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« Reply #5595 on: Jan 11, 2019, 05:18 AM »

Humans to blame for thousands of penguins stranded on South American coast, scientists say

Loss of females from breeding grounds could threaten species' future

Tim Wyatt

Thousands of female penguins are being stranded along the coast of South America because of water pollution and fishing, research shows.

A new study of Megellanic penguins, which breed in Patagonia in southern Argentina, explains for the first time why so many become stuck on beaches hundreds of miles further north.

Researchers found the man-made threats encountered as the birds moved north during the winter increased significantly.

Takashi Yamamoto, a scientist from the Institute of Statistical Mathematics in Tokyo, was part of the team which published the findings.

“Human-caused threats have been considered to threaten wintering Magellanic penguins along the coasts of northern Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil,” he said.   

“These include water pollution caused by oil development and marine transport, as well as fishery-associated hazards, such as by-catch and depletion of prey species.”

Magellanic penguins are named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who first identified the species in 1520.

It is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “near threatened”, which means although it is not currently endangered it is at risk of becoming so in the near future.

The new research was published in the scientific journal Current Biology.

It had long been noticed the penguins stranded on beaches hundreds of miles from home tended to be female, but it was not known why.

Dr Yamamoto and his colleagues attached geo-locators to eight male and six female Magellanic penguins and found they split up during the winter after breeding around the southern tip of South America.

The female birds the scientists were tracking travelled further north than males and also did not dive as deep.

This is believed to be because competition for food resources is forcing the females to go further afield – males are larger and heavier and so may be grabbing the best feeding grounds nearer home.

But as the females moved up the coast towards more heavily populated parts of South America, they become exposed to more and more human activity.

Water pollution, shipping, and increased fishing by humans which the penguins like to eat are among the threats which can leave them stranded and struggling to return to their breeding grounds when the winter is over.

Dr Yamamoto said the loss of females could in time threaten the viability of the entire species, as there would be fewer and fewer breeding pairs able to produce the next generation of penguins.

Researchers needed to understand how exactly Magellanic penguins move around in between the breeding seasons in order to put in place a conservation programme, he added.

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« Reply #5596 on: Jan 11, 2019, 05:22 AM »

These Whales Are Serenaders of the Seas. It’s Quite a Racket

Why do whales sing? Scientists still aren’t certain, and maybe the whales aren’t, either.
A juvenile male humpback whale in waters off Sri Lanka. The males may be singing certain tunes to attract mates, although scientists listening to the songs suspect there may also be other reasons for the music shared among these giants, even when they are miles and miles apart.

By Karen Weintraub
Jan.11, 2019

Sometimes a whale just wants to change its tune.

That’s one of the things researchers have learned recently by eavesdropping on whales in several parts of the world and listening for changes in their pattern and pitch. Together, the new studies suggest that whales are not just whistling in the water, but constantly evolving a form of communication that we are only beginning to understand.

Most whales and dolphins vocalize, but dolphins and toothed whales mostly make clicking and whistling sounds. Humpbacks, and possibly bowheads, sing complex songs with repeated patterns, said Michael Noad, an associate professor in the Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Birds may broadcast their social hierarchy among song-sharing populations by allowing the dominant bird to pick the playlist and patterns. But how and why whales pass song fragments across hundreds of miles, and to thousands of animals, is far more mysterious.

The biggest question is why whales sing at all.

“The thing that always gets me out of bed in the morning is the function of the song,” Dr. Noad said. “I find humpback song fascinating from the point of view of how it’s evolved.”

The leading hypothesis is that male humpbacks — only the males sing — are trying to attract females. But they may also switch tunes when another male is nearby, apparently to assess a rival’s size and fitness, said Dr. Noad, who was the senior author of one of four new papers on whale songs.

Why the humpbacks’ musical patterns tend to be more complex than those of other whales is also a bit murky. Dr. Noad suggested that the development may be the result of so-called “runaway selection.”

Early humpbacks with complex songs were so much more successful at mating that they gained a substantial evolutionary advantage over their brethren with simpler vocalizations. This led to some very large, sometimes very noisy animals.

Julien Bonnel, an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said the growing research also shows the importance of collecting data over many years, offering insights not only into whales but ocean conditions that affect other species.
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The technology for recording whales has gotten much cheaper over the last dozen years or so, making it more accessible to researchers. And computer programs that analyze huge data sets quickly have helped interpret years of these recordings.

Tagging whales without hurting them has produced more data, Dr. Noad noted, but the tags only remain on the whale for a few hours, limiting the information that can be collected.

In one of the new studies, led by scientists at the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, researchers tracked humpbacks singing along the east and west coasts of Africa, comparing songs sung by those off the coast of Gabon to those near Madagascar.

The study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, confirmed that the two populations interact, noting overlap in their vocalizations. The researchers recorded songs annually from 2001 to 2005 using hand-held hydrophones aboard boats.

“Male humpback whales within a population tend to sing the same song type, but it’s continuously changing and evolving over time,” said Melinda Rekdahl, the study’s first author and a marine conservation scientist with the wildlife society. “It’s thought to be one of the best examples of cultural evolution in the animal kingdom.”

Dr. Rekdahl wasn’t on the boat that collected the sound for her new study, but she knows firsthand that “it can be an amazing experience,” she said.

The sound of a nearby singer resonates through the hull of the boat. “If the singer is that close, you can hear the song getting fainter just before the whale surfaces nearby,” she recalled.

“If the singers aren’t that close,” she added, “you can often sit there for hours recording and hearing the song through your headphones but not see a whale anywhere.”

Dr. Rekdahl based her new study on data collected between 2001 and 2005, because she thought those recordings offered the best opportunity to compare song similarities between neighboring populations.

The idea of using songs to look at population mixing and connectivity is relatively new, she said, and has only been proven valuable in the last few years.

Some animals repeat sounds more than others, some sing “aberrant” tunes, and juveniles may hum jingles altogether different from the adults’. Humpbacks also alter their tunes over time.

One reason might be novelty — for themselves or nearby females. “If I was swimming up with 15,000 whales and all the males were singing the same song, it would drive me crazy,” Dr. Rekdahl said. Maybe the “females are just, like, give me a new song!”

Two additional recent studies examined how the songs change, seasonally and across years.

In one paper, Jenny Allen, who was a doctoral student with Dr. Noad, found an unexpected pattern among humpbacks. Once their songs reach a certain level of complexity, humpbacks drop that tune entirely and pick up a new, simpler one. Her study, the first to quantify the complexity of the songs, was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

“That clear oscillating pattern was something we didn’t really expect,” said Dr. Allen, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Queensland and a lecturer at Griffith University in Australia.

Assuming that the songs are meant to attract females, “it might be that a brand-new song is a bit sexier than continuing to sing the complicated version of the old song,” she said. But because it’s hard to memorize a whole new song, “they’re simplifying it to make it easy to learn so much new material all at once.”

Humpback songs have a lot of repeating patterns, which might make them easier to remember, just as rhymes at the end of poetry lines aid memorization, Dr. Allen said. She also found a lot of predictability in the patterns, and compared them to pop songs based on the same four chords.

In another new paper, researchers at the University of Brest in France found that the pitch of Antarctic blue whale, pygmy blue whale and fin whale vocalizations fell from 2007 to 2016 at various recording sites in the southern Indian Ocean.

Because of a whale’s anatomy, a louder call is higher in pitch and a quieter one is lower. Essentially, the whales have gotten slightly quieter, said Emmanuelle Leroy, now a research fellow at the University of New South Wales and an author of the new research.

“Blue whales are mostly solitary, so to communicate across large distance, they need to produce really low-frequency and high-intensity calls,” she said. “The calls are really loud and will propagate over a few hundreds of kilometers.”

Her team has two hypotheses to explain the drop in pitch across years. With the populations rebounding since the end of commercial whaling, perhaps the whales don’t need their calls to carry as far to be heard by others.

Or perhaps with oceans acidifying because of climate change, the calls are naturally carrying farther, allowing the whales to reduce their volume. The team does not believe the change in pitch is tied directly to human activity.

Their research, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, also showed that the call pitch of the Antarctic blue whales varies across seasons, with pitches increasing by .1 hertz during the spring and summer and dropping at other times.

That might be the whales’ response to the loud cleaving of icebergs in the spring and summer. These extremely loud sounds — like the cracking of ice in a glass — make it harder for the whales to hear one another, so they crank up the volume, Dr. Leroy said.

Dr. Noad thinks the overall drop in pitch could be a reflection of the aging of the population, with older whales making deeper sounds.

(Contrary to other scientists, he also believes that whales can hear human-made noises from quite a distance, in the same way that people in urban environments can hear the distant rumble of traffic even if there are no cars passing directly by.)

Humpback whales have made a “really nice comeback” since commercial whaling was largely stopped in the 1960s, Dr. Noad said. But for unknown reasons, blue and fin whales are still struggling; just a few thousand Antarctic blue whales remain.

In yet another new study related to whale song, researchers at Woods Hole found that short-finned pilot whales living off the coast of Hawaii have their own vocal dialects, suggesting that different groups are purposely avoiding one another.

Relatively little is known about this species’ behavior. The new research provides a better sense of the social ties between whale groups, which could promote understanding of their genetic diversity and evolution, as well as conservation, the researchers said.

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« Reply #5597 on: Jan 11, 2019, 05:23 AM »

Planned wild boar cull in Poland angers conservationists

Mikołaj Golachowski describes plan as ‘evil’ and warns of environmental consequences

Shaun Walker Central and eastern Europe correspondent
Fri 11 Jan 2019 07.00 GMT

Conservationists have branded plans by the Polish government to cull almost the entire wild boar population of the country as “pointless, counterproductive and evil”.

In a move to tackle an epidemic of African swine fever, the Polish government has ordered a series of hunts, beginning this weekend, with the aim of killing the vast majority of the country’s population of around 200,000 wild boar.

Last year, the country’s veterinary officials approved a plan to kill 185,000 wild boars this season, and the country’s PZL hunting union said it had already killed 168,000 since last April. The government has recently decided to speed up the process by calling all licensed hunters to go out seeking wild boars, including pregnant females, over weekends this month.

Opponents of the cull said it is not only cruel but pointless, or possibly even counterproductive.

“The massacre of wild boar in large-scale hunts will not stop [African swine fever], it will only help the spread of the virus to western Poland,” said an appeal by environmental organisations to the government to abandon the plan.

Mikołaj Golachowski, a biologist and conservationist who has been outspoken about the government’s plans, agreed that the cull was merely likely to disperse the animals rather than eradicate them entirely, risking spreading the disease further afield.

Golachowski said killing the animals would also cause enormous damage to the country’s ecosystem. When wild boars forage, they aerate the soil allowing seeds to germinate and also feed on rodents and insect larvae, meaning their absence could lead to an increase in these populations.

“They are a very important part of the ecosystem, and there is also the ethical question of slaughtering innocent animals for something that is not going to achieve any purpose. In every aspect it’s a terrible idea, and it’s also evil,” he said.

Poland is a leading exporter of pork products, and African swine fever can prove deadly to pigs and wild boar, though it does not infect humans. It can also be spread by insects and can survive for several months in carcasses and processed meat. There are no known antidotes or vaccines. However, critics said proper biosecurity measures involving special sterilised clothing and mats at farms would be a more effective way to avoid the spread of the disease than mass slaughter.

“It’s a political problem. Biosecurity is the only answer but it’s hard and costly. The government, being such a populist one, wants to fight for the votes of farmers,” he said.

Environmental groups, keen to show the government that there are other voters who strongly oppose the plans, have organised a series of street demonstrations and online protests against the cull.

Several thousand Poles have changed their Facebook profile picture to one of a wild boar, while an online petition to the government asking it to abandon the slaughter has received more than 300,000 signatures.

On Wednesday evening, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Warsaw, some dressed as wild boar, holding signs that included “wild boar massacre” and “long live wild boars”.

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« Reply #5598 on: Jan 12, 2019, 06:02 AM »

The week in wildlife – in pictures

Eric Hilaire
Fri 11 Jan 2019 15.02 GMT

Click to see all: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2019/jan/11/the-week-in-wildlife-in-pictures

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« Reply #5599 on: Jan 14, 2019, 05:14 AM »

WATCH: Poachers Ambush Sea Shepherd Vessel Protecting Nearly Extinct Vaquita


The environmental organization Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says its crew was attacked Wednesday by roughly 35 fishing boats inside a vaquita refuge in Mexico's Gulf of California.

Sea Shepherd released a video showing fishermen shouting, hurling objects and trying to foul the propellors of the M/V Farley Mowat, a Sea Shepherd vessel used in campaigns against illegal fisheries activities.


The vaquita is the world's most endangered marine mammal, with only about a dozen left in their habitat in the Sea of Cortez, according to experts. The porpoises are not directly hunted but get entangled and drown in illegal gillnets set for capturing totoaba, a large and critically endangered fish that's prized for its swim bladder as a Chinese delicacy.

The fishermen were participating in "obvious illegal poaching" of totoaba, according to a Sea Shepherd press release sent to EcoWatch. The video shows some of the skiffs carrying gillnets, even though they are banned within the vaquita reserve.

Sea Shepherd said:

    The poachers attacked by hurling leadweights, anchors, trash, dead fish and even Tabasco sauce at the vessel and its wheelhouse windows in addition to threatening ship's crew with Molotov cocktails, spraying gasoline at the ship and pouring gas in the sea around the vessel.

The video also shows the crew on the Farley Mowat using a hose to repel some of the boats.

Sea Shepherd said that while its vessel was temporarily immobilized after the propeller fouling, five fishermen boarded the ship and looted multiple objects from the deck.

"During the illegal boarding, the Sea Shepherd crew was able to keep the poachers from entering into the ship, and used an emergency firehose to repel the boarders, while waiting for naval forces to arrive," the press release said. "At this time a Mexican Naval Helicopter made several passes above the scene and the skiffs began to disperse."

The vessel's captain was eventually able restart the engines and headed to the port of San Felipe where the ship was met by the regional Navy Commander and reinforcements, according to Sea Shepherd.

Sea Shepherd conducts maritime patrols inside the vaquita refuge and had recovered three illegal gillnets in the morning before the attack. The group's operations are conducted with the knowledge and cooperation of the Mexican government to help detect illegal fishing activities, the Associated Press noted.

Captain Paul Watson, founder and CEO of Sea Shepherd, said his organization "will not be deterred by violence."

"Our mission is to prevent the extinction of the vaquita porpoise and we will continue to seize the nets of poachers in the Vaquita Refuge," he said in the press release. "Sea Shepherd salutes the quick responsiveness of the Mexican Navy in defusing a dangerous situation."

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« Reply #5600 on: Jan 14, 2019, 05:16 AM »

'Raining spiders': airborne arachnids appear over south-east Brazil

Soaring temperatures bring tales of eight-legged invaders as huge numbers of communal species spin invisible webs in the sky

Anna Jean Kaiser in São Paulo
14 Jan 2019 16.11 GMT

Summer in south-east Brazil has brought soaring temperatures and some disconcerting eight-legged visitors.

Residents in a rural area of southern Minas Gerais state have reported skies “raining spiders”, a phenomenon which experts say is typical in the region during hot, humid weather.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKV34U2vEk8

Photos and videos shared on social media show hundreds of spiders hanging in the sky.

João Pedro Martinelli Fonseca, who filmed one of the most widely shared clips, was traveling with his family to his grandparents’ farm in Espírito Santo do Dourado, about 250km north-east of São Paulo, when he realized the sky was covered with black dots.

He told a local newspaper that he was “stunned and scared” – especially when one of the spiders fell through the open window.

The boy’s grandmother, Jercina Martinelli, told another local paper: “There were many more webs and spiders than you can see in the video. We’ve seen this before, always at dusk on days when it’s been really hot.”

In 2013, the same phenomenon made international headlines when residents of Santo Antônio da Platina in southern Brazil registered “raining spiders” around telephone polls.

While it looks like the spiders are falling from the sky, they are actually hanging in a giant web to catch prey, said Adalberto dos Santos, a biology professor specializing in arachnology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.

The species parawixia bistriata, is a rare “social” spider and the community web they build is so fine that it is nearly impossible for the human eye to see, giving the illusion that the spiders are floating on air.

During the day, the spiders nest in a giant ball in the vegetation, emerging in the early evening to construct the giant web ceiling which hangs between trees and bushes, said Dos Santos. Each web can measure up to four meters wide and three meters thick.

At dawn, they feast on prey they have caught overnight – usually small insects, but sometimes even small birds – before retreating to the vegetation again.

Witnessing a sky full of spiders may be unnerving, but Dos Santos said humans have nothing to fear: the venom of this species is not harmful to humans and its bite causes little more discomfort than a red ant bite.

Dos Santos said that the spiders’ vast net serves to regulate insects like flies and mosquitoes that come out during the muggy early evenings.

“They benefit us far more than they harm us,” he said.

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« Reply #5601 on: Jan 14, 2019, 05:19 AM »

On a wing and a player: hopes webcam can save endangered albatross

Footage of tiny colony of birds on the southern tip of New Zealand captivates millions around the globe

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
14 Jan 2019 01.00 GMT

Millions of amateur naturalists around the world have been tuning in to the secret lives of albatrosses as New Zealand rangers employ YouTube in a bid to save the mysterious giant sea birds.

New Zealand conservation teams set up a 24-hour live-stream of an albatross nest at Taiaroa Head on the Otago peninsula in 2016. Three years on, the feed has become an unexpected global hit, with 2.3 million people from 190 countries tuning in to watch the endangered birds rear their chicks on a frigid peninsula at the bottom of the world.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrLbmoLEMBg

“Someone somewhere in the world is watching 24 hours a day,” says department of conservation (DoC) ranger Jim Watts.

“People watch it in hospitals, in nursing homes. There’s a real intimacy to watching the chicks grow – people fall in love and become invested.”

The northern royal albatross – or toroa in the Maori language te reo – is endemic to New Zealand and is under threat from climate change, fly-strike disease and heat stress. The birds have been described as “casualties on the frontline” of the war against plastic, as they mainly feed by swooping down on squid in the ocean – and often mistake brightly coloured plastic for prey.

The estimated total population of northern royal albatross is 17,000, and with intensive intervention the Taiaroa Head population has doubled since 1990. But that protected colony represents only 1% of the total population, and their small New Zealand home has become “crucial” to conservation efforts as they are the only managed and quantifiable settlement of the rare and endangered birds in the world.

The other 99% of toroa live on remote sub-antarctic Chatham Islands and have never been accurately counted or managed, though survey drone flights are planned in the near future.

Watts says the 24/7 coverage from the camera has provided valuable insights into the lives of the elusive birds, and has the capacity to ensure more vulnerable chicks reach adulthood.

Royalcam, as it is known, has captured the birds arriving at their nests in the night – which the rangers previously didn’t know they did – and also recorded dramatic scenes including the chicks first flight and predators such as cats and stoats infiltrating the protected peninsula to kill the nest-bound young.

In early 2018 a mother albatross attacked her chick in an unusual and gruesome episode. The death was livestreamed around the world and viewers frantically called the department office in Dunedin, begging the rangers to intervene. The rangers were off duty and unable to help, but said if a similar incident occurred again they would react immediately.

There is hope that 2019 will hold better news for the colony. More than 50 eggs have been laid this year in a record breeding season, and rangers are gearing up for the “intense” period after the eggs hatch in January.

After the hatchings, the rangers will choose the annual “star” of Royalcam, taking into account the parents personality, the chick’s personality, and which family can handle the extra attention. Then the public get to vote on a name for the chick.

More than 100,000 comments have been posted in the community Royalcam discussion group, including from a primary school class in the town of Napier who watch the live stream before their lessons every morning.

“We watch the baby chick albatross every day,” said their teacher.

“We just simply love it.”

Watts said viewers’ investment in the birds’ lives had financial and conservation pay-offs, and donations to the royal albatross centre had increased since the cam went live, allowing rangers to fund a sprinkler system for the coming season to keep the birds and chicks cool and healthy.

‘When we do go home you are constantly with the birds in your mind,” says Watts.

And like millions of viewers, Watts says during breeding season “you never really clock off, you never really leave them.”

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« Reply #5602 on: Jan 14, 2019, 06:06 AM »

George the Snail, Believed to Be the Last of His Species, Dies at 14 in Hawaii

This snail, named George, died on Jan. 1. Scientists believe he was the last of his species, which was native to the Hawaiian island of Oahu.CreditHawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

By Julia Jacobs
NY Times
Jan. 14, 2019

It is said that artists are never fully appreciated until they die. The same goes for snails, apparently.

For roughly a decade, the land snail species Achatinella apexfulva, which used to be plentiful on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, was believed to be down to a single survivor. His name was George, and he lived his last days alone in a terrarium in Kailua, Hawaii, alongside an ample supply of fungi (a food his ancestors liked to scrape off leaves in the wild).

But on Jan. 1, George died, according to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. He lived to about age 14 — a good, long life for a snail of his kind, experts say. His death was symbolic of a steep decline in the population of land snails, once a fantastically diverse group of mollusks in Hawaii, as well as the rapid extinction of species around the world.

Scientists estimate that dozens of species go extinct each day, but few receive this kind of news media attention on their way out. Naming George probably boosted his standing, said Michael G. Hadfield, who founded a program meant to protect snail populations in Hawaii.

“You anthropomorphize it and people pay attention,” Dr. Hadfield said.

The snail’s caretakers named him George after the only survivor of the Pinta Island tortoises of the Galápagos. George the tortoise, known as Lonesome George, died in 2012.

George the snail was born in the early 2000s to parents that had been captured in the mountains in an effort to protect them from predators.

At first, George had about 20 contemporaries, but they all died relatively suddenly, said David R. Sischo, who now directs the state-run Snail Extinction Prevention Program. Staff members at the program suspected that the snails died because of a pathogen, Dr. Sischo said, but George somehow survived.

“Against all odds, he still persisted,” he said.

Although George’s death was not unexpected, the team at the laboratory in Kailua felt the loss.

“He’s been a constant for a really long time,” Dr. Sischo said. “If anything good comes out of this extinction, it will be the recognition that we have a lot to lose, and we don’t have a lot of time.”

At one point, there were more than 750 species of land snails identified on the Hawaiian Islands. George’s species was the first to be described in Western scientific literature: When the British explorer Captain George Dixon visited Oahu in the 1780s, he was given a lei made with some of the snails’ shells, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

But estimates suggest that more than half of those species are already extinct, Dr. Sischo said.

The land snails have been affected most by invasive predators like rats and the rosy wolfsnail, which eats other snails. They have also faced habitat destruction and the effects of climate change; drier conditions have reduced the inhabitable land on the islands, Dr. Sischo said.

Documents from the 19th century described land snails as hanging off plants like clusters of grapes, said Dr. Hadfield, who is now a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Hawaii. In the 1980s, Dr. Hadfield more often saw them lying dead on the ground.

After the plight of the land snails gained some attention, the entire Achatinella genus was listed as endangered in 1981. Dr. Hadfield said the genus might have gotten preferential treatment because its snails are often the most striking to behold.

“There are bright gold ones, there are pure white ones, there are unearthly greens,” he said. “Most of us feel that these snails, outside of where they’re being protected, probably won’t last much longer.”

George himself was a thumbnail-size whorl of dark brown and tan. He looked like a swirled scoop of mocha fudge.

Although his caretakers use “he” to describe George, the snail is actually a hermaphrodite. And unfortunately for his species, Dr. Sischo says, he could not produce offspring without a mate.

Right now, George’s body is submerged in a container of alcohol, and his shell is destined for a local museum. But there is a strange sliver of hope for his future.

In 2017, researchers removed a two-millimeter piece of his foot to preserve in a deep-freeze container, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The hope was that someday soon, scientists will develop the technology to clone a snail.

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« Reply #5603 on: Jan 15, 2019, 05:24 AM »

New Orca Calf Born to Ailing Southern Resident Orcas


Is there hope for the critically endangered orcas that travel the waters between Seattle and BC, Canada? The southern resident killer whales have added a new member to their shrinking numbers: a baby that Center for Whale Research (CWR) Founding Director Ken Balcomb has named Lucky.

Balcomb confirmed the calf's birth with to The Seattle Times Friday, saying that the baby was healthy.

"It's great news," Balcomb said.

The birth comes at a critical time for the southern resident killer whales. Between June and September of 2018, the population lost three whales, bringing its numbers down to 74. Lucky's birth has bumped that number up to 75, but the new calf's survival is not certain. The last baby to be born to the southern resident orcas lived only half an hour. Its mother, Tahlequah, carried the body for a heartbreaking 17 days this summer, bringing international attention to the whales' plight. The population has not given birth to a surviving calf for three years.

"Approximately 40 percent of newborn calves do not survive their first few years, but we hope that this one makes it to maturity, especially if it is female," CWR wrote in a press release announcing the birth.

The new baby was first spotted in a video shot Thursday by Seattle's King 5 News near Washington's Vachon Island, CBC News reported. It was seen beside the whale L77, who had been pregnant.

CWR told the story of how they confirmed the birth:

    On January 10, 2019, TV stations in Seattle aired live aerial footage of several groups of killer whales in Puget Sound near Seattle, and discerning viewers were able to see a very small whale among them. CWR researcher, Melisa Pinnow, was able to see that L pod individuals were in one of the groups with a new baby. It was associated with a female, L77. The whales were still in Puget Sound by nightfall. At 5:45 am this morning they were heard on the CWR sponsored hydrophone at Bush Point in Admiralty Inlet. We dispatched a research team from San Juan Island, and they encountered the whales exiting Admiralty Inlet at 9:50 am with their new baby!

L77 is the 31-year old mother of two other calves. Her first, born in 2010, died the same year. Her second, a female, is still alive and known as L119. The new baby is officially dubbed L124, CWR said.

"The calf appeared to be about 3 weeks old and was bouncing around between L25, L41, L77 L85, and L119," CWR reported in a summary of its "encounter" with the whales Friday.

Southern resident killer whales are struggling due to a decline in their primary food source: Chinook salmon. Scientists said this month that they expected two more whales to die of starvation in 2019, CBC News reported.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a massive push to save the whales in December, including earmarking more than $300 million for salmon recovery, culvert removal and water quality and supply improvement projects.

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« Reply #5604 on: Jan 15, 2019, 05:26 AM »

Insect collapse: ‘We are destroying our life support systems’

Scientist Brad Lister returned to Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years to find 98% of ground insects had vanished

Damian Carrington Environment editor
Tue 15 Jan 2019 06.00 GMT

“We knew that something was amiss in the first couple days,” said Brad Lister. “We were driving into the forest and at the same time both Andres and I said: ‘Where are all the birds?’ There was nothing.”

His return to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years was to reveal an appalling discovery. The insect population that once provided plentiful food for birds throughout the mountainous national park had collapsed. On the ground, 98% had gone. Up in the leafy canopy, 80% had vanished. The most likely culprit by far is global warming.

“It was just astonishing,” Lister said. “Before, both the sticky ground plates and canopy plates would be covered with insects. You’d be there for hours picking them off the plates at night. But now the plates would come down after 12 hours in the tropical forest with a couple of lonely insects trapped or none at all.”

“It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest,” he said. “We began to realise this is terrible – a very, very disturbing result.”

Earth’s bugs outweigh humans 17 times over and are such a fundamental foundation of the food chain that scientists say a crash in insect numbers risks “ecological Armageddon”. When Lister’s study was published in October, one expert called the findings “hyper-alarming”.

The Puerto Rico work is one of just a handful of studies assessing this vital issue, but those that do exist are deeply worrying. Flying insect numbers in Germany’s natural reserves have plunged 75% in just 25 years. The virtual disappearance of birds in an Australian eucalyptus forest was blamed on a lack of insects caused by drought and heat. Lister and his colleague Andrés García also found that insect numbers in a dry forest in Mexico had fallen 80% since the 1980s.

“We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet, along with all the other life on the planet,” Lister said. “It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.”

It was not insects that drew Lister to the Luquillo rainforest for the first time in the mid-1970s. “I was interested in competition among the anoles lizards,” he said. “They’re the most diverse group of vertebrates in the world and even by that time had become a paradigm for ecology and evolutionary studies.”

The forest immediately captivated Lister, a lecturer at Rensselaer Polytechnic University in the US. “It was and still is the most beautiful forest I have ever been in. It’s almost enchanted. There’s the lush verdant forest and cascading waterfalls, and along the roadsides there are carpets of multicoloured flowers. It’s a phantasmagoric landscape.”

It was important to measure insect numbers, as these are the lizards’ main food, but at the time he thought nothing more of it. Returning to the national park decades later, however, the difference was startling.

“One of the things I noticed in the forest was a lack of butterflies,” he said. “They used to be all along the roadside, especially after the rain stopped, hundreds upon hundreds of them. But we couldn’t see one butterfly.”

Since Lister’s first visits to Luquillo, other scientists had predicted that tropical insects, having evolved in a very stable climate, would be much more sensitive to climate warming. “If you go a little bit past the thermal optimum for tropical insects, their fitness just plummets,” he said.

As the data came in, the predictions were confirmed in startling fashion. “The number of hot spells, temperatures above 29C, have increased tremendously,” he said. “It went from zero in the 1970s up to something like 44% of the days.” Factors important elsewhere in the world, such as destruction of habitat and pesticide use, could not explain the plummeting insect populations in Luquillo, which has long been a protected area.

Data on other animals that feed on bugs backed up the findings. “The frogs and birds had also declined simultaneously by about 50% to 65%,” Lister said. The population of one dazzling green bird that eats almost nothing but insects, the Puerto Rican tody, dropped by 90%.

Lister calls these impacts a “bottom-up trophic cascade”, in which the knock-on effects of the insect collapse surge up through the food chain.

“I don’t think most people have a systems view of the natural world,” he said. “But it’s all connected and when the invertebrates are declining the entire food web is going to suffer and degrade. It is a system-wide effect.”

To understand the global scale of an insect collapse that has so far only been glimpsed, Lister says, there is an urgent need for much more research in many more habitats. “More data, that is my mantra,” he said.

The problem is that there were very few studies of insect numbers in past decades to serve as a baseline, but Lister is undeterred: “There’s no time like the present to start asking what’s going on.”

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« Reply #5605 on: Jan 15, 2019, 05:28 AM »

City bees: allotments and gardens can help arrest decline – study

Research also identifies pollinators’ favourite flowers, including brambles, buttercups, dandelions, lavender and borage

Damian Carrington Environment editor
15 Jan 2019 16.00 GMT

Allotments, weedy corners and fancy gardens are all urban havens for bees and other pollinators, a study has found.

The widespread decline of bees resulting from the loss of wild areas and pesticide use has caused great concern in recent years, but towns and cities have been suggested as potential sanctuaries.

The first research to examine all types of land use in cities has identified pollinators’ favourite places and flowers, many of which are often considered weeds. A team of more than 50 people spent two years examining pollinators and plants in Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading.

The results enabled them to work out the best ways to support a rich mix of pollinator species that will be resilient to climate change and other challenges. The best strategy is increasing the number of allotments, the report says. Planting preferred flowers in gardens also helps, as does mowing grass in public parks less frequently, allowing flowers to bloom.

Allotments are particularly good places for pollinators because they provide a mix of fruit and vegetable flowers, plus weedy corners full of native plants. “Allotments are incredibly important at a city level, despite their small area,” said Katherine Baldock at the University of Bristol, who led the research. “They are a good place for pollinators to hang out and provide a win-win situation, as they are also good for food growing and for people’s health.”

The research, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, found allotments and gardens often had 10 times more bees than parks, cemeteries and urban nature reserves. Baldock said nature reserves were important for other wildlife but were often less suitable for pollinators, being dominated by trees rather than meadows.

The scientists also identified the flowers most visited by bees, hoverflies and other pollinators. Native favourites included brambles, buttercups, dandelions, creeping thistle, common hogweed and ox-eye daisies. “People tend to think of these as weeds, but they are really important for pollinators,” said Baldock.

She said gardeners had an important role to play in pollinator conservation, with the non-native plants that attracted the most pollinators being lavender, borage, butterfly bushes and common marigolds. Hydrangeas and forget-me-nots were among the least favourite. The researchers found that gardens in more affluent neighbourhoods harboured more pollinators, thanks to there being more flowers and a richer variety of plants.

Stephanie Bird, of the Royal Horticultural Society, said: “This new paper shows that gardens are a hugely important resource for pollinators in urban areas. We would encourage the UK’s 27 million gardeners to pack in a variety of plants, as not all pollinators can access the nectar of each plant, and consider introducing plants to bloom across all seasons.” The RHS is now working with the University of Bristol to find which plants produce the most nectar.

Gardens cover between a quarter and a third of cities, far more than allotments, which cover less than 1%. But increasing the area of allotments gives the biggest boost to pollinators per unit area, the study found.

“It would be great if government made an effort to free up more land for allotments,” said Prof Dave Goulson, of the University of Sussex. “Currently there are about 90,000 people on waiting lists to get one. Given that these areas also produce healthy fruit and veg for local, zero-food-miles consumption, and get people out in the open air taking exercise, it would seem that allotments perform vital roles in our cities.”

Bee-harming pesticides have been banned from farm fields across the EU but some are still sold to gardeners. “If we really want to maximise the value of urban areas for wildlife, we would do well to stop using pesticides in our gardens and parks,” Goulson said.

Urban pollinators have been less studied than those in rural areas, so the importance of cities and towns to their survival is only now being worked out. The most comprehensive study to date found little difference in their abundance, perhaps because both are poor habitats, with many rural areas dominated by farmland and cities dominated by concrete and tarmac.

“Perhaps we could come to see our cities as giant nature reserves, places where man and nature can live side by side,” said Goulson.

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« Reply #5606 on: Jan 15, 2019, 06:04 AM »

USDA Allows Animal Neglect and Abuse at Poultry Slaughter Plants

By Dena Jones

Undercover investigations at federal poultry slaughter plants over the past decade have documented numerous instances of intentional abuse to animals, including throwing birds against walls, burying live birds in piles of dead birds, breaking birds' legs by violently slamming them into shackles and jabbing birds with metal hooks to remove them from their cages.

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has reviewed records supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), revealing evidence of mistreatment of birds destined for slaughter. One especially concerning problem identified by AWI is the suffering and death of large numbers of birds because they were knowingly neglected or abandoned for extended periods at the slaughterhouse or en route to the slaughterhouse. The problem appears to be particularly acute during extreme weather conditions.

Examples of mistreatment included:

    Birds loaded in high temperatures without the use of fans or misters.
    Birds transported in low temperatures without covers on the trucks.
    Birds held at the slaughterhouse without protection from extreme heat or cold.
    Birds held at the slaughterhouses for days without food, water and adequate shelter.

The USDA has also documented repeated mistreatment of birds by some poultry companies, including:

    Tip Top Poultry in Marietta, Georgia, rejected the advice of USDA inspection personnel to not leave six trucks of birds over the weekend in extreme heat conditions without food or water. Two months later, Tip Top Poultry left three trucks of birds over the weekend—again in extreme heat conditions without food or water and despite being cautioned by USDA personnel not to abandon the birds.

    Norbest Turkey in Moroni, Utah, on at least a dozen occasions, held birds for more than 24 hours without food and water, and in some cases, without shelter from inclement weather. In one case, Norbest held birds for 53 hours before slaughter.

    Pilgrim's in Mount Pleasant, Texas, transported birds in cold weather without adequate protection on multiple occasions. In one case, this neglect resulted in 3,569 birds dying. In another instance, 9,879 birds died.

    Pilgrim's in Natchitoches, Louisiana, reported high dead-on-arrival (DOA) numbers, including one incident where more than 34,000 birds were DOA on a day with a wind chill factor of 19 degrees.

    Pilgrim's in Guntersville, Alabama, parked trucks carrying birds in full sun on multiple hot days; in one instance, 2,550 out of 5,250 (49 percent) birds died.

    Butterfield Foods Company in Butterfield, Minnesota, reported high DOAs during cold weather, including one instance where 50 percent of the birds froze to death during the trip to the slaughterhouse.

An USDA inspector described in detail one particular weather-related incident:

Three trucks … had been parked … on the asphalt parking lot with no protection from the sun and without any source of ventilation or other means of cooling…. We observed a significant increase in heat-related morbidity and mortality, as evidenced by gasping and heavy panting in more than 90 percent of all birds on the trailer. We observed many birds that were staggering around and aimlessly jumping about in the cages, while others were violently flapping their wings and gasping for air via an outstretched neck, in a final futile attempt to cool themselves…. We also observed that numerous birds had already succumbed to heat stress, and that others were somnolent or moribund.

While it seems clear from the records that individual government inspectors care about the welfare of birds at slaughter, even the most well-meaning USDA inspectors can do little when they witness the mistreatment of birds. Their only recourse is to issue a "Memorandum of Interview"—the type of record reviewed by AWI—that, unfortunately, amounts to nothing more than a friendly reminder to the plant to comply with minimum industry guidelines for the handling of birds.

Neglecting or abusing a chicken or a turkey does not result in any fines; there is no slowing or stopping of the slaughter line, and no suspension of operations at a plant for egregious or repeated humane infractions.

Many of the incidents reviewed by AWI appear to qualify as violations of the animal cruelty statute of the state in which they occurred. In most of these states, the presence of any one of several cited conditions, such as abandoning an animal without providing for the animal's care, failing to supply an animal with sufficient food and water, or failing to provide an animal with adequate shelter constitutes a violation. However, despite requests from AWI, the USDA has never recommended to state officials that they investigate an incident of neglect or abandonment as a possible violation of the state's animal cruelty law.

One is left to wonder why the USDA is not doing more to prevent these incidents. In part, it is because birds, which represent 98 percent of land animals killed for food in the United States, are not covered by the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, a law enforced by the USDA and some state departments of agriculture. The USDA has rejected requests to apply the law to poultry, arguing that it can only do so at the direction of Congress.

Congress should address the humane treatment of birds at slaughter, but its failure to do so does not absolve the USDA of its responsibility to act. Congress has given the USDA the authority to ensure the "wholesomeness" of poultry products. Because mistreatment of live birds negatively affects meat quality, the USDA has the power to set humane handling requirements without congressional intervention.

Accordingly, in late 2013, AWI and Farm Sanctuary formally petitioned the USDA to require, through regulation, good commercial practices (i.e., minimum industry guidelines) for bird handling. After five years—and hundreds of documented cases of animal mistreatment—the USDA has taken no action on the petition.

The USDA is aware that the poultry industry opposes humane handling requirements, and so far, has been unwilling to act against industry interests—even when doing so would improve poultry product quality and help prevent abuse of the animals being killed for food. Without appropriate action from the USDA, more incidents like the ones described here are guaranteed to occur.

You can help protect birds at slaughter by making food purchasing decisions that take into account the treatment of animals by the poultry industry. To assist with this, AWI publishes a list of poultry slaughter plants that have received the highest number of records from the USDA for violating good commercial practices for bird handling. You can also send a message to the USDA, asking the agency to change its regulations and policies to prevent neglect and abuse of birds during transport and at slaughter.

Dena Jones is the director of the Farm Animal Program for the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, DC.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute, and was originally published by Truthout.

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« Reply #5607 on: Jan 16, 2019, 05:16 AM »

Rise of the Golden Jackal

A species that was barely known in Europe now vastly outnumbers wolves there, and is rapidly spreading north and west.

By James Gorman
NY Times
Jan. 16, 2019

On a hill above Trieste, Italy, at the western edge of Slovenia, I heard the golden jackals howl.

This was my second night out with Miha Krofel, a conservation biologist at the University of Ljubljana, driving rural roads through farmland and forests.

The night before, along with two volunteer researchers — one a photographer who had become something of a jackal specialist — we had visited four locations where Dr. Krofel had heard jackals.

Sunset came late, so we didn’t start until around 10 p.m. and finished close to 2 a.m. At each spot, we played a recording of a jackal pack howling and then waited about five minutes for a response. Played it again. Waited. We did this three or four times at each spot.

Away from human habitation, the night soundscape is as rich as the night sky. We stood quietly, not speaking, and listened to insect songs, nightjars clapping their wings and roe deer barking. The small deer’s rough cough startled me when it came from a nearby thicket.

We heard dogs barking, unidentified rustling in the bushes, and a faint “krek krek” call that Dr. Krofel said came from a corncrake, a bird that is endangered in Slovenia.

But no jackals.

They were in the area, Dr. Krofel assured me. He and 37 other volunteers — scientists and naturalists, dedicated and informed — have been monitoring the animals throughout Europe. The effort is led by Dr. Krofel and Nathan Ranc, a doctoral student at Harvard and the Edmund Mach Foundation in Italy.

Jackals now vastly outnumber Europe’s wolves, totaling at most 117,000 by the latest official estimate. By contrast, a high estimate of Europe’s wolves is about 17,000. Slovenia itself has somewhere between 200 and 400 jackals, Dr. Krofel estimated, and about 75 wolves.

This is an unheard-of expansion of a medium-sized predator into a continent that it once inhabited only on the fringes. And it has only started to capture scientific interest in Europe, which is beginning to grapple with what the expansion means ecologically, and what the issues are in terms of conservation and legal status.

So far, the jackals have posed some problems for sheep farmers. How the animals will be received by the general public as their numbers rise is an open question.

Smaller than North American coyotes, the golden jackal weighs an average 20 pounds. It is native to the Middle East and southern Asia, ranging as far east as Thailand and inhabiting Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

The species arrived at the southern edge of Central and Eastern Europe about 8,000 years ago, fossil evidence suggests, and started to expand slowly in the 19th century. But the current boom really began in the 1950s and has accelerated over the past 20 years.

Jackals are one of the least studied canine predators. Like wolves and coyotes, jackals have family-based packs, but the groups tend to be smaller, with four to six animals, while wolf packs may include 15 animals.

A monogamous pair of jackals forms the core of a pack; the young may stay with the parents, or leave to establish their own packs.

Jackals are not as prominent in tales and proverbs as some other animals, although there’s an old quote, variously attributed, that it is better to live like a lion for a day than a jackal for 100 years. Hemingway described “personal columnists” as jackals, which no doubt refers to their scavenging habits.

Jackals did have one moment of past glory. The Egyptian god Anubis was sometimes said to have a jackal’s head. That claim to fame has been lost: The North African animal that may have inspired the sculptures of Anubis has been reclassified as the African wolf.

Still, jackals have a kind of renown in some circles. The New Jersey Jackals, a minor-league baseball team, play at Yogi Berra Stadium, on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey. Jackals are, after all, known to be clever, resilient and opportunistic — all good qualities in baseball.
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Substantial populations of jackals now live in a number of European countries, including Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Austria, Italy, and above all, Bulgaria, which has the largest population.

Jackal wanderers — or advance scouts — have been found in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Belarus, Estonia, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Scientists think jackals began to move north because wolves were targeted for eradication, particularly in the Balkans. That opened a door, since jackals seem to avoid areas well populated by wolves.

Climate change doesn’t seem to have been a factor, although it will probably be significant in the future. Jackals don’t live in places where snow is on the ground more than about 100 days a year. As warming continues and snow cover declines, more European territory will open up to them.

Their ability to travel is clear. Mr. Ranc and Dr. Krofel tracked the movements of one female who covered hundreds of kilometers. She seemed to have found a mate and established a den before she was shot.

The jackals’ expansion is a huge natural experiment, similar to but more surprising than the spread of coyotes in North America. Coyotes were well established in the West and Southwest before they started arriving in the Northeast and Southeast, and lately in Mexico.

In Senozece, in southwestern Slovenia, Dr. Krofel and I visited a sheep farm on a rocky hillside ringed by forest. About 350 sheep were sprinkled across the rough pasture; they moved away in leisurely fashion as we walked up the slope with Dr. Krofel’s two dogs and a hyperactive young cat.

Sheep farming is a small part of Slovenian agriculture, but one likely to be affected by jackals. I asked the farmer, Leon Franetic, about the jackals and whether their presence in his region was O.K. Dr. Krofel didn’t get a chance to translate.

“Not O.K.!” Mr. Franetic said emphatically. He went on at greater length in Slovenian, with Dr. Krofel translating. He had learned to live with some predation, he said: “We’ve gotten used to the wolf,” because one pack roamed nearby.

But jackals were one canine predator too many. In the past three years, wolf attacks had gone down, but now jackals were killing the sheep. In 2017, Mr. Franetic said, he lost 20 to 25 sheep.

Although jackals did not initially expand into wolf territories, Dr. Krofel suggested that the two species seemed able to coexist. Wolves now live deeper in the abundant forests of Slovenia, while the jackals prowl along the edges, closer to farms and towns.

The jackal kills were messier, leaving sheep corpses only partly eaten, Mr. Franetic said. As he saw it, the wolves were professionals, the jackals sloppy amateurs.

Marjan Tomazic, a hunter and forest service official, told us many farmers felt the same disdain for jackals, but were less inclined to abide wolves than Mr. Franetic. Occasionally, for unknown reasons, a wolf or wolves will go on a spree and kill as many as 50 sheep.

Still, “this is the home of the wolf,” said Mr. Tomazic, a confessed admirer.

The next night, we stopped by the annual meeting of about 30 hunting clubs in the Primorska region, in Divaca, a town near Lipica. (The famed Lipizzaners were named after Lipica, since some of the first breeding occurred here.)

Two teenage musicians in traditional dress played folk music on accordions. Club members in uniforms with ties and Tyrolean hats applauded and then listened as the head of the club gave a speech emphasizing that hunters took on the responsibility of conservation and criticizing the government for setting the number of animals to be hunted too high.

We walked through a school building with walls temporarily decorated with the antlers of animals killed by hunters that year. Some of the hunters said the jackals could be a problem, while others felt they should be tolerated, like wolves and bears. Hunted, but tolerated.

One hunter mentioned hearing a pack of jackals nearby, so after the dinner we drove to the location. We stopped in a plateau of fields and apple trees near Trieste, Italy. Dr. Krofel began playing the jackal recording.

Jackal howls are a bit like sirens, but softer and a little wobbly. He said that some people say they sound like babies crying, without that kind of urgency. Nor do jackals have the yips of coyotes or the full-throated baying of wolves. They sounded to me a bit demented, but that’s a human and North American reaction.

There was no response to the first recorded howls. But immediately after the second, I heard a faint howl, and then another one, closer. Then, for about half a minute, a group of jackals alternated distant wails.

Since it is hard to tell individual howls apart from a distance, Dr. Krofel and his colleagues count jackals this way: “One, two, more than two.”

As the calls drifted to an end, he breathed a sigh of relief. “Finally.”

These jackals have established a pack and are reproducing. They are living a successful life. And their offspring have every chance of establishing new packs as they move into Western Europe.

But what will happen as that expansion continues is hard to predict. Mr. Ranc said that if the spread of jackals in Europe shows anything, it reflects “the fundamental uncertainty in ecological systems.”

“Who would have guessed that this small canid would be the likely winner of poisoning campaigns of wolves in the Balkans?” he added.

But in Western Europe, the reaction to their presence may be different, he said. Perhaps stricter procedures for waste management and disposal of livestock corpses on farms will have an impact on the animals. Hunters of small game may object to the jackals’ arrival.

Jackals are just starting to put down roots in Italy, Germany and Austria. What happens when those populations grow should say more about how much of Europe will be open to them.

For golden jackals in Europe, Mr. Ranc said, “The moment of truth is soon to come.”

James Gorman is a science writer at large and the host and writer of the video series “ScienceTake.” He joined The Times in 1993 and is the author of several books, including “How to Build a Dinosaur,” written with the paleontologist Jack Horner.

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« Reply #5608 on: Jan 16, 2019, 05:18 AM »

Seals on roads, seals in driveways, seals at front doors: A Canadian town faces a marine invasion

By Isaac Stanley-Becker
January 16 2019
WA Post

Roddickton-Bide Arm is a quaint coastal town on the northern peninsula of the island of Newfoundland, Canada.

It is also a community facing a menacing threat, one that, in the telling of a local newspaper, is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s chilling 1963 classic “The Birds.”

But in the far eastern reaches of North America, the assault isn’t aerial. It arrives by sea.

Several dozen harp seals have overrun the town of about 1,000, which may need to amend its designation as the “Moose Capital of the World” if the marine mammal influx continues. The spotted gray animals have been popping up all over Roddickton-Bide Arm.

Some say they started arriving around Christmas. Others claim to have seen them weeks before. But it was this week when they became unmissable. They crawl down roads. They populate parking lots and gas stations. They appear in driveways and backyards.

This is hardly a scene from a Hitchcock film. But it’s not a feel-good story either. Two seals were struck by cars and killed on Tuesday, authorities confirmed to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The slick gray coat worn by the animals tends to blend in with the road.

Residents have been unable to help, as national regulations make it illegal to touch marine mammals, though enforcement has proven difficult. So locals have watched as the seals search for food and water, sometimes crying out.

“This is disturbing for the residents to watch,” the town’s mayor, Sheila Fitzgerald, told CTV News. “We are getting inundated with phone calls from people that are saying, ‘You’ve gotta do something. The seals are in my driveway,’ or ‘The seals, I see them suffering.'"

The mayor told the CBC that she thinks the animals are confused. “They’re pitiful to look at. I mean, they haven’t eaten,” she said.

The seals may be puzzled by their new surroundings, but the reason they have come ashore is straightforward. Scientists with the country’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans told Canadian media that harp seals migrate south from the Arctic each winter. Early in the season, when it’s still relatively warm, there tends to be little ice near the shore, so the animals hug the coastline. But when the water then freezes behind them, they have trouble getting back out to the open ocean. Disoriented, some find their way to land.

The problem could be compounded by thinning ocean ice, which scientists see as among the alarming consequences of climate change. Harp seals depend on ice cover to mate and breed, and disruptions could also affect their migration schedule; with less ice along the shore, the animals may be beckoned closer to land. In new analysis published Thursday in the journal Science, scientists warned that the oceans were warming more rapidly than previously thought and exhibited the highest temperatures on record in 2018.

Now, the mayor told NPR, the animals are getting lazy, “a little more tired and lethargic.” There isn’t a food supply to sustain them through the winter, but the animals, who typically go on land only to breed and rest, can’t bring themselves to move on. Seals store enough fat in their blubber to go numerous days without eating.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said Thursday it is trying to get a handle on the situation, with the assistance of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Newfoundland and Labrador.

    Seal safely returned to sea after trek through community On January 5, 2019, Marystown RCMP received a call from the...
    Posted by Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The federal agency said its officers have already removed some seals and are continuing to do so. A response team has been dispatched to Roddickton-Bide Arm.

“We’ll keep working with the community to ensure everyone’s safety and to determine what next steps need to be taken,” DFO promised, reminding Canadians not to approach the seals. “Human interaction can disturb an animal’s life processes & can result in its injury or death.”

    We’re actively monitoring the situation in Roddickton. Our scientists are working with #FisheryOfficers to determine the health of the seals spotted inland. If you see seals being disturbed, call your local #DFONL office, contact @NLCrimestoppers or call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477)
    — DFO_NL (@DFO_NL) January 10, 2019

But some residents wondered what could be done, observing that the problem stretched back weeks — and that additional seals were continuing to come ashore.

Brendon FitzPatrick of nearby Conche has been documenting the travails of the seals on social media.

    Few out for a crawl today pic.twitter.com/Qbb5pazTmD
    — Brendon FitzPatrick (@BrendonFitzPat3) January 6, 2019

    Seals at mouth of the brook in Roddickton. Wonder where’s DFO. Those seals been there for a few weeks. They are 4 or 5 miles from the ocean and they are probably starving. pic.twitter.com/A9RuA6Njln
    — Brendon FitzPatrick (@BrendonFitzPat3) January 4, 2019

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« Reply #5609 on: Jan 16, 2019, 05:22 AM »

'Have you beetled?': the battle to save one of UK's rarest species

Wormwood moonshiners live on one rare plant and only emerge at night. A battle is on to save them

Patrick Barkham

The smell of aircraft fuel wafts on the wintry breeze as torches flit across rough grassland. A patch of derelict-looking ground beside densely packed housing and Mildenhall US airbase is an unlikely place to find one of Britain’s rarest species.

But this little Suffolk meadow used mainly by dog walkers is the only known place in Britain where the wormwood moonshiner lives, an elusive beetle which emerges one hour after sunset to devour the seeds of a virtually extinct plant.

“Here you go!” shouts one of a hardy band of six volunteers, scouring the raggedy Breckland wormwood plant by torchlight for a glint of the 5mm-long nocturnal black beetle.

“Have you beetled?” gasps another.

The beetle hunters are part of a new effort to conserve both the beetle and the rare Breckland wormwood plant upon which it depends. Volunteers are being trained to find the beetle by Back from the Brink, a £4.6m Heritage Lottery-funded project to revive the fortunes of dozens of unheralded species and overlooked habitats.

Breckland wormwood is restricted to two locations in Britain: Glamorgan sand dunes and the sandy heaths of the Brecks bordering Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. This century, however, Breckland wormwood has disappeared from 12 sites, and now clings on in just three places in Breckland. It suffers from habitat loss and accidental mowing, and is particularly vulnerable to being grazed by burgeoning wild deer populations.

Last recorded in 2011, the wormwood moonshiner beetle was only rediscovered this autumn when Phoebe Miles, a Natural England ecologist and project manager for Back from the Brink, visited College Heath Road meadows in Mildenhall with beetle expert Brian Eversham, chief executive of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust. Breckland wormwood had been discovered growing well on the meadow, because it was surrounded by housing and not grazed by deer.

“I was worried that the beetle was extinct,” said Miles. “When this discovery of the plant was made, Brian and I raced out and discovered 19 beetles on three plants. It was really exciting.”

While the small dark-brown beetle is difficult to identify by its appearance, unlike other beetles it has only ever been found at night. This means the millions of people who are not beetle experts can help locate it. According to Miles, the wormwood moonshiner could well be living – as yet undetected – on other sites in the area.

She said: “Some species get ignored and will go extinct because they exist in the ‘in-between’ spaces we hardly notice and rarely value. This beautiful plant and the charming little beetle thrive in the scrappy, disturbed areas of ground these days found near people: unmown road verges and the edges of footpaths and car parks.

“Nature needs us to leave some areas untidy throughout the year.”

Tonight, the beetle-hunters find 17 beetles during a search of the Mildenhall site but when they scour a second possible site nearby there are none. Despite this former quarry being a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), the Breckland wormwood has been grazed by deer, particularly invasive muntjac, a Chinese species which escaped from deer parks last century.

How can we save the beetle? “Eat a muntjac a day,” jokes one of the searchers. “Or bring back wolves”.

Miles said: “To save the beetle, we need to look after the plant by getting that mix of no-grazing pressure, available seed and soil disturbance, which the plant needs.”

Asked why saving one small beetle matters, Miles said: “As EO Wilson observed, insects are the ‘little things that run the world’. Human life on earth will not be sustained without a resilient, intact ecosystem of natural processes, plants, and animals of all sizes, at all levels in the food chain.”

James Harding-Morris of Back from the Brink said: “There’s a real sense of urgency. It’s a last-chance saloon. Breckland wormwood and its beetle are now known to coexist on just one site.”

In Mildenhall, the local council is making sure the rare Breckland wormwood plant is not mown by not cutting the meadows in autumn as usual but instead strimming the plants back in February, when the beetle has finished feeding on the plant’s seeds.

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* The beetles emerge at night to feed on the seeds of the wormwood plant..jpg (50 KB, 860x574 - viewed 27 times.)
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