Wednesday, 28 September 2016

It's not all about tigers and criminals: Illegal wildlife trade responses need nuance

Date: September 22, 2016

Source: Lancaster University

Responses to illegal wildlife trade need to be more nuanced and not only focused on high-profile species if we are to truly tackle the problem, say researchers.

Across the globe, the illegal wildlife trade threatens thousands of species, including fish, fungi and plants, along with the more familiar 'charismatic' animals such as tigers, rhinoceroses and elephants.

Despite widespread recognition of the problem, science and policy has concentrated on a few high-profile species.

A Lancaster University-led study, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, argues there is a need to recognize the diversity of products -- from medicinal plants to elephant tusks -- as well as the complex and diverse networks of people involved in the trade. It provides some of the terms and tools that policy makers and researchers need to better making these distinctions.

The international research team reviewed trade across species and regions, highlighting seven examples where more detailed analyses of illegal trade revealed diverse potential solutions. These ranged from education targeting gardeners who unintentionally buy rare orchids, to supporting legal trade in farmed rhino horn to reduce lucrative black market prices.

Bruno considers the collard peccary (Pecari tajucu) brought back by his uncle from a hunting trip, Arapiuns River, Brazil. In this reserve small-scale hunting for household consumption is legal, while hunting with dogs or for sale is illegal. Credit: Rachel Carmenta

Dr Jacob Phelps of the Lancaster Environment Centre led the study. He said: "For many species, our existing approaches to illegal trade are failing. We tend to discuss illegal wildlife trade as it were a single phenomenon, and seek to resolve it with the same types of interventions -- usually new laws that forbid trade.

"In fact, I would argue that trade in African ivory, rare Burmese turtles for pets and ‌South American peccaries for meat have comparatively little in common. We need better analyses to inform more tailored strategies for responding to each of these cases."

Fish against monster worms

Date: September 21, 2016

Source: Universit├Ąt Basel

Eunice aphroditois, also known as the Bobbit worm, buries its long body deep in the sand, leaving only its powerful jaws protruding above the surface. It uses these to grab hold of unsuspecting prey and drag it down into its burrow within a fraction of a second. Biologists from Basel University have taken a closer look at the gruesome hunter and its prey and noticed a fascinating behavioral pattern: prey fish defend themselves against the monstrous worm by attacking it with water jets and forcing it to retreat. The study has been published in Scientific Reports.

The Bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois) ambushes its prey using a hunting technique based on outstanding camouflage and the element of surprise. The annelid buries itself in the sand up to its head and lies in wait for its prey, luring it in with worm-shaped tentacles. Any fish that strays too close succumbs to the lightning-quick grasp of the Bobbit's claws and is dragged down into its burrow. These annelid predators live beneath the sandy ocean floors of the Indo-Pacific and can reach up to three meters in length.

Fish use mobbing against superior foes

For the first time, biologists Jose Lachat and Daniel Haag-Wackernagel from the University of Basel's Department of Biomedicine have been able to observe how Scolopsis affinis fish from the Lembeh Strait in the Indo-Pacific take up arms against the Bobbit worm. If a Scolopsis discovers a Bobbit worm or observes a fellow species member being caught, it initiates a behavior known in biology as "mobbing," in which otherwise defenseless prey animals attack their predators.

Read on

Reptilian anachronism: American alligator older than we thought – via Herp Digest

Date: September 17, 2016
Source: University of Florida

"If we could step back in time 8 million years, you'd basically see the same animal crawling around then as you would see today in the Southeast. Even 30 million years ago, they didn't look much different," said Evan Whiting, a former UF undergraduate and the lead author of two studies.

From climate to the peninsula’s very shape, not much in Florida has stayed the same over the last 8 million years.

Except, it turns out, alligators.

While many of today’s top predators are more recent products of evolution, the modern American alligator is a reptile quite literally from another time. New University of Florida research shows these prehistoric-looking creatures have remained virtually untouched by major evolutionary change for at least 8 million years, and may be up to 6 million years older than previously thought. Besides some sharks and a handful of others, very few living vertebrate species have such a long duration in the fossil record with so little change.

“If we could step back in time 8 million years, you’d basically see the same animal crawling around then as you would see today in the Southeast. Even 30 million years ago, they didn’t look much different,” said Evan Whiting, a former UF undergraduate and the lead author of two studies published during summer 2016 in the Journal of Herpetology and Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology that document the alligator’s evolution – or lack thereof. "We were surprised to find fossil alligators from this deep in time that actually belong to the living species, rather than an extinct one."

Whiting, now a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota, describes the alligator as a survivor, withstanding sea-level fluctuations and extreme changes in climate that would have caused some less-adaptive animals to rapidly change or go extinct. Whiting also discovered that early American alligators likely shared the Florida coastline with a 25-foot now-extinct giant crocodile.

In modern times, however, he said alligators face a threat that could hinder the scaly reptiles’ ability to thrive like nothing in their past — humans.

Despite their resilience and adaptability, alligators were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century. The Endangered Species Act has significantly improved the number of alligators in the wild, but there are still ongoing encounters between humans and alligators that are not desirable for either species and, in many places, alligator habitats are being destroyed or humans are moving into them, Whiting said.

“The same traits that allowed alligators to remain virtually the same through numerous environmental changes over millions of years can become a bit of a problem when they try to adapt to humans,” Whiting said. “Their adaptive nature is why we have alligators in swimming pools or crawling around golf courses.”

Whiting hopes his research findings serve to inform the public that the alligator was here first, and we should act accordingly by preserving the animal’s wild populations and its environment. By providing a more complete evolutionary history of the alligator, his research provides the groundwork for conserving habitats where alligators have dominated for millions of years.

“If we know from the fossil record that alligators have thrived in certain types of habitats since deep in time, we know which habitats to focus conservation and management efforts on today,” Whiting said.

Study authors began re-thinking the alligator’s evolutionary history after Whiting examined an ancient alligator skull, originally thought to be an extinct species, unearthed in Marion County, Florida, and found it to be virtually identical to the iconic modern species. He compared the ancient skull with dozens of other fossils and modern skeletons to look at the whole genus and trace major changes, or the lack thereof, in alligator morphology.

Whiting also studied the carbon and oxygen compositions of the teeth of both ancient alligators and the 20- to 25-foot extinct crocodile Gavialosuchus americanus that once dominated the Florida coastline and died out about 5 million years ago for unknown reasons. The presence of alligator and Gavialosuchus fossils at several localities in north Florida suggest the two species may have coexisted in places near the coast, he said.

Analysis of the teeth suggests, however, that the giant croc was a marine reptile, which sought its prey in ocean waters, while alligators tended to hunt in freshwater and on land. That doesn’t mean alligators weren’t occasionally eaten by the monster crocs, though.

“Evan’s research shows alligators didn’t evolve in a vacuum with no other crocodilians around,” said co-author David Steadman, ornithology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. “The gators we see today do not really compete with anything, but millions of years ago it was not only competing with another type of crocodilian, it was competing with a much larger one.”

Steadman said the presence of the ancient crocodile in Florida may have helped keep the alligators in freshwater habitats, though it appears alligators have always been most comfortable in freshwater.

While modern alligators do look prehistoric as they bake on sandbars along the Suwannee River or stroll down sidewalks on the UF campus, study authors said they are not somehow immune to evolution. On the contrary, they are the result of an incredibly ancient evolutionary line. The group they belong to, Crocodylia, has been around for at least 84 million years and has diverse ancestors dating as far back as the Triassic, more than 200 million years ago.

Other study co-authors were John Krigbaum with UF’s anthropology department and Kent Vliet with UF’s biology department.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Florida. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Diego’s Got Game: Fertile Galapagos Tortoise Has Saved His Species From Extinction – via Herp Digest

GoodNewsNewtwork by McKinley Corbley - Sep 19, 2016 0

In 1976, the Galapagos giant tortoises were in dire straits – the reptiles had become prey to other animals and their habitat was mostly wiped out. Only 12 female and 2 male tortoises remained on the island.

Meanwhile, Diego from the San Diego Zoo in California, was being flown in to try and save the species.

He may now be 100 years old, but this grandpa’s got game.

Since his return to the Galapagos Islands fifty years ago, this philandering reptile has basically repopulated the entire island of Espanola by siring over 800 offspring, thus guaranteeing the survival of the endangered creatures.

Diego weighs 125 pounds and measures 5 feet long. He lives on Santa Cruz island in a tortoise-breeding center with six other female mates, spending his days… working his magic.

Espanola, the island unique to the Chelonoidis hoodensis species, is now home to over 2,000 of the tortoises. Though records say it used to shelter 5,000, it’s still an extraordinary comeback for an animal that was facing extinction.

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