Australian fur seals, new research


This video is called The Life of Australian Fur Seals, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, Montague Island, 2011.

From Deakin University in Australia:

July 2, 2015

Humans once hunted them, but may now hold key to fur seal survival

Oil rigs and artificial reefs are often given a bad rap for their environmental impact but they may be playing a vital role in feeding one of Australia’s largest sea creatures, still recovering from centuries of hunting by humans, new research led by Deakin scientists has found.

Researchers from Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology within the School of Life and Environmental Sciences teamed up with National Geographic, the University of Tasmania and University of California Santa Cruz to investigate the feeding behaviour of the Australian fur seals in Bass Strait.

Associate Professor John Arnould said some seals carrying the National Geographic “crittercams” revealed they and other individuals congregated around human-made structures which act as artificial reefs attracting fish.

“These findings mean that man-made structures such as pipelines, cable routes, wells and shipwrecks could play a vital role in helping to improve the recovery rates of our fur seals,” he said.

“The Australian fur seal population is increasing at just two per cent a year and still sit at population levels below 60 per cent of what it was before the commercial sealing era in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

The researchers tracked the foraging patterns of 36 Australian fur seals from Kanowna Island in Bass Strait, using GPS loggers and dive recorders.

The research is published today in the latest edition of science journal PLOS One.

“While we know fish congregate around these structures, scientists don’t know a lot about their use by marine mammals and we were surprised at first to find the Australian fur seals were going to these area[s],” Associate Professor Arnould said.

“We found that 72% of the 36 seals we tracked spent time around the man-made structures, with pipelines and cable routes being the most frequented. More than a third of animals foraged near more than one type of structure.”

Associate Professor Arnould said man-made changes to natural habitats could often have negative effects on animals which lived in the regions surrounding them, including a reduction in foraging habitat, breeding sites and refuge from predators.

“Some species, however, can adapt to, and even benefit from, changes to their habitats,” he said.

“Indeed, man-made structures can provide a range of benefits for some species, from predator avoidance, thermoregulation, and breeding sites, to acting as important foraging areas.”

Associate Professor Arnould said seals and sea lions around the world had experienced variable rates of population recovery since the end of the sealing era.

“We have seen species that feed close to the surface have experienced rapid growth in numbers, populations of species that feed on the ocean floor, such as the Australian fur seal, have increased very slowly, are stable or in decline,” he said.

“It has been suggested that the low population recovery rates of these species could be due to them hunting in environments which for decades have been the focus of commercial fisheries using bottom trawlers that disrupt the habitat and remove the larger size-classes of species that the seals depend on for food.

“The Australian fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) feeds exclusively on the sea floor of the continental shelf on a wide variety of fish, octopus and squid species.”

Associate Professor Arnould said all but one of the Australian fur seal’s breeding colonies occurred on islands within Bass Strait, between the Australian mainland and Tasmania, which has an average depth of 60 metres and is considered to be a region of low food availability for marine predators.

“Therefore, structures like oil and gas rigs and pipelines that occur on the relatively featureless sea floor could provide a valuable prey habitat and promote foraging success for the species,” he said.

Explore further: Fur seal population bounces back while sea lions struggle

Australian bittern in Victoria


This video is called Australasian Bittern.

From Birdline Victoria in Australia:

Tuesday 30 June

Australian Bittern

Western Treatment Plant (Werribee)–Western Lagoons

Thanks to Paul Newman who spotted the bird, the bird spent most of the time in the drain on the left hand side as you enter Western Lagoons via Gate 2. It did, however, move around the centre ponds as well. Time was about 4pm.

Bernie OKeefe

Young sugar glider practices flying, video


This video says about itself:

20 June 2015

Sugar Glider Practices Flying in Front of Fan

From daily The Guardian in Britain today:

I couldn’t resist sharing this video with you: today’s “Caturday” video features an adorable young sugar glider (known as a “joey”) practicing her gliding skills in front of a fan.

The sugar glider, Petaurus breviceps, is a small forest-dwelling marsupial native to the northern and eastern parts of Australia. They also occur in forests throughout New Guinea and on a number of nearby islands and island archipelagoes.

They superficially resemble a squirrel, although they are smaller and much, much cuter: they have extremely soft, dense grey fur with a charcoal grey stripe along their spine, creamy white fur on their underparts, large black eyes adapted for night vision, a pink nose and toes, and small rotatable ears. They are sexually dimorphic, with females being smaller than the males, and lacking the scent gland on the forehead. Females give birth to one or two babies (“joeys”) which then reside in her marsupium (pouch) located on her belly, for several months. Male sugar gliders are unusual because they are one of the few mammal species that provide parental care. This video gives you an idea of their physical size:

The physical character that gives sugar gliders their name is the fur-covered flap of skin along their sides — this skin flap is easily visible in the previous video.

When sugar gliders extend their legs, this flap of skin stretches out, allowing them to glide through the air from tree to tree, sometimes for long distances when it’s breezy. Here’s another video that provides low-motion footage of gliding sugar gliders (ignore the cheesy music):

Sugar gliders are arboreal possums, and possess a long, furred and weakly prehensile tail that acts as a climbing aid as they move throughout the trees, seeking out insects, nectar, tree sap, and fruits to dine upon. Sugar gliders are highly active and are nocturnal and live in colonies consisting of several adults and their young of the year. Although they can “bark”, they are generally silent, and communicate primarily by using odours and behavioural signals. And cuteness.

25,000 diving tarantula spiders discovered in Australia


This video is called National Geographic Super Spider – Fascinating Spider Documentary.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Discovery of 25,000 diving tarantulas could prove lucrative for tiny Australian community

The huge cluster of newly-discovered spiders could prove attractive to scientific researchers from across the world

Doug Bolton

Thursday 25 June 2015

A tiny settlement in the sparsely-populated Northern Territory of Australia has been the subject of scientific attention, after it was discovered that a nearby flood plain is home to an infestation of 25,000 tarantulas from a newly-discovered species.

However, rather than this unsettling news making sure that no-one will ever visit the town again, a leading Australian arachnologist believes that this could be good news for the remote community of Maningrada, which is over 300 miles from Darwin, the nearest city.

Dr Robert Raven, a senior curator at the Queensland Museum, believes that the venom of the spiders, which is strong enough to induce vomiting in humans, could be used for medical research purposes.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, he said that “pharmaceutical applications could apply across a broad spectrum.”

The spider, which is commonly called the diving tarantula due to its worrying ability to survive underwater by creating air bubbles, was only discovered in 2006, and the full potential of it as a medical resource has not yet been realised.

The uniquely high concentration of spiders in Maningrada means that it would make the business of finding the spiders and extracting their venom much easier.

Dr Raven said that the normal colony size is only around two or three hundred spiders – around 100 times smaller than the size of the newly-discovered cluster.

The sheer size of the Maningrada group could be very attractive to biologists and medical researchers trying to find out more about the under-researched creatures.

Read more: Giant tarantula discovered in Sri Lanka

Asbestos tarantula on the loose in Cardiff

Brazilian puts tarantulas in his mouth to save rainforest

Dr Raven hopes that the attractiveness of the region to researchers could work in favour of the small community, which is mostly made up of Aboriginal people.

He told ABC News that the intellectual property surrounding the spider belongs to the community.

He said: “This is a resource for the community in a number of ways… and this could flow back into the community eventually to help them manage the parks better.”

He added that he hopes young and strong scientists, capable of handling the harsh conditions, isolation and difficult spiders found in Maningrada, will take up the challenge of finding out more about the mysterious diving tarantula.

Kangaroos are left-handed, new study


This 2014 video is called True Facts About Marsupials.

From Current Biology:

Parallel Emergence of True Handedness in the Evolution of Marsupials and Placentals

Andrey Giljov, Karina Karenina, Janeane Ingram, Yegor Malashichev

Highlights

Bipedal macropod marsupials display population-level left-forelimb preference
•Lateralization in bipedal marsupials is consistent across multiple behaviors
•Bipedal marsupials show stronger manual lateralization than quadrupeds
•Species differences in lateralization are not explained by phylogenetic relations

Summary

Recent studies have demonstrated a close resemblance between some handedness patterns in great apes and humans [ 1–3 ]. Despite this, comparative systematic investigations of manual lateralization in non-primate mammals are very limited [ 4, 5 ]. Among mammals, robust population-level handedness is still considered to be a distinctive human trait [ 6, 7 ].

Nevertheless, the comprehensive understanding of handedness evolution in mammals cannot be achieved without considering the other large mammalian lineage, marsupials. This study was designed to investigate manual lateralization in non-primate mammals using the methodological approach applied in primate studies. Here we show that bipedal macropod marsupials display left-forelimb preference at the population level in a variety of behaviors in the wild. In eastern gray and red kangaroos, we found consistent manual lateralization across multiple behaviors. This result challenges the notion that in mammals the emergence of strong “true” handedness is a unique feature of primate evolution.

The robust lateralization in bipedal marsupials stands in contrast to the relatively weak forelimb preferences in marsupial quadrupeds, emphasizing the role of postural characteristics in the evolution of manual lateralization as previously suggested for primates [ 8–10 ]. Comparison of forelimb preferences in seven marsupial species leads to the conclusion that the interspecies differences in manual lateralization cannot be explained by phylogenetic relations, but rather are shaped by ecological adaptations. Species’ postural characteristics, especially bipedality, are argued to be instrumental in the origin of handedness in mammals.

Published Online: June 18, 2015

Wars cause 50 million refugees


This video from Australia says about itself:

50 Million Refugees – Stop the Boats?

7 May 2015

A thought provoking video about refugees, boat people and Australia’s policy.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

50 MILLION REFUGEES! – warns Amnesty

‘IN 2013, for the first time since World War II, the number of those forcibly displaced from their homes exceeded 50 million,’ warns an Amnesty International briefing published yesterday.

Its executive summary continues: ‘Millions more have since been displaced as a result of conflict and crises around the globe.

‘More than half of Syria’s population is displaced. Some four million women, men and children have fled the country and are refugees, making this one of the biggest refugee crises in history.

‘The vast majority, 95%, are living in the countries neighbouring Syria. In one country, Lebanon, Syrian refugees now account for one in every five people.

‘Despite the huge influx of refugees, the host countries have received almost no meaningful international support.

‘The UN’s humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees was only 23% funded as of the 3rd June 2015. Calls by the UN for the international community to resettle refugees from Syria have largely fallen on deaf ears.

‘The total number of places offered to refugees from Syria is less than 90,000, only 2.2% of the refugees in the main host countries. . . While Syria is the world’s biggest refugee crisis, it is by no means the only one. . . . There are more than three million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya is home to Dadaab – the world’s largest refugee camp, set up in 1991.

‘Yet, the refugee situations in African countries receive little or no global attention – in 2013, less than 15,000 refugees from African countries were resettled and UN humanitarian appeals are severely underfunded. . .

‘In an effort to escape desperate situations refugees and migrants risk their lives – one of the starkest examples is the perilous boat journeys in the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe. In 2014 and the first three months of 2015, the largest number of people recorded attempting to cross the Mediterranean by boat to reach Southern Europe were Syrians. . .

‘The dramatic increase in the number of lives lost in the Mediterranean in 2015 is partly due to the decision by Italy and the European Union (EU) to end the Italian navy operation Mare Nostrum at the end of 2014 and replace it with a much more limited EU operation. . .

‘The Mediterranean and South East Asia crises exposed governments’ willingness to ignore legal obligations and humanitarian imperatives.

‘In situations where lives were known to be at risk and states had the means to save them, they chose not to act for political reasons. The lives lost were not a result of a violent conflict or an unavoidable natural disaster – most were entirely preventable deaths. . .

‘The global refugee crisis may be fuelled by conflict and persecution but it is compounded by the neglect of the international community in the face of this human suffering.’

Britain: On the day Cameron was spouting off about human rights, a report by the human rights group, Amnesty International, highlighted the fact that millions of refugees have been created with thousands of civilians dying as they try and flee the wars waged by the imperialist powers, including Britain, in the Middle East and Africa: here.

The global refugee crisis is more dire than at any point since the end of the Second World War, according to a report released yesterday by Amnesty International: here.