Tunisian democrats’ fight continues


Tunisia cabinet holds first session: Transitional government convenes while hundreds of protesters rally outside: here.

This video from Tunisia says about itself:

Peaceful Protest Downtown Tunis demanding the RCD (Ex-ruling party) to step off the government.

The Tunisian army fired a barrage of warning shots in the capital today as demonstrators converged on the headquarters of the ruling party: here.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

SAUDI ARABIA: A human rights group is urging activists to join a 48-hour hunger strike on February 10 to protest against the practice of arbitrary detention in the kingdom.

The Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association stated on its website on Wednesday that the strike is designed to raise awareness of the plight of the practice’s victims and to demand their release.

The group says arbitrary arrest has become “the norm without legal basis,” especially for Saudi human rights activists and migrant workers.

New Brazilian rodent species discovery


This video is called Atlantic Forest, Brazil – The Nature Conservancy.

From the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society:

A new genus and species of rodent from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest (Rodentia: Cricetidae: Sigmodontinae: Oryzomyini), with comments on oryzomyine biogeography

1. ALEXANDRE R. PERCEQUILLO,
2. MARCELO WEKSLER,
3. LEONORA P. COSTA

We describe in this paper a new genus and species of cricetid rodent from the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, one of the most endangered eco-regions of the world. The new form displays some but not all synapomorphies of the tribe Oryzomyini, but a suite of unique characteristics is also observed.

This new forest rat possesses anatomical characteristics of arboreal taxa, such as very developed plantar pads, but was collected almost exclusively in pitfall traps. Phylogenetic analyses of morphological (integument, soft tissue, cranial, and dental characters) and molecular [nuclear – Interphotoreceptor retinoid binding protein (Irbp) – and mitochondrial – cytochrome b– genes] datasets using maximum likelihood and cladistic parsimony approaches corroborate the inclusion of the new taxon within oryzomyines. The analyses also place the new form as sister species to Eremoryzomys polius, an Andean rat endemic to the Maranon valley.

This biogeographical pattern is unusual amongst small terrestrial vertebrates, as a review of the literature points to few other similar examples of Andean–Atlantic Forest pairings, in hylid frogs, Pionus parrots, and other sigmodontine rodents.

The Stolzmann’s fish-eating rat was one of the rarest mammals in the world, known from only seven specimens. But a new survey has revealed that, far from being on the brink of extinction, this once enigmatic rat species is becoming a “nuisance” to local fishermen, stealing their catches: here.

New population discovered of the Americas’ mini snow leopard: the Andean cat: here.

United States new crayfish species discovery


The new crayfish species, image: Carl Williams

From The Sticky Tongue blog:

Researchers discover giant crayfish species right under their noses

Two aquatic biologists have proven that you don’t have to travel to exotic locales to search for unusual new species. They discovered a distinctive species of crayfish in Tennessee and Alabama that is at least twice the size of its competitors. Its closest genetic relative, once thought to be the only species in its genus and discovered in 1884 about 130 miles away in Kentucky, can grow almost as big as a lobster.

The researchers found their first specimen under one of the biggest rocks in the deepest part of a creek that has been a (literal) stomping ground for aquatic biologists for at least half a century. The new species is described in a paper in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

The new crayfish belongs to the genus Barbicambarus, which in addition to being big is very distinctive. Most notably, Barbicambarus have unusual “bearded” antennae; the antennae are covered with a luxurious fringe of tiny, hair-like bristles, called setae, which enhance their sensory function.

“This isn’t a crayfish that someone would have picked up and just said, ‘Oh, it’s another crayfish,’ and put it back,” said University of Illinois aquatic biologist Chris Taylor, the curator of crustaceans at the Illinois Natural History Survey and a co-discoverer of the new species with Eastern Kentucky University biological sciences professor Guenter Schuster. “If you were an aquatic biologist and you had seen this thing, because of the size and the setae on the antennae, you would have recognized it as something really, really different and you would have saved it.”

Schuster first learned of the crayfish in 2009 when a colleague forwarded photos from a man who had seen the animal in Shoal Creek, a stream in southern Tennessee that ultimately drains into the Tennessee River. Schuster immediately recognized it as a member of the genus Barbicambarus, and sent the photos to Taylor, his longtime collaborator.

Both men suspected that this was a wayward member of the originally discovered species, Barbicambarus cornutus. B. cornutus had never been seen that far south, but the researchers knew that crayfish have been moved great distances in the bait buckets of itinerant fishermen or by those interested in commercially rearing crayfishes.

“I was leaning to the easiest explanation,” Taylor said.

“Me too,” said Schuster. “That’s been going on for 50 years in the U.S., moving species around, so it would not be a surprise if that was the case.”

The researchers contacted a colleague in Tennessee, who told them that a scientist with the Tennessee Valley Authority, Jeffrey Simmons, had collected a crayfish that looked like the one in the photo – “just a couple of miles from where the original photograph we had gotten was taken,” Schuster said.

That was enough to spur a hastily organized field trip to Shoal Creek.

With two other biologists, Taylor and Schuster scoured the creek for more specimens. After two hours of turning over boulders and kicking up the sediment to flush the crayfish into their seine, the researchers had found nothing out of the ordinary.

“We had worked so hard and long that we were ready to give up and find another site,” Schuster said. “And we saw this big flat boulder underneath a bridge and so we said, ‘OK. Let’s flip this rock, just for the heck of it; this will be our last one.’ And sure enough, that’s where we got the first specimen.” It was a big male, about twice the size of any other crayfish they had seen that day. And it had the characteristic bearded setae.

The researchers found only two specimens that day, a very small haul for nearly three hours of work. The second specimen, a female, was under a large, flat boulder that was too big for one man to lift alone in the current.

In the lab, Schuster quickly realized that the physical characteristics of the new crayfish differed in significant ways from those of B. cornutus. Taylor took tissue samples and compared the specimens’ DNA to that of B. cornutus.

“And the DNA said just what the morphology said: This thing is pretty different,” Taylor said.

And rare. The researchers made several more trips to the area before they were able to collect enough specimens to confirm what they already suspected: The giant crayfish of Shoal Creek was a new species. They named it Barbicambarus simmonsi, in honor of the TVA scientist who had collected the first specimen.

Later trips to the region confirmed that B. simmonsi was also present in the southern reaches of Shoal Creek, just north of where it drains into the Tennessee River in northwest Alabama.

Most people are shocked to learn that there are about 600 species of crayfish in the world, Taylor said, with more than half of those occurring north of Mexico. Alabama and Tennessee are hotspots of crayfish diversity, he said.

The discovery of a new species of crayfish in itself is not unusual, the researchers said. About two new species of crayfish are found every year in the U.S. But the discovery of a large, distinctive new species in a region that had been studied for decades is quite astounding, they said. …

“We looked at museum collections around the country,” Taylor said. “There were no specimens in there masquerading under a different species name. No one had found this thing and called it B. cornutus. This thing had not been seen by scientific eyes until last year.”

The fact that a distinct species was overlooked for so long indicates that studies of species diversity in the U.S. are not getting adequate resources, Schuster said.

“We spend millions of dollars every year on federal grants to send biologists to the Amazon, to Southeast Asia – all over the world looking for and studying the biodiversity of those regions,” Schuster said. “But the irony is that there’s very little money that is actually spent in our own country to do the same thing. And there are still lots of areas right here in the U.S. that need to be explored.”

The paper, “Monotypic No More, a Description of a New Crayfish of the Genus Barbicambarus Hobbs, 1969 (Decapoda: Cambridae) From the Tennessee River Drainage Using Morphology and Molecules,” is available online: www.bioone.org/doi/pdf/10.2988/10-15.1

Source: University of Illinois

See also here. And here. And here.

Scientists have discovered a new shrimp-like species in a gypsum cave in southeastern New Mexico, only a few dozen miles from the famous caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The species of amphipod was unknown before being discovered about a month ago in the Burton Flats area east of Carlsbad, said Jim Goodbar, the Bureau of Land Management’s senior cave specialist. The agency announced the discovery Tuesday: here.

MADRID, Spain — Researchers at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) have described a new species to science, the third species described to date in the El Cachucho Marine Protected Area. After scientific community acceptance of the isopod Haplomesus longiramus and the amphipod Liropus cachuchoensis, scientists at the ECOMARG research group have published (IEO?) the taxonomic and ecological description of Politolana sanchezi, a small crustacean that inhabits the southern Bay of Biscay: here.

CIA torture scandal in Lithuania continues


This video is called CIA secret prison in Lithuania.

From the Canadian Press:

Rights groups, citing own evidence, call for Lithuania to reopen CIA prison investigation

By Liudas Dapkus (CP) – 2 hours ago

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Human rights groups have called on Lithuanian prosecutors to reopen a criminal probe into a secret CIA detention centre set up in the country, and a top national security lawmaker said Wednesday that investigators had failed to weigh all the evidence.

Prosecutors closed the case last week, citing a lack of evidence, but human rights groups Amnesty International and Reprieve slammed the decision, claiming they have evidence that the site was used to interrogate and torture terrorism suspects.

Arvydas Anusauskas, chairman of parliament’s national security committee, urged prosecutors to reopen the case and weigh information provided by the groups.

“Two international organizations claim they have solid proof of illegal activities in Lithuania. … I believe these sources could provide public or nonpublic testimony to Lithuanian officials,” he said after meeting with President Dalia Grybauskaite, who also suggested the case could be reopened if new evidence surfaced.

“Nobody is certain that new information will not emerge,” Anusauskas added.

A parliamentary probe in 2009 concluded that although Lithuania, a Baltic country in northeast Europe, provided two facilities to the CIA, there was no evidence the facilities ever held terrorism suspects.

Prosecutors launched their own investigation to determine whether any crimes had been committed, particularly by Lithuania’s top national security officials.

Julia Hall of Amnesty International said prosecutors’ decision to close the case was “premature.”

“By shuttering the investigation before all the evidence has been gathered and all lines of inquiry pursued, the prosecutor cuts off a process that had the potential to hold people accountable for serious human rights violations,” Hall said.

Reprieve said it had provided investigators with confidential information that Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian repeatedly tortured by U.S. investigators, had been secretly imprisoned in Lithuania between 2004 and 2006. The NGO also said it supplied a list of individuals who could provide testimony — including CIA officials, Lithuanian handlers, and eyewitnesses.

The parliamentary probe determined that Lithuania’s top national security agency, the State Security Department, had struck a deal with the CIA in 2002 to create secret “black site” prisons near Vilnius to interrogate terrorist suspects.

Lawmakers did, however, reveal that aircraft involved in transporting prisoners had entered Lithuanian airspace and landed in Vilnius, the country’s capital, on several occasions in 2002-2005.

Gulet Mohamed, a 19-year-old American citizen, returned to the US Friday after being tortured—apparently on Washington’s orders—at the hands of the regime in Kuwait: here.