New Samoan beetle species discovered, already extinct


Holotype specimen of Bryanites graeffii. Image credit: J.K. Liebherr

From Sci News:

Bryanites graeffii: New Beetle Species Described from 150-Year-Old Museum Specimen

Jan 11, 2017 by News Staff

A new species of ground beetle has been identified by Cornell University Professor James Liebherr.

Bryanites graeffii is described from Samoa based on a single male specimen collected between 1862-1870 that was recently discovered in the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris,” Prof. Liebherr said.

“The species epithet honors Dr. Eduard Graeffe, zoologist and naturalist from Zurich, Switzerland who collected the specimen while working in Samoa from 1862-1870. The species epithet is formed from Gräffe converted to Latin iconography, and without the terminal letter,” he explained.

The new species belongs to Bryanites, a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae that was previously known from two species represented by two specimens only, collected in 1924 from Savai’i Island, Samoa, by Edwin H. Bryan, Jr., Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu, during the Bishop Museum’s Whitney South Seas Expedition.

Much like the rest of the species within the genus, Bryanites graeffii showed vestigial flight wings and other traits associated with flight-wing loss.

However, at length of 1.62 cm it is the largest for the taxonomic group it is now assigned to.

Although this may seem way too obvious for taxonomists to overlook, the beetle’s relatives are just as obscure.

“As a result, we now have three species representing an evolutionary radiation in Samoa, all known from single specimens collected long ago,” Prof. Liebherr said.

The phylogenetics of the three Bryanites species link them to other groups from Fiji and New Zealand.

“What is the advantage of knowledge about species that existed some 90-150 years ago, but no longer? It might actually point us to the actual level of impact mankind has on natural ecosystems,” Prof. Liebherr said.

“The cause of the likely extermination of Bryanites graeffi might never be known with certainty, however, the colonization of many Pacific islands by the Polynesian rat has always been followed by the diminution or elimination of native insect species.”

“Thus, we can add another likely victim to the list of species that have been adversely impacted by mankind’s commensal voyagers.”

A detailed description of Bryanites graeffii appears in the Jan. 5 issue of the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

Good rare bird news from Samoa


This video is about tooth-billed pigeons in Samoa.

From BirdLife:

Strange looking bird makes welcome reappearance

By Martin Fowlie, Thu, 23/01/2014 – 09:55

One of the world’s least known (and frankly, strangest looking) birds has been photographed on the Samoan island of Savai’i by researchers.

The sighting of the young Tooth-billed Pigeon Didunculus strigirostris, by a team from the the Samoan Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE), is the first confirmed sighting in almost a decade.

Tooth-billed Pigeon or Manumea, as it is locally known, is endemic to Samoa and is the country’s national bird. BirdLife lists it as Endangered due to its small, fragmented range and population. It has declined rapidly over the last 20 years as a result of hunting and habitat loss. However, the lack of recent records may mean its status needs to be reassessed.

Moeumu Uili, who is leading the team of researchers with funding from the Conservation Leadership Programme, tells the story from the 9th December:

“”One of the team, Fialelei, went outside to hang his wet clothes on the line. He heard a noise that attracted his attention. He looked up the tree and saw a bird sitting up high on one of the tree branches. We got our binoculars and camera and started searching for the hooked bill which is the bird’s distinguishing feature. I started taking as many pictures as I could before the bird flew off. A closer look using binoculars and we knew we had found it, the rare Manumea. Everyone had questioned whether the bird still existed. Now we know it is still alive.””

The next step for the researchers is to survey Samoa’s southern island, Upolu, where some anecdotal reports have been collected. More fieldwork is needed to get the full picture, they say.

“The MNRE has been very concerned for this species. It’s a great relief that, with support for training and funding through CLP they have undertaken these surveys and had such a positive outcome. Now to work out what we can do to save the species”, said Mark O’Brien, BirdLife’s Senior Conservation Officer in the Pacific.

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Beaked whales of Samoa


This video says about itself:

Underwater footage of a unique encounter with a Blainville’s beaked whale in French Polynesia. Marine Mammal Study Group (www.gemmpacific.org)

From the New York Times in the USA:

Where the Beaked Whales Are

By SCOTT BAKER

Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, writes from Samoa, where he studies the formation of local communities among dolphins and their genetic isolation from one another.

Wednesday, Aug. 15

I often think that finding a needle in a haystack would be relatively comfortable work compared with finding dolphins in offshore waters. If the dolphins do not approach the boat to ride the bow, the only sighting cue is the dorsal fin or the occasional leap. Add wind, waves and sun glare to create discomfort as well as tedium. Even when you find the dolphins, it is easy to lose them in the waves and whitecaps. It can be frustrating work, but interrupted with moments of excitement and the occasional discovery.

Today, we surveyed the offshore waters along the northwestern tip of Savai’i hoping to find rough-toothed dolphins. Previous studies in Hawaii and the Society Islands (French Polynesia) have found that this species prefers waters of 3,000 to 6,000 feet in depth. To improve our chances, we planned a series of surveys crossing this depth a few miles offshore of Asau, where we had anchored for the night. Although the morning began with calm seas, the wind and swell increased by late morning and the conditions for sighting the dolphins deteriorated. By early afternoon we had abandoned our survey track and were headed back to shore, feeling a little discouraged.

Then our luck changed. Just as I started down the ladder from the flying bridge to the deck, I thought I saw a blow.

As I called out to the others, the animal surfaced again and I could see it was too large for a dolphin. Before we had time to grab our cameras, the whale leapt fully into the air and dived. It was a beaked whale, one of the most elusive and poorly understood mammal groups. More than 20 species are currently described in the Ziphiidae family, some of which have never been seen alive. Beaked whales are primarily deep-diving species, spending much of their lives at great depths in pursuit of squid, their main prey. I have worked for many years on the molecular identification of beaked whales using DNA extracted from bones in museums, but this was my first encounter with a living beaked whale. It was over in an instant.

I knew that it was unlikely we would see the whale again, given the nearly hourlong dives that are common with these species. I quickly sketched what I saw on the back of our sighting form and showed it to Renee, Nevé and Titi. We all agreed that whale was about 20 feet long and robust in girth. The back of the whale was dark, and appeared brown in color. As it leapt, I thought I saw the characteristic “tusks” of a mature male – actually two teeth that erupt from the lower jaw. Beaked whale species are difficult to identify at sea, but it is likely that this was a Cuvier’s beaked whale, one of the most widely distributed members of this family. A biopsy sample would have allowed us to confirm the species identification, but collecting a sample was not possible in these conditions.

Encouraged by this sighting, we continued our offshore track despite the conditions. Remarkably, over the next hour we found a small but uncooperative pod of rough-toothed dolphins and sighted another beaked whale. This time, we had our cameras ready but got only a glimpse of the whale’s back before it dived. Based on the location and time, we think it unlikely that this was the same individual that we had seen an hour earlier.

Back at anchor in Asau, the winds abated and we enjoyed a few of the pleasures of work in Samoa. First, a swim in the warm lagoon with the glow of sunset for a backdrop. Then the melodies of the local musicians playing in the small resort where we anchored. Finally, the intense black night and bright starlight of the South Pacific.

See also here.

Samoa honeyeater threatened and filmed


From BirdLife:

Videos provide new information on Mao

Tue, Feb 21, 2012

Mao Gymnomyza samoensis is an endemic honeyeater found in Samoa which is classified as Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List because it has a small, fragmented range that is declining as the quality of its forest habitat diminishes. Unless urgent action is taken, these unique birds have a very high risk of going extinct in the near future.

A new research project is seeking to gather ecological information on the factors that have led to the Moa’s current decline. Leading this research, Rebecca Stirnemann tells BirdLife of some recent video footage that provides new information on species.

“The Mao is a curious species and by imitating their calls they come down to investigate us. They are wondering if we are another pair which is invading their territory. In this valley in Samoa in the early morning we can hear a number of Mao making their musical duets. We are here to study the Mao an endangered Honey eater now found only in Samoa.

The Male calls to the female and she trills in response. Then she disappears. We follow her through the forest to a tall tree there in the tall branches is an oval shaped nest. We check it and inside is the single chick monitored constantly by a special nest camera. Footage shows the mother bird is constantly feeding the chick a mix of insects and small geckos.

At another nest a video has captured the sad moment an egg is lost. The black and white footage has been filmed at night while the female sleeps on the nest keeping the egg warm. While she sleeps a rat leaps on to her back and as the mother bird escapes the rat picks up the egg in its mouth and carries it off to eat later. This pair does not manage to raise any chicks this year. This video is the first footage which proves that the adult birds cannot defend the nests from invasive rats and may begin to explain their decline.

We go and monitor a third pair they have been lucky and their single chick has left the nest. This chick will continue to be monitored to recognize her the research team have places two coloured rings on her leg. She follows the mother bird closely making a constant begging call. Unlike most birds which only feed chicks a few days after leaving the nest the mother Mao will continue to feed her chick for 2 more months. During this time the young chick may still be vulnerable to other invasive species such as cats. We can only hope she will make it.

As we stand here it is strange to [realize] these beautiful calls will stop forever if we don’t do something to stop the current decline.”

Pacific ocean tsunami


From the BBC:

Samoa tsunami kills ‘at least 20’

A tsunami caused by a powerful earthquake in the South Pacific has killed at least 20 people and injured 50 in Samoa, local media report.

Dr Lemalu Fiu of the main hospital in the capital, Apia, said the number of casualties is expected to rise as the injured arrive from coastal areas.

An 8.3-magnitude quake struck at 1748 GMT, generating 5.1ft (1.57m) waves in Apia and Pago Pago, American Samoa. …

The PTWC – a branch of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – issued a general alert for the South Pacific region.

Stuart Weinstein, the deputy director of the PTWC, told the BBC that the agency was monitoring the situation, but said the wave was expected to be “much smaller” than the 2004 Asian tsunami which killed about 230,000 people in 11 countries.

Mr Weinstein said Tuesday’s quake had only had 3% of the energy generated by the 2004 quake.

He said he expected the quake to be destructive in the areas closest to the epicentre, but said it “remains to be seen” how far any devastation would spread.

By 2200 GMT, the tsunami warning had been cancelled.

The Samoa islands comprise two separate entities – the nation of Samoa and American Samoa, a US territory – with a total population of about 250,000 people.

Update: A tsunami triggered by a strong quake in the South Pacific has killed at least 65 people in Samoa and more than 20 in American Samoa, say reports: here.

Samoa tsunami: more than 100 feared dead on Pacific islands: here.

Samoa tsunami – live blog: here.

Where did the tsunami hit? Here.

The potential for a huge Pacific Ocean tsunami on the West Coast of North America may be greater than previously thought. The new study of geological evidence along the Gulf of Alaska coast suggests that future tsunamis could reach a scale far beyond that suffered in the tsunami generated by the great 1964 Alaskan earthquake: here.