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.

Colombian graffiti art helps monkeys


From the Conservation International Blog:

On Streets of Bogotá, Graffiti Art Raises Environmental Awareness

Last year, CI’s visual storytelling team traveled to Colombia to document graffiti artists in Bogotá. Street art is a popular and powerful mode of expression in the Colombian capital; recently, prominent street artists partnered with CI and the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation to raise awareness about environmental issues while trying to steer young people away from drugs and crime. Today on the blog, one of them shares his most recent conservation-themed mural with us.

mural-painting team in Bogotá

David “Wap” Suarez (top right) poses with his mural-painting team. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)

My name is David Suarez, and I am 29 years old. I have spent 13 of those years painting art on the streets of Bogotá under the pseudonym “Wap.”

I started drawing during childhood; probably due to the amount of anime and cartoons that I watched and collected, I started to lean toward illustration and art. I saw graffiti in videos and movies that I watched at that time (1997-98), and I was struck by the letters, colors, culture — and above all, the fact that it could be painted on the street where everyone could see it.

Some time went by before I got access to my first spray-paint cans to make my first piece, which was a total disaster. But I kept trying, learning from various painting and drawing techniques, color theory, etc. Finally in 2004, I and another street artist founded a group called “dot exe crew” — one of the most important in the history of graffiti in Bogotá.

mural in Bogotá

David “Wap” Suarez working on a mural in Bogotá. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)

We started painting murals not only thinking about the stylistic letters and use of color, but we also began to experiment with illustration of narrative and story, taking our graffiti concepts to a more professional and artistic level. This technique became popular among other taggers/artists during that time. This is how I came to paint the first mural on biodiversity, as well as work for corporate brands.

Parallel to this, in the eastern hills of Bogotá’s Chapinero neighborhood where I live, I helped to found Artes Urbanas (Urban Arts) with friends and local school districts that were involved in various manifestations of hip-hop culture. Artes Urbanas was a youth club that provided young people with a space to be creative and avoid getting involved in drugs and crime. There, I taught screening, airbrushing and drawing.

This project was very successful, and we were immediately exposed to many institutions and foundations that wanted to support us — including CI, with whom we began painting murals under the water ecosystem restoration project in Chapinero. These themes began to interest me more and more, so I started to do murals on these subjects independently.

After seven years of work with Artes Urbanas, due to some differences with members of the youth club, I left and the project died. It left me with great experiences and precedents, as art is my life. I continued painting murals on wildlife trafficking, on the Amazon, on the eastern hills of Bogotá, and other issues that don’t have anything to do with the environment but are part of the reality of my city.

Recently, I received the news that CI wanted to provide a grant to Artes Urbanas to paint a mural on the primates of Colombia. As Artes Urbanas was no longer, the solution was to divide the grant between two people for the preparation of two murals on endemic species of primates.

painting a mural of primates in Colombia in Bogotá

David “Wap” Suarez and his team working on a mural depicting the primates of Colombia in Bogotá. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)

For issues of conflicting interests and limited time and budget, I was not able to go to the Amazon to meet my primate brothers in person. However, I received my half of the grant and did my best to maximize the resources I had to paint the mural. I researched everything about Colombia’s primates on the Internet. CI provided me with a copy of their scientific book “Primates of Colombia” and other sources of information. And so I painted a huge mural of nearly 10 feet in height and about 100 feet in length in a busy area of Bogotá. My team and I are very grateful to CI for believing in and supporting our art.

mural depicting the primates of Colombia in Bogotá

The completed primate mural, which includes depictions of spider, howler and saki monkeys. Click here to zoom in. (photo courtesy of David Suarez)

My newest project, called “Factory of Ideas” has to do with restoring public spaces and taking up some of the projects developed with Artes Urbanas. I’m painting murals continuously; since the primates of Colombia mural, I have made two more and I hope to continue painting for much longer.

As for people who took the time to read this humble street story, my message to you is to care for the environment and support the arts — if not financially, then at least by respecting their importance. We should focus on making our environment something positive for everyone, just as I’ve been trying to do all this time.

David “Wap” Suarez is a street artist in Bogotá, Colombia.

Read a version of this post in Spanish here (scroll down).

Mexican howler monkeys in trouble


This video is called Wild Howler Monkeys at Iberostar Tucan Quetzal Mexico.

From Wildlife Extra:

Howler monkeys increasingly stressed by human disturbance

New research shows that disturbed habitats are resulting in increasingly poor diets for monkeys, and that the additional time and energy required to find food is causing concerning levels of stress in already critically endangered primates.

January 2013. Endangered Mexican howler monkeys are consuming more leaves and less fruit as a result of habitat disturbance by humans which is forcing them to invest much more time foraging for sustenance and leading to increased ‘stress’ levels, as detected through hormone analysis.

The research took place in the tropical rainforests of the Mexican state of Veracruz, which are being deforested and fragmented by human activity – primarily the clearing of forest for cattle raising. It shows that increases in howler monkey ‘travel time’ – the amount of time needed to find requisite nourishment – are leading to increases in levels of stress hormones called glucocorticoids. These hormones are not only indicators of stress, but are also known to relate to diminished reproductive success and lower survival rates.

Researchers believe the study could serve as a model for behavioural change and resulting health implications more generally in primates living in habitats disturbed by human activities, such as deforestation.

Dr Jacob Dunn from Cambridge’s Department of Biological Anthropology, who carried out the research, said “Howlers are arboreal primates, that is to say they spend their wholes lives in the trees. As forests are fragmented, the howlers become cut off, isolated on forest ‘islands’ that increasingly lack the fruit which provide an important component of their natural diet. This has led to the monkeys expending ever more time and effort foraging for food, often increasing leaf consumption when their search is, quite literally, fruitless.”

Fruit cycle

Fruit occurs in natural cycles, and the monkeys will naturally revert to ‘fallback’ foods, including leaves, when fruit is scarce. But as habitats shrink, and fruit is harder to find, leaves from second-choice plants, such as lianas, have increased in the Mexican howlers’ diet.

While leaves may sound like a plentiful resource in a rainforest, many leaves are difficult to digest and can be filled with toxins – a natural defence mechanism in most trees and plants – so the monkeys are actually forced to spend more time seeking out the right foliage to eat, such as new shoots which are generally less toxic.

Fruit is vital to monkey diet

Dunn added “The traditional view was that the leaves exploited by howler monkeys were an abundant food source – but this is not the case. The monkeys rely much more heavily on fruit than previously believed, and when turning to foliage for food – as they are increasingly forced to do – they have to be highly selective in the leaves they consume, visiting lots of different trees. This leads to the increased ‘travel time’ and consequent high levels of stress we are seeing in these primates as their habitats disintegrate.”

Faeces analysed

As trying to catch the howlers to examine them would in itself be highly stressful for the animal, the best way of evaluating stress levels in wild primates is by analysing their faeces for glucocorticoid stress hormones, which are general to all vertebrates. Through statistical modelling, the researchers were able to determine that it is the ‘travel time’ – rather than the increased foliage intake – causing high levels of stress.

“Monkeys in disturbed habitats suffering high levels of stress is in itself unsurprising perhaps, but now we think we know why, the root cause from the primates perspective. Our results also highlight the importance of preserving and planting fruit trees – particularly those species such as figs that can produce fruit during periods of general fruit scarcity – for the conservation of howler monkeys¨ said Dr Jurgi Cristóbal-Azkarate, also from Cambridge, who led the research in collaboration with Dr Joaquim Vea from the University of Barcelona.

The authors say that further studies are required to fully understand the significance of increases in stress in howler monkeys living in disturbed habitats. “Determining the full relevance of our results for the conservation of primates living in forest fragments will require long-term studies of stress hormones and survival”, said Dunn.

The research was published in the International Journal of Primatology.

Rhesus monkeys and generosity, research


This video about rhesus macaques is called Monkey Troop Mourns Loss of Baby.

From the Indo-Asian News Service:

Even monkey brains are wired to give

Monday 24th December, 2012

Researchers have found, as the season for giving sets in, that even monkey brains respond to the act of giving.

During a task involving rhesus macaques, three distinct areas of the brain were found to be involved in weighing benefits to oneself against benefits to the other, according to Duke University researchers.

The team used sensitive electrodes to detect the activity of individual neurons (nerve cells) as the animals weighed different scenarios, whether to reward themselves, the other monkey or nobody at all, the journal Nature Neuroscience reports.

Calculating the social aspects of the reward system seems to be a combination of action by two centres involved in calculating all sorts of rewards and a third centre that adds the social dimension, says Michael Platt, director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences who led the study, according to a Duke statement.

Using a computer screen to allocate juice rewards, the monkeys preferred to reward themselves first and foremost. But they also chose to reward the other monkey when it was either that or nothing for either of them.

They also were more likely to give the reward to a monkey they knew over one they didn’t, and preferred to give to lower status than higher status monkeys, and had almost no interest in giving the juice to an inanimate object.

British war department’s cruel animal experiments


This video from Britain says about itself:

May 17, 2012

During 2004, two UK television documentaries were produced which investigated the past activities of the UK Government’s Biological Warfare facility at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

The programmes revealed that scientists from Porton Down had used the UK as a vast outdoor laboratory during the Cold War. From 1950 to 1975, Porton scientists had clandestinely sprayed massive amounts of live bacteria (Serratia marcescens, E. coli MRE162 and Bacillus subtilis) and several tons of chemical compounds (such as Zinc Cadmium sulphide) over large parts of the UK.

The first programme shows – how Royal Enfield workers in an underground factory at Westwood Quarry were repeatedly exposed to an opportunistic pathogen in the early 1950s; how members of the public travelling on a regular railway train on the Salisbury-Exeter line were sprayed with live bacteria by Porton scientists while travelling through a tunnel; how the city of Salisbury was ‘attacked’ during August of 1960 with large amounts of a cadmium compound: and how Porton sceintists conducted the large, and now infamous, series of experiments – known as the Lyme Bay Trials.

The latter experiments exposed millions of UK residents to massive aerosols of live bacteria (E.coli and Bacillus subtilis) during the years 1963-1975. The huge bacterial clouds were sprayed from an Admiralty ship – ETV ICEWHALE – and were carried onshore by the wind and sampled by Porton scientists up to 50 miles inland. Athough this research was meant to be of a defensive nature, the official Porton film of these experiments stated: “Whilst these trials were designed for specific research purposes, they demonstrated, in a striking way, the feasibility of small-scale biological warfare. An appreciable dose of viable bacteria was achieved over an area greater than 1,000 square miles, by the release of only 120 gallons of suspension”.

From the (Conservative) Daily Telegraph in Britain, about the British Department of War … oops-a-daisy … ‘defence':

Rise in animal experiments at defence laboratory

Almost 10,000 experiments were conducted on animals, including monkeys and pigs, at the Porton Down military research base last year, it has been revealed.

By Telegraph reporters

3:35PM GMT 18 Dec 2012

The number of animal tests carried out at the top-secret facility in Wiltshire increased by 300 since 2010 and by more than 1,000 since 2009.

Currently 21 licensed animal procedures are under way at Porton Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).

Most of these fall into the “substantial” severity category which may cause “significant or prolonged animal suffering”.

Six of the projects cover work funded directly by US defence agencies.

The details were disclosed in a series of written answers from junior defence minister Philip Dunne.

He was responding to parliamentary questions tabled by Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, the member for Portsmouth South.

Mr Hancock said he was shocked by the statistics which, until now, were never made generally public.

Last month the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection highlighted “disturbing and cruel” experiments at Porton Down, said to include live pigs being blasted with explosives and forced to inhale mustard gas, monkeys being infected with anthrax and guinea pigs being killed with nerve agent.

Mr Dunne, the minister responsible for defence science and technology, listed the number of animal procedures undertaken at DSTL Porton Down over the last three years.

The figure has risen from 8,452 in 2009 to 9,582 in 2010 and 9,882 last year, he revealed.

The animals involved were pigs, rabbits, monkeys and rodents.

All scientific experiments on animals, including those at Porton Down, have to be licensed by the Home Office under the proviso that suffering is minimised as much as possible.

Procedures are graded according to the severity of harm or suffering they inflict.

Of the 21 “active” projects at Porton Down, four are “unclassified”, three are “mild”, six are “moderate” and eight are categorised as “substantial”, said Mr Dunne.

A moderate procedure may cause animals a “noticeable degree of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm”, according to the Home Office definition. Substantial severity “may cause a major departure from the animal’s usual state of health or well-being with significant or prolonged animal suffering”.

Mr Hancock said: “I was shocked to learn that almost 10,000 animal experiments are taking place at Porton Down every year, including ones inflicting substantial levels of suffering.

“The details were not included in the annual statistics published by the Home Office and many people will be totally unaware that this suffering is occurring.

“It is important that the Ministry of Defence routinely gives more information on its use of animals so the public can be fully informed.”

BUAV chief executive Michelle Thew said: “It is alarming that almost 10,000 animal experiments for military purposes took place in 2011 and that many animals were subjected to the most extreme suffering categorised by the Government.

“Some of the animal research conducted at Porton Down was even funded by the US defence agencies.

“The BUAV is calling for an end to the use of animals, including monkeys and pigs in these gruesome experiments. We need to ensure the safety of soldiers and civilians but the answer does not lay in blowing up or exposing animals to lethal chemical warfare and nerve agents.”

A REPORT published by the Ministry of Defence admitted that some trials of chemical agents on human volunteers at Porton Down from the 1940s to the 1970s involved “serious departures” from ethical standards: here.