Why were dinosaurs big?


This video is called Tribute to Theropod Dinosaurs.

From the Geological Society of America:

Were dinosaurs destined to be big? Testing Cope’s rule

GSA Annual Meeting Presentation: Testing Cope’s rule and the existence of an upper bound for body size in non-avian dinosaurs

Boulder, CO, USA – In the evolutionary long run, small critters tend to evolve into bigger beasts — at least according to the idea attributed to paleontologist Edward Cope, now known as Cope’s Rule. Using the latest advanced statistical modeling methods, a new test of this rule as it applies dinosaurs shows that Cope was right — sometimes.

“For a long time, dinosaurs were thought to be the example of Cope’s Rule,” says Gene Hunt, curator in the Department of Paleobiology at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C. Other groups, particularly mammals, also provide plenty of classic examples of the rule, Hunt says.

To see if Cope’s rule really applies to dinosaurs, Hunt and colleagues Richard FitzJohn of the University of British Columbia and Matthew Carrano of the NMNH used dinosaur thigh bones (aka femurs) as proxies for animal size. They then used that femur data in their statistical model to look for two things: directional trends in size over time and whether there were any detectable upper limits for body size.

“What we did then was explore how constant a rule is this Cope’s Rule trend within dinosaurs,” said Hunt. They looked across the “family tree” of dinosaurs and found that some groups, or clades, of dinosaurs do indeed trend larger over time, following Cope’s Rule. Ceratopsids and hadrosaurs, for instance, show more increases in size than decreases over time, according to Hunt. Although birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs, the team excluded them from the study because of the evolutionary pressure birds faced to lighten up and get smaller so they could fly better.

As for the upper limits to size, the results were sometimes yes, sometimes no. The four-legged sauropods (i.e., long-necked, small-headed herbivores) and ornithopod (i.e., iguanodons, ceratopsids) clades showed no indication of upper limits to how large they could evolve. And indeed, these groups contain the largest land animals that ever lived.

Theropods, which include the famous Tyrannosaurus rex, on the other hand, did show what appears to be an upper limit on body size. This may not be particularly surprising, says Hunt, because theropods were bipedal, and there are physical limits to how massive you can get while still being able to move around on two legs.

Hunt, FitzJohn, and Carrano will be presenting the results of their study on the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 4, at the annual meeting of The Geological Society of America in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.

As for why Cope’s Rule works at all, that is not very well understood, says Hunt. “It does happen sometimes, but not always,” he added. The traditional idea that somehow “bigger is better” because a bigger animal is less likely to be preyed upon is naïve, Hunt says. After all, even the biggest animals start out small enough to be preyed upon and spend a long, vulnerable, time getting gigantic.

Bahrain anti-dictatorship movement continues


This Euronews TV video says about itself:

Nov 2, 2012 by Euronews

A much-criticised ban on all demonstrations and public gatherings introduced in Bahrain this week appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

Pictures uploaded on social media are believed to show protesters clashing with police in the capital Manama on Thursday night.

Unrest has resumed despite a government crackdown following last year’s uprising among the majority Shi’ite population against the Sunni ruling family’s hold on power.

The latest trouble came on the day an activist was given six months jail for allegedly insulting the monarch on Twitter.

… Activists accuse security forces of using shotgun pellets against protesters.

The authorities say the protest ban is a temporary measure until security and stability are restored.

It has been denounced by Western governments, the UN Secretary General and Amnesty International.

Bahrain: Concerns for the life of Mr Hassan Mushaima have been expressed by many senior activists as well as human rights bodies. The 65-years old leader of Haq Movement, has been constantly denied access to proper medical treatment for his cancer remission: here.

Pacific fishes, snails, reptiles threatened


This video from the Pacific is called Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

From BirdLife:

Species from the Pacific added to IUCN Red List

Wed, Oct 31, 2012

New information for Pacific Island freshwater fishes, land snails and reptiles is part of the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ has been released. These data indicate that 32% of these species are threatened with extinction.

This is an important milestone for understanding the challenges of managing plant and animal life in the Pacific Islands. IUCN Oceania, in partnership with the IUCN Red List Unit and other regional partners, is currently expanding the assessment of Pacific Island species for the IUCN Red List.

“The Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia are home to an astonishingly diverse range of terrestrial species, many of which are found nowhere else on earth,” says Helen Pippard, Species Programme Officer for IUCN’s Oceania Regional Office in Suva Fiji. “But in order to conserve the species that are so vital for the health, culture and livelihoods of Pacific Islanders, we must improve our knowledge of these species”.

In the most comprehensive assessment of its kind in the Pacific, an expert team evaluated 167 freshwater fishes, 166 species of land snail and 157 reptiles for inclusion in the Red List. This two-year project is the first step in a process that aims to systematically address different Pacific Island species groups over the next 10 years.

Although these species may not be seen as “charismatic”, they are extremely important in maintaining general ecosystem health: land snails play a vital role in nutrient-cycling, especially of calcium; reptiles can take on the role of predator or prey and often act as seed dispersers; and in the freshwater realm, fishes recycle nutrients, purify water and provide an important food source for many Pacific Islanders.

Land snails are found to be the most highly threatened group, with 70% of the assessed species threatened: half of all threatened species are listed as Critically Endangered, and many, including Aaadonta angaurana from Angaur island in Palau and Lauopa mbalavuana from Vanua Balavu in Fiji, also qualify for Possibly Extinct, as no live or dead shells have been found in recent times. Land snails also have the highest number of species found nowhere else, with 86% of species recorded from a single country.

In Fiji, three quarters of all assessed species are endemic, and in Palau, over 90% of species are unique to the archipelago. These restricted range species are especially vulnerable to the presence of invasive species such as the giant African snail, Rosy wolf snail and predatory mammals like rats and mongooses, which are decimating these snail populations. Habitat destruction for logging, agriculture and development has also been identified as a major threat.

The threatened freshwater fishes are confined to single or few river systems and are severely impacted by the existence of dams (e.g. Futuna’s emperor, Akihito futuna (CR) from the island of Futuna) and by pollution from deforestation, agriculture and mining effluents – for example, Stiphodon discotorquatus (CR) from the Tubuai Islands in French Polynesia is affected by land clearance, pesticides and the construction of dams, and Sicyopterus eudentatus (EN) from the Federated States of Micronesia is threatened by agricultural run-off devastating its habitat.

Whilst many fish species are not listed as threatened (due to their larger range and ability to occupy a variety of freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats), a large number (40%) are listed as Data Deficient. We urgently need information on these species in order to evaluate their conservation status, protect them and ensure that people’s livelihoods are safeguarded.

Almost one fifth of reptiles have been assessed as threatened, and are impacted by invasive mammals and plants, and by habitat degradation (e.g. the Pohnpei Forest skink, Emoia ponapea (EN) and the Fijian banded iguana, Brachylophus bulabula (EN). Some species are affected by hunting and trade (e.g. the widespread Pacific Boa, Candoia bibroni (LC) and the endemic Fijian Crested Iguana, Brachylophus vitiensis (CR). Future impacts from climate change may affect the thermo-regulation of some reptiles such as the Polynesian slender treeskink, Emoia tongana (LC). Tachygyia microlepis, previously recorded from Tonga, has been driven to extinction as a result of habitat loss, human colonization and invasive predators such as dogs, pigs and rats. Conservation efforts are therefore needed to protect the identified threatened species and prevent further extinctions.

This study highlights the enormous strain on our natural environments. The results are particularly important for guiding decision-making and conservation activities of Pacific Island governments, NGOs and the private sector and enabling direct action on the ground.

British Supreme Court accuses government of war crime


This video is called Extraordinary Rendition [Documentary about War on Terror and Guantanamo Bay / Binyam Mohamed].

From daily News Line in Britain:

Friday, 2 November 2012

UK RENDITION OF PAKISTANI ‘A POSSIBLE WAR CRIME’

The rendition of a Pakistani man by UK and US forces to Afghanistan, and his subsequent detention, has been described by Britain’s highest court as ‘unlawful’ and a possible war crime.

Yunus Rahmatullah, 29, was detained by British forces in Iraq in 2004, and rendered by the US to Bagram prison, Afghanistan, where he remains held without charge or trial to this day.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously dismissed the British government’s appeal to overturn the writ of habeas corpus issued in his case.

The court criticised the UK government for failing, on no less than three occasions, to request Mr Rahmatullah’s return.

It suggested that these failings may amount to a war crime, stating: ‘The, presumably forcible, transfer of Mr Rahmatullah from Iraq to Afghanistan is, at least prima facie, a breach of article 49 (of the Fourth Geneva Convention).

‘On that account alone, his continued detention post-transfer is unlawful.’

The UK government entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US, which said the UK could seek his return if required, to justify his rendition.

The MoU invoked and reinforced the Geneva Conventions which the US has consistently breached when detaining prisoners of the War on Terror.

The Supreme Court therefore held that the British government should have demanded Mr Rahmatullah’s return when they found out he had been unlawfully transferred to Afghanistan, again when the Americans themselves had decided he no longer needed to be detained, and finally again when the war in Iraq ended.

The UK government have sought to argue that, despite the MoU with the US, any attempts to secure Mr Rahmatullah’s release would have been futile.

But the Court said that this argument was ‘unsupported by factual analysis’ and that ‘no evidence was proffered to sustain it’.

The Court identified this as the first time in 150 years when the US (‘a mature democracy’) has ‘dishonoured’ an extradition agreement (para. 14).

The writ of habeas corpus required the UK, as the ‘detaining authority’, to seek Mr Rahmatullah’s release from the United States authorities.

However, the United States failed to act on the writ and it was subsequently discharged.

Efforts to get the writ reinstated were lost in a majority decision in Wednesday’s judgment.

In December 2011, the Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the Divisional Court and agreed that the historic writ of habeas corpus should and can be issued in the case of Mr Rahmatullah.

British forces seized him in February 2004 during an operation against insurgents in Iraq.

The soldiers handed him over to their US counterparts under the Memorandum of Understanding covering how prisoners would be managed.

He was subsequently illegally rendered to Afghanistan.

Mr Rahmatullah was the subject of an embarrassing climbdown in 2009 by the then Defence Secretary John Hutton who had to admit that the government had previously misled the house when it said that it had not been involved in the US practice of Rendition.

In June 2010, a detention review board authorised his release, saying he posed ‘no enduring security threat’ – but he remains in detention.

Although in US custody, the UK is the ‘detaining authority’ pursuant to the 2003 Memorandum of Understanding struck between the UK and US during the invasion of Iraq and remains responsible for Mr Rahmatullah under the Geneva Conventions.

The ancient writ of habeas corpus is a right under English law that dates back to the Magna Carta.

It may be issued on behalf of any prisoner unlawfully detained so as to bring him (originally, his actual person; now more often just the facts of the case) before the High Court, and his release ordered.

Giving the lead judgment in the Supreme Court, Lord Kerr dismissed the government’s arguments that the 2003 MoU was no longer in force.

He also highlighted the contrary position taken by the government in seeking to down-play the import of the MoU in this case when in other cases it had sought to persuade to the Court to attach great weight to these inter-governmental agreements – notably in extradition cases where it has repeatedly relied upon MoUs to send individuals to countries that routinely use torture.

The Justices also debunked the government’s argument that Mr Rahmatullah was not being detained unlawfully.

‘There can be no plausible argument, therefore, against the proposition that there is clear prima facie evidence that Mr Rahmatullah is unlawfully detained and that the UK government was under an obligation to seek his return unless it could bring about effective measures to correct the breaches of the (Geneva Convention) that his continued detention constituted.’

Importantly, the Supreme Court also dismissed the government’s arguments that the Courts should not have issued the writ because it infringed on the ‘forbidden territory’ of foreign and diplomatic affairs.

In doing so, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional right of the individual to challenge the lawfulness of their detention through the writ of habeas corpus.

As Lady Hale and Lord Carnwath put it: ‘Where liberty is at stake, it is not the Court’s job to speculate as to the political sensitivities which may be in play.’

Reprieve’s Legal Director Kat Craig said: ‘The UK government has nowhere left to turn.

‘The highest court in the country has expressed serious concerns that grave war crimes may have been committed, as a result of which a police investigation must be initiated without delay.

‘The Court has also found that Yunus Rahmatullah’s detention is unlawful.

‘Mr Ramatullah, who has been imprisoned for over eight years despite being cleared for release by the US itself on the basis that he poses no threat, must now be released immediately.’

Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said: ‘This powerful Supreme Court decision has huge ramifications. Clearly there will now have to be a full criminal investigation.

‘But if the US has “dishonoured” its commitment to the UK in this case for the first time in 150 years, and continues to violate law as basic as the Geneva Conventions, this also throws other extradition agreements with the UK into doubt.’

Jamie Beagent, the lawyer at Leigh Day & Co representing Mr Rahmatullah, said: ‘Today’s judgment is a resounding affirmation of the principles of habeas corpus and its importance in defending the liberty of the individual from unbridled executive power.

‘The government’s attempts to row-back on centuries of constitutional development and restrict the reach of habeas corpus has been rejected by the highest Court in the land.

‘Sadly, despite the fact that in international law Mr Rahmatullah remains a British detainee and the United States does not consider him a security threat, our client remains in detention at Bagram.

‘The writ of habeas corpus now upheld by the Supreme Court failed to secure his release as the US failed to act on the writ and it was subsequently discharged.

‘We will be drawing the Supreme Court’s findings to the attention of the Metropolitan Police who are currently investigating our client’s case in relation to offences under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957.

‘We call on the government to engage with the US to bring to an end the ongoing breaches of the Geneva Conventions in our client’s case for which they are responsible.’

Reprieve, the legal charity with whose assistance Leigh Day brought this action on Mr Rahmatullah’s behalf, will continue to campaign for his release and return to his family in Pakistan.

Leigh Day will continue to assist in any way it can to finally bring Mr Rahmatullah’s incarceration to an end.

Saving petrels on Fiji


This video from Fiji says about itself:

Conway Reef, known since 1976 by its Fijian name Ceva-I-Ra or Theva-i-Ra, is a coral reef of 450 km southwest of the main Fijian Islands. On the middle of the reef is a small sand islet, 1.8 meters high and about 320 meters long. The reef is uninhabited except for a large number of nesting sea birds.

From BirdLife:

Petrels fuel Fijian exchange programme

Fri, Nov 2, 2012

Community members from two BirdLife Fiji Programme Site Support Groups (SSG) recently visited a NatureFiji-MareqetiViti project on Gau Island to exchange learn about petrel conservation techniques.

Earlier in September representatives from the Mount Nabukelevu SSG, on the island of Kadavu, and Vatuira SSG, based on the main island of Viti Levu, visited the long-running NatureFiji-MareqetiViti project which seeks to conserve Collared and Fiji Petrel.

“The main objectives of the one week visit was to provide a platform of information exchange, sharing knowledge and strengthening skills with the local volunteers and the NatureFiji-MareqetiViti field staff on Gau on Petrel survey techniques”, said Mere Valu – BirdLife Fiji Programme.

The trainings allowed the SSGs to learn monitoring, radio tracking and searching of petrels. The team spent the week spotlighting, searching and monitoring Vulnerable Collared Petrel burrows which have been found by NatureFiji-MareqetiViti using trained sniffer dogs from New Zealand. They discussed the importance of conserving petrels and protecting their habitats with Gau community members from Nukuloa and Navukailagi villages.

“This training has enabled me to understand key features to look for when searching for Collared Petrel burrows in thick forested areas within our Important Bird Area on Kadavu”, said Jovesa Drau – Chairman of the Mount Nabukelevu SSG.

Gau Island is unique in that it lacks many invasive species – such as the Indian Mongoose – which pose a major threat to bird species in other islands in Fiji. The island also has densely forested areas which provide ideal for nesting opportunities for seabird species like Collared Petrel. The island is thought to be the only breeding site for Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel in the world.

The site exchange has enabled the Nabukelevu and Vatuira SSGs to understand the use of different survey methods, and how to apply them when searching for and monitoring petrels in Fiji.

“We learned how the use of trained sniffer dogs can really help when trekking through rough terrain searching for hidden seabird burrows”, said Akuila Qionibaravi from the Vatuira SSG.