California wildfires, how birds respond


This 2013 video from the USA says about itself:

Southern California Bird Identification Guide

This is a quick and easy video guide for the most common birds you can find in the chaparral ecosystems of Southern California. Can you identify all of the birds here? Write down your species IDs in the comments!

From Point Blue Conservation Science in the USA:

New research on avian response to wildfires

The varied ways birds respond to fires of mixed severity

June 22, 2018

Summary: New research explores the effects fire has on ecosystems and the wildlife species that inhabit them. Scientists examined the impacts of fires of different severity levels on birds and how that changes as the time since fire increases. Scientists looked across 10 fires after they burned through forests in the Sierra Nevada. A key finding was that wildfire had strong, but varied, effects on the density of many of the bird species that were studied.

As we enter another wildfire season in California, attention will turn to the inevitable fires and efforts to extinguish them. After these fires burn, land managers are tasked with deciding how, where, and when to act to manage these new conditions. It is vital that land managers use the latest science to understand the effects that fire has on the ecosystem and the wildlife species that inhabit them. New research [by] Point Blue Conservation Science explores these effects, looking at impacts of the severity of fire on birds and how that changes as the time since fire increases. Scientists looked across 10 fires up to 15 years after they burned through forests in the northern Sierra Nevada. Key among the findings is the observation that wildfire had a strong effect on the density of many of the bird species that were studied.

However, the severity of the fires affected different bird species differently. Of the 44 species studied, 18 reached their maximum densities after high-severity fire, 10 in moderate-severity, and 16 in areas affected by low-severity fire.

Over the last century humans have reduced the influence of fire across this ecosystem, but as the climate warms and the amount of fuels in these forests increase, the area burning annually and the severity of fires has been increasing. Understanding how species that rely on these forests respond to such fires can help inform management of fires and post-fire environments.

“One of the most important things we found was how varied the response was between areas that burned at different levels of severity as well the time after the fire it took for different species to reach their peak abundance,” said lead author Dr. Paul Taillie who was a field technician on the project with Point Blue and is now a researcher at North Carolina State University. “This reinforces the idea that mixed severity fires are crucial to sustaining a diversity of bird life in Sierra forests and that these burned landscapes are providing important habitat for decades after they burn.”

In addition to comparing the effects of different burn severities and the amount of time since fire, researchers also investigated more complex and nuanced responses of birds to fire than has been investigated in fire-prone western forests. Rather than simply increasing or decreasing consistently across the 15-year post-fire period, many species exhibited more complex patterns, for example increasing rapidly but reaching a plateau and then declining again. Other species’ responses to burn severity varied across the 15 year post-fire period investigated.

The researchers also compared bird populations in post-fire forests to populations in unburned forests. Of the species studied, 30 percent had higher densities in burned forest, with all but one of those in areas of high severity fires. Just 11 percent reached greater densities in unburned forest.

“Our findings really illustrate how dynamic the avian community is after these fires. Many of the species peaked in density during a narrow window of time after fire in a specific burn severity class. We just don’t see this rapid change in the bird community in green forests even after mechanical fuel reductions. It suggests we be cautious in prescribing post-fire management actions that alter the trajectory of these forests,” said researcher Ryan Burnett, Sierra Nevada Director at Point Blue. “We hope this research helps land managers make informed decisions about managing these dynamic post-fire bird habitats.”

Advertisements

Wolves in Yellowstone, USA, new study


This video is called [2017] – National Geographic Documentary Wild – Wild Yellowstone She Wolf HD.

From S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University in the USA:

Wolf reintroduction: Yellowstone’s ‘landscape of fear’ not so scary after all

June 22, 2018

After wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s, some scientists thought the large predator reestablished a ‘landscape of fear’ that caused elk,

North American elk should not be confused with still larger moose (Alces alces) to which the name “elk” applies in British English and in reference to populations in Eurasia.

the wolf‘s main prey, to avoid risky places where wolves killed them. This fueled the emerging idea that predators affect prey populations and ecosystems not only by eating prey animals, but by scaring them too. But according to findings from Utah State University ecologists Michel Kohl and Dan MacNulty, Yellowstone’s ‘landscape of fear’ is not as scary as first thought.

“Contrary to popular belief, the wolf is not a round-the-clock threat to elk; it mostly hunts at dawn and dusk, and this allows elk to safely access risky places during nightly lulls in wolf activity”, says Kohl, who completed a doctoral degree at USU in 2018 and is lead author of the paper. “Despite their Hollywood portrayal as nighttime prowlers, wolves tend to hunker down at night because their vision is not optimized for nocturnal hunting.” With colleagues Daniel Stahler, Douglas Smith, and P.J. White of the U.S. National Park Service, Matthew Metz of University of Montana, James Forester of University of Minnesota, Matthew Kauffman of University of Wyoming, and Nathan Varley of University of Alberta, Kohl and MacNulty report their findings in an Early View online article of Ecological Monographs. The article will appear in a future print edition of the Ecological Society of America publication. The team’s research is supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

The researchers revisited data from 27 GPS radio-collared elk that had been collected in the early years after the reintroduction, 2001-2004, but never fully analyzed. These collars recorded the location of each elk every 4-6 hours. This was the first time GPS technology had been used to track Yellowstone elk, and no one imagined that elk might sync their habitat use to the wolf’s 24-hour schedule. Little was known about this schedule until researchers first equipped wolves with GPS collars in 2004.

“In the days before GPS, when we tracked wolves by sight and with VHF radio-telemetry, we knew they hunted mainly in the morning and evening, but we didn’t know much about what they did at night” says MacNulty, a veteran Yellowstone wolf researcher and associate professor in USU’s Department of Wildland Resources and the USU Ecology Center. “GPS data showed that wolves were about as inactive in the middle of the night as they were in the middle of the day.”

Kohl used the GPS data to quantify the 24-hour schedule of wolves, and he compared how elk use of risky places — sites where wolves killed elk — differed between periods of high and low wolf activity. “Elk avoided the riskiest places when wolves were most active, but they had no problem using these same places when wolves were least active,” says Kohl. “An elk’s perception of a place as dangerous or safe, its landscape of fear, was highly dynamic with ‘peaks’ and ‘valleys’ that alternated across the 24-hr cycle in response to the ups and downs of wolf activity.”

The ability of elk to regularly use risky places during wolf downtimes has implications for understanding the impact of wolves on elk and the ecosystem at large. “Our results can explain why many other studies found no clear-cut effect of wolf predation risk on elk stress levels, body condition, pregnancy, or herbivory”, says MacNulty. “If our results reflect typical elk behavior, then actual killing rather than fear probably drives most, if not all, of the effect of wolves on elk and any cascading effect on the plants that elk eat such as aspen and willow.”

This conclusion runs counter to popular views about the ecological importance of fear in Yellowstone and elsewhere. “Although our study is the first to show how a prey animal uses predator downtime to flatten its landscape of fear, I suspect other examples will emerge as more researchers examine the intersection between prey habitat use and predator activity rhythms”, says Kohl.

Snowshoe hares’ camouflage, new study


This 2015 video is called Epic Hunting Chase of the Canadian Lynx and Snowshoe Hare in HD.

From The University of Montana in the USA:

How snowshoe hares evolved to stay seasonally camouflaged

June 21, 2018

Many animals have evolved fur or feather colors to blend in with the environment and hide from predators. But how do animals stay camouflaged when their environment changes with each new season? Researchers at the University of Montana recently discovered that hybridization played an important role in snowshoe hares’ ability to match their environment.

An international scientific team led by UM Associate Professor Jeffrey Good and graduate student Matthew Jones set out to discover how snowshoe hares have evolved to molt to a white coat in areas with prolonged winter snow cover while populations from mild coastal environments of the Pacific Northwest retain brown fur year-round.

“Like other seasonal traits, the autumn molt in snowshoe hares is triggered by changes in day length”m Good said. “But the color of their winter coat is determined by genetic variation that has been shaped by evolution to match the local presence or absence of snow.”

In a new article published in the journal Science, Good’s team discovered that the development of brown or white winter coats in snowshoe hares is controlled by genetic variation at a single pigmentation gene that is activated during the autumn molt.

“This result is exciting because it shows that critical adaptive shifts in seasonal camouflage can evolve through changes in the regulation of a single gene,” Jones said.

The genetic discovery came with a surprising twist.

“When we looked at the same gene in other closely related species”, Jones said, “we found that the brown version of the gene in snowshoe hares was recently acquired from interbreeding with black-tail jackrabbits, another North American species that remains brown in the winter.”

Hybridization between species has played a key role in the development of many domestic plants and animals, and recent research suggests that it is also surprisingly common in nature. In snowshoe hares, hybridization with black-tailed jackrabbits provided critical coat color variation needed to adapt to coastal areas where winter snow is ephemeral or absent. But what does this mean for snowshoe hares going forward?

“Brown winter coats are currently rare across the range of snowshoe hares”, Good said. “If snow cover continues to decrease due to climate change, brown winter coats may become more common in the future and play a critical role in the resilience of this species. These discoveries are helping us understand how organisms adapt to rapidly changing environments.”

UM Professor Scott Mills is a co-author on the paper. For this research, UM partnered with the Universidade do Porto and CIBIO-InBIO in Portugal, North Carolina State University, Arizona State University, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Stop British Conservative fox hunting plans


British anti-fox hunting demonstrators

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Friday, June 22, 2018

Unelectable and unspeakable but still chasing the inedible

We all know that Prime Minister Theresa May has always been in favour of fox-hunting because she has often told us so.

In return, no less than 84 per cent of the British public have told her and other hunting fans in Westminster that they do not agree with those outdated opinions.

Overwhelmingly the general public wants Labour’s 2004 ban of hunting with dogs to stay firmly in place.

Yet despite hunting being illegal for nearly 14 years, wild animals are still being hunted and killed in the British countryside and those responsible are getting away with it.

Hunts are still killing wildlife. They have found many ways to circumvent the law and get away with slaughtering many wild animals. They do it in many ways — through so-called trail hunting, abusing exemptions in the law and exploiting legal loopholes that mean thousands of animals are meeting cruel and bloody deaths in the countryside every year.

Landowners are still giving hunts and packs of hounds access to land in order to carry out activities barely disguised as a cover for illegal hunting.

Legislation is simply not strong enough to allow the ever-reducing number of rural police to come down hard on illegal hunting.

Fox-hunting has always involved posh country folk dressing up and setting their pack of dogs on a fox and then chasing it on horseback for miles across the landscape. What hunters call a sport most people see as vicious and outdated cruelty.

The public wants nothing to do with May’s idea of repealing the legal ban put in place by a Labour government in 2004.

One of the worst ways the hunts get around this 14-year-old legal ban is called “trail hunting.” Most registered fox and hare hunts claim now to be trail hunting — an activity that was not in existence or even thought off when the Hunting Act 2004 was drafted.

Trail hunting is an entirely new invention which uses an artificial animal scent trail — often fox urine.

It is is not the same as drag hunting, which is a legitimate long established country sport which existed before the Act and, although it also uses packs of foxhounds, is not intended to catch and kill animals.

Trail hunting, on the other hand, deliberately kills many foxes and hares despite the claim from the hunts that these deaths are all accidents. It was simply dreamed up as a false cover for illegal hunting.

Too often the police or the Crown Prosecution Service consider that a case involving trail hunting may be too difficult to prosecute as proving intent is very difficult with the current Hunting Act if the trail-hunting deceit is used. That is why the law needs to be strengthened.

It isn’t just foxes that are illegally hunted and killed. Police are investigating allegations of illegal deer hunting in south-west England, following claims that here too a traditional hunt has been chasing stags with packs of hounds.

The League against Cruel Sports has given evidence to police that the Quantock Staghounds have broken the law.

Although the Hunting Act 2004 banned the hunting of foxes and wild mammals using dogs, hunting deer without hounds remains legal.

Three traditional hunts continue to chase deer on horseback in Somerset and Devon. The law allows hunters to use up to just two dogs to locate wounded deer or to flush out prey.

Darryl Cunnington, a retired police officer and now a League volunteer has given Avon and Somerset police wildlife officers a file of evidence from an incident in January on the southern edge of the Quantock hills, near Bridgwater in Somerset.

His evidence revealed there were seven or eight hounds chasing deer across the moor and the hounds were not called off and may have been actively encouraged. There was no evidence of trail-laying, proving this was deliberate illegal hunting.

A separate incident in September 2016 — filmed by a League volunteer — shows six hounds chasing a deer in Willoughby Cleeve. The man who took the footage, Andy Kendall, was also a retired police officer.

In 2007, local huntsmen Richard Down and Adrian Pillivant were each fined £500 for hunting deer with dogs. The League estimates that around 200 deer are chased and killed every year. Its Animal Crimewatch hotline, received 66 reports of illegal deer hunting in 2017.

So why did May raise the question of hunting just before her misjudged and hastily called general election.

In the campaign she ditched plans that had promised the Tory faithful a free vote to allow the end of the ban on fox-hunting.

It was of course a crude attempt to repair the Conservatives’ reputation on animal rights. May had voted against the original ban when it was introduced by Labour. She told Andrew Marr that she had always supported fox-hunting but had never herself hunted.

Her rival for the job of prime minister, Andrea Leadsom, is an enthusiastic hunter. May made Leadsom environment secretary briefly after the election but soon replaced her with Michael Gove who didn’t take long to spot that a poll just before the election showed 67 per cent of voters believed fox-hunting should remain illegal.

Gove started a concerted Tory campaign to counter social media posts denouncing the party’s record on animal rights.

Labour canvassers discovered Jeremy Corbyn’s long-held views opposing fox-hunting were helping them enormously on the doorstep, while May’s U-turn seems to have unleashed a backlash among Tory supporters both inside and outside the Conservative party.

In previous elections, the Tories have been helped in rural areas by Vote-OK, a pro-hunting organisation mobilising its supporters to back the local Tory campaign. Now Vote-OK is livid at what it sees as May’s betrayal.

Countryside Alliance’s top man Tim Bonner has warned that ditching the hunting pledge would have serious consequences for May’s long-term future.

May’s long-term future? That will certainly take some hunting for.

Zebrafish see well, new study


This 2017 video is called Eyes of Zebra fish may help unveil cure for human blindness, say scientists.

From the University of Sussex in England:

Zebrafish‘s near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View

June 21, 2018

Summary: A zebrafish view of the world has been forensically analyzed by researchers to reveal that how they see their surroundings changes hugely depending on what direction they are looking.

Tiny freshwater fish have a view of the world that blows Google Street View out of the water — using different parts of their eyes to deliver optimum uses of colour, black-and-white and ultraviolet.

A zebrafish view of the world has been forensically analysed by researchers at the University of Sussex to reveal that how they see their surroundings changes hugely depending on what direction they are looking.

The study of the colour vision system of zebrafish larvae, published today in Current Biology, reveals they use their near 360 degree view of their world to detect threatening silhouettes above them in black-and-white but can seek out the almost transparent single-cell organisms they feed on by detecting the scattering of light in UV.

Dr Tom Baden, a senior lecturer in neuroscience at the University of Sussex who led the research, said: “By measuring the activity of thousands of neurons in the live animal while presenting visual stimuli, we established that different parts of their retinas, looking at different parts of the visual world, do different things. This multi-faceted view makes perfect sense for zebrafish as that’s how colour is distributed in their natural habitat. In their natural visual world, most colour information is on the ground and the horizon but above them the objects of most interest are dark silhouettes, so colour vision here is rather pointless.”

The study is the first in-depth physiological description of any vertebrate’s retinal setup for colour vision that uses “4 input colours” which includes a large proportion of non-mammal species such as most birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. By comparison humans only use three and mice, dogs and horses only two.

The researchers say little is understood on how colour vision based on four or more spectral inputs works at a neuronal level but their paper, should help pave the way for further discoveries in this field. The team custom-built a hyperspectral scanner that allowed them to capture the full spectrum of light in the zebrafish natural world at each pixel including for UV vision.

The study found that zebrafish, who during larval and juvenile life stages live mostly in shallow, low current pockets on the sides of streams and rice paddies, only seem to use their colour vision repertoire for looking down and along the horizon, use colour-blind circuits for looking straight up and extremely sensitive ultraviolet vision for looking forward and upwards.

The zebrafish has made a supreme evolutionary effort to develop this superior vision, with about half of all its neurons inside the eyes making up nearly a quarter of their total body volume and requiring substantial metabolic investment. Similar ratios on a human being would mean eyes around the size of a large grapefruit which would require an optic nerve the width of an arm.

Dr Baden said: “Clearly, animals like zebrafish use specialised strategies to better navigate their natural environment by adjusting their eyes to look out for different things in different parts of their visual field. In contrast, technology has not really caught up with these types of ideas. For example, most standard camera systems still “blindly” use the same type of light detection and compression across an entire image even if half the image shows bright blue sky and the other half the overgrown and shadowed ground.”

New Sri Lankan spiders get Enid Blyton names


This video says about itself:

Science Bulletins: Seeking Spiders—Biodiversity on a Different Scale

4 October 2012

Recognizing the tiny species of any ecosystem is hugely important for defining its overall diversity. But miniscule forms of life are often invisible to conservation efforts because they have yet to be described in detail. Dr. Norman Platnick of the American Museum of Natural History is leading an important initiative to discover biodiversity on a smaller scale. Having devoted decades to the study of spiders, Dr. Platnick now leads a team of 45 investigators from 10 countries in the largest-ever research project on spiders, identifying members of the goblin spider family. This group of spiders is widely distributed but largely unknown, primarily due to their small size—at 1.2-3mm, they measure one-half to one-third the length of the average spider. This video follows Dr. Platnick’s team into the Ecuadorian jungle as they collect and identify scores of unrecognized goblin spiders, showing how little we know about the full breadth of global biodiversity.

From ScienceDaily:

Six new species of goblin spiders named after famous goblins and brownies

June 21, 2018

Summary: A remarkably high diversity of goblin spiders is reported from the Sri Lankan forests. Nine new species are described in a recent paper, where six are named after goblins and brownies from Enid Blyton‘s children’s books. There are now 45 goblin spider species belonging to 13 genera known to inhabit the island country.

Fictional characters originally ‘described’ by famous English children’s writer Enid Blyton have given their names to six new species of minute goblin spiders discovered in the diminishing forests of Sri Lanka.

The goblins Bom, Snooky and Tumpy and the brownies Chippy, Snippy and Tiggy made their way from the pages of: “The Goblins Looking-Glass” (1947), “Billy’s Little Boats” (1971) and “The Firework Goblins” (1971) to the scientific literature in a quest to shed light on the remarkable biodiversity of the island country of Sri Lanka, Indian Ocean.

As a result of their own adventure, which included sifting through the leaf litter of the local forests, scientists Prof. Suresh P. Benjamin and Ms. Sasanka Ranasinghe of the National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka, described a total of nine goblin spider species in six genera as new to science. Two of these genera are reported for the very first time from outside Australia.

Their paper is published in the open access journal Evolutionary Systematics.

With a total of 45 species in 13 genera, the goblin spider fauna in Sri Lanka — a country taking up merely 65,610 km2 — is already remarkably abundant. Moreover, apart from their diversity, these spiders amaze with their extreme endemism. While some of the six-eyed goblins can only be found at a few sites, other species can be seen nowhere outside a single forest patch.

“Being short-range endemics with very restricted distributions, these species may prove to be very important when it comes to monitoring the effects of climate change and other threats for the forest habitats in Sri Lanka”, explain the researchers.

In European folklore, goblins and brownies are known as closely related small and often mischievous fairy-like creatures, which live in human homes and even do chores while the family is asleep, since they avoid being seen. In exchange, they expect from their ‘hosts’ to leave food for them.

Similarly, at size of a few millimetres, goblin spiders are extremely tough to notice on the forest floors they call home. Further, taking into consideration the anthropogenic factors affecting their habitat, the arachnids also turn out to be heavily dependent on humans.

Prevent wildlife-cars collisions


This 2017 video is called Wildlife crossings stop roadkill. Why aren’t there more?

From the University of Waterloo in Canada:

Many wildlife-vehicle collisions preventable

June 21, 2018

A new study from the University of Waterloo has found that Ontario could save millions by implementing simple measures to help prevent vehicle accidents involving wildlife.

The Waterloo study focused on Ontario. It concluded that many of the thousands of wildlife-vehicle collisions — some fatal — occurring each year could be prevented if authorities implemented a few, cost-effective strategies to minimize the occurrences.

Implementing strategies such as better signage, wildlife detection systems, fencing and wildlife crossings could help reduce financial and health-related impacts for people, emergency services and the insurance industry. The measures could also help prevent unnecessary loss in the wildlife populations.

“These collisions cost Canadians hundreds of millions a year in vehicle damage and medical costs, as well as traffic delays, emergency services use and increases in insurance premiums”, said Waterloo’s Associate Professor Michael Drescher, who co-authored the study with graduate student Kristin Elton. “Ontario is missing an opportunity here. The most efficient way to prevent these accidents is to integrate effective measures in wildlife conflict zones every time major road work is undertaken.”

The study looked specifically at Southern Ontario, which has the highest concentration of roads in Canada. With ever-expanding infrastructure having a significant impact on wildlife and their habitat, many of the cost-effective measures that could help reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions are underdeveloped in Ontario.

“Within Canada, the Rocky Mountain region is renowned as a leader in the management of wildlife-road conflicts, said Drescher, who estimates five to 10 per cent of car insurance premiums go to animal-related incidents. “They’ve realized the economics are simple. Adding measures to road construction projects only marginally impacts the overall budget, while saving millions in taxpayer money, insurance costs, and potentially lives.

“Governments have to balance many competing factors next with the technical elements of this problem, such as perceived financial constraints, public opinion and political motivations”, added Drescher. “When these factors are not managed right, wildlife management measures are delayed or never started.”