Rare pika in China, video


This video says about itself:

See Extremely Rare Video of Teddy Bear-Like Mammal | Nat Geo Wild

17 June 2018

A camera trap recently captured footage of an ili pika found in the mountains of northwestern China.

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Beautiful colours in Chinese salt lake


This 1 August 2018 video says about itself:

Thousand-year-old salt lake shining like a painter’s palette in north China

Sweltering temperatures have caused a thousand-year-old salt lake to turn brilliant colours recently in Yuncheng City, north China’s Shanxi Province.

Small crustaceans, algae cause these colours in these dry circumstances.

Animals, fungi help forests


This 28 October 2017 video says about itself:

Breathtaking beauty of a local forest in central China

A local forest in Tujia autonomous county of central China’s Hubei Province has turned into a natural multi-colored palette as temperature drops, featuring a subtropical monsoon climate.

With an annual average temperature of 9.3℃, the remote and sparsely populated area is also famous for snowing in early spring and a frosty weather in July.

From the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig:

Animals and fungi enhance the performance of forests

Study based on ten years of research in subtropical forests

August 1, 2018

A new study shows that, in addition to the diversity of tree species, the variety of animal and fungus species also has a decisive influence on the performance of forests. Forest performance comprises many facets besides timber production, such as carbon storage and climate regulation. The study is based on ten years of research in species-rich subtropical forests. A team of researchers led by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg has published the results in the new issue of Nature Communications. They illustrate that biodiversity must be viewed as a whole in order to maintain the performance of forests.

There is a global concern that the loss of biodiversity caused by people is impairing the functioning of our cultural and natural landscapes. In our forests, trees are the most conspicuous and prominent organisms. The consequences of reduced tree species diversity are therefore comparatively easy to grasp. However, it is much more difficult to take into consideration the diversity of the thousands of sometimes tiny animal and micro-organism species that perform important tasks in forests as herbivores, pest controllers or recycling experts. Therefore, the effects of a loss of this species diversity have so far been difficult to quantify. After years of dedication, a team of German, Chinese, Swiss and American researchers has now succeeded in doing this for the first time for particularly species-rich, semi-natural forests in the subtropics of China. The research group has not only studied the enormous species diversity of beetles, spiders, ants, woodlice and fungi in these forests, but at the same time, they investigated a variety of processes that are essential for the functioning of the forests. These processes include the growth of timber, the prevention of soil erosion, the recycling of nutrients or the biological control of potential pests.

“Our analyses show that the diversity of animal and fungal species affects numerous important processes — such as the availability of nutrients for tree growth”, said Dr Andreas Schuldt, first author of the study, from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg. “To understand why and how a loss of biodiversity affects these forests, it is not enough to concentrate solely on the trees and their species diversity.” The species richness of herbivores and their competitors was also important, an important finding with regard to the expected intensification and the possible prevention of pest infestation with progressive climate change. Furthermore, besides animals and fungi, the researchers found that the multifunctionality of forest stands is influenced not so much by the number of tree species as by their functional properties and the resulting composition of different types of tree species. “Our previous knowledge on the relationships between multifunctionality and biodiversity mainly comes from comparatively species-poor forests in Europe and North America”, said Prof Helge Bruelheide, spokesperson of the research group and senior author of the study. “We can now show for the first time that such relationships in the extremely species-rich subtropics and tropics follow their own dynamics. This is important to understand because these forests are of great importance for global biogeochemical cycles and for us humans.”

The results of the study also allow deductions for the management of forests under ever-changing environmental conditions and therefore provide important basic data. These insights were made possible by the many years of funding of biodiversity research and the project by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

New extinct gibbon species discovery in Chinese tomb


This 2015 video is called Singing Gibbons.

By Bruce Bower, 2:00pm, June 21, 2018:

A 2,200-year-old Chinese tomb held a new gibbon species, now extinct

Researchers suspect that humans drove this previously unknown lineage to extinction

A royal crypt from China’s past has issued a conservation alert for apes currently eking out an existence in East Asia.

The partial remains of a gibbon were discovered in 2004 in an excavation of a 2,200- to 2,300-year-old tomb in central China’s Shaanxi Province. Now, detailed comparisons of the animal’s face and teeth with those of living gibbons show that the buried ape is from a previously unknown and now-extinct genus and species, conservation biologist Samuel Turvey and colleagues report in the June 22 Science. His team named the creature Junzi imperialis.

There’s currently no way to know precisely when J. imperialis died out. But hunting and the loss of forests due to expanding human populations likely played big roles in the demise of the ape, the researchers contend.

“Until the discovery of J. imperialis, it was thought that the worrying global decline of apes was a modern-day phenomenon”, says Turvey, of the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology. “We’re now realizing that there may have been numerous human-caused extinctions of apes and other primates in the past.”

The climate was relatively stable several thousand years ago, and no vertebrate extinctions have been definitively linked to natural climate shifts over the past 10,000 years. So “it is reasonable to conclude that Junzi became extinct as a result of human impacts”, says study coauthor Alejandra Ortiz, a paleoanthropologist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Historical records indicate that gibbons with features similar to those of J. imperialis, as well as some other distinctive-looking gibbon populations no longer observed in the wild, inhabited central and southern China up to around 300 years ago, the researchers say. Most gibbons today are found in Southeast Asia.

The tomb is thought to have belonged to the grandmother of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang, who ordered the building of the Great Wall of China and the famous terra-cotta warriors (SN: 9/16/17, p. 19). Twelve pits with animal remains, including those of the gibbon, were found in the crypt. During Qin’s reign and throughout much of Chinese history, gibbons were thought to have noble traits, and royals often acquired gibbons as high-status pets. Ancient Chinese art includes many depictions of gibbons, too.

Turvey’s group compared a 3-D digital reconstruction of the gibbon’s skull, based on its skeletal remains, with 477 skulls from nearly all living species of gibbons and siamangs, a closely related ape. Digital images of the recovered gibbon’s upper and lower molar teeth were compared with 789 molars from 279 present-day gibbon and siamang individuals.

“The science in this paper is strong, but its message for the future of apes and all animals and plants on Earth today is dismal”, says biological anthropologist Brenda Benefit of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. All species of gibbons living today remain imperiled, as do most other primates, due to serious challenges from habitat loss, hunting and the international trade in exotic pets (SN: 3/17/18, p. 10).

While the new report highlights long-standing human threats to gibbons’ survival, the ancient gibbon’s remains may not represent a new genus, holds biological anthropologist Terry Harrison of New York University. A partial skull from a captive ape of unknown geographic origin leaves crucial questions unanswered, including what the creature’s lower body looked like, Harrison says. Relatively complete skeletons of wild gibbons from Chinese sites dating to the past 10,000 years are needed to check the Shaanxi ape’s evolutionary ID, he contends.

See also here.

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.

White-crested laughingthrush video


This July 9th 2017 video is by Paul Dinning in Cornwall in Britain. It shows a white-crested laughingthrush. Probably in a zoo.

I saw a relative of this species, the white-browed laughingthrush, in China.