New Caledonian birds recovery


This video from New Zealand says about itself:

With only around 40 left, the New Zealand fairy tern is one of NZ’s most endangered birds. Find out how DOC and local schoolchildren are trying to protect them.

From BirdLife:

Rat eradication success in New Caledonia

Sun, Sep 25, 2011

As part of a David and Lucile Packard Foundation project Société Calédonienne d’Ornithologie (SCO) the BirdLife Partner in New Caledonia, undertook operations in 2008 to eradicate invasive Black Rats Rattus rattus and Pacific Rat Rattus exulans from three important seabird islands in New Caledonia. The latest follow up surveys has confirmed that Table, Double and Tiam’bouène islands are all officially rat-free, and the bird populations are already showing signs of recovery.

The islands of Table (14 ha), Double ( 6 ha) and Tiam’bouène (17 ha) form part of the Îlots du Nord-Ouest Important Bird Areas (IBA) complex in Northwest New Caledonia. They are globally important for Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus, Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii, Fairy Tern Sterna nereis, Dark-brown Honeyeater Lichmera incana and Green-backed White-eye Zosterops xanthochroa which were being predated by introduced rats.

In September 2008 SCO completed operations to remove rats from the three islands, and the most recent follow up survey in mid-July 2011 has formally declared these operations successful following 24 months of rat-free monitoring.

Already bird populations are showing signs of recovery, and [Vulnerable] Fairy Tern nested on the islands for the first time in 2010; Tiam’bouène hosting a colony of 28 active nests. Another very encouraging result is the first ever presence of [Near Threatened] Tahiti Petrel Pseudobulweria rostrata which was found breeding on Table Island in July 2011.

On each island, along with many new bird species being recorded, SCO report that the eco-systems are also showing positive signs of recovery. SCO are grateful for the support received from several individuals and organizations in completing these eradications and in particular thank the Pacific Invasives Initiative, the New Zealand Department of Conservation, and BirdLife International for their assistance.

The removal of rats on these islands is therefore an important starting point for the management of IBA islands Northwest. It is also an important action for the conservation of Fairy Tern in New Caledonia with between 70 and 90 pairs now found in the IBA out of a total of 130 pairs in the country.

Next steps are to continue monitoring the biodiversity recovery of the islands, seek the creation of nature reserves to protect the tern colonies from human disturbance, and to expand rat eradication to additional islands included within the IBAs complex.

The Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus of New Caledonia is an iconic bird that symbolises the challenges faced by many island species in the modern era: here.

A new guidebook has been published by SCO (BirdLife in New Caledonia) which gives a concise description of the breeding, migratory and sea birds found within the Pacific country: here.

After years of planning a rodent eradication operation on Kayangel Atoll, Palau, has just been completed and is already showing early signs of success. “So far, there have been no reports of rats on any of Kayangel’s four islands”, said Anu Gupta – Conservation and Protected Areas Program Director for Palau Conservation Society (PCS / BirdLife Partner): here.

Birds and American mink on the Outer Hebrides: here.

Saving New Caledonia’s kagu birds


This is a kagu video.

From BirdLife:

Putting Kagu on the Map

Fri, Sep 2, 2011

Société Calédonienne d’Ornithologie (SCO – BirdLife in New Caledonia) have received support from the USFWS Wildlife Without Borders – Critically Endangered Species Conservation Fund to help save their national bird from extinction.

Kagus are listed as Endangered by BirdLife International on behalf of the IUCN Red List, and is the only living member of the family Rhynochetidae. Physical features of Kagu that make it distinct from other birds include its dramatic displays with its strikingly banded wings.

As with many bird species endemic to the Pacific, Kagu evolved without mammalian predators and its lifestyle – it is flightless and ground-nesting – makes it highly susceptible to predation, particularly by recently introduced mammals such as dogs, cats and pigs.

SCO have been striving to improve knowledge about the birds of New Caledonia, and is involved in the projects to protect both the birds and the habitats upon which they depend. In 2008, SCO compiled a ten year Kagu Recovery Plan.

This newly funded project deals with a crucial aspect of the Kagu Recovery Plan, namely the documentation of its distribution and density in priority areas. The most robust method for determining this (the first step in aiding their recovery) is to monitor Kagu calls using sound recorders. These are favored because Kagu are found in remote difficult-to-access forested areas, and only call for short periods of the day.

SCO have tested the recording equipment to ensure its efficacy and now urgently need funds to undertake island-wide surveys in areas where Kagu have previously been recorded. SCO will also train local “Kagu Listeners” – members of the local communities – to collect additional data and increase the capacity for on-the-ground conservation of the species.

Funds from the USFWS Critically Endangered Animals Fund amounts to about half of the total project costs, and will be used to implement some of the Kagu Recovery Plan’s most important aspects, through:

Assessment and monitoring of Kagu populations at four Kagu refuges
Raising awareness and enabling local communities to protect Kagus.
Establishing community Kagu monitoring.

This project is a vital part of a wider program of work to save the Kagu (which includes funding from The BBC Wildlife Fund) from extinction by identifying new locations which will become a focus for addition conservation actions, and increasing the capacity of local people to help conserve this charismatic species and national emblem of New Caledonia.

New Caledonian crows make tools


This is a video of a coral reef in Lifou, New Caledonia.

From Associated Press:

Crows bend twigs into tools to find food

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON — Mounting tiny video cameras to the tail feathers of crows, researchers discovered that the birds use a variety of tools to seek food, and even make their own tools, plucking, smoothing and bending twigs and grass stems.

“We observed a new mode of tool use that was not known before. We saw them use tools on the ground, using a little grass stem to poke and fish into nests,” researcher Christian Rutz of England’s University of Oxford said in a telephone interview.

New Caledonian crows had been known to use sticks to probe rotting trees for grubs, but they were never seen to use tools on the ground before.

“The ecological niche they exploit with tools is larger than had been thought,” Rutz said of the findings published in Thursday’s online edition of the journal Science.

Rutz’s research team studies New Caledonian crows in the lab where they have been known to bend wires into tools to retrieve food. They wanted to see if the crows have similar behavior in the wild.

But it’s hard to observe the birds on the Pacific island of New Caledonia both because of the heavy forests and the birds’ sensitivity to having people around.

So they came up with the idea of feather-cam, a 13-gram video camera they tested on lab crows and then took to the forest. A gram is about the weight of a paper clip.

The camera is attached to the tail feathers of the crow and bends forward to record the belly, feet and sometimes the head of the bird.

“They do make tools, which is quite unusual. They do not just pick up any random twig,” Rutz explained.

He said the birds select the twig they want, break it off and sometimes smooth it or bend it into a hook. They also like to use dry grass stems, which are more flexible, he explained. Especially good tools were kept for future use.

The crows were observed to eat an average of eight small items per hour, such as beetle larvae, small lizards and small fruits.

ScienceDaily (Jan. 17, 2010) — A new study using motion sensitive video cameras has revealed how New Caledonian crows use tools in the wild: here.

Clever New Caledonian crows can use three tools: here.

Parent crows teach young New Caledonian crows how to use tools: here.

Scientists studied crows and concluded that they are capable of reasoning: here.

Kagus of New Caledonia: here.

Keep the Lagoons of New Caledonia intact: here.

British birds and fruits: here.

American crows: here.

Anger a crow and it will remember your face for over five years and warn its friends about you: here.

Origins of flowering plants


This video is called The Amborella trichopoda genome; generating an evolutionary reference for plant biology; Dr.Joshua Der.

From World Science:

Shedding light on the origin of flowers

May 17, 2006

Flowers are almost everywhere, but the origins of flowering plants are far from clear: Charles Darwin called the problem an “abominable mystery.”

A study of a plant seen as a “living fossil” now suggests flowers arose during a time of intense evolutionary experimentation, a researcher says.

The plant, found in the rain forests of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, has a unique way of forming eggs, said William “Ned” Friedman of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who conducted the study.

This quirk, he added, suggests the plant may be a missing link between the remarkably diverse flowering plants and their yet-to-be-identified extinct ancestors.

Flowering plants, called angiosperms, are thought to have evolved around 130 million years ago from gymnosperms, the prevailing land plants when dinosaurs reigned in the Cretaceous and Jurassic eras.

Angiosperms have become the dominant plants on Earth today.

The study involved Amborella trichopoda, a relic species descended from an ancient lineage.

Friedman analyzed the female part of its reproductive apparatus, called the embryo sac.

This sac has an extra sterile cell accompanying the egg cell compared with most modern flowering species, he found.

That’s “akin to finding a fossil amphibian with an extra leg,” according to a commentary published in the May 18 issue of the research journal Nature, where Friedman’s study also appeared.

“We associate this structure with a relatively primitive reproductive process,” Friedman added.

The peculiar egg-forming structure, he suggested, may eventually link the odd South Pacific shrub to gymnosperms such as conifers—cone-bearing trees such as pines, firs and junipers.

The finding suggests flowering plants may have arisen during a time when plant evolution was “particularly flexible,” Friedman proposed. That may have allowed for the evolution of the seemingly costly business of making flowers.

See also here.

Of the 300,000 flowering plants known today, Amborella is the only one that traces back to the common ancestor: here.

Evolution of flowering plants: here.

Parakeets of New Caledonia: here.

Birds of New Caledonia: here.

Caledonian crows and tool use: here.

Fossil conifers: Based on the newly discovered fossil specimens from 52 and 47 million years ago, Wilf and colleagues reassigned the fossil species to Papuacedrus, under the new name combination Papuacedrus prechilensi: here.