Almost 500 New Species Discovered at Senckenberg: Newly Discovered Species in 2011 and 2012

Jan. 25, 2013 — In the last two years scientists at the Senckenberg research institutes have discovered and described almost 500 new species. Taxonomy and scientific collections are among the most important focal points of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung.


Whether in the deep sea of the Antarctic, in the rainforests of Laos or in domestic, pastoral landscapes — scientists from the ten Senckenberg institutes have discovered new species of plants and animals everywhere. They have even made new discoveries in allegedly familiar research collections — either by studying previously unidentified material or using new research methods. “The objective always is to record and preserve the diversity of life on earth, in other words, biodiversity,” explains Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Volker Mosbrugger, Director General of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung.

491new species from all parts of the globe were described in the last two years by Senckenberg scientists. The extent of new discoveries ranged from colourful island crabs to the Yellow Dyer Rain Frog and fossilised woodpeckers to the first eyeless huntsman spider. Some of the animals have barely been discovered and are already threatened with extinction. “Taxonomy also serves to protect animal species,” explains Dr. Peter Jäger, arachnologist at Senckenberg and himself the discoverer of 46 new spider species in 2011 and 2012. “Only those who know the species variety can develop the necessary protection programmes.” After all, over 100 animal species still die out every day — despite all of the new discoveries.

In 2011 and 2012 Senckenberg researchers discovered 404 living species and 87 fossilised species, of which 416 live on land and 75 in the oceans. Most of the new species (324) come from Asia, while no fewer than 96 species come from Europe. As expected, due to their renowned biodiversity, the arthropods (which include insects, spiders, crabs and myriapods) led the pack of new discoveries with over 300 species, followed by molluscs (64) and plants (30). Both genetic and traditional methods such as morphological examinations were used. “2012 was the most successful Senckenberg year so far, with 331 newly discovered species,” adds Mosbrugger and continues: “We have therefore described around two percent of all newly discovered species worldwide.”

In the last 5 years Senckenberg scientists have discovered over 1,100 new species. Yet the biologists and palaeontologists do not plan to rest on their laurels. “Estimates to date on the global diversity of species differ greatly: experts estimate the number to be between three and 100 million species,” explains Jäger. What is certain is that most of them have never been seen by humans.

There still remains much to do and there are many exciting things yet to be discovered in the field of taxonomy at the Senckenberg institutes.

 

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided bySenckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum (2013, January 25). Almost 500 new species discovered at Senckenberg: Newly discovered species in 2011 and 2012.ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 30, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130125103929.htm
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Leopards and Tigers in India: New Genetics Research Underscores Importance of Protecting Forest Corridors

Jan. 16, 2013 — As rapid economic expansion continues to shape the Asian landscape on which many species depend, time is running out for conservationists aiming to save wildlife such as tigers and leopards. Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have used genetic analysis to find that the natural forest corridors in India are essential to ensuring a future for these species. According to two studies recently published in two papers, these corridors are successfully connecting populations of tigers and leopards to ensure genetic diversity and gene flow.


The results of the study that focused on tigers were published in Ecology and Evolution, and the results from the study that tracked leopards were published in Diversity and Distributions.

“This research provides crucial information about the need to maintain these vital veins to support tiger and leopard populations,” said Sandeep Sharma, SCBI visiting scholar and lead author of the Ecology and Evolution paper. “These habitats and corridors in India are threatened by infrastructural developments and need to be conserved if we want to save these species for future generations.”

Habitat fragmentation can divide populations of species into isolated groups, which can lead to inbreeding and a genetic bottleneck that affects the long-term viability of the population. Scientists can determine the scope of such isolation by analyzing the extent to which groups of the same species from one range have become genetically distinct. The authors of the two papers used fecal samples to analyze the genetics of tiger and leopard populations in four reserves in central India: Satpura, Melghat, Pench and Kanha. The Kanha and Pench reserves and the Satpura and Melghat reserves are connected via forest corridors that tigers, leopards, humans and cattle share.

The researchers found that both tiger and leopard populations in the reserves had maintained a high level of genetic diversity. Neither tigers nor leopards were genetically distinct, with one exception among the leopards, which the scientists hope to explain with additional research. The corridors appear to allow individuals to move between reserves, facilitating genetic exchange.

However, the proliferation of roads, rail lines, mining, urbanization and other forms of development through the corridors jeopardize these species’ ability to move between reserves. Several coal mines have been proposed in the forest corridor between the Satpura and Pench tiger reserves, as has the widening of a national highway (NH-7) and a broad-gauge railway line that cut across the corridor between the Kanha and Pench tiger reserves.

“By looking at two species, we were really able to illustrate the functionality of these corridors,” said Trishna Dutta, SCBI visiting student and lead author of the Diversity and Distributions paper. “Conserving a whole landscape, rather than piecemeal protected areas, would ensure a better chance for the long-term persistence of these and other species.”

The Indian subcontinent contains the largest number of tiger conservation areas, which are home to 60 percent of the world’s wild tigers. Leopard range has historically extended through most of sub-Saharan Africa, along parts of the North African coast, through central, south and southeast Asia and north to the Amur River valley in Russia.

In addition to Sharma and Dutta, the papers’ other SCBI authors are Jesús Maldonado, a research geneticist at SCBI’s Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics, and John Seidensticker, head of SCBI’s Conservation Ecology Center. The other authors are Thomas Wood in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University and H.S. Panwar, former director of Project Tiger India and Wildlife Institute of India.

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute plays a key role in the Smithsonian’s global efforts to understand and conserve species and train future generations of conservationists. Headquartered in Front Royal, Va., SCBI facilitates and promotes research programs based at Front Royal, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide.

 

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided bySmithsonian Institution.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal References:

  1. Sandeep Sharma, Trishna Dutta, Jesús E. Maldonado, Thomas C. Wood, Hemendra Singh Panwar, John Seidensticker. Spatial genetic analysis reveals high connectivity of tiger (Panthera tigris) populations in the Satpura-Maikal landscape of Central IndiaEcology and Evolution, 2012; 3 (1): 48 DOI: 10.1002/ece3.432
  2. Trishna Dutta, Sandeep Sharma, Jesús E. Maldonado, Thomas C. Wood, H. S. Panwar, John Seidensticker. Fine-scale population genetic structure in a wide-ranging carnivore, the leopard (Panthera pardus fusca)in central IndiaDiversity and Distributions, 2012; DOI:10.1111/ddi.12024
Smithsonian Institution (2013, January 16). Leopards and tigers in India: New genetics research underscores importance of protecting forest corridors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 25, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130116123013.htm

Ocean Health Index Provides First Global Assessment Combining Natural and Human Dimensions of Sustainability

ScienceDaily (Aug. 15, 2012) — Using a new comprehensive index designed to assess the benefits to people of healthy oceans, scientists have evaluated the ecological, social, economic, and political conditions for every coastal country in the world. Their findings, published Aug. 15 in the journal Nature, show that the global ocean scores 60 out of 100 overall on the Ocean Health Index. Individual country scores range widely, from 36 to 86. The highest-scoring locations included densely populated, highly developed nations such as Germany, as well as uninhabited islands, such as Jarvis Island in the Pacific.

(Credit: http://learningcenter.nsta.org/)

Determining whether a score of 60 is better or worse than one would expect is less about analysis and more about perspective. “Is the score far from perfect with ample room for improvement, or more than half way to perfect with plenty of reason to applaud success? I think it’s both,” said lead author Ben Halpern, an ecologist at UC Santa Barbara. “What the Index does is help us separate our gut feelings about good and bad from the measurement of what’s happening.”

The Ocean Health Index is the first broad, quantitative assessment of the critical relationships between the ocean and people, framed in terms of the many benefits we derive from the ocean. Instead of simply assuming any human presence is negative, it asks what our impacts mean for the things we care about.

“Several years ago I led a project that mapped the cumulative impact of human activities on the world’s ocean, which was essentially an ocean pristine-ness index,” said Halpern, who is a researcher at UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), as well as UCSB’s Marine Science Institute. He also directs UCSB’s Center for Marine Assessment and Planning. “That was and is a useful perspective to have, but it’s not enough. We tend to forget that people are part of all ecosystems — from the most remote deserts to the depths of the ocean. The Ocean Health Index is unique because it embraces people as part of the ocean ecosystem. So we’re not just the problem, but a major part of the solution, too.”

In all, more than 30 collaborators from universities, non-profit organizations, and government agencies, led by NCEAS and Conservation International, pulled together data on the current status and likely future condition for factors such as seafood, coastal livelihoods, and biodiversity. All together, 10 “shared goals” define the health of the ocean as its ability to provide such benefits now and in the future.

The Index emphasizes sustainability, penalizing practices that benefit people today at the expense of the ocean’s ability to deliver those benefits in the future. “Sustainability tends to be issue-specific, focused on sustainable agriculture, fisheries, or tourism, for example,” said Karen McLeod, one of the lead authors who is affiliated with COMPASS, a team of science-based communication professionals. “The Index challenges us to consider what sustainability looks like across all of our many uses of the ocean, simultaneously. It may not make our choices any easier, but it greatly improves our understanding of the available options and their potential consequences.”

By re-envisioning ocean health as a portfolio of benefits, the Ocean Health Index highlights the many different ways in which a place can be healthy. Just like a diversified stock portfolio can perform equally well in a variety of market conditions, many different combinations of goals can lead to a high Index score. In short, the Ocean Health Index highlights the variety of options for strategic action to improve ocean health.

“To many it may seem uncomfortable to focus on benefits to people as the definition of a healthy ocean,” said Steve Katona, another of the study’s lead authors, who is with Conservation International. “Yet, policy and management initiatives around the world are embracing exactly this philosophy. Whether we like it or not, people are key. If thoughtful, sustainable use of the oceans benefits human well-being, the oceans and their web of life will also benefit. The bottom line is ‘healthy ocean, healthy people, healthy planet.'”

Around the world, ocean policy lacks a shared definition of what exactly “health” means, and has no agreed-upon set of tools to measure status and progress. “The Index transforms the powerful metaphor of health into something concrete, transparent, and quantitative,” said McLeod. “This understanding of the whole, not just the parts, is necessary to conserve and restore ocean ecosystems. We can’t manage what we don’t measure.”

This first global assessment of the health of the ocean provides an important baseline against which future change can be measured. Without such a baseline, there is no way to know if things are actually getting better in response to management and conservation actions.

“The Index can provide strategic guidance for ocean policy,” said Andrew Rosenberg, another of the lead authors and a former member of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. “Because the Index includes current status, trends, and factors affecting sustainability for 10 broadly shared goals, it enables managers to focus on key actions that can really make a difference in improving the health of the ocean and benefits we derive from a healthier ocean.”

Jake Rice, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada, who was not involved in the study, said: “No index, by itself, can be a sufficient guide to case-by-case decision-making. However, the Index can inform the public policy dialogue that is essential to sound governance. Moreover, the Index will improve and adapt with use and experience. All who care about the health of the oceans and the well-being of human societies that depend on them, should be looking forward to both the near-term benefits we can take from this work, and to the evolution of the Index as we gain experience with it.”

The authors readily acknowledge methodological challenges in calculating the Index, but emphasize that it represents a critical step forward. “We recognize the Index is a bit audacious,” said Halpern. “With policy-makers and managers needing tools to actually measure ocean health — and with no time to waste — we felt it was audacious by necessity.”

Other co-authors from NCEAS are Catherine Longo, Darren Hardy, Jennifer O’Leary, Marla Ranelletti, Courtney Scarborough, and Ben Best. Co-authors from Conservation International are Elizabeth Selig, Leah Karrer, and Greg Stone. Jameal Samhouri and Mike Fogarty are from NOAA. Sarah Lester, Steve Gaines, Kelsey Jacobsen, and Cris Elfes are from UCSB. Kristin Kleisner, Daniel Pauly, Rashid Sumaila, and Dirk Zeller are from the University of British Columbia. Other co-authors are Dan Brumbaugh from the American Museum of Natural History; F. Stuart (Terry) Chapin from the University of Alaska Fairbanks; Larry Crowder from Stanford University; Kendra Daly from the University of South Florida; Scott Doney from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Heather Leslie from Brown University; Elizabeth Neely from COMPASS; Steve Polasky from the University of Minnesota; Bud Ris from the New England Aquarium; and Kevin St. Martin from Rutgers University.

The founding partners of the Ocean Health Index are Conservation International, National Geographic, and New England Aquarium. The founding presenting sponsor of the Ocean Health Index was Pacific Life Foundation and a founding grant was provided by Beau and Heather Wrigley.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of California – Santa Barbara, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.


Journal Reference:

  1. Benjamin S. Halpern, Catherine Longo, Darren Hardy, Karen L. McLeod, Jameal F. Samhouri, Steven K. Katona, Kristin Kleisner, Sarah E. Lester, Jennifer O’Leary, Marla Ranelletti, Andrew A. Rosenberg, Courtney Scarborough, Elizabeth R. Selig, Benjamin D. Best, Daniel R. Brumbaugh, F. Stuart Chapin, Larry B. Crowder, Kendra L. Daly, Scott C. Doney, Cristiane Elfes, Michael J. Fogarty, Steven D. Gaines, Kelsey I. Jacobsen, Leah Bunce Karrer, Heather M. Leslie, Elizabeth Neeley, Daniel Pauly, Stephen Polasky, Bud Ris, Kevin St Martin, Gregory S. Stone, U. Rashid Sumaila, Dirk Zeller. An index to assess the health and benefits of the global ocean.Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11397
Citation:

University of California – Santa Barbara (2012, August 15). Ocean health index provides first global assessment combining natural and human dimensions of sustainability.ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 19, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120815131703.htm

Drivers of Marine Biodiversity: Tiny, Freeloading Clams Find the Key to Evolutionary Success

ScienceDaily (Aug. 8, 2012) — What mechanisms control the generation and maintenance of biological diversity on the planet?

A small clam attached to its mud shrimp host. This species of clam, Neaeromya rugifera, is part of the Galeommatoidea superfamily. (Credit: Photo by Jingchun Li)

 

It’s a central question in evolutionary biology. For land-dwelling organisms such as insects and the flowers they pollinate, it’s clear that interactions between species are one of the main drivers of the evolutionary change that leads to biological diversity.

But the picture is much murkier for ocean dwellers, mainly because the scope of ecological interactions remains poorly characterized for most marine species. In one of the first efforts to examine how species interactions drive diversification of ocean-dwelling organisms, two University of Michigan researchers and an Australian colleague looked at the lifestyle choices within an exceptionally diverse superfamily of tiny clams, the Galeommatoidea.

They found that the fingernail-size-and-smaller clams’ propensity to shack up with much larger, burrowing creatures such as sea urchins, shrimp and worms was a key adaptation that led to the evolutionary success of the superfamily, as measured by its “megadiverse” status among marine bivalves. There are about 500 described species of galeommatoidean clams and many more undescribed species.

By becoming the uninvited house guests of their burrowing hosts, these freeloading, thin-shelled clams acquire a safe haven from predators prowling soft-bottomed sediments, where there’s nowhere else to hide. Gaining this deep refuge opened up a vast habitat type — soft-bottom marine sediments composed of sand, silt and clay — that would otherwise have remained unavailable to these clams.

Galeommatoidean clams are found worldwide in all the major ocean basins, in both rocky and soft-bottom habitats. Some of the clams live a solitary existence, while others form so-called commensal relationships with larger invertebrate hosts. A commensal relationship is one in which one organism benefits and the other is not harmed.

In a study scheduled for online publication Aug. 8 in the journal PLoS ONE, the U-M-led team performed a statistical analysis of the lifestyle and habitat preferences of 121 galeommatoidean species based on 90 source documents.

The researchers found that all but two of the 57 free-living species were restricted to hard-bottom habitats, typically hidden in rocky or coral-reef crevices. In contrast, 56 of the 60 commensal species were soft-sediment dwellers.

The results show that formation of commensal associations by galeommatoidean clams is robustly correlated with living in sediments. That finding is consistent with the hypothesis that evolution of these commensal relationships was primarily an adaptation to living in soft-bottom habitats.

“What was surprising was the overwhelming evidence that commensalism is associated with the soft-bottomed habitat. You seldom get such clear-cut data in an ecological study,” said Jingchun Li, a doctoral student in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and first author of the PLoS ONE paper.

Clams and other bivalves have evolved two general anti-predator strategies: armor (think oysters) and avoidance. Since galeommatoidean clams have fragile shells, they must go the avoidance route, and following a larger host into a burrow allows the clams to attain depths of up to 3 feet — hundreds of times their body lengths.

Galeommatoidean clams lack the siphons (often called necks) that other clams use to feed and breathe while remaining safely buried in the sand. Siphons consist of two tubes: Water enters the clam’s body through one siphon, flowing into gills that capture oxygen and trap food. The water then flows out of the clam through the other siphon.

The siphon-less galeommatoideans make up for that shortcoming by teaming up with hosts that constantly pump fresh seawater into, through, and then out of their burrows.

“This allows the clams to stay deep and safe, while still having access to water and oxygen and a food supply,” Li said. In this way, the hosts act as giant siphon substitutes for the tiny clams.

“Jingchun’s finding that the type of sea floor habitat strongly modulates the ecological importance of commensalism in these megadiverse clams gives us a novel insight into how ostensibly irrelevant background physical conditions may shape the evolution of species interactions in marine environments,” said study co-author Diarmaid O’Foighil, Li’s adviser and the director of the U-M Museum of Zoology.

The second phase of the clam study will test the relative importance of free-living and commensal lifestyles in driving galeommatoidean diversification. Using data from about 300 species, the researchers will construct a phylogenetic tree for the entire superfamily.

The third author of the PLoS ONE paper is Peter Middelfart of the Australian Museum.

The study is supported by a Rackham International Student Fellowship from the University of Michigan, a Molluscan Research Grant from the Malacological Society of Australasia, and a grant from the National Science Foundation.

 

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Michigan.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jingchun Li, Diarmaid Ó Foighil, Peter Middelfart. The Evolutionary Ecology of Biotic Association in a Megadiverse Bivalve Superfamily: Sponsorship Required for Permanent Residency in SedimentPLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (8): e42121 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0042121
Citation:

University of Michigan (2012, August 8). Drivers of marine biodiversity: Tiny, freeloading clams find the key to evolutionary success.ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 11, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120809090308.htm

Ecology and Phylogenetics Together Offer New Views of Earth’s Biodiversity

ScienceDaily (Aug. 6, 2012) — Patterns in nature are in everything from ocean currents to a flower’s petal. Scientists are taking a new look at Earth patterns, studying the biodiversity of yard plants in the U.S. and that of desert mammals in Israel, studying where flowers and bees live on the Tibetan plateau and how willow trees in America’s Midwest make use of water.

Caterpillars feed in a forest in Peru: do insects have an effect on where plants live? (Credit: G. Lamarre)


They’re finding that ecology, the study of relationships between living organisms and their environment, and phylogenetics, research on evolutionary relationships among groups of organisms, are inextricably intertwined.

Results of this tale of two fields are highlighted in a special, August 2012 issue of the journal Ecology, published by the Ecological Society of America (ESA). Most of the results reported are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The issue will be released at the annual ESA meeting, held this year from August 5-10 in Portland, Ore.

Melding information from ecology and phylogenetics allows scientists to understand why plants and animals are distributed in certain patterns across landscapes, how these species adapt to changing environments across evolutionary time–and where their populations may be faltering.

“To understand the here and now, ecologists need more knowledge of the past,” says Saran Twombly, program director in NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology. “Incorporating evolutionary history and phylogenies into studies of community ecology is revealing complex feedbacks between ecological and evolutionary processes.”

Maureen Kearney, also a program director in NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology adds, “Recent studies have demonstrated that species’ evolutionary histories can have profound effects on the contemporary structure and composition of ecological communities.”

In the face of rapid changes in Earth’s biota, understanding the evolutionary processes that drive patterns of species diversity and coexistence in ecosystems has never been more pressing, write co-editors Jeannine Cavender-Bares of the University of Minnesota, David Ackerly of the University of California at Berkeley and Kenneth Kozak of the University of Minnesota.

“As human domination of our planet accelerates,” says Cavender-Bares, “our best hope for restoring and sustaining the ‘environmental services’ of the biological world is to understand how organisms assemble, persist and coexist in ecosystems across the globe.”

Papers in the volume address subjects such as the vanishingly rare oak savanna ecosystem of U.S. northern tier states, revealing an ancient footprint of history on the savanna as well as how it has fared in a 40-year fire experiment.

Other results cover the influence of ecological and evolutionary factors on hummingbird populations; habitat specialization in willow tree communities; growth strategies in tropical tree lineages and their implications for biodiversity in the Amazon region; and the characteristics of common urban plants.

“The studies in this issue show that knowledge of how organisms evolve reveals new insights into the ecology and persistence of species,” says Cavender-Bares.

Plants in urban yards, for example, are more closely related to each other–and live shorter lives–than do plants in rural areas, found Cavender-Bares and colleagues.

Their study compared plant diversity in private urban yards in the U.S. Midwest with that in the rural NSF Cedar Creek Long-Term Ecological Research site in Minnesota.

Cities are growing faster and faster, with unexpected effects, says Sonja Knapp of the Hemholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany, lead author of the paper reporting the results.

“Understanding how urban gardening affects biodiversity is increasingly important,” says Cavender-Bares. “Urbanites should consider maintaining yards with a higher number of species.”

In the special issue, researchers also look at topics such as what determines the number of coexisting species in local and regional communities of salamanders. Kenneth Kozak of the University of Minnesota and John Wiens of Stony Brook University report that variation in the amount of time salamanders occupy different climate zones is the primary factor.

Evolution of an herbaceous flower called goldfields, and how that led to the plant’s affinity for certain habitats, is the subject of a paper by David Ackerly, Nancy Emery of Purdue University and colleagues. Emery is the paper’s lead author.

In all, 17 papers combine ecology and phylogenetics to offer new answers to long-standing questions about the patterns and processes of biodiversity on Planet Earth.

 

Link:

http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=125048&org=NSF&from=news

Citation:

National Science Foundation (2012, August 6). Ecology and phylogenetics together offer new views of Earth’s biodiversity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 9, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/08/120806130852.htm

Crayfish Species Proves to Be the Ultimate Survivor

ScienceDaily (Aug. 3, 2012) — One of the most invasive species on the planet is able to source food from the land as well as its usual food sources in the water, research from Queen Mary, University of London has found.

Researchers studied red swamp crayfish in Kenya’s Lake Naivasha. They found that when the water level of the lake was low, the crayfish found additional food sources on land. (Credit: © chungking / Fotolia)


Scientists analyzed the  of red swamp crayfish in Kenya’s Lake Naivasha and found that when the water level of the lake was low, the crayfish found additional food sources on land. The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE  August 3, 2012.

Lead author Dr Jonathan Grey from Queen Mary, University of London explained: “These crayfish are incredible survivors; our research shows they are able to feed off terrestrial plants directly, as well as aquatic plants — the first study to demonstrate this.

“It has significant implications for anyone looking to introduce these species in other areas.”

The research team looked at the diet of the crayfish through a technique called stable isotope analysis, where they used a natural chemical signal of diet in the species’ tissues to determine what they were eating.

They found a proportion of the crayfish population had left the main lake and were surviving by burrowing in hippopotamus footprints which left small pools of water. After dark the crayfish clambered out from the footprints and grazed on the surrounding terrestrial plants.

“This study demonstrates how the red swamp crayfish is such an extraordinarily successful invader,” Dr Grey said.

The red swamp crayfish has been introduced to multiple locations throughout East Africa from the 1960s to enhance fisheries and to attempt to control populations of snails which carry a parasite causing river blindness in humans.

“While they are useful to counteract other harmful species in ecosystems, they are also extremely damaging to fish populations and the balance of the food web. They eat plants, fish eggs, fly larvae, snails and leeches and since we have now shown that they are able to tap into extra resources from the land, they can sustain higher populations under adverse conditions such as low water and could cause more of a problem in a variety of environments than we initially thought.”

 

Link:

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-08/qmuo-csp080112.php

Journal Reference:

  1. Jonathan Grey, Michelle C. Jackson. ‘Leaves and Eats Shoots’: Direct Terrestrial Feeding Can Supplement Invasive Red Swamp Crayfish in Times of Need. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (8): e42575 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042575

Citation:

Queen Mary, University of London (2012, August 3). Crayfish species proves to be the ultimate survivor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 5, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/08/120803193804.htm

To Know a Tiger Is at Least to Start Tolerating Them, Study Shows

ScienceDaily (July 31, 2012) — To protect a dangerous and endangered animal — be it a tiger in Nepal or a wolf in Michigan — you really do have to ask people “how do you FEEL about your predatory neighbor?”

In the buffer zone which runs along Nepal’s Chitwan National Forest, people and tigers closely coexist, both depending on the forest for their livelihoods. It is here doctoral student Neil Carter at Michigan State University’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability study tiger/human interactions. (Credit: Sue Nichols, Michigan State University CSIS)


Effective conservation calls for not only figuring out what protected species need — like habitat and food sources. It also requires an understanding of what it takes for their human neighbors to tolerate them. A Michigan State University doctoral student studying tigers in Nepal found that those feelings can provide critical information on how best to protect species.

“People have complex psychological relationships with wildlife,” said Neil Carter, researcher in MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS). “Picking apart these complex relationships is the best way to get a really good idea of what’s affecting their tolerance of the animal.”

The paper, “Utility of a psychological framework for carnivore conservation,” is published July 31 in Oryx, an international journal of conservation. Co-authors are Shawn Riley, MSU associate professor of fisheries and wildlife, and Jianguo “Jack” Liu, MSU University Distinguished Professor of fisheries and wildlife, who holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and is CSIS director.

Carter has conducted research in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, home to some 125 adult tigers that live close to people. And tigers, like all wild animals, have little regard for borders or fences. Likewise, the tigers’ human neighbors depend on the forests for their livelihoods. Conflict is inevitable. There were 65 human deaths due to tiger attacks from 1998 to 2006 and tigers are known to kill livestock. People sometimes kill tigers in response to these threats

Carter’s work has developed a novel tool to help figure out where to direct conservation resources — not just in Nepal, but also for conserving carnivores that live next to people in many regions of the world.

The research is unique in that it explores peoples’ attitudes about protected animals. Work has been done to understand how people feel about their wildlife neighbors, such as deer or coyotes. But the relationship with protected animals, especially those that can be dangerous, is more complicated. Issues of fear, risk and control make for a volatile mix, as do the constraints on solutions.

“You can’t just remove all the tigers, or the grizzly bears, or other carnivores that may pose a risk to people. Managing animal populations in this fashion is not a viable option for protected species,” Carter said. “It’s imperative to come up with ways that people and carnivores can get along.”

Policy and laws aren’t enough, he says. Carter said that in Nepal and around the world, people kill protected animals or turn a blind eye to poachers.

Carter, with his collaborators, surveyed 499 people living near Chitwan about how they feel about future tiger population size and factors that may influence preferences, like past interactions with tigers as well as beliefs and perceptions about tigers.

Other findings

While more study is needed, this work hints that it’s not fear that drives people’s preferences for the number of future tigers. Rather, it’s a combination of psychological responses that focus on the benefits and pragmatic costs of having tigers nearby.

“We expected that interactions — real experiences with tigers in the wild would be most influential,” Carter said. “Someone who had three cattle killed would have different tolerance than someone who hasn’t. Perhaps, if you’re exposed to something all the time, the fear stops becoming the powerful predictor.”

The survey identifies opportunities. For example, it was clear that people’s beliefs that tigers weren’t beneficial to the forest influenced their acceptance of tigers, a belief that had nothing to do with risk.

“That’s a real simple educational opportunity,” Carter said. “People can be shown that tigers regulate the populations of deer and boar, which cause real economic damage to crops. If they don’t see the connection then that’s a lost opportunity.”

In addition to Carter’s work on attitudes, he also has spent considerable time in Chitwan setting up camera traps to better understand the tiger populations, as well as understanding how people move in and out of tiger territory. His blending of social sciences and ecological studies is characteristic of CSIS, which works in the innovative new field of coupled human and natural systems to find sustainable solutions that both benefit the environment and enable people to thrive.

 

Link:

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-07/msu-tka073012.php

Citation:

Michigan State University (2012, July 31). To know a tiger is at least to start tolerating them, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 2, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/07/120731111416.htm

What We Know and Don’t Know About Earth’s Missing Biodiversity

ScienceDaily (July 17, 2012) — Most of the world’s species are still unknown to science although many researchers grappled to address the question of how many species there are on Earth over the recent decades. Estimates of non-microbial diversity on Earth provided by researchers range from 2 million to over 50 million species, with great uncertainties in numbers of insects, fungi, nematodes, and deep-sea organisms.


Some groups of species, such as plants and birds, are well-known, with scientists discovering relatively few new ones each year. For insects and fungi, however, it is almost impossible to guess how many unknown species there are.

These findings were revealed in a first-ever study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS), James Cook University in Australia, Microsoft Research in the United Kingdom and Duke University in the United States, and was first published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution on 10 July 2012.

The researchers emphasise the importance of technology such as DNA barcoding, new databases and crowd-sourcing, that could greatly accelerate the rate of species discovery.

Unknown Biodiversity: Estimates

In their study, Scheffers and his colleagues collated information from numerous studies that attempt to estimate numbers and characteristics of unknown biodiversity. What may seem like straight forward questions about Earth’s biodiversity are “deceptively complex,” warned the researchers.

“What we do know,” said lead researcher Brett R. Scheffers, who is from the Department of Biological Sciences at NUS, “is that these unknown species are likely living in places where they are in danger of extinction, and that we could lose many before we realise how valuable they are.”

“The problem is how one protects an animal that has never been seen,” he added. “What we want to know is how many species there are, what they look like and where do they live.”

The report suggests that many of these species are important for medicine, water purification and provide numerous other services for humanity. For instance, a group of marine snails — the cone snail — is important for drug development ranging from pain killers to treatment of neurological diseases. Many species of these snails are newly discovered, and there is likely many more still waiting to be discovered.

“We simply cannot afford to lose these species because of neglect and short-sided economic gains,” explained co-author Professor William Laurance of James Cook University in Cairns, Australia.

Major Challenges

The researchers pointed out major challenges that complicate biodiversity inventory. These include accidentally assigning two different species the same name, and animals that look nearly identical and can therefore only be identified by genetic analyses.

Co-author Dr. Lucas Joppa from Microsoft Research in Cambridge, United Kingdom said, “Missing species will likely be hard to find, such as deep-sea organisms, high mountain species or those species that live beneath the ground. Missing biodiversity will be small — both in body size and the amount of area that they live in. This is a concern as both of these factors relate to a species vulnerability to environmental disturbances.”

Advances in Technology

Although these challenges present real struggles for future records, Scheffers and his colleagues stress that progress is being made. Novel techniques, such as DNA barcoding, new databases and crowd-sourcing, could greatly accelerate the rate of species discovery.

“New technologies such as environmental DNA analyses now exist and can detect a species’ presence from mere water samples without ever visually observing it,” said Scheffers. “Data sharing technologies over the Internet about species locations and discoveries are also expediting and expanding the catalogue of life.”

 

Journal Reference:

  1. Brett R. Scheffers, Lucas N. Joppa, Stuart L. Pimm, William F. Laurance. What we know and don’t know about Earth’s missing biodiversity. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2012.05.008

 

National University of Singapore (2012, July 17). What we know and don’t know about Earth’s missing biodiversity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/07/120717084802.htm

First Ever Videos of Snow Leopard Mother and Cubs in Dens Recorded in Mongolia

ScienceDaily (July 12, 2012) — For the first time, the den sites of two female snow leopards and their cubs have been located in Mongolia’s Tost Mountains, with the first known videos taken of a mother and cubs, located and recorded by scientists from Panthera, a wild cat conservation organization, and the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT).


Because of the snow leopard’s secretive and elusive nature, coupled with the extreme and treacherous landscape which they inhabit, dens have been extremely difficult to locate. This is a tremendous discovery and provides invaluable insight into the life story of the snow leopard.

Dr. Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program stated, “We have spent years trying to determine when and where snow leopards give birth, the size of their litters, and the chances a cub has of surviving into adulthood. This is one of those exceptional moments in conservation where after years of effort, we get a rare glimpse into the life of an animal that needs our help in surviving in today’s world. These data will help ensure a future for these incredible animals.”

A short video of the female and her cub who were bedded down in a partially human-made den was recorded from a safe distance by Örjan Johansson, Panthera’s Snow Leopard Field Scientist and Ph.D. student, using a camera fixed to an extended pole.

http://www.panthera.org/programs/snow-leopard/videos-snow-leopard-mother-and-cubs-dens-recorded-mongolia

The team, which included a veterinarian, entered the two dens (the first with two cubs, and the second containing one cub) while the mothers were away hunting. All three cubs were carefully weighed, measured, photographed and other details were recorded. Two of the cubs were fixed with tiny microchip ID tags (the size of a grain of rice) which were placed under their skin for future identification. The utmost care was taken in handling the animals to ensure they were not endangered, which was the top priority of the team at all times. In the following days, the team monitored the mothers’ locations to ensure that they returned to their dens and their cubs, which they successfully did.

“Knowledge about the first days and weeks of life is vital to our understanding of how big cat populations work, and how likely it is for a newborn to reach adulthood and contribute to a healthy population. A valid conservation program requires such information, which this new development in snow leopard research provides,” said Dr. Howard Quigley, Panthera’s Executive Director of both Jaguar and Cougar Programs.

Referred to by locals as ‘Asia’s Mountain Ghost,’ knowledge of snow leopards in general is quite limited due to the cat’s elusive nature, and even less is known about rearing cubs and cub survival in the wild. Until now, what is known has mostly been learned from studying snow leopards in zoos. Although snow leopard litters typically consist of one to three cubs in a captive zoo environment, no information exists regarding litter size in the wild. As wild snow leopard cubs are subject to natural predators, disease, and also human threats such as poaching or capture for the illegal wildlife market, the percentage of cubs which survive to adulthood has until now only been speculated.

The use of PIT tags and observations of snow leopard rearing in the wild will allow our scientists to learn about the characteristics of a typical natal den and speculate how a den is selected, how long snow leopard cubs remain in dens, when cubs begin to follow their mothers outside of the dens, how often and how long the mother leaves the cubs alone to hunt, how many cubs are typically born in the wild, and other valuable data.

All of these data and more, gathered through camera-trapping and GPS collaring, help to inform effective conservation initiatives undertaken by Panthera across the snow leopard’s range.

Panthera (2012, July 12). First ever videos of snow leopard mother and cubs in dens recorded in Mongolia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 13, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/07/120712162746.htm