New marsupial species discovery in Brazil


THis video from the USA says about itself:

8 May 2012

My daughter’s grandfather captured this video of a mother [Virginia] opossum transporting 15 baby opossums on her back. Amazing!

From National Geographic:

New Redheaded Opossum Named After Magical Gnome

The rat-size marsupial prowls the tropical rain forests of northern Brazil at night.

By Carrie Arnold

PUBLISHED February 23, 2017

A chance finding at a Brazilian museum has revealed a brand-new species of opossum.

Biologist Silvia Pavan first discovered an unnamed mammal specimen with rich mahogany fur in 2008 at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi in Belém.

The rat-size marsupial’s reddish head inspired its name: Monodelphis saci.

Brazilian folklore features a gnome called the saci (pronounced sah-SEE), who wears a magical red cap that lets him disappear and reappear at will. (See “Unbelievably Cute Mammal With Teddy Bear Face Rediscovered.”)

Just like the saci, the new species of opossum has a red cap—and had been hiding in plain sight.

“I analyzed the specimen right away when it was brought to the museum, and I noticed it didn’t have a name,” says Pavan, lead author of the new study in the journal American Museum Novitates.

After that, she was able to find other specimens representing the same unnamed species in Brazilian collections.

Playing Possum

Opossums evolved in the South American tropics; several dozen species live in the Americas, but only the Virginia opossum made it as far north as the United States.

All opossum species are nocturnal omnivores, eating a range of fruit, insects, and small mammals—a flexibility that has allowed them to spread far and wide. (Read how opossum blood may help snakebite victims.)

As part of her Ph.D. work at the American Museum of Natural History, Pavan wanted to piece together the opossum family tree. But with so many species sprinkled across so many habitats, Pavan went to museums to supplement her search for opossums in the wild.

After she came across the gnome opossum, her colleagues traveled to the source—Itaituba I National Forest in Pará, Brazil—to see if they could find live animals.

Mysterious Marsupials

Pavan’s colleagues set up a series of humane pitfall traps—basically small buckets that capture opossums as they prowl the tropical rain forest at night.

To her surprise, Pavan discovered several more gnome opossums in her buckets. (Also see “Newly Discovered Carnivore Looks Like Teddy Bear.”)

“They’re not really that rare, but they only appeared in scientific collections relatively recently when people started using the pitfall traps,” she says.

The species doesn’t appear to be threatened with extinction, though more people have been collecting the animal in the wild in the weeks since her discovery was announced, she says.

Guillermo D’Elia, a biologist at the Austral University of Chile in Valdivia, says there are likely more marsupials to be identified.

“I am pretty sure there are several new species of opossum to come in the future,” D’Elia says, “now that researchers are collecting in new areas, rechecking museum specimens, and using DNA.”

How endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatchers survive in California, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

25 April 2016

We need your help to defeat an effort by developers and others to remove protected status for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Please visit audubon.org/takeaction to speak up for this great bird.

From The Condor, magazine of the American Ornithological Society, in February 2017:

Female-biased sex ratio, polygyny, and persistence in the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus)

Barbara E. Kus*, Scarlett L. Howell, and Dustin A. Wood

ABSTRACT

Demographic changes in populations, such as skewed sex ratios, are of concern to conservationists, especially in small populations in which stochastic and other events can produce declines leading to extirpation. We documented a decline in one of the few remaining populations of Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) in southern California, USA, which dropped from 40 to 5 adults between 2000 and 2015. Declines were unequal between sexes (94% for males, 82% for females). Adult sex ratios were female-biased in 10 of 16 yr.

The proportion of paired males that were polygynous ranged from 0% to 100%, depending on the ratio of females to males in the adult population. Some males paired with up to 5 females simultaneously.

We investigated the role of nestling sex ratio in the female-biased adult sex ratio by using genetic techniques to determine sex from blood samples collected from 162 nestlings in 72 nests from 2002 to 2009. Both population-level and within-brood nestling sex ratios were female-biased, and were not influenced by nest order (first or subsequent), parental mating type (monogamous or polygynous), or year. Disproportionately more females than males were recruited into the breeding population, mirroring nestling and fledgling sex ratios. It thus appears that a skewed nestling sex ratio has contributed to a female-biased adult population, which in turn has influenced mating behavior.

We propose that the capacity for polygyny, which generally occurs at low levels in Southwestern Willow Flycatchers, has allowed this population to persist through a decline that might otherwise have resulted in extinction.

Curaçao coral reefs video


This 1 February 2017 Dutch video is about biology student Auke-Florian Hiemstra, doing research about coral around Curaçao island.

New dragonfly species named after baby Bhutanese prince


Gyalsey emerald spreadwing dragonfly

This month, Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands reports that a new dragonfly species from Bhutan has been named.

The insect was discovered in 2015, during a joint Bhutanese-Dutch expedition in eastern Bhutan.

Its name is Gyalsey emerald spreadwing dragonfly. Gyalsey means ‘prince’ in Bhutanese. The new species was named after the young crown prince of Bhutan; on his first birthday, the dragonfly’s name became known.

113 dragonfly species are known from Bhutan.

São Tomé and Príncipe new wildlife discoveries


This 2014 video is about the wildlife of Príncipe island.

By BirdLife:

21 Feb 2017

Discovering the remarkable nature of São Tomé and Príncipe

There are undoubtedly discoveries to be made, with the invertebrate and marine biodiversity of the archipelago particularly understudied. Each new expedition to the islands uncovers species new to science.

By Merlin Veron, Synchronicity Earth

Synchronicity Earth is a UK charity which, on the basis of its research, aims to identify and increase support for high-priority conservation action globally.

On first inspection, the São Tomé Grosbeak Crithagra concolor might appear drab, unassuming, maybe even unremarkable. But first impressions can be deceiving. It is in fact one of the most endangered bird species on the planet, and was not sighted for over 100 years between 1890 and 1991, when it was rediscovered in the forests bordering Rio Xufexufe in the south-west of São Tomé.

Sightings of this finch since its rediscovery have been intermittent – the species was only photographed for the first time in 2006 and to date has still only been seen by a handful of non-Santomeans. BirdLife estimates a tiny extant population ranging from 50-250 individuals.

As well as its rarity, the taxonomy of this species is also fascinating and distinct. The São Tomé Grosbeak may be almost unique amongst bird species in that genetic studies suggest it evolved in sympatry with the Príncipe Seedeater Crithagra rufobrunnea, another endemic species.

Sympatric speciation occurs where two separate species evolve from a common ancestor without being geographically isolated from one another. This could happen if, for example, environmental conditions heavily favoured large individuals and small individuals, but not medium-sized ones, thus driving the evolution of two differently sized species.

The São Tomé Grosbeak is in fact the world’s largest canary with a ‘bullish’ head and powerful bill which rivals that of a Hawfinch – it dwarfs the Príncipe Seedeater and is almost twice its size, however questions still remain over what exactly drove the separation of these two species.

In fact if there is something unremarkable about the São Tomé Grosbeak it is that it inhabits an archipelago awash with other astonishing flora and fauna. The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are located approximately 250km off the coast of Gabon, and as such have experienced somewhat of a ‘goldilocks effect’, in that they are close enough to the rich tropical forests of West and Central Africa to allow some populations to reach the islands, but distant enough so that once they do these populations become isolated and follow a distinct evolutionary trajectory.

Including the São Tomé Grosbeak there are a total of 28 endemic bird species on the islands, meaning a greater number of endemic species than the Galapagos Islands in an area approximately an eighth of the size. Amongst these species are the world’s largest Giant Sunbird Dreptes thomensis, Weaver Ploceus grandis and São Tomé Oriole Oriolus crassirostris, and its smallest Dwarf Ibis Bostrychia bocagei, a species which is also critically endangered and restricted to the primary forests of Obo Natural Park.

As well as endemic avifauna, the islands also harbour 1,230 described plant species, approximately 15% of which are endemic, as well as 19 butterfly species found only on this archipelago. The islands even hold 7 endemic amphibians, something which remains somewhat of a mystery considering amphibians’ known intolerance of salt water and the fact that as volcanic islands São Tomé and Príncipe were never connected to mainland Africa. There are also undoubtedly more discoveries to be made, with the invertebrate and marine biodiversity of the archipelago particularly understudied, with each new expedition to the islands uncovering species new to science.

The value of the biodiversity present on these islands has been recognised through a number of designations. Príncipe is recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, both islands host KBAs and IBAs where primary habitats remain, the Tinhosas Islands which host more than 280,000 breeding seabirds are recognised as a Ramsar site, and the presence and critically endangered nature of the São Tomé Grosbeak, the Newton’s Fiscal Lanius newtoni, and the Dwarf Ibis triggered the recognition of Obo Natural Park as an Alliance for Zero Extinction site.

These designations all point to the importance of conserving this archipelago’s remarkable biodiversity, however historically habitat loss, in parallel with other threats, has driven many of the islands’ species towards extinction. Habitat destruction was rife during the Portuguese colonial era, with the islands first a centre for sugarcane production, and latterly coffee and cacao.

Whilst this led to widespread forest clearance, the primary, secondary and even shade forests on the islands continue to provide key habitats, but face new threats in the form of illegal logging, agro-industrial concessions and residential and commercial developments.

However, one particular threat which continues to hamper efforts to conserve biodiversity is a lack of local conservation capacity and community engagement. This is something which BirdLife has partnered with NGOs working in São Tomé and Príncipe to address, recognising that conservation begins with local people.

BirdLife has had a presence on São Tomé since 2006, with the conservation of the three critically endangered endemic bird species a key focus, culminating in the production of a species action plan produced in collaboration with the Santomean Government and local NGOs. One key pillar of BirdLife’s work has however focused on developing the capacity of civil society and raising awareness amongst the local population of the unique and threatened status of São Tomé’s biodiversity.

Studies have shown the low level of environmental education in São Tomé, particularly amongst rural populations. To try to instil an awareness and sense of pride in the biodiversity which the islands harbour BirdLife has worked with Portuguese partner SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and the RSPB (BirdLife UK) to organise community meetings and collaborated with local artists to paint large murals of the critically endangered species in five villages.

Work is also underway in collaboration with Portuguese NGO Oikos to engage local musicians in producing a music and dance-based environmental awareness campaign celebrating São Tomé’s biodiversity and to engage with young people through a schools education programme and the establishment of nature clubs in the buffer region of Obo Natural Park.

The aim of these programmes is to increase awareness amongst the Santomean population about the importance of its biodiversity and the need for its conservation to protect livelihoods and environmental services. BirdLife hope to inspire future generations of conservation leaders on the island who can fill gaps in knowledge, identify key actions to protect species and ensure that the islands’ natural heritage is considered in decisions about its future development, meaning conservation is locally led.

Through engagement comes empowerment. This work is just one component of the activities needed to conserve São Tomé’s unique environment; and boosting local enforcement capacities, continuing to conduct scientific research to expand knowledge, and developing sustainable livelihood and development opportunities will also be integral.

However, where local people become engaged and invested in conservation, the future of enigmatic endemics such as the São Tomé Grosbeak will surely be more secure.

Howler monkeys’ eyes, new research


This video is called Howler Monkeys | National Geographic.

From Science News:

Howler monkeys may owe their color vision to leaf hue

Distinguishing red from green makes healthier leaves stand out

By Laurel Hamers

5:59pm, February 21, 2017

BOSTON — A taste for reddish young leaves might have pushed howler monkeys toward full-spectrum color vision. The ability to tell red from green could have helped howlers pick out the more nutritious, younger leaves, researchers reported February 19 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That’s a skill their insect-eating close relatives probably didn’t need.

Primates show substantial variation in their color vision capabilities, both between and within species, said Amanda Melin, a biological anthropologist at the University of Calgary in Canada. Trichromatic vision (how most humans see) requires three light-sensitive proteins in the eye that can detect different wavelengths of light. Within most monkey species in Central and South America, only some individuals have trichromatic vision. Males have dichromatic vision — they’re red-green colorblind — and only some females can see the whole rainbow. Howlers are an exception — thanks to a duplicated gene on their X chromosomes, trichromatic vision is the norm for both males and females.

Howlers graze on leaves from Ficus trees and other plants when fruit can’t be found. In field observations of mantled howlers (Alouatta palliata) in Costa Rica, the monkeys preferentially munched on the younger, more nutritious leaves, Melin’s team found. The reddish hue of new leaves makes them pop more when seen with trichromatic vision than dichromatic vision, the researchers reported in a paper accepted for publication in Ecology and Evolution. Because young leaves are a fleeting treat and not a constant resource, monkeys able to spot them more quickly could have had a selective advantage.

Similar selection pressures might also help explain why Old World monkeys from Asia and Africa also have consistent trichromatic vision, Melin said. “What we might be seeing is a convergent evolution for animals who fall back on leaves when fruit isn’t around.”

On the other hand, other Central and South American monkeys usually go for insects, instead of leaves, when there’s no fruit. Dichromatic vision might be a better fit for their lifestyle, Melin said. “Color can impede ability to see patterns, borders and textures. Insects hide and camouflage.”

I was privileged to hear and see howler monkeys in Suriname and Costa Rica.

New hammerhead shark species discovery in Belize


This video says about itself:

5 February 2017

Scientists have discovered a new population of miniature sharks off the coast of Belize. The bonnethead, a small species of hammerhead shark, can be found in many spots around the Caribbean. However, the new shark is an entirely different species based on large genetic differences between them and other bonnetheads. Bonnethead sharks are commercially fished in the United States, throughout the Caribbean and in South America. The recording of the new shark was reportedly made during a 2016 shark tagging expedition.

From The Reporter in Belize:

New hammerhead shark species found in Belize

Posted by The Reporter newspaper on February 9, 2017 at 10:42 am

By Benjamin Flowers

Shark researchers have discovered a new species of shark in Belize.

Researchers from Florida International University (FIU) were conducting DNA sequencing on bonnet head sharks, a species of hammer head sharks, when they made the discovery.

The bonnet head shark is found in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States; however, the DNA of the species found in Belize did not match that of the bonnet heads found anywhere else. The bonnet heads found in Belize, which have yet to be named, have the same physical appearance as its counterparts within the region, but have large genetic differences.

Evaluating the DNA analysis conducted by Andrew Fields from Stony Brook University, FIU researchers estimated that the bonnet head sharks around the nation stopped interbreeding with those from Mexico, the United States and the Bahamas several million years ago.

Demian Chapman, lead researcher on the team that made the discovery, said that the find raises concerns about the sustainability measures in place to keep the species from extinction. While the bonnet head is ranked at “Least Concern” for extinction risk by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the union made the classification assuming there was a single species of bonnet head.

“Now we have to define the range of each of these species individually and assess them independently against where the potential threats are,” Chapman said.

Chapman who is currently leading a shark survey project called Global Finprint, believes that the discovery could be the door way to finding even more new species of sharks.

Global Finprint is an initiative seeking to determine the cause for the decreasing number of sharks and rays.