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Posts Tagged ‘biodiversity’

305 million year-old ancestor of spiders is identified

April 28, 2016 Leave a comment
Early arachnid

Idmonarachne brasieri lived about 305 million years ago. Image courtesy University of Manchester.

Paleontologists have identified an ancestor of modern spiders that lived before the dinosaurs began their long domination of the planet.

The arachnid’s fossil remains were found during the mid-1970s in Europe embedded in an iron-rich mineral, siderite, that is difficult for x-rays to penetrate. Researchers used a synchotron, which emits more powerful x-rays, to identify the organism.

Named Idmonarachne brasieri, the organism was likely a member of a group of arachnids called uraraneids. These animals lacked spinarets, which modern spiders use to spin webs, and instead would have discharged silk in sheets.

“Our new fossil occupies a key position in the evolution of spiders,” Dr. Russell Garwood of the University of Manchester, the lead author of a paper documenting the discovery, said. “It isn’t a true spider, but has given us new information regarding the order in which the bits of the anatomy we associate with spiders appeared as the group evolved.”

Scientists know little of the origin of spiders and the evolutionary path by which such anatomical features as spinarets formed is not well understood.

The paper appears in the March 30 edition of Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

 

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COMMENTARY: For World Wildlife Day, ask your U.S. senators to support the END Wildlife Trafficking Act

March 3, 2016 Leave a comment
World Wildlife Day logo 2016

World Wildlife Day is celebrated each year on March 3. This official logo was designed by volunteers Amaya Delmas, Elena Hasnas and Stephen Bwire. Others can be seen at http://www.wildlifeday.org/content/outreach-material#Logos.

Today is World Wildlife Day. While it is certainly a day to revel in the amazing variety of animals that walk, swim, and fly on Earth, it also a day to ponder the growing threat to the survival of many of those species.

The list of iconic animals who are at risk of extinction because of humanity’s actions is shockingly long. There are too many species to mention here, but the roster of the imperiled includes all the great apes except for us, nearly all the big cats, elephants, rhinos, and sharks.

This video makes clear how poaching, in particular, threatens African elephants:

As a way of celebrating this day, the author of this blog suggests that you urge your U.S. senators to support the proposed Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act. The bill takes direct aim at poaching, which is the leading hazard to many of the wildlife species at risk of extinction as well as a danger to national security because it helps to finance terrorism.

The bill would accomplish these objectives:

  • Require the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking to work with the governments of countries affected by wildlife poaching and trafficking on an analysis of the threats each country faces, and to put together a plan with recommendations on how to address these threats;
  • Authorize a variety of assistance programs available to the Secretary of State, the USAID Administrator, and other relevant agency heads to address poaching and wildlife trafficking problems, including strengthening training for law enforcement and wildlife rangers in impacted countries, supporting capacity for investigations and border inspections, strategies to encourage community-based conservation programs, and others;
  • Promote bilateral agreements and international cooperation to combat wildlife trafficking and reduce demand for illegally traded wildlife and wildlife products; and
  • Include rigorous reporting requirements to monitor progress made on stemming the tide of poaching and trafficking in countries of concern, and to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars.

S. 2385 must be reported favorably by the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee before it can receive a vote from all senators. No committee hearing on the bill has been scheduled. If approved by the Senate, the legislation would then have to be adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives before being sent to the President for his approval.

The proposed END Wildlife Trafficking Act is supported by the African Wildlife Foundation, the Humane Society of the United States, TRAFFIC, Tsavo Conservation Group, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund.

A similar bill, the proposed Global Anti-Poaching Act, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last November.

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.

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