Why Are Congo Rodents So Strange?

September 26th, 2012

What have you ever learned about the rainforest? That it is a place where a ton of different species of plants and animals live? Yes that’s right!  But it seems that Congo rodents have gotten that memo.

  • Primary rainforests are known to be some of the most biodiverse and abundant places on Earth.  This means that while they may not have a lot of members of one species, they do have a lot of different types of species.  For example, think about all of the corn in a corn field, versus all the different plants in a section of a forest.
  • Something strange was recently found by scientists about rodents in the Congo.  Scientists working in the Masako forest found that the diversity and abundance of rodents was its lowest in primary forest.
  • This data supports the theory that many rodent species thrive in human-impacted areas.
  • Rodents also are now thriving in a place which is not their natural habitat, throwing off the balance of their ecosystem.
  • It is very important that when humans are expanding their territory that we think about the impact on local species.

Clever name given to newly discovered serpent

September 26th, 2012

Juvenile Sibon noalamina. Photo © Sebastian Lotzkat.

Researchers in Panama have been trying to attract much needed attention to the biodiversity crisis by cleverly naming a new species of snake.

  • The new snake, a snail-eating reptile from Panama has been named Sibon noalamina (‘no to the mine!’ in Spanish).
  • This follows the struggle of the indigenous Ngöbe communities in the region, where possible new mines are destroying their territory.  The name is said to recognize and support the efforts of the Ngöbe community in protecting their territory.
  • The new, multi-coloured snake, which can grow to 21 inches long, eats snails, slugs, earthworms, as well as amphibian eggs.
  • Researchers believe the snake may be endemic (only found in one particular area) to the Tabasara Mountains.
  • Five reptiles and two frogs are thought to be endemic to the Tabasara Mountains, and many amphibians use the area as a safe haven from many diseases.
  • Mining activity threatens the region and its’ inhabitants (people and nature) as much of the region is currently unprotected.

Want to learn more? See http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0918-hance-no-mining-snake.html

How Much Do We Really Know About Turtles?

September 26th, 2012

A new study in the open access journal “Tropical Conservation Science” has uncovered a few instances of ‘gap species’ in  turtle families of Africa.  Gap species are species that are recorded in one country or another, but not in countries who are right next to each other. There are multiple reasons that many be possible for this occurrence.

  • Gap species may exist due to a lack of data, a change in ecosystems, or human impacts.
  • In Africa, due to a lack in resources and sufficient surveying, species of turtles may exist in a country where their presence is yet to be recorded.
  • Other possibilities for the existence of gap species are changes in natural habitat or the use of the land by humans.  It is these things that can lead to an extinction in local populations of certain species.
  • Researchers found that most of the gap turtles were large species, which tells us that this occurrence may, in large, be a result of the bushmeat trade – or hunting the turtles for food.
  • The issue of fragmentation also may play a major role in not only the increase in turtle gap species, but also the decrease in number of many species of the area and around the world.
  • Conservation plays a very important role int the long-term protection of animal habitats and ecosystems of the world.  Conservation of these gap species may be able to ensure their survival in for generations to come.

Spider bonanza in Guam

September 19th, 2012

Spider bonanza in Guam. Photo by: Isaac Chellman.

The accidental introduction of the brown tree snake (native to Australia and Papua New-Guinea) has led to a decline in bird numbers which has in turn – led to a spider explosion on the island of Guam, a U.S territory in the Pacific.

  • Guam was once home to a rich diversity of birdlife until the invasion of the brown tree snakes.  9 bird species have become locally extinct (and 5 of these were found no-where else, including the Guam flycatcher).
  • The birds were largely insectivorous and helped control spider numbers.
  • The result is surprising.  A research team found no less than 18 spider webs every 10 meters in the dry season and 26 webs every 10 meters in the wet season.
  • Spider numbers on Guam blitzed those of neighboring islands (where birds are unaffected by brown tree snakes). They were found to be twice as large in the dry season and an incredible 40 times larger in the wet season.
  • Efforts to rid the Guam of snakes include ‘bombing’ the island with poisoned frozen mice.
  • The loss of birdlife has implications on many environmental factors like pollination, controlling pest species and now spider numbers.
  • Guam is currently a living example of what can happen if one type of animal is totally wiped out from an area.
  • So if you are a fan of spiders and snakes, the forests of Guam would be a great place to visit!

Want to learn more? See http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0917-hance-guam-spiders.html


San Francisco Fog Explained

September 14th, 2012

Image of San Francisco taken on August 16th. Image by NASA.

Ever wonder why San Francisco is so foggy?  Well NASA has the answer for you!

  • The foggy trend over this Californian city is due to something called marine layers which are formed in the Pacific Ocean.
  • A marine layer is cool, heavy which occurs when the cold ocean surface meets with the above warm air.
  • Winds from the west have have been pushing these marine layers into the city.  The layer brings with it thick fog that can envelop buildings, bridges, and even people!
  • These marine layers commonly occur in the summer due to overturns in the ocean water.  These overturns bring the cold, frigid waters of the deep to the surface, while sending the warm surface water down to the sea bottom.
  •  It is this cold water that meets with the warm air to form the marine layers which are responsible for San Francisco’s iconic fog.

Colombian forest recovery is bittersweet

September 12th, 2012

Between 2001 and 2010, Colombia has gained nearly 17,000 square kilometers of forest, but grasslands suffered a sharp loss of forest as a result of expanding fields for crops.

  • Satellite imagery was used to identify vegetation change across Colombia.
  • Forest was found to increase on areas defined as mangrove, desert, and mountain grassland. 70% of the total forest recovery was evident in the Andes mountain region.
  • However, these results are bittersweet as forest cover on grasslands fell by 8.1 percent as agriculture expansion and oil/gas development occurred.
  • It is believed the forests’ recovery is down to the abandonment of the region by people. Increased economic opportunity in the cities and human conflicts in the area have all led to people abandoning these regions allowing the forests to recover.

Want to learn more? See http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0904-colombia-land-cover-change.html


Squid ditches limbs to escape danger

September 12th, 2012

Squid drops arms when tapped by a bottle brush. Photo by: Stephanie Bush, MBARI.

The octopus squid (Octopoteuthis deletron), a deep-dwelling species, has a peculiar way of escaping predators; it detaches its’ arms!

  • These animals are usually found deep within the Pacific Ocean and may grow up to one foot (30cm) long.
  • The majority of octopus and squid species (otherwise known as cephalopods) use ink as an escape strategy; when threatened, a thick cloud of ink is shot out into the water. This is used as a screening tactic so the octopus/squid can quickly escape unnoticed.
  • The octopus squid though, has been noted for its’ different-sized arms and it was thought that arm-dropping might be used.
  • After a recent study, it was proved that this was indeed a strategy used. During the study, a bottle brush was placed near the squid (imitating danger); the squid attacked in self-defense and detached two arms.
  • When dropped, the arms wiggle and glow (a process called bioluminescence). This confuses the predator long enough for for the squid to escape.
  • The arms themselves have little hooks that latch on to a would-be predator and the squid is able to detach it and leave the arm wriggling on the enemy.
  • Don’t worry though, because the squid can regrow their arms once they are sacrificed.
  • This behavior isn’t unique however, as many other animals use this strategy to avoid getting eaten; lizards lose their tails, sea stars lose their arms etc.

Want to learn more? See http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0904-santana-sacrificial-squid.html

Coral reefs threathened by deforestation

September 12th, 2012

Antongil Bay

New studies have found that coral reefs in Madagascar are being badly affected and deforestation is a main reason.

  • Researchers have been analysing coral reef bands in North East and Western Madagascar. The bands can give information on growth history, much like the rings seen on trees.
  • The results have shown that the coral has not been growing properly and that some show clear signs of disease.
  • The researchers believe that the removal of forests on the land and an increase in human populations have badly affected the corals.
  • Removing the forest means that rivers pick up more sediment (as the forests used to hold it together) and this sediment is carried down to the ocean. Once the river meets the ocean, the sediment is dumped and this can smother the coral reefs. Reefs are unable to grow properly and suffer more incidents of disease.
  • It is therefore vitally important for coral reef conservation plans to include land-based targets such as preventing the removal of forests in order to be successful.

Want to learn more? See http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0905-deforestation-coral-reefs.html

Humans and tigers can live in harmony

September 12th, 2012

A new study indicates that tigers and humans may be able to co-exist after all.

  • An International team of scientists have been using camera traps to examine tiger density in and around Chitwan National Park, Nepal during 2010 and 2011.
  • Apparently tiger populations “remained high despite the ubiquitous presence of people on foot or in vehicles”, a good sign for tiger conservation.
  • Habitat destruction, loss of prey, and poaching are the driving forces behind depleting tiger numbers and there are currently believed to be just 4,000 left.
  • Tigers have so-far adapted to human presence in the region by being more active at night and less during the day, avoiding times when humans are most active.
  • It is believed conservation can benefit from such knowledge, for example, restricting car traffic at night could decrease disturbance/road deaths of tigers.
  • This is a refreshing story considering the plight faced by tigers and hopefully more research like this can lead to tigers and humans existing together in harmony.

Want to learn more? See http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0904-tigers-people-coexist.html

20% of all invertebrates close to extinction

September 12th, 2012

Schoenherr’s blue weevil (Eupholus schoenherri) a spectacular blue and turquoise beetle from Indonesian New Guinea. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Twenty percent of all invertebrates are found to be threatened with extinction, according to a new IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) report.

  • Invertebrates make up 97 percent of the entire World’s species and include insects, molluscs, squid and jellyfish among many others.
  • In terms of conservation, the invertebrates are never in the ‘limelight’ and often take a back seat to larger, more recognizable species such as pandas, tigers and elephants.
  • However, invertebrates are arguably the most important creatures to conserve as they are vitally important in maintaining a healthy and productive environment; they pollinate flowers, recycle waste, cultivate soils and have many other benefits too.
  • There are over 1.3 million invertebrate species currently known. 10,000 new species are found every year.
  • The report concentrates on the 12,621 invertebrate species that have currently been assessed by the IUCN (which only represents about 1 percent of all invertebrates known). It is believed to be the most complete and detailed assessment of invertebrates ever.
  • The numbers are so few due to the lack of information on many of the invertebrates but scientists hope to increase them in the future.
  • The report found that around 20 percent of all the invertebrates assessed were threatened with extinction, the greatest risk being found in freshwater invertebrates.
  • It is extremely important that all the information possible is gathered on the world’s invertebrates in order to fully understand the threats they face. Invertebrates are hugely important to all life on Earth so conserving them really does matter.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Biodiversity faltering: 20% of invertebrates threatened with extinction