1 Tahrcountry Musings: May 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Emergency aid for Pandas

Wolong Nature Reserve in China which harbours Pandas was devastated in the recent earthquake. Five staff at the reserve were killed and several pandas have been reported missing Conservationists the world over are a worried lot. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which owns Edinburgh Zoo, is sending emergency aid to help Chinese authorities. The society is sending money and satellite communications equipment. Edinburgh Zoo is slated to get breeding-aged Pandas from Wolong Nature Reserve and has a special interest in its welfare. Offers of help are coming from other sources also.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indian Forest Rights Act – An interesting observation

The recently passed Indian forest rights act is mired in controversy with protagonists of wildlife and tribals taking diametrically opposite stands in their respective fields. This benefits neither the wildlife nor the tribals. What is needed is pragmatism. I found the following piece from Mr P.N Unnikrishnan very interesting. Browse through this piece. It is food for thought

The Forest Rights Act is often misinterpreted as an Act for the tribals to counter the over emphasis on wildlife. This is an illusion. The Act must be understood as a document emphasizing the point that the forest belongs to primarily the wildlife and then to the tribal. It is an Act to refute the interests of the mainstream society on forestland.

The Act says that the right holders have the fundamental duty and authority to protect and conserve the forest and its biodiversity. The right of people over forests can be withdrawn if it is irrefutably (scientifically) proved that an area is critical to the existence of wildlife and cohabitation is positively harmful to wildlife interests. The Act does not speak of sacrificing wildlife interests to favour tribal interests. It is but against forceful relocation (eviction) without necessary compensation and that too before verifying whether an area is critical for wildlife

Many a P A has been declared, not based on the criticality of that area for wildlife. There have been other considerations such as that of catchment area of dams, for instance. The Act says that the primary lookout in this regard must be the significance of the area for survival of wildlife.

The Act does not say that all important wildlife areas have been covered by PAs. More PAs can be constituted, provided they are critically important for wildlife, but relocation from there needs to be actively pursued only if cohabitation is found to be positively harmful to wildlife.

The Act is a statement expressing solidarity of tribal and wildlife interests and stiffly opposes the intrusion of mainstream people on forestland. See it in the right spirit and the confusion will disappear.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dogs help in conserving endangered animals

Dogs have always been man’s best friends from time immemorial. They have been used in hunting. But now they are chipping in with help in wildlife conservation

Dogs trained to detect animal faeces by scent are helping researchers monitor rare and threatened wildlife in and around Emas National Park, in Brazil. When the dogs find the faeces, the accompanying researcher marks the location with a GPS and collects the samples. With the aid of satellite images, the sample data are correlated to the local environments where the samples were found. This helps the researchers to identify numbers, range, diet, hormonal stress, parasites and genetic identity without resorting to any sophisticated equipments. Identifying and establishing key areas for corridors has been made easier. The levels of stress hormones in the animals' faeces are important indicators in the evaluation of their capacity to reproduce in a given environment. Carly Vynne of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington leads the project.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The world’s oldest recorded tree - Interesting press release from Umeå University

Here is an interesting press release that I came across while surfing.

Umeå University
Press Release

The world’s oldest recorded tree is a 9,550-year-old spruce in the Dalarna province of Sweden. The spruce tree has shown to be a tenacious survivor that has endured by growing between erect trees and smaller bushes in pace with the dramatic climate changes over time.

For many years the spruce tree has been regarded as a relative newcomer in the Swedish mountain region. ”Our results have shown the complete opposite, that the spruce is one of the oldest known trees in the mountain range,” says Leif Kullman, Professor of Physical Geography at Umeå University.
A fascinating discovery was made under the crown of a spruce in Fulu Mountain in Dalarna. Scientists found four “generations” of spruce remains in the form of cones and wood produced from the highest grounds. The discovery showed trees of 375, 5,660, 9,000 and 9,550 years old and everything displayed clear signs that they have the same genetic makeup as the trees above them. Since spruce trees can multiply with root penetrating braches, they can produce exact copies, or clones. The tree now growing above the finding place and the wood pieces dating 9,550 years have the same genetic material. The actual has been tested by carbon-14 dating at a laboratory in Miami, Florida, USA. Previously, pine trees in North America have been cited as the oldest at 4,000 to 5,000 years old.

In the Swedish mountains, from Lapland in the North to Dalarna in the South, scientists have found a cluster of around 20 spruces that are over 8,000 years old. Although summers have been colder over the past 10,000 years, these trees have survived harsh weather conditions due to their ability to push out another trunk as the other one died. ”The average increase in temperature during the summers over the past hundred years has risen one degree in the mountain areas,” explains Leif Kullman. Therefore, we can now see that these spruces have begun to straighten themselves out. There is also evidence that spruces are the species that can best give us insight about climate change.

The ability of spruces to survive harsh conditions also presents other questions for researchers. Have the spruces actually migrated here during the Ice Age as seeds from the east 1,000 kilometres over the inland ice that that then covered Scandinavia? Do they really originate from the east, as taught in schools? “My research indicates that spruces have spent winters in places west or southwest of Norway where the climate was not as harsh in order to later quickly spread northerly along the ice-free coastal strip,” says Leif Kullman. “In some way they have also successfully found their way to the Swedish mountains.”

The study has been carried out in cooperation with the County Administrative Boards in Jämtland and Dalarna.

For more information contact:
Leif Kullman, Professor of Physical Geography at Umeå University
Phone: +46 90-786 68 93, 070-5641848
E-mail: leif.kullman@emg.umu.se

Monday, May 12, 2008

Microbes capable of sophisticated reasoning?

It is a known fact that microbes can come up with simple responses to changes in their environment, such as acidity fluctuations, by altering their internal workings. But sophisticated reasoning? Systems biologist Saeed Tavazoie of Princeton University wanted to know if microbes were capable of more sophisticated reasoning. He along with his colleagues created an environment inhabited by evolving virtual bugs. The organisms "learnd" that certain signals preceded the arrival of food and came up with pre-emptive metabolic responses. Even when the signal combinations grew more complex, the population was able to evolve the correct responses. Extensive work was done on bacterium Escherichia coli. When the researchers turned up the heat in a dish of E. coli, the bugs narrowed down activity in genes that normally operate in high-oxygen conditions. The true test came when the team reversed the normal association, growing the bacteria in conditions in which high oxygen levels followed temperature increases. Less than 100 generations later, the bacteria stopped turning on their low-oxygen response after exposure to high temperatures, giving a clue that they had evolved to break the association. The work opens up exciting possibilities to explain puzzling behaviour of microbial pathogens, which could be using predictive signals to change their cell surfaces and avoid a host's impending immune attack.

More details can be had from the latest issue of Science magazine

Predictive Behavior Within Microbial Genetic Networks

Ilias Tagkopoulos 1, Yir-Chung Liu 2, Saeed Tavazoie 2*

1 Department of Electrical Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.; Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.
2 Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.; Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Good news about the Amur Leopard

There is good news about Amur Leopard. 8 photos taken in Kedrovaya Pad reserve in the Primorisky Region of Russia by a camera trap during a census operation has brought cheer to the conservationists. Amur leopards, considered critically endangered by the IUCN, have been brought to the brink by habitat loss and poaching. An estimated twenty-five to forty Amur leopards survive in the wild in the northern forests, the taiga, of Russia. Only six have been identified as females. Hunters shot dead a female in April 2007. Curbing habitat loss, forest fires and poaching is of paramount importance in the conservation plans of this critically endangered animal.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Here is reason to save ponds

Professor John Downing, the lake scientist from US has come up with interesting facts about lakes. His research has established that ponds around the globe could absorb as much carbon as the world's oceans. Professor Downing found that constructed ponds and lakes on farmland in the United States bury carbon at 20-50 times the rate at which trees trap carbon. Ponds also take up carbon at a higher rate than larger lakes. In US 90 percent of these water bodies are one hectare or less in area.

Ponds are fast disappearing in many parts if the world as development advances. This new research gives a clear-cut reason for conserving ponds. With deleterious effects of global warming at our doorsteps here is a definite reason to conserve ponds. So go ahead spread the news around. Full details appear in Feb. 15 issue of the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles in a paper titled, "Sediment organic carbon burial in agriculturally eutrophic impoundments over the last century.”

Monday, May 05, 2008

Spider sex using ultraviolet B (UVB) rays

Professor Daiqin Li, from the National University of Singapore and his team have discovered that male jumping spiders (Phintella vittata) are using ultraviolet B (UVB) rays to communicate with females. The researchers found that females were more likely to mate with males that could "talk" to them with UVB compared with spiders sitting in chambers. The full details appear in Current science
Li, J., Z. Zhang, F. Liu, Q. Liu, W. Gan, J. Chen, Matthew L.M. Lim, Daiqin Li, 2008. UVB-Based Mate-Choice Cues Used by Females of the Jumping Spider Phintella vittata. Current Biology, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.04.020