27 new animal species discovered in Tanzania


This video says about itself:

The 2008 edition of the Exo Terra expedition headed for the Eastern Arc Mountains and the Southern Highlands of the Republic of Tanzania in East Africa. The main goal of this expedition was to map the amphibian and reptile biodiversity of these regions and to get a better understanding of the species inhabiting these complex ecosystems.

From Wildlife Extra:

27 new species found in Tanzanian forests

A recent study revealed that 27 new vertebrate species have been found in the forests of Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains. Of these, 23 were amphibians and reptiles. Of the total species that were identified in the region, the study found that there are 211 vertebrate species that are found only in the Eastern Arc Mountains, and 203 of them are found in Tanzania alone. These findings, says the study, re-enforce the importance of the Eastern Arc Mountains as one of the top locations on Earth for biological diversity and uniqueness.

“The Eastern Arc Mountains were already known for the unusually high density of endemic species,” explains Neil Burgess, a leading expert on Africa’s biodiversity and vice-chair of the TFCG, “however we lacked comprehensive data from at least six of the 13 mountain blocks.”

The study was conducted by an international team, and included researchers from the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) and MUSE-Science Museum in Italy, and was financed by Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).

The Eastern Arc Mountains are an isolated chain of geologically ancient mountains that extend from southern Kenya to south-central Tanzania. According to scientists, the forest has existed on the mountains for more than 30 million years and was once connected to forests in the Congo Basin and West Africa.

Good Galapagos tortoise news


This video says about itself:

Island-hopping in Galápagos: meet the world’s rarest tortoise and the birds of Española Island

10 October 2011

In the second part of his Galápagos island-hopping adventure, Andy Duckworth talks to naturalist guide Robert Naranjo, seeks out sea lions, a friendly hawk, dancing albatrosses and more prancing blue-footed boobies. He also meets Lonesome George, the last surviving Pinta Island tortoise and the rarest creature on the planet

From the BBC:

28 October 2014 Last updated at 19:16 GMT

Giant tortoise makes ‘miraculous’ stable recovery

By Jonathan Webb, Science reporter, BBC News

Where once there were 15, now more than 1,000 giant tortoises lumber around Espanola, one of the Galapagos Islands.

After 40 years’ work reintroducing captive animals, a detailed study of the island’s ecosystem has confirmed it has a stable, breeding population.

Numbers had dwindled drastically by the 1960s, but now the danger of extinction on Espanola appears to have passed.

Galapagos tortoises, of which there are 11 remaining subspecies, weigh up to 250kg and live longer than 100 years.

The study, based on decades of observations of the variety found on Espanola, was published in the journal Plos One.

Slow release

It offers some good news that contrasts with the tale of Lonesome George, the very last of the related subspecies found on Pinta, on the other side of the archipelago. George’s death, at the age of about 100, made international news in 2012.

Lead author Prof James Gibbs told BBC News the finding on Espanola was “one of those rare examples of a true conservation success story, where we’ve rescued something from the brink of extinction and now it’s literally taking care of itself”.

Prof Gibbs, from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York (SUNY-ESF), said he felt “honoured” to be reporting the obvious success of the reintroduction programme, which the Galapagos Islands National Park Service commenced in 1973.

His team has found that more than half the tortoises released since that time are still alive, and they are breeding well enough for the population to plod onward, unaided.

“It looks like we can step back out of the picture,” Prof Gibbs said.

It is quite a contrast to the 1960s, when just 12 females and 3 males roamed the island.

“They were so rare at that point, they couldn’t find one another. Many of the females had lichens growing on their backs, and fungi, that indicated they hadn’t been mated in a very long time.”

Those animals were taken to an enclosure [on] another island, to concentrate on breeding. Over the subsequent decades, more than 1500 of their captive-raised offspring have been released on Espanola.

Competing for cacti

It wasn’t as simple as putting the tortoises back, however. Their problems began when feral goats were introduced in the 1800s and devoured much of the island’s vegetation, severely disrupting the ecosystem.

“They can literally turn a rich ecosystem into a dustbowl,” Prof Gibbs said.

The goats even learned to feast on very tall cactus plants, whose dropped pads are a key food source for the tortoises in the dry season.

“They would feast on the roots… and chew away at the bark, and eventually that would topple these cacti. And then they had an incredible buffet of maybe 500-1000 years of cactus growth, demolished in a week or two.”

Conservationists set about culling the goats in the 1970s and finally eradicated them in the 1990s.

Their legacy, Prof Gibbs discovered, remains.

Analysis of the island’s plant life and its soil show that it has seen a major shift to bigger, woodier vegetation in the 100 years since the goats started stripping the undergrowth.

These shrubs and trees are a problem both for the tortoises and for their summer food of choice, the cacti.

The trees even get in the way of an endangered albatross that breeds on the island, making it difficult for the big, ungainly birds to take flight.

“Population restoration is one thing but ecological restoration is going to take a lot longer,” Prof Gibbs said.

Dr Rebecca Scott, an ecologist who studies turtles at GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany, said the results showed how important it is to monitor reintroduction carefully.

“Reintroducing these large, keystone species, in combination with reducing the spread of invasive species, can really help return ecosystems to native state.

“This work highlights the merit of well-managed reintroduction programmes, but also of really monitoring how these animals do.”

Dr Gerardo Garcia, a herpetologist at Chester Zoo, agreed that the situation was complex and the programme had succeeded because of careful, long-term management.

“It’s a long process but it’s quite normal for it to take decades,” he told BBC News.

“Nothing gets released and stable in less than 20 or 30 years.”

See also here.

Plant, snake discoveries in Romania


This video is called Eryx jaculus – snake.

From BirdLife:

Autumn of discoveries: SOR welcomes new findings in the Romanian flora and fauna

By Alessia Calderalo, Mon, 20/10/2014 – 11:34

For the Romanian Ornithological Society (SOR, BirdLife Partner) the autumn of 2014 will be remembered as one of the most rewarding periods since the society began its work in conservation. Two important discoveries have been made in the area of Romanian flora and fauna; our colleagues in SOR are proud to share them with the BirdLife Partnership.

The first good news came in early May, when biologist Matis Attila was mapping habitats in the Dumbrăveni Forest Natural Reserve, a Natura 2000 site. While working, he discovered a plant that had never been seen in Romania before- the Hairy Broomrape Orobanche pubescens. However, it was not until September that he was able to confirm his identification. This plant normally lives in the Mediterranean Basin, in countries such as Greece and even Bulgaria, but not in Romania. “It is not an invasive species because it was not brought artificially into our ecosystem. Maybe the plant has been here before and nobody noticed, since the members of the Orobanchaceae family are hard to determine”, said Matis. Hairy Broomrape is a parasite that takes its water and minerals from the roots of a host plant. From now on, anyone who is interested in seeing the Orobanche pubescens will have be able to do so at the Alexandru Borza Botanical Garden in Cluj-Napoca, where it will be growing with the other 650,000 plants of their collection.

The second, very exciting moment came with the discovery of several specimens of Javelin sand boa Eryx jaculus, a non-poisonous, non-aggressive snake that had not been seen alive in Romania since 1937. The anonymous person who made the finding reported it via a Facebook message to Vlad Cioflec, herpetologist and SOR member, noting the discovery of one specimen of this small snake. Vlad set up a team with Corina, his wife and fellow herpetologist together with wildlife photographer, Doru Panaitescu. The trio promptly went to the site, where they discovered other individuals: a female and six youngsters that were photographed, filmed and returned to their burrows. In 1986 and again in 2011, individual snakes were found dead in Romania, but no Javelin sand boa had been found alive in the country since before World War II. The fact that not only one but seven individuals have been found this time gives the experts reason to think that a viable population is possible in Romania.

This video is about the recent discovery of Javelin sand boas in Romania.

Both discoveries have raised the hopes of biologists at SOR, whose work is dedicated to ensuring that Romanian ecosystems expand in variety and richness. If you wish to know more about these findings, please contact Ovidiu Bufnila, Communications Officer at SOR.

Young Cape Verde sea turtles, new study


This video from Florida in the USA is called Loggerhead Turtle burying eggs and returning to the ocean.

From Phys.org:

Sea turtles’ first days of life: Scientists follow hatchlings from Cape Verde with tiny acoustic transmitters

Oct 23, 2014

With new nano-sized acoustic transmitters, scientists from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, the Turtle Foundation and Queen Mary University of London followed the pathways of loggerhead turtle hatchlings. According to the study, which was primarily funded by the Kiel Cluster of Excellence ‘The Future Ocean,’ local oceanic conditions are believed to drive the evolution of some unique swimming behaviors. The results are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) from Cape Verde start their life with a swimming sprint and a ride on favourable ocean currents. In this way, they escape quickly from predator-rich coastal areas and make their way to the safer open ocean where they spend several years feeding and growing. In this study, tiny acoustic transmitters provided direct insight into these pathways for the first time. “Thanks to the new technology we can start to fill in key information gaps about the so-called ‘lost years’ Dr. Rebecca Scott states. Funded by the Kiel Cluster of Excellence “The Future Ocean”, the marine biologist coordinated a joint study of GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, the Turtle Foundation and the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at the Queen Mary University of London.

“Scientists call this early life phase the ‘lost years’, because they were not able to follow new-born sea turtle hatchlings very far. Hatchlings essentially disappear into the sea until many years later when the lucky survivors return to where they born to breed”, Dr. Scott says. But with new techniques like nano-tags and ocean models we are able to see where the tiny young animals go. This is important because the dispersal experiences of hatchlings drive the development of their behaviours into adulthood. The more we understand about the biological and physical determinants of their dispersal and swimming behaviours, the easier we can protect this endangered species.”

In cooperation with the Turtle Foundation at Boa Vista, Cape Verde, the scientists collected hatchlings from two beaches in the northwest and southern tip of the island. Acoustic transmitters with a five millimetres wide and twelve millimetres long streamlined shape that weigh 0,4 grams in water were glued onto the shell of eleven hatchlings. The turtles were then followed at sea using a boat and acoustic receiver for up to eight hours and 15 kilometres. In addition, the swimming behaviour of 16 hatchlings were monitored in “hatchling swimming pools” for several days using data loggers made by engineers at GEOMAR. The turtles swam continuously during their first 24 hours after hatching and then switched to a pattern of activity at daytime and inactivity at night.

Due to the close proximity of offshore currents in this region, it seems the Cape Verdean hatchlings can sleep more at night than hatchlings from other places. For example in America, different research groups have shown that they would have swim a lot more to reach offshore currents”, Dr. Scott explains. “Deep oceanic water and favourable currents, which then determined the travel directions and speeds of our Cape Verdean turtles are situated very near to their nests. Therefore, it is very beneficial for turtles if local oceanic conditions drive the evolution of swimming behaviours that are unique to different nesting locations to ensure their best survival outcomes. It seems that turtles are born with these unique locally adapted behaviours.”

Finally, because larger animals kept swimming for a longer time than smaller individuals, a larger body size is thought to be a good sign of fitness. “But there is some evidence emerging that higher nest temperatures may reduce the size of hatchlings. Therefore, it might be possible that global warming decreases the fitness of the sea turtles by threatening them in more subtle ways than just obvious dangers like the loss of nesting beaches”, Dr. Scott assumes.

Florida green anoles adapt to invasive species


This video from the USA says about itself:

The largest Green Anole ever!

The Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) is an arboreal lizard found primarily in the southeastern United States and some Caribbean islands. Other common names include the green anole, American anole and red-throated anole. It is also sometimes referred to as the American chameleon due to its ability to change color from several brown hues to bright green. While many kinds of lizards are capable of changing color, anoles are closely related to iguanas and are not true chameleons. The Carolina is a small lizard; male adults are usually 15 cm (5.9 in) long in adulthood, about half of which is its tail, and it can weigh from 3–7 g (0.11–0.25 oz). Exceptionally, these anoles will grow up to 20 cm (7.9 in) in length.

From Breaking News:

A lizard species in Florida has evolved very quickly to deal with invaders

24/10/2014 – 12:16:32

In as little as 15 years, lizards native to Florida – known as Carolina anoles or green anoles – have adapted to deal with the threat of an invading species of lizard, Cuban or brown anoles.

This video is called Egg-laying brown anole (Anolis sagrei), Aruba. This female brown anole was filmed during digging a hole in the sand in which she layed an egg.

After having contact with the invasive species, said to have first gone to America from Cuba in the 1950s, the native lizards starting perching higher up in trees. Over the course of 15 years and 20 generations, their feet evolved to become better at gripping the thinner, smoother branches found higher up.

The change was rapid. After a few months the native lizards started moving higher up the branches and over 15 years, their toe pads had become larger with stickier scales on their feet.

“We did predict that we’d see a change, but the degree and quickness with which they evolved was surprising,” said Yoel Stuart, a post-doctoral researcher in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the study.

“To put this shift in perspective, if human height were evolving as fast as these lizards’ toes, the height of an average American man would increase from about 5 foot 9 inches today to about 6 foot 4 inches within 20 generations — an increase that would make the average U.S. male the height of an NBA shooting guard,” said Stuart. “Although humans live longer than lizards, this rate of change would still be rapid in evolutionary terms.”

This latest study is one of only a few well-documented examples of what evolutionary biologists call “character displacement,” where similar species competing with each other evolve differences to take advantage of different ecological niches.

A classic example comes from the finches studied by Charles Darwin. Two species of finch in the Galapagos Islands diverged in beak shape as they adapted to different food sources.

The researchers speculate that the competition between brown and green anoles for the same food and space may be driving the adaptations of the green anoles. Stuart also noted that the adults of both species are known to eat the hatchlings of the other species.

“So it may be that if you’re a hatchling, you need to move up into the trees quickly or you’ll get eaten,” said Stuart. “Maybe if you have bigger toe pads, you’ll do that better than if you don’t.”

The research was published in the journal Science.

See also here. And here. And here.

Young common lizard, video


This is a video about a common lizard in the Netherlands.

Its dark tail shows that this is still a really young animal.

Robin Jongerden made the video.

Weird dinosaur discovery in Mongolia


This video says about itself:

22 October 2014

This computer animation shows Deinocheirus mirificus walking. Deinocheirus had unusually large forearms and several features that seem cobbled together from a variety of other dinosaurs.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Fossils reveal very awkward dinosaur once roamed the Earth

Christopher Hooton

Thursday 23 October 2014

Palaeontologists in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert have discovered new fossils that allow them to create a picture of what one of the most unusually-shaped dinosaurs looked like.

Deinocheirus mirificus, which means “unusual horrible hand” in Latin, was a bipedal dinosaur with a hump-back and a big belly that stood almost as tall as the Tyrannosaurus rex.

The fossils were described in a study in the journal Nature, with vertebrate palaeontologist Thomas Holtz, Jr commenting: “This is definitely an unusual animal.

“It had more of a ‘beer belly’ than your typical ornithomimosaur.”

Palaeontologists recovered fossils from three individuals from the species in the Gobi Desert, and were able to combine them with some previously stolen by poachers to create a 95% complete skeleton of the dinosaur.

Its unusual combination of features has scientists puzzled.

“This creature wasn’t built for speed,” said Stephen Brusatte a palaeontologist at the University of Edinburgh. “That’s pretty obvious.”

Deinocheirus had wide hips and large toes, which made for an awkward gait as seen in the animation above.