Endangered New Zealand birds released


This is a takahé video from New Zealand.

From Wildlife Extra:

Critically Endangered takahē released onto Auckland island

One of New Zealand’s rarest native birds, the takahē, has been released on Motutapu Island in the heart of Auckland.

November 2012. There are only 260 takahē in the world and nine were released on Motutapu Island. Motutapu is a pest free island half an hour by ferry from downtown Auckland. Takahē were once widespread throughout New Zealand but have been brought to the brink of extinction by predators, particularly stoats, and the destruction of their habitat. The release is a major milestone in work DOC is doing in partnership with Mitre 10, aimed at securing the survival of this critically endangered native bird.

Takahē brought from Te Anau

The takahē were transported almost the length of the country. Their journey began at the Burwood Bush Takahē Rearing Unit near Te Anau. The birds were loaded into transportation boxes and driven to Queenstown by Department of Conservation (DOC) rangers who run the Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue programme.

At Queenstown Airport the takahē joined passengers on board a regular Air New Zealand flight to Auckland, as part of the airline’s sponsorship arrangement with DOC which includes providing air transport for the department’s translocation programmes. From Auckland Airport the nine takahē travelled by road to Devonport and then by DOC boat to Motutapu. They were released into native forest planted by volunteers from the Motutapu Restoration Trust.

Thought extinct until 1948

Takahē were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in the Fiordland National Park 64 years ago. Dr Geoffrey Orbell rediscovered the flightless bird, deep in the Murchison Mountains, on 20 November 1948. The work to save takahē has involved gathering ‘excess’ eggs from the Murchison Mountains and hatching them at the Burwood Bush unit. Chicks reared at the unit were then released onto pest free islands where they have been safe from stoats. This has led to an increase in takahē numbers.

Pest free islands

Pest free islands where takahē have been released – Kapiti, Mana, Maud and Tiritiri Matangi – are now running out of room for takahē. A new site, free of predators and with a suitable habitat, is needed to enable the takahē population to continue growing. Motutapu fits the bill perfectly. It and neighbouring Rangitoto – the two islands are joined by a short causeway – were declared pest free on August 27 last year. Four takahē were released on Motutapu to mark the pest free declaration.

Motutapu’s grass and native forest provide a good home for takahē and the island is big enough to hold up to 20 breeding pair of takahē. This will create the largest takahē population outside Fiordland, a crucial step in securing the future of this critically endangered bird.

Takahē fact file

An adult takahē is about the size of a hen – 50 cm high – and weighs three kilograms.
Their shelter is also their food. Takahē eat mostly tussock.
The closest relative of the takahē is the pūkeko. Takahē are stouter with stubbier legs, have a heavier beak and shield and unlike pūkeko have no ability to fly.
A takahē is far more colourful than a pūkeko with its feathers ranging from deep blue through turquoise to olive green. Pūkeko are mainly black and blue.
Takahē have wings which are no good for flying but are used for courting and showing their dominance.
Takahē lay their eggs on a raised nest made of tussock grass making the eggs and chicks highly vulnerable to stoats.
Mating pairs of takahē produce one to three eggs each season. Of these 80% hatch.
Both parents incubate the eggs for 30 days and feed the chicks until they are three months old.
Takahē chicks stay with their parents until they are a year or sometimes two years old.
Naturally occurring takahē populations are only found in the Murchison Mountains in the Fiordland National Park.
With such a small population takahē are vulnerable to extinction particularly if there is a disease outbreak or an increase in predator numbers.

First Polynesian humans discovery


This video says about itself:

“The last great human migration: DNA and the human settlement of the Pacific” (Part 1)

Professor Lisa Matisoo Smith, University of Otago, New Zealand.

Friday 13 May 2011

Over the last thirty years there has been a fundamental change in our knowledge of the human settlement of the remote Pacific, the last major region of the Earth to be colonised by people.

The story begins with the Neolithic expansion out of Asia via Taiwan, through Island Southeast Asia and Near Oceania and out into Remote Oceania. In the Pacific, this migration event is associated archaeologically with the appearance and spread of the Lapita Cultural Complex (about 3500 to 2000 years ago) and linguistically with the distribution of Austronesian languages. The final stage of this migration was the settlement of the Polynesian Triangle (demarcated by Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand).

While this so called “Fast Train Model” has, for the most part, been rejected by the archaeological community, this general story of the migration of a population making its way out of Taiwan and purposefully sailing through Near Oceania to the islands of Polynesia has captured the public imagination. Genetic research has also contributed to this story with the identification of molecular markers that appear to track this migration event — in particular the distribution of the mitochondrial DNA marker known as the “Polynesian motif”. But as more genetic data accumulate this simple model appears to be problematic.

This lecture will discuss the latest genetic studies that suggest a more complicated picture of Pacific settlement and population origins and show how ancient DNA analyses are allowing us to test some possible alternative scenarios for the settlement of the Pacific islands and beyond.

From Simon Fraser University in Canada:

Scientists improve dating of early human settlement

15 Nov 2012

A Simon Fraser University archaeologist and his colleagues at the University of Queensland in Australia have significantly narrowed down the time frame during which the last major chapter in human colonization, the Polynesian triangle, occurred.

SFU professor David Burley, Marshall Weisler and Jian-Xin Zhao argue the first boats arrived between 880 and 896 BC. The 16-year window is far smaller than the previous radiocarbon-dated estimate of 178 years between 2,789 and 2,947 years ago.

Burley, the lead author, and his colleagues have recently had their claims published in an article in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Polynesia, a group of 1,000 islands forming a geographic triangle connecting Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island in the South Pacific Ocean, is one of the last landscapes discovered and settled by humans.

Burley’s team applied uranium/thorium dating to a series of coral artifacts recovered from a site in Tonga known to be the first settlement location for Polynesia.

This dating technique is not new, having been used previously to date coral reefs and stalagmites in caves and other materials. But this study’s authors had to develop new processes and verification protocols to achieve their more precise dating of the Tongan artifacts.

When the results came back from a Queensland University lab, Burley says his only comment was: “Wow! It is spooky that we can track an event that happened so long ago to such an exact period of time.”

The researchers dated coral files, common day artifacts used to file-down wood or shell materials for manufacturing other artifacts. Thirteen of these were successfully dated, all nicely falling into a temporal sequence from top to bottom of their archaeological siting.

Burley is most excited about a coral file found in the very bottom of the site. Not only does it have the oldest date, but also it was found in beach sand, over which the archaeological site formed. “It is the beach on which first landfall took place, and we now know exactly when that happened,” says Burley.

Polynesian people used binary numbers 600 years ago: here.

South Asian bird news


This video from India is called The Amur Falcon Massacre, Doyang, Nagaland from Conservation India.

BirdLife writes about this:

Help required to end hunting massacre in Nagaland, India

Thu, Nov 15, 2012

Help required to end hunting massacre in Nagaland, India

On November 1st, national online campaigning organisation Conservation India broke the shocking news of an appalling massacre of thousands of migrating Amur Falcons Falco amurensis that had recently been trapped for sale in the remote state of Nagaland in the north-east of India.

Taking advantage of the falcons’ habit of concentrating in huge numbers during their migration, local hunters have been spreading nets across vast areas of the birds’ forest roost sites, capturing them en masse and then keeping the often-injured Amurs alive, until they might be killed and sold as fresh food. The recent trapping and slaughter appears to have been taking place on an ‘industrial scale’ and unless stopped will clearly have a devastating affect on the birds’ global population at these unsustainable levels.

Please note this video that documents the massacre contains some extremely disturbing footage.

Such is the reach of today’s social media that this emotive story went viral within hours and during the next few days, news quickly spread around the world shocking all who read about the Amurs’ plight. Conservation India’s highly effective campaign has already helped galvanise local, national and international action.

The rate of population decline of resident vultures in India and Nepal has slowed, but populations remain low and vulnerable: here.

Oldest prehistoric spear discovery in South Africa


Half-million-year-old spear tips recovered from the Kathu Pan 1 site in South Africa, including the one shown from different angles, suggest that an ancestor of humans and Neandertals used weapons for hunting. Credit: Courtesy of J. Wilkins

From New Scientist:

First stone-tipped spear thrown earlier than thought

The hunt for food led hominins to cast the first stone half a million years ago – 200,000 years earlier than we thought. Archaeologists have found the oldest evidence yet of stone-tipped spears.

The new discovery in South Africa suggests that it was neither our species nor Neanderthals that pioneered the use of such spears, but our shared ancestor Homo heidelbergensis.

We already knew that Homo heidelbergensis could fashion wooden spears – a 500,000-year-old horse shoulder blade from Boxgrove, UK, has a semicircular hole in it that suggests it was pierced by a spear. “But the hole’s bevelled edges and circular shape are not suggestive of a stone-tipped weapon,” says Jayne Wilkins at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada.

Stone points used on spears had been found only at sites that date back no more than 300,000 years, and that are associated with Neanderthals or archaic members of our species.

That gives huge significance to a new discovery by Wilkins and her colleagues in 500,000-year-old deposits at Kathu Pan in South Africa. The team unearthed a hoard of stone points, each between 4 and 9 centimetres long, that they think belonged to the earliest stone-tipped spears yet found. The stone points are the right shape and size for the job, and some have fractured tips that suggest they were used as weapons.

Crucially, the points show signs of having been resharpened to maintain their symmetry. That is characteristic of spear tips and not of handheld cutting tools; the latter typically become less symmetrical with use because only the side of the tool used for cutting is kept sharp.

The find does more than simply extend the prehistory of stone-tipped spears – it puts those first spears firmly in the hands of Homo heidelbergensis, says Wilkins. Modern foragers use such tools to take down large game as part of cooperative, strategic hunts. Perhaps our ancestor did so too.

“The spears are evidence for the deep accumulation of hunting behaviours in our lineage,” says Wilkins. Use of the spears may have developed as the brain of Homo heidelbergensis increased in size, she says.

Paola Villa at the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder agrees with the findings. She points out that at a 350,000-year-old site near Schöningen, Germany, wooden spears have been found associated with the remains of 19 horses, suggesting Homo heidelbergensis mounted a carefully planned ambush there. “That early humans had sophisticated cognitive abilities comes as no surprise,” she says.

Last week, some of Wilkins’s colleagues discovered 71,000-year-old stone tips that may have belonged to the world’s earliest arrows. What should we make of the fact that this find, too, was made in South Africa?

It might just reflect the amount of work going on there, given that vast areas of Africa have yet to be explored for prehistoric remains. “Alternatively, it may be that the unique environmental conditions of southern Africa are in part responsible for technological innovation,” says Wilkins. Though it is unclear what these conditions may have been.

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1227608

See also here.

Traditionally, bows and arrows are supposed to mark the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic, about 20,000 years ago.

Neanderthals supposedly did not even use spears for throwing, only for stabbing at short distance.

Much marine wildlife still undescribed


This video says about itself:

Some of the best underwater footage illustrating the beautiful marine life found in the southern waters of Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne, Australia.

From Phys.org:

At least one-third of marine species remain undescribed, study says November 15, 2012 At least one-third of the species that inhabit the world’s oceans may remain completely unknown to science. That’s despite the fact that more species have been described in the last decade than in any previous one, according to a report published online on November 15 in the Cell Press publication Current Biology that details the first comprehensive register of marine species of the world—a massive collaborative undertaking by hundreds of experts around the globe.

The researchers estimate that the ocean may be home to as many as one million species in all—likely not more. About 226,000 of those species have so far been described. There are another 65,000 species awaiting description in specimen collections. “For the first time, we can provide a very detailed overview of species richness, partitioned among all major marine groups. It is the state of the art of what we know—and perhaps do not know—about life in the ocean,” says Ward Appeltans of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO. The findings provide a reference point for conservation efforts and estimates of extinction rates, the researchers say. They expect that the vast majority of unknown species—composed disproportionately of smaller crustaceans, molluscs, worms, and sponges—will be found this century. Earlier estimates of ocean diversity had relied on expert polls based on extrapolations from past rates of species descriptions and other measures. Those estimates varied widely, suffering because there was no global catalog of marine species. Appeltans and colleagues including Mark Costello from the University of Auckland have now built such an inventory. The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) is an open-access, online database (see www.marinespecies.org/) created by 270 experts representing 146 institutions and 32 countries. It is now 95% complete and is continually being updated as new species are discovered.

“Building this was not as simple as it should be, because there has not been any formal way to register species,” Costello says. A particular problem is the occurrence of multiple descriptions and names for the same species—so called “synonyms,” Costello says. For instance, each whale or dolphin has on average 14 different scientific names. As those synonyms are discovered through careful examination of records and specimens, the researchers expect perhaps 40,000 “species” to be struck from the list. But such losses will probably be made up as DNA evidence reveals overlooked “cryptic” species. While fewer species live in the ocean than on land, marine life represents much older evolutionary lineages that are fundamental to our understanding of life on Earth, Appeltans says. And, in some sense, WoRMS is only the start. “This database provides an example of how other biologists could similarly collaborate to collectively produce an inventory of all life on Earth,” Appeltans says. More information: Appeltans et al.: “The Magnitude of Global Marine Species Diversity”, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.036

See also here.