1 Tahrcountry Musings: January 2009

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Address your cows by name and get more milk

Scientists have discovered that if you call your cow by name lovingly she will give you more milk. Dairy farmers who address their cows by name reported 258 litre higher milk yields over those who didn't over a10-month lactation period. This is no fiction material. The details appear in the latest issue of British journal Anthrozzos a journal dedicated to interactions between animals and people.

Study coordinator Catherine Douglas of Newcastle University is all excited about the results. Catherine says that it is pure science and no hocus-pocus. if cows are slightly fearful of humans, they could produce the hormone Cortisol that suppresses milk production. Calling names have a soothing effect on the animals, which in turn could have an effect on milk yield.
So guys go ahead and call your cow by name if you own one. She is bound to give you more milk.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Amazing – Bees can count

Nature throws up amazing things in the process of man’s pursuit of ecological mysteries. It never ceases to surprise me. I am overawed and humbled. Here is another one to tickle you. Scientists have discovered that the honeybee can count up to three. Using dots and other abstract symbols, scientists from the Vision Centre in Australia went about finding whether the honeybees had the ability to count items in their environment. Results were amazing.

Here is how they went about it. Scientists used a Y-shaped bee maze to test their subjects. At the front entrance the bees can see a number of symbols, such as dots. A wee bit further they were presented with two different pathways. One has the same number of symbols as the first while the other shows a different number. If the bees choose the one that matches the entrance they would be rewarded with sugary water. The bees invariably plumbed for the sugary path. Even when the pattern, shape or the color of the dots was changed the bees were bang on target. At the outset the bees spent a lot of time reading the dots, but once they understood the pattern they quickly scanned the number and then zoomed in on the target. According to the scientists this is a process known as 'subitizing' i.e. means responding rapidly to a small number of items. The scientists also believe that this ability to count helps the bees in their travel of several kilometers from a hive in search of food. They are presumed to count landmarks and guide themselves back home.

Dr. Shaowu Zhang, Chief Investigator of The Vision Centre and Australian National University, led the study. The details appear in the latest issue of online journal PLoS ONE

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Emperor Penguins facing uncertain future

Mathematical modeling of Antarctic by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) has brought to light the grave danger posed to Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) by climate change. Emperor penguins are to Antarctica what the polar bear is to the Arctic and made famous by Hollywood. The species was immortalized in the 2005 film March of the Penguins.

The modeling was based on projections of sea ice coverage from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) last report. A population dynamics model describing the mating patterns and breeding success of emperor penguins was used in conjunction. The study also used data collected by French scientists working in Terre Adelie, from 1960s onwards. The results suggest that by the year 2100, emperor penguins in the region are likely to experience a reduction in their numbers by 95% or more. Emperor penguins are the only penguins that breed during the harsh Antarctic winters. Warming of sea has other implications. Sea ice plays a critical role in the Antarctic ecosystem. They act as a platform for penguins to breed and feed. It is also a grazing ground for krill, tiny crustaceans that thrive on algae on the underside of the ice. Krill is a food source for fish, seals, whales, and penguins. Net results could be catastrophic.

The study's lead author is Stephanie Jenouvrier. Hal Caswell is the co-author. The study appears in the latest issue of journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Friday, January 23, 2009

5th world congress on mountain ungulates - 2nd circular

Many people have requested me to put the second circular of the 5th world congress on mountain ungulates here. In deference to their views I am giving below the full text of the second circular.

Second Circular of V World Conference on Mountain Ungulates
The subfamily, Caprinae, consisting of wild sheeps and goats, is a group of mammals of great biological and economical value. From a zoological point of view, the group represents maximum adaptability to mountainous environments and forms part of the mammalian fauna of various ecosystems. In addition, and from an economic point of view, they are an excellent prize for game hunters, subsistence hunters, on photo safaris or for use in medicinal products.
Principally associated with mountainous areas, although they are also found in other habitats, including tropical forests and deserts, alpine tundra or arctic steppes, they are naturally distributed across the Northern hemisphere over 3 continents (America, Asia and Europe) and more than 70 countries from the Arctic to the Equator.
In this extensive area, more than 71% of the goat species are endangered in some way (loss of habitat, overexploitation, competition and transmission of disease [domestic livestock], hybridisation, tourism and genetic isolation). 8% of the population are listed as critically endangered, 23% as endangered, 40% are vulnerable, 28% are threatened, while no information is available about the remaining 1% (IUCN 1997).
There is a determining factor, applicable to all the broadly distributed species, which in part, lies in the lack of information available about the species. In order to pool available knowledge about this species, a number of different international conferences have been held. At the first of these held in 1989 in Camerino (Italy), the groundwork was established for the preparation of the World Action Plan for goats by the IUCN. In 1997, the second conference took place in Italy (Saint Vincent, Aosta), and all the available information regarding this group of mammals was collected together. The third (2002) and fourth conferences (2006), in Zaragoza (Spain) and Munar (India) respectively, focussed on relevant aspects of the biology and ecology of these species, together with proposals for their handling and conservation.
Now, as mentioned in the previous circular, from 10 to 14 November 2009, the 5th World Congress on Mountain Ungulates is to take place at the Conference Centre (Palacio de Congresos) of Granada and will discuss the research, conservation and management of the ungulate populations in the world.
The more specific objectives of the conference will include:
·- Knowledge, condition and conservation of the wild mountain ungulate populations.
·- Threatening factors.
·- Genetic isolation.
·- Hybridisation, tourism.
·- Infectious contagious disease.
·- Working methodologies.
·- Management models.
For further information, please visit the Web site www.vworldconferenceungulates.org, or contact the Technical Secretary for the Congress at:
The official Congress languages are Spanish and English.
Registrations may be made from 28 November 2008 to 30 June 2009 (price: €300), and subsequently, from 1 July 2009 to 1 November 2009 (price: €400). Students are charged €150.
Registrations must be made in either of the two formats available on the Congress Web site: on-line or by printing off the registration form in pdf format. The registration should, in all cases, be sent and the fee must be paid.
Work can be presented in the format of Posters or as an Oral Presentation.
Abstracts and Papers for the different scientific participations at the congress should be prepared in line with the following:
Abstracts should be sent to the following electronic mail address: communications@vworldconferenceungulates.org between 28 November 2008 and 15 June 2009.
The following subject areas and workshops are proposed:

·- Condition and conservation of mountain ungulate populations.
·- Taxonomy and genetics of mountain ungulate populations.
·- Biology and Ecology: reproduction, physiology, etc.
·- Population management: Methods, capture and marking, management experience.
·- Healthcare status: Parasitic and infectious contagious diseases, epidemiology, treatments, epidemiological monitoring, etc.
·- Hunting and Conservation: hunting management and promotion (workshop).
·- Techniques for estimating populations (workshop).
·- Ungulates and Climate Change (workshop).
The title, (in Spanish and English), authors and address should be included.
The text shall have a maximum of 400 words, 5 key words, in one of the two official Congress languages, and the subject area to which it corresponds should be specified.
The text shall be written in Times New Roman 12, with interlineal 1.5 spacing, A4 paging, and with margins not less than 2.5cm, and shall cover no more than one A4 page.
Documents shall be submitted in Word format.
Scientific genus and species names shall be in Italics. Common species names shall be in lower-case and the first time they are used in the text, accompanied by the scientific name. Decimal figures are expressed using a comma, not a full-stop. All units used shall be as listed in the International System.
Papers may be of any length, although we recommend a maximum of 25 pages, including tables, pictures and attachments.
The following layout is recommended:
Title, authors (initials followed by surname(s), in small capitals; for example: J.M. PÉREZ and P. FANDOS), authors� address, key words (to a maximum of 5 and in alphabetical order), abstract (between 200 and 300 words), introduction, area of study, material and methods, results, discussion, acknowledgements, bibliography, table and picture footnotes, tables, pictures and attachments.
Should the authors consider it appropriate, some of these sections may be united or subdivided. Section headings should be in small capitals, bold print and centrally aligned. The text should be justified on both sides. Tables should be given on separate pages together with the relevant footnotes. All picture footnotes should be included on the same page; each figure is given on a separate page. Attachments shall use the same format as tables.Tables, pictures and attachments are ordered with Arabic numerals.
The font type is Times New Roman 12, interlineal 1.5 spacing, A4 page size, margins not less than 2.5cm, and pages numbered consecutively (centre bottom of page).
Scientific genus and species names shall be in Italics. Common species names shall be in lower-case and the first time they are used in the text, accompanied by the scientific name. Decimal figures are expressed using a comma, not a full-stop. All units used shall be as listed in the International System.
Pictures shall be submitted in jpg or tiff. format Pictures are only accepted in black and white. Bibliographic references in the text are quoted as follows, for example: Navarro (1991), Pérez y Belmonte (2000), Granados et al. (2001), (Fandos, 1991; Pérez y Cadenas, 2000; Granados et al., 2001). In the bibliography, quotations are given in alphabetic order according to the surname of the first author and date (using a, b, c... where necessary) as shown below:
· - For articles:
FANDOS, P. and VIGAL, C.R. 1988. Body weight and horn length in relation to age of the Spanish wild goat. Acta Theriologica, 33: 239-242.
· - For books:
SCHALLER, G. 1977. Mountain monarchs. Wild sheep and goats of the Himalaya. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 425 pp.
· - For chapters of a book:
FANDOS, P. 1994. Los ungulados de montaña. In: Argali, Cacerías de Alta montaña. Ed. Agualarga, Madrid, 261-314 pp.
· - For doctoral theses:
GRANADOS, J.E. 2001. Distribución y estatus de la cabra montés (Capra pyrenaica, Schinz 1838) en Andalucía. Doctoral Thesis, University of Jaen, 567 pp.

For articles, the name of the journal should be given in full. If the quoted information is not published, use 'pers. obs.', 'pers. com.', 'in prep.' or 'in press', as appropriate.
For papers to be accepted, authors must be registered at the Congress and have completed payment of the corresponding fee.
The Scientific Committee will select papers in a minimum of approximately 30 days, from the closing date for submission of work. Authors will be notified of the acceptance or not of the paper and the subject area in which it has been included.
November 10th, 2009
18.00 h. - 22.00 h. Receipt of Documentation and Information. Placement of panels. Granada Conference Centre.

November 11th, 2009
9.30 h. Official Opening.
10.30 h. - 11.30 h. Opening Conference.
11.30 h. - 12.00 h. Coffee Break
12.00 h. - 14.00 h. Workshops. Sala Andalucía and Salón Plenario simultaneously.
14.00 h. - 16.00 h. Lunch
16.00 h. - 18.00 h. Workshops. Sala Andalucía and Salón Plenario simultaneously.
18.00 h. - 18.30 h. Coffee Break
18.30 h. - 20.00 h. Workshops. Sala Andalucía and Salón Plenario simultaneously.

November 12th, 2009
9.00 h. - 11.30 h. Workshops. Sala Andalucía and Salón Plenario simultaneously.
11.30 h. - 12.00 h. Coffee Break
12.00 h. - 14.00 h. Workshops. Sala Andalucía and Salón Plenario simultaneously.
14.00 h. - 16.00 h. Lunch
16.00 h. - 18.00 h. Workshops. Sala Andalucía and Salón Plenario simultaneously.
18.00 h. - 18.30 h. Coffee Break
18.30 h. - 20.00 h. Workshops. Sala Andalucía and Salón Plenario simultaneously.

November 13th, 2009
9.00 h. - 11.30 h. Workshops. Sala Andalucía and Salón Plenario simultaneously.
11.30 h. - 12.00 h. Coffee Break
12.00 h. - 14.00 h. Workshops. Sala Andalucía and Salón Plenario simultaneously.
14.00 h. - 16.00 h. Lunch
16.00 h. - 18.00 h. Workshops. Sala Andalucía and Salón Plenario simultaneously.
18.00 h. - 18.30 h. Coffee Break
18.30 h. Conclusions
19.30 h. Closing Ceremony

November 11th, 2009
20.00 h. Night-time visit to the Alhambra. Cocktail dinner at the Campo de Los Mártires
November 12th, 2009
20.00 h. Flamenco Show at the Sacromonte
November 13th, 2009
20.00 h. Gala dinner
November 14th, 2009
9.30 h. Visit to the Sierra Nevada Natural Space. Lunch in the country and visit to the Installations at the Mountain Goat Reference Station

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mans’ avarice jeopardizing the behavioral patterns of wildlife

Alarm bells are ringing about the unscientific ways of harvesting wildlife including fish and plants. According to a new study by evolutionary biologist Chris Darimont of the University of Victoria in Canada, and colleagues, the rate at which hunted and harvested species are changing their size and breeding schedules is cause for concern. Rapid changes have been noted in heavily exploited fish and other species since the 1970s. For example Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) have decreased 20% in size over the past 30 years, and females now reproduce a year earlier than they used to. The studies included 29 species, mostly fish but also a few invertebrates, mammals, and plants. The team compared these studies with two databases: one for species such as Galápagos finches that had changed through natural selection and one for nonhunted species exposed to other human influences such as pollution. Exploited species transformed on average three times faster than those in natural systems and 50% faster than species subject to other human interference and were shrinking, breeding earlier, or both.

The practice of taking a large percentage of the prey population and targeting the largest individuals favors small individuals, which in turn breed before reaching exploitable size. Smaller sizes and altered breeding schedules could decrease species' abundance, and severely affect their ability to recover from exploitation. Interactions with predators and competitors also get upset.

Man’s avarice is tipping the apple cart of nature’s food web. Animals and plants are getting affected. Time to put a brake to this senseless carnage and act is now. It is not too late to start the ameliorative process.

Full report can be accessed online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Use of Vicks VapoRub – Be wary

This blog usually confines itself to wildlife and environmental affairs. But I thought this piece of information about Vicks VapoRub passed on to me by Roger my friend from US is worth a mention here.

According to a study appearing in this month’s issue of Chest, the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians Vicks VapoRub has some deleterious effects on infants and young children. Vicks VapoRub may stimulate mucus production and airway inflammation, which can have serious negative effects. The ingredients in Vicks can be irritants, causing the body to produce more mucus to protect the airway. Some of the ingredients in Vicks, particulary menthol, trick the brain into thinking that it is easier to breathe by triggering a cold sensation, Dr. Bruce Rubin from the department of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in Winston Salem, N.C., led the study.

Dr Rubin recommends never putting Vicks in or under the nose of anyone, regardless of age. The best treatments for congestion are saline nasal spray, warm drinks,herbal teas, soups and plenty of rest

Monday, January 19, 2009

Local residents reclaim forest

My Australian contacts have sent me this inspiring story from Tasmania. Tasmania's Upper Florentine Valley saw some dramatic events yesterday. About 400 protesters invaded the Forestry Tasmania working area during their protest against the construction of a logging road. The protesters forced the eight forest contractors currently working on the construction of the new road to cease operations. This was done caring two hoots for prohibitory police orders. The police and forestry officials repeatedly warned the men that they would be prosecuted. This fell on deaf ears. People have realized that there is more value in these forests left standing than bulldozed down.

I was delighted with this piece of information. When the politicians work hand in glove with the greedy contractors this is the only avenue open to local populace. Tahrcountry salutes the brave men.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

World’s tropical forests – A look in to what future holds

The recent Smithsonian’s Symposium: “Will the rainforests survive? New Threats and Realities in the Tropical Extinction Crisis” had some interesting observations. It brought together the world's foremost authorities on different aspects of rainforest science.
One of the main arguments put forward was that the extinction crisis might not be as bad as predicted due to the significance of secondary forests and other degraded landscapes, which may allow the preservation of certain species. Robin Chazdon, a professor at the University of Conneticut who has studied secondary forests for twenty-five years, stated that secondary forests and other non-primary growth landscapes has great relevance for biodiversity conservation. According to him these are the areas that needs focused attention in order to conserve most of our biodiversity. A study in Veracruzm Mexico came up with the finding that bird biodiversity was actually greater in shade grown coffee farms than in the forest. In the Western Ghats of India, where cultivation has been practiced for 2,000 years, arecanut agriculture retains 90 percent of the bird biodiversity of the forest. In the largely degraded and devastated Atlantic Forest of Brazil chocolate grown under the canopy provides homes for 70 percent of many species, including birds, bats, butterflies, mammals, ferns, lizards and frogs. In Costa Rica, scientists discovered that a forest less than twenty years old had 90 percent of forest tree species either already growing or as seedlings. On the other hand soybean fields have been found to be devoid of biodiversity. Biodiversity is abysmally poor in palm oil plantations. Palm oil plantations have been shown to retain only 15 percent of species from the lost forest.
Entomologist Nigel Stork from the University of Melbourne argued that the scientists who predicted extinction rates of 50-75 percent did not take into account that certain groups of species, such as birds and mammals, are more prone to extinction than other groups like insects. Large body size, small restricted range, low number of young, top of the food chain, high specificity to another organism, and low physiological adaptation make a species more vulnerable to extinction.
One place where the scientists at the Symposium largely agreed was the threat posed by climate change to the tropics and the inability to know how it would affect biodiversity in the region. All the participants believe that this is a much greater threat to biodiversity in the tropics than habitat destruction. Tropical species are much more sensitive to small increases in temperature than temperate species. Tropical species would have to travel much greater distances than temperate species to find habitat within their normal range of temperatures.
According to Gregory Asner of the Carnegie Institution, deforestation is still the dominant pattern in tropical forests worldwide. To be precise it is on the rise. With the globalization of trade, deforestation mainly occurs for industrialized agriculture, such as soy and palm oil, and for logging to produce wood products meant for export to the West. Consumption by wealthy nations, and not local needs, is largely driving contemporary deforestation.
At the end of the symposium all the speakers foresaw mass extinction in the future of the tropics, unless drastic ameliorative actions are taken on a war footing. While the extinction may not reach 50-75 percent, since insects dominate the world, it would certainly have a devastating effect on the world’s vertebrates. Robin Chazdon argued that in order to ensure enough habitats, secondary forests and agroforestry should be supported. A conservation action plan for such areas is the need of the hour.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Human-made light sources acting as 'Ecological Traps'

Human-made light sources are altering the natural light cycles impacting wildlife. Polarized light has been found to trigger animal behaviors leading to injury and often death. Gabor Horvath, Robertson and colleagues, in the latest issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, have unveiled this disturbing information.
Light pollution can cause increased predation, migrating in the wrong direction, choosing bad nest sites or mates, collisions with artificial structures and reduced time available to spend looking for food. To cite an example baby sea turtles use the direction of star and moonlight reflected off the water surface to help them find the ocean when they emerge from their beach nests. Under the influence of light pollution particularly from urban sources, many turtles turn the wrong way and migrate toward the brighter lights of buildings or streetlamps.

Polarized light reflected from asphalt roads, windows and plastic sheets and oil spills often mimics the surface of the water. Dragonflies laying its eggs on a shiny black highway may become paralyzed by attraction to the pavement after laying its eggs. This could cause populations to decline and even extinction. One of the remedies suggested for asphalt is white hatch mark. White hatch marks on roads can prevent insects from mistaking them for bodies of water. The addition of white curtains to shiny black buildings deters insects, bats and birds.

I found this study very interesting and alarming. Robertson signs off saying. "Aquatic insects are the foundation of the food web, and what's harmful to them is harmful to entire ecosystems and the services they provide."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Ecological indicators to forecast environmental disasters- A new study

All of us are familiar with leading indicators used by economists to asses economy. Geologists use seismic indicators to try to predict earthquakes. Taking a cue from this scientists have taken a page from the social science handbook and are trying to use it as leading indicators of the environment to forecast potential collapse of ecosystems.

The interesting study has been published on January 5th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the new study, Carpenter, Reinette Biggs of Stockholm University and William A. Brock, an economist at UW-Madison, used northern Wisconsin's sport fishery as a laboratory to see if leading indicators of ecological collapse can be detected in advance to avert disaster. The results were positive.

The authors says, “Ecosystems worldwide, lakes, ocean fisheries, coral reefs, forests, wetlands and rangelands, are under constant and escalating pressure from humans and many are on the brink of collapse and it is possible to sense impending ecosystem regime shifts by carefully monitoring the changing variables”.

The authors warn” "We really need to be monitoring and analyzing the data from these ecosystems as a way to keep them healthy. Otherwise, by the time the problem surfaces it is too late."

This is a very good study worth a read. With refinements the study can come in handy as a very useful tool for environmentalists.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A clearinghouse for conservation banking launched

Species banking is a comparatively new initiative meant for species credit trading as an effective tool for the conservation of threatened and endangered species and their habitat. A conservation bank is like a financial bank. Here instead of money the bank protects natural resources. I would like to call it a biological bank account. When a project comes up that impacts wildlife, the pronotors can buy credits in a conservation bank.

Ecosystem Marketplace has launched a clearinghouse for conservation banking aimed at the species credit trading industry. Speciesbanking.com will provide a marketplace for the emerging conservation banking scenario. Initially intended for US markets, the agency plans to develop it in to a resource centere for nations across the world. At species.com you can publicize your credit availability and buyers can look out for solutions to their mitigation needs.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Effectiveness of underpass- A recent US success story

The proof of the pudding lies in eating it. The effectiveness of underpass to help migrating wildlife was proved recently in Wyoming US. The state had erected six deer underpasses this summer along U.S. Highway 30 in Nugget Canyon. This was to facilitate migrating mule deer cross the busy highway and protect motorists from collisions with big game animals.

To monitor animal movement the authorities also installed deer underpass webcams. It was found that about 800 deer, a few antelope and a lone bull elk had used the underpass in the first week itself. The authorities are elated at this result. The highway is in the middle of one of the state's largest big game winter ranges used by about 30,000 mule deer herd.

The proper way to place the underpass is to put them in areas that animals use regularly and where they actually do cross. This means that they don't have to learn a new migration route. Here is another tip. If the deer cannot see open space on the other end, they're not going to use the underpass.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Alarming news from Canada- Canadian forests are now pumping out more climate changing carbon dioxide than they are sequestering.

I was reading this disturbing news in Chicago Tribune about Canadian forests now pumping out more climate-changing carbon dioxide than they are sequestering and thought it would be a good idea to share it with you.

Canadian forests impacted by damage caused by global warming, insect infestations and persistent fires have crossed the Rubicon at least for the present. Scientists do not see any redemption at least till 2020. The shift from being a carbon sink to a carbon source has saddened the environmentalists.

The spread of deadly pest known as the mountain pine beetle, directly attributed to climate change, has devastated pine forests across Canda. Pervasive fires are another source of worry.
Environmentalists feel that logging ought to be sharply curtailed to preserve the remaining trees and make them sequester more carbon. The counter argument is that essential wood products for construction, furniture and other uses would have to be replaced with other man-made materials, such as plastic, steel or concrete, which entails burning of more fossil fuels. Well it is vicious circle.

Moral of the story: Take good care of your forests with a long-term perspective. Otherwise the whole thing will turn topsy-turvy.