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 41 
 on: Sep 23, 2016, 05:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Norway's wolf cull pits sheep farmers against conservationists

Norway’s recent decision to destroy 70% of its tiny endangered population of wolves shocked conservationists worldwide and saw 35,000 sign a local petition. But in a region dominated by sheep farming support for the cull runs deep

Elisabeth Ulven and Tone Sutterud in Oslo
AFP
Friday 23 September 2016 11.37 BST

Conservation groups worldwide were astonished to hear of the recent, unprecedented decision to destroy 70% of the Norway’s tiny and endangered population of 68 wolves, the biggest cull for almost a century.

But not everyone in Norway is behind the plan. The wildlife protection group Predator Alliance Norway, for example, has campaign posters that talk of wolves as essential for nature, and a tourist attraction for Norway.

Nothing unusual about that, given it’s a wildlife group, except that the group is based in Trysil, the heartland of the territory where most of the wolf culling announced by Norwegian authorities last week will take place.

Predator Alliance Norway is an anomaly in this area, a land inhabited by the most fervent advocates of culling – many of them farmers and hunters. Here, you pass cars with large stickers pronouncing “Real Men Shoot Wolves” to show support for six local poachers who were imprisoned for illegal hunting last year.

Lars-Erik Lie, a 46-year-old mental health worker who founded the group in 2010, told the Guardian: “I got so upset and saddened by the locals’ thirst for wolf blood, and wanted to show that not all villagers are in favour of wiping out this beautiful animal.

“Many locals think there should be room for both predators and livestock, but they have kept their mouths shut out of fear for repercussions.” Lie has himself been the target of threats.

At the heart of the matter is the conflict between sheep farmers and conservationists. Norway is a large sheep farming nation, unique in letting most of its 2 million sheep roam free all summer without herding, fencing and with little supervision.

As a result, 120,000 sheep are lost each year, and 20,000 of these deaths are attributed to predators, judging by state compensation payouts, which are based on documentation and assessment by the authorities. Beyond that, 900 cadavers found annually are confirmed to have been killed by predators. The wolf accounts for 8% of kills.

Wolves, bears, lynx, wolverines and golden eagles are Norway’s native top predators.

In 1846, the authorities issued bounties to hunt them down, resulting in all species being virtually extinct by the mid-20th century, The wolf was given protected status in 1973, a watershed in wildlife management for the acknowledgement of its part in Norwegian fauna and in need of protection. The first wolf returned in 1980, though the first breeding entirely on Norwegian soil did not take place until 1997.

In the meantime, a new breed of sheep had invaded the land. “The breed of sheep vastly favoured by Norwegian farmers is unsuited to roam around the rugged terrain of the country,” said Silje Ask Lundberg, from Friends of the Earth Norway.

The sheep is favoured for its size and large proportion of meat, but is a bad climber and has poor herding and flight instincts, unlike the old short-tail land race, considered the original Norwegian sheep race, prevalent on the west coast, where ironically there are no wolves.

Just across the mountain from Lie’s house in Trysil, is the territory of the Slettåsen pack, which has been marked out for a complete cull even though the wolves live within a designated wolf zone.

The framework for predator management has been set by parliament, with local predator management boards setting hunting and culling quotas when population targets have been achieved.

“The lack of a scientific and professional approach is obvious,” said Lie. In January his organisation filed a complaint that the board votes in representatives with vested interests, such as farmers, whereas green party members have been excluded.

At his office in Oslo, Sverre Lundemo of WWF Norway is also puzzled. “It seems strange that we should punish the wolf for following its natural instincts, particularly within specially designated zones where the wolf supposedly has priority over livestock,” he says.

“The Slettåsen pack is very stable and of genetic importance. Scandinavian wolves are subject to inbreeding and poaching, and this makes the small population more vulnerable to random events. Culling these individuals can undermine the viability of the entire Norwegian wolf population.”

According to Lundemo, the decision for culling appears to be based on politics as much as on science. The WWF have examined the case document that formed the base of the decision. “This a questionable decision on many levels. The case documents don’t substantiate why these three particular territories were singled out for culling,” said Lundemo.

Despite the population within the wolf zone having almost doubled since last year, attacks on livestock have almost halved. “Most of the injuries are inflicted by roaming young wolves from Swedish packs,” said Lundemo.

Sweden has stricter regulations for sheep farmers, refusing to compensate farmers who don’t protect livestock properly. As a member of the EU, Sweden had a planned licenced cull of 10 % of their wolf population of 400 in 2014 reduced following pressure.

Friends of the Earth advocate more suitable breeds of sheep, or cattle, and better fences and herding. WWF is exploring the option to challenge the decision legally before the wolf hunt sets in on 1 January 2017.

Back in Trysil, the Predator Alliance is gaining momentum. The group has submitted a 35,000-signature petition for protecting the wolf to the prime minister, Erna Solberg. “We humans have become greedy, behaving like nature is there for our taking,” said Lie. “When you have a population as small as the one we have in Norway now, you have to draw the line.”

 42 
 on: Sep 23, 2016, 05:53 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Scientists' message for Trump: We need the Paris climate agreement

The Republican presidential candidate has promised to either alter or abandon the deal if elected. What would a 'Parexit' look like?

By Joseph Dussault, Staff September 22, 2016

On Tuesday, Stephen Hawking and 374 other prominent scientists issued a personal plea to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump: Don’t back out of the Paris climate agreement.

Doing so could have “severe and long-lasting” consequences for global climate and US credibility, warns an open letter penned by members of the National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel laureates. The letter doesn’t exactly mention Mr. Trump by name, but refers to him as "the Republican nominee for President," who has said he would either alter or abandon the deal if elected – although his hypothetical ability to do so grew dimmer on Wednesday, as 20 more world leaders signed on to the agreement in New York.

“A ‘Parexit’ would send a clear signal to the rest of the world: ‘The United States does not care about the global problem of human-caused climate change. You are on your own,’ ” the letter reads. “Such a decision would make it far more difficult to develop effective global strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change.”

The Paris Agreement, which seeks to cut global emissions and limit global average temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius, has been fast-tracked through the United Nations since its inception in late 2015. That’s largely due to the upcoming US presidential election, the outcome of which could make or break the deal.

“I will be looking at that very, very seriously, and at a minimum I will be renegotiating those agreements, at a minimum. And at a maximum I may do something else,” Trump told Reuters in May. “But those agreements are one-sided agreements and they are bad for the United States.”

Trump’s approach reflects a broader GOP strategy when it comes to energy talks: ambiguity. Many Republican politicians do not often specifically mention climate change by name, instead focusing on US energy independence and the economic impact of such deals. That strategy has been employed by other GOP heavy-hitters such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who are reluctant to make economic changes to combat climate change, still a sharply partisan issue.

Yet more and more Americans recognize the reality of climate change, making outright denial more politically risky: in a recent poll by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, for example, 77 percent of respondents said climate change is happening.

And for most Americans – not just Congress – the cost of climate action is a tough pill to swallow. In the University of Chicago and AP-NORC poll, 42 percent of all respondents said they would not pay even $1 per month for preventing climate change, although 65 percent believe it is a problem the government should address.

Other studies suggest that Americans' tepid commitment to actually combatting climate change may be a matter of poor communication: UC San Diego researchers found that people were more likely to donate when environmental appeals focused on collective action, rather than personal guilt.

The US has already ratified the Paris accord, but it won’t be locked in until 55 countries representing 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions join the agreement. After Wednesday's signings at the United Nations, 60 countries have officially signed on, but only 48 percent of global emissions have been accounted for.

If Trump wins the election and the accord is not ratified by inauguration day, he could try to revoke US participation. Technically, he could stall climate progress even if the deal is set before then – but he would also be subject to public “name and shame” reviews by the UN.

And the agreement's drafters may have predicted such a scenario: written into one article is a requirement that any nation wishing to withdraw first wait for four years, Reuters reports.

Ultimately, it may not matter all that much even if Trump does bail on the Paris accord, some experts say. The US is already on track to meet its promises under the deal, since an increase in natural gas use has displaced industrial coal and reduced emissions.

“He might go back on the agreement in Paris but the net effect for the US is not likely to make much of a difference, if at all, in terms of our trajectory,” an anonymous White House official told the Guardian in May.

This report includes material from Reuters

 43 
 on: Sep 23, 2016, 05:51 AM 
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CS Monitor

Why aren't these lemurs singing in harmony?

These lemurs choose not to sing well together, according to new research.

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer 9/23/2016, 2016

Rebellious teenagers try to dissociate from their parental units every chance they get. And it seems to be no different when that antsy youth is a singing lemur.

Indri indri, the only lemur species that sings, lives in small family groups in the dense Madagascan forest. These groups of animals use their howling voices to form a raucous sort of choir many times each day.

The primate parents sing largely in concert with each other, with their voices overlapping. But the older offspring often punctuate these songs with their own individual vocalizations, avoiding overlapping, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

"We have this new evidence that overlapping during the song is not something that happens randomly," study lead author Marco Gamba a primatologist at the University of Turin in Italy tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview. Instead, the lemurs actively try to, or not to, overlap their voices in song.

So why are they singing in these patterns?

Indris live in small social groups formed of a monogamous reproductive pair and their offspring. Each family group has a territory over which it presides. So the lemur choirs, which can be heard from about 1.25 miles away, serve as a sort of "no trespassing" warning.

"The pair wants to overlap because they probably want to tell the others, 'Hey, we are a strong group,' " and 'Keep away,' by amplifying their voices, Dr. Gamba explains.

It's a bit like a primate version of the play "West Side Story," with gangs of indris singing to intimidate others in place of the synchronized dance-offs between the Sharks and the Jets. The turf war can get violent, but only in rare cases when the lemurs' vocal sparring does not prevail.

But, like Tony and Maria, the juvenile indris have different priorities.

"The juveniles that are more or less ready to leave the group and start their own reproductive pair probably want to avoid overlapping to say, 'Hey! I can mate, I can create a new group,' " to attract potential mates, Gamba says.

The lemurs kick off their chorus with aggressive roars before they break into song. Then, the indri choir sings in phrases made up of two to six notes that descend in pitch, like air escaping from a balloon at intervals.

The indris don't just sing to advertise their presence in a territory to other groups. They actually have three different songs that they sing.

In addition to the "advertisement song" focused on in this study, the lemurs also have a more chaotic intergroup encounter song, or "territorial song," for when they meet another group along the border of their territories, Gamba explains. The third song is a bit more peaceful. That one is used when members of the same group lose sight of each other in the dense forest within their territory and need to find each other to regroup.

In this new study, Gamba and his colleagues also found "a very clear difference between the contribution of the male and the female within a reproductive pair" to the chorus. Just as male and female humans often speak and sing at different pitches, so do the indris. But among the lemurs, it's the males whose voices hit higher notes more often than females.

"It might be a shared trait with humans that we never understood was in lemur species," Gamba says of the vocal sex differences.

"The study of communication in other primate species is showing a lot of similarities with what we find in humans," and this is an insight that cannot be gleaned from the bones of ancient human species or cave paintings, he says. "The only thing we can do is go into the forest with non-human primates and try to understand how the traits of their communication is saying something about our evolution."

But Wendy Erb, an anthropologist also studying animal communication at Rutgers University who was not part of the study, cautions that the singing lemurs might not be the best link to our own species. "Given the patchy distribution of singing across major branches of the primate family tree, it seems unlikely that the distantly related indri will provide critical insights into the origins of our own species' evolutionary origins of language and music," she tells the Monitor in an email.

Still, she says,"Gamba and colleagues accumulated a truly impressive data set that included observations of 21 indri groups at four research sites made over a 10-year period, resulting in nearly 500 song bout recordings, which the scientists analyzed in painstaking detail... And this research does offer an important contribution to understanding the evolution of vocal coordination within an important branch of primate lineage – the lemurs."

And the pattern of juveniles mismatching their singing with the adults is particularly intriguing, as it is the opposite of what has been observed in gibbons, Dr. Erb says.

"The fact that co-singing occurs most often between adults and juveniles (mothers and daughters) in gibbons, suggests that vocal learning may play an important role in the development of singing for this group of primates. For indris, the reverse is true, and the relative rarity of co-singing by non-adult indris may indicate that vocal learning is less important for this species," she says. But, "It is too early to conclude whether vocal learning is definitely present in gibbons and fully lacking in indris, but it does raise interesting questions about the influence of cognition, song complexity, and social structure on the development of vocal communication in primates."

"In addition to humans, singing behavior is only known to occur in four groups of primates: indris, tarsiers, titi monkeys, and gibbons," Erb says. "Although singing may not be common among primates, it is found elsewhere in the animal kingdom – most notably among birds – and thus rhythmic abilities, per se, are not a uniquely human feature."

 44 
 on: Sep 23, 2016, 05:49 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Why do these fish sing only at night?

The male plainfin midshipman fish sing to woo their mates, but only in the dark of night. A new study may answer why these underwater love songs never grace the light of day.

By Will Dunham, Reuters September 22, 2016

In one of the marvels of nature, males of a fish species called the plainfin midshipman that dwells in Pacific coastal waters from Alaska to Baja California court females during breeding season using a nocturnal "love song" with an otherworldly sound.

Scientists have wondered what makes these fish sing only at night. A study published on Thursday provides the answer.

Laboratory experiments showed that the fish's vocalization, a low-frequency hum like a foghorn, is controlled by a light-driven internal clock and the hormone melatonin, known to govern sleep and wake cycles, researchers said.

"They are among the vocal champions of the marine environment along with whales and dolphins," said Cornell University professor of neurobiology and behavior Andrew Bass. "The production and hearing of vocal signals plays a central role in their social interactions and reproductive behavior."

The plainfin midshipman, up to 15 inches (38 cm) long, generally has an olive-brown color. Its name comes from rows of bioluminescent organs on its underside that reminded early observers of the buttons on a midshipman's uniform.

Males migrate during the late spring and summer from deep offshore sites into shallow intertidal waters, where they build nests beneath rocky shelters.

Throughout the night, they produce hums by vibrating a gas-filled bladder within their abdomen to attract females to their nests to spawn. One hum can last almost two hours. Neighboring males often hum together in a chorus.

Ni Feng, who led the study in Bass' lab at Cornell and now is a Yale University postdoctoral researcher, said the study, published in the journal Current Biology, involved wild-caught fish kept in rooms where lighting could be controlled.

In constant darkness, the fish hummed pretty much on schedule, thanks to their internal clock, or circadian rhythm.

In constant brightness, a condition that lowers melatonin production, humming was suppressed. When kept in constant light but given a melatonin-like substitute, they continued to hum, though at random times of the day.

Melatonin keeps day-active birds quiet at night and helps diurnal mammals fall asleep but has the reverse effect in the midshipman fish.

People have not always known what to make of the midshipman's humming.

"In the early 1980s, a mysterious sound caused concern for houseboat residents of Sausalito Bay, California, who suspected the source might be the pumps of a nearby sewage plant, an underwater power line, some secret experiment by the Navy or maybe even extraterrestrials," Bass said.

"It turned out their houseboats were merely resonating with the 'love songs' of male midshipman fish."

 45 
 on: Sep 23, 2016, 05:47 AM 
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CS Monitor

Major population upheaval in Ice Age Europeans linked to climate change

The genomes of ancient Europeans reveal how human populations can change dramatically as a result of extreme climate fluctuations.

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer 9/23/2016

Little is known about human migrations and population changes in prehistory. Scientists often rely on scant archeological evidence to map anatomically modern humans' settlements.

So a team of geneticists dug into the genomes of ancient individuals unearthed across Europe to better understand who was living in the region. The specimens lived before, during, and after the last ice age, offering the researchers a glimpse into how the population handled the extreme conditions.

And the ancient hunter-gatherers' genomes suggested times were tough. When the massive glaciers retreated, the population of Europe looked dramatically different than it had before the land froze over.
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"This change, which we call a turnover, was indeed strong and drastic," first author of the study Cosimo Posth tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview. And this dramatic population turnover likely wiped out a human lineage scientists thought never reached Europe, according to a paper published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

The researchers analyzed the mitochondrial DNA, inherited along the maternal lineage, from individuals living across Europe at varying times to map shifts in population.

When the ice spread across the continent, the people living in the northern regions were forced to migrate south for survival. As hunter-gatherers, these early Europeans were dependent on the environment for survival. This created a genetic bottleneck, with a significant loss of diversity from such a massive change.

Then, when the ice retreated some 14,500 years ago, there was an influx of new genetics. One explanation is that the glacial retreat allowed a new population to move into the region and intermingle their DNA.

"There was always this idea that for almost 35,000 years of human history, of prehistory from the first arrival into Europe until the Neolithic started, hunter-gatherers were kind of a continuum," Posth says. "But during these 35,000 years, there was a drastic change in climatic conditions. Those humans had to face these strong climatic events."

A surprise population erased by ice

When modern humans began dispersing across the globe, two main lineages emerged in mitochondrial genetics outside of Africa: haplogroup N and haplogroup M. Haplogroup M was thought to have only ever been present across Asia, Australasia, and the Americas. That lineage never reached Europe in prehistory, or so researchers thought.

This new study reveals that was not true.

"I thought this must be a mistake because I know that in Europe it is completely absent, at least in the population with European ancestry," Posth says. Perhaps the samples were contaminated or the researchers had made a mistake. But no mistake was made. The M haplogroup appeared in specimens from another location too.

Cristina Gamba, a geneticist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark who was not part of the study, says in an email to the Monitor "It is not completely surprising that they are able to identify mtDNA haplogroups absent in modern-day Europeans. Especially considering the large amount of climate-driven and migration events that have occurred since then. Demographic events such as bottlenecks and population replacements, among others, can explain changes in the allelic frequencies."

"This is especially true for the period around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), as the climate change probably induced a strong population bottleneck and therefore loss of genetic diversity with the extinction of some lineages, such as the mtDNA haplogroup M," she says.

Although that mitochondrial lineage was likely wiped out by the ice age bottleneck, the prehistoric presence of haplogroup M in Europe could have significant implications. The lineage was thought to have been linked to a specific spread of modern humans into Asia, one of many different dispersals. But if haplogroup M was present in both Asia and Europe, perhaps there was just one major dispersal.

"Our prehistory is much more complicated than we had thought," Posth says. "We discovered an unknown chapter of human history.

 46 
 on: Sep 23, 2016, 05:45 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Game of bones? Ancient genes uncover prehistoric European drama.

Researchers gathered genetic data from 51 early modern humans and found evidence of population turnover and waves of migration during European prehistory, driven by advancing and retreating glaciers.

By Lonnie Shekhtman, Staff 9/23/2016

A new study sheds light on the genetic composition of early modern humans, who arrived in Europe about 45,000 years ago and lived for millennia alongside our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals.

In analyzing DNA from the ancient bones – 45,000 to 7,000 years old – of 51 of these prehistoric humans, an international team of scientists found evidence of population turnover and waves of migration during European prehistory, driven by advancing and retreating glaciers. The last ice age peaked between 25,000 and 19,000 years ago, at which time glaciers covered Scandinavia and northern Europe.

“The demographic history of early European populations was much more dynamic than previously thought,” said Cosimo Posth, an archaeogenetics PhD student at the University of Tübingen in Germany, reported New Scientist.

He and his fellow authors of a paper published May 2 in the journal Nature reported that the genetic patterns they found in their analysis show that all of their specimens younger than 37,000 years old, gathered from across Europe and western Asia, descended from a single population. Today's Europeans also share genes with this population.

So far, it doesn’t appear that people who lived before these prehistoric humans contributed genetically to today’s Europeans, write the paper’s authors.

This branch of early humans was displaced from most parts of the continent by 33,000 years ago, the researchers say, but then reappeared around 19,000 years ago, as the ice sheet retreated, when their descendants in the Iberian peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal) began to spread throughout Europe.

Then, in a second major population shift that coincides with a warming climate after the Ice Age, about 14,000 years ago, populations from places such as today’s Turkey and Greece spread north and west into Europe, displacing the first group.

"What we see is a population history that is no less complicated than that in the last 7,000 years," said David Reich, a paper co-author and geneticist from Harvard Medical School, "with multiple episodes of population replacement and immigration on a vast and dramatic scale, at a time when the climate was changing dramatically."

The researchers also found that the proportion of Neanderthal DNA in Europeans from 45,000 years ago declined from between 3 to 6 percent to about 2 percent in Europeans today. The paper authors propose that natural selection reduced Neanderthal ancestry over time.

"Neanderthal DNA is slightly toxic to modern humans," said Dr. Reich in a statement.

Before this study, genomic data were available from only four prehistoric Europeans, which made it impossible to develop an accurate picture of how human populations migrated or evolved during this period.

“Trying to represent this vast period of European history with just four samples is like trying to summarize a movie with four still images,” Reich said. “With 51 samples, everything changes; we can follow the narrative arc; we get a vivid sense of the dynamic changes over time,” he said.

 47 
 on: Sep 23, 2016, 05:43 AM 
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CS Monitor

Out of Africa – and back again: When did humans return to Africa?

Researchers have found evidence of a back-migration into Africa in the DNA of a 35,000-year-old skull found in Romania.

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer 9/23/2016

Human ancestors first emerged on the scene in Africa before spreading out across Eurasia and eventually into the Americas. But that trek out of Africa wasn't a one-way trip.

And humans might have been migrating back into Africa remarkably early, according to clues found in the mitochondrial DNA of a 35,000-year-old skull discovered in a cave in Romania.

This paleolithic woman was an early member of a lineage that today appears mainly in northern Africa, according to a paper published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports. And finding an older version of this genetic lineage, called haplogroup U6, in Europe could confirm that a back-migration carried this genetic signature into Africa.

"Now we find a paleolithic migration, a back-migration, from Eurasia to north Africa," study co-author Mihai Netea of Radboud University Medical Center in The Netherlands, tells The Christian Science Monitor. "We demonstrated that the origin of U6 is in western Eurasia and it migrated."

"U6 is found in a relatively large proportion of the population in north Africa," he explains. But "this is much older, much more basal, so we demonstrate that the origin of these populations from north Africa were basically from western Eurasia."

This back-migration wasn't a complete surprise, says Cosimo Posth, a PhD candidate in archaeogenetics at Tübingen University in Germany, who was not part of this new study. When the U6 haplogroup was spotted in the mitochondrial DNA of people living in northern and western Africa today that is almost absent everywhere else, some scientists proposed that a back-migration had carried these genetic markers into Africa.

Finding an older version of this lineage outside of Africa would confirm that. Mr. Posth and colleagues reported a basal version of haplogroup U6 in a different skull from the same site, Peștera Muierii, in a paper published earlier this month.

"This actually suggested that this haplogroup originated somewhere outside of Africa and then migrated back into Africa during the paleolithic time," Posth says. And this new paper "is a confirmation of those previous studies."

The researchers aren't sure when exactly the U6 haplogroup first migrated into Africa, as the archeological DNA record between the Romanian individuals and modern-day people is spotty.

"What is sure is that north African populations with modern U6 originate from a population that had the same paleolithic U6 as PM1" (the individual examined in the new paper)," Dr. Netea says.

But that doesn't mean PM1, which is short for Peștera Muierii 1, is a direct ancestor of the populations in northern Africa today, he cautions. She could have been a member of a group that migrated into Europe from the Middle East as other groups of the same haplogroup spread back into Africa.

If the former story is the case, then the migration back to Africa would have happened more recently than 35,000 years ago. But in the latter scenario, the back-migration could have occurred at the same time as the modern human expansion into Europe some 45,000 years ago.

"It's really challenging to say [the timing of this back-migration] because we do not have ancient data from Africa," Posth says. "The only ancient genome that we have from Africa is much more recent, from 45,000 years ago from Ethiopia." And that individual suggests a much later, try 3,000 years ago, migration back into Africa. Sequencing older DNA would be "the final confirmation" of this earlier, paleolithic migration, Posth says.

Either way, this back-migration suggests "the prehistoric world was much more interconnected than we believed," Netea says.

Initially, Netea and his colleagues dug into the mitochondrial DNA of PM1 with other questions in mind.

The team was particularly curious about the DNA of this paleolithic woman because her "skull had morphological indication of mixture between modern humans and possibly a more ancient human species, like Neanderthal," Netea says. But "the mitochondrial DNA that we identify is purely of modern human origin."

That doesn't mean she has no archaic human ancestry, he says. Mitochondrial DNA is passed just from mother to child, so perhaps sequencing the nuclear genome, which is inherited from both parents, will help fill in the gaps in that story.

Furthermore, "we were interested to understand the relationship of this mitochondrial DNA with the current populations living in Europe," Netea says. The team expected a U haplogroup, but they were looking for the U5 group that has already been spotted in Europeans. "Identifying a U6 group, which is especially present in north Africa, was a surprise," he says.

But it was a "very exciting finding" to spot evidence of the back-migration.

"Our history is basically the way that different populations migrate," Netea says. "What we are is the history of these migrations. Understanding what is happening is crucial to understanding who we are."

 48 
 on: Sep 23, 2016, 05:40 AM 
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Single migration from Africa? DNA offers new look at humanity's family roots

Nearly all modern Eurasians are descended from an out-of-Africa migration about 60,000 years ago, but some have genetic markers of earlier divergences, suggesting a more complex story.

By Rowena Lindsay, Staff September 23, 2016

Three human genome studies published Wednesday in Nature provide new clues as to when Homo sapiens, our earliest anatomically modern human ancestors, first left Africa.

After analyzing the DNA of 800 people from more than 270 populations, including a large number of aboriginal people in Australia and Papua New Guinea, the researchers found genetic evidence for a migration of humans out of Africa about 100,000 years ago – long before the migration that most modern Europeans, Asians, and Australians are descended from, which came about 60,000 years ago.

But that earlier migration largely failed. The populations died out within a few generations, ultimately contributing no more than a few percent of the genome to anyone alive today, the researchers say.

The three studies differ in most details, but "all three papers all reach the same conclusions: that in Eurasians and also [Papua New Guineans], the majority of their genomes come from the same major migration,” said Luca Pagani, a biologist at the University of Cambridge and first author on one of the studies, reported BBC News.

By testing hundreds of samples of DNA from various populations, researchers in each study traced genetic markers across the globe to gain insight into the flow of early humans.

Dr. Pagani and his colleagues at the Estonian Biocentre looked at 483 human genomes from 148 populations worldwide and concluded that large population groups exited Africa at several different times, and that the majority of Eurasians migrated more recently than the indigenous people from Australian and Papua New Guinea.

"All the other Eurasians we had were very homogenous in their split times from Africans,” Pagani told BBC News. "This suggests most Eurasians diverged from Africans in a single event ... about 75,000 years ago, while the [Papua New Guinea] split was more ancient – about 90,000 years ago. So we thought there must be something going on."

Another study, led by Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas from the Centre for GeoGenetics, partially contradicts Pagani’s findings. Dr. Malaspinas and her colleagues looked at 83 Aboriginal Australian and 25 Papuan genomes and found evidence for a single migration between 51,000 and 72,000 years ago.

After leaving Africa in a mass migration, they argue, anatomically modern humans reproduced with Neanderthals already living in Europe and Asia until 58,000 years ago, when ancestors of the aboriginal group made their way to Australia via a land bridge that then connected the Papua New Guinea with Australia.

The last study, led by Swapan Mallick from the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, also found evidence for a significant mass migration by 100,000 years ago, but said that those early humans were not the ancestors of any particular modern group.

“Indigenous Australians, New Guineans, and Andamanese do not derive substantial ancestry from an early dispersal of modern humans; instead, their modern human ancestry is consistent with coming from the same source as that of other non-Africans,” the authors wrote.

Other lines of evidence have also suggested that humans began trickling out of Africa much earlier than 60,000 years ago.

Homo sapiens teeth found in China last year were dated to 80,000 and 120,000 years ago, placing humans in Asia tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought, and other anthropological signs have complicated the story as well.

“Human history is this really fascinating and complex puzzle, and genetics can tell us about some of the pieces," Joshua Akey, an evolutionary genomicist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the studies, told The Verge. But given genetic limitations, “it’s really important to integrate information from as many other disciplines as possible."

 49 
 on: Sep 23, 2016, 05:39 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Single migration from Africa? DNA offers new look at humanity's family roots

Nearly all modern Eurasians are descended from an out-of-Africa migration about 60,000 years ago, but some have genetic markers of earlier divergences, suggesting a more complex story.

By Rowena Lindsay, Staff September 23, 2016

Three human genome studies published Wednesday in Nature provide new clues as to when Homo sapiens, our earliest anatomically modern human ancestors, first left Africa.

After analyzing the DNA of 800 people from more than 270 populations, including a large number of aboriginal people in Australia and Papua New Guinea, the researchers found genetic evidence for a migration of humans out of Africa about 100,000 years ago – long before the migration that most modern Europeans, Asians, and Australians are descended from, which came about 60,000 years ago.

But that earlier migration largely failed. The populations died out within a few generations, ultimately contributing no more than a few percent of the genome to anyone alive today, the researchers say.

The three studies differ in most details, but "all three papers all reach the same conclusions: that in Eurasians and also [Papua New Guineans], the majority of their genomes come from the same major migration,” said Luca Pagani, a biologist at the University of Cambridge and first author on one of the studies, reported BBC News.

By testing hundreds of samples of DNA from various populations, researchers in each study traced genetic markers across the globe to gain insight into the flow of early humans.

Dr. Pagani and his colleagues at the Estonian Biocentre looked at 483 human genomes from 148 populations worldwide and concluded that large population groups exited Africa at several different times, and that the majority of Eurasians migrated more recently than the indigenous people from Australian and Papua New Guinea.

"All the other Eurasians we had were very homogenous in their split times from Africans,” Pagani told BBC News. "This suggests most Eurasians diverged from Africans in a single event ... about 75,000 years ago, while the [Papua New Guinea] split was more ancient – about 90,000 years ago. So we thought there must be something going on."

Another study, led by Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas from the Centre for GeoGenetics, partially contradicts Pagani’s findings. Dr. Malaspinas and her colleagues looked at 83 Aboriginal Australian and 25 Papuan genomes and found evidence for a single migration between 51,000 and 72,000 years ago.

After leaving Africa in a mass migration, they argue, anatomically modern humans reproduced with Neanderthals already living in Europe and Asia until 58,000 years ago, when ancestors of the aboriginal group made their way to Australia via a land bridge that then connected the Papua New Guinea with Australia.

The last study, led by Swapan Mallick from the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, also found evidence for a significant mass migration by 100,000 years ago, but said that those early humans were not the ancestors of any particular modern group.

“Indigenous Australians, New Guineans, and Andamanese do not derive substantial ancestry from an early dispersal of modern humans; instead, their modern human ancestry is consistent with coming from the same source as that of other non-Africans,” the authors wrote.

Other lines of evidence have also suggested that humans began trickling out of Africa much earlier than 60,000 years ago.

Homo sapiens teeth found in China last year were dated to 80,000 and 120,000 years ago, placing humans in Asia tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought, and other anthropological signs have complicated the story as well.

“Human history is this really fascinating and complex puzzle, and genetics can tell us about some of the pieces," Joshua Akey, an evolutionary genomicist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the studies, told The Verge. But given genetic limitations, “it’s really important to integrate information from as many other disciplines as possible."

 50 
 on: Sep 23, 2016, 05:36 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Special Investigation: Inside the Deadly Rhino Horn Trade

By Bryan Christy
National Geographich
Photographs by Brent Stirton
9/23/2016

    This story appears in the October 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.

It was a five-hour drive from South Africa’s Kruger National Park, home of the world’s largest wild rhinoceros population, to Polokwane, home of the world’s most wanted man when it comes to rhino horn trafficking: a millionaire safari operator and ex-policeman named Dawie Groenewald.

To meet Groenewald, photographer Brent Stirton and I sped in two cars through gorgeous, winding mountain ranges. But then night fell, and in the darkness outside the city someone had poured tar down the center line of the highway and set it ablaze. It appeared to be another protest rooted in the racial and economic tensions that continue to flare in South Africa more than two decades after the end of apartheid. We wove around the fire only to come upon a traffic jam and a makeshift roadblock a mile later. In the middle of the road what looked like a sofa was on fire, the flames shooting 10 feet into the air. Large rocks blocked all four lanes. Brent got out of his car and moved rocks too big to drive over, while I watched for an ambush. We picked our way through the gantlet as unseen people hurled stones from beyond the shoulder.

We stayed the night at a dank roadside hotel, then waited, in accordance with Groenewald’s instructions, at a gas station for his man, Leon van der Merwe, to meet us. We followed him for 20 minutes along an expanse of immaculately fenced property until we reached two stone pillars with a gate that slid open electronically. Standing in the driveway, hands on his hips, was Dawie Groenewald.

Mozambican authorities say these men confessed to intending to poach a rhino in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. They will be charged under a new wildlife conservation law and, if convicted, face a maximum prison sentence of 12 years. Right: In Mozambique, near the Kruger National Park border, a coalition force of local police, wildlife officers, border guards, and rangers—supported by the International Anti-Poaching Foundation—arrests a man long believed responsible for arranging weapons and transport for rhino poachers.

    It’s a war. That’s our frustration. The rhino war—it’s like drugs. It involves lots of cash and bribery.

A two-man security team deploys by helicopter at sunset for antipoaching duties on Hume’s rhino ranch. Hume reckons he spends $330,000 a month to operate the ranch, $200,000 of which goes to keeping his rhinos safe. He has joined a lawsuit to lift South Africa’s ban on rhino horn trading.

Today Groenewald, who has been called the “butcher of Prachtig” for what he allegedly did to rhinos on his hunting property of that name (prachtig is Dutch for “beautiful”), and 10 co-defendants face 1,872 counts in a South African indictment. The “Groenewald Gang,” as South Africa’s press has dubbed them, are charged variously with illegally killing rhinos, illegally dehorning rhinos, trading in rhino horn, racketeering, money laundering, and related crimes. In the United States, Groenewald and his brother, Janneman, have been indicted for tricking nearly a dozen American hunting clients into illegally killing rhinos at Prachtig, and U.S. authorities have requested their extradition. In the Czech Republic investigators linked Groenewald to a rhino horn–trafficking syndicate after discovering that horns shipped to Vietnam came from rhinos shot by Czech hunters at Prachtig. Groenewald denies knowing the purpose of these hunts. He was once banned from hunting in Zimbabwe and has been expelled from the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa.

This is the story of Dawie Groenewald, an accused rhino horn trafficker, and John Hume, the owner of the world’s largest rhino farm—two men who know each other well and share a common goal: to end the South African and international bans on trading and selling rhino horn. Groenewald has agreed to see Brent and me at a time when he is in a high-stakes legal battle that could land him in prison for decades or create an opening for the legal sale of rhino horn in South Africa—an opening that could help pave the way to a legal global trade, which opponents say could doom rhinos.

The Rhino Crisis

South Africa is home to nearly 70 percent of the 29,500 rhinos left on Earth, down from several hundred thousand in Africa before the 1800s, when the European imprint on the land intensified. They’re spread across two continents and five species: the white rhino, with some 20,400 remaining; the black, with 5,250; the greater one-horned; the Sumatran; and the Javan. According to South Africa’s Private Rhino Owners Association, 6,200 of the country’s rhinos are in private hands and are used commercially for photographic safaris, legal hunting, horn production, and breeding.

A security team member (displaying his “antipoaching unit” tattoo) holds a rhino’s horn at the ranch of John Hume—the world’s top rhino farmer—in Klerksdorp, South Africa. The horns of Hume’s 1,300 rhinos are trimmed every 20 months or so and grow back. He stores them in hopes of a legalized trade, which he says will reduce poaching, a claim many conservationists reject.

The horn of a rhinoceros is the world’s most valuable appendage in an exotic marketplace that values nature’s oddities, such as elephant ivory, tiger penis, and giraffe tail. Unlike the horns of many species, including cattle, rhino horn is not made of bone. It is made of keratin, a protein also found in our hair and fingernails, and if you trim a rhino’s horn, it grows back. Although selling rhino horn is illegal, in South Africa if you have a permit, you can cut off a rhino’s horn. Every year or two South African rhino farmers tranquilize their animals with darts, cut as much as four pounds of horn from each rhino, and store it all in bank vaults and other secure locations, hoping for a day when it’s legal to sell horn.

Meanwhile a booming illegal trade supplies mostly Vietnam and China, where rhino horn is often ground to a powder and ingested as a treatment for everything from cancer to sea snake bites and hangovers. Inspired by years of erroneous reporting by Western media, people have recently also been using rhino horn as an aphrodisiac. On the black market in South Africa, the horn of the white rhino sells for up to $3,000 a pound, according to Groenewald, but on Asian black markets it wholesales for five to 10 times that, and retail prices can go up astronomically from there. A single bull rhino carrying 22 pounds of horn might buy a new life for a Mozambican poacher who slips over the border into Kruger National Park with an AK-47, but that poacher himself is likely to be exploited by the men who supplied his weapon. That poacher also may be shot by authorities, as were 500 Mozambican poachers in Kruger from 2010 to 2015.

Tracing the Horn Trade

The international sale of rhino horn—a popular yet ineffective medicine and hangover cure in Vietnam and China—has been banned since 1977. Soaring demand in these countries, where it’s considered a status symbol, caused a rapid rise in prices.

As law enforcement battles the trade, increasingly organized traffickers nimbly shift their supply routes of poached or stolen horn.

Demand for horn is undermining two decades of conservation successes in Africa. Soon rhino births may no longer outpace poaching losses.

Rhino poaching has reached disastrous proportions during the past decade. In 2007 South Africa reported losing just 13 rhinos. In 2008 it was 83. Last year it was 1,175. In Kruger, home to some 9,000 rhinos, poachers kill on average two to three every day. The killing isn’t limited to Africa. In April poachers shot a greater one-horned rhino with AK-47s in India’s Kaziranga National Park hours after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had visited the park to promote conservation. Rhinos don’t roar when they’re injured. They keen. A shot mother will cry in pain, sometimes inadvertently causing her frightened baby to return to her. Poachers will sever a baby’s spine with a machete to save a bullet, then take its horn too.

For those on the front line, protecting rhinos is no longer a conservation challenge: “It’s a war,” says Xolani Nicholus Funda, chief ranger at Kruger, where most of the world’s rhino poaching takes place. “That’s our frustration. The rhino war—it’s like drugs. It involves lots of cash and bribery. The whole justice system is really a frustration. We’re losing cases” in court. “We’re surrounded by police stations we don’t even recognize as police stations because they’re working with the poachers.”

Battle in Johannesburg

In 1977 the international trade in rhino horn was banned by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the treaty governing the global wildlife trade. But the ban applies only to trade between countries, and it has an exception that horn traffickers have turned to their advantage: Under CITES it is legal to export the horn—or trophy—from a white rhino shot with a permit on a sport hunt. Beginning in 2003 Vietnamese rhino horn traffickers began signing up with South African hunting outfitters to kill rhinos for their horns, and later a Laos-based syndicate even hired prostitutes to act as pseudo hunters. These syndicates were selling horn on the black market back home.

These rhinos at a feeding site on John Hume’s ranch have recently had their horns trimmed. Unlike elephant ivory, rhino horn grows back when cut properly. Hume estimates that he has five tons in storage, which could bring him some $45 million.

In response to the rapacious hunting, South Africa tightened its hunting rules, limiting hunters to one rhino a year, requiring a government official to witness hunts, and denying permits to hunters from Vietnam. The horn of every hunted rhino had to be microchipped and its DNA signature recorded in the Rhino DNA Index System at the University of Pretoria’s Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.

Despite all that, rhino horn trafficking continued. There was another soft spot in the international rhino horn ban that CITES couldn’t address: Selling rhino horn within South Africa was legal. But then in 2008 Marthinus van Schalkwyk, minister of environmental affairs and tourism, announced a moratorium on that policy in order “to curb the increase in the illegal trade in rhino horns” and “hopefully discourage poaching.” In February 2009 the ban on domestic sales of rhino horn went into effect. Groenewald has a simple explanation as to why South Africa refuses to legalize rhino horn sales: “Somewhere along in the government,” he tells me, “there must be high rollers involved in this. You understand what I’m saying?”

Both Groenewald and John Hume say breeding rhinos for the purpose of harvesting and then legally selling their horns will reduce poaching. But Allison Thomson, director of Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching, a leading anti-legalization organization, disagrees. “Our law enforcement agencies are already hard-pressed to deal with nearly a thousand arrests in 2015 and a mere 61 convictions. Added pressure to monitor a legal trade would undoubtedly make enforcement near impossible, allowing criminal syndicates once more to traffic more horns into the illegal international market.”

Veterinarian Johan Marais (left) prepares to try out a novel treatment—rubber bands used in human surgery—to close a gaping hole in this female rhino’s face made in May 2015 by poachers hacking out her horn. Marais says that Hope—seen here a year later—will survive the attack.

    All the rhino we darted had their horns removed previously, some right down to the growing point. The horns on some rhino were clearly cut off with a chain saw or the likes.

A game rancher near Port Elizabeth who couldn’t afford the high cost of protecting his rhinos from poachers sold this one to a more secure operation. The rhino, blindfolded and wearing earplugs to calm it, will be sedated and accompanied by a veterinarian during the 20-hour truck journey to its new home. Right:

Lulah’s mother was killed by poachers in Kruger National Park. She now lives at Care for Wild Africa, a sanctuary specializing in rhinos. Staff member Dorota Ladosz lives with her full-time and comforts her after surgery to repair wounds inflicted by hyenas before her rescue.

The controversy over rhino horn is coming to a head just as South Africa is hosting the triennial meeting of CITES in Johannesburg in September. In 1997 South Africa had proposed lifting the CITES ban on the international rhino horn trade, touting its legal system as up to the task of ensuring a controlled trade that “will depress black market prices and activity.” But that effort failed.

History has shown that removing a trade ban without adequate controls on crime and corruption can be disastrous. In 2007 CITES parties suspended an international ban on trading elephant ivory and authorized four countries—Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe—to sell 115 tons to China and Japan. The sale, which took place the next year, was designed to flood Asia’s ivory markets and drive out illegal traders. Instead it signaled that ivory markets were open again, fueling unprecedented elephant poaching across Africa—more than 30,000 elephants a year between 2010 and 2012 alone—that continues today.

“It’s no accident that rhino horn and ivory prices increased around the time CITES started talking about legalizing ivory,” says America’s top wildlife law officer, Chief William Woody of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There has been speculation that South Africa, with a nudge from its ranching industry, might again propose removing the CITES ban on the international rhino horn trade—despite the awkwardness of the meeting’s host country proposing such a controversial plan. “We have done all in our power [to stop poaching], and doing the same thing every day isn’t working,” South Africa’s environmental affairs minister, Edna Molewa, told the Mail & Guardian during the CITES meeting in Bangkok in 2013. Instead South Africa announced in May that it would not propose lifting the ban, citing the need for evidence that trade would help free-roaming rhinos, expand rhino ranges, and address corruption and challenges in other range states. But then Swaziland, a tiny country with fewer than a hundred rhinos that is locked almost entirely within South Africa, put forward a proposal to lift the ban.
The Last Rhinos

Rhino numbers have plummeted during the past decade as poachers kill them for their valuable horns, most of which end up in Vietnam and China. Trading horn internationally and within South Africa is illegal, but some rhino ranchers trim and stockpile their rhinos' horns—which grow back—in hopes that trade will be legalized.

Carnage at Prachtig

Dawie Groenewald ushers us to a long dining table in front of an enormous stone fireplace in the main lodge of his exotic game–breeding ranch. Called Mataka, this is the smaller of his two properties—1,853 acres and 125 miles south of Prachtig. Outside he has two shiny helicopters, a stable of Arabian horses, and acres of high-priced, exotic game he’s going to show me later, including rhinos. Inside are two great rooms filled with black leather sofas and taxidermy.

He sits down at the table, and his servant, Andrew, brings him a plate of lamb knuckles—skop, he explains, making a chopping motion with his left hand at his right forearm. Brent and I opt for a bowl of dried beef called biltong and a couple of Cokes.

Groenewald started Mataka in 2012, two years after his arrest, but he didn’t end hunting operations at Prachtig. He established a new business, Wild Africa Hunting Safaris, that replaced the original one, Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris. “I had [an American] politician two years ago; he doesn’t even know it’s my place,” he says with obvious delight. Groenewald is clearly confident of his chances in court in South Africa and the U.S. And he has reason to be: The criminal case against him in South Africa has been frozen by a civil lawsuit filed by a game farmer named Johan Krüger, who lives nearby. The lawsuit challenges as unconstitutional South Africa’s ban on the trade of rhino horn, as well as most of the other rhino-related crimes that Groenewald is accused of.

“Johan Krüger,” Groenewald tells me, is “on the papers.” But Krüger, who is not implicated in any crimes Groenewald is charged with, is not the true plaintiff, Groenewald says, and is not the one paying the legal bills. “It’s me,” he adds emphatically. Krüger did not respond to National Geographic’s efforts to contact him, but there is reason to believe Groenewald. He and Krüger have been in the buffalo business together; they hunt together; Krüger’s photograph has appeared in Groenewald’s hunting brochures; and Krüger’s lawyer is also Groenewald’s lawyer.

South African game rancher Dawie Groenewald faces 1,739 charges related to rhino horn trafficking and rhino poaching. In addition, the United States is seeking to extradite him and his brother. A lawsuit Groenewald is financing that challenges his country’s ban on the sale of rhino horn has put his criminal case on hold.

    The people called me all the time. Because they want some horn. Some horn. Some horn. They don’t get it from me? They’ll get it from somebody else.

Dawie Groenewald

The charges against Groenewald in South Africa are rooted in a September 2010 raid on Prachtig by South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, an elite police unit known as the Hawks. Markus Hofmeyr, manager of veterinary services for South African National Parks, which runs Kruger National Park, was part of a team of forensic specialists brought in that day to tranquilize Groenewald’s rhinos and collect tissue and blood samples. His team located 29 live rhinos and darted 26 of them.

Hofmeyr submitted a sworn affidavit that described what he saw at Prachtig: “All the rhino we darted had their horns removed previously, some right down to the growing point. The horns on some rhino were clearly cut off with a chain saw or the likes.” Cutting a horn too close to its growing point can cause bleeding and, veterinarians say, can be painful. Hofmeyr speculated that some horns had been removed “by inserting a knife and separating the attachment area of the horn from the base of the skull or applying a large force and tearing the horn from the base.”

According to Groenewald, the Chinese “don’t like dehorned pieces,” so he cuts his rhinos’ horns down to just three inches from the skull.

Investigators also discovered several locations at Prachtig with the remains of burned rhino carcasses and skulls. Nineteen skulls were found, all with their horns cut off. Six years later Hofmeyr is still haunted by the scene. “The thing that was most traumatic for me was seeing that pit with the dead rhinos in it,” he tells me. “It’s very likely he’s going to get off the hook. That’s an indictment of how sick our systems are.”

Hofmeyr is sick about something more personal. He recognized rhinos on Groenewald’s property as animals he’d helped capture in Kruger National Park.

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