1 Tahrcountry Musings: April 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

Biodiversity loss and its implications

The Earth's biodiversity is disappearing at an alarming rate. For people concerned about biodiversity here is something that is going to interest you. The new book, ‘Sustaining Life” is a great eye opener. It deals with biodiversity and fills a major gap in the arguments made to conserve nature. Sustaining Life is the first book to examine the full range of potential threats that diminishing biodiversity poses to human health. At the heart of the book is a chapter dedicated to exploring seven threatened groups of organisms valuable to medicine, including amphibians, bears, cone snails, sharks, nonhuman primates, gymnosperms, and horseshoe crabs that underscore what may be lost to human health when species go extinct.

The story of southern gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus), which was discovered in undisturbed rainforests of Australia in the 1980, makes interesting reading. The frogs raise their young in the female’s stomach where they would, in other animals, be digested by enzymes and acid. The baby frogs produced a substance, or perhaps a variety of substances, that inhibited acid and enzyme secretions and prevented the mother from emptying her stomach into her intestines while the young were developing. The authors point out that the research on gastric brooding frogs could have led to new insights into preventing and treating human peptic ulcers which affect some 25 million people in the United States alone. The bad news is that the frogs have become extinct

Other interesting stories include.

Pumiliotoxins, like those made by the Panamanian Poison Frog that may lead to medicines that strengthen the contractions of the heart and thus prove useful in treating heart disease.

Alkaloids made by species like the Ecuadorian Poison Frog, which could be the source of a new and novel generation of painkillers.

Bradykinins and maximakinins, made in the skin glands of species like the Chinese Large-Webbed Bell Toad; Mexican Leaf Frog, and North American Pickerel Frog that dilate the smooth muscle of blood vessels in mammals and therefore offer promising avenues for treating high blood pressure.

Several medical benefits have already arisen from the study of bears, including the development of rsodeoxycholic acid, found in the gall bladders of some bear species such as polar and black bears, into a medicine.

Some bear species, known as “denning” bears because they enter into a largely dormant state when food is scarce, are of tremendous value to medicine as they are able to recycle a wide variety of their body’s substances.

Bears appear to produce a substance that inhibits cells that break down bone and promote substances that encourage bone and cartilage-making cells. Currently, 740,000 deaths a year are the result of hip fractures worldwide, a large number of which are caused by osteoporosis. By 2050 there will be an estimated six million osteoporosis-linked hip fractures globally.

Several pharmaceuticals, including decongestants and the anti-cancer drug taxol, have already been isolated from gymnosperms. The researchers believe many more are yet to be discovered and may be lost if species of Gymnosperms become extinct.

Substances from one Gymnosperm, the Ginkgo tree may reduce the production of receptors in the human nervous system linked with memory loss. Thus they may play a role in countering Alzheimer’s disease. They may also help in the treatment of epilepsy and depression.

One compound, known as ziconotide extracted from snails is thought to be 1000 times more potent than morphine and has been shown in clinical trials to provide significant pain relief for advanced cancer and AIDS patients. Another cone snail compound has been shown in animal models to protect brain cells from death during times of inadequate blood flow.

‘Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity’ is published by Oxford University Press priced $34.95

ISBN13: 9780195175097ISBN10: 0195175093 hardback, 568 pages

About the Author(s)

Eric Chivian , M.D., is the Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. He shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. He is the lead editor and author of Last Aid: The Medical Dimensions of Nuclear War and Critical Condition: Human Health and the Environment .
Aaron Bernstein , M.D., is a Research Associate at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, and Resident, Boston Combined Residency in Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School/Boston University School of Medicine.

Posted with inputs from IUCN

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Caged Tigers are not mongrels

Caged tigers are often associated with dubious ancestry. They are treated like mongrels. But the latest analysis has come out with the fact that a significant number of them bear the genetic imprint of a single subspecies. It was Stephen O'Brien, a geneticist at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Frederick, Maryland and colleagues who analysed 20 years' collection of DNA samples from 105 captive tigers around the world. Almost half the tigers could be assigned to one subspecies, whereas the rest were of mixed lineage. The team also found new mitochondrial DNA and microsatellite features not yet recorded in wild tigers. This points to the fact the captive population harbours genetic diversity that may have been lost in the wild.

With an estimated 3000 tigers left in the wild this finding has great portent for conservation. The tigers in captivity have continued to multiply, numbering 15,000 to 20,000 at last count.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Now a botanical art gallery

The world's first art gallery dedicated to botanical art works will be opened in London’s Kew Gardens today. Collections of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and from collector Dr Shirley Sherwood will be on exhibit. Dr Shirley Sherwood, after whom the gallery has been named, has been collecting contemporary botanical art since 1990. Her collection includes work by more than 200 artists living in 30 different countries. Till now only experts and researchers were permitted to access the collection. Now Kew’s collections are more accessible and are expected to give conservation a big boost. Some of the depictions have never been seen by the public before and are thought to be the only surviving record of some extinct species.

The mystery of the Borneo pygmy elephants solved

The origins of the pygmy elephants of Borneo, found in a range extending from the northeast of the island into the Heart of Borneo, have been a mystery. A new paper published in peer reviewed Sarawak Museum Journal has added a new twist to the whole story. I found this paper very interesting. According to the authors the population could be the last survivors of the Javan elephant race, accidentally saved from extinction by the Sultan of Sulu centuries ago. The looks and behaviour of Borneo elephants differ from other Asian elephants. The authors propound the theory that the elephants were brought to Borneo centuries ago by the Sultan of Sulu, and later abandoned in the jungle. It now transpires that this translocation in history that has survived to modern times could provide scientists with critical data from a centuries-long experiment. The detailed study is bound to throw up lot of possibilities for future conservation initiatives.

Earl of Cranbrook
1, J. Payne2 and Charles M.U. Leh3

If you are keen to read the entire paper click here

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wild Talk - Exciting new monthly podcast from IUCN and WWF

IUCN and WWF have launched an exciting new monthly podcast called Wild Talk. This will usher in the latest news and features from the world of conservation.

In the first episode in the series IUCN marine expert Imène Meliane gave a graphic view of how invasive species catch a free ride across the world’s oceans on ships and the problems they cause by doing so.

The other highlights were

On climate change – how indigenous people are affected and the solutions they already have to cope with it by interviewing IUCN’s Gonzalo Oviedo.

Marc Languy, head of mountain gorillas programme pf WWF in the Great Lakes region of Africa talked about the human qualities of the gorillas and what we can do to save their remaining population which stands at just 720.

In the final interview, Hubert von Goisem explains to WWF why he took to a barge to bring his music and environmental message to the people who live along the Danube.

The next edition we will have news from the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn and other exciting fare.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Interesting facts about ancestor of Elephants unearthed

Analysis of chemical signatures preserved in fossil teeth of ancient ancestor of the elephants, which lived 37 million years ago, has come up with interesting findings. These ancestors lived in water and had a lifestyle similar to a hippo but had the appearance of a Tapir. The animals were related to seagoing manatees and dugongs. Study of fossil teeth has indicated that the animal grazed on plants in rivers and swamps.

Experts from Oxford University and Stony Brook University, New York did the analysis. The scientists were investigating the lifestyle of the two early elephants called proboscideans – Moeritherium and Barytherium, which looked like a slender version of today's Asian elephant, when they came up with new findings. These animals lived over 37 million years ago in Egypt's Fayum Desert. At the time sub-tropical rainforest and swamps covered the deserts of northern Egypt.

Full report is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Monday, April 14, 2008

Systems that save biodiversity

A new EU-funded research project GEM-CON-BIO (Governance and Ecosystems Management for the Conservation of Biodiversity) shows how governance patterns impact biodiversity. The study comes out with the finding that most successful governance patterns for biodiversity conservation are a mix of financial incentives, regulations and voluntary engagement. Thirty case studies were analysed in the project.

GEM-CON-BIO compared governance structures of the following areas

Europe (such as in Biosphere reserves in Germany and in the Danube Delta, public and private forests and wetlands across Europe, the North Sea Fisheries, etc.);

USA (such as the Habitat Programme of Maine where towns have to develop credible habitat management plans before they receive public funds for other needs); and

Other parts of the world (such as Mongolia or Ethiopia where traditional institutions and community management seem to regain credibility as effective biodiversity management and conservation practices).

GEM-CON-BIO is funded through the EU’s sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. The project falls under Priority 7 - Citizens and Governance in a knowledge-based society. It runs until the end of April 2008, and brings together 9 partners from 7 European countries, plus partners from Iran, Indonesia, and Bolivia. The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece leads the project. IUCN is a full partner in the project, and is coordinating the organization of the policy conference.

Posted with inputs from IUCN

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New technique to pinpoint key biodiversity hotspots

Scientists have developed a new technique that pinpoints key biodiversity hotspots. The methodology identifies exact areas that support a wide variety of organisms. Scientists tested the new system to identify vital habitats in Madagascar. Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist from the University of California, Berkeley, US headed the project. Scientists gathered existing data from Madagascan scientists on more than 2,300 species. Once they gathered the data they put it through an optimisation analysis. Data was added on habitat suitability from remote sensing images from satellites, and several layers of climatic information including average monthly temperature and rainfall. What they were looking for was 10% of the country that could include all of those species. A computer programme was developed which allows scientists to find a solution that not only includes all the species, but also includes as much as possible of the habitats that they need. The program was also able to pinpoint what species were at a greater risk of extinction. Even though the programme was developed for Madagascar it could be put to use in other areas also. This is expected to give a new impetus to conservation especially in rain forest areas rich in biodiversity. Details appear in Science magazine.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Competition – Wildlife poet of the year

If you have a way with words and love nature here is an announcement from BBC you should read. Go through it and enter the competition

Does the natural world inspire you to write poetry? If so, enter our competition and you could win a fabulous wild week on the Isle of Skye, plus your poem will be published in BBC Wildlife and broadcast on Radio 4's Poetry Please.

Do you have a way with words? If so, why not share your thoughts and feelings about wildlife and nature (no domestic plants or animals please) through verse? This is an intense and intimate writing style, and so the best poetry starts with your own lived experiences. Call upon your senses to create fresh images (avoid clichés), and don't feel you have to write about significant issues.

You can choose any form of poetry that suits you – from free verse to formal rhyme – just keep it to fewer than 50 lines. The poems are judged anonymously; so don't put your name on your entry. Simply fill out the entry form that can be found in the April issue of BBC Wildlife and tape it to the back of your entry.

The Prizes – Adults
The winning poem will be published in the October issue of BBC Wildlife (on sale 25 September) and broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Poetry Please in October.

The winner will also be awarded a wonderful week-long wildlife break on the lovely Isle of Skye and neighbouring Lochalsh, courtesy of Skye and Lochalsh Marketing Ltd. To see the full list of excursions available as part of the 1st prize, please visit www.skye.co.uk/promotions.php?promo=49

Three runners-up, and the poet whose verse most amuses the judges, will each receive a copy of Nature's Top 40: Britain's best wildlife – the country's finest nature spots as voted for by viewers of BBC 2 – and Collins British Wildlife, the definitive photographic guide to Britain's plants and animals, both courtesy of Collins.

The Prizes – Young Poets
There is a prize for the best poem in each of the following age categories:
a) 7 and under
b) 8 to 11
c) 12 to 14
d) 15 to 17

Each young winner will receive a copy of Nature's Top 40 and Collins British Wildlife. Their poems will be published in the October issue of BBC Wildlife and may also be selected for broadcast on Poetry Please.

How to Enter
Your entry must arrive by 23 May 2008. Send it to: BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year 2008, 14th Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN. Young poets please remember to write your category letter on the outside of the envelope. Fax (for overseas entries only): 0044 117 933 8032.

13 Winners will be notified by 12 Sept 2008. The results will be published in the October issue of BBC Wildlife (on sale 25 Sept 08) and the winning poems may be published on Skye & Lochalsh Marketing Ltd’s website, www.skye.co.uk.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Lynx making a comeback in Italian Alps

After a gap of nearly 100 years a Lynx (Lynx lynx) has appeared in Italian Alps. According to Italian authorities the Lynx has crossed over from Switzerland. Lynx were reintroduced in Switzerland in the 1970s after being wiped out in the early 20th Century. There are about 100 lynx in Switzerland, in two main areas, the north-western Alps, which includes Interlaken, and the Jura Mountains near Lake Geneva. There are an estimated 8,000 lynx throughout Europe. It is the third largest predator in Europe after the brown bear and the wolf. There are three other species of lynx. The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), is close to extinction with only 100 left in the wild. The other two species are the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and the bobcat (Lynx rufus), which is native to North America.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Amazing compass sense of Moths

Migrating moths have always puzzled scientists. They had no clue about how the moths avoid being blown away from their seasonal breeding grounds by gusty winds. Recently an international team led by entomologist Jason Chapman of Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, U.K., tracked swarms of silver Y moths (Autographa gamma) leaving the United Kingdom for their winter breeding site in the Mediterranean. The insects have a penchant for cruising on faster, high-altitude air currents that mainly occur at night. The scientists found that during most of the mass migrations, a significant proportion of the moths pointed their bodies in the same direction. When the wind direction was off by more than 20 degrees, the moths changed their flight angle to stay on course. This clearly demonstrates a compass sense in the nocturnal migrating insects. Dragonflies and butterflies were already known to change their flight paths to compensate for wind drift. Full report appears in the latest issue of Current Biology. Amazing facts. The findings have unexpected spin-offs. The scientists say understanding the moths’ sense of direction could help in predicting future insect migrations, which are likely to increase as global warming makes northern countries more hospitable to pests.

Friday, April 04, 2008

New facts about Bats

New facts about bats are coming to light. A study by Margareta B Kalka, Adam R. Smit and Elisabeth K. V. Kalko has come up with the finding that bats have dramatic ecological effects that were previously overlooked. The experiment was done in a lowland tropical forest in Panama and concluded that bats eat as many insects at night as birds do during the day and disappearance of insect-eating bats in agricultural landscapes could have negative effects on crop cultivation. Kalka recommends “bats should be included in future conservation plans aimed at preserving the integrity of tropical forests and also considered in agricultural management strategies based on natural pest control". Margareta B. Kalka and Adam R. Smith are from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama. Elisabeth K. V. Kalko is from Institute of Experimental Ecology, University of Ulm, Germany.

Details of the work appear in the journal Science.

M.B. Kalka et al (2008). "Bats Limit Arthropods and Herbivory in a Tropical Forest" and K. Williams-Guillen et al (2008) "Bats Limit Insects in a Neotropical Agroforestry System." Science 4 April 2008.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Saving the Snow Leopard

Representatives from 12 Asian nations, China, Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, met in Beijing from March 9 – 11 to frame a multinational conservation plan to save the highly endangered snow leopard. The conference was hosted by the Chinese Institute of Zoology in partnership with Panthera Foundation, and co-sponsored by the Snow Leopard Trust and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). It has been described as a watershed event in the effort to save snow leopards. Several work sessions that sought specific results, which would be immediately applicable to preserving snow leopards across their central Asian range were organised. An estimated 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards live in the rugged mountaintops of central Asia. Dr George Schaller who did seminal studies on snow leopard made a fervent plea for their conservation. The conference drafted a vision statement for the next century.

The conference vision for Snow Leopards over the next century:
A world where snow leopards and their wild prey thrive in healthy mountain ecosystems across all major ecological settings of their entire range, and where snow leopards are revered as unique ecological, economic, and spiritual assets.