Rare large-antlered muntjac seen in Vietnam


This 2016 video says about itself:

The giant muntjac, sometimes referred to as the large-antlered muntjac, is a species of muntjac deer.

It is the largest muntjac species and was discovered in 1994 in Vũ Quang, Hà Tĩnh Province of Vietnam and in central Laos.

During inundation of the Nakai Reservoir in Khammouane Province of Laos for the Nam Theun 2 Multi-Purpose Project, 38 giant muntjac were captured, studied and released into the adjacent Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area.

From Forschungsverbund Berlin in Germany:

First record of large-antlered muntjac in Vietnam

New hope for the survival of this species

May 22, 2018

In November 2017 — under a biodiversity monitoring and assessment activity supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) — scientists and conservationists of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and WWF-Vietnam captured photographs of one of the rarest and most threatened mammal species of Southeast Asia, the large-antlered muntjac (Muntiacus vuquangensis), in Quang Nam province, central Vietnam. Prior to this milestone, this species had only been camera trapped in three protected areas in all of Vietnam since the year 2000. The new records from Quang Nam — which include photographs of both a male and a female — provide new hope for the continued survival of a species that is on the brink of extinction.

“It is amazing news”, said Phan Tuan, Director of the Forest Protection Department of Quang Nam in Vietnam “The two individuals are both mature and of reproductive age. These images prove that the species still survives in Quang Nam province and give us hope that there might even be a breeding population.”

The large-antlered muntjac was discovered by scientists in 1994 and is found only in the Annamites mountain range bordering Vietnam and Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Illegal hunting, mainly accomplished by the setting of wire snares, has decimated the species across its range. Snaring pressure is apparently high in the forests of central Vietnam. From 2011 to 2017, for example, government rangers and WWF Forest Guards removed more than a hundred thousand wire snares from the Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserves. In 2016, in response to the snare-driven decline of the species the status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species of the large-antlered muntjac was changed from Endangered to Critically Endangered.

Conservation stakeholders are continuing efforts to protect large-antlered muntjac in the wild. However, in recognition of the overwhelming pressure that the species faces and the fact that its populations are now critically low, the government and international NGOs are planning to establish a captive insurance population for this species and the saola (Pseudoryx nghe inhensis). The saola is another recently-discovered endemic ungulate that is even rarer than the large-antlered muntjac and may be now approaching extinction.

Dr. Benjamin Rawson, the Conservation Director of WWF-Vietnam, notes: “Large-antlered muntjac do not currently exist in captivity, so if we lose them in the wild, we lose them forever. Scientists are racing against time to save the species. Addressing the snaring crisis to protect wildlife in the forests of central Vietnam and setting up captive assurance populations are vital if we are to succeed.”

In addition to large-antlered muntjac, other camera trap surveys funded by USAID also documented other conservation priority species including Owston’s civet (Chrotogale owstoni), Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi), and pangolin (Manis spp). “Finding these rare and beautiful species gives new hope for Vietnam’s precious biodiversity treasures”, says Nguyen Van Thanh, who led the field survey. Thanh is both a PhD student at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and a WWF Russell E. Train Fellowship recipient. “Although populations of all ground-dwelling mammals and birds have declined from snaring, our results show that the forests of Quang Nam province still harbor globally-significant biodiversity” Thanh adds. The findings of this study will help the Forest Protection Department of Quang Nam to develop better management and law enforcement plans to save these species and their habitats.

The Leibniz-IZW and WWF-Vietnam survey teams are now expanding the systematic camera trapping plans to other areas in the region, including places with high biodiversity potential in the province of Thua Thien Hue, just north of Quang Nam. The teams hope to uncover more surprises. But regardless of what they find in the future, the re-discovery of the Large-antlered Muntjac from Quang Nam will always remain a milestone for the survey teams, for the conservation community, and for Vietnam.

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Cambrian explosion and arthropod evolution


This 2015 video from the USA says about itself:

What is an Arthropod?

Dan Babbitt, manager of the Smithsonian’s Insect Zoo, shows why the name of the zoo is a little imprecise. The Insect Zoo is home to all five major groups of arthropods—insects, arachnids, crustaceans, millipedes, and centipedes—all of which Babbitt defines.

From the University of Oxford in England:

Major fossil study sheds new light on emergence of early animal life 540 million years ago

Most comprehensive analysis of Earth’s largest animal group — the euarthropods — shows they evolved gradually, challenging major theories of early animal evolution

May 21, 2018

All the major groups of animals appear in the fossil record for the first time around 540-500 million years ago — an event known as the Cambrian Explosion — but new research from the University of Oxford in collaboration with the University of Lausanne suggests that for most animals this ‘explosion’ was in fact a more gradual process.

The Cambrian Explosion produced the largest and most diverse grouping of animals the Earth has ever seen: the euarthropods. Euarthropoda contains the insects, crustaceans, spiders, trilobites, and a huge diversity of other animal forms alive and extinct. They comprise over 80 percent of all animal species on the planet and are key components of all of Earth’s ecosystems, making them the most important group since the dawn of animals over 500 million years ago.

A team based at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the University of Lausanne carried out the most comprehensive analysis ever made of early fossil euarthropods from every different possible type of fossil preservation. In an article published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences they show that, taken together, the total fossil record shows a gradual radiation of euarthropods during the early Cambrian, 540-500 million years ago.

The new analysis presents a challenge to the two major competing hypotheses about early animal evolution. The first of these suggests a slow, gradual evolution of euarthropods starting 650-600 million years ago, which had been consistent with earlier molecular dating estimates of their origin. The other hypothesis claims the nearly instantaneous appearance of euarthropods 540 million years ago because of highly elevated rates of evolution.

The new research suggests a middle-ground between these two hypotheses, with the origin of euarthropods no earlier than 550 million years ago, corresponding with more recent molecular dating estimates, and with the subsequent diversification taking place over the next 40 million years.

“Each of the major types of fossil evidence has its limitation and they are incomplete in different ways, but when taken together they are mutually illuminating and allow a coherent picture to emerge of the origin and radiation of the euarthropods during the lower to middle Cambrian”, explains Professor Allison Daley, who carried out the work at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and at the University of Lausanne. “This indicates that the Cambrian Explosion, rather than being a sudden event, unfolded gradually over the ~40 million years of the lower to middle Cambrian.”

The timing of the origin of Euarthropoda is very important as it affects how we view and interpret the evolution of the group. By working out which groups developed first we can trace the evolution of physical characteristics, such as limbs.

It has been argued that the absence of euarthropods from the Precambrian Period, earlier than around 540 million years ago, is the result of a lack of fossil preservation. But the new comprehensive fossil study suggests that this isn’t the case.

“The idea that arthropods are missing from the Precambrian fossil record because of biases in how fossils are preserved can now be rejected”, says Dr Greg Edgecombe FRS from the Natural History Museum, London, who was not involved in the study. “The authors make a very compelling case that the late Precambrian and Cambrian are in fact very similar in terms of how fossils preserve. There is really just one plausible explanation — arthropods hadn’t yet evolved.”

Harriet Drage, a PhD student at Oxford University Department of Zoology and one of the paper’s co-authors, says: “When it comes to understanding the early history of life the best source of evidence that we have is the fossil record, which is compelling and very complete around the early to middle Cambrian. It speaks volumes about the origin of euarthropods during an interval of time when fossil preservation was the best it has ever been.”

Australian birds from different species help each other


This video says about itself:

Amazing footage of Western Australia’s Splendid Fairy-wren

15 October 2012

This amazing footage of singing and dancing Splendid Fairy-wrens was taken by Birds in Backyards ambassador Angus Stewart during a spring 2012 visit to Western Australia. Be an Aussie Bird friend by registering for free membership at http://birdsinbackyards.net.

From the University of Chicago Medical Center in the USA:

Birds from different species recognize each other and cooperate

Researchers show for the first time how birds from two different species recognize individuals and cooperate for mutual benefit

May 21, 2018

Summary: Scientists show how two different species of Australian fairy-wrens not only recognize individual birds from other species, but also form long-term partnerships that help them forage and defend their shared space as a group.

Cooperation among different species of birds is common. Some birds build their nests near those of larger, more aggressive species to deter predators, and flocks of mixed species forage for food and defend territories together in alliances that can last for years. In most cases, though, these partnerships are not between specific individuals of the other species — any bird from the other species will do.

But in a new study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, scientists from the University of Chicago and University of Nebraska show how two different species of Australian fairy-wrens not only recognize individual birds from other species, but also form long-term partnerships that help them forage and defend their shared space as a group.

“Finding that these two species associate was not surprising, as mixed species flocks of birds are observed all over the world”, said Allison Johnson, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Nebraska who conducted the study as part of her dissertation research at UChicago. “But when we realized they were sharing territories with specific individuals and responding aggressively only to unknown individuals, we knew this was really unique. It completely changed our research and we knew we had to investigate it.”

Variegated fairy-wrens and splendid fairy-wrens are two small songbirds that live in Australia. The males of each species have striking, bright blue feathers that make them popular with bird watchers. Their behavior also makes them an appealing subject for biologists. Both species feed on insects, live in large family groups, and breed during the same time of year. They are also non-migratory, meaning they live in one area for their entire lives, occupying the same eucalyptus scrublands that provide plenty of bushes and trees for cover.

When these territories overlap, the two species interact with each other. They forage together, travel together, and seem to be aware of what the other species is doing. They also help each other defend their territory from rivals. Variegated fairy-wrens will defend their shared territory from both variegated and splendid outsiders; splendid fairy-wrens will do the same, while fending off unfamiliar birds from both species.

“Splendid and variegated fairy-wrens are so similar in their habitat preferences and behavior, we would expect them to act as competitors. Instead, we’ve found stable, positive relationships between individuals of the two species,” said Christina Masco, PhD, a graduate student at UChicago and a co-author on the new paper.

Many songbirds can recognize familiar members of their own species on the basis of the unique songs each bird sings. However, in this research the investigators believed this recognition occurred across species. How could they be so certain?

From 2012-2015, Johnson, Masco, and their former advisor, Stephen Pruett-Jones, PhD, associate professor of ecology and evolution at UChicago, studied these species at Brookfield Conservation Park in South Australia. The first unusual observation Johnson made was that when playing a recorded vocalization of one species, the other species would respond and fly in to investigate what was going on.

To follow up on this observation, the researchers monitored both fairy-wren species in the darkness before dawn and captured clear recordings of their signature songs. After sunrise, they broadcast the recorded songs from a speaker to simulate an intrusion by a particular bird into a group’s territory. The objective was to see how territory owners reacted to the songs of familiar and unfamiliar members of the other species.

The researchers placed a speaker about 30 meters away from a subject fairy-wren and played the songs of four different individuals: a fairy-wren that occupied the same territory (a co-resident or “friendly” bird), a fairy-wren from an adjacent territory (a neighbor), a fairy-wren from an area five or more territories away (an unknown bird), and a red-capped robin, a common species in the park that doesn’t pose a threat to the fairy-wrens (as a control group).

Both splendid and variegated fairy-wrens demonstrated the ability to recognize their co-residents’ songs despite the species difference. Socially dominant males of both species responded more aggressively to songs of neighbors and unknown birds of the other fairy-wren species than they did to friendly birds sharing their territory, or to the red-capped robin. When they heard songs from friendly birds, they didn’t respond, suggesting they didn’t see them as a threat.

By forming and keeping these associations with another species, fairy-wrens can better defend their nests from predators and their territories from rivals. There is also evidence that interacting with the other species has additional benefits besides territorial defense. While the splendid fairy-wrens didn’t change their behavior when associating with the other species, the variegated fairy-wrens spent more time foraging, were less vigilant, and had more success raising their young.

Johnson, Masco, and Pruett-Jones believe the fairy-wrens associate with the other species as a form of cooperation. By interacting with other species that share the same territory instead of working against them, these already social species create a larger group to help defend their territory and ward off intruders. In other words, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

“Although our discovery that individuals of different species recognize each other was unexpected, it is likely that something similar occurs whenever species of non-migratory birds live on overlapping territories,” Pruett-Jones said. “Recognition facilitates sociality within species, and it follows that it could also facilitate associations between species.”

Threatened giant Chinese salamander not one, but five species


This video says about itself:

15 December 2015

Scientists have found an ancient giant salamander alive. Experts say it may be 200 years old. The enormous 4.5-foot-long and 115-pound amphibian was lurking in a cave near Chongqing, China.

Read more here.

From ScienceDaily:

Giant Chinese salamander is at least five distinct species, all heading toward extinction

May 21, 2018

With individuals weighing in at more than 140 pounds, the critically endangered Chinese giant salamander is well known as the world’s largest amphibian. But researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on May 21 now find that those giant salamanders aren’t one species, but five, and possibly as many as eight. The bad news as highlighted by another report appearing in the same issue is that all of the salamanders — once thought to occur widely across China — now face the imminent threat of extinction in the wild, due in no small part to demand for the amphibians as luxury food.

The discoveries highlight the importance of genetic assessments to properly identify the salamanders, the researchers say. It also suggests that the farming and release of giant salamanders back into the wild without any regard for their genetic differences is putting the salamanders’ already dire future at even greater risk. In fact, some of the five newly identified species may already be extinct in the wild.

“We were not surprised to discover more than one species, as an earlier study suggested, but the extent of diversity — perhaps up to eight species — uncovered by the analyses sat us back in our chairs”, says Jing Che from the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. “This was not expected.”

“The overexploitation of these incredible animals for human consumption has had a catastrophic effect on their numbers in the wild over an amazingly short time span”, adds Samuel Turvey, from ZSL (Zoological Society of London. “Unless coordinated conservation measures are put in place as a matter of urgency, the future of the world’s largest amphibian is in serious jeopardy.”

The researchers were surprised to learn just how much movement of salamanders has already occurred due to human intervention. Salamander farms have sought to “maximize variation” by exchanging salamanders from distant areas, without realizing they are in fact distinct species, Che explains. As a result, she says, wild populations may now be at risk of becoming locally maladapted due to hybridization across species boundaries.

The researchers including Ya-Ping Zhang and Robert Murphy suspected Chinese giant salamanders might represent distinct species despite their similar appearances. That’s because the salamanders inhabit three primary rivers in China, and several smaller ones, they explain. Each runs independently to sea.

Given that giant salamanders can’t move across the land, they suspected that salamanders living in different river systems might have had opportunity to diverge over time into what should now be recognized as distinct species. And, indeed, that’s exactly what the genetic evidence now suggests.

In the second study, Turvey and colleagues conducted field surveys and interviews from 2013 and 2016, in an effort that was possibly the largest wildlife survey ever conducted in China. The data revealed that populations of this once-widespread species are now critically depleted or extirpated across all surveyed areas of their range, and illegal poaching is widespread. The researchers were unable to confirm survival of wild salamanders at any survey site.

While the harvesting of wild salamanders is already prohibited, the findings show that farming practices and existing conservation activities that treat all salamander populations as a single species are potentially doing great damage, the researchers say.

“Conservation strategies for the Chinese giant salamander require urgent updating”, Che says. She says it is especially critical to reconsider the design of reserves to protect the salamanders and an effort that has already released thousands of farm-started baby salamanders back into the wild.

“Together with addressing wider pressures such as poaching for commercial farms and habitat loss, it’s essential that suitable safeguards are put in place to protect the unique genetic lineage of these amazing animals”, says Fang Yan, also at the Kunming Institute.

New deep sea crustacean species discovery


Image of a male Stygiopontius senokuchiae taken with a confocal laser microscope. This new species of copepod was discovered by Kumamoto University student, Reina Senokuchi. The white scale bar is 0.2 mm long. Credit: Photograph by Kumamoto University Associate Professor Takeshi Kitano

From Kumamoto University in Japan:

Japanese student discovers new crustacean species in deep sea hydrothermal vent

May 21, 2018

A new species of microcrustacean (Stygiopontius) was collected from a submarine hot spring (hydrothermal vent) of a volcanic seamount (Myojin-sho caldera) in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan. This crustacean group lives only around deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the central Atlantic or eastern Pacific Oceans. The new species is the first of its kind discovered in Japanese waters. Reina Senokuchi, a Kumamoto University student, was the first to make the discovery saying, “When I realized that it might be a new species, I was both delighted and very surprised. I couldn’t believe it was true.”

Portals to New Worlds

There are many hydrothermal vents in the deep waters east of Japan. The water in these vents is heated by volcanic activity under the ocean floor blown into the sea. In the vicinity of these openings, bacteria function as the primary producer of organic matter and convert mineral resources contained in the hot water into energy, a process called chemosynthesis. The organisms here are not found in any other type of environment on the planet. Some can be found in vents throughout the world’s oceans, yet others appear to live only in specific areas.

A research group headed by Associate Professor Motohiro Shimanaga of Kumamoto University studies the ecosystems of deep sea hydrothermal vents. Between 2012 and 2014, Dr. Shimanaga’s group surveyed hydrothermal vents in the calderas of three submarine volcanos in the Izu Islands (in the Izu-Bonin Arc) and collected samples of organisms to learn more about these mysterious life forms.

Research on the Pacific Rim

The area surveyed included hydrothermal vents at depths between 800 and 1400 meters in the Myojin-sho caldera, the Myojin abyssal hill, and the Bayonnaise abyssal hill, which are about 420 km south of Tokyo. Researchers mapped the areas and retrieved samples using an unmanned deep-sea sub. One of the samples included the new species of Stygiopontius, a type of copepod.

Copepods can be found all over the earth. They are ecologically important because they feed on phytoplankton and are a food source for many other creatures. Until this discovery, copepods of the genus Stygiopontius had only been found in deep sea hydrothermal vents in the center of the Atlantic and East Pacific Oceans, but not in the deep waters east of Japan.

When Ms. Reina Senokuchi, a student of Kumamoto University at that time of the study, examined the copepod from the Japan coast sample, she discovered that it had several morphological differences compared to other species of the genus Stygiopontius. Both male and female specimens of the new Stygiopontius species were found at all three investigation sites, with body lengths of 685 to 786 micrometers for females and 446 to 483 micrometers for males. Assistant Professor Daisuke Uyeno of Kagoshima University, an expert in morphological analysis of microorganisms, conducted an analysis of this tiny copepod and published a paper on the group’s findings.

The new species was named Stygiopontius senokuchiae after its discoverer Ms. R. Senokuchi. “I was very happy because I did not think it would be named before I graduated. It was definitely worth the effort to sketch out the microscopic observations”, she said upon hearing the news.

“Our next challenge is to figure out how this species adapted to the deep sea hydrothermal vent environment,” said Ms. Senokuchi’s mentor, Dr. Shimanaga. “We are also very interested in clarifying just how this species has spread from one hydrothermal zone to another, since the distances between the vents are relatively large.”

Dinosaurs, birds, turtles, new research


This video from Canada says about itself:

15 August 2013

Where are the baby dinosaurs? In a spellbinding talk paleontologist Jack Horner describes how slicing open fossil skulls revealed a shocking secret about some of our most beloved dinosaurs. (Filmed at TEDxVancouver.)

From the University of Kent in England:

Genome structure of dinosaurs discovered by bird-turtle comparisons

May 21, 2018

A discovery by scientists at the University of Kent has provided significant insight into the overall genome structure of dinosaurs.

By comparing the genomes of different species, chiefly birds and turtles, the Kent team were able to determine how the overall genome structure (i.e. the chromosomes) of many people’s favourite dinosaur species — like Velociraptor or Tyrannosaurus — might have looked through a microscope.

The research was carried out in the laboratory of Professor Darren Griffin, of the University’s School of Biosciences, and is now published in the journal Nature Communications. It involved extrapolating the likely genome structure of a shared common ancestor of birds and turtles that lived around 260 million years ago — 20 million years before the dinosaurs first emerged.

Dr Becky O’Connor, senior postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the Nature Communications paper, then traced how chromosomes changed over evolutionary time from a reptile ancestor to the present day.

The team found that, although the individual chromosomes rearranged their genes internally, this did not occur much at all between the chromosomes — what the scientists describe as ‘a significant discovery’.

Birds (which are themselves living dinosaurs) have a lot of chromosomes compared to most other species and that is possibly one of the reasons why they are so diverse. This research suggests that the pattern of chromosomes (karyotype) seen in early emerging dinosaurs and later theropods is similar to that of most birds and, again, may help explain their great diversity.

The new discovery suggests that, had scientists had the opportunity to make a chromosome preparation from a theropod dinosaur, it might have looked very similar to that of a modern-day ostrich, duck or chicken.

One of the key pieces of biotechnology that made it possible was the development of a set of fluorescent probes derived from birds that worked well on the chromosomes of turtles.

The genetics laboratory run by Professor Darren Griffin in Kent’s School of Biosciences carries out research into how genes organise into chromosomes and how that is different between species. The work is a collaboration with Dr Denis Larkin at the Royal Veterinary College in London, Iowa State University, the University of Cambridge, Oxford Genome Technologies and the Natural History Museum, London. The work is a collaboration with Dr Denis Larkin at the Royal Veterinary College in London, Iowa State University, the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge company Cytocell and the Natural History Museum, London.

Giraffes, new research


This video is called Giraffes 101 | National Geographic Wild.

From the University of Bristol in England:

Giraffes surprise biologists yet again

May 18, 2018

New research from the University of Bristol has highlighted how little we know about giraffe behaviour and ecology.

It is commonly accepted that group sizes of animals increase when there is a risk of predation, since larger group sizes reduce the risk of individuals being killed, and there are ‘many eyes’ to spot any potential predation risk.

Now, in the first study of its kind, Bristol PhD student Zoe Muller from the School of Biological Sciences has found that this is not true for giraffes, and that the size of giraffe groups is not influenced by the presence of predators.

Zoe Muller said: “This is surprising, and highlights how little we know about even the most basic aspects of giraffe behaviour.”

This study investigates how the grouping behaviour of giraffes differed in response to numerous factors, such as predation risk, habitat type and the characteristics of individuals.

Habitat type had some effect on group size, but the main effect on group size was in the behaviour of adult females, who were found to be in smaller groups when they had calves.

This is contrary to another popular belief that female giraffes form large groups to communally care for their young — this study, published this week in the Journal of Zoology presents the first evidence to show that actually, the opposite is true.

Giraffe populations have declined by 40 percent in the last 30 years, and there are now thought to be fewer than 98,000 individuals remaining in the wild.

In recognition of their drastic decline in the wild, they have recently been listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation in Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

However, conservation review is ongoing due to current debate over their taxonomic status, since some subspecies may be even more at risk of extinction than is currently recognised.

Zoe Muller added: “This research adds another important piece to the puzzle of understanding how giraffes live in the wild.

“Giraffes are a threatened species, suffering ongoing decline across Africa, and this research highlights how they are actually an incredibly misunderstood species. We can only manage and conserve giraffe populations effectively if we properly understand their behaviour and ecology, which we are only just beginning to do.

“Despite their prominence, giraffes have been significantly understudied in comparison to other charismatic African mammals. “The common misconception is that giraffes are ‘everywhere’ in Africa, yet recent research efforts have highlighted the fragmented and rapidly declining nature of their populations.

“Their recent listing as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN red list is a valuable step towards recognising their potential to become extinct, and more research is sorely needed to understand the threats and challenges they face in the wild.”

The next steps for this research will be to replicate the findings in other areas of Africa. This is one case study from East Africa, and more research is needed to see if the same effects are observed in other giraffe populations. Results can be used to understand how the management of habitats, environmental and social variables can support the conservation of giraffe populations.