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.

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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.

Anti-Chinese students witch hunt in the USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

A New Witch Hunt? FBI Calls Chinese Students a Threat

24 February 2018

Calling China “a whole-of-society threat”, FBI Director Christopher Wray recently claimed that Chinese students in the US may be conducting espionage. Law professor, author, and Committee of 100 chair Frank H. Wu, says the FBI is reviving a racist legacy.

A much-promoted book published this week calls for Australia to join a US-led war against China, supposedly as the only way to stop the country from becoming a “tribute state of the resurgent Middle Kingdom.” Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, by Clive Hamilton, a former Greens election candidate, now a university professor, is a rabid anti-Chinese diatribe. In the filthy traditions of the racist White Australia policy, he depicts many of Australia’s 1.2 million people of Chinese descent as tools of Beijing, casts suspicion over the country’s 130,000 Chinese students and every academic “of Chinese descent,” and alleges that many business and political leaders are “fifth columnists”: here.

Unique plants discovered in Chinese caves


This video says about itself:

3 October 2013

A group of explorers discovered a cave in China that is so big that it has its own weather system.

From Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in England:

New research reveals plant wonderland inside China’s caves

February 7, 2018

Summary: Over five years (2009-2014) researchers have delved into the depths of some of China’s most unexplored and unknown caves in the largest ever study on cave floras. Surveying over 60 caves in the Guangxi, Guizhou and Yunnan regions, they were able to assess the vascular plant diversity of cave flora in more detail than ever before.

Exciting new data on cave flora has been published today in PLOS ONE in a paper by researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Guangxi Institute of Botany in China.

Over five years (2009-2014) the researchers delved into the depths of some of China’s most unexplored and unknown caves in the largest ever study on cave floras. Surveying over 60 caves in the Guangxi, Guizhou and Yunnan regions, Kew’s Alex Monro and his colleagues from Guangxi were able to assess the vascular plant diversity of cave flora in more detail than ever before.

From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, forests in SW China were virtually wiped out due to the demand for charcoal associated with rapid industrialisation during China’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. This study documents 31 species known only from caves, leading the team to speculate that cave populations are all that remain of species which once grew in the ‘understory’ (the layer of vegetation between the forest canopy and the ground), which has been wiped out by recent deforestation. This discovery makes these caves and their flora significant and valuable for species conservation in South West China.

Lead researcher Alexandre Monro, at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says; “This collaboration with the Guangxi institute of Botany in China is a first attempt to document the presence of vascular plants in caves in Southeast Asia. Before we started we had no idea of the diversity of plants in caves, or that so many species are known only from caves. We hope that this work will lead to a greater interest in caves amongst botanists, and also to a greater interest in plants amongst cave biologists, prompting more study of cave-rich landscapes in Southeast Asia.”

Over the course of the study, 418 species of vascular plants were recorded, with 7% of these species being endemic to caves and 37% of the species endemic to China. Once all caves have been samples in the region, the real figure is likely to be between 500 and 850 species, based on modelling conducted by this team.

The other conclusion of the study is that the twilight zones in caves can be considered distinct biomes for plants based on a combination of constant and aseasonal climate, as well as very low light. The authors document plants growing in some of the lowest light levels recorded for vascular plants, suggesting a broad range of plants can photosynthesise at much lower light levels than originally thought.

Whilst exploring the entrance caverns, the team observed that almost half of the caves sampled were impacted by tourism or agriculture, with tourism being the more frequent and impactful.