Anaconda, world’s biggest snake


This 24 May 2016 video is about anacondas; world’s biggest snake species.

I had the privilege of seeing an anaconda, resting on a river bank in Suriname. It was a young snake, not as big as the ones in this video.

Bird migration in the Americas, Internet map


This video is about bird migration.

Frpm the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA, about bird migration in the Americas:

Watch a Mesmerizing Migration Map

Watch the wonder and spectacle of bird migration captured on a single map. Using millions of bird observations from participants in eBird and the Great Backyard Bird Count, scientists at the Cornell Lab generated an animated map showing the annual journeys of 118 bird species. Watch how the routes change in spring and fall as birds ride seasonal winds to their international destinations. See the map in motion and read more.

Want to know which species is which? Check out the numbered key.

Fossil seal discovered in South America


Figure 6, from Valenzuela-Toro et al. (2015) shows the relative size of Australophoca changorum (number 12 in the figure) to other assemblages of fossil and living pinnipeds, from other places (based on latitude) and geologic times

This picture shows the relative size of newly discovered fossil seal Australophoca changorum (number 12 in the figure) to other fossil and living pinnipeds (seal relatives), from other places (based on latitude) and geologic times.

From Pyenson Lab:

11/20/2015

by Ana Valenzuela-Toro

Australophoca, a new dwarf fossil seal from South America

Today, my South American colleagues and I announce the publication of a new species of fossil seal from the western coast of South America. The name of the new genus and species, Australophoca changorum, reflects its austral origin from Chile and Peru, and honors the Changos, a coastal tribe of indigenous people who lived in the Atacama (from northern Chile to southern Peru), and were short in stature. The description, published in Papers in Palaeontology, provides a scientific name for a dwarf species of true seal from the late Miocene Bahía Inglesa and Pisco formations of Chile and Peru, respectively. One of the paratype specimens that we identified was originally recovered from Cerro Ballena in the Atacama Region of Chile; the type specimen is USNM 438707.

This tiny fossil seal was smaller than a living harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), and ranks among the smallest true seals ever described, including both living and fossil ones. Interestingly, in the past ~11-3 million years, the western coast of South America seems to have been only occupied by true seals (or phocids), a fact that stands in stark difference to what we know about pinniped communities from other parts of the world, and other time[s] in the geologic record. This unusual feature of the pinniped community in western South America fits into a broader pattern of ecological turnover seen in the fossil record of marine consumers, including pinnipeds and seabirds, throughout the Southern Hemisphere, since the late Miocene.

Pantanal, Brazil wildlife conservation


This video, in Portuguese with English subtitles, says about itself:

WWF–Brazil: Cerrado Pantanal Program

24 June 2015

Home to over 4700 species and a World Natural Heritage, the Pantanal extends over an area of over 170,000 km2 in South America in an area wich includes Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. Meet the Cerrado Pantanal Program, a WWF-Brazil project for the sake of harmony between man and nature!

Saving agami herons


This is an agami heron video from Ecuador.

From BirdLife:

First-ever conservation plan announced for the Agami Heron

By Sanya Khetani-Shah, Wed, 21/10/2015 – 09:30

Agami Herons are a nocturnal and discreet species of birds. While their range includes a large part of Central and South America, since they are so difficult to observe, nothing is known about their diet, breeding, feeding grounds or areas frequented by them during the nonbreeding season. Nor is there much information about the species’ population size. However, a huge colony of 2,000 breeding pairs exists in the Kaw-Roura Marshes in the tropical rainforests of French Guiana, France’s largest overseas département.

One thing we do know: the Agami Heron (Agami agami) is a Vulnerable species according to the IUCN Red List assessment; the population is expected to decline rapidly over the next three generations. The colony in French Guiana represents more than 90% of the world’s known breeding population.

Mining and logging (which cause deforestation), the construction of new roads (especially in densely populated coastal regions), and lack of knowledge on the species and consequently what our conservation priorities need to be are exposing this species and its habitat to degradation. To make matters worse, the pillars of the EU’s nature laws – the Birds and Habitats Directives – do not apply in Member States’ overseas regions.

To right the situation, the French Guianan Groupe d’Etude et de Protection des Oiseaux en Guyane (GEPOG) launched a study on Agami Heron (Agamia agami) conservation from 2011 to 2015, as part of a LIFE programme (the EU’s financial instrument supporting nature conservation). Data was acquired by monitoring eight Agami Herons fitted with satellite transmitters. In September 2015, the first Agami Heron conservation plan, co-written with HeronConservation (the Heron Specialist Group of IUCN) and other contributors from around the world, was published.

The purpose of this plan is to provide a range-wide framework for the conservation and management of Agami Herons and their habitats from limited legal protection, deforestation, urbanisation, rising sea levels due to climate change and other human activities and disturbances.

The plan advocates additional research and monitoring to improve our knowledge of the species, including finding the most important colony for the species in general and for the regional populations as well as the feeding areas associated with them; determining the impact of disturbances as well as mitigation and protection measures of colony sites; better understanding the range and distribution of the species; and better understanding their feeding behaviour, prey and feeding/breeding cycles.

But the plan is not just about getting to know the species better for future protection. It also includes various conservation actions that must begin now. These include: creating an Agami Heron Working Group (AHWG) to coordinate the monitoring of the population at each important colony site ; protect breeding sites, feeding areas and migratory stop-over sites; protecting mangrove forests throughout the species’ range; determining habitat areas containing important numbers of Herons outside the nesting season; and encouraging campaigns to educate people living near known colonies about the species’ importance and protection.

Most importantly, the conservation organisations involved aim to revise this plan every 10 years, so that they can stay updated on the conservation status and needs of the Agami Heron.

Agami Herons’ Full Mating Ritual Photographed for the First Time. A couple’s trek to a hidden lagoon in Costa Rica leads to a cache of new details about a glorious, yet understudied bird: here.

South American woodpeckers, new study


Dryocopus galeatus (left) appears remarkably similar to Dryocopus lineatus erythrops (center) and Campephilus robustus (right), but it's only a distant relative. Credit K. Zimmer and R.J. Moller

From the Central Ornithology Publication Office:

11 August 2015

Deceptive woodpecker uses mimicry to avoid competition

Birds of a feather may flock together, but that doesn’t mean they share a genetic background. Though birds were first classified into groups primarily based on appearance, research forthcoming in The Auk: Ornithological Advances by Brett Benz of the American Museum of Natural History, Mark Robbins of the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, and Kevin Zimmer of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History demonstrates that this method isn’t necessarily accurate: in a group of very similar-looking South American woodpecker species, genetic analysis has now shown one to be only a distant cousin of the others, in an intriguing case of visual mimicry. By copying the appearance of larger, socially dominant woodpecker species, it reduces the aggression and competitive interference that it receives from them and has more access to food resources as a result.

The most familiar type of mimicry typically involves warning or “aposematic” coloration, in which a harmless species apes the color patterns of a dangerous or unappealing one to avoid predators; a famous instance is the Viceroy butterfly, which shares the striking colors of the more noxious Monarch. By contrast, the Helmeted Woodpecker (Dryocopus galeatus) represents an example of a different and less well understood form of mimicry, known as interspecific social dominance mimicry or ISDM.

The shy and little-known species shares the red crest, black back, and barred underside of two larger woodpeckers Dryocopus lineatus and Campephilus robustus, all of which occupy the same habitat and share similar food preferences. The Helmeted Woodpecker’s similarity in appearance makes the larger, more dominant woodpecker species less likely to attack it, due to the costs of aggression between members of the same species. Though they had been previously classified in Dryocopus due to the remarkable similarities in their appearance, genetic analysis by Benz and his colleagues suggests that the Helmeted Woodpecker is actually not closely related to other Dryocopus woodpeckers at all and belongs in a different genus, Celeus. An independent group of researchers using the same data recently reported similar results in a paper published in the Journal of Ornithology.

“Co-author Mark Robbins and I had just finished a phylogenetic study examining species limits and vocalizations in Celeus woodpeckers when Mark, who was attending a meeting in Brazil, had the opportunity to observe a Helmeted Woodpecker at Intervales State Park,” according to Benz. “Upon hearing the bird vocalize, Mark was stunned that its call sounded nothing like Neotropical Dryocopus, and immediately knew we needed to examine its taxonomic status in the context of our recent Celeus study given that the Helmeted Woodpecker calls were most similar to several other Celeus species. Upon returning from Brazil, Mark consulted with co-author Kevin Zimmer, who had independently arrived at the same conclusions about the Helmeted Woodpecker belonging with Celeus, based on his behavioral observations spanning 20 years of fieldwork in Brazil.” As Benz puts it, “The Helmeted Woodpecker is basically a typical Celeus in Dryocopus clothing.”

“After several decades working on the discovery of the avian Tree of Life, it is still amazing what we are discovering! Reconstructing the phylogeny of these woodpeckers has corrected a century-old classification mistake, but more interestingly, it has revealed an unexpected new example of avian mimicry,” adds Richard Prum of Yale University, one of the originators of the ISDM hypothesis. “It has only recently been appreciated that small species may benefit from deceptively mimicking larger species to protect themselves from aggressive attack. This is similar to how a 12-year-old kid walking home from school will look and act tough to try to prevent himself from being harassed by older, bigger kids.”

Relatively little is known about the ecology and natural history of the Helmeted Woodpecker, which is found in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, but it has experienced dramatic population declines and vanished from much of its former range due to deforestation. Hopefully, this new discovery about its evolutionary relationships and visual deception may increase interest in the species, as it provides an opportunity for scientists to further test predictions associated with ISDM. Ultimately, bringing the Helmeted Woodpecker’s sneaky strategy into the light may be what saves it from oblivion.

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“Phylogenetic relationships of the Helmeted Woodpecker (Dryocopus galeatus): A case of interspecific mimicry?” will be published on September 30, 2015, and will be available here</a; a pre-print version is available here.

About the journal: The Auk: Ornithological Advances is a peer-reviewed, international journal of ornithology that began in 1884 as the official publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union. In 2009, The Auk was honored as one of the 100 most influential journals of biology and medicine over the past 100 years.