Sunday 30 June 2019

Sea otters have low genetic diversity like other threatened species, biologists report

Date:  June 18, 2019
Source:  University of California - Los Angeles
Sea otters have low genetic diversity, which could endanger their health as a species, a UCLA-led team of life scientists has discovered. The findings have implications for the conservation of rare and endangered species, in which low genetic diversity could increase the odds of extinction.
Genetic diversity is a measure of how many differences exist across the genome among individuals in a population. Large populations tend to have high genetic diversity (many differences among individuals), while small populations lose much of this diversity, resulting in individuals that are more genetically similar to one another.
The sea otter's low level of genetic diversity is similar to endangered species, such as the cheetah and Tasmanian devil, said lead author Annabel Beichman, a UCLA graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology. She and her colleagues reconstructed the otter's evolutionary history and assessed its level of genetic diversity, history of changes in its population size, and levels of potentially harmful genetic variation.
The biologists found evidence of potentially harmful genetic variation and of mating between closely related ancestors in the sea otter genome -- a pattern that is common in endangered species with small population sizes. The team analyzed the genome of Gidget, a female sea otter from the Monterey Bay Aquarium who died this year, as well as the genome of a South American giant otter as an evolutionary point of comparison. There are 13 species of otters, and the sea otter and giant otter live in starkly different environments -- the giant otter in a warm freshwater environment and the sea otter in the frigid coastal waters of the North Pacific Ocean. This study is the first comprehensive genomic analysis of otters.

How octopus arms make decisions

Date:  June 25, 2019
Source:  American Geophysical Union
Researchers studying the behavior and neuroscience of octopuses have long suspected that the animals' arms may have minds of their own.
A new model being presented in Bellevue, Washington State, is the first attempt at a comprehensive representation of information flow between the octopus's suckers, arms and brain, based on previous research in octopus neuroscience and behavior, and new video observations conducted in the lab.
The new research supports previous findings that octopus' suckers can initiate action in response to information they acquire from their environment, coordinating with neighboring suckers along the arm. The arms then process sensory and motor information, and muster collective action in the peripheral nervous system, without waiting on commands from the brain.
The result is a bottom-up, or arm-up, decision mechanism rather than the brain-down mechanism typical of vertebrates, like humans, according to Dominic Sivitilli, a graduate student in behavioral neuroscience and astrobiology at the University of Washington in Seattle who will present the new research Wednesday at the 2019 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon 2019).

Rhino release: Endangered animals despatched to Rwanda

By Victoria Gill Science reporter, BBC News
25 June 2019
"It's just fantastic.
"These animals were taken from Africa decades ago to display to the public [in European zoos] and now have a real conservation role in Rwanda," Mark Pilgrim, Chester Zoo's chief executive says proudly.
He is summing up the significance of the largest transportation of rhinos from Europe to Africa to ever happen.
It culminated on Monday as five zoo-born eastern black rhinos were released in the vast Akagera National Park.
The three females and two male rhinos, aged between two and nine years old, came from Flamingo Land in Yorkshire, the Czech Republic's Dvur Kralove safari park and Ree Park Safari in Denmark.
The 6,000km (3,700 miles) journey began at Dvur Kralove - where the animals have been gathered to be prepared for the trip since late last year - and concluded as each animal stepped out of its custom-made transport crate and into a large, temporary enclosure in the 1,000 sq km park.
They will remain in the enclosure, known as a boma, for several months until vets and wildlife experts, who stay in a nearby camp, are happy that they have settled and are ready for life in the wild.
Rhino dating game
The animals' journey to Akagera, via a flight from Prague to the Rwandan capital of Kigali, took around 30 hours. But the project to bring these animals back to Africa began years ago.
The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria has co-ordinated what Dr Pilgrim described as a huge "rhino dating game" and it is something he has been running.
"All the members signed up to move animals around, so we can match the most compatible pairs for breeding," he said.

Australian zoo opens global campaign to save Komodo dragon – via Herp Digest

Source: Xinhua, 6/26/19, Editor: Wu Qin

SYDNEY, June 26 (Xinhua) -- The Australian Reptile Park launched a crowdfunding appeal on Tuesday night to help save the Komodo dragon, a species which is desperately threatened in the wild largely due to the activities of humans.

All the money raised by the park, which is located north of Sydney, will support the Komodo Survival Program which aims to devise management and conservation plans for the dragons and their natural habitat based on sound biological studies.

Despite being the world's largest lizard, weighing over 100 kg and reaching three to four meters in length, factors such as human encroachment, poaching, natural disasters and a shortage of egg laying females have left the species officially classified as "vulnerable," with around 6,000 surviving wild individuals.

"They're absolutely incredible creatures but they are really struggling in the wild," Australian Reptile Park's Head of Reptiles Daniel Rumsey said in a statement.

"That's why the Australian Reptile Park decided to highlight the work that the Komodo Survival Program is doing and encouraging the public to support this incredible charity.”

The park's resident Komodo dragons, Kraken and Daenerys will act as ambassadors for their species, helping to raise the awareness of their hundreds of thousands of visitors, highlighting how special and unique these cold-blooded creatures are.

Crocs' climate clock: Ancient distribution of Crocs could reveal more about past climates

Date:  June 19, 2019
Source:  Taylor & Francis Group
Underneath their tough exteriors, some crocodilians have a sensitive side that scientists could use to shine light on our ancient climate, according to new findings published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The idea of a clock inside a crocodile was imagined by JM Barrie in the story of Peter Pan, but instead of telling the current time, ancient crocodilians could serve as climate "clocks" -- proxies to study past climates, in a similar way to the use of tree rings and ice cores.
This is possible because scientists have discovered that some species of crocodilian were sensitive to changes in climate while others were more tolerant. Mapping the distribution of these different species using fossil remains could reveal more precise details about what the global climate was like in different locations millions of years ago.
"Our analysis suggests that crocodilians are even less of a homogenous group than previously thought and that some alligator-like reptiles were particularly good at tolerating the dramatic changes in climate that marked the end of the Eocene epoch and the beginning of the Oligocene," says lead author Dr Stéphane Jouve from the University of Sorbonne.

Friday 28 June 2019

Namibia forced by drought to auction 1,000 wild animals

Southern African nation aiming to limit starvation and generate conservation funds
Agence France-Presse
Sun 16 Jun 2019 05.02 BST Last modified on Mon 17 Jun 2019 13.11 BST
Drought-hit Namibia has authorised the sale of at least 1,000 wild animals – including elephants and giraffes – to limit loss of life and generate US$1.1 million for conservation, the authorities confirmed Saturday.
“Given that this year is a drought year, the [environment] ministry would like to sell various type of game species from various protected areas to protect grazing and at the same time to also generate much needed funding for parks and wildlife management,” the environment ministry spokesman Romeo Muyunda said.
The authorities declared a national disaster last month, and the meteorological services in the southern African nation estimate that some parts of the country faced the deadliest drought in as many as 90 years.
“The grazing condition in most of our parks is extremely poor and if we do not reduce the number of animals, this will lead to loss of an animals due to starvation,” Muyunda said.
In April, an agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather.
Namibia’s cabinet announced this week that the government would sell about 1,000 wild animals.

Hedgehogs ahead! New sign warns drivers of animals on roads

Launch welcomed by nature and motoring groups hoping to cut deaths and accidents
Tue 18 Jun 2019 00.23 BSTLast modified on Tue 18 Jun 2019 07.15 BST
After decades of being killed on the road in huge numbers, hedgehogs are finally to get their own road sign warning drivers to watch out for them.
The new signs bearing the silhouette of the animal in a red triangle will be placed in areas where the accident risk is highest and will also be used to warn about squirrels, badgers, otters and other small animals crossing.
Ministers announced the proposed new signage on Monday as part of a scheme to reduce the number of animal road deaths and the number of accidents caused by people swerving to avoid animals or motorcyclists skidding on roadkill.
The new road sign to improve road safety and protect hedgehogs. Photograph: Department for Transport
Hedgehog numbers have fallen by more than half in the UK countryside since 2000, with roads a particular hazard for the mammals because they curl up into a ball in the face of danger.
The signs are the first featuring a new animal in a quarter of a century: they join those warning motorists about large animals, such as deer, cows, sheep and horses, and the smaller ones, such as migratory toads and wildfowl.
“We have some of the safest roads in the world but we are always looking at how we can make them safer. Motorcyclists and other vulnerable road users are particularly at risk,” the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, told Monday’s launch.

Song of one of rarest whales on planet recorded for first time

There are only about 30 north Pacific right whales left after hunters nearly wiped out the slow-moving animals
Associated Press
Thu 20 Jun 2019 06.08 BSTLast modified on Thu 20 Jun 2019 09.09 BST
Marine biologists for the first time have recorded singing by one of the rarest whales on the planet, the north Pacific right whale.
Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used moored acoustic recorders to capture repeated patterns of calls made by male north Pacific right whales.
It is the first time right whale songs in any population have been documented, said NOAA Fisheries marine biologist Jessica Crance on Wednesday.
Researchers detected four distinct songs over eight years at five locations in the Bering Sea off Alaska’s south-west coast, Crance said.
Only about 30 of the animals remain. Whalers nearly wiped out the slow-moving whales, which remain buoyant after they are killed.
Humpback, bowhead and other whales are known for their songs, but during a field survey in 2010, NOAA Fisheries researchers noted weird sound patterns they could not identify. “We thought it might be a right whale, but we didn’t get visual confirmation,” Crance said.

Create a buzz: how to help save wild bees – even if you don’t have a garden

With a little knowhow, balconies, doorsteps and window boxes can all be turned into wildlife havens
Kate Bradbury
Sat 22 Jun 2019 11.00 BSTFirst published on Sat 15 Jun 2019 11.00 BST
Last year’s extreme weather meant a tough year for many of the UK’s bees, and conservationists are concerned that could have a knock-on effect this year and beyond. According to a report from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, they could face long-term problems from future heatwaves. But we can give them a helping hand.
You don’t need to keep honeybees to help bees – in fact, a 2018 study commissioned by Cambridge University suggests that this can harm wild bees. It’s thought that the more bees there are in an area, the more competition there is for nectar and pollen; if every shopping centre has three or four hives on the roof, what does that mean for the wild bees?
It would be easy to assume that our built-up towns and cities are deserts for pollinators. Yet among the grey is also green: parks, gardens, balconies, doorsteps and window boxes, each with the potential to feed a city of bees. In fact, urban spaces can, in some instances, be better for bees and other pollinators than the countryside, where wildlife has largely been pushed outto make space for more crops and livestock. Gardens and parks are home to a greater variety of flowering plants than in the wild, and for a longer season, too. What’s more, we’re less likely to use pesticides in them, enabling bees and other pollinators to feed safely. Indeed, a study published last summer in the journal Proceedings Of The Royal Society B found that bumblebee colonies in urban areas were actually stronger than those in the wild.

Thursday 27 June 2019

Plan to save endangered Leadbeater's possum must consider timber industry, minister says

Conservationists urge Sussan Ley to get her priorities right, saying her job is to protect species, not industries
Adam MortonEnvironment editor
Mon 24 Jun 2019 07.59 BSTLast modified on Mon 24 Jun 2019 18.55 BST

Environment minister Sussan Ley says the Leadbeater’s possum will keep its critically endangered listing. Photograph: Zoos Victoria
Victoria’s faunal emblem, the tiny Leadbeater’s possum, will keep its critically endangered listing after the environment minister, Sussan Ley, rejected a push by Coalition MPs and the forestry industry to downgrade its conservation status.
But Ley has been criticised for suggesting a long-delayed recovery plan for the possum should also consider the needs of the timber industry.
The possum, which was believed extinct until 1961 and is endemic to the Victorian central highlands, was listed as critically endangered in 2015 when then environment minister Greg Hunt accepted the advice of an independent scientific advisory body.
But the government is yet to release a formal recovery plan for the species and its conservation status has been subject to a review since 2017, when Barnaby Joyce led a call for a “people before possums” approach to prevent forestry job losses.
Scientists estimate the number of Leadbeater’s possums has declined more than 80% since the mid-1980s as its habitat, mostly old-growth mountain ash, has been devastated by a combination of fire and logging. Almost half of it was lost in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Victoria’s state-owned timber agency, VicForests, says it is managing protection of the possum appropriately and many new colonies of the animal have been found in recent years.

The older you get, the harder you seek: The mating secrets of Africa's bull elephants

JUNE 26, 2019

Males of many species slow down in their pursuit of females as they age. Not so with elephants. A new study published today reveals that bull elephants increase the energy they put into reproduction as they get older.
The new research conducted by the University of Oxford, Save the Elephants and Colorado State University, compared the movements of male African savannah elephants while they were in musth, a periodic state of intensive testosterone-fueled sexual activity, and when they were not. The results reveal that, as they age, male elephants move more in musth and move less out of musth. The combination of these two diverging factors meant that, despite having similar speeds and range sizes between states at age 20, by age 50 males were traveling twice as fast in 3.5 times larger area in musth compared to non-musth.
The investigation, led by Dr. Lucy Taylor at the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology, used a combination of visual observations and GPS tracking data from 25 male elephants aged between 20-52 years old. The data was collected in the Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserve, Northern Kenya, as part of Save the Elephants' long-term monitoring project between 2000 and 2018.

Five rhinos resettled in Rwanda from Czech zoo

JUNE 24, 2019

There are about 5,000 black rhinos remaining across their range in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, making them one of the most critically endangered species in the world.
Five critically endangered eastern black rhinos were on Monday successfully relocated to Rwanda's Akagera National Park after a long journey from the Czech Republic, park officials said.
The arrival of the rhinos marks the second translocation to Rwanda after South Africa donated 17 rhinos in 2017, reintroducing the species after it had disappeared for over a decade due to intense poaching.
That initial population has now grown to 20 in the park, which is considered an excellent habitat for the rhinos.
"This unique achievement represents the culmination of an unprecedented international effort to improve the survival prospects of a critically endangered rhino subspecies in the wild," said Jes Gruner, manager of Akagera National Park.
"Their arrival also marks an important step in Akagera's ongoing revitalization and one that underscores the country's commitment to conservation."
The rhinos began their journey on Sunday after months of preparation at Safari Park Dvůr Králové in the Czech Republic, according to the Rwanda Development Board.

Scientists capture first-ever video of giant squid in U.S. waters

JUNE 24, 2019

FIU marine scientists Heather Bracken-Grissom and Lori Schweikert were among a team of researchers gathered around a monitor when the tentacle first came into view. It floated in and out of the darkness offering no hint of what was on the other end. Then, in an elegant explosion of arms and tentacles, the creature revealed itself—the phantom of the deep, known simply as the giant squid.
It is the first time the elusive creature has been caught on camera in U.S. waters—about 100 miles southwest of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico. It is only the second time the creature, which can grow up to 40 feet, has ever been captured on camera. The discovery was made toward the end of a 17-day research mission dubbed Journey into Midnight which began June 7.
"It was magical and surreal to see how the animal behaves in nature," Bracken-Grissom said. "To know that I was witnessing something that had only been seen once before in nature filled me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and respect for what still is to be discovered."

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Zimbabwe wants ivory ban lifted so it can sell $600-mln stockpile

JUNE 24, 2019
Some countries in southern Africa are pushing for a global ivory ban to be relaxed as their elephant numbers grow
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa opened a UN wildlife summit on Monday with a call to lift the global ivory trade ban so that the country can sell $600 million of stockpiled tusks.
Mnangagwa said selling the elephant tusks and rhino horns would enable the impoverished nation to fund conservation efforts for 20 years.
Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia have all cited the growing number of elephants in some areas in their bid to have the ban relaxed, angering many conservationists.
Opening the UNEP wildlife economy summit in Victoria Falls, Mnangagwa called "for the free trade in hunting products as these can have an important impact on national and local economies."
"Currently Zimbabwe has about $600 million dollars worth of ivory and rhino horns stocked—most of which is from natural attrition of those animals.
"The revenue would suffice to finance our operational conservation efforts for the next two decades."
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits the sale of ivory, is under pressure from southern African countries that have seen growing elephant numbers.

Monarch butterflies bred in captivity may lose the ability to migrate, study finds

JUNE 24, 2019
Monarch butterflies purchased from a commercial breeder did not fly in a southward direction, even in offspring raised outdoors, in a new study conducted by scientists at the University of Chicago. Wild-caught monarchs bred indoors under simulated outdoor conditions also did not orient south, suggesting that captive breeding disrupts the monarch's famous annual migratory behavior.
The National Wildlife Federation estimates that the North American monarch population has declined 90% over the last two decades. As the number of butterflies that reaches their winter habitats in California and Mexico dwindles, monarch enthusiasts have turned to a variety of conservation efforts, including captive breeding and release of the butterflies throughout the summer and autumn. However, the new study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that these well-intentioned practices may not have the desired effect.

Playing 'tag': Tracking movement of young oysters

JUNE 25, 2019

by Dauphin Island Sea Lab
A new publication in the journal Estuaries and Coasts investigates the use of a fluorescent dye to track movements of young oysters. The publication, "Field mark-recapture of calcein-stained larval oysters (Crassostrea virginica) in a freshwater-dominated estuary", provides new knowledge on methods for tracking oysters in low salinity environments common to coastal waters, particularly in the northern Gulf of Mexico. This information is important to understand where oysters settle and grow compared to locations of parent stocks and to guide management practices of oysters or any marine species with larval stages that live in the water column.
Free-living aquatic animals have the potential to be transported long distances during early life development. These movements can influence adult distributions and subsequently how populations are connected. By understanding larval transport pathways, we can better inform restoration efforts of remaining marine invertebrate populations globally. This information is particularly important for commercial species such as oysters, which are a valuable resource for Alabama and other coastal waters.

How the dragon got its frill

JUNE 25, 2019

The frilled dragon exhibits a distinctive large erectile ruff. This lizard usually keeps the frill folded back against its body, but can spread it as a spectacular display to scare off predators. Researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, and the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics report in the journal eLife that an ancestral embryonic gill of the dragon embryo turns into a neck pocket that expands and folds, forming the frill. The researchers then demonstrate that this robust folding pattern emerges from mechanical forces during the homogeneous growth of the frill skin due to the tensions resulting from its attachment to the neck and head.

In Jurassic Park, while the computer programmer Dennis Nedry attempts to smuggle dinosaur embryos off the island, he is attacked and killed by a mid-sized dinosaur that erects a frightening neck frill. This fictional dinosaur is clearly inspired by a real animal known as the frilled dragon, which lives today in northern Australia and southern New Guinea. These lizards, also known as Chlamydosaurus kingii, have a large disc of skin around their head and neck. This frill is usually folded back against the body, but can spread in a spectacular fashion to scare off predators and competitors. Folding of the left and right sides of the frill occurs at three pre-formed ridges. But it remains unclear which ancestral structure evolved to become the dragon's frill, and how the ridges in the frill form during development.

In an era of mass extinction, who decides which species to save – and how?

22 May 2019
This topic will be explored at the Global Landscapes Forum Bonn 2019 on 22–23 June. Register to attend or tune-in digitally here.
Wednesday, 22 May, is the International Day for Biological Diversity, and following the damning IPBES report stating that a million species are at risk of extinction, the cause of protecting the variety of life on Earth seems more pressing than ever.
In the absence of infinite time and resources, the hard truth is that prioritization must come into play, and the decisions made about where to focus attention are never neutral. A disproportionate amount of conservation efforts to date have focused on “charismatic megafauna” – well-known, popular species like dolphins, elephants and orangutans – as opposed to other species that are less glamorous but equally important to Earth’s ecosystems, such as bees, frogs and earthworms.
Often, too, priorities at national and international levels can be at odds with those of local and Indigenous communities. For example, in Aotearoa New Zealand (A/NZ), kiwi conservation is often privileged since the bird is a well-known national icon and identity marker (many New Zealanders proudly refer to themselves as “kiwis”). But some indigenous Māori tribes have quite different priorities. For example, the Tūhoe people of the Te Urewera region prize the kererū bird as a valuable food source and indicator of forest wellbeing and have recently gained the right to manage their forest homeland of Te Urewera and make kererū population restoration a priority.

Monday 24 June 2019

Prospect Park Turtles Are Heading Inland To Lay Their Eggs (Biggest Park in Brooklyn, NYC, And Only Park in NYC I have heard of Active nesting though sliders are found in every body of water in NYC Parks, All Sizes.) – via Herp Digest

The Prospect Park Alliance sent a friendly but firm reminder this week: Do not touch land-bound turtles. They're probably fine.
By Kathleen Culliton, Patch Staff 6/21/19 

PROSPECT PARK, BROOKLYN — Dozens of tiny lake dinosaurs are pulling themselves out of the Brooklyn waters and may be heading to a field near you, because in Prospect Park, summertime is turtle time.

The Prospect Park Alliance sent out a friendly reminder this week to alert Brooklyn it's egg-laying season for the lake's many red-eared sliders and totally normal for the little critters to head inland.
"Most of our turtle species need to come on land to lay their eggs, and have been known to travel far from the Lake to do so," park officials wrote.

"If you see a turtle on land that is not in obvious distress, we ask that you leave it be.”

The warning comes at the height of egg-laying season and the turtles have already begun hunting for a safe place to dig their nests and lay their eggs.

The quest for a good nest will send the slow-paced turtles deep into the park, and some have even been known to scale Lookout Hill. 

But the sight of a random turtle strolling through a field can often baffle park-goers used to seeing them basking in the sun by the lake.

Officials ask that you not pick the turtles up (it will startle them and possibly get Salmonella on you) and definitely don't try to poach dozens of them by stuffing them into red plastic bags
It's best not to do this, park officials say:

Cruzando Prospect Park para ir al gimnasio me he topado con una tortuga que estaba a punto de salir a la carretera. Ni idea de cómo ha llegado hasta allí, pero la he devuelto al lago a la parte “where turtles hang out”, que eso me han indicado.

Red-eared sliders like to spend the late summer soaking up the sun, the winter brumating (think hibernating for turtles) at the bottom of the lake and, for many Brooklyners, they are harbingers of spring when they reemerge in March.

Nothing says, “it’s springtime!!” like a turtle on a shopping cart half-submerged in Prospect Park Lake

Anyone who spots a turtle in distress can call 311 to alert officials, according to the Prospect Park Alliance post.

Green sea turtle nests could beat record highs on the Space Coast this season. Here’s why. – via Herp Digest

Orlando Sentinel, 6/21/19

The number of green turtle nests on the Atlantic coast have been on the upswing, surpassing the loggerhead turtle. Scientists are thrilled by this development.

During this time of year, sea turtles emerge from the ocean to lay eggs on the sand at night on Florida’s beaches.

The state accounts for 90 percent of the nation’s loggerhead nests, but another species also listed as threatened, the green turtle, has blown past the loggerhead on the Space Coast and is expected to post another record number of nests this year.

“So, this season is particularly exciting because this is the 'up’ year for green turtle nests,” said Ashley Lord, interpretative park ranger who leads turtle tours at Canaveral National Seashore.

Since Canaveral began protecting turtle nests from animal predators with metal screens in 1984, the female hatchlings that survived are now of reproductive age, returning to the beaches where they were hatched. There is also no light pollution and no housing development along 24 miles of beach.

During the last reproduction year for green turtles in 2017, the species surpassed loggerhead nests at Canaveral National Seashore. There were 7,736 green turtle nests to 4,556 loggerhead nests even though many of the green turtle nests later in the season were wiped out by Hurricane Irma.

Green turtles reproduce every other year. The nest screening program started in 1984, and the hatchlings that survived at higher rates would have returned to the same beaches 25-30 years later. Leatherback turtles also nest at Canaveral but result in fewer than 35 nests a year.

Female green turtles reproduce every other year and so far point-in-time counts for 2019 are higher compared to the same week in 2017 for Canaveral National Seashore as well as the nearby Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

Turtle nests face obstacles in addition to hurricanes.

Last year, 1,000 nests were wiped out at Canaveral National Seashore due to predators including raccoons and feral hogs, said Kristen Kneifl, chief of resource management. So far this season, the raccoons got into about 250 nests. Canaveral has taken steps to eradicate the problem raccoons.

To protect turtles from prey, volunteers and a team of four biological technicians cover nests with 4-by-4-foot metal wire screens with holes large enough for hatchlings to crawl out of as they emerge into the world. The screens are anchored into the sand with pieces of bent rebar.

“Our numbers are getting more than our staff can handle on every given day,” Kneifl said. “They’ve got to place the screen. They’ve got to pound the rebar. And with over 100 nests a day, it’s too much.”
Volunteer Patty Lillie of Winter Park spent many years alongside staffers, locating nests at Canaveral National Seashore, riding in an all-terrain vehicle under the moonlight.

“It’s a workout — the most I’ve ever done is 28 [nests] in one night and I was toast," she said.

These days, she guides small groups at night so they can see loggerheads lay eggs.

“I love doing that part, too,” Lillie said of the tours, “because the more people experience something with an animal, the more they’re going to care about that animal.”

Visitors aren’t allowed to view green turtles laying eggs along Florida’s shorelines because it is not a permitted activity by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But scientists see them.

“To have a day when there are more green turtles nesting than loggerheads is very surprising because they were doing poorly for so long,” said Jane Provancha, an ecologist who has studied Florida’s sea turtles extensively.

But as the climate gets warmer, there is concern there won’t be enough male sea turtles to sustain long-term population growth. The warmer the sand temperature, the more likely the hatchling will be a female.

It’s a subject Provancha researched in the late 1980s with the late Nicholas Mrosovsky. They discovered that loggerhead hatchlings from 1986-1990 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base were more than 90 percent female. Green turtles develop similarly to loggerheads, she said. Their differences can be found in migratory patterns and diet, among other factors.

“We believe there are more females to start off in the ocean when animals are released from their nest," she said, but experts still don’t know a lot about the gender ratio in the adult stage because the males tend to stay in the water while the females show up on the beach.

In Australia, she said, studies have estimated the gender ratio of turtles in the water is two or three females to one male.

“We could assume the same” for the Atlantic population, she said.

Warmer sand temperatures can also speed up when the eggs will hatch. They also can cause sea turtles to lay their eggs further north where it might be cooler, although green turtles will nest within five to 10 miles of where they were born. Loggerheads seem to nest within a 40-mile range.

Atlantic green turtles were listed as endangered only as recently as 2016, when they were downgraded to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Loggerheads in this area also are listed as threatened.

The idea that there would be this many green turtles today couldn’t have been predicted 15, 20 or 30 years ago, Provancha said.

An island haven for frogs in a sea of extinctions

Plan to keep New Guinea's frogs safe from the species-destroying chytrid fungus
Date:  June 3, 2019
Source:  Macquarie University
New Guinea is one of the only places in the world where frogs are safe from the species-destroying chytrid fungus. An international team of scientists has published a new paper that shows how to keep it that way, but they need help to carry out their plan.
The chytrid fungus has wiped out more than 90 frog species around the world, and it's driving hundreds more towards extinction. New Guinea -- the world's largest tropical island, and home to 6% of all known frog species -- is one of the last remaining refuges from the deadly infection.
A team of scientists led by researchers from Macquarie University and the University of New England in Australia think they know how to keep the island's frogs safe, but they need support to establish a long-term program of monitoring and conservation.
Writing in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the group of 30 experts from Australia, the USA, China, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea calls for urgent action.
"You don't often spot a conservation disaster before it happens and get the chance to stop it," says Deborah Bower of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, who is the first author of the article. "We know what needs to be done."
The infectious chytrid fungus has been described as the most destructive pathogen known to science. It has destroyed more than 90 species of frog entirely and caused declines in almost 500 more.

New sub-species of pilot whale identified in Pacific Ocean

Date:  June 3, 2019
Source:  Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Short-finned pilot whales are found over a wide swath of the world's oceans, with habitats in the Indian, and Pacific, and North Atlantic oceans. Despite this wide distribution, the whales have been recognized as a single species -- but a recent study has found that two unique subspecies actually exist. The study published June 3, 2019, in Molecular Ecology.
Japanese whalers and scientists have long described two "forms" of short-finned pilot whales with distinct body types -- the 'Naisa' form, which live in Southern Japan and have square-shaped heads; and the 'Shiho' form, which lives in northern Japan and have round heads. Yet no prior study had examined the genetic diversity of those whales on a global scale, says Amy Van Cise, a postdoctoral scholar at WHOI and lead author on the study.
"You can't manage animals globally without understanding their diversity. If you think of a group of animals as a single species, and it turns out they're not, you could wind up accidentally losing an entire subspecies without knowing it," she says.

Frogs find refuge in elephant tracks

Study says pachyderm puddles are amphibian condos
Date:  June 4, 2019
Source:  Wildlife Conservation Society
Frogs need elephants. That's what a new WCS-led study says that looked at the role of water-filled elephant tracks in providing predator-free breeding grounds and pathways connecting frog populations.
Publishing in the journal Mammalia, the researchers found that rain-filled tracks of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) were filled with frog egg masses and tadpoles. The tracks can persist for a year or more and provide temporary habitat during the dry season where alternate sites are unavailable. Trackways could also function as "stepping stones" that connect frog populations.
This study was made available online in September 2018 ahead of final publication in print in May 2019.
The researchers made their observations in Myanmar's Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary.
Elephants are widely recognized as "ecosystem engineers," where they extensively modify vegetation through browsing, trampling, and seed dispersal, and convert large amounts of plant biomass into dung that is an important nutrient input for terrestrial and aquatic systems. At smaller scales, local plant species richness is enhanced when elephants open gaps in the forest canopy, browsing damage to trees creates refuges for small vertebrates (lizards and small mammals), and dung piles provide food for a diversity of beetles.

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