Thursday 31 January 2019

Galápagos island gets its first iguanas since Darwin after mass-release

Land iguanas wiped out by feral pigs have been reintroduced to Santiago Island
Agence France-Presse
Tue 8 Jan 2019 00.58 GMTLast modified on Tue 8 Jan 2019 01.26 GMT

A group of more than 1,400 iguanas have been reintroduced to an island in the Galápagos archipelago nearly two centuries after they disappeared from there, authorities said on Monday.
The Galápagos land iguanas from North Seymour Island were freed onto Santiago Island as part of an ecological restoration program, the National Galapagos park authority said in a statement.
The last recorded sighting of iguanas in Santiago Island was made by British naturalist Charles Darwin in 1835.
“Almost two centuries later, this ecosystem will once again count on this species through the restoration initiative,” said the park authority.

New mathematical model can help save endangered species

Date:  January 11, 2019
Source:  University of Southern Denmark
What does the blue whale have in common with the Bengal tiger and the green turtle? They share the risk of extinction and are classified as endangered species. There are multiple reasons for species to die out, and climate changes is among the main reasons.
The risk of extinction varies from species to species depending on how individuals in its populations reproduce and how long each animal survives. Understanding the dynamics of survival and reproduction can support management actions to improve a specie's chances of surviving.
Mathematical and statistical models have become powerful tools to help explain these dynamics. However, the quality of the information we use to construct such models is crucial to improve our chances of accurately predicting the fate of populations in nature.
"A model that over-simplifies survival and reproduction can give the illusion that a population is thriving when in reality it will go extinct.," says associate professor Fernando Colchero, author of new paper published in Ecology Letters.
Colchero's research focuses on mathematically recreating the population dynamics by better understanding the species's demography. He works on constructing and exploring stochastic population models that predict how a certain population (for example an endangered species) will change over time.

Penguins, starfish, whales: Which animals will win and lose in a warming Antarctic?

Date:  January 17, 2019
Source:  Frontiers
Marine Antarctic animals closely associated with sea ice for food or breeding, such the humpback whale and emperor penguin, are most at risk from the predicted effects of climate change, finds a new study published in Frontiers in Marine Science. Using risk assessments like those used for setting occupational safety limits in the workplace, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey determined the winners and losers of Antarctic climate-change impacts, which includes temperature rise, sea-ice reduction and changes in food availability. They show that seafloor predators and open-water feeding animals, like starfish and jellyfish, will benefit from the opening up of new habitat.
"One of the strongest signals of climate change in the Western Antarctic is the loss of sea ice, receding glaciers and the break-up of ice shelves," says Dr Simon Morley, lead author, based at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), UK. "Climate change will affect shallow water first, challenging the animals who live in this habitat in the very near future. While we show that many Antarctic marine species will benefit from the opening up of new areas of sea floor as habitat, those associated with sea ice are very much at risk."

Piece to the puzzle of baleen whales' evolution

Date:  January 22, 2019
Source:  University of Otago
An Otago researcher has added another piece to the puzzle of the evolution of modern baleen whales with a world-first study examining the teeth and enamel of baleen whales' ancestors.
Modern baleen whales have no teeth when adults, instead they use large keratin plates called baleen to filter prey from large volumes of seawater. However, millions of years ago their ancestors had teeth as most mammals do.
Lead author of the research just published in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution, Dr Carolina Loch from the Faculty of Dentistry, explains scientists are still trying to understand how and why this process happened. The research she carried out together with colleagues from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina, CONICET, and the Swedish Museum of Natural History has provided more information.
They studied details of the inside structure of the teeth of two fossil whales from around 35 million years ago. These teeth were collected in Antarctica by the Argentinian and Swedish study co-authors Monica Buono and Thomas Mörs. Because teeth are naturally heavily mineralised, they preserve well in the fossil record and can provide clues of how extinct animals lived.

Wednesday 30 January 2019

The tale of a lizard’s stripes and colourful tail – via Herp Digest

by Vignesh Kamath, Thiruvananthapuram Jan 18, (Research Matters)
A new study suggests that stripes and colourful tails of some lizards may help them ward off predators
The black and white stripes of a zebra may be attractive to us, but did you know they evolved so to confuse predators?  Called ‘motion dazzle’, the lines make it hard for the predator, to judge the speed and direction of the moving prey. This strategy was also used during World War I where navy ships were painted with black and white patterns to avoid being attacked by torpedo missiles from submarines. In a recent study, researchers from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Thiruvananthapuram (IISER-TVM) and the University of Turku, Finland, have studied the motion dazzle effect in lizards. The study, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, is one of the first to use data from real animals to understand this phenomenon and its evolutionary significance.
Some lizards, like Eutropis bibronii—a species of skink from India—have longitudinal body stripes, and Lygosoma punctata—a common species of skink found in parts of South and Southeast Asia—have both longitudinal stripes and a colourful tail. Previous studies have shown that body stripes and striking colouration on the tail deflect predators to attack the tail instead of the body, giving a chance for the lizard to escape.
“In some lizards, the tail can be lost and regrown, the stripes on the body might create an illusion in such a way that the predator ends up catching the tail instead of the main body during motion”, says Gopal Murali from IISER-TVM, who is the lead author of the study. The study was funded by the Department of Science and Technology and IISER-TVM.
The researchers of the current study started with several hypotheses of correlations between the colour patterns and ecological traits of lizards based on the principle of motion dazzle (for stripes) and attack deflection (for colorful tail). They tested these hypotheses by analysing nearly 8000 lizard photos from over 1600 different species.
The researchers found that striped species of lizards, like Eutropis bibronii, had a higher body temperature than those without stripes. The mobility of ectothermic animals—animals that cannot regulate their body temperature—depends on their body temperature. Thus, lizards with longitudinal stripes and higher body temperature have higher mobility and can rapidly escape from predators.
“This correlation is expected because motion dazzle patterns work only when the animal is in motion”, adds Murali.
Interestingly, the study also found that both body stripes and colourful tails are associated with diurnal behaviour, where the lizards are active during the daytime. This association could be because the colourations may be ineffective in the dark against predators that rely on sight. The researchers suggest that body stripes and colourful tails likely evolved in lizards that are active during the day.
Besides, the researchers hypothesized that this evolution is also driven by the lizard’s ability to lose its tail. This defence mechanism, known as caudal autotomy, first evolved over 280 million years ago in reptiles. Without it, there would be no benefits for the lizards from deflecting the attacks on their body to their tail! The researchers tested this hypothesis and found evidence to support that these colourations may have evolved with caudal autotomy. Additionally, there was a strong correlation between stripes and tail colouration.
“We speculate one of the reasons to be that the deflective effect of one of the colourations alone can be enhanced by the other”, says Murali.
The findings of the study appear to be supported by observations in real animals and apply to almost all lizard species worldwide. Lygosoma punctata, for example, has longitudinal stripes on its body and a bright red-coloured tail when it is a juvenile. It is known to have many predators including birds, snakes and mammals. It is also diurnal and can lose its tail when attacked, giving it a significant chance of survival. It can thus direct an attack from its body towards its tail. Other lizards, like the Bengal monitor (Varanus bengalensis), have neither any striking colouration nor the ability to lose their tail. Since these large lizards have few natural predators, they did not evolve to develop such defence mechanisms.
The next time you see a lizard with a bright tail or zebra-like stripes on its body, think of the long tale behind the tail!

Marine mammals and sea turtles recovering after Endangered Species Act protection

Date:  January 16, 2019
Source:  PLOS
More than three-quarters of marine mammal and sea turtle populations have significantly increased after listing of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), according to a study published January 16 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Abel Valdivia of the Center for Biological Diversity in California, and colleagues. The findings suggest that conservation measures such as tailored species management and fishery regulations, in addition to other national and international measures, appear to have been largely successful in promoting species recovery, leading to the delisting of some species and to increases in most populations.
The ESA is a powerful environmental law protecting imperiled plants and animals, and a growing number of marine species have been protected under this law as extinction risk in the oceans has increased. Yet analyses of recovery trends for marine mammals and sea turtles after listing are lacking. To address this gap in knowledge, Valdivia and colleagues gathered the best available annual abundance estimates for populations of all 62 marine mammal species and sea turtle species listed under the ESA. The researchers analyzed population trends, the magnitude of population change, and recovery status for 23 representative populations of 14 marine mammal species and eight representative populations of five sea turtle species.

New species of snake found in stomach of predator snake

Date:  January 19, 2019
Source:  University of Texas at Arlington
Herpetologists at The University of Texas at Arlington have described a previously unknown species of snake that was discovered inside the stomach of another snake more than four decades ago.
The new snake has been named Cenaspis aenigma, which translates from Latin as "mysterious dinner snake." It is described in a recent paper in the Journal of Herpetology titled "Caudals and Calyces: The Curious Case of a Consumed Chiapan Colubroid." The paper was co-authored by Jonathan Campbell, UTA professor of biology; Eric Smith, UTA associate professor of biology; and Alexander Hall, who earned a UTA doctorate in quantitative biology in 2016.
The researchers' work identifies Cenaspis as not only a new species but also an entirely new genus.
The specimen was found in the stomach of a Central American coral snake -- a species that has been known to eat smaller snakes -- by palm harvesters in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas in 1976. The 10-inch long specimen was preserved in a museum collection. Amazingly, a live specimen has never been found in the ensuing 42 years.

Read on 

Change of teeth causes yo-yo effect in elephants' weight

Date:  January 9, 2019
Source:  University of Zurich
The teeth of most mammals, including humans, are only replaced once in a lifetime, when the milk teeth give way to the permanent teeth. This one change is enough to adapt to the increasing size of the jaw. But elephants increase greatly in size and weight over the course of their lives -- from a starting weight of 100 kilograms to several tons in adulthood. One single change of teeth would not be enough for the enormous growth of the jaw.
Elephants' teeth change five times
That's why the teeth of elephants are replaced a total of five times over their lifespan. On each side of the jaw they have only one single tooth in use at a time which is slowly pushed forwards by a new bigger tooth out of the mouth, breaking off in pieces. If you look inside an elephant's mouth you will see either only one single tooth or pieces of the old tooth behind which part of the new tooth is pushing through, a process that is called molar progression.
As a result of this process, the elephants' chewing surface gets bigger when two teeth are present on one side at the same time, and then smaller again when there is only one tooth on each side. For that reason there are times when it is easier for the animals to eat more or chew the same amount more finely, and hence increase the intake of digestible food.

Monday 28 January 2019

Lionfish: Beautiful and Dangerous Invaders

By Nicoletta Lanese, Live Science Contributor | January 17, 2019 03:09pm ET
Turkeyfish. Butterfly cod. Feather fins. A lionfish (Pterois) by any other name looks just as lovely. Adorned in bold maroon, brown and white stripes, lionfish drift through the water by gently waving their fan-like fins. Floating tentacles frame their faces, making lionfish appear soft and delicate. But beware! These mysterious beauties come armed with venomous spines, and they are invading tropical waters around the world.
Fast fishy facts
Lionfish hail from the South Pacific and Indian oceans, their habitat stretching from Australia up to Japan and South Korea. Twelve different lionfish species swim through this region, feasting on shrimp and smaller fish. Lionfish corner their prey against reefs and rocks, then strike suddenly to swallow the prey whole. A voracious species, lionfishes' stomachs can expand to up to 30 times their normal size after a meal, according to Smithsonian magazine, leaving the fish plenty of room for seconds.
Lionfish not only have huge appetites, but also breed with similar gusto. They reproduce year-round, meaning a mature female can release about 2 million eggs per year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Diver filmed with huge great white: sharks must be 'protected not feared'

Ocean Ramsey, a shark researcher, came face-to-face with what could be one of the largest great whites ever recorded
Associated Press in Haleiwa, Hawaii
Sat 19 Jan 2019 00.39 GMTLast modified on Sat 19 Jan 2019 14.52 GMT

Two shark researchers who came face to face with what could be one of the largest great whites ever recorded are using their encounter as an opportunity to push for legislation that would protect sharks in Hawaii.
Ocean Ramsey, a shark researcher and conservationist, told the Associated Press that she encountered the 20ft (6-metre) shark on Tuesday near a dead sperm whale off Oahu. The event was documented and shared on social media by her fiance and business partner, Juan Oliphant.
The Hawaii department of land and natural resources said it was aware of photos of the great white and that tiger sharks also had been feeding on the whale.
Oliphant, who photographed the now viral images, said it was unclear if the shark was the famed Deep Blue, believed to be the largest great white ever recorded.

Scientists built a lizard-like robot based on a 280-million-year-old – via Herp Digest

They knew what they were doing when they taught it to walk this way.

CNET, by Jackson Ryan, 11/17/19
Go to for video

You have to learn to walk before you can learn to fly.

That's the mantra of 1,000 Instagram motivational posts I've seen over the years, but it has its place in history, too. In an effort to understand how some of the first land-dwelling creatures walked, paleontologists, engineers and computer scientists have teamed up and created a robotic Orobates pabsti.

The prehistoric creature, which slunk along the forest floors around 280 million years ago, is known as a "stem amniote" -- an offshoot of plant-eating land vertebrates, or tetrapods. It's kind of like a cousin to the ancestors that would eventually become today's reptiles, mammals and birds.

That makes it a good organism to study, because it could help show how creatures came to move across land and how the diversity of life we see today came to be. Scientists had predicted that Orobates might drag its body across the ground like a salamander, undulating from side to side.

Fortunately, the research team had access to ancient fossilized footprints and a full four-legged skeleton to examine.

Computer modelling was central to understanding the rhythm of the creature's movement and the team looked to modern-day creatures like caimans, iguanas and skinks to formulate theories on its locomotion. Using X-ray vision of those animals walking, they created animations constrained by the limits of reality. 

And they weren't done just at simulations. They also built the OroBOT, a 4-foot long robot version of Orobates, that can physically act out the movements their simulations predict. Using 28 motors and 3D printed parts, they brought Orobates back from the dead, albeit in robot form. 

When all the data was taken together, the scientists drew the conclusion that Orobates was much more advanced at getting around than previously thought. Essentially, this style of walking was invented a lot earlier than we'd believed -- and Orobates didn't drag its stomach across the soil, it held it up in the air like an iguana or caiman might.

The research was published in the journal Nature on Jan. 16, and the publication also uploaded this absolutely wild video of creating the robot and determining how Orobates moved around. 

Even more impressive is an interactive built by the research teams, that lets you manipulate the gait of the ancient beast with a series of sliders, providing a real-time computer simulation of how it may have walked. The interactive provides "exploration of the filters that constrain our simulations, which will allow revision of our approach using new data, assumptions or methods," the team wrote in Nature.

Extinct mammoths could be given protected status in bid to save elephants

Proposal is intended to protect African elephants from being poached for their tusks
Thu 10 Jan 2019 18.36 GMTLast modified on Fri 11 Jan 2019 12.45 GMT

The long-extinct woolly mammoth could gain protected status in an unprecedented attempt to save the African elephant from the global ivory trade.
If approved, the protection of the mammoth under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) could prove vital in saving its modern relatives. The proposal by Israel would close a loophole that enables the trafficking of illegal elephant ivory under the guise of legal mammoth ivory, which is almost identical in appearance.
“They are often intermingled in shipment and retail displays, and are fashioned in a similar style. To the untrained eye it’s very difficult to distinguish between them,” said Iris Ho, senior specialist in wildlife programmes and policy at Humane Society International (HSI). “There is currently no international regulatory regime to track and monitor the commercial trade in mammoth ivory.”
An Appendix II level of protection for the prehistoric mammoth, which has been extinct for 10,000 years, would subject the mammoth ivory trade to strict regulation. It would be the first time an extinct species has been listed as protected under Cites.
The international trade in elephant ivory has been banned since 1990, but demand for it still leads to the deaths of 30,000 African elephants every year.
Kitty Block, the president of HSI, said: “With ivory traffickers exploiting the long-extinct mammoth so they can further exploit imperilled elephants, nations must unite to end the poaching epidemic and ensure all ivory markets are closed. The time to act is now, before we lose them forever.”
A number of jurisdictions have already prohibited the sale of mammoth ivory products altogether, including New York and Hawaii. India has also banned the import of mammoth ivory.

Sunday 27 January 2019

Fraser Island dingo attack: boy in hospital after running into pack of wild dogs

Six-year-old in hospital with leg injuries after being bitten by a dingo on a sand dune
Sat 19 Jan 2019 23.33 GMTLast modified on Sat 19 Jan 2019 23.35 GMT

A six-year-old boy has been attacked after unexpectedly running into a pack of dingoes on world heritage-listed Fraser Island, where the wild dog population is a protected species.
The child was bitten on the leg on Saturday afternoon after running up a sand dune.
The boy had been swimming with his family, and ran up the dune, Royal Automobile Club of Queensland Lifeflight rescue helicopter crewman Dan Leggat said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, when he got to the top, there was a pack of four dingoes,” Leggat said.
“One of the dingoes attacked the boy and bit him on the leg,”
The boy was treated by paramedics on the island and airlifted to the mainland at Hervey Bay.
Fraser Island, off Australia’s Queensland coast, is home to Australia’s most significant purebred dingo colony. About 200 dingoes inhabit the sand island, where they remain the apex predator and have been isolated from crossbreeding with feral and domestic dogs.
Tourists are warned to take precautions outside of fenced areas, including walking in groups, keeping children within arm’s length and not running as it attracts dingoes.

Elephants take to the road for reliable resources

In a national park, researchers study African elephant movement and vegetation using satellites
Date:  January 9, 2019
Source:  Ecological Society of America
An elephant never forgets. This seems to be the case, at least, for elephants roaming about Namibia, looking for food, fresh water, and other resources.
The relationship between resource availability and wildlife movement patterns is essential to understanding species behavior and ecology. Landscapes can change from day-to-day and year-to-year, and many animals will move about according to resource availability. But do they remember past resource conditions? Just how important is memory and spatial cognition when seeking to understand wildlife movement?
Researchers in Etosha National Park, Namibia, examined this question through an iconic mammal. "African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are ideal for this study -- they have excellent cognitive abilities and long-term spatial memory," lead author Miriam Tsalyuk of University of California Berkeley explained, "which helps them return to areas with better food and water. African savannas are unpredictable with a prolonged dry season, where knowledge of the long-term availability of resources is highly advantageous." The study was published today in the Ecological Society of America's journal Ecological Monographs.

California sea lions killed to protect migrating fish

January 12, 2019

Authorities in the western US state of Oregon have euthanized four sea lions in the last month as part of a program to protect salmon runs and steelhead trout that are at risk of going extinct.
A spokesman for the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife told AFP the lethal removals of the California sea lions began in mid-December and would continue through May.
Rick Swart said the killings were necessary to save migrating steelhead that have been ravaged by the sea lions in recent years as they swim upstream from the ocean to spawn.
"Our scientists believe that if these sea lions aren't removed, that run of steelhead could go extinct anytime," Swart said.
He said salmon were also threatened by the sea mammals, whose population has exploded since the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972.
"What's going on here is we have a run of wild native Oregon steelhead and they are moving right now from the ocean upstream to spawn," Rick Swart said. "And when they get to Willamette Falls in Oregon, in downtown Portland, they come up against the waterfall and a dam and it takes them a while to get across that."

Bluefin tuna are back around the UK and a new study explains why

January 7, 2019, Secchi Disk Foundation
Bluefin tuna are back in the sea around the U.K. after decades of absence and a new study says that warming seas can explain why. Bluefin tuna are one of the biggest, most valuable and most endangered fish in the oceans. Sportfishermen excited at the prospect of catching a fish that can grow to over 900 kg have already launched a U.K. campaign to allow recreational fishing for one of game fishing's top targets. But should we catch and exploit this endangered species or should we make U.K. waters a safe space for this species? Why has this endangered fish suddenly returned to the U.K. after an absence of nearly 40 years? And are bluefin tuna now more abundant, or have they just changed in their distribution?
New research by Dr. Robin Faillettaz from the University of Lille (France), his French co-workers Drs Gregory Beaugrand and Eric Goberville, and Dr. Richard Kirby from the U.K. report that warmer seas can explain the reappearance of tuna around the U.K. Their research shows that the disappearance and reappearance of bluefin tuna in European waters can be explained by hydroclimatic variability due to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), a northern hemisphere climatic oscillation that increases the sea temperature in its positive phase, as it is now.
To reach their conclusion, the scientists examined the changing abundance and distribution of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic Ocean over the last 200 years. They combined two modeling approaches, focusing on the intensity of the catches over time and on the distribution of the fish's occurrence, i.e., when it was observed or caught. Their results are unequivocal: The AMO is the major driver influencing both the abundance and the distribution of the bluefin tuna.
Dr. Faillettaz says, "The ecological effects of the AMO have long been overlooked, and our results represent a breakthrough in understanding the history of bluefin tuna in the North Atlantic."

Friday 25 January 2019

WWF-Cambodia announces new ‘accurate’ survey of Siamese Crocodile – via Herp Digest

by Niem Cheng, January 18, 2019, The Phnom Penh Post

To help conserve the critically endangered Siamese crocodile, WWF-Cambodia has announced it will conduct a survey this year to accurately record the number of the reptiles left in the wild in the Kingdom’s Eastern Plains Landscape.

The Siamese crocodile was once widespread throughout much of mainland Southeast Asia in a range of wetland habitats, including slow-moving rivers, lakes, marshes and swamps. It has now disappeared from 99 per cent of its former range, according to Fauna and Flora International (FFI).

FFI said Siamese crocodiles were today only found in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia.

WWF-Cambodia said it held six days of research training last week so the information found while conducting the survey could be recorded as accurately as possible. Two experts from FFI instructed a 12-member research team in the first stage of training.

The trainees spent five days in the field covering the Eastern Plains Landscape, which covers Mondulkiri, Kratie, Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces.

The session covered a range of research methods, such as noting the crocodiles’ dung and tracks, training in spotting the crocodile at night and finding the different habitat types preferred by the reptiles.

WWF-Cambodia said the team had discovered several encouraging signs of the crocodile during the in-the-field training, which indicates that there could still be a remaining population of the incredibly rare animal present in the Eastern Plains.

WWF-Cambodia communications officer Un Chakrey said this was the first time the organisation had conducted such in-the-field training.

The Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) was classified as endangered in 1994 and was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list as being critically endangered in 1996.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the ministry supported the survey to report the presence of Siamese crocodiles.

He said the highest number of Siamese crocodiles in Cambodia was found in the protected areas of the Cardamom Mountains, especially in the Areng Valley and Tatai and Atai rivers.

Pheaktra said the Siamese crocodile has been found in Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province, Ratanakkiri province’s Virak Chey National Park and in Preah Vihear province.

“We have concluded that there are currently between 400 and 450 Siamese crocodiles, 300 of which are capable of reproducing.”

“To conserve and protect the Siamese crocodile, we need to work together to maintain their habitat and must not do anything that affects it because it is an extremely rare species,” he stressed.

100-Million-Year-Old Hagfish Complete with Slime Kit Discovered

By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | January 21, 2019 03:39pm ET
Scientists recently discovered a rare and important hagfish fossil that includes traces of preserved slime dating to 100 million years ago.
Eyeless, jawless hagfish — still around today — are bizarre, eel-like, carrion-eating fishes that lick the flesh off dead animals using their spiky tongue-like structures. But their most well-known feature is the sticky slime that they expel for protection.
And now, scientists know that hagfish slime is robust enough to leave traces in the fossil record, finding remarkable evidence in a fossilized hagfish skeleton excavated in Lebanon. This new discovery is also prompting researchers to redefine the hagfish's relationship to other ancient fish and to all animals with backbones. [Photos: The Freakiest Looking Fish]
Hagfish fossils are scarce, and this specimen — an "unequivocal fossil hagfish" — is exceptionally detailed with lots of soft tissue preserved, scientists reported in a study published online today (Jan. 21) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The fossil dates to the late Cretaceous period (145.5 million to 65 million years ago), and measures 12 inches (31 centimeters) in length. Researchers dubbed it Tethymyxine tapirostrum: Tethymyxine comes from "Tethys" (referencing the Tethys Sea) and the Latinized Greek word "myxnios," which means "slimy fish." Tapirostrom translates as "snout of a tapir," and refers to the fish's elongated nose, the study authors wrote.

Fossil shark named after 80s video game

21 January 2019
A newly discovered species of ancient shark has been named after a 1980s arcade game.
The shark swam in the rivers of what is now South Dakota, US, about 67 million years ago, living alongside iconic dinosaur species such as T. rex.
It's been named Galagadon, after the 1981 Japanese-US game Galaga, because its teeth resemble the spaceships in the game.
The specimen is described in the Journal of Paleontology.
"It may seem odd today, but about 67 million years ago, what is now South Dakota was covered in forests, swamps and winding rivers," said co-author Terry Gates, from North Carolina State University.
The tiny teeth - each measuring less than a millimetre across - were discovered in the sediment left behind when palaeontologists at the Field Museum in Chicago uncovered the bones of "Sue," currently the most complete T. rex specimen ever described.

New South Wales government largely culpable for fish kill, report finds

Exclusive: Australia Institute calls for inquiry similar to royal commission and greater MDBA transparency
Fri 18 Jan 2019 19.00 GMTLast modified on Sun 20 Jan 2019 23.21 GMT
The crisis on the Lower Darling, which has seen up to 1 million fish die, is largely due to the decisions by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority on instructions from the New South Wales government, a report by the Australia Institute finds.
It says the reasons for those decisions appear to be about building the case for the new Broken Hill pipeline and the Menindee Lakes project, which will see the lakes shrink and “save” water by reducing evaporation.
“It is clear what has caused the Darling River fish kill – mismanagement and repeated policy failure,” said Maryanne Slattery, senior water researcher with the Australia Institute. “To blame the fish kill on the drought is a cop-out, it is because water releases were made from the lakes when this simply shouldn’t have happened.
“It’s time to stop passing the buck.
 'It's happening again': Menindee residents devastated as fish kill conditions return
 “Drought and high temperatures are a factor, but a key issue is that smaller flow events now rarely reach Menindee,” the institute says after a detailed analysis of flows and releases from the Menindee Lakes system. “Large floods still occur, but smaller flows to regularly replenish the system have largely stopped.”

Endangered Species Act Is Working for Sea Turtles and Marine Mammals – via Herp Digest

New assessment shows landmark legislation helping dozens of species survive
by Jason Daley, 1/19/19, Sierra Magazine
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 is one of the legal cornerstones of conservation in the United States, and when it works the results can be spectacular. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons have returned to the skies, wolves and grizzly bears prowl around Yellowstone, and humpback whales ply oceans on both coasts. But deciding whether the ESA is doing its job for other species is much more difficult. There are fewer scientists keeping tabs, less data, and less money. That’s why researchers from the Center for Biodiversity looked into the recoveries of marine mammals and sea turtles listed on the ESA: 78 percent of the populations they investigated saw significant increases after listing, indicating that the law is doing its job.
For the study in the journal PLOS One, the researchers looked at the best available data for 14 marine mammal species like killer whales, fin whales, sea otters, monk seals, and sea lions, and five sea turtle species that call US waters home. Because the ESA divides species into distinct populations that it manages individually, the team analyzed 23 populations of mammals and eight populations of turtles, finding that 18 of the mammal groups were on the rise and six of the turtle populations had seen significant gains. Three mammal populations saw no gains and two saw declines, while two populations of turtles showed no increase (though no groups of turtles declined after being placed on the endangered-species list).
Some of the recoveries are striking. Hawaiian humpback whales, for instance, climbed from just 800 animals in 1979 to 10,000 in 2005, which led to a delisting. The eastern Steller sea lion population along the Pacific coast rose from 19,000 in 1990 to almost 60,000 in 2013. And sea otters doubled their numbers to almost 2,700 individuals between 1979 and 2017.
Lead author Abel Valdivia, formerly of the Center for Biological Diversity and now a senior manager at the conservation group RARE, says the study shows that turtles and marine mammals have the capacity to recover as long as the right protections are implemented in a timely manner. “We had a sense that there were a lot of populations doing good or on the path of recovery,” Valdivia says. “But no one had done the analysis.”
While the study is good news, Valdivia says there’s no conservation silver bullet that stands out in the data. Each species had an individualized recovery plan and had critical habitat declared, each getting different interventions, whether that was protecting turtle nesting grounds or keeping boats and ships a certain distance from whales. The only commonality was time. The longer the species was on the list, the more pronounced their population recovery was.
The two mammal species in decline, Valdivia says, did seem to share one problem. The population of southern resident killer whales in Puget Sound and the population of Hawaiian monk seals in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands both face challenges associated with feeding. For the seals, changes in the ocean likely associated with climate change have shifted their feeding grounds away from their traditional strongholds. The whales similarly are affected by diminishing stocks of Chinook salmon in Puget Sound as well as increases in pollution and boat traffic.
It wasn’t the team’s intention to just study whales, turtles, and high-profile, charismatic creatures. Valdivia says they initially wanted to look at all marine creatures in US waters protected by the ESA. But that was problematic. The team found that there was little data on most marine species. Many fish species have been listed as endangered in just the last decade, and recovery plans and critical habitat have yet to be implemented for them. Even well-known species, like populations of polar bears in Alaska, didn’t have enough data to create meaningful population profiles. Once those species are analyzed, the picture may not be so positive. But the team hopes to one day analyze more of the 62 marine mammals and turtles found in US waters. “For the other marine mammals and sea turtles we didn’t analyze, it’s just a matter of waiting for more data and more time for the ESA rules to get in place,” says Valdivia. 
However, if some politicians get their way, many species will never have recovery plans put in place or get the time needed to recover. The Trump administration has yet to confirm a director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which implements many ESA plans, but interim directors have included noted ESA foe Susan Combs. The current nominee, Aurelia Skipwith, who has worked for agribusiness giant Monsanto, is also feared to be an opponent of the ESA. 
Under former interior secretary Ryan Zinke, the FWS put forth proposed new rules that would overhaul the Endangered Species Act administratively, including allowing local economic impacts into listing decisions and changing the 4(d) rule, which automatically grants the same blanket protections to animals listed as “threatened” as those listed as “endangered.” Instead, the change would require that each threatened species would receive an individualized protection plan—one that would take a lot of time to develop and could be challenged in the courts. A flurry of Republican-sponsored bills in the House last year also aimed to reduce or redefine the ESA—though, with the Democrats now in charge of the chamber, those bills are likely dead. If the rule changes for the FWS are approved, it’s also likely they will lead to protracted legal battles with unknown outcomes. 
Whatever the future holds for the ESA, Valdivia says this study, at least, shows its implementation is not in vain. “I think the main point we’re trying to make is that this is a positive news story in a background of really bad news about overfishing, pollution, and climate change,” he says. “I think it’s good to see the silver lining in marine conservation.”

Thursday 24 January 2019

Finding an elusive mutation that turns altruism into selfish behavior among honeybees

Date:  January 8, 2019
Source:  Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press)
Among the social insects, bees have developed a strong and rich social network, where busy worker bees tend to the queen, who in turn, controls reproduction for the benefit of the hive.
But the South African Cape honey bee (Apis mellifera capensis) can flaunt these rules. In a process of genetic trickery called thelytoky syndrome, worker bee females ignore the queen's orders and begin to reproduce on their own.
Scientists, in their own altruistic effort to protect the Cape honey bees from a recent devastating blight, transferred the Cape honey bees to a northeastern region -- only to see the Cape bees wreak havoc among colonies of the neighboring honey bee subspecies A. m. scutellata.
The A. capensis bees turned from altruistic workers to the guests who would not leave -- becoming social parasites that forage on their own into foreign colonies, reproducing an army of loyal workers, stealing all the honey, and eventually, dethroning the queen and taking over the host colony.

Giant singers from neighboring oceans share song parts over time

Singing humpback whales from different ocean basins seem to be picking up musical ideas from afar, and incorporating these new phrases and themes into the latest song, according to a newly published study in Royal Society Open Science that's helping scientists better understand how whales learn and change their musical compositions.
The new research shows that two humpback whale populations in different ocean basins (the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans) in the Southern Hemisphere sing similar song types, but the amount of similarity differs across years. This suggests that males from these two populations come into contact at some point in the year to hear and learn songs from each other.
The study titled "Culturally transmitted song exchange between humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the southeast Atlantic and southwest Indian Ocean basins" appears in the latest edition of the Royal Society Open Science journal. The authors are: Melinda L. Rekdahl, Carissa D. King, Tim Collins, and Howard Rosenbaum of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society); Ellen C. Garland of the University of St. Andrews; Gabriella A. Carvajal of WCS and Stony Brook University; and Yvette Razafindrakoto of COSAP and Madagascar National Parks.
"Song sharing between populations tends to happen more in the Northern Hemisphere where there are fewer physical barriers to movement of individuals between populations on the breeding grounds, where they do the majority of their singing. In some populations in the Southern Hemisphere song sharing appears to be more complex, with little song similarity within years but entire songs can spread to neighboring populations leading to song similarity across years," said Dr. Melinda Rekdahl, marine conservation scientist for WCS's Ocean Giants Program and lead author of the study. "Our study shows that this is not always the case in Southern Hemisphere populations, with similarities between both ocean basin songs occurring within years to different degrees over a 5-year period."

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