Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Cats found to like humans more than thought


March 29, 2017 by Bob Yirka report

(Phys.org)—A trio of researchers with Oregon State University and Monmouth University has conducted experiments with cats, and has found that they appear to like humans more than expected. In their paper published in the journal Behavioral Processes, Kristyn Vitale Shreve, Lindsay Mehrkam and Monique Udell describe their experiments and their plans for conducting additional experiments to better understand cat motivations.

Cats have a reputation as being stand-offish and somewhat distant—some have suggested they only hang around their owners because of the easy meals. But they may actually like their owners more than their reputation suggests, the researchers with this new effort found. They point out that cats may simply be misunderstood, noting that recent research has found that cats have complex socio-cognitive and problem solving abilities. They suggest further that the commonly held belief that cats are less reactive to social stimuli might be due to a lack of knowledge regarding the things that cats actually find stimulating.

To assess the degree to which cats like (or are stimulated by) certain things, the researchers tested reactions from two groups of 19 cats each—those living with people and those living in a shelter. The cats were kept sequestered for two and a half hours and were then watched as they were presented with three items from one of four category types: food, scent, toy and human interaction. The researchers mixed up the stimuli for the different cats to get a better read on which they found the most stimulating. The degree of preference for any one stimuli was judged by which stimuli the cat went for first and how and for how long it interacted with it.

The researchers report that they found clear variability among the cats regardless of home type, but overall social interaction with humans was the stimulus most preferred—half of the cats chose interacting with a human above anything else offered, which included food—they spent on average 65 percent of their time interacting with a person. This, the researchers suggest, shows that cats really do like being around their human owners, despite how they might behave around them.

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New population of rare tigers found in eastern Thailand

28 March 2017
 
A new breeding population of the critically endangered Indochinese tiger has been found in a national park in eastern Thailand, conservationists say.

Camera traps discovered a small population with at least six cubs in the jungle.

Poaching and the loss of habitat has reduced the global population of the sub-species to under 250.

Conservationists said the success was due to the stepping-up of anti-poaching efforts in Thailand.

Counter-trafficking organisation Freeland and Panthera, the wild cat conservation group, conducted the survey with the support of the Thai park authorities.

Until this find, only one other breeding population of Indochinese tigers - also in a Thai national park - was known of.

"The extraordinary rebound of eastern Thailand's tigers is nothing short of miraculous," said John Goodrich, tiger programme director at Panthera.

The director of Thailand's national parks, Songtam Suksawang, said: "The stepping up of anti-poaching patrols and law enforcement efforts in this area have played a pivotal role in conserving the tiger population by ensuring a safe environment for them to breed.

"However, we must remain vigilant and continue these efforts, because well-armed poachers still pose a major threat."

Numbers of tigers in the wild have dwindled from 100,000 a century ago to 3,900 today, the groups said in a joint statement.
Last stronghold: By Jonathan Head, BBC South-East Asia correspondent, Bangkok

Thailand was the first country in this region to deplete its forests, to such an extent that by the 1980s it had banned logging. It was also among the first to establish national parks, but initially these were also badly stressed by illegal logging and hunting.



Continued

Social bees have kept their gut microbes for 80 million years

March 29, 2017

About 80 million years ago, a group of bees began exhibiting social behavior, which includes raising young together, sharing food resources and defending their colony. Today, their descendants—honey bees, stingless bees and bumble bees—carry stowaways from their ancient ancestors: five species of gut bacteria that have evolved along with the host bees.

These bacteria, living in the guts of social bees, have been passed from generation to generation for 80 million years, according to a new study published today in the journal Science Advances and led by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin. The finding adds to the case that social creatures, like bees and humans, not only transfer bacteria among one another in their own lifetime—they have a distinctive relationship with bacteria over time, in some cases even evolving on parallel tracks as species.

"The fact that these bacteria have been with the bees for so long says that they are a key part of the biology of social bees," says Nancy Moran, a professor of integrative biology at the university who co-led the research with postdoctoral researcher Waldan Kwong. "And it suggests that disrupting the microbiome, through antibiotics or other kinds of stress, could cause health problems."

Most insects, including nonsocial bees, don't have specialized gut microbes. Because they have limited physical contact with individuals of their own species, they tend to get their microbes from their environment. Social bees, on the other hand, spend much time in close contact with one another in the hive, making it easy to transfer gut microbes from individual to individual.

"Having a social lifestyle enabled the specialized community of bacteria to diversify along with the bees through deep time," says Moran.

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Elephants in dramatic muddy escape

29 March 2017
From the section Science & Environment


It is a great escape. One by one, 11 Asian elephants manage to drag themselves clear of a muddy hole.

The drama took place in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia.

The elephants had gone to drink and bathe in water collected in an old bomb crater - but then got stuck.

Local villagers used vegetation and ropes to help the animals out. Once clear, the elephants ran off into the bush.

Everyone pulled together to avoid a tragedy, said Tan Setha, a Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) technical advisor to the protected area.

“This herd consisted of three adult females and eight juveniles of various ages, including a male that had almost reached maturity.

"These elephants represent an important part of the breeding population in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, and their loss would have been a major blow to conservation." Image copyright WCS Image caption The hole is an old bomb crater enlarged to store water

The muddy hole was originally made by a bomb during the Vietnam war, but was later widened by farmers to store water.

When the farmers realised the elephants were trapped in the depression last Friday, they notified the Department of Environment, who in turn notified WCS who were able to mobilise a rescue effort.

Continued

Monday, 27 March 2017

Breakthrough in 'amphibian plague': Deadly fungus genes identified


March 27, 2017 by Caroline Brogan

Scientists have identified the genes of a deadly fungus that is decimating salamander and newt populations in Northern Europe.

Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), dubbed the 'amphibian plague', is a highly infectious chytrid fungus that affects many species of salamanders and newts, literally digesting their skin, which quickly leads to death. Since its discovery in 2013, very little has been found about how the fungus causes disease.

Now, researchers from Imperial College London, Ghent University, and the Broad Institute, have sequenced and identified the genes responsible for Bsal from an infected salamander. The authors say the findings, published last week in the journal Nature Communications, could ultimately help conservation efforts and provide drug targets in the future to help curb the disease.

Dr Rhys Farrer, co-author from Imperial's School of Public Health, said: "Until now, no one knew the exact mechanisms Bsal uses to cause disease. Our findings mean that policy makers and conservationists are now equipped with more knowledge on how best to curb this amphibian plague."

Dr Rhys Farrer and co-author Professor An Martel from Ghent University sequenced the genes from a salamander that had died from Bsal, and compared the genes with those of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a closely related deadly fungus that affects not just salamanders and newts, but all amphibians. Bd has caused more extinction events than any other infectious disease known to science.

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