Sunday 31 July 2016

Britons urged to help chart spread of thriving butterfly species

Campaign asks wildlife enthusiasts to visit local woodland to record number of speckled woods and other butterflies

Monday 1 August 201606.01 BST

Wildlife lovers are being asked to spend 15 minutes in a wood this week to chart the spread of the speckled wood (Pararge aegeria), Britain’s most successful butterfly.

The speckled wood is one of a handful of species that appear to be benefitting from climate change, recently colonising East Anglia, the Midlands and much of northern England, increasing in abundance by 84% over the past 40 years. The southern population has expanded northwards at an average of four miles a year since the 1970s.

The butterfly has also ventured into the Irish Sea to reach the Isle of Man and spread across Scotland, where in the 1970s it was restricted to the mild west coast and the Moray firth. It may even be about to establish itself on the Outer Hebrides.

As part of this year’s Big Butterfly Count, Butterfly Conservation and the Tree Charter - a campaign to help protect the UK’s woodlands and wildlife - are asking the public to visit a local wood and record the speckled woods and other butterflies they see.

Results from the Big Butterfly Count, the world’s biggest annual insect count, will help scientists to understand why the speckled wood has thrived when three-quarters of Britain’s 59 native butterfly species are in decline.

“It’s a species that’s doing well but it’s also doing interesting things,” said Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation. “Sightings in northern England, southern Scotland, Scottish islands and the far north are particularly important – you might discover a new area in which the speckled wood has never been found before. But we welcome sightings from everywhere so we can measure how well the speckled wood is doing nationally.”

First whale detected by newly deployed acoustic buoy in New York Bight

New monitoring device has heard fin whales -- the second largest whale species on Earth -- in New York waters

Date: July 28, 2016
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

A new acoustic buoy recently deployed by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and WCS's (Wildlife Conservation Society) New York Aquarium to listen for some of the world's biggest animals in the New York Bight has detected its first whale species, and it's a really big one.

Fixed in position some 22 miles south of Fire Island and fitted with a digital acoustic monitoring instrument, the hi-tech buoy is now operational and has detected the vocalizations of fin whales, enormous marine mammals second in size only to the blue whale, the largest animal species on earth. The first whale detection was made on Monday, July 4th, only 12 days after the buoy was placed in its current position on June 23rd.

Since that time, the buoy has made several fin whale detections; the most recent vocalizations were detected yesterday (July 27th) and today.

"It's incredibly exciting that the buoy is working well and we're hearing whales already," said WHOI's Dr. Mark Baumgartner, co-lead of the joint WCS New York Aquarium-WHOI project, who developed the software used by the acoustic instrument and led the integration of the instrument into the buoy. "Now we can focus on learning when and how often different whales visit the busy waters of the New York Bight over the coming year."

New fossil evidence supports theory that first mass extinction engineered by early animals

Date: July 29, 2016
Source: Vanderbilt University

Newly discovered fossil evidence from Namibia strengthens the proposition that the world's first mass extinction was caused by "ecosystem engineers" -- newly evolved biological organisms that altered the environment so radically it drove older species to extinction.

The event, known as the end-Ediacaran extinction, took place 540 million years ago. The earliest life on Earth consisted of microbes -- various types of single-celled organisms. These held sway for more than 3 billion years, when the first multicellular organisms evolved. The most successful of these were the Ediacarans, which spread around the globe about 600 million years ago. They were a largely immobile form of marine life shaped like discs and tubes, fronds and quilted mattresses.

After 60 million years, evolution gave birth to another major innovation: metazoans, the first animals. Metazoans could move spontaneously and independently at least during some point in their life cycle and sustain themselves by eating other organisms or what other organisms produce. Animals burst onto the scene in a frenzy of diversification that paleontologists have labeled the Cambrian explosion, a 25 million-year period when most of the modern animal families -- vertebrates, mollusks, arthropods, annelids, sponges and jellyfish -- came into being.

"These new species were 'ecological engineers' who changed the environment in ways that made it more and more difficult for the Ediacarans to survive," said Simon Darroch, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, who directed the new study described in the paper titled "A mixed Ediacaran-metazoan assemblage from the Zaris Sub-basin, Namibia," published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Friday 29 July 2016

Hyena Meets Tasmanian Devil: Ancient 'Hypercarnivore' Unearthed

By Charles Q. Choi, Live Science Contributor | July 28, 2016 07:07am ET

A newfound extinct marsupial "hypercarnivore" from Australia — one that researchers say looked like a cross between a Tasmanian devil and a hyena — was about twice as big as Australia's largest living flesh-eating marsupials, a new study finds.

Named Whollydooleya tomnpatrichorum, the predator is just one of a bevy of what scientists said were "strange, new animals"found in a fossil-rich site Down Under.

Although scientists have so far discovered only a single lower molar tooth of this predator, they deduced from the animal's tooth that "almost certainly it was a very active predator with an extremely powerful bite," said study lead author Mike Archer, a paleontologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Judging from the size and shape of this fossil molar, the researchers suggest W. tomnpatrichorum was what scientists call a hypercarnivore. This term "generally refers to a predator that is larger than a cat whose diet is at least 75 percent meat," Archer told Live Science. "These are animals that specialize in killing and eating other animals, although they probably wouldn't pass up a juicy bit of fruit from time to time."

The scientists estimated that this hypercarnivore weighed at least 44 to 55 lbs. (20 to 25 kilograms). In comparison, Australia's largest living carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil, weighs only about 22 lbs. (10 kg).

North America Has Only 1 True Species of Wolf, DNA Shows

By Megan Gannon, Live Science Contributor | July 29, 2016 07:04am ET

DNA tests of wolves across North America suggest that there is just one species of the canid: the gray wolf.

What's more, populations of red wolves and eastern wolves, thought to be distinct species, are actually just hybrids of gray wolves and coyotes that likely emerged in the last couple hundred years, the study found.

The findings, published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday (July 27), could have implications for the conservation of wolves considered endangered in the United States, the researchers say.

Shared genes
For the study, scientists sequenced the whole genomes of 28 canids, including gray wolves, eastern wolves, red wolves and coyotes in North America.

The study revealed that gray wolves and coyotes are not very different from each other, genetically speaking. According to the DNA results, the two species likely diverged from a common ancestor in Eurasia about 50,000 years ago —much more recently than previous estimates of 1 million years ago.

Meanwhile, red wolves, thought to be native to the southeastern United States, and eastern wolves from the Great Lakes region, were found to be genetic hybrids.

"These gray-wolf-coyote hybrids look distinct and were mistaken as a distinct species," study author Robert Wayne, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a statement.

Compared with eastern wolves, red wolves were more coyote-like in their genetic makeup, the study found, which makes sense historically. Before the hybridization, humans dramatically altered the habitat of wolves in the southeastern U.S. Once gray wolves started to get hunted out of the region, the hybrid red wolves could mate only with other hybrids and coyotes, the researchers said.

Continued ...

Elephant killings in Africa 'stabilise' but threat continues

By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

28 July 2016 

The rapid growth in the illegal killing of African elephants seen since 2006 seems to have stabilised and may be decreasing.

Two new reports indicate that across the continent, the numbers of elephants being killed for ivory has slowed.

But the picture is mixed as the slaughter in Central and West Africa shows no sign of moderating.

Some experts believe that the decline in deaths could be down to fewer elephants being alive to poach.
Numbers high, trend down

The BBC investigated the war on elephants earlier this year and how it is fuelled by demand for ivory from Asia.

Now there is new data on the sources of the illegal killings from the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, better known as Cites.

They run two important elephant monitoring records that are seen as reliable indicators of what's happening on the ground.

A few months ago, the Mike programme (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) showed that number of deaths, which started to grow in 2006, peaked in 2011.

Even though the trend is moving in the right direction, there were still over 14,000 elephants killed in the period from 2003-2015.

The BBC also investigated the war on elephants this year and how it is fuelled by demand for ivory from Asia.

New data has also been published for the ETIS programme (Elephant Trade Information System).

This shows that while trading in illegal ivory reached its highest levels in 2012 and 2013, it had levelled off by 2014.

But while there are some positives in the overall picture for Africa, the regional differences are stark. Countries continue to destroy ivory stockpiles, like this burning in Kenya

Southern Africa is the area where poaching levels have remained consistently the lowest. It remains the only sub-region that has not seen illegal killings exceed natural deaths since monitoring began.

Loss of habitats and local species extinctions

Study of extinction rates following habitat loss offers hope that some species can be saved

Date: July 25, 2016
Source: University of Utah

Unfortunately, loss of plant and animal habitat leads to local species extinctions and a loss of diversity from ecosystems. Fortunately, not all of the extinctions occur at once. Conservation actions may still be able to save threatened species, according to William Newmark, a vertebrate zoologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah at the University of Utah.

In the study, published today in Nature Communications, Newmark and colleagues complied data from biodiversity and extinction reports, finding that patterns of species loss following habitat disruption are similar among birds, mammals, plants, reptiles and invertebrates. Newmark and colleagues also found that while species loss commences quickly, timely action could slow extinction rates and save species.

In deep debt
When natural habitats are lost, species lose the physical space and resources they need to continue growing and expanding. Habitats are usually lost due to human activity, such as building roads or clear-cutting a forest. After such a disturbance, the habitat can no longer support the number of species that live there and species begin to disappear until the habitat reaches a new normal. The difference between the old and new amounts of biodiversity the habitat can support is called the "extinction debt."

The research team, which included John M. Halley and Nikolaos Monokrousos from the University of Ioannina, and Antonios D. Mazaris and Despoina Vokou from the University of Thessaloniki, reviewed 43 previous studies spanning 1971 to present that included descriptions of biodiversity loss following habitat fragmentation in five taxonomic groups: mammals, plants, birds, reptiles and invertebrates.

Newmark and his colleagues found a shallow J-shaped curve, nearly identical in each taxonomic group, that described how the rates of extinction loss change over time. At first, extinction rates are high, and then decelerate until the point at which half of the extinction debt is paid off. After that point, species loss continues but at a slower rate until a new equilibrium is reached.

Several factors influence the timeline in which the biodiversity loss process plays out, but Newmark says that all groups they studied, even those thought to be resistant to extinction such as plants, showed the same pattern. These similar patterns emerge if species loss is calculated in terms of average population size and time for a new generation to arise for these taxonomic groups.

Japanese tadpoles relax in hot springs

One type of juvenile frog can survive in hot onsen water

Date: July 26, 2016
Source: Hiroshima University

Japanese tadpoles can live and grow in natural hots springs, or onsen, with water temperatures as high as 46.1oC (115oF). Living in onsen may benefit the tadpoles' immune systems, speed their growth, and allow the tadpoles to survive on small volcanic islands where there are few other natural sources of fresh water.

Tadpoles of the same frogs were previously found living in hot springs in Taiwan and other Japanese islands, but this field study found tadpoles living in the hottest ever recorded temperatures for any amphibian tadpole. The research was completed by scientists at Hiroshima University with collaborators at SOKENDAI, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies.

Japan's onsen attract locals and visitors to relax in the hot water year round in bathhouses built to contain the water in public tubs. The onsen where researchers found the tadpoles were shallow mud pools in the forests of the small, subtropical island of Kuchinoshima, approximately 310 kilometers (192 miles) due South of Nagasaki in the East China Sea.

"Scientists have studied the distributions of organisms and their environmental adaptations since the era of Darwin and Wallace. Our report is one of the best examples of a direct connection between an animal's physical ability to tolerate diverse environmental conditions and the animal's success at colonizing diverse geographic areas," said Takeshi Igawa, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Hiroshima University and last author of the current study.

The tadpoles are Japanese stream tree frogs, known to scientists as Buergeria japonica. Japanese stream tree frogs are the only native species of amphibian on the Tokara Archipelago, a chain of volcanic islands off the Southwest coast of Japan. The adaptation to survive in water too warm for other amphibians may have allowed these frogs to exploit new habitats and avoid competition from other species. Future research will focus on the details of the tadpoles' behavior in their habitat.

White humpback Migaloo spotted off Australia's Byron Bay

26 July 2016

A famous white humpback whale has been spotted on his annual migration to Australia's north.

Migaloo is known for his distinctive colouring and for many years was the only documented all-white humpback whale in the world.

He has been sighted off the coast of New South Wales state, including the resort town of Byron Bay.

Migaloo's journey up Australia's east coast has attracted large numbers of whale enthusiasts.

Migaloo is estimated to be about 28 years old - humpback whales typically live for up to 50 years

The 14m-long mammal was spotted with a companion during his venture north but now appears to be travelling solo.

A Twitter account run by the White Whale Research Centre provides real-time updates of the whale's whereabouts.

Thursday 28 July 2016

Italian lizards invade Greenwich, CT – via Herp Digest

Greenwich Time, By Peregrine Frissell, Sunday, July 24, 2016

GREENWICH — Non-native Italian wall lizards have begun to appear in town, according to a Harvard researcher who says they may be riding the Metro-North train into Fairfield County.

Harvard post-doctoral fellow Colin Donihue has been studying their migration and plans to return to Greenwich next month as he tries to solve the mystery of how they got here and how they are surviving in a much cooler climate than they are used to.

There has been a population living in Bronx, N.Y., since a pet truck crashed and led to their escape to the urban wild in the 1960s, Donihue said. He it’s possible this population has spread north using the Metro-North train lines.

“It’s a really nice expressway for them to travel distances,” Donihue said. “Those little guys move pretty fast.”
He said the loosely packed stone beneath the tracks provides good shelter from predators and easy access to backyards full of insects and warm laundry ducts.

“It seems these little Italian wall lizards are really making use of human heat sources in order to make it through the winter,” Donihue said. “It’s also great habitat to hide from predators.”

Another explanation could be that an area resident went on vacation to Italy, where they are very common, and brought some back to live in their garden, Donihue said. He said there are populations in Kansas and Los Angeles that are known to have started that way.

He has sent tissue samples to geneticists at the University of California-Merced to see if the lizards, which are harmless to humans and pets, found in Greenwich are related to those from the Bronx.

Donihue is trying to find more specific information about the migration patterns of these lizards. He has considered trying to put GPS chips on them like people do with their pets or larger wild animals, but all the current models are too large for the small, 4-inch body of the lizard to handle.

He has seen some backyards with as many as 15 to 20 lizards, which leads him to suspect the entire Greenwich population is in the hundreds, but somewhere shy of 1,000. Donihue said he first needs to figure out how far from the tracks they have strayed to determine a more accurate population estimate.

He is also trying to determine if they have reached beyond Greenwich’s border into Stamford.

Donihue’s research is focused on how animals adapt to live in human landscapes. He has been studying a sister species of the lizard in Greece for the past five years, and is interested in discerning how the Connecticut lizards are changing to thrive in such a different environment.

“It would feed into this bigger question of what makes an invasive species successful, and how can we understand how those species are evolving to live side-by-side with humans,” Donihue said

He believes their metabolisms are slowing down and becoming better regulated than their relatives in Greece and Italy to adjust to the cold, but he doesn’t think that’s the only thing allowing them to expand this way.
“We’re starting to talk about animal personalities, so maybe these lizards right at the invasion front are more risk-taking or interested in trying out new types of food or exploring different areas,” Donihue said.
The only lizard native to Connecticut is a skink, which has a blue tail that is much longer than the Italian invaders, which tend to be greener in color.

Greg Watkins-Colwell, collection manager at the Peabody Natural History Museum at Yale University, has worked in the field locating lizards with Donihue.

He said Donihue first learned about the lizards when someone posted a picture of one on Facebook.

“It’s one of those odd things where social media actually made a difference,” Watkins-Colwell said.

Watkins-Colwell isn’t sure how far north the species will reach, but the rest of the communities along Metro-North could be fair game.
“It kind of makes sense for a lizard that is adapted to live on stone walls and archeologic ruins to use what is effectively a pile of rock as its habitat,” he said. “It’s interesting from a conservation perspective, because you can predict where they will be. You can start watching for them up the line.”

If you have seen a wall lizard, contact Donihue at

Increasing ocean acidity could impact fish spawning

By Matt McGrath
Environment correspondent
27 July 2016

A new study suggests that the increasing acidification of the oceans is likely to interfere with the ability of fish to reproduce.

Researchers found that elevated levels of CO2, which make the waters more acidic, saw significantly lower levels of spawning.

However, other mating behaviours of the same species were unaffected by the souring of the oceans.

The scientists say the changes are "subtle but ecologically important".

The study examined the complicated mating behaviours of ocellated wrasse, a common Mediterranean fish.

There are three different types of male who compete to father the offspring of this species.

Sneaky males
Dominant males build nests and provide defence, while satellite males aid the dominants in return for a share of the eggs. "Sneaker" males hover around the nests and try and take advantage when the dominants are distracted.

The researchers filmed and studied the complex interactions of these creatures in areas near underwater volcanic vents which seep CO2 into the water.

The higher levels of CO2 make the sea much more acidic in this area off the coast of southern Italy, equivalent to what is expected more widely around the world by the end of this century.

The scientists found that many mating behaviours were unaffected but that dominant male spawning with females was reduced by almost two thirds in areas of high CO2.

The researchers argue that the increased CO2 may be impacting the abilities of the dominant males to make rapid decisions.

X-rays reveal complete dino skeleton

Scientists have used high-power X-rays to "see inside" an exquisite and complete dinosaur specimen.

The skeleton belongs to a small, plant-eating dinosaur which lived 200 million years ago - at the beginning of the Jurassic Period.

Although this species was widespread at the time, scientists have largely had to rely on incomplete fossils.

The analysis was carried out at the ESRF facility in Grenoble, France, and showed that the specimen was juvenile.

The skeleton is too small and fragile, and the rocks around it too hard, to allow it to be studied by conventional means.

In addition, the rock matrix in which the fossil is preserved contains trapped minerals which prevented it from being scanned in a standard CT scanner.

The specimen was discovered in a stream bed on a farm in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa by palaeontologist Billy de Klerk.

"There's still a lot we don't know about early plant-eating dinosaurs," said Prof Jonah Choiniere from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"We need new specimens like this one and new technology like the synchrotron to fill in those gaps."

Prof Choiniere, along with Dr Vincent Fernandez, from the ESRF (European Synchrotron), scanned the specimen with high-powered X-rays to understand how the species, Heterodontosaurus tucki, ate, moved, and breathed.

Campaigners seek to reintroduce Eurasian lynx to parts of Britain

Charity begins local consultation on plan to introduce 10 Eurasian lynxes back into wild in north of England and southern Scotland

Sunday 24 July 201615.53 BST Last modified on Sunday 24 July 201616.10 BST

Lynx could soon be reintroduced to the north of England and southern Scotland as the charity campaigning for the return of the wild mammal, which was last seen across Britain around 700AD, launches its final stage of a consultation.

The project to introduce 10 Eurasian lynxes back into the wild, which has also considered sites in Aberdeenshire, will this week begin discussions with farmers and tourist operators around Kielder Forest in Northumberland.

Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific adviser of the Lynx UK Trust, described the cross-border site and the largest forested area in Britain as ideal because of its low human population density, limited road networks and large deer populations.

Following this local consultation, which is expected to last two to three months, the trust will submit its licence application to Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage in the autumn, and expects a “speedy and positive” response.

It will source lynx for the trial while the application is being considered, and O’Donoghue said the animals could be reintroduced “as soon as practicably possible”.

The Eurasian lynx, which were hunted for their highly prized pelts, have been successfully reintroduced in northern Germany, where 14 of the cats introduced in 2000 have grown to a population of up to 100.

Their preferred diet of roe deer makes them popular with the rewilding movement, which argues for the reintroduction of apex predators in order to control herbivore populations, promote forest growth and reinvigorate ecosystems.

North Korea accuses Seoul of 'cunning plot' to release snakes over border

 Soldiers sceptical after unseasonably high numbers of reptiles lead Pyongyang to suspect South Korean infiltration

Kang Mi-jin for DK News, part of the North Korea network
Wednesday 27 July 201606.00 BST

North Korean border patrol guards have been ordered to capture snakes apparently released by South Korea to wreak havoc in its northern neighbour, sources have claimed.

Pyongyang is said to have told the military that Seoul’s spy agency is behind the unseasonably high number of snakes in Ryanggang province, which borders China.

“Earlier this month, border patrol units received orders to capture snakes before they crawl over the banks of the Yalu River,” said a source in the province.

He added that the core message from Pyongyang was that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service was using the reptiles “as part of a ‘cunning scheme’ to challenge our unity”. Multiple sources in Ryanggang province are said to have corroborated these claims.

But not all soldiers are convinced of the plot. “Some grumble about the nature of the state’s claims. They point out that not even a three-year-old would believe the South would attack us with snakes over [anti-regime] propaganda leaflets or CDs,” said the source.

Despite the skepticism, North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security and other public agencies are reportedly urging residents to stay alert to the danger of snakes at all times. In some areas, there have been rumours of people dying from snake bites.

According to the source, Pyongyang’s claims of an attack from outside forces could be an attempt to “psychologically arm the people during the 200-day battle”, one of Kim Jong-un’s so-called speed campaigns to boost the economy.

Continued …

Ants invented farming 60 million years ago after ditching hunter-gatherer lifestyle, scientists discover

While farmer ants emerged just after the dinosaurs died out, human only came up with the idea of agriculture 10,000 years ago

Ian Johnston Science Correspondent 
Wednesday 20 July 2016

After the age of the dinosaurs came to an end some 65 million years ago, a ‘tribe’ of ants known to scientists as the Attini decided to give up life as hunter-gatherers and become farmers instead, according to a new genetic study.

It was an astonishing move that humans only managed to accomplish some 10,000 years ago.

The ants, native to South America, began farming fungus that grew on decomposing wood, setting off an evolutionary revolution.

About 25 million year ago, one group of fungus farmers began growing a particular fungi that produced protein-rich bulbs that proved a highly nutrious food.

This allowed ant colonies to increase in size until 15 million years ago when the leafcutter ant emerged. They feed a fully domesticated species of fungus kept in vast underground farms with fresh green leaves every day, supporting colonies number millions of individual insects.

paper about the research, published in the journal Nature Communications, said that ants had evolved “complex societies with industrial-scale farming”.

“Farming created advanced human civilizations in just a few thousand years, producing a huge diversity of domesticated crops with improved nutrition, growth characteristics and yield,” the researchers wrote. 

“Industrial-scale farming, comparable to that in humans, has evolved in only two non-human organisms, the fungus-growing ants and termites. 

Read on … 

Endangered Sonoma County Tiger Salamander Gets Recovery Plan – via Herp Digest

For Immediate Release, June 20, 2016  Press Release from Center for Biological Diversity

SANTA ROSA, Calif.— In accordance with a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a final recovery plan for the endangered Sonoma County population of the California tiger salamander. The plan calls for purchase and permanent protection of approximately 15,000 acres of the salamander’s breeding ponds and adjacent uplands.

“With a recovery plan we can fight threats like habitat destruction that have pushed these salamanders to the brink of extinction,” said Jenny Loda, a biologist and attorney with the Center who is dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “This plan gives us hope for one of our most imperiled salamanders.”

The recovery plan focuses on alleviating the threat of habitat loss and fragmentation by permanently protecting breeding ponds and their adjacent uplands through acquisition and conservation easements. The plan also calls for restoring breeding habitats, as well as assessing and reducing risks of non-native predators, road mortality, contaminants and disease.

“Without adequate habitat protections, these salamanders can’t migrate safely between their wetland and upland homes,” said Loda. “I hope the habitat protections and other actions identified in this plan will be put in place immediately to help move these salamanders toward recovery.”

Although Sonoma County California tiger salamanders have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for more than a decade, the Fish and Wildlife Service had not developed a required recovery plan to guide management of the species. In April 2012 the Center sued the Interior Department for its failure to develop such a plan for the endangered salamanders; the plan released today is the result of the December 2012 settlement agreement that resulted from this lawsuit.

Recovery plans are the main tool for identifying actions necessary to save endangered species from extinction and eventually remove their protection under the Endangered Species Act. Research by the Center has found that the status of species with dedicated recovery plans for two or more years is far more likely to be improving than the status of those without.

The California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) is a large, stocky, terrestrial salamander with a broad, rounded snout and gorgeous black-and-yellow body. These amphibians are restricted to vernal pools and seasonal ponds in grassland and oak savannah communities in central California. The primary cause of their decline is the loss and fragmentation of habitat through human activities and encroachment of nonnative predators.
The Sonoma County population of California tiger salamanders was listed as endangered in 2003. This species is endemic to the Santa Rosa Plain, in central Sonoma County, Calif., and is genetically and geographically distinct from other California tiger salamanders.

For more information about the Center’s campaign to curb the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis, please visit

Contact: Jenny Loda, (515) 441-1636,

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Sexual rivalry may drive frog reproductive behaviors

Some frogs may have started laying eggs on land to get way from the mating frenzy in the water

Date: July 26, 2016
Source: University of California - Berkeley

It may be hard to imagine competing over who gets to kiss a frog, but when it comes to mating, a new study concludes that some frogs have moved out of the pond onto land to make it easier for the male in the pair to give sexual rivals the slip.

Biologists have long thought that some frog species evolved to mate on land -- sometimes in unusual places -- instead of in open water to better guard eggs and tadpoles from easily being eaten by fish and other predators. But the new research by a team of U.S. and Brazilian frog biologists suggests that mating on land in many species might in part be a strategy that male frogs use to ensure that their own DNA gets passed on, instead of the DNA of their rivals. Sexual selection may trump natural selection in the evolution of these reproductive behaviors, according to the new study, to be published online ahead of print on July 26 in The American Naturalist.

Frogs have a "dizzying array" of reproductive strategies, according to Rayna Camille Bell, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow who contributed to data collection, analyzed and interpreted much of the data, and helped co-author the study, which was led by her doctoral thesis advisor, Kelly Zamudio, a professor at Cornell University.

Mating in frogs typically involves the male wrapping his arms around the female, the female depositing eggs and the male fertilizing the eggs, which will hatch into tadpoles and ultimately develop into froglets. The earliest frogs completed all of these steps in water, but among different frog species there are various strategies for accomplishing these reproductive tasks before a new generation hops or swims off on its own. Frog species vary in where they mate, where they lay eggs, where tadpoles develop and whether and how eggs and tadpoles are tended to by parent frogs. Some species even skip the egg stage, giving birth to live tadpoles or even froglets.

Moving toward mating on land
"Biologists noticed an apparent linear progression toward more terrestrial reproduction throughout frog evolution and proposed that frogs avoid putting their eggs and tadpoles in streams or ponds because they would be more vulnerable to aquatic predators," Bell said. The apparent trend toward increasingly terrestrial reproduction is most evident in tropical frogs, perhaps because more humid environments more easily permit reproduction on land without eggs or tadpoles drying up.

Common pesticide appears to reduce live bee sperm

July 27, 2016 by Seth Borenstein

A new study finds that a commonly used insecticide kills much of the sperm created by male drone honey bees, one reason why the bees are dwindling.

The class of insecticide called neonicotinoids didn't kill the drones. But bees that ate treated pollen produced 39 percent less live sperm than those that didn't, according to a controlled experiment by Swiss researchers published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

It essentially acted as an accidental contraceptive on the drones, whose main job is to mate with the queen—but not one that prevented complete reproduction, just making it tougher, said Lars Straub, lead author of the study and a doctoral student and researcher at the University of Bern. Drones, which are the product of unfertilized eggs, don't gather nectar or pollen and don't sting; they die after mating.

Both the drones that ate insecticide-treated pollen and those not exposed to the chemicals produced about the same amount of sperm. The difference was clear when the researchers put the sperm under the microscope: The bee that didn't have pesticide in its pollen produced on average 1.98 million living sperm, the one with neonicotinoids in its food about 1.2 million.

"There's a reduction in sperm viability and the amount of living sperm, but that doesn't mean there's no living sperm at hand," Straub said. The big question is there still enough of sperm that survive to do the job, he said. Queens generally have one mating flight and store sperm.

Study co-author Geoffrey Williams, a senior bee researcher at the University of Bern, said the team doesn't know how the insecticides might be damaging the sperm, but it seems to be happening after they are produced.

Voice control in orangutan gives clues to early human speech

July 27, 2016

An adolescent orangutan called Rocky could provide the key to understanding how speech in humans evolved from the time of the ancestral great apes, according to new research.
In an imitation "do-as-I-do" game, eleven-year-old Rocky, who was eight at the time of the research, was able to copy the pitch and tone of sounds made by researchers to make vowel-like calls.

The discovery, led by Dr Adriano Lameira of Durham University, UK, shows that orangutans could have the ability to control their voices.

It might answer the argument about whether or not spoken language stemmed from early human ancestors.

Previously it was thought that great apes - our closest relatives - could not learn to produce new sounds and because speech is a learned behaviour it could not have originated from them.

The findings are published today (Wednesday, July 27) in the journal Scientific Reports.
Rocky was studied at Indianapolis Zoo, Indiana, USA, where he is currently housed, between April and May 2012, and all steps were taken to ensure his routine and environment were not disrupted.

During the study, a researcher made random sounds with variations in the tone or pitch of her voice which Rocky then mimicked.

The research team compared these sounds against the largest available database of orangutan calls collected from over 12,000 hours of observations of more than 120 orangutans from 15 wild and captive populations.

They were able to conclude that the sounds made by Rocky were different compared to the sounds on the database, showing that he was able to learn new sounds and control the action of his voice in a "conversational" context.

Dr Lameira, who was not a member of Durham University staff at the time of the research but joined the Department of Anthropology in 2015, said: "It's not clear how spoken language evolved from the communication systems of the ancestral great apes.

New species of beaked whale confirmed by DNA

DNA analysis identifies eight known specimens of elusive North Pacific species

Date: July 26, 2016
Source: NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region

An international team of scientists who searched out specimens from museums and remote Arctic islands has identified a rare new species of beaked whale that ranges from northern Japan across the Pacific Ocean to Alaska's Aleutian Islands.

Japanese whalers call the enigmatic black whales "karasu," the Japanese word for raven. The new species is darker in color and about two-thirds the size of the more common Baird's beaked whale, but so scarce that even whalers rarely see them.

A DNA analysis of 178 beaked whales from around the Pacific Rim found eight known examples of the new species, the scientists reported today in the journal Marine Mammal Science. The eight included specimens from the Smithsonian Institution and Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, a skeleton on display in an Alaska high school, and another that puzzled researchers trying to identify it when it washed up on an island in the Bering Sea.

"The challenge in documenting the species was simply locating enough specimens to provide convincing evidence," said Phillip Morin, a research molecular biologist at NOAA Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and lead author of the new study. "Clearly this species is very rare, and reminds us how much we have to learn about the ocean and even some of its largest inhabitants."

An earlier Japanese study had suggested that the black whales, sometimes considered a dwarf form of Baird's beaked whale, might represent a new species. That sent Morin in search of additional genetic samples to definitively answer the question and better understand the range of the elusive species.

He turned first to the Southwest Fisheries Science Center's marine mammal tissue collection, the largest in the world, and found two samples that appeared to represent a new species. One came from a whale found in Alaska's Aleutian Islands in 2004, whose skeleton now hangs on display at Unalaska High School. Then he and his colleagues pursued additional DNA samples from museums, research institutions and Japanese markets where whale meat is sold.

In 2014 scientists found a dead beaked whale on St. George Island, one of the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. When it did not match any known species, they sent samples to Morin. Genetic tests later showed it to be the new species.

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