Squirrels play at being a train

In this 18 June 2018 video, five red squirrels, probably a mother and her four youngsters, play at being a train on a tree.

Jose Uitslag made this video in her garden in the Netherlands.


Philippines worm-eating mice and evolution

This 2011 video says about itself:

In animal news, seven new mammals are discovered in the Philippines. A group of American and Philippine scientists have identified the previously unknown forest mice species, belonging to the genus Apomys, on Luzon Island.

The researchers called for protection of the watershed areas where the mice live, stating that both the animals and humans will gain from a healthy ecosystem.

Our hats off to you, American and Philippine researchers, for your wonderful discovery. May we always safeguard the loving animals who continue to add color and blessings to our planet.

From the Field Museum in the USA:

Worm-eating mice reveal how evolution works on islands

Scientists discover smallest island where mammal species have multiplied

May 16, 2018

Summary: When animals are isolated on islands, they can evolve into strange new species found nowhere else on Earth. But what’s the cut-off — how small can an island be and still support the evolution of multiple new species from a single common ancestor? A family of worm-eating mice [Apomys] from a tiny island in the Philippines have set a new lower limit for island size and evolution.

Australia has a bunch of kangaroo species, Madagascar has multiple species of lemurs, the Galapagos Islands have boulder-sized tortoises — islands get lots of cool animals. That’s because when animals are isolated on islands, they can evolve into strange new species found nowhere else on Earth. But what’s the cut-off — how small can an island be and still support the evolution of multiple new species from a single common ancestor? A team of mammalogists just discovered that four species of mice evolved from one common ancestor on Connecticut-sized Mindoro Island in the Philippines, making it the smallest known island where one kind of mammal has branched out into many more.

“The single most remarkable thing about planet Earth is there are so many species here, so much biodiversity. We take it for granted, but holy cow, there’s a whole lot of stuff out there — how did it get here?” says Lawrence Heaney, Negaunee Curator of Mammals at Chicago’s Field Museum and co-lead author of a recent paper in the Journal of Biogeography. “This is one of the few papers ever written to look at whether there’s a limit to how small an island can be for species diversification to occur, and it’s the only one looking at it in mammals. Mindoro is by far the smallest island on which we’ve seen this happen.”

According to Heaney, this quest to find the smallest island that can support new mammals started with a thought experiment posed in 1980. Michael Soulé, a conservation biologist, wondered if new animal species could diversify in an area the size of the largest of existing national parks. Diversification means that multiple species arise from one parent species. “There are many islands that have species that arrived from somewhere else and that subsequently changed into something distinctive. Many of these islands are much smaller than Mindoro”, explains Heaney. “Rather, the key to this study is whether a single species that arrived from somewhere else has produced multiple species that all evolved within the given island from the single ancestral species. It is the issue of an increase in the number of species within the island, by evolution within the island.”

Previously, the smallest island where scientists knew mammal species had diversified was Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. But Luzon is one of the biggest islands in the world, about the size of Virginia. Heaney and his team wanted to see if they could do one better — “We looked at a map and said, okay, where’s there a smaller island where diversification may have occurred?”

The scientists didn’t have to look far — they turned to Mindoro, a small island just across a channel from Luzon. Mindoro is a tenth the size of Luzon — it’s about two-thirds the size of Connecticut. Heaney’s colleague Danny Balete, now deceased, led the fieldwork missions on Mindoro for four field seasons, searching for the island’s mammals.

This is where the worm-eating mice come in.

“The mice we looked at in this study are all members of the “earthworm mouse” group Apomys — they love earthworms, but they also eat seeds and fruits. They’ve got big dark eyes, great big ears, long soft fur, white feet, dark tails — they’re very pretty little mice”, says Heaney.

When the team analyzed the DNA of Mindoro’s earthworm mice, they found that the mice belonged to four separate species, three of which were new to science. And all four of the species, Heaney says, evolved on Mindoro from a common ancestor.

“The results are unambiguous — we’ve got four species of forest mice on Mindoro from one colonization event from Luzon about 2.8 million years ago,” says Heaney. “And three of those four mouse species are found on their own separate mountains.”

Chris Kyriazis, Heaney’s former undergraduate student and co-first author on the paper, led the DNA analysis from the Field Museum’s Pritzker DNA Lab. “By examining genetic variation across these populations, we were able to confirm not only that these mice originated from a single colonist on Mindoro, but also that they are distinctive enough to be considered different species. The fact that variation in external measurements show the same pattern only strengthens the case”, says Kyriazis, who is now pursuing his PhD in biology at UCLA.

The fact that the four mouse species evolved on this little island means that there’s a new answer to the question posed by Soulé in 1980: mammals can diversify in an area as small as Mindoro. And since Mindoro is the same size as Yellowstone National Park, that means that new mammal species can evolve from one ancestor in areas as small as at least some large wildlife preserves.

The implications of Heaney and Kyriazis’s discovery goes far beyond a thought experiment, though: it gives scientists a valuable tool for planning conservation spaces.

“This study changes how I think about conservation”, says Heaney. “When we think about how to design protected areas, we need to think about the topography of the Earth, not just a flat map. The fact that these mice evolved on their own separate mountains within a limited geographic area tells us that mountains are important.”

And figuring out how to plan protected wildlife spaces is crucial for preserving biodiversity. “As human population continues to expand, what’s going to happen to everything else? How will new species be able to evolve?” asks Heaney. “This project is a step forward in being able to answer that.”

This project was supported by a grant from the National Geographic Society. It was contributed to by scientists from the Field Museum, Florida State University, and the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Beavers clean water, new research

This video from the USA says about itself:

TITLE: Beaver Ponds As Crucial Habitat for a Sensitive Great Basin Amphibian

SPEAKER: Chad Mellison

AUTHORS: Kent Mcadoo and Chad Mellison

SYMPOSIUM: Restoring and Managing the “Emerald Islands” of the Sagebrush Sea: New Science, Sticks and Stones, and the Eager Beaver [held at the Society for Range Management Annual Meeting in Sparks, Nevada on Jan. 30, 2018]

From the University of Exeter in England:

Beavers do ‘dam’ good work cleaning water

May 9, 2018

Beavers could help clean up polluted rivers and stem the loss of valuable soils from farms, new research shows.

The study, undertaken by scientists at the University of Exeter using a captive beaver trial run by the Devon Wildlife Trust, has demonstrated the significant impact the animals have had on reducing the flow of tonnes of soil and nutrients from nearby fields into a local river system.

The research, led by hydrologist Professor Richard Brazier, found that the work of a single family of beavers had removed high levels of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus from the water that flowed through their 2.5 hectare enclosure.

The family of beavers, which have lived in [a] fenced site at a secret location in West Devon since 2011, have built 13 dams, slowing the flow of water and creating a series of deep ponds along the course of what was once a small stream.

Researchers measured the amount of sediment suspended, phosphorus and nitrogen in water running into the site and then compared this to water as it ran out of the site having passed through the beavers’ ponds and dams. They also measured the amount of sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen trapped by the dams in each of the ponds.

Their results showed the dams had trapped more than 100 tonnes of sediment, 70% of which was soil, which had eroded from ‘intensively managed grassland’ fields upstream. Further investigation revealed that this sediment contained high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, which are nutrients known to create problems for the wildlife in rivers and streams and which also need to be removed from human water supplies to meet drinking-quality standards.

The research was funded by Westland Countryside Stewards and the Natural Environment Research Council and conducted by a team from the University of Exeter led by Professor of Earth Surface Processes, Richard Brazier.

Professor Brazier said: “It is of serious concern that we observe such high rates of soil loss from agricultural land, which are well in excess of soil formation rates. However, we are heartened to discover that beaver dams can go a long way to mitigate this soil loss and also trap pollutants which lead to the degradation of our water bodies. Were beaver dams to be commonplace in the landscape we would no doubt see these effects delivering multiple benefits across whole ecosystems, as they do elsewhere around the world.”

The research findings about beavers’ positive impact on soil erosion losses and pollution in water courses come at a time of growing concern about these issues. In 2009 a separate study estimated that the total cost of soil loss from the UK’s agricultural land was £45million, much of which was due to the impacts of sediment and nutrient pollution downstream.

Devon Wildlife Trust has been conducting its enclosed beaver trial for seven years, while since 2015 it has also been running another beaver project involving a population of wild-living beavers on the River Otter, East Devon.

The charity’s Director of Conservation and Development, Peter Burgess said: “Our partnership with Exeter University working on both our fenced and unfenced beaver trials is revealing information which shows the critical role beavers can play, not only for wildlife, but the future sustainability of our land and water. It is truly inspiring to have our observations confirmed by detailed scientific investigations.”

Dutch beavers moved to Britain

This is a 2015 Eurasian beaver video from France.

Translated from Dutch news agency ANP, 24 April 2018:

Three Limburg beaver families are going to move to Great Britain to strengthen genetic diversity there. Partly as a result of that, there is probably no need for beavers to be killed in Limburg for a long period of time. The Waterschap Limburg announced this on Tuesday. …

The move relieves the overpopulation of beavers in Limburg. …

At present there are only beavers in a relatively limited number of places in Great Britain. Beavers occur in Devon in the southwest of England and at the Forest of Dean on the border between England and Wales. There, small groups of beavers have been freed because the animals can reduce flooding with their dams after a downpour.

Swedish forest wildlife

This video is about Swedish forest wildlife. Including chaffinch, red squirrel, great spotted woodpecker and others.