Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The mission to find the world’s rarest cat in jungles of Java

By Chelsea Whyte

Slapping the surface of water to create ripples that mimic insects landing, fishing cats use their partially webbed paws to grab the fish that come to feed.

But this behaviour may no longer be seen in Java – evidence of the Javan fishing cat hasn’t been recorded for more than two decades.

Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) 3.jpg“Is it the rarest cat in the world? It quite possibly could be, if it’s still alive,” says Anthony Giordano, a conservation biologist and leader of a new survey to seek out the elusive creature.

In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature designated fishing cats an endangered species, noting that the Javan fishing cat subspecies may qualify as critically endangered, the step before extinction.

But that was based on the last survey of cat tracks carried out on the Indonesian island – in the early 1990s.

Fishing cat tracks
“Fishing cat tracks are fairly distinctive. There’s very little you can confuse it with particularly on an island like Java,” says Giordano. “Fishing cat tracks are really interesting in the sense that unlike other cats, on average you’ll see the claws in their prints due to their semi-retractable claw system.”

There’s been only rumour or hearsay since then. People say they have seen them, but it turns out to be the more common leopard cat, which shares a similar habitat and markings.

The origins of Cuban species

August 24, 2016

An international research team suggests the endangered Cuban solenodon evolved after the extinction of dinosaurs.

The Caribbean islands form a natural laboratory for the study of evolution due to their unique biological and geological features. There has been heated discussion since the early 20th century on how species appeared on the islands.

The Cuban solenodon is a small, rare, endangered animal, belonging to the mammalian order Eulipotyphla. It is a mole-like nocturnal animal with a long snout that feeds on insects and is found in only a few fragmented locations in Cuba. Its evolutionary origins have been widely contested and have remained relatively elusive because they have been so difficult to capture and examine.

In 2012, a team of researchers successfully captured seven living Cuban solenodons and collected DNA samples before releasing them. They analysed five specific protein-coding genes and compared them to the same genes in another 35 species belonging to the same order.

While another research group had suggested that solenodons lived with dinosaurs in the Cretaceous period, this team found that the solenodon family evolved from its ancestor around 59 million years ago, long after the dinosaur extinction. The team's analysis also revealed that the Cuban solenodon and the Hispaniolan solenodon (the other existing solenodon species) diverged from each other in the Early Pliocene Epoch (3.7 to 4.8 million years ago), while the previous study set the divergence at 25 million years ago. Hispaniola is the second largest island in the Caribbean and is currently home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The team now suggests that a much-later divergence time in addition to information on ocean-current patterns in the area indicate that the Cuban solenodon travelled over water (on floating plants or rafts, for example) to Cuba from Hispaniola, rather than evolutionarily diverging from them due to the much-earlier geological separation of the islands.

China's honey bee losses are low compared with West

August 24, 2016

Since concern about widespread honey bee colony losses began 10 years ago, there have been surveys carried out to assess winter losses in North America and many European countries. So far, the picture in China, the largest beekeeping country in the world, has been unclear. Now for the first time, information about winter losses from a large-scale survey carried out from 2010-13 has been published.

In a new paper published in the Journal of Apicultural Research, official journal of the International Bee Research Association (IBRA), Zhiguang Liu and Wei Shi from the Institute of Apicultural Research, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing and colleagues, report on a three-year survey using standard questionnaires developed by the international COLOSS Association. In total, they received 3,090 responses, including 485 from part-time beekeepers, 2,216 from sideline beekeepers, and 389 from commercial beekeepers. Between them these beekeepers managed some 140,000 colonies, that is about 2.4 % of China's six million colonies.

The results showed that colony losses were generally low (on average 10.1%), compared to published results from Europe and the USA. There were however variations between years (ranging from 8.5 to 12.0 %), between provinces (ranging from 2.5 to 19.0%), and between different sizes of beekeeping operation (ranging from 7.6 to 12.1%).

The authors speculate that reasons for the lower losses compared to those of other countries may be due to a high genetic diversity in their honey bees, regular replacement of queen bees by the beekeepers, and because the average size of beekeeping operation is small, meaning that beekeepers can pay close attention to their hives, in particular to the way they control the parasitic varroa mite. The authors also discuss why losses may be consistently higher in certain regions.

Tiniest grazing mammal was a pig at the front, horse at the back

New Scientist Live:
24 August 2016

Zoologger is our weekly column highlighting extraordinary animals – and occasionally other organisms – from around the world

By Alice Klein
Species: Pig-footed bandicoot, Chaeropus ecaudatus
Habitat: Australia

It had a bizarre set of horse-like hind feet and pig-like fore feet, but it looked like a rat. A collection of fossils gathering dust on a back shelf has yielded new insights into one of Australia’s most mysterious marsupials, the pig-footed bandicoot, which went extinct in the 1950s.

It is the smallest grazing mammal ever documented, weighing about 200 grams, and had several unique features – including its feet. And it seems its grazing abilities evolved unusually quickly.

Kenny Travouillon at the Western Australian Museum in Perth studied three fossil teeth that had been languishing in the museum’s collection since they were dug up in New South Wales in the 1970s.

He found that Chaeropus ecaudatus evolved from an earlier omnivorous species – C. baynesi – which lived in Australia two million years earlier.

A rapidly drying climate may have prompted the switch to grazing, but two million years is an unusually short time frame, Travouillon says. “Evolution of diets usually takes many millions of years.”

Adding to the mystery is the fact that small mammals do not normally graze, he says. “They don’t have big enough stomachs to digest grass for a long time to extract the little nutrients.”

Most island vertebrate extinctions could be averted, concludes new study

Control and eradication of invasive species could prevent as much as 75 percent of all island-level extinctions predicted for globally threatened vertebrates

Date: August 18, 2016
Source: University of California - Santa Cruz

Eight of every ten species extinctions has occurred on islands, and invasive mammals are the leading reason for those losses. Currently, 40 percent of species at risk of global extinction are island inhabitants.

In the most thorough study of its kind, scientists have now analyzed global patterns of island vertebrate extinctions and developed predictive models to help identify places where conservation interventions will provide the greatest benefits to threatened island biodiversity.

Control and eradication of invasive species are effective conservation tools, but conservation scientists have lacked tools for identifying where these efforts will have the greatest impact. The new study, published August 18 inNature Communications and led by UC Santa Cruz researcher Erin McCreless, closes that gap.

Humans have introduced non-native rodents, destructive herbivores such as goats, and predators like feral cats and foxes to islands around the world. These novel disturbances decimate native island wildlife and change entire island ecosystems. At the same time, islands are hotspots of biodiversity and often support rare and unique species occurring nowhere else in the world.

Controlling invasive mammal populations, or removing them entirely from islands, is a highly effective tool for conserving island species and ecosystems, and such actions have contributed greatly to the recovery of many threatened island species. Conservation dollars are limited, however, and it is important that invasive mammal management efforts be focused on the islands where they will go the furthest toward conserving native island biodiversity.

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