Friday 31 May 2019

New snake species in Europe named after a long-forgotten Iron Age kingdom

MAY 28, 2019

by PeerJ
An international team of scientists identified the snake and its range, which includes Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, and Russia including a small region extending into the corner of Europe. Based on the genetic and morphological data, the researchers were able to say that the Blotched Rat Snake (Elaphe sauromates) is actually comprised of two different species and includes a cryptic species that has been named after the old kingdom of Urartu.
The kingdom, forgotten for over a thousand years, flourished between the 9th and 6th centuries BCE in the region of today's Armenian Highlands, centered around Lake Van in Turkey, where this new snake species occurs. The name was chosen out of respect for the original scientific name of the Blotched Rat Snake proposed by the famous Prussian natural historian of the 19th century, Peter Simon Pallas.
The name Elaphe sauromates refers to Sarmatians, a confederation of nomadic peoples who inhabited vast areas of the recent range of the Blotched Rat Snake between the 5th century BCE and 4th century CE. According to Daniel Jablonski and David Jandzik, lead scientists of the project from the Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia, these snakes are very rarely observed in the field and are mostly distributed in geopolitically complicated regions. As a result, the material for their study was collected for over 17 years and required a broad international collaboration.

True identity of imposter 'pigs' on 17th century map overturns early colonial history of Barbados

Date:  May 16, 2019
Source:  Simon Fraser University
Which came first, the pigs or the pioneers? In Barbados, that has been a historical mystery ever since the first English colonists arrived on the island in 1627 to encounter what they thought was a herd of wild European pigs.
A recent discovery by an SFU archaeologist is shedding new light on the matter. Christina Giovas uncovered the jaw bone of a peccary, a South American mammal that resembles a wild pig, while researching a larger project on prehistoric animal introductions in the Caribbean.
"I didn't give it much notice at the time, but simply collected it along with other bones," says Giovas, the lead author of a study just published in PLOS ONE. "It was completely unexpected and I honestly thought I must have made a mistake with the species identification."
Giovas and collaborators George Kamenov and John Krigbaum of the University of Florida radiocarbon-dated the bone and conducted strontium isotope analysis to determine the age and whether the peccary was born on Barbados or had been imported from elsewhere.

Andrew Crawford: Colombia’s frogs face “massacre” with illegal trafficking – Herp Digest

By Richard Emblin - May 24, 2019
Photo: Richard Emblin, The City Paper

Andrew Crawford is Associate Professor of biology at Universidad de los Andes and member of the Smithsonian Tropical Research institute. His research on amphibian evolutionary genetics covers plenty of terrain in Colombia, from the Pacific coast with its poison dart frogs to the discovery with a team of scientists of a new species in the cloud forests of the high Andes. As a frog expert, Crawford spoke with The City Paper about the many threats facing this species in the country.

The City Paper (TCP): Andrew, what motivated you to come to Colombia and study amphibians?

Andrew Crawford (AC): When I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago there was a programme called the Organization of Tropical Studies that connects students with Costa Rica. That got me to Costa Rica, and those were the coolest two months of my life. That was in 1995, but I still needed a thesis, and as I like frogs, and they are easy to study, I found out about the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in the former Canal Zone of Panama. I applied for a fellowship for a few months, and finished my Ph.D. on the frogs of Costa Rica. I learned a lot about the history of these organisms across Central America, but the more I studied them, the more I needed samples from Panama and Mexico. Then, I started putting the whole story of dirt frogs together. That’s not their scientific name, but an appropriate one, because they look like dirt, live in the dirt, are as common as dirt, and as old as dirt. You won’t see them in any calendars.

TCP: So, your Central America experience was key to your Colombia connection.

AC: When I would catch one frog on one side of Costa Rica, I would ask myself, where could the closest relative be? Nicaragua maybe, Honduras, Mexico? My research started expanding out. Back in Panama with my post-doctoral research at STRI and National Science Foundation, the perspective started getting bigger. I asked myself that if I really wanted to solve the larger problem of the relationships between specific species, what place could be next? Colombia. Also, at the Smithsonian in Panama, there were lots of Colombian students with very good reputations. I kept thinking to myself: “Wow, these Colombian students are sharp.” Befriending one affiliated with Los Andes University, in 2005, I was invited to Bogotá and by chance, met another “gringo” associated with Fulbright. We were mere postdocs who didn’t have real jobs. But, it was easier to get a fellowship then, than now. Thirteen years ago, researchers in the United States were not “hot” on Colombia: drugs, kidnapping, all that. In 2006, I applied to be a Visiting Professor at Los Andes, and was given a desk.

TCP: Did the security risk affect your first outings to the jungle to study frogs?

AC: I am not an extreme adventure guy by any means. I want to do what’s safe. If someone said to me then, “don’t go there,” I didn’t. I wasn’t keen on pushing the envelope. I did manage to go to Quibdó and Arací on the Pacific coast. That was highly adventurous for me because the Lonely Planet didn’t cover the Chocó. When I finally got there, I said: “Wow, I’m actually beyond the Lonely Planet!”

TCP: What did you find among the frog population of the Chocó back then?

AC: When I was living in the former Canal Zone, I would hear the red-eye tree frog every wet season from behind my house. In Arací, I heard the same calling. When I finally caught one, it had a very different color pattern. This was a cool discovery that nobody reported, and knew that I could use some of my Panama research to help guide me to what was new in the Chocó. Colombia became part of a bio-geographic strategy with its mix of organisms from the north and others from the south. If I had gone directly from Costa Rica to the Amazon, everything would have been new. If you know your Central American frogs, it won’t help you in the Amazon. Frogs are kind of stay at home guys.

TCP: Had you imagined, once in Colombia, the level of frog biodiversity?

AC: Colombia has 800 amphibians and most of them are frogs. The country is number two in the world in terms of its frog diversity; and, also wins for having the world’s most poisonous frog: the all-yellow dart frog. The Dendrobates leucomelas has been very well documented along the Pacific and gets all the attention, but there are many more because anything that has poison and is colorful is also a dart frog. If you see a bright colorful frog in the daytime stay away from it.

TCP: When biologists refer to a “dangerous” frog, what can happen if you come across one during a hike in the rainforest?

AC: It will kill anyone who tries to eat it or if the toxin gets under your skin. It won’t attack you like a scorpion. The dart frog is pure defense. There were several cases recently at Bogotá’s International Airport of people smuggling these frogs in suitcases. There’s a huge market out there for these “pets.” Sadly, 90% of them die before they reach their destination. It’s a massacre, but collectors are willing to pay a lot of money for a new color pattern, species and the most poisonous.

TCP: After your first trip to Colombia in 2005, you set your sights on permanent tenure at Los Andes University. How did this happen?

AC: The Fulbright visiting professor deal was for just one semester, but as they paid so well, I stayed for the year. But when I got to back to Panama, I realized Los Andes was nice, Colombia was a great country and I found the regionalism tremendous. I started applying to come back, and got an offer in 2006. My aim was – and still is – to use frogs to study the origins of biodiversity. That’s a great question for Colombia and a classic question in biology. Why are there so many species?

TCP: How old is the frog community?

AC: Through genetics, we can understand the origin of all species, and as frogs are sisters to the rest of the tetrapods, reptiles, birds and mammals, this makes them very old. In fact, they haven’t changed a lot in 150 million years. When you see a frog fossil, it is very clearly a frog.

TCP: Biodiversity is a term that’s used a lot in this country, but are we taking our biodiversity for granted?

AC: If we give up on conservation and don’t save our frogs, there’s one possible outcome: they’re gone! The situation is bad because trafficking is getting worse. In a post-conflict, it’s much easier to get to these frogs, and as deforestation accelerates, we are losing entire populations. The disease has also claimed many species. All these factors without thinking about how bad herbicides and pesticides are.

TCP: There’s an anecdote regarding your role with the sticker album Jet, very popular among children in this country. Can you explain?

AC: I helped with the genetic analysis of the Pristimantis dorado, a small golden frog native to the forests of Colombia. Before it appeared in the Chocolates Jet album, Mauricio Rivera-Correa of the University of Antioquia named it after mythical El Dorado, because it seemed a nice way of saying that with the post-conflict, the new riches of Colombia is the “Green economy” – our biodiversity.

TCP: We have spoken about threats to the frog population at home, but what is happening globally?

AC: In the world, we just hit 8,000 frogs officially. What is most interesting, however, is that to find a new mammal is something that doesn’t happen every day, and as the numbers of new species is going down every year, amphibians are bucking the trend. The number of new frogs we are finding has not slowed at all – it just goes up and up. It would be irresponsible to try and guess when this might stop – but, so far – one could easily imagine 9,000 or 16,000 frog species in the world. And in Colombia, our 800 frogs could easily double.

TCP: Yet, it seems that frogs are suffering from so many external factors.

AC: Yes, frogs are getting hit in many different ways. It really is a disaster. Many of our micro-endemic species haven’t been seen again in the high-altitude páramos. In the mountains, we have lost forests to cattle ranching and crop clearing. Another cause for declining populations is the chytrid fungal disease that wipes out half the frogs that get infected. If it’s not the fungus, another threat can be fish farming. Our frogs face one insult after another.

TCP: As a leading expert on amphibians, what are your more recent discoveries?

AC: I have been doing a lot of research on how sensitive frogs are to the environment along Colombia’s Caribbean coast. They live in extreme environments with harsh summers and very little water. Some of the questions we are asking ourselves are: How do they survive? Where do they come from? Did they move down from Central America, or did they live in the Amazon and crossed over the Andes? What I can tell you from the radiation of the frog population is that the vast majority on the planet come from southern South America. We are finding an unexpected connection between Colombia’s coastal frogs with those in Chile and Argentina.

TCP: Have you seen at Los Andes an increase among biology students who want to study frogs?

AC: Reporting on frogs gets people excited, and for some reason, in my field of research – Herpetology – there are more students studying frogs than other creepy crawlies. Frogs tend to attract the press due to the many threats they face.
TCP: Your name was recently mentioned with two large seizures at El Dorado airport involving animal traffickers. Why did the National Police call on you?

AC: The National Police wanted to check the frogs which survived fungal disease before putting them back in the wild. My laboratory did the checking. As the yellow dart frog only exists in one tiny patch in Colombia, it can be collected out of existence, and the police know where they exist. It seemed that someone close to the traffickers snitched as they were leaving the forest with suitcases.
The weird thing is with these frogs is that they have distinctive patterns depending on which forest they inhabit. So, the authorities can know where animal traffickers are operating depending on the frogs they have caught.

TCP: Do you think there is a concerted effort by the Ministry of Environment and National Police to protect frogs against traffickers?

AC: Awareness of the problem is definitely on the increase, and I am involved with developing the Amphibian Action Plan of the Ministry of the Environment. A key element to the Plan de Acción de Anfibios is to combat illegal trade. We have to assume that with these busts, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

TCP: Do communities try and stop traffickers from taking their frogs?

AC: It’s very imperative to tell a community that they have “special frogs,” in order to give them a sense of pride. Secondly, there are pilot projects to protect certain species through sustainable harvesting, and this can bring in money for vulnerable communities.

TCP: So you are not very optimistic about the future of Colombia’s “kermits”?

AC: When I came to Colombia 13 years ago, I would say: “Wow, look at all this biodiversity.” Then, someone who had been here 30 years would respond: “Andrew, this is nothing compared to what was once here.” It comes down to shifting baselines with each generation. I would like to be able to say something optimistic, but as far as conservation of our frogs is concerned, I think things will get worse before they get better.

Iconic Australian working dog may not be part dingo after all

MAY 28, 2019

Researchers at the University of Sydney have found no genetic evidence that the iconic Australian kelpie shares canine ancestry with a dingo, despite Australian bush myth.
The paper, published in the journal Genes, is the first peer-reviewed study of its kind to find that the domestic and wild dogs share no detectable common DNA in genes impacting coat colour and ear type.
Some kelpie owners and "old-timers" in Australia believe the kelpie breed contains genes from the Australian dingo, said Professor Claire Wade in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.
"It has been said that the dingo was mixed with the kelpie, which originally came from Scotland, to produce a more-resilient and hardy dog that could withstand hot, dry Australian conditions," Professor Wade said.

Thursday 30 May 2019

Climate driving new right whale movement

MAY 29, 2019

A North Atlantic right whale breaches. New research shows that rapid warming in the Gulf of Maine's depths is changing food availability and increasing risk to these whales -- one of the world's most endangered animals. Credit: Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium
New research connects recent changes in the movement of North Atlantic right whales to decreased food availability and rising temperatures in Gulf of Maine's deep waters. Right whales have been showing up in unexpected places in recent years, putting the endangered species at increased risk. The study, which was published in Oceanography and conducted by scientists from more than 10 institutions, provides insights to this key issue complicating conservation efforts.
"The climate-driven changes rippling throughout the Gulf of Maine have serious consequences for the small number of remaining right whales," said Nick Record, a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and lead author on the paper. "Climate change is outdating many of our conservation and management efforts, and it's difficult to keep up with the rapid evolution of this ecosystem."

The return of the wolves

MAY 20, 2019

The current return of wolves to human-dominated landscapes poses a major challenge for the protection of this species, says conservation biologist and private lecturer (PD) Dr. Marco Heurich from the University of Freiburg. He emphasizes that conflicts arise around the conservation of wolves in these landscapes due to farm animal slaughter, competition with hunters and human protection. The question of how humans can coexist with predators triggers a strong emotional debate. Based on these observations, a team of scientists led by Dr. Dries Kuijper from the Mammal Research Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences analyzed the existing knowledge on how to deal with large carnivores living in the wild in Europe and other parts of the world. The aim was to enable an objective, scientifically sound discussion of various scenarios of wolf management. The researchers have presented their results in the current issue of the scientific journal Biological Conservation.

Rare albino panda caught on camera in China: state media

MAY 26, 2019

A rare all-white panda has been caught on camera at a nature reserve in southwest China, showing albinism exists among wild pandas in the region, state media reported.
The spotless, red-eyed animal was photographed while trekking through the forest mid-April in southwestern Sichuan province, said official news agency Xinhua on Saturday.
The panda is an albino between one to two years old, said Li Sheng, a researcher specialising in bears at Peking University, who was quoted in Xinhua's report.
The Wolong National Nature Reserve—where the animal was spotted—told AFP it had no further details about the albino panda.
More than 80 percent of the world's wild pandas live in Sichuan, with the rest in Shaanxi and Gansu province.

Colombian breeds rare frogs to undermine animal traffickers - via Herp Digest

By Manuel Rueda and Cesar Garcia, AP 5/24/19

In a small farmhouse surrounded by cloud forest, Iván Lozano inspects dozens of glass containers that hold some of the world's most coveted frogs.

The conservationist has been fighting the illegal trade in rare tropical frogs for years, risking his life and his checkbook to save the brightly colored, poisonous amphibians whose population in the wild is dwindling
But Lozano doesn't hunt down poachers and smugglers. He's trying to undermine them by breeding exotic frogs legally and selling them at lower prices than specimens plucked by traffickers from Colombia's jungles. His frog-breeding center Tesoros de Colombia, which translates to Treasures of Colombia, is among a handful of conservation programs around the world that are trying to curtail the trafficking of wild animals by providing enthusiasts with a more eco-friendly alternative: specimens bred in captivity.

"We can't control the fact that in some countries it is legal to own these animals," Lozano said. "But we want to make sure that collectors buy animals that are raised in captivity and are legally exported."

Lozano's efforts to replace illegally captured poison dart frogs have made him well known among collectors in the United States, who are increasingly seeking legally traded specimens.

"Before there was no way you could get a histrionica legally," said Julio Rodríguez, an experienced New York City collector, referring to the Harlequin Poison Frog by its scientific name. "If you saw one in a collection, it most likely came from the black market.”

Rodríguez said that since Tesoros de Colombia began exporting frogs to the United States six years ago prices for some coveted species have dropped significantly. The price tag on the Harlequin Frog dropped by 50 percent, he said. 

The Golden Dart Frog, another much-sought species, went from around $150 a few years ago to $30.

"We want prices to go down so much that it's no longer profitable for traffickers to sell these frogs," Lozano explained.
He said his company also helps collectors breed their own frogs, so they can flood the market with legally raised specimens, taking pressure off those living in the wild. The frogs raised in captivity by Lozano are no longer poisonous, because they have a different diet than wild specimens. But collectors still seek them for their brilliant color patterns.

"We make ourselves sustainable by moving on to new species," said Lozano, who already has permits to export seven species, including the Red Lehmanni, a frog so rare collectors refer to it as "the Holy Grail." Lozano is currently seeking permission from Colombia's government to export another 13 species that are under pressure from animal traffickers.

But while some breeding efforts have helped to tackle the illegal trade, others have had unintended consequences.
Indonesia allows the export of 3 million captive-bred Tokay Geckos to global pet markets each year. But weak regulation has given corrupt companies the opportunity to sell off wild Geckos as Geckos bred in captivity, said Chris Shepherd a conservationist who worked in South East Asia for two decades with TRAFFIC, an environmental group.

Laura Tensen, a zoologist at the University of Johannesburg, said in South Africa, private game reserves that breed lions for hunting have created a new market for lion bones. South Africa now exports lion skeletons to Asia, where they are used for traditional medicine, and this has given poachers in remote regions an additional incentive to go after wild lions.
"For some species captive breeding might help" to reduce trafficking, Tensen said. "But one market does not always replace the other.”

In a 2016 study, Tensen concluded that captive breeding programs are more likely to work when animals bred in captivity are just as desirable to customers as those taken from the wild. These programs are also more successful with species that are relatively cheap to breed and in countries where authorities are arresting traffickers.

"In countries where the risks of being caught are low, the prices for wild caught animals are always less than those of captive bred animals," Shepherd said.

Lozano assigns ID numbers to his frogs, to make it harder for traffickers to sell wild frogs as frogs bred in captivity. But he has struggled to keep prices low because of the costs associated with securing export permits from the Colombian government.

It took Lozano three years to secure his first export permit, exasperating two business partners, who eventually gave up on the venture. Lozano continued on his own and acquired a debt of hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the breeding center afloat.

He has also battled online critics who have tried to undermine his business by spreading rumors on social media that he is illegally exporting frogs. Lozano believes the criticism comes from animal traffickers.

"For our own safety, we try not to disclose details of our location," he said.

Lozano now wants to start a program to repopulate some forests with frogs bred in his lab.

Colombia is home to 734 frog species, more than any other country except Brazil. The Humboldt Institute, an environmental research group, says at least 160 amphibian species in Colombia are critically endangered.

"This is an urgent situation," Lozano said. "If we don't persist some frogs could become extinct.”

Dubai vet sees rise in 'killer bullfrogs' as owners treat them as disposable pets - via Herp Digest

5/21/19, Nick Webster

The creatures have a strong bite and can devour rodents whole, though they pose little danger to humans

They are cannibals, eat anything in their path and breed at such a rate they are wiping out native populations of birds, rodents and reptiles around the world.

Now they are becoming more common in the UAE.

Like the dreaded cockroach, the North American bullfrog is one of nature’s resounding success stories and fast gaining a similar reputation of indestructibility.

Vets are reporting a rampant rise in the number of the belching amphibians, which can weigh 700 grams and grow to 20 centimetres long, after seeing them imported into Asian food markets and as pets.
“I have seen very large bullfrogs sold in Sharjah, and there are many Chinese coming to Dubai now who are giving them to children like goldfish for birthday presents,” said Dr Piotr Jaworski, a vet and exotic pet expert at the Advanced Pet Clinic in Al Wasl, Dubai.

They are cannibals, eat anything in their path and breed at such a rate they are wiping out native populations of birds, rodents and reptiles all over the world.

Now they are becoming more common in the UAE.

Like the dreaded cockroach, the North American bullfrog is one of nature’s resounding success stories and fast gaining a similar reputation for indestructibility.

Vets report a rampant increase in the number of the croaking amphibians, which can weigh 700 grams and grow to 20 centimetres in length.

The frogs are generally imported into Asian food markets and as pets.

“I have seen very large bullfrogs sold in Sharjah, and there are many Chinese coming to Dubai now who are giving them to children, like goldfish, for birthday presents,” said Dr Piotr Jaworski, a vet and exotic pet expert at the Advanced Pet Clinic in Al Wasl, Dubai.

This country has an increasing number of invasive species like these bullfrogs
Dr Piotr Jaworski, Advanced Pet Clinic
“When they get too big, they are often released into the locality. That is when they become an invasive species.

“Bullfrogs will eat anything, from insects to small rodents and even birds.

“It won’t be long before they will feed on the young of local and migratory birds.”

Despite Dr Jaworski’s concerns, authorities say the species does not pose a serious threat to the UAE. Its strong bite and toxic skin do not pose a danger to humans.

Invasive species are one of the top five direct causes of biodiversity loss.

Alien species increase competition for food, water, habitat and shelter.

They also increase predation, disease and parasites, leading to loss of biodiversity, deterioration of ecosystems and habitat degradation.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment works closely with the concerned local departments to identify invasive species and how they get into the country.

A recent survey revealed the existence of 24 invasive species in the UAE. They include the rock dove, house crow and the feral cat and goat.

African donkeys are also considered an invasive species, as are brown rats, the house mouse and ants from Singapore and Argentina.

Invasive species are divided into taxonomic groups: plants, insects, mammals and birds – but the American bullfrog is not currently on a watch list.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment said bullfrogs were not yet considered a threat to local wildlife and fauna.

“The American bullfrog is only found in small numbers in the UAE,” he said. “It is not considered an invasive species because it doesn’t meet the definition and criteria to identify a species as an invasive.”

Dr Jaworski thinks that is likely to change, mainly owing to the illegal exotic pet trade that has little consideration for the damage done to local environments when imported animals are later released into the wild.

“This country has an increasing number of invasive species, like these bullfrogs,” he said.

“They are commonly farmed in Asia, and imported either as pets or for the Chinese food market and as reptile food.

“The UAE is at risk of them becoming a disaster as the numbers are increasing.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists bullfrogs as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species.

They cite many examples of invasive bullfrogs threatening native species worldwide.

In an online blog for the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia, biologist Stan Orchard said bullfrogs were eating egg-bearing adult female frogs, killing dozens of tree frogs in a single gulp.

Dr Jaworski warned of the risk of sleepwalking into an ecological disaster when preventive measures are not taken against rapid population growth.

“Research needs to be done into how they are getting into the UAE so better controls can be implemented,” he said.

“They are sold very cheaply, for just Dh5. I’ve asked traders what they have them for, and they are used for larger bait animals for fish and reptiles. 

“Frogs can be imported frozen for this use, but to import them without controls is irresponsible. “Trade in animals has little control and many buyers are not experienced in the issues of biodiversity and threats from invasive species.”

Crabs' camouflage tricks revealed

MAY 24, 2019
Crabs from a single species rely on different camouflage techniques depending on what habitat they live in, new research shows.
University of Exeter scientists compared the colour patterns of common shore crabs (Carcinus maenas) from rock pools with those living on mudflats.
They found that crabs from mudflats closely matched the appearance of the mud they live on, while rockpool crabs did not match the background but instead relied on "disruptive colouration—the use of high-contrast patterns to break up the appearance of the body outline.
Shore crabs are the most common crab found on Britain's coasts, familiar to anyone who goes rock pooling, and the crabs examined in this study came from six sites in Cornwall.
"The crabs are highly variable in colour and pattern, and are often extremely difficult to see," said Professor Martin Stevens, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Rhinoceros at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo gives birth to calf

MAY 21, 2019

Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo says an eastern black rhinoceros named Kapuki has given birth to a calf.
The zoo says Kapuki was pregnant for 15 months before the calf was born Sunday night. Zoo staff members monitored her labor and are watching the rhino and her calf remotely using cameras to give them privacy but are nearby.
The zoo hasn't named the calf or announced its sex, but officials say details will be announced once available. The animals won't be visible to the public until further notice, but people can follow along on the zoo's social media accounts and at #RhinoWatch on twitter.
Zoo officials say the calf stood up at just 53 minutes of age.

Captive chimpanzees spontaneously use tools to excavate underground food

MAY 15, 2019

Chimpanzees in captivity can successfully work out how to use tools to excavate underground food, even if they've never been presented with an underground food scenario before, according to a study published May 15, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Alba Motes-Rodrigo and colleagues and directed by Adriana Hernandez-Aguilar from the University of Oslo.
Recent studies have indicated that wild chimpanzees and bearded capuchins are capable of using tools to excavate underground food such as plant roots, corms, and tubers—overturning earlier hypotheses that this type of tool use was unique to humans and their ancient hominin ancestors. In this study, the authors studied tool use and selection in captive chimps to further understand how food excavation behavior may have developed.
Motes-Rodrigo and colleagues monitored a colony of ten chimpanzees (Pan troglogytes) living on an island enclosure at the Kristiansand Zoo in Norway, eight of whom were born in captivity and none of whom had previously performed excavating behaviors. The authors dug five small holes and placed whole fruit in each, initially leaving the holes open to alert the chimpanzees to the fruit, and later filling in each hole. At first, the authors provided ready-made tree stick and bark tools; in a second experiment, they did not provide ready-made tools for excavation.

As bumblebee diets narrow, ours could too

MAY 15, 2019
There has been a lot of buzz about honeybees' failing health because they pollinate our produce. Less well known is how critical bumblebees are for some of our favorite foods. And their numbers are also rapidly declining.
A new study from the University of California, Riverside, reveals the loss of plant diversity harms the humble bumble at a critical stage in its development from egg to adult.
Study lead Hollis Woodard, assistant professor of entomology, explained bumblebees perform a type of pollination that honeybees do not. The fuzzy insects use their jaws to shake flowers until they release their pollen, and this process is essential for food crops, such as tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes.

Scientists propose rethinking 'endangered species' definition to save slow-breeding giants

MAY 17, 2019
Conservation decisions based on population counts may fail to protect large, slow-breeding animals from irrevocable decline, according to new research coinciding with Endangered Species Day.
"Critical thresholds in so-called vital rates—such as mortality and fertility rates among males and females of various ages—can signal an approaching population collapselong before numbers drop below a point of no return," says lead author Dr. Shermin de Silva, President & Founder of Asian elephant conservation charity Trunks & Leaves. "We propose that conservation efforts for Asian elephants and other slow-breeding megafauna be aimed at maintaining their 'demographic safe space': that is, the combination of key vital rates that supports a non-negative growth rate."
A mammoth insight
Published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the study suggests that a combination of key vital rates governing population growth is a better indicator of a species' viability than short-term trends in population size and distribution.

Highland Wildlife Park captive breeding rare hoverflies

A Scottish captive breeding programme aims to boost numbers of one of the UK's rarest insects.
The pine hoverfly Blera fallax is currently known to only inhabit one forest site in the Cairngorms National Park.
Conservationists estimate there are fewer than 50 flies at the location.
The Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig, near Aviemore, is raising hoverflies in old jam jars and hummus pots. The first adult flies have just hatched.
Owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the park is better known for its polar bears - two males, a female and her cub called Hamish.
Captive breeding pine hoverflies, an important pollinator, takes place in a small wooden shed, with the larvae held in empty jars.
When they turn into pupae, they are transferred into hummus pots. When the adults emerge, they live in mesh flight cages.
But the captive breeding is far from simple.
In the wild, the larvae live in small holes that have rotted into old pine trees. There, they feed on a "nutritious soup" of bacteria.
To make the soup in captivity, keepers mix pine wood chippings from the flies' natural habitat with rain water.

Spain alarmed by French bear's attacks on sheep

17 May 2019
A female brown bear released in the French Pyrenees has killed eight sheep in Spain, prompting emergency talks between the two countries.
Claverina is now roaming through the mountains of Navarre, having crossed from Béarn in south-western France.
Spanish environmental officials are meeting French counterparts. Some sheep are now wearing tracking devices and there are plans to deploy guard dogs.
Claverina and another female brown bear were brought over from Slovenia.
They were reintroduced in Béarn last October, because the bear population in that region is tiny - there are just two others, both male.
It is a controversial policy - there have been protests by some shepherds in both France and Spain.
Alpine Slovenia has more than 500 brown bears and is helping the French National Hunting and Wildlife Agency (ONCFS) to reintroduce the mammals to the Pyrenees, where their numbers shrank because of hunting.

Sunday 26 May 2019

Climate change threatens 26 native species in Great Dividing Range, study finds

Australian researchers say governments must step up and protect critical habitats to give wildlife a chance
Thu 16 May 2019 00.00 BSTLast modified on Thu 16 May 2019 00.02 BST
More than 20 native animals would disappear from the Great Dividing Range before the end of the century if global emissions continue at business as usual rates, according to new analysis by Australian researchers.
The University of Queensland and Australian Conservation Foundation study, published this week in Global Ecology and Conservation, examines native fauna in a part of the country that is home to three-quarters of the population and much of Australia’s biodiversity.
The scientists and policy experts used climate models from the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change to assess how many endemic species could face extinction in the Great Dividing Range due to warming temperatures.
They examined 1,062 native species, and found 26 would go extinct by 2085 if the currently high global emissions trajectory continues. In that scenario, they assumed global warming of 3.7C by 2085.
Of the 26 species the researchers said would not survive, 11 are found only in the Great Dividing Range and nowhere else on earth.
Under a lower emissions pathway of 1.8C the Great Dividing Range would become climatically unsuitable for 16 species by 2085, including the 11 endemic species.
“The way emissions are tracking, we will lose a raft of species found nowhere else in the world, including the blue-winged parrot, Mount Claro rock wallaby, magnificent brood frog and painted spadefoot toad,” the study’s lead author, Sean Maxwell, said.
Another author, James Watson, said: “The fact is that there are 11 endemic species, which based off of this research, it appears they will be blasted off the face of the earth because there’s nowhere suitable for them to live.”

Climate change has long-term impact on species adaptability

 MAY 20, 2019
Historic climate change events can have a lasting impact on the genetic diversity of a species, reveals a new study published in Current Biology. This unexpected finding emerged from an analysis of the alpine marmot's genome.
An iconic animal known to tourists and mountaineers, the alpine marmot is a large rodent exquisitely adapted to cold climates. Since the disappearance of its ice-age habitat, the alpine marmot has resided in high-altitude meadows in the Alps.
In this new study co-led by the Francis Crick Institute, an international team of scientists sequenced the genomes of alpine marmots living in three sites in the French and Italian Alps, and found that the animal's genetic diversity is among the lowest of wild mammals. By reconstructing the marmot's genetic past with the help of fossil records, they discovered that it lost its genetic diversity during the last ice age as a consequence of multiple climate related adaptations.

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