Spoon-billed sandpiper news from China


This video is called Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Courtship.

From the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) today:

Good and bad spoony news from WWT’s Rich Hearn and the rest of the survey team out in China…

Happily they’ve spotted many a Spoon-billed sandpiper out on the mudflats north of Shanghai. As many as 142 on one day! Many of these were marked birds – including hand-reared ones … . This gives us more confidence that hand-reared birds can survive and migrate successfully like their wild cousins.

The area is obviously a key feeding ground for spoonies but it’s no safe paradise. Some dead and dying waders have been seen – no dead spoonies for now at least but it may just be a matter of time…

More tales from the mudflats soon but read more here in the meantime.

Butterflies dying in Fukushima


This video from China is about a pale grass blue butterfly.

From BioMed Central:

Are butterflies still fluttering in Fukushima?

September 23, 2014 at 9:00 am

In this guest blog, Joji M. Otaki discusses the impact feasting on radioactively contaminated leaves has on the surrounding blue butterfly population.

The collapse of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011 is the second largest nuclear accident, next to Chernobyl, in the history of mankind. Many theoreticians and politicians have claimed, without any field-based or experimental evidence, that there are no harmful biological effects caused by the released artificial radionuclides.

Even worse, some biologists have claimed that there are no biological impacts in the polluted area, based solely on fragmentary data from a short survey or a non-informative experiment (or based on irrelevant data) that have no power to resolve the issue. These claims were often relatively well advertised.

However, this situation has changed in recent years. For example, it has already been reported that some animals, especially butterflies, decreased in number in the polluted areas in Fukushima, based on field surveys conducted by Prof. Timothy Mousseau and his colleagues. We have been working on the pale grass blue butterfly, Zizeeria maha, to evaluate the biological impacts of the accident … . We are sure that this species of butterfly was considerably affected by the accident, based on several field surveys, rearing experiments in our laboratory, external exposure experiments, and internal exposure experiments, some of which have already been published. The internal exposure experiments were performed in the previously published papers by feeding Okinawa larvae (least affected in Japan) leaves contaminated at high levels.

Now in the paper just published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, we tested if leaves contaminated at relatively low (or very low) levels from places where many people live could be harmful to this butterfly from Okinawa. As expected, leaves contaminated at very low levels (e.g., Okinawa, 0.2 Bq/kg; Atami, 2.5 Bq/kg) did not show any significant effect. However, to our surprise, leaves contaminated at relatively low levels, approximately 100 Bq/kg (e.g., Koriyama, 117 Bq/kg), resulted in a mortality rate of more than 50%. This result differs from the previous one which was based on leaves contaminated at relatively high levels (e.g., Fukushima, 7,860 Bq/kg; Iitate-flatland, 10,170 Bq/kg) see). Because the breeding lines used in these two experiments were different, the difference indicates sensitivity variation within this single species.

Indeed, in our experiments, a mortality rate never reached 100%, even in feeding leaves contaminated at extremely high levels. In other words, some are completely fine at least morphologically, but others are heavily ill or dead. Sensitivity to radiation varies very much among individuals.

The ingestional impacts appear to be transgenerational, as the body size (more precisely, the forewing size) of this butterfly decreased in the offspring generation. Moreover, the sensitivity of the offspring generation increased, resulting in very high mortality rates. Interestingly, feeding the offspring larvae non-contaminated leaves resulted in low mortality rates.

Of course, we do not know how much of our experimental results from the pale grass blue butterfly are applicable to humans. However, it is widely believed among modern biologists that insights obtained from one biological system are largely applicable to other systems. This is why biologists study model organisms such as the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Studies on this insect have greatly contributed to our understanding of humans.

To my knowledge, there have been no cases of human health effects of the Fukushima accident reported in scientific literature thus far, although anecdotal evidence has been around. To be sure, human-based studies are slow, descriptive, less conclusive, and more often a target of political pressure, compared with insect studies, but of course human studies are necessary. I believe that at least some studies on human health will appear sooner or later in scientific literature.

‘Remember Fukushima’: Thousands rally against nuclear restart in Japan — Common Dreams: here.

Tepco struggling to win approval of fishermen over water-discharge plan — The Asahi Shimbun; The Japan Times: here.

Tritium up tenfold in Fukushima groundwater after Typhoon Phanfone — The Japan Times; Fukushima plant prepares for typhoon Vongfong — IANS, Yahoo! News: here.

About a third of the 180 monitoring cameras installed at the experimental Monju fast-breeder reactor were found broken during a safety inspection last month, a source familiar with the matter said, renewing concerns about safety management at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which runs it: here.

More than 25,000 people will never go home because of Fukushima contamination — Rob Edwards, Sunday Herald: here.

Rare dusky warbler on Vlieland island


This video, recorded in China, is called Dusky Warbler (Phylloscopus fuscatus).

Today, a dusky warbler was caught, ringed and released at the bird ringing station on Vlieland island in the Netherlands.

Dusky warblers are rare in the Netherlands. They usually nest in east Asia and winter in southeast Asia.

‘Bear bile on the way out in China’


This video is called Asiatic Black Bears.

From Wildlife Extra:

Bear bile products soon to be a thing of the past?

News from Animals Asia appears to indicate that demand for bear bile products is on the decline in China. Their initiative, Healing Without Harm, has gained the support of over 1,900 Chinese pharmacies who have now joined the programme, pledging not to sell products that contain bear bile.

We reported in July earlier this year that China’s largest pharmaceutical company KaiBao Pharmaceutical had begun to research synthetic alternatives to bear bile, and this latest announcement marks another step toward reduced market demand for bear bile products.

Animals Asia founder and CEO Jill Robinson commented on the news: “We’re delighted that people are pushing to be a part of this campaign now. Healing Without Harm is a key part of our efforts to end bear bile farming and this initiative has seen an unprecedented rise in traditional medicine doctors and pharmacies supporting alternatives to the use and prescription of bile. It’s fundamentally important to reduce the market and the availability if more bears are going to be helped, and this is just what we are seeing here.”

In the past year alone the programme has increased the number of bear bile free shops and pharmacies from around 260 in August 2013, to an impressive 1,945 today.

Key new chain pharmacies signed up to Healing Without Harm, including; Hunan Yang Tan He Pharmacy Group, consisting of 870 stores; Hunan Qian Jin Pharmacy, consisting of 372 stores; and pharmaceutical manufacturers Hunan Fang Sheng Pharmaceuticals and Changsha Qing Er Kang Biological Technology. Changsha Maria Hospital also joined campaign.

“We thank all those people who are joining the campaign,” said Jill Robinson. “What was a trickle has become a flood. So many people in China recognise that bear bile farming has had its day.”

Although the news is positive, there is still clearly a lot of work to do before bear bile farms are a thing of the past. The charity report that there are still more than 10,000 bears kept on bile farm in small cages in China, suffering painful and invasive bile extractions which can cause infection for the bears. Although there are a large number of effective and affordable herbal and synthetic alternatives to bile, there is still a substantial demand in Asia for bear bile products.

So far Animals Asia has rescued over 500 bears, which are currently being cared for in sanctuaries in China and Vietnam.

Bear bile tourism finally shut down in Vietnam: here.

Ancient mammals discovery in China


This video is called Ancient Mammals. Mammal evolution from the Triassic to now.

From Science News:

Fossils push back origins of modern mammals

Common ancestor evolved over 200 million years ago

by Meghan Rosen

2:39pm, September 10, 2014

Modern mammals’ ancestors may have emerged millions of years earlier than scientists suspected — around the time the first dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

The fossilized remains of six little tree-dwelling animals push the lineage of today’s mammals back to the Late Triassic, more than 200 million years ago, researchers report September 10 in Nature.

“That’s really, really old,” says paleontologist Robert Asher of the University of Cambridge, who was not involved with the work. Scientists had thought that the common ancestor of those animals originated sometime in the Jurassic, he says. “This is very exciting stuff.”

Xianshou songae is the name of the newly discovered dinosaur age mammal.

Welsh Jurassic mammals feeding, new study


This video says about itself:

There Are No Transitional Fossils?

19 April 2011

Long-sought fossil mammal with transitional middle ear found in China.

Palaeontologists have announced the discovery of Liaoconodon hui, a complete fossil mammal from the Mesozoic found in China that includes the long-sought transitional middle ear.

The specimen was found by palaeontologists from the American Museum of Natural History and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

It shows the bones associated with hearing in mammals, the malleus, incus, and ectotympanic, decoupled from the lower jaw, as had been predicted, but were held in place by an ossified cartilage that rested in a groove on the lower jaw.

People have been looking for this specimen for over 150 years since noticing a puzzling groove on the lower jaw of some early mammals,” Jin Meng, curator in the Division of Palaeontology at the Museum and first author of the paper, said.

“Now we have cartilage with ear bones attached, the first clear paleontological evidence showing relationships between the lower jaw and middle ear,” Meng revealed

The transition from reptiles to mammals has long been an open question, although studies of developing embryos have linked reptilian bones of the lower jaw joint to mammalian middle ear bones.

The new fossil, Liaoconodon hui, fills the gap in knowledge between the basal, early mammaliaforms like Morganucodon, where the middle ear bones are part of the mandible and the definitive middle ear of living and fossil mammals.

Liaoconodon hui is a medium-sized mammal for the Mesozioc (35.7 cm long from nose to tip of tail, or about 14 inches) and dates from 125 to 122 million years.

It is named in part for the bountiful fossil beds in Liaoning, China, where it was found.

The species name, hui, honours palaeontologist Yaoming Hu who graduated from the American Museum of Natural History-supported doctoral program and recently passed away.

The fossil is particularly complete, and its skull was prepared from both dorsal and ventral sides, allowing Meng and colleagues to see that the incus and malleus have detached from the lower jaw to form part of the middle ear.

These bones remain linked to the jaw by the ossified Meckels cartilage that rests in the groove on the lower jaw. The team hypothesizes that in this early mammal, the eardrum was stabilized with the ossified cartilage as a supporting structure.

“Before we did not know the detailed morphology of how the bones of the middle ear detached, or the purpose of the ossified cartilage,” Meng said.

“Liaoconodon hui changes previous interpretations because we now know the detailed morphology of the transitional mammal and can propose that the ossified cartilage is a stabilizer.

“I”ve always dreamed of a fossil with a good ear ossicle. Now, we have had this once in a lifetime discovery,” Meng added.

From the University of Southampton in England:

Jurassic mammals were picky eaters, new study finds

August 20, 2014

Summary:

New analyses of tiny fossil mammals from Glamorgan, South Wales are shedding light on the function and diets of our earliest ancestors, a team reports. Mammals and their immediate ancestors from the Jurassic period (201-145 million years ago) developed new characteristics – such as better hearing and teeth capable of precise chewing.

New analyses of tiny fossil mammals from Glamorgan, South Wales are shedding light on the function and diets of our earliest ancestors, a team including researchers from the University of Southampton report today in the journal Nature. Mammals and their immediate ancestors from the Jurassic period (201-145 million years ago) developed new characteristics — such as better hearing and teeth capable of precise chewing.

By analysing jaw mechanics and fossil teeth, the team were able to determine that two of the earliest shrew-sized mammals, Morganucodon and Kuehneotherium, were not generalised insectivores but had already evolved specialised diets, feeding on distinct types of insects.

Lead author, Dr Pamela Gill of the University of Bristol, said: “None of the fossils of the earliest mammals have the sort of exceptional preservation that includes stomach contents to infer diet, so instead we used a range of new techniques which we applied to our fossil finds of broken jaws and isolated teeth. Our results confirm that the diversification of mammalian species at the time was linked with differences in diet and ecology.”

The team used synchrotron X-rays and CT scanning to reveal in unprecedented detail the internal anatomy of these tiny jaws, which are only 2cm in length. As the jaws are in many pieces, the scans were ‘stitched together’ to make a complete digital reconstruction. Finite element modelling, the same technique used to design hip joints and bridges, was used to perform a computational analysis of the strength of the jaws. This showed that Kuehneotherium and Morganucodon had very different abilities for catching and chewing prey.

Study co-author, Dr Neil Gostling from the University of Southampton, said: “The improvement in CT scanning, both in the instrumentation, at Light Source at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland where we scanned or even the µ-VIS Centre at Southampton, along with access for research of this kind, allows us to make inroads into understanding the biology and the ecology of animals long dead. The questions asked of the technology do not produce ‘speculation’, rather the results show a clearly defined answer based on direct comparison to living mammals. This would not be possible without the computational techniques we have used here.”

Using an analysis previously carried out on the teeth of present-day, insect-eating bats, the researchers found that the teeth of Morganucodon and Kuehneotherium had very different patterns of microscopic pits and scratches, known as ‘microwear’. This indicated they were eating different things with Morganucodon favouring harder, crunchier food items such as beetles while Kuehneotherium selected softer foods such as scorpion flies which were common at the time.

Team leader, Professor Emily Rayfield from the University of Bristol, added: “This study is important as it shows for the first time that the features that make us unique as mammals, such as having only one set of replacement teeth and a specialised jaw joint and hearing apparatus, were associated with the very earliest mammals beginning to specialise their teeth and jaws to eat different things.”

Migrating birds need Chinese wetland


This video is about bar-tailed godwits in Sweden.

From Bird Conservation International:

14 August 2014

The importance of Yalu Jiang coastal wetland in the north Yellow Sea to Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica and Great Knots Calidris tenuirostris during northward migration

Summary

Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica and Great Knots Calidris tenuirostris are long-distance migratory shorebirds with declining numbers in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. One of the most important staging sites for these two species during northward migration is Yalu Jiang coastal wetland in the north Yellow Sea. Historical counts have been limited to once a year and conducted at different periods; these yield inadequate data for population monitoring. We estimated the numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits and Great Knots and described their migration phenology during northward migration from 2010 to 2012 at the Yalu Jiang coastal wetland, using a combination of periodic area-wide counts over the migration period and a modelling approach that estimates passage times and total numbers of birds transiting.

The mean arrival date for L. l. baueri godwits was 29 March and mean departure date was 8 May. Corresponding dates were 11 April and 15 May for L. l. menzbieri godwits and 7 April and 14 May for Great Knots. We estimated that an annual average of over 68,000 Bar-tailed Godwits and 44,000 Great Knots used the area on northward migration from 2010–2012. Our results indicate that the Yalu Jiang coastal wetland supports on average at least 42% of the flyway’s northward-migrating L. l. baueri godwits, 19% of L. l. menzbieri godwits, and 22% of the Great Knots. Comparisons with historical counts conducted during peak migration periods indicate a 13% decline in Bar-tailed Godwits since 2004 and an 18% decline in Great Knots since 1999.

Our results confirm that the study area remains the most important northward migration staging site for Bar-tailed Godwits and indicate that it has become the most important northward migration staging site for Great Knots along the flyway.