Friday, 26 May 2017

Call to keep secrets on rare species draws reluctant support

By Warren CornwallMay. 25, 2017 , 2:00 PM

The extent to which rare animal poachers piggyback on scientific research became clear to Mark Auliya soon after he published a 2012 paper announcing the discovery of the Borneo earless monitor lizard (Lanthanotus borneensis) in a new part of the southeast Asian island.

The conservation biologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, had left the lizards’ location vague, in an attempt to shield the animal from collectors and their suppliers. Nevertheless, within a year, the lizard was turning up outside Borneo.

So Auliya embraces a new call, published today in Science, for scientists to keep mum about details that could turn rare and sought-after species into the next easy target for the global wild animal trade. “It’s terrible,” he says. “If you describe a new species in the Democratic Republic of Congo, you should probably only list the country.”
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In today’s Perspective, two Australian conservation biologists urge scientists to adopt a policy of strategic “self-censorship” to shield the animals and plants they study. For species that are likely targets for collectors, they urge scientists to share detailed information about where the species is found only with government agencies, while hiding it from the public.


Earliest evidence for dog breeding found on remote Siberian island

By David GrimmMay. 26, 2017 , 3:00 AM

The hunter-gatherers of Zhokhov Island were a hardy folk. Nine thousand years ago, they survived frigid year-round temperatures in animal-skin tents some 500 kilometers north of what is now the Russian mainland, and they were the only people ever known to hunt large numbers of polar bears without firearms. Now it appears these ancient Arctic dwellers did something even more remarkable: They may have been among the first humans to breed dogs for a particular purpose. An analysis of canine bones from Zhokhov suggests the dogs there were bred to pull sleds, making this the first evidence—by thousands of years—for dog breeding in the archaeological record.

“It’s pretty convincing and very exciting,” says Melinda Zeder, an archaezoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The finding may help explain why people domesticated dogs in the first place: to put them to work. “It fills in a missing piece of the puzzle of early human-dog relationships, and even domestication itself,” adds Angela Perri, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Zhokhov wasn’t always an island. When Stone Age people lived there, and before seas rose, it was connected to Siberia. In addition to polar bears, which were mostly hunted in winter, the Zhokhovians pursued reindeer hundreds of kilometers across vast plains. “They needed a means of transportation,” says Vladimir Pitulko, an archaeologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg who has been excavating Zhokhov since 1989. He previously found dog bones and the remains of wooden sleds on the island, but it was never clear whether the animals were actually bred for sledding.


Mermaids & Mermen: Facts & Legends

By Benjamin Radford, Live Science Contributor | May 25, 2017 11:43pm ET

With most of our blue planet covered by water, it's little wonder that, centuries ago, the oceans were believed to hide mysterious creatures including sea serpents and mermaids. Merfolk (mermaids and mermen) are, of course, the marine version of half-human, half-animal legends that have captured human imagination for ages. One source, the "Arabian Nights," described mermaids as having "moon faces and hair like a woman's but their hands and feet were in their bellies and they had tails like fishes." 

Birds, bees and other critters have scruples, and for good reason

Date: May 24, 2017
Source: University of California - Berkeley

Humans are not the only species to show a strong work ethic and scruples. UC Berkeley researchers have found evidence of conscientiousness in insects, reptiles, birds, fish and other critters.

In reviewing nearly 4,000 animal behavior studies, UC Berkeley psychologists Mikel Delgado and Frank Sulloway tracked such attributes as industriousness, neatness, tenacity, cautiousness and self-discipline across a broad range of creatures great and small.

Just as in humans, conscientiousness in animals -- which includes working hard, paying attention to detail and striving to do the right thing -- has such evolutionary benefits as giving them an edge in hunting and gathering, attracting mates, procreating and fending off predators, according to the review published in the online issue of the journal Psychological Bulletin.

"Honeybees who are more likely to remove bee carcasses from their hive have more offspring, and birds who keep their nests tidier are less susceptible to being preyed on," said Delgado, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in psychology. "Also, for many bird species, mastering song is key to mating success."

And, "in some bird species, females carefully inspect the display nests that are built by males," she added. "Those males that build the best display nests and that have chosen nesting sites that are well hidden from predators, are more likely to be selected as mates."

Delgado and Sulloway divided the conscientious characteristics they found in animals into two main categories: "order and Industriousness," which includes organization and cleanliness, and "achievement striving and competence," which covers mastery and deliberation.

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Are wolverines in the Arctic in the climate change crosshairs?

Date: May 24, 2017
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society
Will reductions in Arctic snow cover make tundra-dwelling wolverines more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought?

That's a question scientists hope an innovative method described in a new study co-authored by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) will help answer.

Wolverines are the largest land-dwelling members of the weasel family, and use snow-pack for denning, caching food, and other needs. Since snow cover provides a key component to wolverine habitat, determining where snow will be available, and in what amounts, will be critical to managing the future for the elusive carnivores.

That determination is seen as key to deciding listing under the Endangered Species Act. To better inform this discussion, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has stated the need for more information on the relationship of wolverine distribution to persistent snow at the den-scale.

In their study, the authors looked at snow at the den-site scale in late May using low-altitude aerial photography in wolverine denning habitat both in the Rocky Mountains of the western United States and in northwestern Alaska.

In the Rocky Mountains, they documented snow in all but one study area. Snow in the Alaska study area was mostly gone, with only widely scattered patches remaining for cover. The study emphasizes the need for additional surveys to determine whether reductions in Arctic snow cover could make tundra-dwelling wolverines more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought.

Meanwhile, the WCS Arctic Beringia Program is focusing on how wolverines use that snow and how obligate this usage is -- information vital to optimally managing this species in a time of rapid climatic change.

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