Monday 30 September 2019

RSPB Scotland calls for end to Mountain Hare culls


New data published by the EU, revealing the condition of Scottish protected species and habitats, has revealed the country's Mountain Hare populations have experienced major declines.
As a result, the status of Mountain Hare has been downgraded to unfavourable, meaning that special conservation action needs to be undertaken to arrest further declines and aid their recovery. The main cause of this reclassification has been identified as hunting and game management. Lesser pressures include the impacts of agriculture and habitat loss.
The Article 17 Report requires the Scottish Government to give information on the status of European protected habitats and species. Scottish Natural Heritage, the government's own natural heritage advisor, has taken the action on the back of new evidence revealing catastrophic Mountain Hare declines particularly in areas managed for intensive driven grouse shooting activity.
RSPB Scotland has lobbied for many years to improve the protection for the hares in Scotland, including calling for a moratorium in 2015 on the unregulated culling. Since then, shocking new evidence has shown the species – a true emblem of Scotland's wild places – has declined by more than 90 per cent in some sites managed for driven grouse shooting in spite of claims from the shooting industry that numbers remain healthy.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, said: "We have been extremely concerned about the state of our Mountain Hare populations for many years. In the last 12 months new, robust evidence has shown that populations have declined precipitously, chiefly in areas managed for driven grouse shooting. This reclassification to unfavourable status demands urgent action.
"The recognition from Scottish Government's own advisors that Mountain Hare population is now unfavourable means that increased protection of this iconic species is needed. Self-regulation and claimed 'voluntary restraint' from culling by the industry has been nothing short of a pitiful failure.
"We urge the Scottish Government to take action where the industry has not and to urgently increase the protection of mountain hares in Scotland until their status is secured."

Bats starving to death in Australia drought

SEPTEMBER 24, 2019
Large numbers of bats are being found severely emaciated or starved to death in Australia amid a prolonged drought that is crippling their food supply, according to wildlife carers and environment officials.
There has been a "rapid increase" in the number of stricken native flying foxes found in areas of Queensland and New South Wales over the past two weeks, rescue group Bats Queensland told AFP.
Volunteer wildlife carer Ashley Fraser said Tuesday that parts of the picturesque Gold Coast, a popular tourist destination, were currently "littered" with hundreds of dead bats.
Though there have been cases of mass bat starvation in the region before, Fraser said her organisation had never dealt with an event on this scale.
"We can expect to see it get worse as well," she told AFP.
"The changing climate is going to worsen the drought and make it a pretty poor environment for bats to try to survive in."
Some flying fox species are listed as vulnerable to extinction. They are also a key pollinator of eucalyptus trees, the koala's main food source.

University of Alberta undergrad uses micro-CT to address the mystery of snake evolution – via Herp Digest

by Nicholas Villeneuve, The Gateway, University of Alberta’s Student Journalism Society, 8/21/19

Utilizing micro-CT scanning technology, an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta has published a research study that could help find the evolutionary link between snakes and reptiles.

This August, undergraduate student Catie Strong and graduate student Tiago Simões, supervised by Michael Caldwell and Michael Doschak, published a research study on the developmental biology of Plains garter snakes in order to retrace their evolutionary processes and relationships.

 This makes them the first team to ever utilize micro-CT technology to image any snake or reptile skulls at various stages of their development. 

Strong, lead author of the study and third-year paleontology student at the time of publishing, said this research was inspired by the absence of scientific knowledge on the relationship between snakes and reptiles.

“We’re still not really sure what group of lizards snakes really evolved from and how snakes fit into the larger lizard-snake evolutionary tree,” Strong said.

The group chose to study Plains garter snakes because their common and ordinary nature makes them ideal candidates for further in-depth study and analysis.

“Because they are so common, it’s really easy to overlook them and that there’s not anything important that they can tell us,” Strong explained. “Part of that decision was trying to give [garter snakes] the attention that they haven’t really been given previously by other researchers.” 

The study employed micro-CT scanning technology in mapping out garter snake skulls. It functions similarly to a hospital CT scan, using X-rays to create 2D images or virtual “slices” of the subject, except with much more detail on a finer scale. The slices are then compiled together to create a 3D model that can be easily manipulated and studied.

With this technology, Strong and her fellow researchers were able to accurately identify and analyze microscopic structures within garter snake skulls at various stages of their development, and gain insight into their evolutionary path.

“We looked at the braincase (the upper-back part of the skull) in some aspects and how that develops,” Strong said. “We also looked at feeding mechanisms, like how the jaws and related parts of the skull develop, and we looked at some of the unique developmental pathways that we found present in the garter snake.”

Strong said she’s “really proud” and “grateful” for her research work on the study while being an undergraduate student and transitioning towards graduate school.  

“It’s pretty rare for an undergrad to have this really hands-on experience and to get a publication out of it is amazing for me on a personal level.”
How red-eared invaders are hurting California’s native turtles

In the summer of 2011, visitors to the University of California, Davis, Arboretum may have witnessed an unusual site: small teams of students wielding large nets, leaping into the arboretum’s waterway to snag basking turtles.

The students weren’t in search of new pets — quite the opposite, in fact. The teams were part of a massive project to remove hundreds of invasive red-eared slider turtles from the arboretum in an effort to observe how California’s native western pond turtles fair in the absence of competitors.

Red-eared sliders are the most commonly traded pet turtles in the world, but are often released into the wild by disgruntled owners when they get too big to handle. Thanks to illegal dumping, the sliders, which are native to the Central United States and Northeastern Mexico, can now be found all over the world. Their new stomping grounds include California, where they vie for food and sunny basking sites with western pond turtles, whose populations are in rapid decline due to agriculture and urbanization.

The results of the removal study, published recently in the journal PeerJ, showed that western pond turtles get a lot fatter and healthier without competition from their invasive brethren — and the remaining sliders likely fair better, too. The study is the first to quantify competition between these two species in the wild.

“I think, finally, we have some good evidence in the United States that it’s time to critically think about not having pet slider turtles, and likely other aquatic turtles, and mitigating this pet trade because it’s not great for the pets, and it’s not great for these wild species either,” said Max Lambert, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the study.

It’s not hard to see why red-eared sliders are the most popular pet turtle in the United States: As hatchlings, sliders are small, friendly and sport striking red stripes on either side of their heads.

But give it a few years, and the once-cute reptiles grow snappy, smelly and can expand to the size of a dinner plate.

“They are so cheap, they are in every single pet store, and they seem like a great pet until they get to be a few years old, and then they get big, mean, smelly and are a pain to take care of,” Lambert said. “So, people just take them to a nearby pond and let them go.”

As an undergraduate studying ecology and conservation at UC Davis, Lambert was curious to know what effect these invasive turtles might be having on western pond turtles, which are currently listed as vulnerable on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. While experiments in laboratory settings have hinted that sliders will compete for food with pond turtles, he couldn’t find any data looking at how the two species interact in the wild.

Lambert and five other UC Davis undergraduates teamed up with their faculty adviser, H. Bradley Shaffer, who is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA, and Gregory Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and senior author of the study, to design the removal experiment.

With the help of volunteers and other UC Davis undergraduates, including Jennifer McKenzie and Robyn Screen, who are co-first authors of the recent publication, the team used turtle traps, nets and, when necessary, their own hands, to remove and euthanize 177 red-eared sliders living in the UC Davis Arboretum waterway during the summer of 2011. Lambert estimates they caught about 90 percent of the total red-eared slider population in the arboretum.

They also tracked the weight of the western pond turtles and observed the turtles’ basking habits. Time spent basking in the sun is critical for cold-blooded turtles; they need the heat to power digestion and their immune systems, Lambert said.

The researchers found that, in the year after the slider removal, the pond turtles gained an average of about 40 grams, representing about 5 to 10% of their body weight — quite a lot for a turtle. This weight gain is especially important for female turtles, whose egg clutch size is related to their overall size, Pauly said.

“If these females are much healthier and much more likely to have larger clutch sizes, that increases the likelihood that we are then going to get more juvenile turtles cruising around these urban waterways,” said Pauly, who was a postdoctoral researcher studying reptile and amphibian conservation at UC Davis at the start of the experiment.
While the slider removal didn’t have much of an impact on the western pond turtles’ basking behavior, the researchers did find that the remaining sliders spread out to a few select basking sites, indicating that they were actually crowding each other out before the removal.

“The reality is, in many of these urban ponds, there are so many red-eared sliders that there are high levels of competition amongst those sliders for basking sites and also probably for food,” Pauly said. “It’s not just that red-eared sliders are having negative impacts on the western pond turtles, but the red-eared sliders are themselves facing this huge series of challenges.”

As a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley, Lambert says he has plans to study western pond turtles and red-eared sliders in the Bay Area. He is initiating partnerships with the East Bay Regional Park District to first observe western pond turtles in ponds and lakes in the system, and then conduct another intensive removal of red-eared sliders in and around places like Jewel Lake.

“What we found with our slider removal at Davis was that it was just so human-intensive and would cost any agency a ton of money to do what we did at that scale,” Lambert said. “And so, while it seems that slider removal has an effect, the question is, ‘How much of an effect is it having, relative to western pond turtles living in an urban place, where they get run over by cars, eaten by raccoons and coyotes and dogs and sometimes taken home as pets by people not realizing the negative impacts they are having?’ We’re hoping to parse out a bit better the degree to which sliders are having an impact relative to every other challenge we throw at these turtles.”

Co-authors of the paper include Jennifer M. McKenzie of the University of Kentucky, Robyn M. Screen of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Adam G. Clause of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Benjamin B. Johnson of Cornell University and Genevieve G. Mount of Louisiana State University.

This work was supported by National Science Foundation DEB grants (1257648 & 1457832), the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the Northern California Herpetological Society.

Bee biodiversity barometer on Fiji

New species described as environment changes
Date:  September 23, 2019
Source:  Flinders University
The biodiversity buzz is alive and well in Fiji, but climate change, noxious weeds and multiple human activities are making possible extinction a counter buzzword.
Just as Australian researchers are finding colourful new bee species, some of them are already showing signs of exposure to environmental changes.
Flinders University PhD candidate James Dorey -- whose macrophotography has captured some of Fiji's newest bee species -- says the naming of nine new species gives researchers an opportunity to highlight the risks.
"Homalictus terminalis is named so to indicate that, like many Fijian bees, it is nearing its limit and is at risk of climate-related extinction," he says.
"Found only on Mount Batilamu near the city of Nadi, where many tourists launch their holidays, H. terminalis has only been found within 95 metres of the mountain peak."
South Australian university students on the Australian Government's New Colombo overseas study program have gone to Fiji in the south-west Pacific for several years, naming nine new species in one of their latest research publications in Zootaxa.
The impressive black Homalictus achrostus, featuring unusual large mandibles, is one of the most interesting endemic bee species on Fiji.
But, like many Fijian bee species, H. achrostus has only ever found on a single mountain top.

Climate change created today's large crocodiles

SEPTEMBER 23, 2019

by Pedro L. Godoy, The Conversation
What does the term crocodylian bring to mind? A big reptile with a chomping jaw?
Crocodylians are the 27 species of crocodiles, alligators, caimans and gharials that live all over Earth today, except for in Europe and Antarctica. There are some smaller species, but these top predators are usually big, at least 2 meters long. They also share a general shape and look—for instance, how easily can you tell an alligator and a crocodile apart?
The fossil record of crocodylians is much richer, though, with many different forms and body sizes and extraordinary ecological diversity.
Over their long evolutionary history of more than 200 million years, crocs experimented with different lifestyles, as well as various body lengths. But exactly which environmental factors might have influenced the body sizes of crocs throughout their evolution? And does the body size of crocs suggest something about past species' extinction?
To investigate, my colleagues and I created a complete map of body sizes of crocs through time. Body size can reveal a lot about the biology of extinct animals. Our study was the first to apply some modern computational methods to understand body size evolution in crocs.

Sunday 29 September 2019

Uncovering hidden intelligence of collectives

Date:  September 23, 2019
Source:  University of Konstanz

In a group of animals, who deals with new information coming from the environment? Researchers have discovered that the answer lies not in who, but in where: information can be processed, not only by individual animals, but also in the invisible connections between them. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team of scientists provides evidence of information processing occurring in the physical structure of animal groups. The study demonstrates that animals can encode information about their environment in the architecture of their groups and provides rare insight into how animal collectives are able to behaviourally adapt to a changing world.
For behaviour to be of any use, it needs to be modulated according to what's happening in the world around us. We see this in ourselves when we respond to a sudden noise: in a crowded street in broad daylight we might not notice the noise; but in an unfamiliar alley in darkness it might send our hearts racing. This context-dependent modification of behaviour -- known as behavioural plasticity -- has been very well studied in individual animals. What is much less known is how the process occurs in animal groups.
"When we start looking at how groups respond to their environment, it introduces a possibility that does not exist when you look at individual animals," says senior author Iain Couzin who leads the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz, one of the University of Konstanz' Clusters of Excellence, and the Department of Collective Behaviour at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz. "When you form groups, you suddenly have a network system where social interactions exist, and we wondered whether this invisible architecture was in fact contributing to how groups can respond to changes in the environment."

Lizards gone wild! UC Berkeley researcher’s ‘feminist science’ bucks male-dominated inquiry – via Herp Digest

Did male scientists slut-shame a small tropical reptile?

By Ethan Brown, Bay Area News Group

For as long as humans have practiced science, men have dominated research. Much of our understanding of the world has been filtered through their beliefs. For UC Berkeley post-doctoral researcher Ambika Kamath, that’s a problem.

The behavioral ecologist studies Anolis sagrei, the brown anole, a small lizard native to the Caribbean and introduced in Florida. For years, it was widely believed that this reptile was territorial, and that females would mate only with the male whose area they occupied. When women scientists first found evidence that might not be the case, their conclusions were dismissed, their findings deemed exceptions, and their papers rejected, Kamath says.

But Kamath, through observation, DNA analysis, mathematical modeling and “feminist science,” determined that the lady lizards were actually, so to speak, pretty hot to trot, despite male researchers’ inability to recognize — or even look for — behavior she says conflicted with closely held male beliefs about female sexual behavior. Those biases, which go back to Charles Darwin and beyond, continue to influence how science is done, and the conclusions that are reached, she says.

This news organization sat down with Kamath in her lab to talk about how her practice of feminist science turned accepted knowledge on its head, and why a diversity of perspectives is important to scientific inquiry. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: If feminist science is science through a feminist lens, what have been the traditional lenses in science?

A: They end up being lenses of whatever culture or demographic is dominant. Currently, the dominant global scientific tradition is one that has largely been white, largely been male, largely been people who are rich. Those are the people who have practiced a lot of the science on which a lot of what mainstream science today is built.

Q: What have been the effects of that traditional approach on our understanding?

A: Very often when you study an animal population it’s (considered) OK to just study the males and not study the females. The lizards that I worked on, Anolis lizards, for the longest time things that we stated as generalities about the species or the genus were things that were known only in males and no one thought twice about that. Most practitioners of biology were men. Another aspect of this that is very dominant in research into the evolution of animal behavior is importing stereotypes of males and females from the human world and projecting those onto the animals that we study. A long-standing one, that was famously formalized by Darwin, was this notion that females are coy and passive in sexual interactions and males are not.

Q: Are there risks to practicing feminist science, in the way that it’s perceived or received?

A: I don’t think it serves scientists well to pretend that the scientific process is perfect or infallible. None of this should be interpreted as challenging the scientific process in and of itself. There’s a huge difference between broadening science to include a marginalized perspective that goes against the status quo, versus preserving the already powerful voice that seeks to marginalize. We’re doing better science if we’re asking questions from different perspectives as opposed to just one. And we’re doing better science if we think about the ways in which who we are influences the questions we ask. That’s the beauty of science, it’s these incremental steps toward something that is hopefully true.

Q: Why wasn’t it understood that female anoles could be promiscuous?

A: In Anolis lizards the long-standing paradigm for their social organization was one of territoriality — females would just mate with the one male in whose territory they lived. These sorts of inferences about mating patterns from behavioral descriptions were true of animals across the board. In the ’90s or so people started to be able to use genetic methods to infer actual mating patterns using the same methods that people use for paternity tests. They started to find that much much more often than was expected based on those behavioral descriptions, females were mating with multiple males. We saw this hugely in birds. It’s been described in the literature very often as ‘adultery’ — that’s a very clear example of the ways in which we take non-neutral terminology of how we talk about ourselves and import it onto animals.

Q: What criticism do you get for practicing feminist science?

A: There are people that say … we would have figured this out without making a fuss. People really object to the fuss. People also think that it’s incredibly disrespectful to the work of previous scientists to question it in this fashion. Once I was giving a seminar and someone said, ‘You’re supposed to stand on the shoulders of giants, you can’t kick them in the ankles.’ Very graciously, another senior academic said, ‘Well, what if those giants are standing in three feet of mud?’

Q: Is there a risk that if you’re applying a feminist lens that you’re going to miss something in the same way male scientists did?

A: What we’re looking for is as many lenses as possible. Science is not the work of single lone geniuses. Sure there are geniuses. But their perspective is still one perspective. When you’re non-mainstream in terms of the questions that you’re asking, you’re automatically going to get more people saying, ‘Oh, you have an agenda.’ And because you’ve got people saying, ‘Oh, you have an agenda,’ you have to do that much more work to hold yourself to a higher standard.

Discovery of an endangered species in a well-known cave raises questions

SEPTEMBER 24, 2019

You'd think there'd be no way someone could newly discover an endangered species hanging out in Fern Cave in the Paint Rock River valley of Jackson County, so close to Huntsville, home to thousands of spelunkers exploring every cave, nook and cranny.
But Matthew Niemiller and colleagues did.
In a discovery documented in a paper in the journal Subterranean Biology, Dr. Niemiller, an assistant professor of biological sciences at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), found a specimen of the Alabama Cave Shrimp Palaemonias alabamae while doing a biological survey of Fern Cave in summer 2018 as part of a team of four.
The endangered shrimp had previously only been discovered in six caves in four cave systems in Madison County.
"Fern Cave is the longest cave in Alabama, with at least 15 miles of mapped passage and five to seven distinct levels," Dr. Niemiller says. The cave features a 437-foot deep pit and exploring most of its lower levels is reserved only for the very fittest, since the trip involves an arduous journey including drops to be rappelled.
Dr. Niemiller and team's route to their discovery was no easy feat, either. The team entered the cave's bottom level via the Davidson Entrance at the base of Nat Mountain on the Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge. The section of Fern Cave is only dry enough for exploration without scuba gear at the height of summer. Otherwise, it takes a dive to explore its flooded passages.

Outrage in China as giant panda on loan to Thailand zoo dies

Chuang Chuang reportedly collapsed after eating bamboo in Chiang Mai Zoo
Erin Hale in Hong Kong
Wed 18 Sep 2019 13.44 BSTLast modified on Wed 18 Sep 2019 14.27 BST
The sudden death of a giant panda on loan to a zoo in Thailand has sparked outrage in China and calls for no more of the bears to be lent to the country.
Chuang Chuang, a 19-year-old male, reportedly collapsed on Monday afternoon after eating bamboo in Chiang Mai zoo in northern Thailand, according to Thai media.
While the death will be investigated by experts from the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, according to Chinese state media, the news has not placated social media.
Many in the online community say they still have questions about Chuang Chuang’s death and the quality of food and facilities at the Chiang Mai zoo, with his death a top trending topic on the Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo.
One user wrote: “Please don’t rent any more pandas to Thailand! No! Chuang Chuang is probably the most bitter panda in the world! What kind of bamboo he was given eat? If you can’t afford [a panda], don’t rent it.”
 “You must take good care of our national treasures loaned to you, Thailand,” another user wrote. “Now Chuang Chuang is gone. It’s no use saying anything. If you can’t take care of our national treasures, don’t borrow them. I’m so sad.”

Friday 27 September 2019

Conservationists Successfully Swoop in to Save Last of Known Endangered Frog Species Just in the Nick of Time – via Herp Digest

Aug 21, 2019

A team of conservationists and government officials in Chile are being praised for their swift and unprecedented rescue mission of a critically endangered frog species just in the nick of time.

Last month, the researchers managed to save 14 of the Loa water frog, a species that can only be found in a single stream in Chile.

Specialists say that the rescued amphibians could be the last of the entire species—and the critters were rescued just before their habitat had completely dried up, leaving the frogs malnourished and barely hanging on.

Chilean officials stumbled upon the plight of the Loa water frog after they discovered that its habitat outside the city of Calama—which is located in the middle of the Atacama desert—had dried up as a result of mining, agriculture, real estate development, and water extraction for mining purposes.

In a region where water is a scarce resource, all of the frogs had been pushed into a tiny pool of muddy water. Thankfully, the team managed to collect what they believe to be the last 14 frogs and brought them to the National Zoo of Chile to start a conservation breeding program.

As the zoo’s specialists try to nurse the critters back to health, they are reportedly talking to water frog experts from around the world in order to gather tips for calculating the best methods of breeding and care.

Eat your heart out: Native water rats have worked out how to safely eat cane toads

SEPTEMBER 23, 2019

by Marissa Parrott and Simon Clulow, The Conversation
Water rats in Western Australia are safely hunting cane toads. Author provided
Australia's water rats, or Rakali, are one of Australia's beautiful but lesser-known native rodents. And these intelligent, semi-aquatic rats have revealed another talent: they are one of the only Australian mammals to safely eat toxic cane toads.
Our research, published today in Australian Mammalogy, found water rats in Western Australia adapted to hunt the highly poisonous toads less than two years after the toads moved into the rats' territory.
The rats, which can grow to over 1kg, are the only mammal found to specifically target large toads, neatly dissecting the toads to eat their hearts and livers while avoiding the poisonous skin and glands.
Water rats
Water rats are nocturnal and specially adapted to live in waterways, with webbed feet and soft water-resistant fur. Their fur is so impressive there was once a thriving water rat fur industry in Australia.
They can be found in lakes, rivers and estuaries, often living alongside people, in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, far north and southwest Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Victoria, where they can even be seen along St Kilda Pier.

San Francisco Zoo brings red-legged frogs back to Yosemite – via Herp Digest

8/22/19 by AP

SAN FRANCISCO — Associated Press 8/22/19

A healthy population of red-legged frogs is hopping in Yosemite National Park, helped by a reintroduction program with the San Francisco Zoo.

The zoo on Monday released the last of more than 1,000 red-legged frogs into the park as part of a four-year effort to reintroduce the once-threatened species, the San Francisco Examiner reported.

At 2 to 5 inches long, red-legged frogs are the largest native frogs in the West and once were found throughout California. The frog’s population began declining 50 years ago after the introduction of predatory, non-native bullfrogs, exacerbated by increasing water drainage and raccoons.

In partnership with the Yosemite Conservancy, the zoo has been breeding and raising tadpoles and adult red-legged frogs since 2015 and releasing them into the park over the past two years.

Yosemite biologists have conducted skin swabs and surveys to monitor the health of the population. Zoo staff placed transmitters on 45 of the frogs released in order to track them and better understand their behaviors.

Zoo data shows the frogs in the wild have survived and reproduced.

“The challenge is to see if they will still do well in the next five years,” said Jessie Bushell, the zoo’s director of conservation.

Ecologists this spring found clusters of eggs in meadows and ponds, proof of the first breeding in the park by the frogs.

Scientists track frog-killing fungus to help curb its spread

Frog skin swabs reveal when and where the deadly disease has popped up in wildlife populations around the world
Date:  September 23, 2019
Source:  University of California - Berkeley
From habitat loss to climate change, amphibians around the world face immense threats to their survival. One emerging and sinister threat is the chytrid fungus, a mysterious pathogen that kills amphibians by disrupting the delicate moisture balance maintained by their skin, and that is decimating frog populations around the world.
"Amphibians are already one of the most imperiled groups on the planet, and this fungal disease is further threatening their biodiversity," said Erica Bree Rosenblum, an associate professor of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley.
With the help of advanced genetic testing and hundreds of frog skin swabs, Rosenblum, along with UC Berkeley graduate student Allison Byrne and an international team of collaborators, has created the most complete map to date of when and where different genetic variants of the fungus -- analogous to different strains of viruses like the flu -- have infected frog populations around the world.
Some of these genetic variants are deadlier than others, so knowing their current geographic distribution is key to preventing future spread of the disease, the researchers said. The investigation also uncovered a whole new genetic lineage of the fungus, one that appears to have originated in Asia and may be the oldest variant yet discovered.
"An invisible aspect of globalization is that when we move plants and animals around, we are moving their diseases around, and that can have really devastating consequences," Rosenblum said. "If we know what lineages are where, we can better predict conservation outcomes, because some of these lineages are really deadly, and others less so."
The study appears online the week of Sept. 23 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Thursday 26 September 2019

The shared evolution of the Tasmanian tiger and the wolf

SEPTEMBER 24, 2019

by Dr Charles Feigin, University of Melbourne
The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was one of Australia's most enigmatic native species.
It was the largest marsupial predator to survive until the arrival of Europeans but carried its babies in a pouch like a kangaroo or koala.
Tragically, the last known thylacine died in Hobart in 1936 after a bounty was placed on its head and after decades of hunting by farmers.
Haunting photographs and film of the last known thylacines and a wealth of museum specimens, reveal an uncanny animal with its wolf head and tiger stripes.
A new study led by by Professor Andrew Pask and myself at the University of Melbourne, published in the journal Genome Research, has made the first headway into answering this question by comparing the complete DNA sequences of the thylacine and wolf.
And it confirms that the resemblance between the two isn't just skin deep.
The thylacine and placental canids such as wolves, dogs and foxes, are perhaps the most striking example of convergent evolution. Through this process, distantly related animals can evolve similar forms in response to shared environmental challenges.

Dorian washed out the most sea turtle nests in at least 10 years in Cape Hatteras National Seashore - via Herp Digest

by Jeff Hampton, The Virginian-Pilot, 9/19/2019, Buxton, NC

Hurricane Dorian did its dirty work on Outer Banks sea turtles as well as humans.

The storm raked up the beaches, washing away 30 sea turtle nests in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Another 35 were at least partially damaged.

It is the greatest loss of nests since at least 2009 when the online record begins, according to, a website that tracks North Carolina sea turtles. Three nests were lost before the storm from other causes for a total of 33.

The last time it was this bad was in 2011 after Hurricane Irene struck in August before many nests could hatch. The record shows 32 were lost in large part because of the storm, said William Thompson, lead biological science technician for the park.

Dorian could have been more destructive had it struck earlier in the nesting season, Thompson said.

Still, the destroyed nests amount to only 7 percent of the record 471 nests laid this year, the record shows. In 2011 there were only 147 total nests, so Irene’s impact was 22 percent.

The park service keeps close track of the threatened sea turtles. Each day during the summer, rangers patrol the beaches looking for new nests. The most recent one came Tuesday, but at this late date it is unlikely to survive, said Tracy Ziegler, chief of resource management and science for the national parks of eastern North Carolina.

Three days before Dorian struck, rangers counted 166 viable nests. Most of the rest had already hatched for the season, Ziegler said.

Counts after the storm found that 83 nests remained. Thirty were completely gone, 35 were at least partly damaged and 18 had hatched, he said.

High tides and predators such a raccoons and ghost crabs can also destroy a nest. Rangers relocate some nests laid in the tide zone where the surf can drown the baby turtles. During this record year, park staff relocated 127 nests, at least double the number in past years.

Of the 471 nests this year in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, 438 were loggerheads, 32 were green sea turtles and one was a Kemp’s Ridley.

Nesting is a laborious process. Female sea turtles weighing around 300 pounds crawl onto the beach in the summer and dig holes with their rear flippers where they lay about 100 eggs. Afterward, they return to the sea.

The nest incubates under the warmth of the sand for about two months. Sea turtles are known to return to the same beach for generations, and a single female can create more than one nest.

The numbers of the threatened sea turtle nests have surged in recent years. Between 2000 and 2007, sea turtle nest numbers averaged 77 a year, according to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore website. Numbers peaked in 2010 at 153 and then hit records in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and this year.

Jellyfish thrive in the man-made disruption of the oceans

SEPTEMBER 24, 2019

by Laure Fillon
Jellyfish are breeding at a much higher rate than before, thanks to changes in their enviroment wrought by human activity
Thousands of them plague our beaches to the horror of holidaymakers who dread their sting, but thanks to man's disruption of the oceans, jellyfish are thriving.
Jellyfish have been on Earth longer than we have—they are believed to have roamed the oceans for nearly 600 million years.
But human activity, from over-fishing to plastic waste and climate change, has created an environment in which they are even more at home.
The proliferation of the jellyfish could lead to what some observers are calling the "jellyfication" of the oceans, which are facing profound changes according to a draft UN report due out on Wednesday.
Fabien Lombard, a French marine biologist at the Sorbonne University specialising in the ecology of plankton and jellyfish, would not go that far.
"There are more jellyfish in certain zones in the world," he told AFP: the Black Sea, off the Namibian coast and the Sea of Japan.
It is not clear if their presence has increased in other parts of the world, because it is difficult to actually count them, although worldwide database was set up in 2014 to track them.

Male common marmosets smell female fertility

SEPTEMBER 24, 2019
Scientists from the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology found that male common marmosets are able to detect the fertile phase of females based on changes in their body odor. Using a combination of chemical analyses and a behavioral test they found that female common marmosets release various substances that produce a specific smell during their fertile phase and that males can perceive these olfactory changes.
To study the importance of olfactory changes for the social life of common marmosets the scientists collected odor samples from the anogenital region of female common marmosets at multiple points in time over the menstrual cycle. One part of these samples was used for chemical analyses using gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry to examine the composition of odor profiles. A comparison of odor profiles between different cycle phases revealed substances that changed in intensity during or after ovulation. "Males may use those substances to detect onset and end of the fertile phase of females," says Marlen Kücklich, lead author of the study, from the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Therefore, in a second part of the study, odor samples were presented to males to observe their interest in these odors. Males generally showed considerably more interest in odors from females during ovulation than in samples of females in nonfertile phases.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Deaths and maiming are the norm as snakes ravage kitui and Lower Eastern (Kenya) – via Herp Digest

by Joe Ombour, 9/22/19

The Mui River Basin in Mwingi Sub County, Kitui County is better known for its unexploited coal deposits. But this fertile basin, like most of the rain-starved Lower Eastern region, abounds in snakes.

The serpents with deadly fangs virtually rule the singed surface where temperatures favour their proliferation.

While natives do not eat them as happens in faraway China, belief has it that ill-intentioned folks use them to kill or maim their brethren. Wait! How is that possible? Father of nine Muasya Manzi says his daughter is a case in point.

“I wish snakes would talk,” muses Mr Manzi. “They would tell you exactly how it happens because the people who do it cannot go public. But I have no doubt in my mind that the snake that bit my daughter, a black mamba was sent by our enemy. It happens a lot here.”

He says he has killed 15 snakes in his bush ringed homestead hugging Mui Shopping Centre in the four years he has lived there, without a single case of snakebite. “How come my daughter was bitten in her sleep in a well-lit, well-plastered room at the shopping centre? I see a person’s hand in it,” he says.

His daughter, mother of four Lena Mwikali was asleep when she was bitten by a snake two years ago. She recounts: “I used to lodge in a room at Mui shopping centre and regularly walked from here after supper to spend the night there. I shared the room with another woman and we slept on a mattress on the floor.”

“We covered ourselves and slept after switching off the light on a fateful night, only to be awakened by sharp pain around 1 am. Something had pricked me on the elbow. I told my roommate to switch on the light upon which we saw a snake lying at the edge of the mattress parallel to the wall. We shouted and people came. They killed the snake and rushed me to a clinic where I was given some injections.”

Lena was the following day rushed to Mwingi where celebrated snakebite therapist Peter Musyoka saved her life with anti-venom neutralisers.

Kathini Mulyungi was not lucky when she was bitten by a black-necked cobra 22 years ago, aged only seven. She lost her right arm. “I was in Class Two at Mwingi Primary School,” she recalls, sadness permeating her face. ”I had just retired to bed that I shared with a niece when I was bitten in the wrist.”

“I have rushed to Mwingi Level Four hospital about four kilometres away, where anti-snakebite serum was out of stock. After first aid, I was put on strong painkillers for three months before I was transferred to the provincial hospital in Embu.

Kathini says her arm had developed gangrene, prompting doctors in Embu to amputate it to save her life. “I remained in hospital for one and a half months as my arm healed. Treatment cost Sh100,000 that my parents paid after selling livestock.”

She returned to school and sat the KCPE in 2005. Now a single mother of one, Kathini did not proceed to secondary school for lack of fees. She owns two donkeys and sells water in Mwingi town for a living. Benedict Kandali Mukengei, 25, was resting under a tree after labouring in the farm when he felt something heavy and cold land on his neck with a thud.

“It was a puff udder that quickly coiled itself around my neck after falling from the tree under which I was resting,” he narrates. Frightened to the bone, Mukengei stood and struggled to uncoil the serpent from his neck.

“I saw and smelt death. I cried loudly as I struggled with the snake that bit me in the back before it fell to the ground and slithered away into the bushes.”

“People from nearby homes who heard my distress call came and gave me raw eggs to swallow before they carried me home because I was feeling dizzy and could not walk.”

Mukengei says Good Samaritans used his phone to call Mr Musyoka who arrived promptly from his clinic in Mwingi, 15km away.

“I was still conscious, thanks to the raw eggs. Musyoka gave me two injections and a glass of water after every 10 minutes. I urinated and started feeling better,” he recounts. Today, Mukengei is a Boda Boda rider in Mwingi town.

Victims of snake bites in Mwingi and other areas within the Lower Eastern region have lost their lives for lack of immediate and appropriate attention.

Kamengele Mueni, a blind grandmother from Muumoni area north of Mwingi went to sleep unaware that a black-necked cobra had taken refuge in her bed, narrates her granddaughter, Roselyn Nduko. She died after she was bitten by the snake.

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