Save British seagrass meadows


This video from the Red Sea in Egypt is called Green seahorse in sea grass.

From Wildlife Extra:

Government urged to consider important UK seagrass areas

A newly formed NGO has responded in the consultation process to establish the next tranche of Marina Conservation Zones (MCZs).

Project Seagrass is comprised of internationally recognised experts in seagrass ecology and management.

There is an expanding body of literature illustrating how UK seagrass meadows play a significant role in supporting coastal biodiversity and fisheries productivity.

Seagrass meadows cycle nutrients, provide nursery habitat for young fish, are key foraging grounds for adult fish, prevent beach erosion, support human wellbeing, and harbour culturally significant species, such as seahorses.

Fish growing up in a seagrass meadow will have higher chances of reaching maturity and spawning a new generation than those in an alternative low quality nursery habitat such as bare sand.

However, the group says that UK seagrass meadows are under extreme pressure.

As primary producers living in sheltered coastal waters they are subjected to the problems associated with poor water quality and limited catchment management.

Anything that reduces light availability within the water column will result in stress to these plants.

This is compounded by other physical stressors such as anchor and mooring damage, destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, raking and bait digging, and coastal development eroding the long-term resilience of the seagrass systems.

Project Seagrass maintains that providing appropriate and widespread protection for these habitats has never been more urgent.

In a 2013 Swansea University survey throughout the British Isles only two important seagrass sites were found not to have been impacted by poor water quality.

Additional studies utilising GoogleEarth and site visits have revealed the extent of the threats imposed by the impact of inappropriate mooring damage on seagrass meadows throughout the UK.

Examples of the degradation that current mooring practice causes can be seen at Studland Bay, Poole Harbour, Salcombe and around the Isle of Wight.

In the new round of proposed MCZs, the seagrass meadows at Nettle and Mount Bay are included but, the group says, neither is extensive nor particularly threatened.

Adding protection to both of these sites may help in the long-term but is unlikely to have any immediate effect on their management or conservation; effectively these sites are ‘easy wins’ for MCZ creation as neither spots have particular value for alternative uses.

By contrast, seagrass meadows surrounding the North and East of the Isle of Wight and throughout the Solent are under extreme pressure, says the Project, and these have not been included.

The pressure is due to the cumulative impacts of poor water quality, boat use (anchor and mooring damage) and destructive fishing practices (bottom trawling, raking, bait digging).

In addition, seagrass meadows in many other areas of the south English coast, for example Studland Bay, are also under pressure from boat use (moorings and anchors) and, again, not included in the current MCZ proposals.

Project Seagrass says there exists sufficient scientific evidence for the long term protection of all seagrass meadows in the UK.

It has requested as part of its submission that DEFRA reconsider its exclusion of Bembridge, Norris to Ryde, Studland, and Yarmouth to Cowes from the 2nd tranche of MCZs.

Meadows in need of immediate action such as Bembridge, Norris to Ryde, Studland, and Yarmouth to Cowes must be included as MCZs, it says.

For more information visit www.projectseagrass.org.

Wildlife news, not war news, from Iraq


This video is about a chuckar partridge (the national bird of Kurdistan; and of Pakistan).

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Sunday 22 February 2015

How butterflies are harbingers of hope in war-torn Iraq

A conservation group dedicated to preserving biodiversity offers a hope of fledgling renewal for this war-shattered land

Nature Iraq: not an oxymoron, but the name of the country’s leading conservation group.

Since it was founded in 2004, it has set up a series of projects to understand and protect the wildlife of Iraq. Now it is able to reflect on three years of effective work which has brought great benefits, both to humans and to wildlife.

You might think that compared with other problems being faced by people in Iraq, those that concern the distribution of butterflies are pretty insignificant. But you’d be wrong. Butterflies matter to the world: and perhaps they matter more to Iraq than to any other nation on earth.

That’s because conservation is one of the arts of peace. Preserving wildlife is important at all times and in all places; but when it comes to the healing of a shattered and broken country, a butterfly has a significance that towers above the trivialities. So here are a few examples of what Nature Iraq has been getting up to.

For a start, it has been running a study and education programme in Iraqi Kurdistan, in the north-east of the country. The group is supported by the Darwin Initiative, funded by the UK government; by the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants, based in Edinburgh; and by Birdlife International, with headquarters in Cambridge. So it’s a business that rises above local troubles. It has a global input and a global significance: wildlife conservation in one place is possible only through the efforts of people in many other places.

Nature Iraq has established an on-line course on biodiversity and conservation, in partnership with the University of Sulaimani in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah. It’s been running for three years and 60 students have now completed the course. Another 60 have just signed up.

Then there’s a nationwide citizen science project on the distribution of butterflies and dragonflies. Thanks to the widespread use of smartphones, photographs of these insects are now flooding in to Nature Iraq, which has already identified four species new to the country. The organisation has set up a team of experts across the world, so that every species can be properly identified and mapped. …

The mountain of Peramagroon, which covers an area of 100 sq km, is a spectacular spot that’s home to Egyptian vultures and a flycatcher called the Kurdistan wheatear. It has a species of wild goat and a good population of spur-thighed tortoises. A survey of the area’s plants revealed 650 species, more than twice the number previously known from the area; among them were several species new to science.

A study of land use on Peramagroon will enable Nature Iraq to establish a proper conservation action plan. A series of school visits have been made to the area, and children have been setting up nest boxes as a result. Nature Iraq is also field-testing a phone app that will help to identify birds in Peramagroon; it contains details of 130 species. The long-term aim is to develop this and similar apps for use across the Middle East.

When it is more important to identify a saker falcon than a Black Hawk helicopter, you know that an important step towards peace has been taken. Bwar Khalid of Nature Iraq said: “I hope we can do more projects and activities in the future, especially in our country where there has been nothing except war and destruction.”

Butterflies and dragonflies matter. People looking for butterflies and dragonflies matter. Unknown species of mountain plants matter. Children setting up nest boxes matter. The fact that a Kurdistan wheatear is different from an eastern black-eared wheatear matters. All these things matter if you wish to turn a country deeply harmed by war into a place where life is worth living. …

Such projects have the vividness of a New Year’s resolution: a new start, one in which better things will surely be possible. Hope comes in a butterfly; in an eastern rock nuthatch; in the flora of a mountain; in people dedicated to looking after them all.

Save pangolins, video


This videp says about itself:

What is a Pangolin?

20 February 2015

Today is World Pangolin Day! Find out all about the amazing and critically endangered pangolin – the world’s only scaly mammal!

Learn more about ZSL [Zoological Society of London]’s work to protect the pangolin here.

New moss species discovery in the Netherlands


Orthotrichum comosum

This is an Orthotrichum comosum photo by Rafael Medina in Spain.

Translated from Dutch VARA radio and the Dutch Bryological and Lichenological Society:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

In the center of Hilversum a new moss species has been discovered: Orthotrichum comosum. Never before seen in Western Europe and even worldwide it still is a novice. On Vroege Vogels Radio Henk Siebel of the Bryologische and Lichenologische Werkgroep revealed this unique find. Recently there was a scientific publication on this new moss species. Siebel believed he recognized the moss which he had photographed half a year earlier on a Norway maple in his hometown Hilversum. An interesting finding because the species occurs mainly in Mediterranean mountain areas. It is suspected that climate change now in the Netherlands is creating the right conditions for this species.

Red fox’s violet-like smell, video


This video from the Netherlands says about itself (translated):

Feb 20. 2015

Foxes hunts alone and therefore mark their territories with scent trails. The stench scares off other foxes. A fox has several glands to spread its fragrances. Some scent glands are located near the anus and some between the toes on the front paws.

During the mating season (December to February) the scent trails suddenly smell very differently. In this period the violets gland starts working and gives the tracks a scent of violets. This gland is located at the top of the tail.

In this video you can clearly see how the fox is marking its territory. Filmed by Gerard Beekman.

New grey whale migration research


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

Super Pod of Gray Whales

27 January 2015

We ran an ultimate 8 hour Whale Watching trip on 1-25-15 from Dana Point to Catalina; we are Dana Wharf Whale Watching. Here’s the final sightings report from that day. There were sightings of 45 + gray whales which included a superpod of 15+ and another of 12+ (interacting with Risso’s dolphins), 1 Fin whale, 200 Offshore bottlenose dolphin, 40 Risso’s dolphin, 35 Long beaked Common dolphin, 3 Harbor Seals, dozens of CA Sea Lions and a Bald Eagle on Catalina Island. Watch all the way to the end you will see a group of Risso dolphin harassing the Gray Whales, and how they react to them. Enjoy once again, we thank all our “Whale Geek” friends and a BIG THANKS to Captain Todd Mansur and Captain Frank Brennan for flying these amazing drones.

From Wildlife Extra:

New technology counts migrating whales by seeing the warmth of their breath

The Grey Whale migration down the west coast of America from the summer feeding grounds in the Arctic to the wintering grounds off Baja California, Mexico, is being charted in even greater detail thanks to new technology employed by scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just south of Monterey Bay.

Counts used to be done just by NOAA personnel using binoculars but now they are employing three thermal imaging cameras linked to a computer that is capable of analysing the images and distinguishing the whales from the heat put out by their blow as they surface to breathe.

“A whale is this great big motor that takes in a breath of air and holds it inside for a long time,” says Wayne Perryman, a NOAA Fisheries scientist who helped develop the new system. “When it exhales, the air is much warmer than the background, and we can detect that difference very easily, both day and night.”

Human observers can only work in daylight hours so in previous years the count could never be that accurate. Now the cameras work round the clock for the duration of the entire migration, so much more accurate figures can be recorded and compared year-on-year.

The thermal imaging cameras are much the same as those used by helicopter police to track criminals at night. What’s most innovative is the software that works with the cameras.

“The biggest challenge was getting the detector to be as accurate as possible without having it get fooled by false alarms,” said Dave Weller, the NOAA Fisheries scientist who leads the survey team.

The refined software the team developed can now distinguish between whales, flocks of birds and passing boats.

Not only that, but when the computer sees a blow, it can predict where and when the same whale will surface to blow again. That prediction algorithm, which is based on years of research into Gray Whale’s diving behaviour, means that the computer can track individual whales.

“If you don’t have a way of tracking who’s who, you can double-count some whales or miss them altogether,” Weller says.

“The biggest advantage of the new system is that it vastly increases our sample size. That means we can more accurately estimate the size of the population.”

Some of the thermal imaging footage can be seen here, with a passing whale being overtaken by a flock of birds and a pod of dolphins appearing in the foreground.

Crocodiles enjoy sliding, surfing and playing with balls


This video is called Biology documentary on Crocodiles.

From Wildlife Extra:

Research reveals crocodiles enjoy sliding, surfing and playing with balls

Fancy a game of something?

A research assistant professor in psychology at the University of Tennessee, Vladimir Dinets, who has been studying crocodiles and alligators for 10 years, has revealed that they enjoy playing with objects, as well as other animals and fellow crocodilians.

Alongside his own observations of crocs displaying play-like behaviours in surfing waves, tossing balls and giving each other piggyback rides, he conducted an informal survey of groups on social media and attendees at conferences who were interested in crocodiles.

His results show a gentler aspect than is usually associated with these predators. They are seen to engage in all three main types of play identified by behaviour specialists as locomotor play, play with objects, and social play.

Play with objects was reported most often. Crocs have been seen playing with wooden balls, noisy ceramic items, streams of water, their prey, and debris floating on the surface of the water.

Cases of locomotor play include young alligators repeatedly sliding down slopes, crocodiles surfing waves and caimans riding currents of water in their pools.

Observed cases of social play include baby alligators riding on older animals’ backs, baby caimans playfully “courting” each other, and a male crocodile giving his lifetime mate rides on his back.

Crocodiles have also been seen playing with other animals. Dinets observed a juvenile alligator playing with a river otter.

In rare cases, individual crocodilians have even been known to bond closely and enjoy the company of people. There is a story of a man who saved a crocodile that had been shot and the two played together for 20 years.

“The croc would swim with his human friend, try to startle him by suddenly pretending to attack him or by sneaking up on him from behind, and accept being caressed, hugged, rotated in the water and kissed on the snout,” says Dinets.

His work, published in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition, is the first study of play in crocodiles from a scientific basis. The full study can be viewed here.

Dinets’ research builds on the work of colleague Gordon Burghardt, a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, whose work defined “play” in connection with a species not previously thought capable of play.

Dinets’ work provides further evidence that play is a universal feature of “intelligent” animals, with complex, flexible behaviour.

He believes that providing crocodiles in captivity with amusements and objects to play with will give them happier, healthier lives.

The finding of this research may contribute to the knowledge of how intelligence evolves and what is needed for its development.

Previous research by Dinets discovered that crocodiles are able to climb trees, work as a team and use lures such as sticks to hunt prey. More of his crocodile research can be found in his book Dragon Songs.