Monday 29 April 2019

More dolphins die in Aegean Sea; group suspects navy drills

APRIL 8, 2019
by Nicholas Paphitis
The Aegean Sea has seen a "very unusual" spike in dolphin deaths over the past few weeks, a Greek marine conservation group said Monday, adding that the rise could be linked to massive Turkish naval exercises in the area.
Fifteen dead dolphins have washed up on the eastern island of Samos and other parts of Greece's Aegean coastline since late February, according to the Archipelagos Institute.
Its head of research, Anastassia Miliou, told The Associated Press that 15 is a worryingly high number compared to "one or two" in the same period last year.
The group said while it's still unclear what caused the deaths, the spike follows the Feb. 27-March 8 Turkish "Blue Homeland" exercises—the country's largest ever—that made constant use of sonar and practiced with live ammunition.
The deafening noise of sonar, used by warships to detect enemy submarines, can injure dolphins and whales, driving them to surface too fast or beach themselves—with sometimes fatal consequences—to escape the din.

When the extreme becomes the norm for Arctic animals

APRIL 8, 2019
Think of reindeer on Norway's Svalbard archipelago as the arctic equivalent of sloths. It's not a perfect analogy, except that like tropical sloths, Svalbard reindeer move as little as possible to conserve energy.
This, combined with the fact that they don't have any predators, allows them to stay in the same area year-round, nibbling on the grasses, herbs and sedges they can find. When snow comes, they simply paw it away and keep nibbling. It's a lifestyle that has allowed Svalbard reindeer to persist over the millennia, long enough for them to adapt physiologically and evolve into a separate subspecies.
But over the last few decades, the warming climate has brought more rain and less snow in some winters. These rain-on-snow (ROS) events can cause ice to form on the ground. The ice coats the reindeer's preferred food and causes them to starve— a potential catastrophe.
In a study just published in Nature Communications, researcher Brage Bremset Hansen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics (CBD) and colleagues describe how they modeled the effects on reindeer population dynamics if icing becomes the norm, rather than an extreme event.

Dad's shock after children find boa constrictor in garden - via Richard Muirhead

23 April 2019

Image copyrightBRUCE BAKER

A father has spoken of his shock after his children found a seven-foot boa constrictor in their garden.

Bruce Baker thought the youngsters were playing a prank when they told him to come and see the 2.1m-long snake.

He and a neighbour had to coax the boa constrictor into a plastic box until the Scottish SPCA arrived at his home in the Scottish Borders.

Efforts are continuing to try and trace the owner of the stray snake, which was captured in Innerleithen on Sunday.

The boa constrictor, which is thought to be an escaped pet, has been taken to the Scottish SPCA rehoming centre in Edinburgh.

Fossil of ancient four-legged whale with hooves discovered

Giant 42.6m-year-old fossil was found along coast of Peru and suggests creature could walk on land
Hannah Devlin Science correspondent
Thu 4 Apr 2019 16.00 BSTLast modified on Fri 5 Apr 2019 10.33 BST
An ancient four-legged whale with hooves has been discovered, providing new insights into how the ancestors of the Earth’s largest mammals made the transition from land to sea.
The giant 42.6m-year-old fossil, discovered in marine sediments along the coast of Peru, appears to have been adapted for a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Its hoofed feet and the shape of its legs suggest it would have been capable of bearing the weight of its bulky four metre long body and walking on land. Other anatomical features, including a powerful tail and webbed feet similar to an otter suggest it was also a strong swimmer.
“Whales are this iconic example of evolution,” said Travis Park, an ancient whale expert at the Natural History Museum in London, who was not involved in the latest study. “They went from small hoofed mammals to the blue whale we have today. It’s so interesting to see how they conquered the oceans.”
Older and smaller whale ancestors with four limbs had been discovered previously, but the latest specimen fills in a crucial gap in knowledge about how the creatures evolved and spread throughout the world’s oceans.

Captured 17-Foot-Long Python Was About to Have 73 Babies

By Laura Geggel, Associate Editor | April 8, 2019 03:44pm ET

Wildlife officials have captured a 17-foot-long (5.1 meters) Burmese python and a mother-to-be in Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve — the longest python ever found in the preserve, which neighbors the Everglades.
But even though her size and her weight of 140 lbs. (63 kilograms) likely puts her in the top 10% of the largest wild pythons in Florida, the number of eggs found inside her — 73 in all — is absolutely flooring, said David Penning, an assistant professor of biology at Missouri Southern State University, who was not involved with the snake's capture.
"I would say that's far above average," Penning told Live Science. "A normal quantity to expect is probably a couple dozen, maybe 40 or 50. And that would be a good year if you were trying to breed these animals." [Image Gallery: Snakes of the World]
Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are an invasive species in Florida. They likely got into the wild not only because of pet owners who decided to release them, but also from hurricanes that aided in their escape from captivity. Given that they're invasive, why are pythons so successful in the Sunshine State?
Mothers such as this one are part of the answer, Penning said. Now that it's springtime, mother snakes are laying eggs. These 4- to 5-inch-long (10 to 13 centimeters) oval eggs take up so much space inside the mother, that she has to stop eating because she literally can't fit anything else inside her body, Penning said. Even her organs get scrunched and pushed out of the way.
"It's impressive," he said. "It's like shoving a bunch of pool balls into a sock, but there's just more than what seems like [the snake] can fit."

Sunday 28 April 2019

Komodo considers tourist ban to help boost dragon numbers

Indonesian authorities want to protect endangered lizard from smugglers and restock its island food supply
Thu 4 Apr 2019 17.34 BSTFirst published on Thu 4 Apr 2019 02.32 BST
Authorities are considering banning tourists from Komodo, the island home of the ancient Komodo dragon, to allow for conservation efforts amid concerns over animal-smuggling.
The island, in Manggarai Barat, Indonesia, is a major tourist destination, with many people making the trip to see the lizard which has a venomous bite, can grow up to three metres long and weigh more than 150kg.
Authorities are considering a temporary closure so they can plant native vegetation and help to restock the dragon’s food supply, thereby increasing the population, reported the Tempo newspaper. Dates for the closure have not been confirmed but earlier discussions have suggested it could last a year.
The talks come amid efforts to tackle the illegal market in endangered species. Police in East Java arrested five people in March accused of smuggling Komodo dragons and other protected animals. Police said the suspects had already sold more than 41 Komodos through Facebook, supposedly for medicinal use. Tempo reported the lizards sold for 500m rupiah (£27,000) each.

Rare UK butterflies enjoy best year since monitoring began

Hot summer of 2018 boosted large blue, and black hairstreak, but small tortoiseshell declined
Mon 8 Apr 2019 06.30 BSTLast modified on Mon 8 Apr 2019 11.48 BST
The golden summer of 2018 saw two of the UK’s rarest butterflies, the large blue and the black hairstreak, enjoy their best years since scientific monitoring began.
More than two-thirds of British butterfly species were seen in higher numbers last year than in 2017, but despite the ideal butterfly weather, it was still only an average season – the 18th best in 43 years of recording.
Species whose caterpillars feed on grasses struggled as grass withered in hot weather, while there were mysterious ongoing declines for the small tortoiseshell and the peacock, both garden favourites. Despite the warmth, both butterflies had their third-worst year since the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme – the longest-running scientific insect monitoring project in the world – began in 1976.
Prof Tom Brereton of Butterfly Conservation said: “There were not as many butterflies around as we might have expected given the fabulous weather over much of the butterfly season, and overall, 2018 ranked as barely better than average.

Russia moves to free nearly 100 captive whales after outcry

Decision coincides with visit to enclosure by French marine expert Jean-Michel Cousteau
Reuters in Moscow
Mon 8 Apr 2019 11.17 BSTLast modified on Tue 9 Apr 2019 00.50 BST
Russian authorities have decided to free nearly 100 whales held in cages in the country’s far east, according to reports.
Images of the whales, kept in cramped enclosures in a bay near the Sea of Japan port city of Nakhodka, first appeared last year, triggering a storm of criticism.
The animals had been captured by a company that planned to sell them to China but the Kremlin intervened and ordered local authorities to find a way of freeing them.
After months of delays, the decision to release the whales coincided with a visit to the enclosures by the French oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the famous marine expert Jacques Cousteau.
“An official decision has been taken to release all the animals into the wild,” Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of the Primorsky region, was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying. “Scientists from Cousteau’s team and Russian scientists will decide when and which animals to release.“

Sea snakes make record-setting deep dives

Date:  April 2, 2019
Source:  University of Adelaide
Sea snakes, best known from shallow tropical waters, have been recorded swimming at 250 metres in the deep-sea 'twilight zone', smashing the previous diving record of 133 metres held by sea snakes.
Footage of a sea snake swimming at 245 metres deep, and another sea snake at 239 metres has been provided to University of Adelaide researchers by INPEX Australia, an exploration and production company operating in the Browse Basin off the Kimberley coast of Australia. Both snakes appeared to belong to the same species.
Sea snakes are found in tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and are typically associated with shallow water habitats like coral reefs and river estuaries.
"Sea snakes were thought to only dive between a maximum of 50 to 100 metres because they need to regularly swim to the sea surface to breathe air, so we were very surprised to find them so deep," says Dr Jenna Crowe-Riddell, lead author of the study and recent PhD graduate at the University of Adelaide's School of Biological Sciences.

Love Island: Flamboyant males get the girls on Madagascar

In two new species of rare giant stick insects, males turn livid blue or multicolored at sexual maturity -- but why?
Date:  April 2, 2019
Source:  Frontiers
Biodiversity hotspot Madagascar is one of the world's biggest islands, and home to some of its biggest insects. Now German scientists have discovered two new species of giant stick insect, living only in the dry forests of Madagascar's northernmost tip.
One giant female measures a whopping 24cm -- but it is the smaller males that are most striking. At sexual maturity these daredevils abandon their stick-like camouflage for dazzling blue or many-colored shining armor.
Writing in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the researchers describe their rare and exciting findings, and wonder at the reproductive success of the least stick-like stick insects on the planet.
When two become four
"Nearly all of the 3000+ known species of stick insects try to be inconspicuous and just look like twigs," says senior author Dr. Sven Bradler of the University of Göttingen, Germany. "There are a very few, very large exceptions -- and we have just discovered a couple more of them."

Friday 26 April 2019

Biological changes among invasive species

Date:  April 8, 2019
Source:  University of Plymouth
A remote island in the Caribbean could offer clues as to how invasive species are able to colonise new territories and then thrive in them, a new study suggests.
Scientists from the University of Plymouth have recently completed extensive research into a lizard population on the Cayman Islands.
Up until the mid-1980s, there had never been a recorded sighting of the Maynard's Anole (Anolis maynardi) on Cayman Brac island despite it being less than 10km from its native territory, Little Cayman.
However, since the species was first discovered on Cayman Brac in 1987 -- in what is thought to have been a human-assisted colonisation -- its population has spread right across the 39km² island.
For this study, recent graduate Vaughn Bodden and Lecturer in Conservation Biology Dr Robert Puschendorf conducted a detailed analysis of the invasive species.
They wanted to assess whether individuals at the forefront of the invasion have developed distinct biological traits that are advantageous for dispersal, and compared their findings to animals in the area of first introduction and the native population on Little Cayman.
They discovered the Cayman Brac population has diverged morphologically from the native population, and within the invasive range there was trend of increasing forelimb length from the core to range edge areas. This ran contrary to the expected findings that longer hindlimbs would be the trait selected as a dispersal-related phenotype.

Should I stay or should I go?

Research sheds light on social drivers of animal dispersal
Date:  April 2, 2019
Source:  Kyoto University
Why would males and females choose different reproductive strategies? For golden lion tamarins in the Brazilian rain forest, the answer may offer clues to help save this neotropical primate.
For conservationists, gaining an understanding of the ecology and behaviors of an animal population is vital for creating an optimal preservation strategy. But there are still many unexplored motives affecting the ways of life of a particular animal.
One major question researchers ask regards the dispersal patterns and social drivers of 'natal emigration': leaving a birthplace or group. Population dispersal is a crucial behavioral trait in animal societies, helping maintain the viability of each species.
To investigate, a research team from Japan and Brazil analyzed the dispersal patterns of the endangered golden lion tamarin, or GLT. Their study appears in the American Journal of Primatology.
First author Valéria Romano of Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute explains that GLTs live in small family groups, each averaging seven individuals. There is a reproductive pair at the center, and older offspring help care for younger siblings.
However, this system leaves subordinate members with only limited options for reproduction: waiting for a breeding opportunity within the group, or 'emigrating' out to search for potential mates.
Emigration can increase reproductive opportunities, but also entails risks, such as facing predators and starvation.

Gorillas gather around and groom their dead

Date:  April 3, 2019
Source:  PeerJ
It is now known that many animals exhibit unique behaviors around same-species corpses, ranging from removal of the bodies and burial among social insects to quiet attendance and caregiving among elephants and primates. Researchers in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo have been able to take a close look at the behavioral responses to the deaths of three individuals -- both known and unknown -- in gorillas and have reported their findings in PeerJ -- the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences.
Scientists from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the University of California Davis, Uppsala University, and the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature observed and filmed the behavior of mountain gorillas around the corpses of a 35-year-old dominant adult male and a 38-year-old dominant adult female from the same social group living in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Both individuals had died a few hours earlier of illnesses possibly linked to their advanced age. Researchers also studied the behavior of a group of Grauer's gorillas who found the body of a recently deceased adult male in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo.

UGA scientists create world’s first gene-edited lizards – via Herp Digest

UGA Press Release by Michael Terrazas 4/3/19
A group of University of Georgia researchers led by geneticist Douglas Menke has become the first in the world to successfully produce a genetically modified reptile—specifically, four albino lizards—using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool. The team’s results, which appeared online March 31, have been submitted for peer review.
“Reptiles are very understudied in terms of their reproductive biology and embryonic development,” said Menke, associate professor in the department of genetics. “There are no good methods to manipulate embryos like we can easily do with mammals, fish or amphibians. To our knowledge, no other lab in the world has produced a genetically altered reptile.”
Gene manipulation using CRISPR typically involves injecting gene-editing solutions into an animal’s newly fertilized egg or single-cell embryo, causing a mutation in the DNA that is reproduced in all subsequent cells. However female reptiles can store sperm in their oviducts for long periods, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of fertilization. Also, the physiology of their fertilized eggs, which have pliable shells with no air space inside, presents challenges for manipulating embryos without damaging them.
Working with the species Anolis sagrei, commonly called the brown anole, Menke’s team overcame these challenges by microinjecting CRISPR proteins into multiple immature eggs, or oocytes, still located in the lizards’ ovaries. Targeting the tyrosinase gene, they successfully injected 146 oocytes from 21 lizards, then waited for the oocytes to be fertilized naturally. Within a few weeks, they realized their goal: four offspring displaying the telltale trait of albinism, which results when tyrosinase is inactivated.
“When I saw our first albino hatchling, it was truly awe inspiring,” said D.V.M./Ph.D. student Ashley Rasys, who was first author on the study. “I’m most excited about the possibility of expanding this approach into many other reptilian model systems, effectively opening the doorway for future functional studies.”
Menke, who typically studies mice, said he chose brown anoles because they essentially represent a reptilian counterpart to Darwin’s famous Galapagos finches—the lizards are spread throughout the islands of the Caribbean, with distinctive traits arising among each island’s relatively isolated population. Leg size, for example, is highly variable among different species of anoles, with ground-dwelling species possessing big and strong legs adapted to running and leaping, while their tree-dwelling cousins have smaller legs that are more agile for limb-hopping. The lizards for this study were all collected from the wild in an area near Orlando, Florida.
The ability to study the genes of brown anoles could also have implications for human genetics work. The tyrosinase gene is required for certain aspects of eye development shared between humans and anoles, but absent in the eyes of mice and other organisms commonly used for biomedical research. Researchers looking to explore ways to manipulate this gene for human ocular health did not have a suitable animal model—until now.
As an added bonus, Menke’s team noted that the mutant anoles not only displayed the manipulated tyrosinase in the gene copies inherited from their mother, but from the father as well. This means that the CRISPR reagent likely remained active in the mother’s oocytes much longer than anticipated and mutated the paternal genes post-fertilization.
“That was a surprise,” Menke said. “It enabled us to see the functional requirements of the gene without having to breed mutated animals to produce offspring who inherit the mutated gene from both parents. It’s a big time-saver.”
“This work could have far-reaching impact not only for the study of reptile genetics but also for the advancement of genomic medicine and application in humans,” said David Lee, UGA vice president for research. “I applaud Dr. Menke and his colleagues on this very significant achievement.”
Additional co-authors on the study include James Lauderdale, associate professor in the department of cellular biology; research staff members Sungdae Park and Rebecca Ball; and graduate student Aaron Alcala. The research was primarily supported by grants from the National Science Foundation’s Enabling Discovery through GEnomic Tools (EDGE) program and from the Society for Developmental Biology.

Satellites used to protect endangered sharks

By Helen Briggs BBC News
8 April 2019
Satellites scanning the oceans are a valuable new tool to protect sharks, according to scientists.
A review of evidence suggests endangered sharks can be protected from threats such as illegal fishing, using the technology.
Whales, turtles and birds are already being monitored from space, raising hopes that the technique can be applied in the conservation of other species.
Many sharks are on the brink of extinction.
Populations of sharks, rays and skates (elasmobranchs) have declined dramatically over the past 50 years.
"New technologies such as this are going to be really important to the conservation of sharks," said Michael Williamson of the Zoological Society London (ZSL) and King's College, London.
Over-fishing is one of the biggest causes of the decline in sharks, through accidental or illegal targeting.

Thursday 25 April 2019

Spider monkeys lower their 'whinnies' when making long-distance calls

Lower-frequency calls favored by isolated spider monkeys get faster responses from listeners in their group
Date:  April 3, 2019
Source:  PLOS
Isolated spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) likely lower the pitch of their calls to improve the chances of re-establishing contact with their group, according to a study published April 3, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by José D. Ordóñez-Gómez from the German Primate Center, Germany, and colleagues.
Spider monkeys live in groups and communicate with out-of-sight group members using vocalizations known as whinnies. They are known to vary the pitch, or frequency, of their whinnies, and in this study, the authors analyzed whether such variation relates to the relative social isolation of the caller. They also assessed whether listener responses changed depending on the frequency of the original whinny.
Between February and June of 2016, the authors followed a group of 27 female and 8 male adult black-handed spider monkeys in the Lacandona Rainforest of Mexico, recording the monkeys whenever they came within 20 meters of their microphones. For the purposes of this study, callers were defined as isolated if more than 40m from other adult monkeys -- otherwise, the caller was defined as being within a subgroup.

New Bombali ebolavirus found in Kenyan bat

Evidence for a widespread virus reservoir in Africa
Date:  April 2, 2019
Source:  University of Helsinki
Researchers have identified Bombali ebolavirus in an Angolan free-tailed bat captured in the Taita Hills, southeast Kenya. No ebolaviruses have been previously reported from wildlife in countries along the east coast of Africa. There is no current evidence that Bombali ebolavirus infects people.
Until recently, five ebolavirus species were known, with three of these -- Bundibugyo, Sudan and Zaire ebolaviruses -- associated with large human outbreaks. The latter is responsible for the devastating 2013-16 outbreak in West Africa and the ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, the reservoirs of ebolaviruses have remained enigmatic, though fruit bats have been implicated and demonstrated as the reservoir for related Marburg virus. Last year a sixth ebolavirus species, Bombali virus, was found in saliva and faeces from bats in Sierra Leone.

Effects of reintroducing top predators questioned

Date:  April 3, 2019
Source:  University of Wyoming
For years, scientists have assumed that when top predators are reintroduced to an ecosystem, the effects are predictable: The ecosystem will return to how it was before the predators were wiped out.
Now, University of Wyoming researchers have published a study showing that there's little evidence for such claims. This has big implications for wildlife conservation in places such as Yellowstone National Park.
Most people are probably familiar with the story of Yellowstone's wolves. Wolves were wiped out in Yellowstone in the 1920s and, in their absence, elk became much more common and ate so much vegetation that it degraded the ecosystem.
Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in the mid-1990s and over the next two decades brought profound change to the ecosystem. The number of elk decreased, while the number of aspen, willow and cottonwoods increased. Biologists observed positive responses by other animals, from songbirds to beavers. Scientists assumed that Yellowstone's ecosystem is on its way to being restored to historical conditions.

A Rare White Whale Has Been Filmed Off the Coast of Mexico

By Brandon Specktor, Senior Writer | April 5, 2019 10:20am ET
A whale-watching guide struck white gold last month when he encountered a rare, albino gray whale breaching off the west coast of Baja California, Mexico.
Footage of the whale, which tour guide and scuba instructor Manuel Gonzalez posted to Facebook in March, has drawn comparisons to Moby Dick, the white whale of literary legend described by Herman Melville in 1851. Unlike Moby, who was a gargantuan sperm whale with an appetite for New England mariner limbs, the gray whale recorded here was probably just chilling in the area for its annual mating season.
Likewise, the whiteness of this whale is not some overwrought metaphor — it's just genetics. [The 10 Weirdest Medical Cases in the Animal Kingdom]
Albinism is a genetic abnormality caused by an absence of the skin pigment melanin, which is responsible for dark coloration in hair, skin and fur. The condition is considered rare in most animals, though it has been observed in many different species, including zebrassnakesgorillas and dolphins.

The butterflies that could stop Trump’s wall

Anthony Zurcher North America reporter
3 April 2019
The obstacles to President Donald Trump's border wall are not confined to the four walls of Congress. As areas are cleared to start building new sections, some landowners, including a butterfly sanctuary, have sued to stop the construction.
Marianna Trevino Wright sits on a bench near a wooded section of the National Butterfly Center and begins identifying animals.
Scissortail flycatchers, green jays, olive sparrows and clay-coloured thrushes swoop by, pecking at oranges set out as a snack and splashing in a bubbling fountain. From the tree branches above, great-tailed grackles screech and whistle like avian car alarms.
Closer to the earth, a menagerie of butterflies flit among the nearby flowering bushes. Zebra Heliconians and large orange sulfurs; queens and red-bordered pixies.
Then there are the other sights and sounds at the centre.
The hum of a US Department of Homeland Security helicopter high overhead. Border Patrol agents buzzing by on motorcycles and ATVs, their faces obscured by masks and goggles, pistols at their side.
The rumble of trucks dragging tyres behind them, smoothing dusty roads so the footprints of interlopers can more easily be spotted.
A government powerboat, with menacing .30-calibre machine guns on its deck, roaring down the river.

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Wild bees flock to forested areas affected by severe fire

Date:  April 3, 2019
Source:  Oregon State University
A groundbreaking two-year study in southern Oregon found greater abundance and diversity of wild bees in areas that experienced moderate and severe forest fires compared to areas with low-severity fires.
The study, published today in the journal Ecosphere by researchers in the Oregon State University College of Forestry, is the first to demonstrate that wildfire severity is a strong predictor of bee diversity in mixed-conifer forest.
Bees are the most important among the Earth's pollinators, which combine for an estimated $100 billion in global economic impact each year. Oregon is home to more than 500 species of native bees.
Animal pollinators enhance the reproduction of nearly 90 percent of the Earth's flowering plants, including many food crops.
The pollinators are an essential component of insect and plant biodiversity. Bees are the standard bearer because they're usually present in the greatest numbers and because they're the only pollinator group that feeds exclusively on nectar and pollen their entire life.
Scientists led by OSU forest wildlife ecologist Jim Rivers in 2016 began trapping bees at 43 sites in forests burned by the 2013 Douglas Complex fire that scorched nearly 50,000 acres north of Grants Pass.

Stranded baby elephants rescued by Thai rangers

MARCH 30, 2019
The elephant calves were stuck in a muddy watering hole when they found by park rangers
Six baby elephants separated from their parents and trapped in a muddy pit for days have been rescued by park rangers in rural Thailand, officials said Saturday.
Patrolling rangers chanced upon the struggling herd in a national park east of Bangkok on Wednesday afternoon, park superintendent Prawatsart Chantheap told AFP.
Once the rangers realised the calves, aged between one and four years old, could not climb out of the dirty watering hole, some left the forest to bring back digging tools while others stayed overnight to keep watch over the frightened creatures.
"Our team arrived with hoes (on Thursday morning)... and we began to dig around the rim (of the mud pit) to make it less steep," he said.
After three hours of digging to build a makeshift ramp, the mud-covered babies managed to stumble out of the pit one-by-one as the rangers cheered them on.
"Go, go, follow each other!" the rangers yelled in a video recorded by the national parks department. "Go, children, go!"

Feeding red squirrels peanuts may make natural diet a tough nut to crack

APRIL 1, 2019
by Shelley Hughes, University of York
New research suggests a population of red squirrels on the Lancashire coast may have developed weaker bites after snacking on peanuts.
The researchers suggest that the changes in bite strength of the squirrels in Formby could have been brought about by their softer diets, reducing their ability to gnaw through the tough-to-crack nuts they eat naturally – such as pine cone seeds, hazelnuts and beech nuts.
The findings have important implications for conservation efforts for red squirrels, which were once widespread across mainland Britain. They have suffered severe population decline from the 1920s onwards due to a loss of woodland as well as viruses and competition from grey squirrels.
Bite force
The researchers, from the University of York and National Museums Scotland, compared the lower jaws of red squirrels from surviving population pockets in the UK (which are mainly in northern areas and on offshore islands) as well as a sample from central Europe.
Their analysis has indicated that Formby squirrels, which are managed by the National Trust and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, appear to have a less efficient temporalis muscle than all the other red squirrel populations. In rodents this muscle is used for rapid closing of the jaws to generate a powerful bite force.
Dr. Philip Cox from the Department of Archaeology and the Hull York Medical School at the University of York, said: "We found that the shape and function of the lower jaws of the Formby squirrels were different from all of the other red squirrel populations we looked at.
"They are the only group of red squirrels in the study that were given supplementary food and it is possible that the changes to their jaws have been brought about by diet.
"Many mammals- and especially rodents- have the capacity to evolve at very fast rates under changing environmental conditions. The changes to the gnawing ability of Formby squirrels could be an evolutionary response which has occurred over a few generations of squirrels or it could be an adaptive response which occurs over the lifetime of individual squirrels exposed to supplementary feeding."

Compass orientation of a migratory bat species depends on sunset direction

Date:  April 4, 2019
Source:  Forschungsverbund Berlin
Scientists combined a mirror experiment simulating a different direction of the setting sun and a new test procedure to measure orientation behavior in bats to understand the role of the sun's position in the animals' navigation system. The results demonstrate for the first time that a migratory mammal species uses the sunset direction to calibrate their compass system.
Whether it is bats, wildebeest or whales, millions of mammals move over thousands of kilometres each year. How they navigate during migration remains remarkably understudied compared to birds or sea turtles, however. A team of scientists led by the Leibniz-IZW in Berlin now combined a mirror experiment simulating a different direction of the setting sun and a new test procedure to measure orientation behaviour in bats to understand the role of the sun's position in the animals' navigation system. The results demonstrate for the first time that a migratory mammal species uses the sunset direction to calibrate their compass system. Furthermore the experiment, which is published in Current Biology, indicates that this capacity is not inherited and first-time migrating young bats need to learn the importance of the solar disc at dusk for nightly orientation.

Science-based guidelines for building a bee-friendly landscape

Date:  April 5, 2019
Source:  American Phytopathological Society
Bees are critical members of the ecosystem: 75% of leading food crops have some level of dependency on pollinators. However, native bee populations are struggling because of loss of habitat and food, often caused by urban and suburban development. The good news is that a single tree or shrub can produce thousands of flowers with high-quality pollen and nectar, providing bees with the protein and carbohydrates they need to thrive.
Many resources encourage homeowners and land care managers to create bee-friendly environments, but most of them include lists of recommended plants rarely backed by science. To rectify this, Dr. Daniel Potter surveyed 72 native and non-native woody plant species in 5 sample sites throughout the Ohio Valley region to document which species attract which bees. His findings, which he summarizes in the webcast "Woody Plants for Urban Bee Conservation," include the following:

Monday 22 April 2019

Record numbers of Australia's wildlife species face 'imminent extinction'

Fauna crisis highlights the failure of regional forest agreements, says Wilderness Society
Sat 30 Mar 2019 19.00 GMTLast modified on Sat 30 Mar 2019 21.28 GMT
Regional forest agreements have failed in the 20 years since they were established by state governments, says a new report, which reveals that record numbers of threatened forest dwelling fauna and many species are heading towards imminent extinction.
The report, Abandoned – Australia’s forest wildlife in crisis, has assessed the conservation status of federally listed forest-dwelling vertebrate fauna species affected by logging and associated roading and burning across Australia’s regional forest agreement (RFA) regions in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia.
Released by the Wilderness Society this week, the report identified 48 federally-listed threatened species of forest-dwelling vertebrate fauna living in areas subject to state-run logging operations.
Four of those species – the leadbeater’s possum, swift parrot, western ringtail possum and regent honeyeater – are among the 20 bird and 20 mammal species most likely to become extinct within 20 years.
It also found that since the time the RFAs were signed, 11 forest vertebrate species had been raised to “endangered” or “critically endangered” categories, bringing the total to 24, and none had been lowered. Another 15 species were listed as threatened for the first time.

Origin of Scandinavian wolves clarified

MARCH 29, 2019
There are no signs that hybrids of dog and wolf have contributed to the Scandinavian wolf population – a matter that has been discussed, especially in Norway. These wolves appear to have originated from the Nordic region or adjacent parts of Northern Europe, new genetic research from Uppsala University shows.
In every mammal, the male-specific Y chromosome is passed on from father to son only. Patrilines (lines of descent) are thus formed. These can be followed very far back in time, enabling the origin of animals living today to be traced.
Linnéa Smeds, bioinformatician and Ph.D. student at the Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, surveyed the composition of the wolf's Y chromosome. Subsequently, she compared Y chromosomes in wolves from Scandinavia, Finland and other parts of the world, and in dogs.
"The lines of descent found in the Scandinavian wolf population haven't been found in any dogs," says Hans Ellegren, Professor of Evolutionary Biology, who headed the present study.

UK's only female giant panda artificially inseminated at zoo

APRIL 1, 2019
Britain's only female giant panda has been artificially inseminated in a bid to produce a cub.
Officials at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland said Monday it's "far too early" to know if the procedure was a success. The zoo said Tian Tian had her annual health check on Sunday and was artificially inseminated "under expert veterinary care."
Tian Tian, 15, has had cubs in China but not in Britain, where she and male companion Yang Guang have lived since 2011. Her name means "sunshine."
There have been attempts to breed a cub every year since then, thus far without success. The zoo says the gestation period for a giant panda is typically about five months.

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