Canadian carnivorous plants eat young salamanders


This 10 June 2019 video says about itself:

Botanical carnivory: Hungry plants and their salamander prey

Botanical carnivory: New research published by Algonquin Wildlife Research Station student Patrick Moldowan (University of Toronto, Canada), Alex Smith (University of Guelph, Canada), Njal Rollinson (University of Toronto), and colleagues (Teskey Baldwin, Tim Bartley, Hannah Wynen, University of Guelph) demonstrate a sinister side of the plant world. This video shows two young Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) trapped in the pitcher of a Northern Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea), a carnivorous plant that lives in nutrient-poor bogs. Salamanders for supper? Yes!

Video by: Patrick D. Moldowan.

From the University of Guelph in Canada:

Bug-eating pitcher plants found to consume young salamanders, too

June 7, 2019

Summary: Pitcher plants growing in wetlands across Canada have long been known to eat creatures — mostly insects and spiders — that fall into their bell-shaped leaves and decompose in rainwater collected there. But researchers have discovered that vertebrates — specifically, salamanders — are also part of their diet.

Call it the “Little Bog of Horrors.” In what is believed to be a first for North America, biologists at the University of Guelph have discovered that meat-eating pitcher plants in Ontario’s Algonquin Park wetlands consume not just bugs but also young salamanders.

In a paper published this week in the journal Ecology, the research team reports what integrative biologist Alex Smith calls the “unexpected and fascinating case of plants eating vertebrates in our backyard, in Algonquin Park.”

Pitcher plants growing in wetlands across Canada have long been known to eat creatures — mostly insects and spiders — that fall into their bell-shaped leaves and decompose in rainwater collected there.

But until now, no one had reported this salamander species caught by a pitcher plant in North America, including Canada’s oldest provincial park, a popular destination where the plants have been observed for hundreds of years.

Noting how long the park has held its secret — despite generations of visiting naturalists, its proximity to major cities and a highway running through its southern end — Smith said, “Algonquin Park is so important to so many people in Canada. Yet within the Highway 60 corridor, we’ve just had a first.”

In summer 2017, then undergraduate student Teskey Baldwin found a salamander trapped inside a pitcher plant during a U of G field ecology course in the provincial park.

He’s a co-author on the new paper along with other researchers at U of G and the University of Toronto.

Monitoring pitcher plants around a single pond in the park in fall 2018, the team found almost one in five contained the juvenile amphibians, each about as long as a human finger. Several plants contained more than one captured salamander.

Those observations coincided with “pulses” of young salamanders crawling onto land after changing from their larval state in the pond. Smith said these bog ponds lack fish, making salamanders a key predator and prey species in food webs.

He said some of the animals may have fallen into the plants, perhaps attracted by insect prey. Others may have entered the plants to escape predators.

Some trapped salamanders died within three days, while others lived for up to 19 days.

Prey caught inside the plant’s specialized leaves is broken down by plant digestive enzymes and other organisms in the water held inside the leaf. Smith said other factors may kill salamanders in pitcher plants, including heat, starvation or infection by pathogens.

He said pitcher plants may have become carnivorous to gain nutrients, especially nitrogen, that are lacking in nutrient-poor bog soil.

Other flesh-eating plants grow in nutrient-poor environments around the world. They include sundews, which use their sticky leaves to catch insects, and the Venus flytrap, whose carnivory partly inspired the Seymour plant in the sci-fi musical Little Shop of Horrors.

Meat-eating pitcher plants have been known since the eighteenth century. One species discovered a decade ago in Asia consumes mostly insects and spiders but also captures small birds and mice.

Smith said the Algonquin Park discovery opens new questions for biologists. Are salamanders an important prey source for pitcher plants? Are the plants important “predators” of the amphibians? Might the salamanders compete with plants for insect prey — and even “choke” the plant?

Tongue-in-cheek, he added that the find may also prompt park officials to rewrite interpretive materials. “I hope and imagine that one day the bog’s interpretive pamphlet for the general public will say, ‘Stay on the boardwalk and watch your children. Here be plants that eat vertebrates.'”

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Elephants help frogs survive


This 2010 music video is called Crazy frog – Nellie the elephant.

From the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Frogs find refuge in elephant tracks

Study says pachyderm puddles are amphibian condos

June 4, 2019

Summary: Researchers in Myanmar describe flooded elephant tracks as key breeding grounds and ‘stepping stones’ connecting populations.

Frogs need elephants. That’s what a new WCS-led study says that looked at the role of water-filled elephant tracks in providing predator-free breeding grounds and pathways connecting frog populations.

Publishing in the journal Mammalia, the researchers found that rain-filled tracks of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) were filled with frog egg masses and tadpoles. The tracks can persist for a year or more and provide temporary habitat during the dry season where alternate sites are unavailable. Trackways could also function as “stepping stones” that connect frog populations.

This study was made available online in September 2018 ahead of final publication in print in May 2019.

The researchers made their observations in Myanmar’s Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary.

Elephants are widely recognized as “ecosystem engineers”, where they extensively modify vegetation through browsing, trampling, and seed dispersal, and convert large amounts of plant biomass into dung that is an important nutrient input for terrestrial and aquatic systems. At smaller scales, local plant species richness is enhanced when elephants open gaps in the forest canopy, browsing damage to trees creates refuges for small vertebrates (lizards and small mammals), and dung piles provide food for a diversity of beetles.

However, most research on ecosystem engineering by elephants has focused on savanna elephants (Loxodonta Africana) and to a lesser extent, forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) in Africa; the role of Asian elephants as ecosystem engineers is much less well-known. Asian elephants are considered Endangered by IUCN due to habitat loss, poaching and retribution for crop raiding and human/elephant conflict.

Said Steven Platt, Associate Conservation Herpetologist with WCS’s Myanmar Program and lead author of the study: “Elephant tracks are virtual condominiums for frogs. This study underscores the critical role wildlife play in ecosystems in sometimes unexpected ways. When you lose one species, you may be unknowingly affecting others, which is why protecting intact ecosystems with full assemblages of wildlife is so important.”

Sponges help studying penguin, seal, fish DNA


This 2016 video says about itself:

Sponges: Oldest Creatures in the Sea? – Full Episode

Until recently there was a scientific consensus that sponges were the first animals to branch off the “Animal Tree of Life”, a kind of family tree for all living and extinct animals on earth. But recent DNA research has cast doubt on that theory, with some scientists suggesting that ctenophores, also known as comb jellies, are an older lineage.

From ScienceDaily:

Sponges collect penguin, seal, and fish DNA from the water they filter

June 3, 2019

Just like humans leave DNA in the places we inhabit, water-dwelling animals leave DNA behind in the water column. In a paper published June 3 in the journal Current Biology, scientists report that sponges, which can filter 10,000 liters of water daily, catch DNA in their tissues as they filter-feed. This proof-of-concept study identified fish, seal, and penguin DNA in sponges from the Antarctic and Mediterranean, demonstrating that sponges can be used to monitor biodiversity.

“Sponges are ideal sampling units because you find them everywhere and in every aquatic habitat, including freshwater,” says Stefano Mariani, a marine ecologist and population geneticist at the University of Salford. “Also, they’re not very selective filter-feeders, they don’t run away, and they don’t get hurt by sampling — you can just grab a piece, and they will regenerate nicely.”

Additionally, the authors found that the presence of sponge DNA did not interfere with their ability to identify the DNA of other species caught within its tissue. Instead, they found that by using a particular DNA primer, which is a short sequence of nucleic acid that probes the DNA of specific organisms, they could selectively amplify vertebrate DNA while avoiding amplifying the sponge’s DNA itself.

Using this process in tandem with metabarcoding, which sorts the jumble of DNA from the tissue sample into distinguishable, species-specific piles, Mariani and his team were able to identify 31 taxa. Mostly, the species identified were fish, but one sponge sample from Antarctica included DNA from Weddell seals and chinstrap penguins. The sample was later identified to be located offshore of a penguin breeding colony. “This was a really exciting find and also makes a lot of sense,” says Mariani, “because the penguins would be in and out of the water a lot, eating, swimming, and pooing.”

Currently, machines with large water-sampling capabilities are being developed to allow scientists to sample DNA from water, but the authors think using a natural sampler could be just as effective. Because the DNA found in water is extremely diluted, it needs to undergo extensive filtering — but with filtering, Mariani warns, comes the danger of DNA contamination. Further, preserving water samples risks degrading the DNA. Sponge tissue, however, has already filtered out the water, greatly reducing both the processing time as well as the risk of contamination.

Further, bringing machines into some regions might not be feasible and may be too disruptive to fragile ecosystems. “If you want to study an endangered species of sawfish or a manatee in a mangrove forest in Mozambique, you can’t go there with massive robots. You have to use a very low-tech approach,” Mariani says.

Moving forward, the authors would like to investigate the ability of other animals to act as DNA samplers, particularly in open waters where sponges are either rare or unreachable by humans for sampling. Mariani suggests that other organisms such as jelly fish or salps, which also sieve water but float through the water column, may be more accessible in the open ocean.

Ultimately, the authors’ goal is to improve how environmental DNA is collected in order to better monitor biodiversity in areas that may not be suitable for other methods. Determining whether sponges are more effective in capturing the biodiversity of an area over pre-existing methods, however, will require further research, but the authors say this paper is the first step in answering that question. “I am hopeful that this method will prove itself to be useful,” Mariani says. “It’s the quintessential environmentally friendly biodiversity assessment tool.”

The authors acknowledge support from a UK NERC grant.

Endangered Chinese giant salamander saved


This video is about endangered wild Chinese giant salamanders found near a river in Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of southwest China’s Sichuan province on May 17, 2019.

One of the giant salamanders was stuck in a crevice. Police and villagers managed to save and free it.

Amphibians in Germany, documentary


This 16 March 2019 video says about itself:

Into the Forest: Amphibian Nature Documentary

Journey for 90 days into a mysterious European forest to encounter some lesser known animals that may surprise you, especially the amphibians and reptiles.

Bryan Maltais takes you into a forest of southwest Germany to meet its wildlife as they emerge in the last days of Winter, and flourish through the breeding season into Summer. Large mammals, insects, amphibians and reptiles are featured in this whimsical tale.

The Fire Salamander and its plight with Bsal are featured. Bsal is a microscopic fungus that was accidentally imported into Europe and destroys the skin of many types of salamanders. The Fire Salamander is currently disappearing in parts of Europe due to the invasion by the non-native Bsal fungus. Watch this documentary to the end to learn about Bsal and how you can help prevent its spread.

Climate change kills British frogs


This BBC video from England says about itself:

Common frogs on Springwatch (2016)

Common frogs (Rana temporaria) breed in the spring and this clip looks at this activity from all angles including the perils.

From the Zoological Society of London in England:

Climate change responsible for severe infectious disease in UK frogs

Compelling research reveals fatal spread of Ranavirus will increase if carbon emissions are not reduced

May 10, 2019

Climate change has already increased the spread and severity of a fatal disease caused by Ranavirus that infects common frogs (Rana temporaria) in the UK, according to research led by ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, UCL and Queen Mary University of London published today in Global Change Biology (10 May 2019).

Historic trends in mass-mortality events attributed to the disease were found to match the pattern of increased temperatures recorded over recent decades, with disease outbreaks predicted to become more severe, more widespread and occurring over a greater proportion of the year within the next few decades, if carbon emissions continue at their current rate.

The research conducted by international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London), UCL, Queen Mary University of London and University of Plymouth used a three-pronged approach involving cell cultures, live models and historic data from the Met Office and Froglife’s Frog Mortality Project, with the research demonstrating that warm weather where temperatures reach 16°C, dramatically increases the risk of Ranavirus causing a disease outbreak in common frogs.

The findings help explain the seasonality of the disease, with incidence peaking during the hottest months of the summer, showing that climate change could see outbreaks becoming more frequent from April to October. Disease outbreaks in the spring could result in the deaths of large numbers of tadpoles, which could have repercussions for population survival. Up to now, Ranavirus disease has been largely restricted to England, but as average monthly temperatures increase to exceed 16°C in more areas over longer periods, as predicted by the IPCC’s high carbon-emission model, the disease is likely to spread across most of the UK in the next 50 years.

Dr Stephen Price, lead author from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and UCL said: “Climate change isn’t something that’s just happening in faraway places — it’s something real and present that’s already had hard-to-predict impacts on wildlife in our own back gardens here in the UK.

“A number of scientists have already alluded to the fact that climate change could increase the spread of disease, but this is one of the first studies that provides strong evidence of the impact of climate change on wildlife disease, and helps to explain how it may facilitate the spread of Ranavirus across the UK.”

ZSL scientists suggest that frogs may be better able to cope with infection if they have areas in which they can cool down — adding log piles, vegetation or nearby shady patches as well as keeping ponds deep will help reduce the level of sun exposure frogs receive, and thus reduce the growth rate of the virus.

Professor Trenton Garner at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology said: “Many studies in amphibian disease cannot do much beyond saying ‘we have a problem’. This research offers a number of options for mitigation; however, this is only a short-term solution of course — if we don’t eventually slow and reverse human-driven climate change, we unfortunately can only expect things to get worse for our amphibians.”

To find out more about ZSL’s amphibian health work, visit here.