1 Tahrcountry Musings: January 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Elusive Arctic wolves Caught In Camera

The BBC natural history team following Artic wolves (Canis lupus arctos) has hit pay dirt after months of arduous work. The team has managed to film the Artic wolves taking to the water to hunt waterfowl, a behaviour that has never been reported before. Even observing the animal is difficult in the extreme conditions of Canadian Arctic and northern parts of Greenland. Wolves usually eat large hoofed animals like Caribou and musk oxen. Hats off to the intrepid BBC team for this magnificent achievement.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Poor prospects for Captive-bred carnivores released in the wild

A study on reintroduction of captive-bred carnivores, which reviewed 45 cases involving 17 carnivore species, has come up with the finding that only 30 percent of captive animals released survived. The main drawback stems from the fact that reintroduced animals’ lacks the natural behaviour prowess needed for survival. The results of the study have important implications for conservation programs involving reintroduction. The advice is thorough study if conditions before attempting reintroductions. The research also emphasized the need for long-term monitoring of released animals. In spite of these adverse findings the researchers believe that reintroduction projects are vital to conservation efforts. The findings appear in the latest issue of journal Biological Conservation. Kristen Jule from University of Exeter of the lead author.

Friday, January 18, 2008

New Gigantic Palm Tree Discovered in Madagascar

A new genus of gigantic palm tree has been discovered in the Analalava district of Madagacar. The trunk of the tree towers over 18m high. The leaves are 5m in diameter. The palm is so massive that it can even be seen in Google Earth. The palm grows to big size and bursts into branches of hundreds of tiny flowers. This terminal flowering exhausts the tree completely and it soon dies. Swarming insects and birds surrounds the flowers. Each flower is capable of developing in to a seed. The confirmation that this is a new genus came from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. There are only three other known genera in this tribe, scattered across Arabia, Thailand and China. Madagascar is home to more than 10,000 plant species and 90% of Madagascar's plants occur nowhere else in the world. Full details of the discovery appear in the latest issue of Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Hope For Northern Bald Ibises

Northern Bald Ibis is considered to be Middle East’s rarest bird. The bird was thought to be extinct in the Middle East in the 1990s. Fortunately in 2002 a colony of six birds was discovered in Palmyra, Syria. RSPB and BirdLife Middle East swung in to action immediately. Adult and young birds were fitted with satellite tags to try to discover and protect their migration routes and wintering sites. Conservationists were delighted to hear the news that Northern bald ibises were seen last month in the Jordan Valley for the first time in 13 years, and in Djibouti, east Africa, for the first time ever. These two sightings of the species 1,500 miles apart have given a boost to the conservation efforts. Scientists now think that that the number of birds could be more than estimated. It also deepens the mystery of where the birds go on migration. Tracking adult birds was successful in 2006. Three birds flew a total of 3,700 miles to the Ethiopian highlands and back last spring. Scientists hope to tag more young birds in Syria this summer. Conservationists fear lots of birds are being shot down on migration. Tracking the birds will help protect them throughout their range.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Trees That Hire Bodyguards

The latest issue of journal Science has fascinating facts about intricate web of life in Africa. Scientists report how elephants, giraffes and other large herbivorous spur Acacias to “hire” and support ants as bodyguards. The whistling thorn tree (Acacia drepanolobium) and the biting ant (Crematogaster) that lives on it form a relationship, evolved over many millennia, in which both species co-operate and in turn benefit from each other. Acacia trees provide ants with swollen thorns, which serve as nesting sites, and nectar, which the ants collect from the bases of Acacia leaves. In return for this investment, ants protect the tree from browsing mammals by aggressively swarming against anything that disturbs the tree. Healthy trees have hundreds of the thorns, often containing more than 100,000 ants per tree. When the threat from these mammals stops or decreases, the trees slash their investment in ants, opening both to other attackers. Fewer colonies of weakened ants become less able to defend their territory from another species of ant that moves in which does not have a mutually beneficial relationship with Acacias. This new ant species feeds away from the tree and does not protect it from attackers. It actually encourages a destructive, wood-boring beetle whose cavities then serve as this ant’s home. The trees untouched by browsing mammals are infested with more of the beetles gradually weakening the trees. The trees wind up actually needing the mammals. Getting rid of the mammals causes individual trees to grow more slowly and die younger. The research has important implications for conservation. The cautionary note is that because many of the mammals are threatened, human activities like population growth, habitat fragmentation, over-hunting, can influence the ecosystem with unexpected consequences.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Chimps’ Ways Of Warding Off Malaria

The journal Naturwissenschaften has come out with some amazing facts about behaviour of chimps. The researchers at Kibale National Park in Uganda have discovered that geophagy(Soil ingestion) is helping chimps to ward off malaria by bestowing ingested plants with anti-malarial properties. Digested leaves of Trichilia rubescens showed no significant anti-malarial activity when eaten alone. When the leaves and soil were digested together, the combination acquired anti-malarial properties.

Full details can be accessed at

Krief S, Klein N & Fröhlich F (2008). Geophagy: soil consumption enhances the bioactivities of plants eaten by chimpanzees. Naturwissenschaften (DOI 10.1007/s00114-007-0333-0)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Hope For Biofuels

A team of US researchers has discovered that ethanol derived from switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ) delivers vast savings of carbon dioxide emissions compared with petrol. Production and consumption of switchgrass-derived ethanol cut CO2 emissions by about 94% when compared with an equivalent volume of petrol. GHG emissions were 88% less. The researchers also found that switchgrass-derived ethanol produced 540% more energy than was required to manufacture the fuel. Switchgrass Produces an average of 320 barrels of bioethanol per hectare. Although the process to produce ethanol from switchgrass was more complex than using food crops such as wheat or corn, biofuel from switchgrass could produce much higher energy yields per tonne because it utilised the whole plant rather than just the seeds. As switchgrass can be grown on marginal cropland it would not be in competition with food crops. The research paper appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sumatra - Highways Threatening Tribes and Wildlife

Construction of a highway in Bukit Tigapuluh forest landscape, for logging trucks servicing one of the world’s largest paper companies (Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) is threatening two tribes of indigenous people and endangered species like elephants, tigers and orangutans. The forest is one of the prime forests in Sumatra, with amazing biodiversity. It is also the location of a successful conservation project to reintroduce orangutans. After careful studies 90 Sumatran orangutans were recently introduced into the area for the first time in more than 150 years. One of the tribes threatened by APP-linked activities is wholly dependent on the Bukit Tigapuluh forests for survival. APP partners have already cleared an estimated 20,000 hectares of natural forest.

Conservationists the world over are appalled by this desecration of nature.

For more information contact

Desmarita Murni, WWF-Indonesia: +62 811793458) dmurni@wwf.or.id

Monday, January 07, 2008

IUCN launches initiatives for sustainable water use in Asia Pacific

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in association with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has launched initiatives to achieve more sustainable management of precious water resources in the Asia Pacific region. The initiatives were launched at the Asia Pacific Water Summit, held in Beppu, Japan. The fact that water is to be managed in a way that provides both environmental and development was stressed.IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre said that in order to realise environmental flows there needs to be more integrated thinking to recognise the environment as a stakeholder in water-related decisions. Environmental flows refer to water within a river, wetland or coastal zone which maintain ecosystems and their benefits where there are competing users. The conference also highlighted the need to invest in ecosystems as development infrastructure which must be maintained, restored, monitored and managed.

For more information contact

IUCN: Kate Lazarus, kate@iucnlao.org, +66 81 371 3062, www.iucn.org

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Ants and The Butterflies – Fascinating Facts

The latest issue of science has some interesting facts about relationship between butterflies and ants in Denmark. In parts of Denmark, the Alcon blue butterfly caterpillars feed within ant colonies. The caterpillar, which later develops into a large blue butterfly, mimics the surface hydrocarbons, the surface chemicals that the ants have on their own brood. The caterpillars first start developing on a food plant, but after they reach a certain stage they leave the food plant and wait on the ground to be discovered by these ants. Adult ants think the caterpillar is one of their young. The authors believe that the butterfly and ants are engaged in a kind of coevolutionary arms race. This parasitism by caterpillars sometimes wipes out entire ant colony. But other times, ants are able to recognize the caterpillars as invaders and kill them. If you are keen about details look it up in Science

A Mosaic of Chemical Coevolution in a Large Blue Butterfly

David R. Nash,1* Thomas D. Als,2 Roland Maile,3 Graeme R. Jones,3 Jacobus J. Boomsma1

1 Institute of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark.
2 Department of Genetics and Ecology, University of Aarhus, DK-8000 Århus C, Denmark.
3 School of Chemistry, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, UK.

Science 4 January 2008:
Vol. 319. no. 5859, pp. 88 - 90
DOI: 10.1126/science.1149180