Fossil giant tortoise discovery in Madrid, Spain


This video is called Evolution of the Turtle Shell (Illustrated).

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Researchers discover new genus of giant tortoise

Titanochelon was 2 metres long and roamed the ‘streets of Madrid’ between 20m and 2m years ago, study finds

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid

Thursday 6 November 2014 18.23 GMT

These days it is dominated by shops and throngs of people. But millions of years ago, Madrid’s Gran Via belonged to herds of 2-metre-long tortoises.

That’s the conclusion of a study published by Spanish and Greek researchers in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. Wrapping up a 10-year study, researchers describe a genus of giant tortoises, previously unknown to science, that lived in Europe and western Asia between 20m and 2m years ago.

“We’re not just talking about any tortoise; this is the largest that lived in Europe, whose size likely exceeded that of the tortoises living today in the Galapagos Islands,” said researcher Adán Pérez-García, of Spain’s National University of Distance Education and the University of Lisbon.

The Titanochelon – a name inspired by their titanic size – was short, wide and strong, and its large shell was covered with ossified scales for protection, he said.

Spanish palaeontologists hinted at the existence of the Titanochelon genus in the 1920s, but the civil war ended their research. Pérez-García and his team picked up where they left off, assuming that most of the material had disappeared.

But they found a wealth of fossils in Madrid’s National Museum of Natural Sciences, most of which had been untouched since the war. “The fossils were broken, samples were mixed up, it wasn’t clear where the material had come from,” he said. “But that’s what happens in a war. At least the material was there.”

The material turned out to be some of the best ever found of giant tortoises in Europe, said Pérez-García, citing the discovery of near-complete skeletons. “It allows us to imagine, with great precision, how millions of years ago, herds of giant tortoises wandered around what is now Gran Via.”

Unusual marine animals off California


This video from the USA is called Protecting Pacific Marine Monuments with Sylvia Earle.

By Paul Rogers, of the Bay Area News Group in the USA:

Unusual Pacific Ocean warmth bringing odd species off West Coast

11/02/2014 07:17:28 PM PST

Hawaiian ono swimming off the California coast? Giant sunfish in Alaska? A sea turtle usually at home off the Galapagos Islands floating near San Francisco?

Rare changes in wind patterns this fall have caused the Pacific Ocean off California and the West Coast to warm to historic levels, drawing in a bizarre menagerie of warm-water species. The mysterious phenomena are surprising fishermen and giving marine biologists an aquatic Christmas in November.

Temperatures off the California coast are currently 5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than historic averages for this time of year — among the warmest autumn conditions of any time in the past 30 years.

“It’s not bathtub temperature,” said Nate Mantua, a research scientist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Santa Cruz, “but it is swimmable on a sunny day.”

In mid-October, it was 65 degrees off the Farallon Islands and in Monterey Bay, and 69 degrees off Point Conception near Santa Barbara. In most years, water temperatures in those areas would be in the high 50s or low 60s.

The last time the ocean off California was this warm was in 1983 and 1997, both strong El Niño years that brought drenching winter rains to the West Coast.

But El Niño isn’t driving this year’s warm-water spike, which began in mid-July, experts say. Nor is climate change.

What’s happening is winds that normally blow from the north, trapping warm water closer to the equator, have slackened since the summer. That’s allowed the warm water to move north.

In most years, the winds also help push ocean surface waters, churning up cold water from down below. That process, called upwelling, isn’t happening as much this year.

“If the wind doesn’t blow, there’s no cooling of the water,” Mantua said. “It’s like the refrigerator fails. The local water warms up from the sun, and is not cooling off.”

Mantua said researchers don’t know why the winds slacked off — or when they will start again.

“It’s a mystery,” he said.

All year, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been forecasting an El Niño, conditions in which warm ocean water at the equator near South America can affect the weather in dramatic ways. But now the water is only slightly warmer than normal at the equator, leading scientists to declare a mild El Niño is on the way. And although strong El Niños often have brought wet winters to California, mild ones have just as often resulted in moderate or dry winters.

For people who study the ocean, this fall has been a wonderland.

“It’s fascinating,” said Eric Sanford, a marine biology professor at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay. “To see so many southern species in a single year is really a rare event.”

Sanford, colleague Jackie Sones and other researchers at the Bodega lab, along with scientists at Point Blue Conservation Science, a nonprofit group in Petaluma, have documented more than 100 common dolphins off the Farallon Islands in the past two months. They’re normally seen hundreds of miles away, off Southern California.

ODD DISCOVERIES

The scientists have scooped up a tiny species of ocean snail called the tropical sea butterfly, normally found far to the south. They have documented a Guadalupe fur seal, normally found off Baja California in Mexico; blue buoy barnacles and purple-striped jellyfish, which usually drift off Southern California; and a Guadalupe murrelet, a tiny seabird that frequents Mexico.

In September, a fisherman off San Francisco caught an endangered green sea turtle, an extremely rare find for Northern California, since the species usually lives off Mexico and the Galapagos Islands. He returned it to the sea unharmed.

Similar tales are turning up in Southern California, where fishermen and scientists have found Hawaiian ono, along with tripletail, a fish species commonly found between Costa Rica and Peru, and other warm-water species.

In August and September there were even sightings of skipjack tuna and giant sunfish, or Mola mola, off Alaska.

“They are following the water temperature,” said H.J. Walker, a senior museum scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. “Fish come up against a cold-water barrier normally and turn around. But now they aren’t encountering that, so they are swimming farther north.”

Over the past week, the water temperature at the Scripps pier in La Jolla was 71 degrees. The historic average back to 1916 for late October is 65 degrees.

In many parts of California, the commercial salmon catch was down, and squid were caught as far north as Eureka, which is unusual.

“Our guys in Santa Barbara are saying there’s almost nothing down there. Just a lot of warm, clear water, a little bit of salmon and not much else,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Federation of Fishermen’s Associations in San Francisco.

DISAPPEARING KRILL

The ocean changes also have affected birds. As ocean upwelling stalled in the summer, less krill and other food rose from the depths. As a result, several species of birds, including common murres, had high rates of egg failure on the Farallon Islands, 27 miles west of San Francisco.

“The krill that is usually present disappeared, and the fish that some of these birds rely on disappeared,” said Jaime Jahncke, California Current Group director of Point Blue in Petaluma.

“Up until July we had an abundance of whales around the Farallons, mostly humpback whales, and some blue whales. And when we went back in September, there was no krill and the whales were nearly absent.”

More common local species are expected to return when waters cool, as they did after the 1983 and 1997 warmings.

“It is an oddball year. But I’m not surprised,” said Joe Welsh, associate curator of collecting for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “These things come and go. There’s a lot to learn out there.”

Good Galapagos tortoise news


This video says about itself:

Island-hopping in Galápagos: meet the world’s rarest tortoise and the birds of Española Island

10 October 2011

In the second part of his Galápagos island-hopping adventure, Andy Duckworth talks to naturalist guide Robert Naranjo, seeks out sea lions, a friendly hawk, dancing albatrosses and more prancing blue-footed boobies. He also meets Lonesome George, the last surviving Pinta Island tortoise and the rarest creature on the planet

From the BBC:

28 October 2014 Last updated at 19:16 GMT

Giant tortoise makes ‘miraculous’ stable recovery

By Jonathan Webb, Science reporter, BBC News

Where once there were 15, now more than 1,000 giant tortoises lumber around Espanola, one of the Galapagos Islands.

After 40 years’ work reintroducing captive animals, a detailed study of the island’s ecosystem has confirmed it has a stable, breeding population.

Numbers had dwindled drastically by the 1960s, but now the danger of extinction on Espanola appears to have passed.

Galapagos tortoises, of which there are 11 remaining subspecies, weigh up to 250kg and live longer than 100 years.

The study, based on decades of observations of the variety found on Espanola, was published in the journal Plos One.

Slow release

It offers some good news that contrasts with the tale of Lonesome George, the very last of the related subspecies found on Pinta, on the other side of the archipelago. George’s death, at the age of about 100, made international news in 2012.

Lead author Prof James Gibbs told BBC News the finding on Espanola was “one of those rare examples of a true conservation success story, where we’ve rescued something from the brink of extinction and now it’s literally taking care of itself”.

Prof Gibbs, from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York (SUNY-ESF), said he felt “honoured” to be reporting the obvious success of the reintroduction programme, which the Galapagos Islands National Park Service commenced in 1973.

His team has found that more than half the tortoises released since that time are still alive, and they are breeding well enough for the population to plod onward, unaided.

“It looks like we can step back out of the picture,” Prof Gibbs said.

It is quite a contrast to the 1960s, when just 12 females and 3 males roamed the island.

“They were so rare at that point, they couldn’t find one another. Many of the females had lichens growing on their backs, and fungi, that indicated they hadn’t been mated in a very long time.”

Those animals were taken to an enclosure [on] another island, to concentrate on breeding. Over the subsequent decades, more than 1500 of their captive-raised offspring have been released on Espanola.

Competing for cacti

It wasn’t as simple as putting the tortoises back, however. Their problems began when feral goats were introduced in the 1800s and devoured much of the island’s vegetation, severely disrupting the ecosystem.

“They can literally turn a rich ecosystem into a dustbowl,” Prof Gibbs said.

The goats even learned to feast on very tall cactus plants, whose dropped pads are a key food source for the tortoises in the dry season.

“They would feast on the roots… and chew away at the bark, and eventually that would topple these cacti. And then they had an incredible buffet of maybe 500-1000 years of cactus growth, demolished in a week or two.”

Conservationists set about culling the goats in the 1970s and finally eradicated them in the 1990s.

Their legacy, Prof Gibbs discovered, remains.

Analysis of the island’s plant life and its soil show that it has seen a major shift to bigger, woodier vegetation in the 100 years since the goats started stripping the undergrowth.

These shrubs and trees are a problem both for the tortoises and for their summer food of choice, the cacti.

The trees even get in the way of an endangered albatross that breeds on the island, making it difficult for the big, ungainly birds to take flight.

“Population restoration is one thing but ecological restoration is going to take a lot longer,” Prof Gibbs said.

Dr Rebecca Scott, an ecologist who studies turtles at GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany, said the results showed how important it is to monitor reintroduction carefully.

“Reintroducing these large, keystone species, in combination with reducing the spread of invasive species, can really help return ecosystems to native state.

“This work highlights the merit of well-managed reintroduction programmes, but also of really monitoring how these animals do.”

Dr Gerardo Garcia, a herpetologist at Chester Zoo, agreed that the situation was complex and the programme had succeeded because of careful, long-term management.

“It’s a long process but it’s quite normal for it to take decades,” he told BBC News.

“Nothing gets released and stable in less than 20 or 30 years.”

See also here.

Young Cape Verde sea turtles, new study


This video from Florida in the USA is called Loggerhead Turtle burying eggs and returning to the ocean.

From Phys.org:

Sea turtles’ first days of life: Scientists follow hatchlings from Cape Verde with tiny acoustic transmitters

Oct 23, 2014

With new nano-sized acoustic transmitters, scientists from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, the Turtle Foundation and Queen Mary University of London followed the pathways of loggerhead turtle hatchlings. According to the study, which was primarily funded by the Kiel Cluster of Excellence ‘The Future Ocean,’ local oceanic conditions are believed to drive the evolution of some unique swimming behaviors. The results are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) from Cape Verde start their life with a swimming sprint and a ride on favourable ocean currents. In this way, they escape quickly from predator-rich coastal areas and make their way to the safer open ocean where they spend several years feeding and growing. In this study, tiny acoustic transmitters provided direct insight into these pathways for the first time. “Thanks to the new technology we can start to fill in key information gaps about the so-called ‘lost years’ Dr. Rebecca Scott states. Funded by the Kiel Cluster of Excellence “The Future Ocean”, the marine biologist coordinated a joint study of GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, the Turtle Foundation and the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at the Queen Mary University of London.

“Scientists call this early life phase the ‘lost years’, because they were not able to follow new-born sea turtle hatchlings very far. Hatchlings essentially disappear into the sea until many years later when the lucky survivors return to where they born to breed”, Dr. Scott says. But with new techniques like nano-tags and ocean models we are able to see where the tiny young animals go. This is important because the dispersal experiences of hatchlings drive the development of their behaviours into adulthood. The more we understand about the biological and physical determinants of their dispersal and swimming behaviours, the easier we can protect this endangered species.”

In cooperation with the Turtle Foundation at Boa Vista, Cape Verde, the scientists collected hatchlings from two beaches in the northwest and southern tip of the island. Acoustic transmitters with a five millimetres wide and twelve millimetres long streamlined shape that weigh 0,4 grams in water were glued onto the shell of eleven hatchlings. The turtles were then followed at sea using a boat and acoustic receiver for up to eight hours and 15 kilometres. In addition, the swimming behaviour of 16 hatchlings were monitored in “hatchling swimming pools” for several days using data loggers made by engineers at GEOMAR. The turtles swam continuously during their first 24 hours after hatching and then switched to a pattern of activity at daytime and inactivity at night.

Due to the close proximity of offshore currents in this region, it seems the Cape Verdean hatchlings can sleep more at night than hatchlings from other places. For example in America, different research groups have shown that they would have swim a lot more to reach offshore currents”, Dr. Scott explains. “Deep oceanic water and favourable currents, which then determined the travel directions and speeds of our Cape Verdean turtles are situated very near to their nests. Therefore, it is very beneficial for turtles if local oceanic conditions drive the evolution of swimming behaviours that are unique to different nesting locations to ensure their best survival outcomes. It seems that turtles are born with these unique locally adapted behaviours.”

Finally, because larger animals kept swimming for a longer time than smaller individuals, a larger body size is thought to be a good sign of fitness. “But there is some evidence emerging that higher nest temperatures may reduce the size of hatchlings. Therefore, it might be possible that global warming decreases the fitness of the sea turtles by threatening them in more subtle ways than just obvious dangers like the loss of nesting beaches”, Dr. Scott assumes.

It has been discovered sea turtles, like humans, can suffer from decompression sickness (DCS), also known as the bends: here.

Which animals live longest?


This video is called Turtles: Documentary on Turtles, Tortoises, and Terrapins from Around the World.

From eNature Blog in the USA:

What Terrestrial Animal Has The Longest Lifespan?

Posted on Monday, September 29, 2014 by eNature

If you’re a TV watcher, you may have noticed that the long-running TV show Survivor keeps showing up every season.

But there’s a much more interesting version playing out in the wild.

It’s one thing to survive a few weeks on a television show, but it’s quite another to live 180 years and never be voted off the island!

The tale of the ultimate survivor begins in a world of 18th century explorers, kidnappings, and tropical islands, when long-distance travel was by ship and many lands were still uncharted. The secret to this creature’s longevity may be in its philosophy: Slow and steady wins the race.

The Real Survivor

By all accounts the longest-lived creatures on earth are turtles. It may have something to do with the slowed-down lifestyle and perhaps the protective armor. At any rate, tales abound of giant tortoises of the Galapagos, Seychelles, Madagascar, and other islands that lived well over 100 years.

Sailors were said to carve their names and dates into the shells of these behemoths, providing something of a record of their lifespans. But it is quite difficult to track the lifespan of a wild animal, especially when the animal outlives the person keeping track!

What Creature Has Lived Longest?

The longest life of any tortoise of which there is an authenticated record is that of Marion’s Tortoise, a Testudo gigantea. This giant tortoise, along with four of its companions, was taken as an adult from its native island in the Seychelles to Mauritius, where no tortoises occur, by the French explorer Marion de Fresne in 1766. It lived there for 152 years, until it died in 1918. Since it was a full-grown adult at the time of its capture in 1766, its actual age may be estimated at not less than 180 years and perhaps as much as 200 years.

Even the smaller members of the turtle order are known to be long-lived. One Box Turtle, passed down as a family pet, is said to have died at the ripe old age of 123. It was just one year older than the the the person many consider the oldest human on record, a French woman named Jeanne Louise Calment (1875 to 1997).

Winners All Around

Interestingly, turtles aren’t only the longest-lived individuals known, they are the oldest type of living reptiles, vastly more ancient in lineage than the fossil dinosaurs and most of the other extinct forms.

That makes them older than all mammals and birds, as well.

Surely they are doing something right. There may be more to the tale of the tortoise and the hare (lifespan probably up to 8 or 10 years, if lucky!) than race strategy!

Although their numbers are threatened by development, the Eastern Box Turtle is common sight in the woods. Have you encountered any turtles— in your yard or in your travels?

We always enjoy your stories!

Flotsam crabs’ marital fidelity, new study


This video is called Loggerhead Turtle burying eggs and returning to the ocean.

From Oceana.org:

Meet a Tiny Crab Species That’s Not into Long-Term Relationships

Saturday, Sep 27, 2014 by Brianna Elliott

A tiny crab species, commonly known as flotsam crabs, have quite the luxurious lifestyle. They spend most of their lives hitching free rides on loggerhead sea turtles, catching views of the open ocean as they travel safely nestled between their carapaces and tails. Here, they’re offered safety from predators, and typically ride along with a mate to reproduce and have a friend.

Previously assumed to be faithful for life to both their turtle host and mate, a study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology shows that these crabs may not actually be that monogamous. The study found that some male flotsam crabs don’t stick with one crustaceous lover for life, leaving their mate and host when they have the chance.

Scientists are calling this “risky behavior,” since switching hosts leaves these poor swimmers exposed and vulnerable in the ocean. And once they find a new turtle host (the scientists think they may do this when loggerheads converge each year to mate and feed), they’re not even guaranteed asylum: These tiny crabs sometimes have to fight off current male residents to earn the new spot alongside females.

Previous research shows that tiny, monogamous organisms should have similar body sizes to their mates. So, when the study authors found that flotsam crab body size data didn’t match data of a committed lifestyle, they discovered that these crabs may not be so faithful after all. Scientists studied crabs on loggerhead sea turtles in Japan, Mexico, Peru, and Brazil to reach this conclusion, says Smithsonian Science.

While these risk-takers may not engage in the long-term relationships as previously assumed, this behavior clues scientists into the relationship between ecology and mating patterns in crustaceans, says the study.

Paleontology helping to restore Abaco, Bahamas biodiversity?


A new University of Florida study shows scientists are only beginning to understand the roles of native species in prehistoric island ecosystems. Researchers discovered this 3,000-year-old fossil skull of a Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, in the Bahamas. Credit: Florida Museum of Natural History, by Kristen Grace

From the University of Florida in the USA today:

Answer to restoring lost island biodiversity found in fossils

Many native species have vanished from tropical islands because of human impact, but University of Florida scientists have discovered how fossils can be used to restore lost biodiversity.

The key lies in organic materials found in fossil bones, which contain evidence for how ancient ecosystems functioned, according to a new study available online and in the September issue of the Journal of Herpetology. Pre-human island ecosystems provide vital clues for saving endangered island and re-establishing , said lead author Alex Hastings, who conducted work for the study as graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF department of geological sciences.

“Our work is particularly relevant to that are currently living in marginal environments,” said Hastings, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. “A better understanding of species’ natural roles in ecosystems untouched by people might improve their prospects for survival.”

Thousands of years ago, the largest carnivore and herbivore on the Bahamian island of Abaco disappeared. The study reconstructs the ancient food web of Abaco where these two mega-reptiles, the endangered Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) and the now-extinct Albury’s Tortoise (Chelonoidis alburyorum), once flourished. Today, there is no modern terrestrial ecosystem like that of ancient Abaco, with reptiles filling the roles of largest herbivore and carnivore.

In the study, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society, researchers embarked on the difficult task of reconstructing an ecosystem where few of the components still exist. To understand these missing pieces, scientists analyzed the types of carbon and nitrogen in well-preserved from the Cuban Crocodile and Albury’s Tortoise, which was unknown to scientists before its 2004 discovery in the Bahamas. The data reveal the crocodile and tortoise were both terrestrial, showing that reptiles “called the shots” on the island, Hastings said.

The terrestrial nature of these creatures is a great indicator of how biodiversity has changed in the Bahamas and what the ideal circumstances would be for these or similar species to return, said Florida Museum ornithology curator and study co-author David Steadman.

“On islands like Abaco that have always been dominated by reptiles, the flora and fauna are more vulnerable because they have evolved to lead a more laid back, island existence,” Steadman said. “Understanding this is important to designing better approaches to conservation on the island.”

Early paleontological sites in the Bahamas have yielded bones from numerous species of reptiles, birds and mammals that no longer exist on the islands. James Mead, a vertebrate paleontologist with East Tennessee State University, said more research into the evolutionary history of native plants and animals on Abaco is needed as well as conservation programs based on paleontological research that aims to restore these species.

“The Cuban crocodile is living today in small numbers in Cuba, but this new research shows that it is not living to its fullest potential,” Mead said. “The crocodile could live more abundantly in a much wider habitat if we allowed it.”