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Wind topples California’s famous Tunnel Tree

January 9, 2017 Leave a comment
pioneers-cabin-tree-circa-1966
This photo of California’s Pioneer’s Cabin Tree, dated 1866, is from the Library of Congress.

The Pioneer Cabin Tree, a California landmark loved by tourists for decades, has been toppled by wind.

A giant sequoia, the huge tree was 150 feet tall. The cutout in its trunk was wide enough to drive cars through and, over the years, many cars did pass under the tree.

Eventually California authorities closed access to cars, but in recent years there has been a hiking trail that leads to it and visitors could still stand in the cutout.

tunnel-tree-photo-by-claudia-beymer
This photo of the base of California’s Tunnel Tree was posted on the Facebook page of the Calaveras Big Trees Association. Image by Claudia Beymer.

Located in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the Pioneer Cabin Tree – also known as the Tunnel Tree – was estimated to be over 1,000 years old. The large hole in its trunk was carved by owners of the land on which it grew in 1880.

A report in the San Francisco Chronicle explained that there is no way to be sure of the reason why the Tunnel Tree could not withstand the storm that has hit the Golden State in recent days. That storm, the worst in at least a decade, flooded Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The Chronicle explained that the Tunnel Tree’s shallow root system, typical for a sequoia, was likely a factor.

fallen-tunnel-tree
This photo shows the splintered remains of California’s Tunnel Tree on Jan. 8, 2017. Image courtesy Calaveras Big Trees Association, photo by Jim Allday.

Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), also known as redwoods, are the world’s largest organisms by volume. They can grow to a height of 85 meters and have been known to live for more than 3,500 years.

Now that the Pioneer Cabin Tree has fallen, there are no longer any known living sequoia trees with tunnels through their trunks.

Chimps engage in stone-throwing pattern, study says

March 3, 2016 Leave a comment

Anyone who has seen chimpanzees in a zoo know that the African primate has a tendency to throw things at people: Rocks, for example, or poop.

Now research shows that Pan troglodytes also likes to throw rocks at trees.

stones under trees - courtesy MPI-EVA, PanAf-Chimbo Foundation

This image shows stones accumulated at the base of an African tree. They were thrown by chimpanzees. Photo courtesy Max Planck Institute, Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology; Pan-African Program: The Cultured Chimpanzee; Chimbo Foundation.

Scientists collected data at 39 sites in four African countries for 14-17 months since 2010. They used non-invasive methods, including camera traps, to demonstrate that chimpanzees engage in a behavior that involves picking up stones near or in a tree and then launching them at the tree.

The behavior is not limited to one or the other gender. The researchers concluded that males most commonly engaged in it, but females also throw rocks at trees. So do juveniles.

It is not clear why chimpanzees throw rocks at trees.

One possibility proposed by the researchers is that it is a form of male dominance display. Another is that it is an expression of chimpanzee culture.

“As the stone accumulation behavior does not seem to be linked to either the abundance of stones or the availability of suitable trees in an area, it is likely that it has some cultural elements,” Christophe Boesch, director of the Department of Primatology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said.

Chimpanzees are known to use tools such as sticks to extract fish or ants or to remove honey from hives. They also communicate with each other, including by drumming on tree roots and by vocalizing pant hoots.

Pan troglodytes is Homo sapiens‘ closest relative. An individual human’s genome is 99 percent similar to that of a chimpanzee.

Social animals who live in groups that range in size from as few as five to as many as about 150 individuals, chimpanzees are omnivorous. They are known to eat fruit, bark, leaves, and stems, as well as other mammals. Colobus monkeys are a particularly common prey animal for chimpanzees.

Pan troglodytes is an endangered species under American law. Their population is thought to have declined from more than a million at the turn of the twentieth century to as few as about 200,000-300,000 individuals at present, according to FWS.

AP0040-03

Chimpanzees, like the mother and infant pictured here, are humans’ closest living relatives. Flo, the female adult in the image, and her infant Flint were made famous when the primatologist Jane Goodall wrote of her research involving the two chimpanzees. Photo courtesy Jane Goodall Institute.

The new paper appears in the Feb. 29 edition of Nature Scientific Reports.

Video shows only known wild jaguar in U.S.

February 27, 2016 1 comment

An environmental advocacy organization released a video earlier this month that shows a jaguar wandering in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains, near Tucson. The big cat is the only one if its kind known to live in the wild in this country.

Jaguars (Panthera onca) were once relatively common in the American Southwest and had a range that extended all the way to southern Argentina.  A 1989 scientific paper concluded that hunters extirpated the big cat from the United States.

In 1997 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designated the species as endangered within the country and in Mexico, Central America, and  South America. The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers jaguars to be near-threatened throughout their worldwide range.

Panthera onca is also protected by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, that prohibits exploitation of the animal for commercial purposes.

Jaguars are smaller than lions (Panthera leo) and tigers (Panthera tigris). Females generally  reach a mass of about 75 kilograms, while males usually grow to a size as large as about 95 kilograms. Some larger specimens have been reported.

Jaguars range far, if prey is not abundant, and eat a varied diet. Crepuscular in their hunting habits, they are known to eat more than 85 other species, including armadillos, birds, caimans, capybaras, deer, fish, pacas, peccaries (javelinas), and turtles.

Of all the big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, and snow leopards are the others), the jaguar is the least likely to attack a man.

Known in the Spanish language as “el tigre” the presence of the big cat near a major American city may be bringing a smile to some faces in southern Arizona.

“Just knowing that this amazing cat is right out there, just 25 miles from downtown Tucson, is a big thrill,” Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, said.

Scientists, in first, observe female orangutan kill another female

February 23, 2016 Leave a comment
Bornean orangutan

Bornean orangutans, like their Sumatran cousins, are arboreal and depend primarily on fruit for food. Courtesy Wikimedia.

Orangutans are gentle animals. Among Homo sapiens‘ closest relatives, the arboreal red apes from Asia got their name because the humans who discovered them thought they were “people of the forest.”

They are not immune from a willingness to commit violence. Conflict among male great apes is relatively common and male orangutans will rape females. Among females, fights that cause severe injury or death are unusual.

Now researchers have, for the first time, seen a female orangutan attack and kill another female. She didn’t act alone, either. Her male consort helped.

Orangutans do not live in groups. They tend toward the solitary. But females can have overlapping home territories. In the case described in a recent paper published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, a young female basically arranged the death of an older female.

The events occurred in 2014. The younger orangutan, named Kondor, and the older orangutan, Sidony, had clashed some years earlier. This time, Kondor enlisted the help of a male named Ekko, who was not yet mature enough to have the characteristic male cheek flanges. Kondor and Ekko copulated near Sidony, then Kondor broke off the sexual encounter and attacked the older female. Ekko prevented Sidony’s escape and also bit her repeatedly. An older male eventually intervened to protect Sidony, but she suffered such extensive injuries that she died two weeks after the fight.

Orangutans are mostly fruit-eaters, though they will also eat bark, leaves, and insects. Their offspring are dependent on parents for a long time. An infant orangutan can be expected to nurse for six years and females stay with their mothers until they are teenagers.

The two species of orangutan – Pongo abelii and Pongo pygmaeus – live on Sumatra and Borneo and are among the most endangered animals on the planet.Their habitat – forest – is under assault by human demand for palm oil and both species are victimized by poaching.

The Orangutan Conservancy estimates that only about 40,000 individuals survive.

New study points to peril for ocean life

January 16, 2015 Leave a comment
ShipSpotting.com
© har

Today’s New York Times includes an article that discusses a new study with bad news about the fate of Earth’s marine life.

The study finds that human activities may be causing historically unique damage to the oceans.

“Current ocean trends, coupled with terrestrial defaunation lessons, suggest that marine defaunation rates will rapidly intensify as human use of the oceans industrializes,” the abstract of the study, published in Science, said.

The NYT piece, written by the esteemed science writer Carl Zimmer, quoted a lead author of the Science paper, Douglas J. McCauley of the University of California at Santa Barbara, as saying that the researchers’ conclusions indicate that a mass marine extinction is possible.

The basic gist of the Science paper is that the same patterns of events that have led to the extinction of hundreds of terrestrial mega-fauna are also at work in the oceans. One of the biggest threats, as on land, is industrialization.

“There are factory farms in the sea and cattle-ranch-style feed lots for tuna,” Dr. Stephen R. Palumbi, a marine ecologist at Stanford University and a co-author of the paper, said. “Shrimp farms are eating up mangroves with an appetite akin to that of terrestrial farming, which consumed native prairies and forest. Stakes for seafloor mining claims are being pursued with gold-rush-like fervor, and 300-ton ocean mining machines and 750-foot fishing boats are now rolling off the assembly line to do this work.”

The paper’s authors also discuss the likely impacts of climate change.

A more detailed analysis of the Science paper will be posted here at a later date.

Image of Atlantic Dawn factory ship courtesy ShipSpotting.com; copyright as indicated above.

Darwin first saw the H.M.S. Beagle 183 years ago today

September 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Charles Darwin gained his fame as the man who, along with Alfred Russel Wallace, hypothesized that Earth’s biodiversity is the result of evolution by natural selection. In the century and a half since Darwin’s pioneering publication of “The Origin of Species,” scientists have found that his ideas about how and why species change were essentially correct. Evolution by natural selection is as much a part of the fabric of science and just as important an explanation of how nature works as Copernicus’ contribution that Earth revolves around the sun and Newton’s insights on gravity.

Today is the 183rd anniversary of the date on which Darwin first saw the H.M.S. Beagle, the ship that took him on the journey that changed biology.

This drawing is a reproduction of R. T. Pritchett's frontispiece from the 1890 illustrated edition of The Voyage of the Beagle. Courtesy Wikimedia.

This drawing is a reproduction of R. T. Pritchett’s frontispiece from the 1890 illustrated edition of The Voyage of the Beagle. Courtesy Wikimedia.

You can watch a wonderful short film about Darwin’s life and work here.

Smithsonian museum to display last passenger pigeon

August 9, 2014 Leave a comment

As the one hundredth anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction approaches, the National Museum of Natural History is giving Americans the chance to see the last individual of the species.

The stuffed remains of Martha, who died at the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept. 1, 1914, will be posed on a branch for the display.

Passenger pigeons once numbered in the billions. At one time it was the most abundant bird on Earth and accounted for at least one quarter of all individual birds in North America.

Ectopistes migratorius was a fast flyer. One scientist estimated in 2002 that the bird could travel at a velocity exceeding 60 miles per hour. Passenger pigeons could also travel long distances, migrating in huge flocks that routinely numbered in the millions or more.

The display at the Smithsonian Institution museum in Washington, DC will also include specimens of the heath hen and the great auk, other notable examples of bird species driven to extinction by humanity.

This website provides information about the exhibition, entitled Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America.

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