Endangered North American butterfly fights back against climate change


This video is called The Endangered Quino Checkerspot Butterfly.

From Wildlife Extra:

Endangered butterfly fights back against climate change

April 2014: The endangered Quino Checkerspot butterfly, found in Mexico and California, is defying climate change by adapting both its habitat and diet, a study has revealed.

The butterfly suffered dramatic population collapses during the last century along the southern edge of its range in Baja California as a result of climate change and agricultural and urban development.

But rather than heading toward extinction the butterfly has adapted to the changing climate by shifting to a higher altitude and changing its host plant to a completely new species.

Other species have been seen changing either habitat or diet to cope with a changing climate but the Quino Checkerspot may be amongst the first butterfly species to change both.

Professor Camille Parmesan from Plymouth University, explained:

“Quino today is one of the happy ‘surprises’, having managed to adapt to climate change by shifting its centre of abundance to higher elevation and onto a plant species that was not previously known to be a host.”

See also here. And here. And here.

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São Tomé and Príncipe seabirds research


This video says about itself:

Academy researchers explain why Sao Tome and Principe are so special and extreme. Featuring Robert C. Drewes -curator in the department of Herpetology, and Roberta Ayers -Senior Educator at the California Academy of Sciences.
Check out the blog here.

From BirdLife:

Tinhosas Islands – desert island, seabird paradise

By nairobi.volunteer, Fri, 11/04/2014 – 07:00

São Tomé e Príncipe is a small tropical country known amongst birdwatchers and conservationists for its endangered secondary forests, and high level of bird endemism. However, the country also holds the most impressive seabird colonies in the eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean – the Tinhosas Islands. These are two barren rocky islands around 12 km SW of Príncipe Island. They are named Tinhosa Grande, and Tinhosa Pequena, and are both remote and endowed with abundant seabird life. Three of five seabird species known to breed in São Tomé e Príncipe, namely Brown Booby Sula leucogaster, Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata, and Black Noddy Anous minutus, breed in Tinhosas, some in great numbers. The last assessment of the Tinhosas colony was completed in 1997, and since then accounts of exploitation of the birds for human consumption have raised concern about its conservation status.

BirdLife International sponsored a two-day expedition to Tinhosas islands, in order to conduct a census of breeding birds, and assess trends and threats. “We departed for Tinhosas in a quite misty dawn, and saw few birds en route, but seabird numbers increased massively as we approached Tinhosa Pequena. They were mostly ‘Wideawake’ Terns [Sooty Terns]“, said Nuno Barros, SPEA/BirdLife Portugal seabird officer, and one of the participants in the expedition. When on the scene, and after two days of seabird census in intense tropical heat and a night spent amongst large numbers of land crabs, the results showed that while some species registered a slight increase, others, like Brown Booby evidenced a steep decrease from the 1997 census figures. Caution must be used when interpreting these differences, for multiple visits within and between years should be performed, to census breeders, monitor threats and establish breeding phenologies  says Simon Vale, a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University, based in Príncipe at the time, and also an expedition member. Nevertheless, the massive decrease in Brown Booby numbers is a grave concern.

Tinhosas islands are an amazing wildlife spectacle, and a remote arid paradise for breeding seabirds, that deserve further investigation and safeguarding. As Dr Ross Wanless, team member and Africa Coordinator for the BirdLife International Marine Programme, explains “Although none of the species breeding there is globally threatened, this is the only seabird colony of any significance in the Gulf of Guinea, so assessing the populations’ health and protecting the colonies from human impacts is of great value.”

BirdLife International and the expedition team would like to thank Bom Bom Island Resort for logistical support for the expedition. Ross Wanless received some financial support for the expedition from the University of Cape Town.

Read the full report: Status and trends of the seabirds breeding at Tinhosa Grande Island, São Tomé e Principe.

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Cosmos, science and media from Carl Sagan to today


This video is called Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey (Part 1).

By Bryan Dyne in the USA:

Cosmos reboot falls short of the mark

14 April 2014

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Cosmos) is a remake of the 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan. Hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the new series comes after three and a half decades of scientific advances—sequencing of the human genome, discovery of the Higgs boson, quantification of conditions in the first moments of the Big Bang, and detailed spacecraft exploration of parts of the solar system. Yet, beyond some scientific generalities, little of this enormous progress would be apparent from watching the new series.

Alongside Tyson, the new series is being produced by Seth MacFarlane in collaboration with Ann Druyan (Sagan’s widow) and astronomer Steven Soter, both of whom worked on the original Cosmos series. It is being aired on ten 21st Century Fox networks and on the National Geographic Channel and being distributed across 170 countries and in 45 languages—one of the widest television distributions to date. So far, six out of 13 episodes have been aired, with an estimated 27 million viewers in the US.

In itself, the production of this new Cosmos is a welcome development. Almost without exception, US television is dominated by series promoting the police and military, the occult and mystical, and sometimes all of them at the same time. In contrast, Cosmos sets as its task the socially progressive work of portraying the world as it is objectively, examining natural laws before a mass audience, and placing human society within the context of the development of the universe.

This video is called Cosmos: A Personal Voyage – Episode 1 (Carl Sagan).

The original Cosmos derived much of its strength from its seriousness and the internal consistency and fidelity to the scientific method which the show promoted and defended. At times, the new series follows the original in that respect. The second episode features a wonderful sequence showing the development of the eye, as part of its discussion on natural selection. Using a split-screen technique, viewers see ocean life evolve over hundreds of millions of years on the left and a view of what those creatures actually saw on the right, starting with patches of light and dark and slowly getting clearer as each modification of the eye came along. Throughout the segment, Tyson explains that by tracing these developments through the fossil record, we can rule out claims of an “intelligent designer” for the eye. It evolved.

William Herschel

In another animated sequence, viewers are introduced to astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822), who observationally described binary stars in apparent orbit about one another, generalizing Newton’s theory of gravity from the movement of bodies within the Solar System to all celestial bodies. This was one of the critical demonstrations that established that natural laws discovered on Earth can be extrapolated to areas of the universe beyond direct human experience.

Another sequence worth noting revolved around the life of Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church. The Church has always asserted that this was for his heretical theology. Cosmos, on the other hand, explains that the true reason for Bruno’s execution was his ideas about scientific inquiry and how to understand the world. His methods led him to expand on Copernicus’ idea that the Earth revolved around the Sun, to say that the Sun and all the stars were the same, that the stars also had planets and that those planets could have life. To this day, Bruno’s writings are still on the Vatican’s list of forbidden texts.

But beyond a few such exceptions, the show is largely lacking in describing the development of science as a social process, or even in providing concrete examples of momentous discoveries and how they came about. A segment describing the development of Newton’s theory of gravity took as its focus petty personal frictions between Newton, Robert Hooke and Edmund Halley, rather than the vast upheavals of Enlightenment Europe, or the meticulous work of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler in acquiring the observational data which could be unified by Newton into a single theoretical framework.

Albert Einstein is discussed equally ahistorically, but in the opposite way: rather than his inspiration coming from conflicts, he is presented as the isolated genius who arrives at his unifying idea by virtue of his alienation. In reality, Einstein’s work temporarily sealed a rupture in physics which had erupted in the 1860s and which attracted work from many of its best minds. Taking as his point of departure the surprising results of Michelson and Morley in 1887 that the speed of light appeared to be the same to both stationary and moving observers, Einstein worked out the implications of a fixed speed of light using mathematics developed by Riemann, Lorentz, Poincare, and Weyl. That his most productive years occurred in Europe between 1905 and 1917, spanning a World War and two Russian revolutions, should be worthy of notice, but the news Cosmos makes no reference to this background.

Christiaan Huygens by Bernard Vaillant, Museum Hofwijck, Voorburg

In contrast, the original series depicted Christiaan Huygens, one of the foremost astronomers of the 1600s, as a product of his time. While viewers were given a glimpse of his work, such as early (and quite accurate) initial estimates of the distances from Earth to nearby stars, the focus was on the time and place in which he lived. One got a flavor of Huygens’ contemporaries, the character of 17th century Holland, the proliferation of free thought, the science and technology being done, the architecture, i.e. the culture as a whole.

The production also includes segments which are factually incorrect, misleading or empty. Tyson describes the proteins that help DNA to operate as “creatures” rather than molecules, which is what they actually are. His “ship of the imagination” dodges rocks in the asteroid belt per the science-fiction norm. Rather than discussing what is known about how life developed, Tyson blithely states that the origins of life are unknown, as if the decades of research into this topic have produced nothing. And the momentous imagery produced by robotic probes throughout the solar system (Voyager, Cassini, Galileo, numerous Mars missions, etc.) is by and large dispensed with in favor of computer graphics manufactured to order.

Tyson’s career may play a role in these weaknesses. He is not a full-time scientific researcher and has published little, serving mainly as a media popularizer involved in publishing books, TV appearances, the Hayden Planetarium and sitting on science panels for the Bush and Obama administrations. He seems somewhat disconnected from the science he once practiced. However, it is not simply that Tyson the media figure is missing something essential compared to Sagan the working scientist. Rather, there has been a shift in intellectual life over the past 35 years, particularly among the liberal intelligentsia. No longer is Western society, and science along with it, flush with resources and expanding at a high rate. American capitalism is on the decline, and this is felt in the official treatment of science. The new Cosmos had a chance to challenge its audience, seeking to raise popular understanding of science. Instead, Tyson largely appeals to the lowest common denominator.

One of the many ways this has manifested is in the exposition of the scientific method. To the show’s credit, Cosmos explains the relationship between observations and theories that model those observations and make predictions. In the third episode, it shows how the observations of comets over centuries transformed them in common understanding from harbingers of doom to predictable celestial phenomena, based on the work of Halley, Hooke and Newton.

But rather than asserting the growing superiority of science over religion in explaining how the world works, the show muddles the two. There are constant concessions to religious language. The highly accurate predictions of the astronomers are referred to constantly in the program as “prophecies.” In the fourth episode, Tyson similarly refers to the fact that the speed of light is always constant as a “commandment” of the universe, rather than explaining the underlying physics.

Given the advances since 1980, it is long past time for the presentation of what has been learned and the process of how this has been learned to a mass audience. Sadly, the weaknesses of the new Cosmos in this respect overshadow its strengths.

The author also recommends:

Carl Sagan (1934-1996): An appreciation
[13 January 1997]

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Prehistoric harvestman had extra eyes


This video says about itself:

10 April 2014

A 305-million-year-old harvestman fossil, ancestor of modern day arachnids, is more closely relates to the scorpions than spiders. Scientists discovered unusual features: it has 2 sets of eyes on the center and lateral sides of the body.

From Discovery News:

Ancient Daddy Longlegs Had Extra Eyes

APRIL 12, 2014 12:30 PM ET // BY PAUL HELTZEL

A 304-million-year-old fossil discovered in Eastern France shows primitive living harvestmen — more commonly called daddy longlegs — had one more pair of eyes than they do today.

The ancient harvestmen had a pair of eyes along the middle of the body — like their modern counterparts — but they also had a pair of eyes on the side of the body. The findings were reported by researchers from the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Manchester, in the journal Current Biology.

Photos: Look If You Dare: Ancient Spider Family Album

Scientists studied the fossil using high-resolution X-ray imaging at the Natural History Museum, London.

“Our X-ray techniques have allowed us to reveal this fossil in more detail than we would have dreamed possible two decades ago,” said Russell Garwood, a research fellow at the University of Manchester and a lead author on the study, in a release.

Though Harvestmen have eight legs and are categorized as arachnids, they’re not spiders. They’re more closely related to scorpions.

The scientists also examined the expression of an eye-stalk growing gene in harvestmen embryos. The embryos briefly express the gene for the second pair of eyes. But by the time they hatch, the daddy long legs’ second pair of eyes are long gone.

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New North American bird migration Internet site


This video from the USA says about itself:

For thousands of years and countless generations, migratory birds have flown the same long-distance paths between their breeding and feeding grounds. Understanding the routes these birds take, called flyways, helps conservation efforts and gives scientists better knowledge of global changes, both natural and man-made. QUEST heads out to the Pacific Flyway with California biologists to track the rhythm of migration.

From Wildlife Extra:

Ninety years of valuable migration data about North American birds is now available online

Over a million records telling the tale of nearly a century of North American bird migrations have been rescued from obscurity and are being transcribed by an international network of more than 2,000 volunteers, making the records available for the first time online for use by researchers and the public.

The records, which span the years from 1880 to 1970, provide information on what areas of the country birds were spotted, and when they arrived or departed in spring and autumn. The information is of use identifying how birds’ ranges and migration patterns have changed over time.

The one-millionth transcription was that of a house wren seen in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, on September 11, 1904 and it joined all the other records now part of the United States Geological Survey North American Bird Phenology Program database.

Phenology is the study of the seasonal timing of natural biological phenomena, such as leafing and flowering of plants, maturation of agricultural crops, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. Many of these events are sensitive to climatic variation and change, and are simple to observe and record.

“This 90-year span of archival data provides baseline information about the first arrivals and last departures of North American migratory birds,” according to Jessica Zelt, the USGS North American Bird Phenology Program Coordinator. “When combined with contemporary data, researchers have the unique opportunity to look at changes in seasonal timing in relation to climate and climate change over a 130-year period, unprecedented in its length of time for recorded migratory data.”

The records contain many stories, from the emergence of introduced European species such as the European starling and house sparrow, to the decimation of species such as the Carolina parakeet and passenger pigeon.

This citizen science programme has welcomed participants of all backgrounds from around the world to help transcribe the data. Volunteers have come from locations as varied as Gunma in Japan, Istanbul and Brussels, although the majority reside throughout North America.

“Just last month, a participant wrote me to say she had transcribed a card by Tracy Irwin Storer, a name she recognised because he had authored her college biology textbook,” said Zelt. “One of the aspects that is so exciting about this programme is that it provides participants with a link to ornithological history.”

Original records were created by many famous ornithologists, biologists, botanists and naturalists, such as Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac, Roger Tory Peterson, who wrote A Field Guide to the Birds, and Clarence Birdseye, the creator of the famous frozen foods.

“We feel that the world is changing and these bird records are providing us with the measuring tape to document that change,” said Sam Droege, a USGS wildlife biologist. “This is something anyone can get involved in exploring since we are making all the records open to the public.”

Anyone interested in participating in this innovative project can volunteer by registering online to transcribe these records for the database.

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Wolves back in Denmark


This video from 2013 is called Danish wolf is back.

From Wildlife Extra:

First wolf family heard in Denmark for 200 years

April 2014: It is suspected by a group of wolf enthusiasts in Denmark that the country probably has its first resident wolf family for over 200 years, reports Rewilding Europe. Ulvetracking Danmark has gone to great lengths to register the sounds of the Danish wolves, recorded in Jutland in January. Holly Root-Gutteridge, an English wolf expert and PhD student at Nottingham Trent University, believes that these howls stem from an entire wolf family. This means that these could be the first wolf pups born in the wild of Denmark for well since the early 19th century.

“This is the biggest fauna sensation we have had for many years,” said Mogens Trolle, zoologist in the Nature Science Museum at the University of Copenhagen.

“There’s at least two adults there,” said Root-Gutteridge. “One with a nice deep howl, which is almost a baseline to the chorus, is probably the male and father of the pups, as it’s rare to have unrelated males in the same pack. There are possibly three adults, but I need more analysis of the recording to be sure. There are also pups on there. Considering the recording was made in January, they might be wolves that are eight to 10 months of age, with not quite fully developed howls.”

Listen to the two recordings in Jutland by clicking this link and scrolling down.

That possibility is strengthened by the fact that two different sets of wolf tracks were found on 30 January 2013 in the same area in Jutland where the howls were recorded. Once the world’s most widely distributed mammal, the grey wolf declined across Europe as a result of relentless persecution over centuries. Ultimately, by the 1970s, it was confined to only a few areas in the south and the northeast of the continent. However, with increasing public acceptance and legal protection, combined with an increase in wild ungulate numbers, the wolf has been able to begin to regain more and more of its former territory.

Petitioning The Danish Government. The Danish Government: Please protect Danish Wolves: here.

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World’s 100 most unique and endangered birds


This video is called Extinct and Critically Endangered Birds: A Repeated History.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Scientists name world’s 100 most unique and endangered birds

‘Little dodo’, flightless parrot and giant ibis among species ranked by evolutionary distinctiveness and global extinction risk

In pictures – top 10 most unique and endangered birds

Jessica Aldred

Thursday 10 April 2014 17.00 BST

The “little dodo”, a flightless parrot and the world’s largest ibis are among the world’s 100 most unique and endangered birds, according to a new study.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Yale University assessed the world’s 9,993 bird species according to their evolutionary distinctiveness and global extinction risk to produce a list of the world’s 100 most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) species.

Topping the list is the rare and striking giant ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea) – the world’s largest ibis weighing in at 4.2kg and reaching more than one metre in height. With only 230 pairs estimated to remain in the wild, it is a critically endangered species. Habitat loss, human disturbance and hunting have reduced its range to an extremely small, declining population concentrated in Cambodia.

At number four on the list is the kakapo (Strigops habroptila), a nocturnal parrot that has evolved to be flightless due to the historic absence of mammalian predators in its New Zealand habitat. Hunting, the introduction of predators, forest clearance and habitat degradation have caused a catastrophic decline in numbers. It is now extinct in its natural range, and survives only on three small, intensively managed islands after being relocated. Dedicated conservation efforts have increased the population to 125 individuals.

At number 34 on the list is the tooth-billed pigeon (Didunculus strigirostris), also known as the “little dodo” and found only on the island of Samoa. With less than 250 adults estimated to survive in the wold, conservationists say urgent action is needed to prevent the species from meeting the same fate as its closest relative, the dodo. Loss of its forest habitat to agriculture and cyclones, hunting and invasive species are the greatest threats to this bird.

Half of the 100 highest ranked Edge bird species are receiving little or no conservation attention, the study warned. Carly Waterman, Edge programme manager at ZSL, said: “We lament the extinction of the dodo, but without action we stand to lose one of its closest relatives, the tooth-billed pigeon or ‘little dodo’, and many other extraordinary birds.

“The release of the Edge birds list enables us to prioritise our conservation efforts in the face of a mounting list of endangered species. These one-of-a-kind birds illustrate the incredible diversity that exists in our natural world.”

Only three of the 100 Edge species are found in Europe. The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), ranked at number 30, is found from the Ukraine, south throughout the Balkans to Greece and Turkey, but is threatened by poisoning, poaching, electrocution and human disturbance. At number 49, the sociable lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) has been found in Armenia, Turkey and Ukraine – and once in Essex – while the slender-billed curlew (Numenius tenuirostris) breeds in Russia and spends the winter in several eastern European countries.

At number 11, the spoonbilled sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) has become a temporary resident of the UK, with a captive breeding population of 25 birds at the WWT Slimbridge reserve in Gloucestershire. Eggs from the birds will eventually be taken back to the Arctic in a bid to rebuild the rapidly declining wild population.

The top 100 Edge birds are found in more than 170 countries. The list includes species from 22 of the 29 living orders of birds, with 18% made up of Passeriformes, more commonly known as perching birds. Twelve of the top 100 species belong to the family Charadriiformes (sandpipers), 11 from the family Accipitridae, which includes eagles, hawks and kites, and eight from the family Columbiformes (doves and pigeons).

Sixty-four per cent of the top 100 species are country endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. India has the highest number of Edge birds with 14 species, while the Philippines has the highest number of endemic Edge birds at nine species.

The study, “Distribution and conservation of global evolutionary distinctness in birds”, published on Thursday in the journal Current Biology, found that species representing the most evolutionary history over the smallest area as well as some of the most threatened distinct species are often found far from places that are species-rich or already on the conservation radar.

Lead author Prof Walter Jetz from Yale University and Imperial College London, said: “By identifying these top 100 species, we can now focus our efforts on targeted conservation action and better monitoring to help ensure that they are still here for future generations to come. As we show, conservation priorities can be adjusted to better conserve the avian tree of life and the many important functions it provides.”

The study was a collaboration between Yale University, Imperial College London, Sheffield University, University College London, Simon Fraser University and the University of Tasmania.

The world’s 100 most unique and endangered birds

Giant Ibis
New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar
California Condor
Kakapo
Kagu
Bengal Florican
Forest Owlet
Philippine Eagle
Christmas Island Frigatebird
Sumatran Ground-cuckoo
Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Northern Bald Ibis
Plains-wanderer
New Zealand Storm-petrel
Hooded Grebe
White-shouldered Ibis
Maleo
Black-hooded Coucal
Madagascar Serpent-eagle
Dwarf Olive Ibis
Rufous Scrub-bird
Noisy Scrub-bird
Junin Grebe
White-collared Kite
Congo Bay-owl
White-eyed River-martin
Red-headed Vulture
Secretarybird
Peruvian Diving-petrel
Egyptian Vulture
St Helena Plover
Australian Painted Snipe
Cuban Kite
Tooth-billed Pigeon
Nahan’s Francolin
Sulu Hornbill
Shoebill
Purple-winged Ground-dove
Asian Crested Ibis
Sangihe Shrike-thrush
Jerdon’s Courser
Lesser Florican
Kokako
Rufous-headed Hornbill
Masked Finfoot
Bahia Tapaculo
Waved Albatross
Stresemann’s Bristlefront
Sociable Lapwing
Eskimo Curlew
Slender-billed Curlew
Bannerman’s Turaco
Ashy Storm-petrel
Siberian Crane
White-throated Storm-petrel
Juan Fernandez Firecrown
Dark-winged Trumpeter
Uluguru Bush-shrike
Polynesian Ground-dove
Sichuan Jay
Mountain Serpent-eagle
Sulu Bleeding-heart
Zapata Rail
Mindoro Bleeding-heart
Kaka
Negros Bleeding-heart
Black Stilt
Makira Moorhen
Great Indian Bustard
Abbott’s Booby
Kittlitz’s Murrelet
Titicaca Grebe
Greater Adjutant
Western Bristlebird
Eastern Bristlebird
Shore Plover
Udzungwa Forest-partridge
Madagascar Fish-eagle
White-bellied Heron
Subdesert Mesite
Long-whiskered Owlet
Philippine Cockatoo
Spix’s Macaw
South Island Wren
Crow Honeyeater
Northern Brown Kiwi
Banded Ground-cuckoo
Flores Hawk-eagle
Tachira Antpitta
Beck’s Petrel
Cebu Flowerpecker
Blue-eyed Ground-dove
Javan Trogon
Pulitzer’s Longbill
Alagoas Antwren
Pernambuco Pygmy-owl
Jamaica Petrel
Grenada Dove
Wood Snipe
Rio de Janeiro Antwren

See also here. And here.

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New frog species discovery in Vietnam


This video says about itself:

Misty Mountains and Moss Frogs: Finding Frogs in Nests

30 July 2013

Jodi Rowley is a biologist at the Australian Museum discovering and documenting the diversity, ecology and conservation status of amphibians in Southeast Asia. Amphibians in the region are both highly threatened and poorly known, and Jodi and her colleagues conduct scientific expeditions to the forested mountains of Vietnam in search of rare, poorly-known and previously unknown species of amphibian. This video focuses on finding frogs in nests (yes that’s right- nests!).

From Wildlife Extra:

New pink and yellow frog discovered

April 2014: Biologist Jodi Rowley, an expert on Southeast Asian amphibians from the Australian Museum Research Institute in Sydney, recently found this striking pink and yellow frog in the remote Mount Ngoc Linh region of Vietnam.

The 5cm long frog lives in forests above 1,800m where the terrain is steep and rocky, and lacking in the standing water that might be expected to sustain frogs, but the research team found they thrived in water-filled hollows in the trees. The males have skin covered in keratin spines, which increase in size during the mating season and are thought to help females to identify males. The species has been named thorny tree frog (Gracixalus lumarius).

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Cambrian prehistoric predator evolution, new research


This video says about itself:

26 March 2014

T[amisiocaris]. borealis, an ancient predator, probably used its spiny appendages to sweep through the water for prey and then bring it into its mouth, as these animations show. Credit: Martin Stein. Read more here.

From Wildlife Extra:

Large ocean predators evolved into gentle giants 520 million years ago

April 2014: Large marine creatures that roamed the Earth’s oceans more than 520 million years ago have been found to filter food from the water in a similar way to today’s blue whales and evolved into a gentle sea giant from a large marine predator that feasted on large prey, say scientists.

Newly discovered fossils from North Greenland showed that these ancient giant marine animals used bizarre facial appendages to trawl for nekton and plankton from the seas.

The North Greenland fossil, called Tamisiocaris, was a member of the iconic anomalocarids group of early marine animals which roamed the Cambrian and later Ordovician oceans. They swam using a set of flaps down either side of the body and probably captured large prey with specialised grasping appendages in the front of the mouth.

The team demonstrates that the Tamisiocaris had evolved into a suspension feeder by modifying its grasping appendages into a filtering apparatus that could be swept like a net through the water trapping small crustaceans and other organisms as tiny as half a millimetre in size.

The research, funded by the Agouron Institute, Carlsberg Foundation and Geocenter Denmark, was led by the University of Bristol and also included researchers at Durham University, the University of Bath and the University of Copenhagen.

As well as shedding light on the evolution of the Tamisiocaris, the researchers said their discovery also showed how productive the Cambrian period was and how vastly different species of anomalocarids evolved at that time. It also provides further clues into the ecosystems that existed hundreds of millions of years ago, they said.

Study lead author Dr Jakob Vinther, a lecturer in macroevolution at the University of Bristol, said: “The fact that large, free-swimming suspension feeders roamed the oceans tells us a lot about the ecosystem.

“Feeding on the smallest particles by filtering them out of the water while actively swimming around requires a lot of energy – and therefore lots of food.”

In order to fully understand how an anomalocarid could have fed, Dr Martin Stein from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, created a 3D computer animation of the feeding appendage to explore the range of movements it could have made.

Dr Stein said: “Tamisiocaris would have been a sweep net feeder, collecting particles in the fine mesh formed when it curled its appendage up against its mouth.

“This is a rare instance when you can actually say something concrete about the feeding ecology of these types of ancient creatures with some confidence.”

The research about this was published here.

April 2014: An international team of researchers from the US, China and the UK have discovered the earliest known cardiovascular system in fossilised remains of an extinct marine shrimp that lived over 520 million years ago. The finding sheds new light on the evolution of the body in the animal kingdom and shows that even the earliest creatures had internal systems that strongly resemble those found in their modern descendants: here.

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First North American bluebird twins discovered


This video is called Eastern Bluebird Singing.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

First Recorded Bluebird Twins Found by NestWatch Volunteer

Last year an Eastern Bluebird laid three normal eggs and one large egg in one of NestWatcher Gerald Clark’s nest boxes. A few weeks later he had five nestlings in the box, and his finding became a scientific paper on the first recorded instance of twins in bluebirds. (The Lab’s Dr. Caren Cooper tackled just how rare an event this is in a blog post for the journal PLOS.) The finding is a direct example of how citizen scientists contribute to scientific discovery each time they participate. Try NestWatch this season!

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