Bahamas, built by bacteria from Saharan dust?


This video says about itself:

Wildlife of Exuma Island, Bahamas – Lonely Planet travel video

Visitors to sparsely populated Exuma, a remote island in the Bahamas, can expect a close encounter with sharks and iguanas.

From New Scientist:

Bahamian paradise built by bacteria using Saharan dust

13:40 28 July 2014 by Flora Graham

The Bahamas may have been created by bacteria thriving on minerals in dust from the Sahara desert, 8000 kilometres away.

In this NASA satellite image from 2009, it is possible to see how the many islands of the Bahamas are actually the highest points of distinct areas where the sea is shallow and turquoise.

These turquoise waters mark the top of the Bahama Banks – underwater columns of coral reef limestone more than 4500 metres tall that have formed over the past 100 million years. It was thought that tiny plants and animals generate the vast amounts of carbonate that make up the towers, similar to how coral reefs are formed. But the surrounding sea is poor in nutrients, so what would have sustained them is a mystery.

Now researchers including Peter Swart from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Florida are showing that photosynthetic cyanobacteria may actually have done much of the construction.

Cyanobacteria are involved in the precipitation of calcium carbonate in the sea, but they would have needed an enormous amount of iron to do their work. This could have been provided by the dust that blows across the Atlantic from the Sahara.

There are characteristic traces of iron and manganese in recent carbonate sediment on the banks, pointing to their Saharan origin. So the team suggests that the Bahama Banks are being built up by cyanobacteria and may also have been in the past.

The results of this research are here.

Sociable weaver birds’ nesting colonies, new research


This video is called Social weaver birds nest in a tree in AfricaDavid AttenboroughBBC wildlife.

From Wildlife Extra:

Why cooperation among sociable weaver birds leads to their amazing nests

A new insight into one of the biggest questions in science – why some animals, including humans, work together to maintain a common good – has been achieved by scientists at the University of Sheffield.

Sociable weavers, a highly gregarious and co-operative breeding bird from the savannahs of southern Africa, build the largest nests of any bird, often weighing tonnes and lasting for decades, and housing colonies of up to several hundred birds.

The massive nests consist of individual nest chambers which are used throughout the year for breeding and roosting and are embedded within a communal thatch.

The thatch covering the nest doesn’t originate from individual chamber building but requires separate investment from colony members to build and maintain it.

As such it provides a public good from which all colony members benefit in terms of buffering extremes of temperature, supporting individual nest chambers and protecting from predators.

The question that researchers from the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences addressed is how sociable weavers work together to successfully build and maintain this public good, while keeping freeloaders at bay.

This is a general problem in such situations because some individuals may cheat the system by benefitting from the public good, without contributing to it.

There are several potential solutions to this problem, one of which is that co-operative behaviour is directed towards relatives.

Dr Rene van Dijk, from the Sheffield research team led by Professor Ben Hatchwell, said: “Our study shows that relatedness between colony members is low, on average, but co-operation over thatch-building is kin-directed, due to the positioning of relatives within nests.

“Sociable weavers do not contribute to thatch building equally, but those that do contribute to it are more closely related to their neighbours within the colony than are non-builders.

“Crucially, related birds are positioned close to one another within nests, so that thatch building investment also benefits their relatives.

“Additionally, relatives visit each other’s nest chambers, suggesting again that the communal benefits are shared among kin.

The study not only demonstrates that the influence of kin selection may stretch beyond that of nuclear and extended family groups thus promoting co-operation in large social groups, but it is also the first study to show that kin selection may promote the communal construction and maintenance of an animal-built physical structure.

Such structures include nests, mounds and burrows.

“This co-operation is similar to how human families may decide to accept a lodger into their home.

“If the lodger isn’t related to the family, he or she may pay rent but otherwise they will not care too much about the upkeep of the house.

“However, if the lodger is a known family member, then you would expect them to maintain the house which he or she may stay in for a longer period and possibly inherit.

“It may seem like a small difference, but it tips the balance towards a more co-operative society.”

Okapi evolution, new research


This is an okapi video.

From Wildlife Extra:

New study sheds fresh light on okapi genetics

Very little is known about the mysterious and elusive okapi

A pioneering genetic study of the endangered Congolese okapi, using genetic techniques similar to those employed by crime scene forensics, has helped to unravel the mysteries of the species’ evolutionary origins and genetic structure.

The study, conducted by scientists from Cardiff University and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), analysed okapi faeces collected from the rainforest, skin samples from museums, clippings of dried skin and artefacts found in villages across its range in DRC.

“Our research showed that okapi are both genetically distinct and diverse – not what you might expect from an endangered animal at low numbers,” said chief investigator of the study, Dr David Stanton from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences.

He added: “Higher genetic diversity means that the okapi are equipped with the necessary genes capable of withstanding changes to their environment. Beyond that they are also more likely to survive to produce offspring bearing their own resilient genetic traits. Consequently, the population will continue for more generations because of the success of these individuals.

“This rich and distinct genetic variation is likely to be a result of periods of forest fragmentation and expansion in the Congo Basin in the ancient past. The data show that okapi have survived through historic changes in climate, and therefore indicate that the species may be more resilient to future changes.

“There is a concern however, that much of this genetic diversity will be lost in the near future, due to rapidly declining populations in the wild making efforts to conserve the species, facilitated by the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group, critical.”

It is hoped that the new information collected during the study will prove indispensable for future conservation management of the species and, ultimately, its survival.

In the past 20 years the wild okapi’s numbers have halved. Prior to the study, little was known about the enigmatic animal, endemic to the rainforests of central and north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Central Africa. Ongoing threat from armed conflict, habitat fragmentation, human encroachment and poaching has rendered the species endangered, according to a 2013 assessment led by ZSL and IUCN for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Only known to the Western world since 1901, when the species was discovered by a ZSL Fellow and described at a meeting of the Society, the elusive okapi is nearly impossible to observe in the wild because of its shy nature and the remoteness of the rainforests it inhabits; a trait that has helped it avoid getting caught in the cross-fire of Congo’s long-running civil conflict.

Dr Noëlle Kümpel, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group and ZSL collaborator on the research, said “The IUCN Red List assessment we carried out last year highlighted that the okapi is faring worse than previously thought, with okapi populations shrinking and becoming more fragmented. It’s therefore critical that we support ICCN to step up conservation efforts across the okapi’s range, and in particular ensure the integrity and security of the protected areas where okapi are found – which includes flagship World Heritage Sites like Virunga National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.”

Download the full study here.

Chimpanzees prefer African, Indian music to other music


This music video is called African Traditional Music.

From Wildlife Extra:

Chimps shun music of West and Japan in favour of African, Indian… or peace and quiet

Chimpanzees prefer silence to listening to Western-style music, but they do like a bit of African or Indian rhythm, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Not that the researchers want to be divisive.

“Our objective was not to find a preference for different cultures’ music,” said study co-author Frans de Waal of Emory University. “We used cultural music from Africa, India and Japan to pinpoint specific acoustic properties.

“Past research has focused only on Western music and has not addressed the very different acoustic features of non-Western music.

“While non-human primates have previously indicated a preference of music choices, they have consistently chosen silence over the types of music previously tested.”

Previous research has also found that some non-human primates prefer slower tempos, but the current findings may be the first to show that they display a preference for particular rhythmic patterns, according to the study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.

“Although Western music, such as pop, blues and classical, sound different to the casual listener, they all follow the same musical and acoustic patterns. Therefore, by testing only different Western music, previous research has essentially replicated itself,” the authors wrote.

Sixteen adult chimps in two groups participated in the experiment at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University.

Over 12 consecutive days for 40 minutes each morning, the groups were given the opportunity to listen to African, Indian or Japanese music playing on a portable stereo near their outdoor enclosure.

Another portable stereo not playing any music was located at a different spot near the enclosure to rule out behaviour that might be associated with an object rather than the music.

The different types of music were at the same volume but played in random order.

Each day, researchers observed the chimps and recorded their location every two minutes with handwritten notes. They also videotaped the activity in the enclosure.

The researchers found that when African and Indian music was played near their large outdoor enclosures, the chimps spent significantly more time in areas where they could best hear the music.

When Japanese music was played, they were more likely to be found in spots where it was more difficult or impossible to hear the music.

The African and Indian music in the experiment had extreme ratios of strong to weak beats, whereas the Japanese music had regular strong beats, which is also typical of Western music.

“Chimpanzees may perceive the strong, predictable rhythmic patterns as threatening, as chimpanzee dominance displays commonly incorporate repeated rhythmic sounds such as stomping, clapping and banging objects,” said de Waal.

“Displaying a preference for music over silence is compelling evidence that our shared evolutionary histories may include favouring sounds outside of both humans’ and chimpanzees’ immediate survival cues,” said lead author Morgan Mingle of Emory and Southwestern University in Austin.

“Our study highlights the importance of sampling across the gamut of human music to potentially identify features that could have a shared evolutionary root.”

See also here.

Nature and nurture seem to contribute equally to chimpanzee intelligence, @Sara_Reardon reports: here.

A long-term study of chimpanzees living in the Budongo Forest of Uganda has revealed two instances of the social transmission of new tool-making skills between members of the same community – the first time this has been observed in non-captive chimps: here.

New elephant shrew species discovery in Namibia


This video from East Africa says about itself:

Elephant Shrew, Macroscelidea order, eats ants termites worms and makes paths to dash from when a threat appears. Although diurnal they are seldom seen.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

New species of mouse-like creature with ‘elephant trunk’ discovered

A mouse-like creature with an elephant’s “trunk” has been discovered in a remote desert in Namibia.

The new species is known as an “elephant shrew” and is a type of round-eared sengi.

The tiny creature is the smallest known member of the sengi family with a body just 9cm long and despite its size, is more closely related to elephants, manatees and aardvarks than to shrews.

It was discovered by researchers from the California Academy of Sciences during research on their cousins in southwestern Africa.

Dr Jack Dumbacher and colleague Dr Galen Rathbun noticed that one animal differed from any they had seen before, being smaller, with rust-coloured fur and a new hairless gland underneath its tail.

Genetic analysis confirmed that they had discovered a new species and their findings will be published in the Journal of Mammology.

It is the third new species of sengi discovered in the wild in the past decade.

Dr Dumbacher, the Academy’s curator of ornithology and mammalogy, thanked colleagues for collecting “invaluable” specimens that allowed them to discover the difference.

He added: “Genetically, Macroscelides micus is very different from other members of the genus and it’s exciting to think that there are still small areas of the world where even the mammal fauna is unknown and waiting to be explored.”

Found on the inland edge of the Namib Desert at the base of the Etendeka Plateau, scientists believe the creature went undescribed for so long because of the challenges of doing scientific research in such an isolated area.

Yet it is the isolation and unique environmental conditions of the region that have given rise to the sengi and other unique organisms.

An Etendeka round-eared sengi has been added to the Namib Desert exhibit in the Academy’s natural history museum.

It joins a replica of Welwitschia mirabilis, an ancient plant also native to the Namib Desert that can live for up to 2,500 years.

See also here.

Okavango Delta in Botswana gets World Heritage status


This video about lions is called Okavango Swamp Cats.

From Wildlife Extra:

The Okavango Delta in Botswana has been listed by UNESCO as the 1,000th World Heritage Site.

This inland delta, which is situated in the northwest of the country and fed by the the Okavango River (that originates over 800 miles away in the highlands of Angola), is the largest of its type in the world and is comprised of permanent marshlands and seasonally flooded plains.

The River Okavango is at its fullest during the dry season, due to rainfall and floodwater from the Angolan Highlands, and overflows into these plains.

This attracts animals from miles around, making it one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife.

It is home to populations of some of the most threatened large mammals in the world, including the cheetah, white and black rhinoceros, elephant, the wild dog and the lion. It harbours 24 species of globally-threatened birds.

“The Okavango Delta has long been considered one of the biggest gaps on the World Heritage list and IUCN is proud to have been able to provide support to this nomination,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General.

“We congratulate Botswana’s authorities on their extraordinary commitment to make this historic listing a reality.”

“The Okavango Delta has been a conservation priority for more than 30 years and we are delighted that it has finally gained the prestigious status it deserves,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “Its ecological and biological importance as well as its exceptional natural beauty make it a prime example of what World Heritage stands for.”

UNESCO works to the identify, protect and preserve cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.

Read Chris McIntyre travel feature on the Delta HERE.