Animals closer to human speech than thought


This video from North America says about itself:

Black-Capped Chickadee Vocalizations – Did You Know?

19 April 2014

The “Chickadee dee dee” call by Black-capped chickadees is one of the most complex vocalizations in the animal kingdom and is said to be language -like. This call is used in many social interactions such as, contacting members of the flock, or giving information about an individual’s identity, other slight changes in the phrase of this call can relay other specific messages.

Who’s who?: How chickadees figure out dominance hierarchies through song: here.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Animal noises ‘more closely linked’ with human speech

Tuesday 19th August 2014

ANIMAL vocalisations have more in common with human speech than previously thought, scientists claimed today.

Research published by the Royal Society in its Proceedings B biological science journal suggests there may be a missing link between sounds animals use to communicate and the more complex linguistic abilities of humans.

“Language is the biggest difference that separates humans from animals evolutionarily, but multiple studies are finding more and more stepping stones that seem to bridge the gap,” said lead scientist Dr Arik Kershenbaum of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis in Tennessee, US.

“Uncovering the process underlying vocal sequence generation in animals may be critical to our understanding of the origin of language.”

It has long been recognised that some species of animals possess distinct vocabularies.

Some monkeys have a range of cries distinguishing between threats, which is useful since the evasive action appropriate for a snake attack is different from that for a bird of prey.

But linguists have so far held that animals lack the ability to use grammar to change or extend the meanings of individual sounds by reordering them.

Their vocalisations were believed to follow a structural system known as the Markov process, where sound sequences could easily be predicted by listening to a finite number of preceding elements.

The new study sought evidence of Markovian dynamics in seven species — chickadees, finches, bats, orang-utans, killer whales, pilot whales and hyraxes — yet failed to find it.

The sounds produced fitted statistical models for human language instead, the scientists concluded.

‘Monkeys use researchers as human shields’


This video is called Samango monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis).

From Science:

28 July 2014

Monkeys use researchers as human shields

A team of researchers in South Africa believes monkeys may be using their presence to guard against predators, according to a paper published online earlier this month in Behavioral Ecology.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The samango monkeys of South Africa usually have a good reason not to stray too far from the forest. Although they spend much of their time loping through the trees they know to keep within a certain range: climb too high and they’re targets for eagles, too low and they could be a big cat‘s lunch.

However, it seems there is an exception to this behaviour – and that’s when people are around. A new study from the journal of Behavioural Ecology reports that samango monkeys under observation by scientists use the researchers as “human shields”, counting on their presence to avoid being picked off by a leopard.

Howler monkeys and least grebes in Costa Rica


This video from Panama is called The Mantled Howler Monkey of Central America.

23 March 2014 in Costa Rica.

After yesterday, still near the Rio Tempisque.

A mantled howler monkey family with a youngster in the trees, early in the morning.

Four black-necked stilts near the lakelet. They drink.

Two least grebes swim.

A bare-throated tiger heron.

A flock of black vultures.

Near the next lakelet, a green heron on a tree.

A yellow-naped parrot.

Two great kiskadees, busy with nesting material in their bills.

A black-headed trogon in a tree.

A Hoffmann’s woodpecker.

A solitary sandpiper on a lake bank.

A blue-black grassquit in a tree.

A white-collared seedeater.

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Stop damaging marmoset monkeys’ brains, campaigners say


This video from South Africa is called International Primate Rescue (1 of 4): Playing with Marmosets.

By Joana Ramiro in Britain:

Halt ‘disturbing’ medical tests on monkeys, campaigners urge

Monday 7th April 2014

Cure Parkinson’s Trust sponsors experiments pumping primate brains full of harmful drugs

Animal welfare activists have begged a British charity to stop “profoundly disturbing” experiments on monkeys’ brains for medical research into Parkinson’s disease.

Campaign organisation Animal Aid issued a statement today denouncing the Cure Parkinson’s Trust for sponsoring Canadian scientists to inject monkeys with brain-damaging drugs.

“The vast majority of the British public do not want their money being used to fund profoundly disturbing experiments on animals,” said Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler.

In papers published in the Journal of Neuroscience and Public Library of Science ONE between 2011 and 2012, the testing was described as injecting marmoset monkeys with the chemical MPTP, which mimics Parkinson’s by killing brain cells.

The animals were then given differing doses of L-Dopa — a Parkinson’s treatment drug — to monitor its side effects.

Cure Parkinson’s Trust was named in the media as a supporter of the tests.

“We are calling on charities like the Cure Parkinson’s Trust to focus solely on productive non-animal research,” added Mr Tyler.

Animal Aid argues that the recurrent use of the same animals was equally disgraceful, given that — according to the Home Office’s measurement of animal tests — the suffering induced to the marmoset monkeys was “severe.”

Mr Tyler claimed that the British public’s money was ultimately being used to torture the animals.

In Britain, as in Europe, it is illegal to re-use animals for experiments on the “severe” threshold of pain, distress or lasting harm.

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Tanagers and howler monkeys, Costa Rica, 15 March 2014


Passerini's tanager male, 15 March 2014

Still, 15 March 2014, in Cinchona, Costa Rica. A bit further away than the hummingbirds, a table with fruit attracted Passerini’s tanagers. Both males and females.

Passerini's tanager females, 15 March 2014

Palm tanager, 15 March 2014

The table also attracted palm tanagers.

Silver-throated tanager, 15 March 2014

And silver-throated tanagers.

Still a bit further away, we could see a Montezuma’s oropendola. And a variegated squirrel.

A blue morpho butterfly.

Clay-coloured thrush, Costa Rica, 15 March 2014

A clay-coloured thrush (the national bird of Costa Rica, because of its beautiful singing).

A white-crowned parrot.

A flock of white-collared swifts flying near a distant waterfall.

Bay-headed tanager, 15 March 2014

A Passerini’s tanager and a bay-headed tanager in the same tree.

Black vulture, 15 March 2014

In another tree, first one black vulture.

Then, two black vultures, before they both flew away.

On the fruit table, Passerini’s tanagers, both male and female, and a common bush-tanager.

Prong-billed barbet, 15 March 2014

A prong-billed barbet. Another species, unique for Costa Rica and western Panama.

We left. The bus went lower and lower.

Along the road, a melodious blackbird.

Mantled howler monkey, 15 March 2014

A mantled howler monkey family, including a youngster, feeding in a tree.

Mantled howler monkey and youngster, 15 March 2014

In another tree across the road: a Montezuma’s oropendola nesting colony.

Then, we continued to the Caribbean lowlands.

A turkey vulture flying.

This video gives an idea of the region where we arrived late on 15 March.

The video is called Rainforest and Wildlife in Sarapiqui, Costa Rica.

Stay tuned!

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Capuchin monkeys flirt by throwing stones


This video from Brazil says about itself:

Stone throwing by female capuchin monkeys / Arremesso de pedra por fêmeas de macacos-prego no cio

22 Nov 2013

Stone throwing by female capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) in estrus.

In the Sapajus genus females in estrus follow and try to attract the male attention. This display behavior includes facial expression and vocalizations.

The females of one of our study groups started to included stone throwing in the displays.

Serra da Capivara National Park – Piauí – Brazil.

From the BBC:

14 January 2014

Last updated at 01:22

Female capuchin monkeys throw stones to attract mates

By Ella Davies

Reporter, BBC Nature

Female capuchin monkeys have been filmed throwing stones at potential mates as a form of flirtation.

The primates whine, pull faces and follow potential mates around in scenes reminiscent of the school playground.

But scientists say this is a serious business for female capuchins as it is their only chance to secure a partner.

The previously unrecorded behaviour was filmed for the BBC/Discovery Channel coproduction series Wild Brazil.

Filmmakers captured the footage of bearded capuchins – a subspecies of tufted capuchins – in Serra da Capivara National Park, Brazil.

The monkeys live in the dry savannah-like habitat known as the Caatinga in north eastern Brazil.

Although their common name refers to their hairstyles, the monkeys’ passionate side is hinted at in their scientific name Sapajus libidinosus.

Camila Galheigo Coelho from the University of Durham, UK, and the University of Sao Paolo, Brazil, has spent the last two years studying the social interactions of the monkeys for her PhD and helped filmmakers reveal the secrets of the capuchins’ sex lives.

The monkeys are known for their intelligence after being recognised as the first non-ape primates recorded to use tools.

Their manipulation of stones – for cracking nuts, digging soil and investigating holes – has fascinated scientists for years and recent studies have focussed on the capuchins’ ability to accurately aim and throw these stones.

Ms Coelho’s colleagues Tiago Falotico and Prof Eduardo B. Ottoni recently published their description of the females’ novel stone-throwing in the online journal PLoS One.

Unlike other monkeys, female capuchins do not have any physical indicators to show when they are at their most fertile or “proceptive”.

Without brightly coloured, swollen genitals or strong smelling odours or liquids to communicate, the capuchins display they are ready to mate through their behaviour.

The females solicit attention from males with pronounced pouting faces, whining calls or by touching them and dashing away.

This behaviour builds as the females pursue their mates and in the Serra da Capivara capuchins, it leads to females throwing stones directly at the subjects of their desire.

But rather than a signal of aggression, the stone-throwing is a compliment.

“Similar to the other primates where the male might wait until the swelling has reached its peak in size or redness, capuchin males will wait for the female to display full blown proceptive behaviour in order to guarantee copulation at the most fertile stage,” explained Ms Coelho.

The biologist has been studying how individual behaviours can become more widespread traditions but she explained that this particular behaviour is unique to the Serra da Capivara group and is unlikely to be transmitted to others.

“It would be tricky for this behaviour to transfer. In capuchins the females stay with their groups for the rest of their lives – it’s the males that migrate to other groups,” she said.

Other cultures of using stones or sticks have a better chance of transmitting because males migrate into neighbouring groups and end up spreading the behaviour.”

Ms Coelho is now analysing her data to produce a “social network” of the capuchins’ interactions.

“The idea is that I can see who is friends with who and map onto that how the behaviour spreads.”

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Good Brazilian birds and monkeys news


This video is called Red-necked Tanager (Tangara cyanocephala).

From Wildlife Extra:

Critical Brazilian reserve expanded to protect Endangered birds and monkey

Two new additions to Brazilian reserve will help protect rare birds, critically endangered monkey

October 2013. Two new properties totalling about 237 acres (96 hectares) have been added to the Brazil’s Serra Bonita Reserve, expanding protection for six rare birds, a critically endangered monkey, the yellow-breasted capuchin, and a wide diversity of flora and additional fauna, including 330 bird species. Another measure of the conservation value of the region was illustrated in the 1990s when a world record of 458 tree species was counted in an area the size of a football field.

The acquisition of the two parcels was a joint effort involving three conservation organizations-American Bird Conservancy (ABC), Instituto Uiraçu, and Rainforest Trust (formerly called World Land Trust-US). Funding for the purchase was provided by these groups, in addition to the Robert Wilson Charitable Trust and other private individuals and groups.

Moist submontane Atlantic rainforest

The reserve is located in the Serra Bonita Mountain Range, which is one of the last remnants of moist submontane Atlantic rainforest in southern Bahia. This range covers an area of approximately 18,525 acres (7,500 hectares), located in the municipalities of Camacan and Pau Brazil, about 80 miles (130 km) from the port city of Ilhéus on the Atlantic Coast.

Birds of conservation concern that depend on the area include six species that are on the published IUCN threatened bird species list: the Bahia Tyrannulet, (endangered-will be downlisted); Pink-legged Graveteiro, (vulnerable); Plumbeous Antvireo, (vulnerable); Salvadori’s Antwren, (vulnerable); Seedeater, (vulnerable); and Temminck’s Seedeater, (vulnerable). These latter two species are attracted to the area’s seeding bamboo.

93% Atlantic Rainforest already lost

“This project adds irreplaceable acreage to a high-priority conservation area. With more than 93 percent of the Atlantic Rainforest already lost, we cannot afford to lose any more of these forests with their precious diversity of birds, monkeys, butterflies, and thousands of other species. The collaboration among ABC, Rainforest Trust, and the Instituto Uiraçu shows how, by working together, groups can make a lasting difference in the race to save these unique and rare habitats,” said David Younkman, Vice President for Conservation at ABC.

Accommodation for birders

“We consider it a top priority to raise the funds to expand the protections of the whole mountain through land purchase. Serra Bonita Mountain is still almost totally covered with either pristine or secondary forest. This expansion could easily be accomplished since most farmers have already put their land up for sale due to the collapse of the cacao economy,” said Dr. Vitor Becker, Director of Research at Instituto Uiraçu. Becker added that the reserve is open for business and has a wonderful lodge that can accommodate small groups of birders.

“Serra Bonita’s biological diversity is astonishing. The more we learn about this unique site, the more we realize it’s a wildlife gem worth protecting. As the Atlantic Rainforests of Brazil continue to be destroyed, the importance of acting now to save Serra Bonita grows. Rainforest Trust is proud to work with ABC and Instituto Uiraçu to ensure that Serra Bonita, and the many endangered species it contains, receives the protection it truly deserves,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust.

The Serra Bonita Mountain Range is part of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest biome which contains the highest levels of biological diversity and endemism in the Western Hemisphere. It is recognized as one of the five most species-rich biomes in the world and is considered a biodiversity hotspot. Sadly, it is still subject to high rates of habitat loss and is ranked as one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Serra Bonita Reserve protects an important fragment of this historically vast habitat. The Atlantic Forest has lost more than 93 percent of its original cover (most of that in the last 50 years) and the devastation continues at an alarming rate.

Fortunately, the Serra Bonita Mountain Range is still well-conserved, with approximately 50 percent of the land cover a pristine forest of extreme biological importance. The remaining area is a forest-dominated landscape composed of a mosaic of forests in different successional stages, with largely secondary forests in advanced stages of recuperation, interspersed with cabruca (traditional Brazilian agroforests in which cacao trees are planted under thinned-out native forests) and small areas of pasture. Serra Bonita’s forests also protect numerous springs which provide fresh water for the inhabitants of Camacan and Pau Brazil.

Situated at the centre of Serra Bonita range, the Serra Bonita Reserve Complex (SBR) is a private conservation initiative which comprises a “consortium” of privately owned properties totaling about 4,446 acres (1,800 hectares). In 2004, 2,964 acres (1,200 hectares) of the area were converted into four private natural heritage reserves. The SBR is the second largest area of private reserves in the Atlantic Forest Biodiversity Corridor and is seen as a pioneer in the protection of submontane forest in the region.

400 species of birds

The diversity of species on Serra Bonita is extremely rich, and the area has been designated as an Important Bird Area. A preliminary study estimated that some 400 species of birds inhabit the mountain range, nine of which are threatened and 59 that are endemic to the Atlantic Forest. The SBR is also the only designated protected area that preserves the habitat of the Pink-legged Graveteiro, or Acrobatornis fonsecai (a black and gray bird, endemic to the Atlantic Forest and IUCN listed as vulnerable). The species represents a genus and species only discovered in 1996 and whose range is restricted to this region.

Visit the Serra Bonita

The Serra Bonita research station and lodge provides high-quality accommodation to researchers, ecotourists, and birdwatchers. All income generated goes toward maintenance and further conservation at the reserve. Those interested in visiting should contact Clemira Souza at clemirasouza@gmail.com.

Ape, monkey evolution discoveries in Tanzania


Artist’s impression of the newly discovered Rukwapithecus, front, and Nsungwepithecus, right (Mauricio Anton)

From Big News Network (ANI):

Oldest evidence of split between Old World monkeys and apes uncovered

Thursday 16th May, 2013

Discovery of two fossils from the East African Rift has provided new information about the evolution of primates, according to a study.

The team’s findings document the oldest fossils of two major groups of primates: the group that today includes apes and humans (hominoids), and the group that includes Old World monkeys such as baboons and macaques (cercopithecoids).

Geological analyses of the study site indicate that the finds are 25 million years old, significantly older than fossils previously documented for either of the two groups.

Both primates are new to science, and were collected from a single fossil site in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania.

Rukwapithecus fleaglei is an early hominoid represented by a mandible preserving several teeth. Nsungwepithecus gunnelli is an early cercopithecoid represented by a tooth and jaw fragment.

The primates lived during the Oligocene epoch, which lasted from 34 to 23 million years ago. For the first time, the study documents that the two lineages were already evolving separately during this geological period.

“The late Oligocene is among the least sampled intervals in primate evolutionary history, and the Rukwa field area provides a first glimpse of the animals that were alive at that time from Africa south of the equator,” said Nancy Stevens, an associate professor of paleontology in Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine who leads the paleontological team.

Prior to these finds, the oldest fossil representatives of the hominoid and cercopithecoid lineages were recorded from the early Miocene, at sites dating millions of years younger.

The new discoveries are particularly important for helping to reconcile a long-standing disagreement between divergence time estimates derived from analyses of DNA sequences from living primates and those suggested by the primate fossil record, Stevens said.

Studies of clock-like mutations in primate DNA have indicated that the split between apes and Old World monkeys occurred between 30 million and 25 million years ago.

“Fossils from the Rukwa Rift Basin in southwestern Tanzania provide the first real test of the hypothesis that these groups diverged so early, by revealing a novel glimpse into this late Oligocene terrestrial ecosystem,” Stevens said.

The new fossils are the first primate discoveries from this precise location within the Rukwa deposits, and two of only a handful of known primate species from the entire late Oligocene, globally.

The scientists scanned the specimens in the Ohio University’s MicroCT scanner, allowing them to create detailed 3-dimensional reconstructions of the ancient specimens that were used for comparisons with other fossils.

“This is another great example that underscores how modern imaging and computational approaches allow us to address more refined questions about vertebrate evolutionary history,” said Patrick O’Connor, co-author and professor of anatomy in Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The study was published online in Nature this week led by Ohio University scientists.

See also here. And here. And here.

In Tanzania, Nature Provides Unseen Value for Farmers: here.

Monkeys ride capybara, photo


Friends in Low Places Supervliegzus 2010/Getty Images

Popular Science writes about this photo:

Megapixels: Monkeys Take A Ride On The World’s Largest Rodent

Wheeeeeeee!

By Susan E. Matthews

Posted 03.15.2013 at 3:30 pm

In the rainforests of South America, squirrel monkeys and capybaras would never meet. While squirrel monkeys live in trees up to 60 feet high, capybaras—the world’s largest rodents—dwell along river banks.

But at the Beekse Bergen Safari Park in the Netherlands, the two species have shared an enclosure for eight years now, and they seem to be friends. The monkeys ride and groom the capybaras. They even eat and play together. Interspecies relationships are more frequent between captive animals, says behavioral ecologist Marc Bekoff. Because keepers feed them, they can spend time getting to know their enclosure mates instead of foraging for food. In 2005, a similar arrangement at a zoo in Japan went sour when a capybara mauled a monkey to death. But Bekoff says that, for the most part, zoos are safe environments for odd relationships.