Giant fossil penguin discovery in Antarctic


This video says about itself:

5 October 2010

Scientists have unearthed fossilized remains of a five-foot-tall (150-centimeter-tall) penguin in present-day Peru. The 36-million-year-old fossil sheds light on bird evolution, according to National Geographic grantee Julia Clarke. Video produced by the University of Texas at Austin.

From New Scientist:

Extinct mega penguin was tallest and heaviest ever

01 August 2014 by Jeff Hecht

Forget emperor penguins, say hello to the colossus penguin. Newly unearthed fossils have revealed that Antarctica was once home to the biggest species of penguin ever discovered. It was 2 metres long and weighed a hefty 115 kilograms.

Palaeeudyptes klekowskii lived 37 to 40 million years ago. This was “a wonderful time for penguins, when 10 to 14 species lived together along the Antarctic coast”, says Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche of the La Plata Museum in Argentina.

She has been excavating fossil deposits on Seymour Island, off the Antarctic peninsula. This was a warmer region 40 million years ago, with a climate like that of present-day Tierra del Fuego, the islands at the southern tip of South America.

The site has yielded thousands of penguin bones. Earlier this year, Acosta Hospitaleche reported the most complete P. klekowskii skeleton yet, although it contained only about a dozen bones, mostly from the wings and feet (Geobios, DOI: 10.1016/j.geobios.2014.03.003).

Now she has uncovered two bigger bones. One is part of a wing, and the other is a tarsometatarsus, formed by the fusion of ankle and foot bones. The tarsometatarsus measures a record 9.1 centimetres. Based on the relative sizes of bones in penguin skeletons, Acosta Hospitaleche estimates P. klekowskii was 2.01 meters long from beak tip to toes.

Its height will have been somewhat less than its length owing to the way penguins stand. But it was nevertheless larger than any known penguin.

Fossil and present penguins

Emperor penguins can weigh 46 kilograms and reach lengths of 1.36 metres, 0.2 metres above their standing height. Another extinct penguin used to hold the height record, at around 1.5 metres tall.

P. klekowskii‘s tarsometatarsus “is the longest foot bone I’ve ever seen. This is definitely a big penguin,” says Dan Ksepka at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut. However, he cautions that the estimate of its length is uncertain because giant penguins had skeletons “very differently proportioned than living penguins”.

Larger penguins can dive deeper and stay underwater longer than smaller ones. A giant like P. klekowski could have stayed down for 40 minutes, giving it more time to hunt fish, says Acosta Hospitaleche.

Journal reference: Comptes Rendus Palevol, DOI: 10.1016/j.crpv.2014.03.008

Save macaws in Peru


This video says about itself:

18 June 2014

THE MACAW PROJECT – Help saving the enigmatic macaws of Peru with the power of media

http://igg.me/at/macawmovie

A scientific research project is being implemented in the Tambopata-Candamo region of the southeastern Peruvian Amazon. Thanks to the voluntary work of researchers, we already have a repository of suitable full-HD footage that would require professional editing to produce the desired documentary. Such editing, or post-production, of the footage would include all activities carried out after filming such as editing, sound mixing, recording voiceovers and creating subtitles.

To make this project we have 2 main collaborators:

- Rainforest Expeditions (www.perunature.com) is a Peruvian eco-tourism company that operates 3 award-winning lodges in our research area.
– Filmjungle.eu Society (www.filmjungle.eu) is an NGO funded in 1996 by independent filmmakers. By now the Budapest-based Filmjungle.eu had become the most productive production unit for wildlife films and conservation documentaries in Hungary. Its award winning list of films include titles as Wolfwatching, Invisible Wildlife Photographer, Sharks in my Viewfinder and Budapest Wild.

Nowadays most scientific research [is] only available for a very narrow academic audience by publishing in scientific journals. Often the reality of the field-based research, which underpins these journal articles, is most interesting part and is worth to be communicated to a much broader audience by this kind of documentary. Public awareness is an important goal of any conservation research, and documentary films are great tools to accomplish this — not only by conveying our conservation message to many people around the world, but more crucially revealing truths based on scientific evidence.

You can find more detailed information about the research project at this site.

Read more here.

New archaeological discoveries in Peru


This video, recorded in Peru, says about itself:

Secrets of the Nazca Lines

12 November 2013

The Nazca Lines /ˈnæzkə/ are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru. They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The high, arid plateau stretches more than 80 kilometres (50 mi) between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana about 400 km south of Lima. Although some local geoglyphs resemble Paracas motifs, scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD. The hundreds of individual figures range in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, orcas, and lizards.

The lines are shallow designs made in the ground by removing the reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish/grayish ground beneath. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than seventy are zoomorphic designs of animals such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguar, monkey, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes such as trees and flowers. The largest figures are over 200 metres (660 ft) across. Scholars differ in interpreting the purpose of the designs, but in general they ascribe religious significance to them. Other theories have been summarized as follows: “The geometric ones could indicate the flow of water or be connected to rituals to summon water. The spiders, birds, and plants could be fertility symbols. Other possible explanations include: irrigation schemes or giant astronomical calendars.”

Due to the dry, windless, and stable climate of the plateau and its isolation, for the most part the lines have been preserved. Extremely rare changes in weather may temporarily alter the general designs. As of recent years, the lines have been deteriorating due to an influx of squatters inhabiting the lands.

Contrary to the popular belief that the lines and figures can only be seen with the aid of flight, they are visible from atop the surrounding foothills. They were first discovered by the Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe, who spotted them when hiking through the foothills in 1927. He discussed them at a conference in Lima in 1939.

Paul Kosok, a historian from Long Island University, is credited as the first scholar to seriously study the Nazca Lines. In the country in 1940-41 to study ancient irrigation systems, he flew over the lines and realized that one was in the shape of a bird. Another chance helped him see how lines converged at the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. He began to study how the lines might have been created, as well as to try to determine their purpose. He was joined by Maria Reiche, a German mathematician and archaeologist to help figure out the purpose of the Nazca Lines. They proposed one of the earliest reasons for the existence of the figures: to be markers on the horizon to show where the sun and other celestial bodies rose. Archaeologists, historians and mathematicians have all struggled with determining the purpose of the lines.

Determining how they were made has been easier than figuring why they were made. Scholars have theorized the Nazca people could have used simple tools and surveying equipment to construct the lines. Archaeological surveys have found wooden stakes in the ground at the end of some lines, which support this theory. One such stake was carbon-dated and was the basis for establishing the age of the design complex. The scholar Joe Nickell of the University of Kentucky has reproduced the figures by using tools and technology available to the Nazca people. The National Geographic called his work “remarkable in its exactness” when compared to the actual lines. With careful planning and simple technologies, a small team of people could recreate even the largest figures within days, without any aerial assistance.

On the ground, most of the lines are formed by a shallow trench with a depth of between 10 cm (3.9 in) and 15 cm (5.9 in). Such trenches were made by removing the reddish-brown iron oxide-coated pebbles that cover the surface of the Nazca desert. When this gravel is removed the light-colored clay earth which is exposed in the bottom of the trench produces lines which contrast sharply in color and tone with the surrounding land surface. This sublayer contains high amounts of lime which, with the morning mist, hardens to form a protective layer that shields the lines from winds, thereby preventing erosion.

From Popular Archaeology:

Ancient Geoglyphs in Peru Predate Nazca Lines

Mon, May 05, 2014

Mound complex in Peru’s Chincha Valley features linear radiating geoglyph lines that predate the Nazca lines by three centuries

A recent study of an archaeological mound complex with astronomical orientations and geoglyph lines in southern Peru suggests that the site features a ceremonial or ritualistic center for religous and social interaction in an ancient culture that existed between 800 and 100 BCE.

Known as the Paracas culture, these ancient people constituted an Andean society known for extensive knowledge of irrigation and water management. The Chincha Valley, about 200 km south of Lima, contains early settlements of the Paracas culture. Previous surveys have indicated at least 30 major Paracas period sites or centers in the valley.

Recenty, a study team co-led by Charles Stanish of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and Department of Anthropology, University of California, surveyed and test-excavated among five previously identified mound clusters in the lower Chincha mid-valley area. Dating them based on excavated pottery to the Late Paracas period (400 – 100 BCE), they found that the mounds featured a total of 71 geoglyph lines that radiated outward from the mounds, forming what they called “ray centers”. Two of the mounds, built in a u-shape configuration, were oriented toward the location of the sun at the June solstice. Stanish and colleagues suggest that it all represents construction for specific group or societal purposes, the details of which are thus far lost to time. But the signs appear to be unmistakeable. Write Stanish, et al:

“In Chincha, linear geoglyphs, platform mounds, and walls on those ceremonial mounds mark the June solstice. If it were only lines, then one could argue that the few solstice alignments were due to chance. However, the combination of platform mounds built in orientation with the June solstice, similarly positioned wall alignments, and comparative evidence from other regions in the Andes that documents solstice marking at sites contemporary with the Paracas period, makes purposeful construction the most parsimonious explanation. Based on these data, there is little doubt that marking the June solstice is an Andean tradition that was part of the logic of ceremonial mound construction and the creation of linear geoglyphs in pre-Hispanic Chincha during Paracas times.*

Ancient geoglyphs in Peru are most commonly associated with the famous Nazca Lines located in the Nazca Desert of southern Peru. Thought to have been created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD, scholars have developed a number of theories explaining their existence, with the greatest consensus revolving around religious practices or beliefs. But with recent discoveries related to the earlier Paracas culture, the picture is becoming a bit clearer, with the construction tradition appearing to be more ancient and more widespread.

“The ritualized landscape publically attested to particular platform mound sites as focal points for social gatherings, but it was also a product of these gatherings,” write Stanish, et al. “The act of creating geoglyphs within the broader ritualized landscape—the physical piling and clearing of rocks and soil—may be a key component of individual participation in such events. The specific nature of these social events remains obscure and will be the focus of our future research.”*

The study report has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1406501111.

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Pre-Inca archaeological discoveries in Peru


This video says about itself:

8 March 2014

Archaeologists uncover human remains dating back about 3, 000 years in Peru.

From Peru this Week:

Archaeologists find 3,000-year-old graves in Cusco, Peru

19 Hours ago

By Rachel Chase

Experts say the artifacts and skeletal remains come from the pre-Inca Marcavalle culture.

Excavators working in the city of Cusco have discovered a burial site containing five individuals from the Marcavalle culture, a pre-Inca society.

Andina news agency reports that the skeletal remains date back to around 1,000 BC. The burial site, which contained two double graves and one single grave, was found on land owned by a Cusco center for juvenile rehabilitation. Three of the individuals found at the site were adults at the time of their deaths, while one was a child and the other an adolescent.

In addition to the skeletal remains, some of which were buried wearing beaded necklaces. Tools made from obsidian and camelid bones also accompanied the bodies, as did ceramic fragments bearing artistic motifs known to be associated with the Marcavalle culture.

Andina reports that investigations related to this find go back as far as 1960. No intact human remains of the Marcavalle culture had previously been found.

This most recent dig began in late 2013. Archaeologists are now planning to continue excavations in the area to learn more about the Marcavalle. According to Andina, researchers are hoping for a budget of S/. 1,000,000 to continue their work in Cusco.

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New marsupial frog species discovery in Peru


This video from Ecuador says about itself:

Marsupial Tree-Frog (Gastrotheca longipes) in the Yasuni

Dear friends,

This is a canopy species found in primary tropical moist lowland and montane tropical forest. A direct development species, its eggs are carried in a pouch on the females back. It is not present in modified habitats. The population status of this canopy species is unknown; this species faces no major threats; it is a widespread species with large areas of suitable habitat remaining. There is some localized habitat loss to selective logging and agricultural activities. It might be susceptible to chytrid infection, but this requires further investigation.

From Mongabay.com:

Scientists uncover new species of Andean marsupial frog

By: Jordanna Dulaney

March 05, 2014

The term “marsupial frog” might sound like a hoax, but, believe it or not, it’s real. Recently, herpetologists welcomed a new species, known as Gastrotheca dysprosita and described in the journal Phyllomedusa.

Unlike mammal marsupials, which typically carry their young in pouches on their torsos and are found primarily in Australia, the Gastrotheca genus of frogs, which contains 62 species, is found in the Andes region of South America and sport their pouches on their backs (also called a “dorsal brood pouch”). The female frog’s vascular tissue provides oxygen to the eggs, which she carries for three to four months until they hatch as fully-developed froglets and head off on their own.

This most recently described species owes its classification to William Duellman, of the University of Kansas. While announced in June 2013, the story of this frog’s discovery really began in 1972 when Fred G. Thompson, a malacologist from the University of Florida, collected the first specimen in the Peruvian Amazon. Thompson brought the mystery frog back to the U.S., and gave it to Duellman to identify and catalog.

The plot thickened when, in 1989, another research group both heard and caught another unidentifiable male in the same region. A second call was heard higher up the mountain, but rainy weather made it impossible to find another specimen.

“The jar containing the holotype [original specimen] of this new species has been gathering dust… I have been trying to clean up loose ends during the preparation of a monograph [a detailed study] on marsupial frogs,” Duellman wrote in his article announcing Gastrotheca dysprosita. “Thus, herein I eliminate a loose end by describing a new species.”

For his description, Duellman took meticulous measurements of the two frogs’ bodies, and compared them to known species. In life, the new species has bumpy, bright green skin with stripes of creamish and brown spots down its back and sides. Duellman describes the iris as a “reddish copper” color. The two individuals were found between 3,370 to 3,440 meters (11,000 to 11,300 feet) on the Cerro Barro Negro, a single mountain in Peru.

Little is known about the behavior patterns of Gastrotheca dysprosita since only two frogs have been found up to this point. Under the IUCN’s (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) guidelines, it’s impossible to make a guess at population size because there simply isn’t enough data.

Even the name of the frog is mysterious: dysprosita, from the Greek word dysprositos, literally means “hard to find.” The name would thus be translated as the “hard-to-find marsupial frog.”

“The name reflects the difficulty in finding this elusive frog,” Duellman states in the species description.

Citations:

Duellman, William E. “An Elusive New Species of Marsupial Frog (Anura: Hemiphractidae: Gastrotheca) from the Andes of Northern Peru.” Phyllomedusa 12.3-11 (2013.

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Good Andean condor news from Ecuador


This video is called Peru-Giant Condors taking off and landing at Colca Canyon.

From Wildlife Extra:

Andean condors protected by land purchase

January 2014: More than 270,000 acres of critical wildlife habitat in Ecuador has been purchased by the Rainforest Trust. The mammoth property acquisition, which includes the 18,714-foot Antisana Volcano, will create a permanent refuge for the largest population of Andean Condor in the Northern Andes.

The final 6,100 acre property, called Hacienda Antisanilla, was acquired today to complete a project by Rainforest Trust with Fundación Jocotoco, the Municipality of Quito, and the Quito Water Authority in a coordinated effort that will both protect endangered species and secure an important source of drinking water for Ecuador’s capital city.

“The purchase of multiple properties around Volcan Antisana represents one of the greatest conservation victories ever in the Andes of South America,” said Dr. Robert Ridgely, President of Rainforest Trust and a driving force behind this conservation success. “The final acquisition of Hacienda Antisanilla caps a decade-long effort by Rainforest Trust and our Ecuadorian partner Fundación Jocotoco to protect this fragile and biodiverse ecosystem. We are grateful to all of the partners, organizations and donors who made this possible, including The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, who provided critical support to acquire the Hacienda Antisanilla property.”

Flag of Ecuador, with condor

“The purchase of Hacienda Antisanilla was critical, as this property held the most important site for roosting and nesting Andean Condors – Ecuador’s National bird and emblazoned on our national flag.” noted Fundación Jocotoco Executive Director Rocio Merino. “So after years of struggling, we were able to purchase and protect the area thanks to the constant support of Rainforest Trust and Quito authorities.”

“The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation supports the important work of conservation to preserve the rich biodiversity of the Northern Andes,” said Susan M. Coliton, vice president of The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. “We saw that the Hacienda Antisanilla property was critical to protecting this population of Andean Condors and were encouraged by the effective cooperation between the conversation effort and the local authorities. We are pleased to have been a part of this successful and important initiative.”

Located just 20 miles from Quito, this enormous but undeveloped area first attracted the attention of conservationists in the 1980s. The Ecuadorian government declared it an ecological reserve in 1993, but the area remained in private hands. Much of the land continued to be farmed, and wildlife was increasingly threatened by over-grazing, fires, and poaching.

Home to the largest single population of condors in the Northern Andes, Antisana is also frequented by pumas, spectacled bears, and the endangered woolly tapir. Antisana is of critical global importance for biodiversity and highlighted as an Alliance for Zero Extinction site due to the presence of no less than three species of threatened frogs found nowhere else. Sadly, the black andean toad (Atelopus ignescens), once common in Antisana, has already gone extinct.

All the properties purchased will be improved by the removal of cattle from the fragile native grassland called “Páramo,” while park guards will patrol the area to curtail poaching.

“This enormous land protection project is even more significant as not only does it help to protect the most critical source of water for the ever-expanding city of Quito but it also connects to two adjacent protected areas, Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve and Gran Sumaco National Park,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust, “Combined, these protected areas safeguard 1.8 million acres of biologically diverse Andean and Amazonian ecosystems.”

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New toad species discovery in Peru


How the new species Rhinella yunga fits in the toad family tree

From Wildlife Extra:

A new toad species found in Peru

January 2014: A new, poisonous, species of toad, Rhinella yunga, has been discovered hiding in the leafy undergrowth of the Peruvian Yungas, a tropical and subtropical forest in the Yungas of Peru.

Belonging to the toad family Bufonidae it has a typical warty, robust body and a pair of large poison parotoid glands on the back of its head. When the toads are stressed they excrete the poison as a protective mechanism.

The colour of the Rhinella yunga resembles the decaying leaves in the forest, making it perfectly camouflaged on the forest floor. It is distinct from all related species in absence of a tympanic membrane, a round membranous part of hearing organ being normally visible on both sides of a toad’s head.

“It appears that large number of still unnamed cryptic species remains hidden under some nominal species of the Rhinella margaritifera species group,” explains lead author Dr Jiri Moravec, National Museum Prague, Czech Republic.

See also British daily The Guardian on this, here.

The scientific description of this new species is here (the Guardian article link to the description does not work).

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