Lord Howe Island stick insects survive near-extinction


This July 2015 video says about itself:

Rarest bug in the world! Until recently the Lord Howe Island stick insect was thought to be extinct. Ben will take you on a journey to see the renewal of the rarest bug in the world and how they saved this insect. These bugs are very special!

From ScienceDaily:

Once declared extinct, Lord Howe Island stick insects really do live

October 5, 2017

Summary: Lord Howe Island stick insects were once numerous on the tiny crescent-shaped island off the coast of Australia for which they are named. Now, biologists who have analyzed the DNA of living and dead Lord Howe Island stick insects have some good news: those rediscovered on Ball’s Pyramid, which are now being bred at the Melbourne Zoo and elsewhere, really are Lord Howe Island stick insects.

Lord Howe Island stick insects were once numerous on the tiny crescent-shaped island off the coast of Australia for which they are named. The insects, which can measure up to 6 inches in length, don’t resemble sticks so much as tree lobsters, as they are also known. After ships accidentally introduced rats to the island about a century ago, the Lord Howe Island stick insects quickly disappeared. They were later declared extinct, only to be found again decades later living on Ball’s Pyramid, a sheer volcanic stack about 12 miles away. But those newfound insects didn’t look quite the same as older museum specimens, raising doubts about the nature of their true identity.

Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 5 who have analyzed the DNA of living and dead Lord Howe Island stick insects have some good news: those rediscovered on Ball’s Pyramid, which are now being bred at the Melbourne Zoo and elsewhere, really are Lord Howe Island stick insects. The findings greatly increase the likelihood that the insect’s re-introduction on Lord Howe Island could be done successfully, the researchers say.

“We found what everyone hoped to find — that despite some significant morphological differences, these are indeed the same species”, says Alexander Mikheyev at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.

Using DNA sequence data from the Ball’s Pyramid population, the researchers assembled a draft genome of the captive bred insects along with their complete mitochondrial genome. The effort revealed a massive genome, which appears to have been duplicated more than once to contain six copies of each chromosome.

The researchers also re-sequenced mitochondrial genomes from historic museum specimens collected on Lord Howe Island before the extinction event. Comparisons between living and dead insects found a divergence of less than one percent — well within the range of differences expected within a species. The findings suggest that the rediscovered populations are indeed Lord Howe Island stick insects. Dryococelus australis really has evaded extinction so far.

The work highlights the importance of museum collections for taxonomic validation in the context of ongoing conservation efforts, the researchers say. The findings come just as the Lord Howe Island community has backed a plan to drop poisoned grain on the island in hopes of eradicating the rats. If successful, the next chapter of the Lord Howe Island stick insect’s story will take place on its ancestral island.

“The Lord Howe Island stick insect has become emblematic of the fragility of island ecosystems,” Mikheyev says. “Unlike most stories involving extinction, this one gives us a unique second chance.”

A species of New Zealand stick insect that was thought to produce only females has hatched a rogue male in the UK countryside – and scientists say the rare event could mean the animal is ready to start having sex: here.

Comes naturally? Using stick insects, scientists explore natural selection, predictability. Though evolution appears random, multiple mechanisms at play suggest natural selection: here.

Protecting Caribbean tropicbirds


This video from Australia is called Twitching Red-billed Tropicbird on Lord Howe Island.

By Hannah Madden, of the St. Eustatius National Park foundation in the Caribbean:

In January 2013 the St. Eustatius National Park foundation (STENAPA) started a seabird monitoring project, thanks largely to a small grant by the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Seabirds (SCSCB), which emphasises on Red-billed Tropicbirds (Phaethon aethereus). The project is managed by National Park Ranger Hannah Madden and intern Andrew Ellis, with the weekly assistance of two dedicated high school students. The aim is to assess the risk of predation on tropicbirds and establish the nesting success of this species. This involves visiting three nesting sites per week to measure and weigh chicks, as well as banding adults and chicks as part of a long-term research project.

A Red-billed Tropicbird monitoring workshop in 2011 run by conservation ecologist, and DCNA scientific advisor, Dr. Adrian Delnevo, found no breeding success for the Red-billed Tropicbird at several nesting colonies on Saba. Cameras set up outside nests captured photos of predating feral cats. The skills learned during the 2011 workshop have since then been applied to monitor this species on Saba and St. Eustatius. This combined with other information will be used to develop a coordinated conservation strategy for the Red-billed Tropicbird.

Given that Saba and St. Eustatius are home to the Caribbean’s largest nesting population of Red-billed Tropicbirds, STENAPA deemed it necessary to determine the risk of predation on St. Eustatius’ own Red-billed Tropicbirds. DCNA loaned STENAPA two cameras, which have been strategically placed outside active nests containing a young chick. Within just a few days one of the cameras photographed a cat outside one of the nests. It is too early to say whether the tropicbirds on St. Eustatius face the same risk of predation as those on Saba; data is still being collected and the results of this six-month study will be available in June. If predation rates prove to be high, STENAPA will take steps to control the feral cat population by working with the animal welfare foundation to sterilise/neuter or euthanise the animals. As well as cats, it is believed that rats may also play an important role in predation; live traps will be set up at nesting sites in an attempt to confirm this. It is hoped that the long hours and hard work invested in this project will bring interesting and encouraging results for the only species of seabird known to nest on St. Eustatius.

Besides monitoring tropicbirds, the project also aims to confirm the presence of Audubon’s Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri, NL Audubons pijlstormvogel). This is a nocturnal seabird that is thought to nest in the cliffs of the northern hills of St. Eustatius, but its presence has long since been [un]confirmed. In order to determine its presence now, the team will have to go out at night with a playback device and play the call of the bird repeatedly to lure them into answering the recording, since Shearwaters tend to be most active around midnight.

For more information: read the article Conservation Science: Red-billed Tropicbirds on Saba and St. Eustatius.

Saba and St. Eustatius are home to the Caribbean’s largest nesting population of Red-billed Tropicbirds and may host the most significant breeding colonies in the world. After a workshop in 2011, a monitoring programme was launched in which very poor breeding success for several Red-billed Tropicbird colonies on Saba was discovered. In an attempt to find out the cause of the lack of recruitment, it turned out that predation by feral domestic cats (Felis catus) was the reason and to date this remains a major threat to nesting colonies of the Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) on Saba. Cats and rats both pose a potential threat to the survival of Saban tropicbirds: here.

Lord Howe Island stick insect hatching, video


This video is about a Lord Howe Island stick insect hatching.

On Vimeo, they say about it:

In a world first, zookeeper Rohan Cleave captured the amazing hatching process of a critically endangered Lord Howe Island Stick Insect at Melbourne Zoo. The eggs incubate for over 6 months and until now the hatching process has never been witnessed. If you didn’t see it you wouldn’t believe it could fit in that egg!