature reserves and enables people to develop their skills, gain training, socialise and get to know their local wildlife. 

Tom Pace, Assistant Warden for the Devon reserves said: “Our volunteer work party is a great opportunity to get outdoors on a landscape that’s teeming with wildlife and make a real difference to Devon’s nature. 

“Work party activities can include hedge laying, grassland management, fence repairs, small building projects and so much more – there’s never a dull moment and volunteers will definitely be able to develop a wide range of practical skills. There’s a great feeling of teamwork amongst the team and it’s brilliant to socialise with like-minded people who are passionate about Devon’s great outdoors. 

“Our work parties also offer a very unique opportunity to explore parts of our nature reserves that are not open for public access, so our volunteers gain a special backstage pass to some of Devon’s more secretive greenspaces.” 

The RSPB Devon Volunteer Work Parties take place every Thursday from 9.00 am-4.00 pm. The group meet at the RSPB Exminster office and then travel to the various sites in RSPB vehicles. Volunteers work on the RSPB’s Exminster, Exe Estuary, Labrador Bay and Chapel Wood nature reserves. 

Tom continues: “If you’re still unsure as to whether our Volunteer Work Parties are for you, here are a few thoughts from our current Volunteers - 

“For me, I think there's no better way to really get to know the local area, its wildlife and reserves and how they work, than by volunteering on them. It's great having a day away from everyday stresses just to be outdoors in nature, doing something hands-on that really makes a difference.” 

“A small effort on my part is my way of giving nature a home, and as the advert says "every little helps!" 

“Experiencing life on the edge - of the Exe Estuary” 

“The work of an RSPB volunteer is all about delivering the good intentions of others, because without the volunteers, all there is left is just good intentions - but nothing else!” 

No previous experience is required; the RSPB will provide all the training you need. If you’re interested in joining the Work Party and helping the RSPB deliver more for Devon’s wildlife, get in touch on: exe.estuary@rspb.org.uk or call: 01392 833311

Thursday 26 May 2016

Northern invaders threaten Antarctic marine life

Date: May 24, 2016
Source: Australian National University

An international study led by The Australian National University (ANU) has found evidence that marine life can easily invade Antarctic waters from the north, and could be poised to colonise the rapidly-warming Antarctic marine ecosystems.

The Antarctic Polar Front, a strong ocean front formed where cold Antarctic water meets warmer waters to the north, has historically been seen as a barrier preventing movement of marine life.

But the study has found the Antarctic Polar Front is often crossed by floating kelp that can form rafts carrying crustaceans, worms, snails and other seaweeds across hundreds of kilometres of open ocean.

"So far, the northern species don't seem to be surviving long in the cold, icy Antarctic. But with climate change and warming oceans, many non-Antarctic species could soon colonise the region," said lead researcher Dr Ceridwen Fraser, from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society.

"We now know marine species from the north can easily get into Antarctic waters. The Antarctic is one of the world's fastest warming regions, and the consequences of new species establishing there could lead to drastic ecosystem changes," Dr Fraser said.

The evidence was collected by surveys of floating kelp. On three different ship voyages in 2008, 2013 and 2014, researchers counted drifting seaweed species in both sub-Antarctic and Antarctic water.

Mucus may play vital role in dolphin echolocation

A new model suggests the mucus coating in dolphins' nasal passages is necessary to produce key characteristics of their sonar clicks

Date: May 24, 2016
Source: Acoustical Society of America

A dolphin chasing a tasty fish will produce a stream of rapid-fire echolocation clicks that help it track the speed, direction and distance to its prey. Now researchers have developed a model that could yield new insights into how the charismatic marine mammals make these clicks -- and it turns out mucus may play an important role.

The researchers will present their model at the 171st meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, held May 23-27 in Salt Lake City.

"It's harder than you might think to make loud, high frequency sounds," said Aaron Thode, a research scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. "Wet, sticky surfaces could serve a purpose in this."

Most scientists believe dolphins create sound by forcing air through nasal passages located just beneath their blowholes. Within the nasal passage are lumps of tissue, called dorsal bursae, that collide and vibrate, producing the dolphin's repertoire of clicks, chirps and whistles. Yet the finer details of what happens in the nasal passages remain murky.

It's difficult to film a dolphin's working nasal passages, Thode said, and many of the motions happen as quickly as a thousand times per second, making it hard to measure them. In place of direct observation, Thode turned to a lumped element model -- commonly used by engineers and scientists to simplify complicated systems.

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