Thursday 28 February 2019

'Wiped out before our eyes': Hawaii offers bold plan to stop shark killings

Proposed law would protect any shark or ray in state waters and be first of its kind in US
Breena Kerr in Maui
Fri 8 Feb 2019 23.00 GMTFirst published on Fri 8 Feb 2019 11.00 GMT
Sharks could soon become more numerous in Hawaii waters – and advocates say that’s a good thing.
Lawmakers in Honolulu advanced a proposed ban on killing sharks in state waters on Wednesday, after receiving hundreds of calls and letters of support from around the country. The law, which would provide sweeping protection for any shark, rather than select species, could be the first of its kind in the United States.
“These amazing animals are getting wiped out before our eyes, and people don’t even realize what they’re missing out on,” said Ocean Ramsey, a Hawaii-based shark conservationist, researcher and tour operator who has been instrumental in lobbying for the bill, in an interview with the Guardian. Last month, a photo of Ramsey swimming with a 6-metre (20ft) great white shark off the coast of Oahu went viral.

Climate change may destroy tiger's home

Date:  February 11, 2019
Source:  James Cook University
A James Cook University scientist says the last coastal stronghold of an iconic predator, the endangered Bengal tiger, could be destroyed by climate change and rising sea levels over the next 50 years.
"Fewer than 4,000 Bengal tigers are alive today," said JCU's Professor Bill Laurance, a co-author of the study.
"That's a really low number for the world's biggest cat, which used to be far more abundant but today is mainly confined to small areas of India and Bangladesh," he said.
"Spanning more than 10,000 square kilometres, the Sundarbans region of Bangladesh and India is the biggest mangrove forest on Earth, and also the most critical area for Bengal tiger survival," said lead-author Dr Sharif Mukul, an assistant professor at Independent University Bangladesh.
"What is most terrifying is that our analyses suggest tiger habitats in the Sundarbans will vanish entirely by 2070," said Dr Mukul.
The researchers used computer simulations to assess the future suitability of the low-lying Sundarban region for tigers and their prey species, using mainstream estimates of climatic trends from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their analyses included factors such as extreme weather events and sea-level rise.

It's time to ratchet up bonefish conservation, scientists say

February 7, 2019 by Evelyn S. Gonzalez, Florida International University
Anglers are catching fewer bonefish in South Florida. Florida International University scientists say there are many factors that could be behind the drop in catches, with warmer temperatures, more predators, fishing and contaminants among them.
FIU coastal ecologist Jennifer Rehage and a team of scientists found the decline is affecting all of South Florida, with some areas more affected than others. They examined bonefish, bonefish catches and water quality throughout Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. They also surveyed and interviewed nearly 300 anglers and fishing guides on their fishing experiences in 2015.
The scientists found bonefish decline began in 1985, with the lowest catches seen after 1999. A 2010 cold spell made things worse for the sportfish, killing many of them, along with other tropical plant and animal species. Changes in both adult and juvenile fish appear to account for the decline. The highest declines are seen in Florida Bay and the lowest in Biscayne Bay.
Adult bonefish take up residence in salty marine environments, but little is known about where they spawn or where juveniles live in South Florida. The scientists also found juveniles are spending time in low salinity environments early in their lives, particularly in Florida Bay. Nestled in between the southern end of the Florida peninsula and the Florida Keys, the bay is sensitive to changes in the quality, movement and distribution of water in the Everglades.
The scientists call for addressing local and regional factors, conserving and managing adult and juvenile bonefish, and restoring freshwater in the Florida Everglades.

Research explains how snakes lost their limbs

February 7, 2019 by José Tadeu Arantes, FAPESP
Snakes and lizards are reptiles that belong to the order Squamata. They share several traits but differ in one obvious respect: Snakes do not have limbs. The two suborders diverged more than 100 million years ago. Identification of the genetic factors involved in this loss of limbs is a focus of an article titled "Phenotype loss is associated with widespread divergence of the gene regulatory landscape in evolution," published by Juliana Gusson Roscito and collaborators in Nature Communications.
Another equally interesting focus of the article is eye degeneration in certain subterranean mammals. "We investigated these two cases in order to understand a much more general process, which is how genome changes during evolution lead to phenotype changes," Roscito said.
Currently working as a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, Roscito's postdoctoral scholarship was linked to the thematic project "Comparative phylogeography, phylogeny, paleoclimate modeling and taxonomy of neotropical reptiles and amphibians," for which Miguel Trefaut Urbano Rodrigues is the principal investigator. Rodrigues is a professor at the University of São Paulo's Bioscience Institute (IB-USP) in Brazil and supervised Roscito's postdoctoral research. He is also a coauthor of the recently published article.
"The research consisted of an investigation of the genomes of several species of vertebrates, including the identification of genomic regions that changed only in snakes or subterranean mammals, while remaining unchanged in other species that have not lost their limbs or have normal eyes," Roscito said.

Wednesday 27 February 2019

Competent chimpanzee nutcrackers

February 7, 2019, Max Planck Society
Humans consider themselves as the tool user par excellence. Previous work comparing human tool use skills to that of other species tended to place the animals in artificial conditions far removed from their natural environments. Such comparisons disadvantage the animals and lead to underestimating the tool use demonstrated by wild populations. In a first comparison between individuals of two groups of humans and chimpanzees cracking nuts in their natural environment, researchers recently tested how quickly and how completely a technique was acquired by the offspring of the two species.
The Taï chimpanzees in Côte d"Ivoire, famous for their nut-cracking behavior, were compared to the Mbendjele BaYaka people, who also habitually crack the same species of nuts, Panda oleosa, in the forest of the Republic of Congo. Following Mbendjele women groups as they foraged in the forest, the scientists used the same measures of efficiencies as used previously on the Taï chimpanzees to observe how the technique is acquired by both groups in the forest.

Why do beaked whales return to a Navy sonar range despite frequent disturbance?

Scientists say it's the food
Date:  January 29, 2019
Source:  Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Using data from underwater robots, scientists have discovered that beaked whales prefer to feed within parts of a Navy sonar test range off Southern California that have dense patches of deep-sea squid. A new study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, shows that beaked whales need these prey hotspots to survive, and that similar patches do not exist in nearby "sonar-free" areas.
For decades, the U.S. Navy has used high-powered sonar during anti-submarine training and testing exercises in various ocean habitats, including the San Nicolas Basin off Southern California. Beaked whales are particularly sensitive to these kinds of military sonars, which sometimes result in mass stranding events. Following legal action from environmental activists related to these risks, the Navy modified some training activities, created "sonar-free" areas, and spent more than a decade and tens of millions of dollars trying to find ways to reduce the harm to beaked whales and other mammals.
The new research, led by Brandon Southall at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Kelly Benoit-Bird at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, aimed to better understand why whales keep returning to the test range despite the risks.

New study sheds light on illegal wildlife trade in Hong Kong

A high volume and lucrative black market business
Date:  January 30, 2019
Hong Kong's illegal wildlife trade is contributing to a global extinction crisis. Every year millions of live animals, plants and their derivatives are illegally trafficked into and through Hong Kong, by transnational companies and organised crime syndicates.
There is an urgent need for the government to enhance its current enforcement strategy against wildlife smuggling. Over the last decade, the diversity of endangered species imported into Hong Kong has increased by 57%. At the same time, the estimated value of the trade has increased by 1,600%. Since 2013, seizures of illegal ivory, pangolin scales and rhino horn have been made by Hong Kong authorities, potentially equating to the deaths of 3,000 elephants, 96,000 pangolins and 51 rhinoceros.
Hong Kong's illegal wildlife trade is increasing in volume, underestimated in value and contributing to the global extinction crisis.
Some members of the Hong Kong Wildlife Trade Working Group (HKWTWG) have joined forces to publish a study focusing on the type and volume of seizures relating to illegal wildlife trade in Hong Kong over the last 5 years. The findings documented in the 200 page report: Trading in Extinction: The Dark Side of Hong Kong's Wildlife Trade, illustrate the city's central role in global wildlife trafficking and the extent and nature of the associated criminality. It identifies clearly, how future policy and enforcement could be improved to provide the urgently required long-term sustainability.

Citizen scientists discover pinhead-sized beetle in Borneo

Date:  January 31, 2019
Source:  Pensoft Publishers
How many citizen scientists does it take to discover a new species? A recent expedition to the Ulu Temburong forest in Borneo proved that you only need 10 enthusiasts with no professional training, yet fueled with curiosity and passion for the outdoors, to find a new beetle the size of a pinhead in leaf litter.
The species, named Clavicornaltica belalongensis, is a tiny, 1.25-mm-long leaf beetle that eats moss on the forest floor. Published in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, it is the latest discovery from Taxon Expeditions, an initiative that organises scientific field trips to remote and biodiverse locations for teams of scientists and laypeople.
Unlike other science/adventure trips, Taxon Expeditions gives a unique opportunity for laypeople, or citizen scientists, to describe and publish new species of animals and focus on the thousands of 'little things that run the world'. Thanks to the initiative, they learn about tropical biology techniques while participating in the process of taxonomy and the study of hidden biodiversity.
The new beetle, for example, is one of hundreds of thousands of tiny beetle species that inhabit the leaf litter of tropical forests and have remained unknown and scientifically unnamed up to our days.

Scientists research impact of oil rig spills on fish

February 12, 2019 by Michael Addelman, University of Manchester
University of Manchester scientists are at the forefront of the fight to protect cold water fish from the effects of crude oil spills from offshore oil rigs.
Dr. Holly Shiels and Ph.D. student Martins Ainerua are working off the coast of Norway with Dr. Elin Sørhus of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research to understand how the oil impacts on hearts of cod and halibut.
As the heart is the first organ to develop in fish larvae its good heath is crucial for survival of the animals into adulthood, say the team.
Two projects – known as 'Eggtox' - and 'PW(produced water)exposed', could provide vital information for oil companies who want to construct rigs in parts of the North Sea which are known to be key spawning grounds for these important fisheries.
The team also hope to understand the mechanisms of crude oil toxicity on the electrical and contractile properties of the fish heart.
They have been working in the electrophysiology lab at Austevoll station on the South West coast of Norway, investigating how various oil components affect the electrical activity of the juvenile cod and halibut hearts.
"We know from disastrous crude oil spills like DeepWater Horizon, that components of oil negatively affects hearts of larval and juvenile fish. But it is possible the Produced Water used in oil drilling – which is released even in the absence of a spill—may impact fish stocks. And this is especially a worry in areas where drilling occurs in spawning grounds as the eggs and tiny larvae are unprotected," says Dr. Holly Shiels.

Monday 25 February 2019

Evolutionary history of baboons

Date:  January 31, 2019
Source:  Deutsches Primatenzentrum (DPZ)/German Primate Center
Life on earth is complex and diverse. In the course of evolution, more and more new species have emerged that are adapted to constantly changing environments. Using modern genetic analyses, researchers can now fully decipher the genetic information of organisms in order to better understand their evolutionary histories and adaptations. Under the leadership of the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine, USA, an international team of researchers, including scientists from the German Primate Center (DPZ) -- Leibniz Institute for Primate Research, has reconstructed the phylogenetic tree of the six African baboon species. The genetic information of baboons also provided clear indications that genes were exchanged between the species, i.e. that the species hybridized. The work sheds new light on the fundamental biological processes that produce new species. Since the baboons evolved at about the same time and in the same habitats as humans, the results of the study also allow conclusions about the evolutionary history of early human species (Science Advances).
Baboons are Old World monkeys and the six species are widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. They are well studied for their morphology, behavior and ecology. So far, however, little has been known about their genetic adaptations and evolutionary history.

Ancient pandas weren't exclusive bamboo eaters, bone evidence suggests

Date:  January 31, 2019
Source:  Cell Press
The giant pandas we know and love today live only in the understory of particular mountains in southwestern China, where they subsist on bamboo alone. In support of their tough and fibrous bamboo diet, they've got distinctive teeth, skull, and muscle characteristics along with a special pseudo-thumb, the better to grasp and hold bamboo stems, leaves, and shoots with. But according to new evidence reported in Current Biology on January 31, extinct and ancient panda species most likely had a more varied and complex diet.
"It has been widely accepted that giant pandas have exclusively fed on bamboo for the last two million years," says Fuwen Wei of Chinese Academy of Sciences. But, "our results showed the opposite."
It's impossible to know exactly what extinct animals ate. But researchers can get clues by analyzing the composition of stable isotopes (different forms of the same element that contain equal numbers of protons but different numbers of neutrons) in animal teeth, hair, and bones, including fossil remains. In the new study, the researchers first analyzed bone collagen of modern pandas (1970s-2000s) and other mammals from the same mountains.

Climate change: 'Future proofing' forests to protect orangutans

By Helen Briggs BBC News
7 February 2019
A study has identified key tree species that are resilient to climate change and support critically endangered apes.
Planting them could help future proof rainforests, which are a key habitat for orangutans, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature - IUCN.
Researchers surveyed 250 plants in Indonesia's Kutai National Park.
Over 1,000 orangutans are thought to inhabit the park, as well as other rare animals such as the Malayan sun bear.
"Selecting which species to plant is a significant contribution to restoring the health of this ecosystem," said study co-author Douglas Sheil.
"Of course, the reasons why forest cover was lost in the first place must also be addressed for reforestation efforts to succeed."
Kutai National Park is located on the east coast of Borneo Island, in the East Kalimantan province of Indonesia.
The forest faces threats from logging, fires and mining, and was once considered a conservation wasteland.

Envisioned 'octopus farms' would have far-reaching and detrimental environmental impact

Date:  January 24, 2019
Source:  New York University
Commercial octopus farming, currently in developmental stages on multiple continents, would have a negative ripple effect on sustainability and animal welfare, concludes a team of researchers in a newly published analysis.
"We are all living during the rapid domestication of aquatic species and research is almost entirely around the question of which aquatic animals we can farm, rather than which animals we should farm," says Jennifer Jacquet, an assistant professor in New York University's Department of Environmental Studies and the lead author of the work, which appears in the journal Issues in Science and Technology. "Universities and companies are investing time and money into farming octopus, which we believe is a big mistake. Mass producing octopus would repeat many of the same mistakes we made on land in terms of high environmental and animal welfare impacts, and be in some ways worse because we have to feed octopus other animals."
The analysis, which notes that nearly 190 countries currently farm approximately 550 aquatic species, is co-authored with Peter Godfrey-Smith of the University of Sydney, Becca Franks, an NYU research scientist, and Walter Sanchez-Suarez, a postdoctoral researcher from Spain working at the University of Sussex.

Fish and humans are alike in visual stimuli perception

Date:  February 4, 2019
Source:  American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Humans, fish and, most likely, other species rely on identical visual features -- color, size, orientation, and motion -- to quickly search for objects, according to researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).
The study published in the Journal of Vision involved target-training archerfish, a species with unique visual hunting skills that is widely used in experiments that evaluate visual perception. 
In their natural habitat, archerfish hunt by spitting a jet of water at insect prey on overhanging leaves to dislodge and eat them. BGU researchers trained the fish to distinguish between objects on a computer monitor above them and shoot at a desired target. By doing so, the fish were able to participate in a controlled experiment the same way humans do: simply by watching a computer screen and answering questions.
"The experiments tested archerfish performance in visual-search tasks where a target was defined by color, size, orientation, or motion," says Professor Ronen Segev, head of the BGU Neural Code Lab, and a member of the Department of Life Sciences and Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience. "We found, for the first time, that archerfish process these four features in much the same way humans identify a target amidst distracting shapes and colors."

Sunday 24 February 2019

For endangered lemurs, internet fame has a dark side

That cute lemur selfie you shared may be fueling the illegal pet trade in Madagascar

Date:  January 28, 2019
Source:  Duke University
Cats and dogs aren't the only cute animals that rule the internet. We also coo over a video of someone snuggling a tiger cub, feeding a sloth or tickling a loris.
Now, a new study of Twitter activity shows that viral videos of seemingly cuddly exotic animals can have a dark side too -- by fueling demand for them as pets.
The study focused on a 2016 viral video of a ring-tailed lemur demanding back scratches from two boys in a village in Madagascar. Each time the kids take a break, the lemur turns toward them and points to a spot on its back as if begging for more.
Reactions ranged from "so sweet" and "awwww-cute" to "freaking adorable." The video quickly made the rounds on the internet, and within a week the original Facebook post had 20 million views.
Researchers downloaded and analyzed nearly 14,000 tweets mentioning pet or captive lemurs over an 18-week period before and after this video appeared online. As the video was liked and shared, the volume of tweets saying things like "I want a pet lemur" and "where can I find one?" more than doubled.
Google and YouTube searches for the phrase "pet lemur" also spiked in the weeks after the video went viral, compared with other times between 2013 and 2018.
None of the tweets revealed anyone actually buying or selling lemurs on Twitter. But the researchers worry such incidents could encourage would-be wildlife traffickers, particularly in Madagascar, the only place where the endangered primates live in the wild.

Study shows lungless salamanders' skin expresses protein crucial for lung function

February 1, 2019 by Peter Reuell, Harvard University
For decades, scientists have assumed that the hundreds of species of salamanders that lack lungs actually "breathe" through their skin and the lining of the mouth, and Harvard researchers are providing the first concrete evidence for how they do it.
A new study, authored by James Hanken, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology and curator of herpetology, Zachary Lewis, a postdoc working in Hanken's lab, and then-Harvard Extension School student Jorge Dorantes, shows that a gene that produces surfactant protein c—a key protein for lung function—is expressed in the skin and mouths of lungless salamanders, suggesting it also plays an important role for cutaneous respiration. The study is described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
"They are deploying the same kind of machinery that lunged salamanders use," Hanken said. "Generally, this had only been looked at from a morphological standpoint, so this is exciting because this is the first molecular-genetic correlation for this very interesting trait."
For years, scientists have pointed to salamander anatomy to support the idea that they breathe through the skin and mouth.
"What has been known for decades is that their blood supply is shunted from the heart to the skin," Hanken said. "There is a blood vessel that's not present in other animals—it would otherwise go to the lungs, but instead is goes to the skin.

Crimes against nature: how greed fuels illegal trade in animal parts

Scotland Yard’s small wildlife unit opens its store of raided treasures for the first time
Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent
Mon 28 Jan 2019 07.00 GMT
DC Sarah Bailey with some of the finds she has seized from illegal traders. Photograph: Linda Nylind/Guardian
Row upon row of primate skulls sit in a glass case, jaws stuck forever in a grimace. Rhino horns big and small rise from a table, a depiction of Jesus on the cross in ivory lies on a table, as does a polar bear skin; in the corner a rack is laden with fur coats; another glass case contains mounted butterflies.
The items – a mix of the achingly beautiful and the macabre – sit in a storeroom in south London. They are all items seized by Scotland Yard’s wildlife crime unit and behind most is a story showing how greed, obsession and the yearning for profit collide.
This week the small unit made headlines with its investigation of Stephanie Scolaro, a London heiress and Instagram model who imported and sold hats made of python skins. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to community service and in a later interview the heiress questioned what harm she had done.
DC Sarah Bailey has an answer: “Illegal wildlife is the fourth-biggest illegal market in the world behind drugs, guns and human trafficking.”
The trail that led to Bailey knocking on Scolaro’s door, started in Indonesia where poachers killed and skinned the snakes to order.
The skins were sent via Germany where their customs intercepted them wrapped in a travel bag addressed to a woman in Mayfair.

Urban biodiversity: Remarkable diversity of small animals in Basel gardens

Date:  January 30, 2019
Source:  University of Basel
Gardens in urban areas can harbor a remarkable diversity of species. This has been found by researchers from the University of Basel in a field study carried out with the support of private garden owners from the Basel region. Furthermore, the research team shows that nature-friendly garden management and design can largely compensate for the negative effects of urbanization on biodiversity. The study will be presented at the public conference "Nature conservation in and around Basel" on 1 February 2019.
More and more people around the world live in cities. Accordingly, settlement areas are also rapidly increasing, often at the expense of near-natural habitats. So far, it has been widely assumed that the few green spaces remaining in cities can only accommodate a limited number of species. The reason for this is the high proportion of sealed areas, which makes the exchange of small animals difficult or even impossible. In addition, cities have higher temperatures and less precipitation than rural areas.

Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature'

Exclusive: Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review
Damian Carrington Environment editor
Sun 10 Feb 2019 18.00 GMTLast modified on Mon 11 Feb 2019 01.00 GMT
The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.
More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.
The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.
Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.
“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

Thursday 21 February 2019

Six new species of hideously adorable tentacle-nosed catfish discovered in Amazon

February 6, 2019, Field Museum
No one knows just how many species live in the Amazon rainforest—scientists estimate that it's home to one-third of the world's animal and plant species. There are still thousands out there waiting to be discovered—like these six new catfish with faces covered in tentacles.
"We discovered six new species of really cool catfish from the Amazon and Orinoco River basins. They have tentacles on their snouts, they have spines that stick out from their heads, almost like claws, to protect themselves and their nests, and their body is covered with bony plates like armor," says Lesley de Souza, a conservation scientist and ichthyologist at Chicago's Field Museum and lead author of a paper in Zootaxa describing the new species. "They're warriors, they're fish superheroes."
The new catfish are all members of the genus Ancistrus, also known as bristlenose catfish. If you've ever had an aquarium, you might know them as the sucker-mouthed "algae-eaters" that help keep tanks clean. These river-dwelling fish are between three and six inches long, and the males have tentacles erupting from their snouts. They're there to persuade females that their owners would make good dads. Ancistrus catfish fathers look after their young, guarding nests of eggs and warding off predators. And the tentacles make potential fish dads look like they know what they're doing. "The idea is that when a female fish sees a male with these tentacles, to her, they look like eggs. That signifies to her that he's a good father who's able to produce offspring and protect them," says de Souza. It's an evolutionary move that takes "catfishing" to a whole new, kind of sweet level.

What causes rats without a Y chromosome to become male?

Date:  January 31, 2019
Source:  Hokkaido University
A look at the brains of an endangered spiny rat off the coast of Japan by University of Missouri (MU) Bond Life Sciences Center scientist Cheryl Rosenfeld could illuminate the subtle genetic influences that stimulate a mammal's cells to develop as male versus female in the absence of a Y chromosome.
The root of the answer is in the chromosomes of this particular mammal. Males of the Amami spiny rat (Tokudaia osimensis) are not like most therian mammals -- a name used to group animals that give live birth including placental mammals and marsupials. Unlike in most mammals, these males have no Y chromosome, which has been shed over eons of evolution. And they only have one X chromosome.
"I'd been interested in these rats for many years now, and it's unclear how sexual differentiation of the gonads and brain occur in this species since both males and females have a single X chromosome," said Cheryl Rosenfeld, lead author on the study and an MU researcher.

London Zoo Sumatran tiger Melati killed in fight

8 February 2019
An endangered Sumatran tiger has been killed by another tiger at London Zoo.
Male tiger Asim was brought to the zoo from a Danish safari park 10 days ago in the hope he would be the "perfect mate" for long-term resident Melati.
After spending time apart in the tiger enclosure to get used to the new arrangement, the two were then introduced to each other earlier.
But tensions "quickly escalated", things became "more aggressive" and Melati died in a fight, the zoo said.
A statement issued by the zoo said Asim was immediately moved to a separate paddock but despite the best efforts of the vets, 10-year-old Melati died.
It said: "Our focus right now is on caring for Asim, as we get through this difficult event."
Staff are "heartbroken by this turn of events", the zoo said.

Three evolution researchers talk about Charles Darwin, evolution on other planets and mass extinction on Earth

February 12, 2019, Max Planck Society
Celebrations are held on the 12th of February each year to commemorate the birthday of Charles Darwin, the 19th-century British naturalist, who achieved major insights into the process of evolution thereby completely revolutionising traditional concepts of life on earth and human's position in it. For Diethard Tautz and Paul Rainey of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön and Ralf Sommer of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Darwin laid the foundations for evolutionary science, a field of research, which no longer solely considers the past but, instead, increasingly looks to the future.
Diethard Tautz:"Darwin was a revolutionary!"
What, in your opinion, was Darwin's central insight?
Darwin's greatest achievement was recognising the fact that natural selection is the driving force behind evolution. His explanation for the incredible diversity of life on earth was that those individuals that manage to reproduce and pass on their genes to future generations are locked in a struggle for scarce resources. As a result, these individuals are continuously adapting to new environmental conditions thereby spawning a wide range of different phenotypes and survival strategies. An astonishingly simple principle for such an incredibly diverse phenomenon as life!
Was he a revolutionary?
In a way he was: after all, his realisation of the fact that life does not require a supernatural creator came at a time when religion still played a central role in the lives of many people. So, the fact that he freed his mind of religious concepts of the genesis of life could certainly be thought of as revolutionary. The level of blasphemy that this represented is still evident in the degree to which he continues to be castigated by believers in the Biblical genesis myth to this day.
What can Charles Darwin still teach us today?
He was an incredibly close observer, who analysed the insights he had gained on his trips around the world with extreme care and verified them experimentally before going on to draw a wide range of conclusions. His books are virtually bursting with ideas. Whilst that does make for difficult reading in some passages, they continue to provide a rich source of ideas.

New oviraptorosaur species discovered in Mongolia

February 6, 2019, Public Library of Science
A new oviraptorosaur species from the Late Cretaceous was discovered in Mongolia, according to a study published in February 6, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Yuong-Nam Lee from Seoul National University, South Korea, and colleagues.
Oviraptorosaurs were a diverse group of feathered, bird-like dinosaurs from the Cretaceous of Asia and North America. Despite the abundance of nearly complete oviraptorosaur skeletons discovered in southern China and Mongolia, the diet and feeding strategies of these toothless dinosaurs are still unclear. In this study, Lee and colleagues described an incomplete skeleton of an oviraptorosaur found in the Nemegt Formation of the Gobi desert of Mongolia.

Read more at: 

Wednesday 20 February 2019

What polar bears in a Russian apartment block reveal about the climate crisis

Arctic bears are being driven off their normal migration routes and into human habitation. We should feel pity – and fear
Mon 11 Feb 2019 15.08 GMTLast modified on Mon 11 Feb 2019 20.09 GMT
Polar bears prowling around a children’s playground. Polar bears lumbering along the corridors of apartment blocks and offices. Polar bears descending on a sleepy Russian town in their dozens.
To state the obvious: polar bears should not be wandering into human habitation, and certainly not in these numbers. That they are doing so in Belushya Guba shows how they are being driven off their normal migration routes and hunting trails by a changing climate. This has long been predicted – with the Arctic heating twice as fast as the rest of the planet, winter temperatures are rising and the sea ice – which is the primary habitat of polar bears – is shrinking.
In this small town in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, authorities have declared a state of emergency (a reasonable precaution after spotting an unprecedented 52 polar bears). Fences have been erected around school playgrounds and locals have tried to drive them away with warning shots and explosions. All to no avail. Many residents are afraid to leave their homes. Workers are reportedly being bused to their offices in military vehicles.

Dogs' becoming major threat' to wildlife

By Navin Singh KhadkaEnvironment correspondent, BBC World Service
12 February 2019
They may be our "best friends" but dogs have also emerged as a major threat to wildlife.
Scientists say they have contributed to the extinction of nearly one dozen wild bird and animal species.
As such, they have become the third worst human-introduced predators after cats and rats.
Now dogs are said to threaten nearly 200 species worldwide, some of which are critically endangered, studies suggest.
And yet, feral and free-ranging dogs have received surprisingly little attention, conservationists say.
In a recent study carried out on dogs in Chile, the authors said: "Conservationists in Chile and elsewhere see urgency in controlling the impact of free-ranging dogs on wildlife."
It found dog owners were not concerned about the issue and many allowed their pets to move freely in the wild.
"Predation and harassment by dogs has been documented for the majority of larger terrestrial mammals that inhabit Chile, including the three species of canids (mammals from the dog family) and three species of deer," Eduardo Silva-Rodriguez, one of the authors of the study, told the BBC.

India's 'granny' elephant dies aged 88

February 7, 2019
An Asian elephant believed to be the oldest ever in captivity has died aged 88 in the southern Indian state of Kerala, officials said Thursday.
Awarded the title of "Gaja Muthassi" (elephant granny), Dakshayani took part in temple rituals and processions for decades, but breathed her last on Tuesday after becoming reluctant to eat, her veterinary surgeon said.
"At 3 pm, a sudden shiver passed through her large frame beginning from the head region. After a few minutes she bent her forelimbs and lay down. And that was it," T. Rajeev told AFP.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which owned Dakshayani, gave her age as 88.
The oldest elephant in captivity recognised by Guinness World Records was aged 86—Lin Wang, another Asian elephant which died in 2003 in a Taiwan zoo. Captive elephants have a life expectancy of 40-plus years.
Pineapples and carrots had been introduced to Dakshayani's diet in recent years to improve her metabolism after she began to have difficulty moving around, probably due to reduced eyesight.
"For the past three years she did not take part in any temple programme or public function," Rajeev said.
"And a couple of months back, we had even moved her to a better tethering place at an elephant farm in Thiruvananthapuram."

On the land, one-quarter of vertebrates die because of humans

Our species has 'disproportionate effect' on others, scientists say
Date:  February 11, 2019
Source:  SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Humans have a "disproportionately huge effect" on the other species of vertebrates that share Earth's surface with us, causing more than 25 percent of the deaths among an array of species all over the globe, according to a recently published study.
A team of scientists from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, New York, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture analyzed the deaths of 42,755 animals that were reported in 1,114 published studies. They found that 28 percent of the animals' deaths were directly caused by humans.
The study was published in January in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.
"We all know humans can have a substantial effect on wildlife. That we are only one among over 35,000 species of terrestrial vertebrates worldwide yet responsible for more than one-fourth of their deaths provides perspective on how large our effect actually is," said co-author Jerrold L. Belant, the Camp Fire Conservation Fund professor at ESF. "And that's just direct causes. When you also consider urban growth and other land use changes that reduce habitat, it becomes clear humans have a disproportionate effect on other terrestrial vertebrates."
Belant conducted the study with Jacob E. Hill, another ESF faculty member, and Travis L. DeVault of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

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