1 Tahrcountry Musings: February 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Decoding the secret Language of the Elephants

Researchers at San Diego Zoo have come up with some new findings regarding the communication in Elephants. They have discovered that two-thirds of the partly audible elephant call is at frequencies that are too low to be picked up by human ears. 

To unravel the intricacies of the inaudible part of the growl, the team attached a microphone sensitive to these low frequencies and a GPS tracking system to eight of the zoo's female elephants. The researchers then correlateted the noises the animals were making with their activity patterns.

The team has discovered that pregnant females use this low frequency communication to announce to the rest of their herd the imminent parturition. In the last 12 days preceding parturition there is definite change in the low part of the growl, the low part that we can't hear. The researchers believe that the signals are also meant to be an alert for other elephants in the herd to look out for predators. Animals like packs of hyenas are a big threat to new born babies.

Another fascinating finding was that the infrasonic calls made by female elephants in season can be heard by males more than two miles away.

The scientists are continuing to analyze data to learn more about this secret language of the elephants. This sure has connotations in the conservation of elephants.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spanish Woman Bequeaths 3m Euros to Iberian lynx

I was really happy to hear from my Spanish contacts about this Spanish woman who left 3million Euros in her will to help protect the Iberian lynx, the world's most endangered cat. The noble lady in fact bequeathed a total of nine million Euros to animal charities, one-third of which will go to the lynxes. 

The woman died in October 2008 in Spain's Canary Islands at the age of 60. Little else is known about her. 

The Iberian lynx was once distributed over the entire Iberian Peninsula but is now restricted to very small areas mostly in protected areas of southern Spain. Barely 200 Iberian lynxes are believed to remain in the wild. At the start of the 20th century there were around 100,000 in Spain and Portugal. 
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the species as "critically endangered". Its critical status is mainly due to habitat loss, poisoning, road casualties, feral dogs and poaching. The habitat loss is mainly due to infrastructure development, urban & resort development and tree monoculture.



Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wildlife Management- Lessons from Indigenous Community

Canadian wildlife authorities recently learned that indigenous wisdom is often better than modern computations. 
For many centuries the Cree, an indigenous group of people living in the James Bay region of northern Quebec have lived in harmony with their environment taking what they need and nothing more. They hunt a variety of animals including beaver, bear, and moose, killing just enough to feed and clothe them.  

The Cree used to rotate the territories over which they hunt, and killed only adult animals. This ensured that the animal populations always remained stable. The Cree were the only people who hunted in the region.
In the mid 1980s, following pressure from sport-hunting and fishing groups, the Canadian authorities relented and granted access to the region to sports hunters. Wildlife managers also believed that the move would relieve the pressure on hunting grounds further south.

 Canadian authorities relied on aerial surveys to monitor moose numbers in hunting territories and were happy with their arrangements.

 By the late 1980s the Cree people became concerned about the moose numbers and told the authorities about their apprehensions. Using their time tested system of monitoring moose populations, based on moose sightings, tracks and faeces the Cree had detected a significant decline in population. The authorities’ cold shouldered the concerns and insisted that the moose population must be stable because the 'catch per unit effort' (average number of moose caught by hunters in a particular time period) had remained the same over the years.

 But by early 1990s the authorities were forced to concede that there indeed was a problem. It became very clear that a severe crash in population had occurred. The drop was a staggering 50%. The scientists conceded that opening the roads for hunting had opened up opportunities for the forestry sector as well, enabling them to clear cut the forest and leaving the moose with less cover to hide in. The moose became easy targets. Since 'catch per unit effort' remained stable, the authorities were lulled into a false sense of security.

 It became very apparent that the traditional methods of monitoring and managing moose, used by the Cree hunters, were a better measure of moose population. These methods rely on more variables and have a greater complexity the scientists grudgingly conceded.

 Today the Canadian wildlife authorities have learned their lesson. They work closely in tandem with the Cree, listening to what they have to say, and respecting their intimate knowledge of the environment.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Beer, Old Age and Osteoporosis

The other day I was discussing wildlife matters with my friend Rajiv. By chance it veered towards beer. Rajiv is an aficionado of beer. When I told him about this excellent article about beer that I had read in Sciencedaily he was fascinated and insisted that I share it with others by putting the new info on my blog even though the focus of my blog is wildlife. So folks here it comes 
A new study by researchers from the Department of Food Science & Technology at the University of California, Davis has come up with the finding that beer is a significant source of dietary silicon, a key ingredient for increasing bone mineral density. The researchers examined a wide range of beer styles for their silicon content and also studied the impact of raw materials and the brewing process on the quantities of silicon that enter wort and beer. 
Silicon is present in beer in the soluble form of orthosilicic acid (OSA). Soluble OSA is important for the growth and development of bone and connective tissue, and beer appears to be a major contributor to Si intake. Based on these findings the studies suggest that moderate beer consumption may help fight osteoporosis, a disease of the skeletal system. 
The hop samples analyzed showed surprisingly high levels of silicon with as much as four times more silicon than is found in malt. Highly hopped beers naturally would have higher silicon levels. The average silicon content of the beers sampled was 6.4 to 56.5 mg/L.
So aficionados of beer quaff your drink but in moderation.

 Details of this study are available in the February issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Society of Chemical Industry.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The First Ever Footage of the Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi) captured in Malaysia

Researchers have captured on camera the first footage of the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) in Malaysia.The video was captured in the Dermakot Forest Reserve in the Malaysian part of Borneo. The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany was instrumental in this venture.
It was in 2006 that genetic evidence and analysis of its markings proved it was quite different from the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) and treated as a new species.
The Sunda clouded leopard is classified as Vulnerable by IUCN and is threatened by habitat loss. Forest cover in Borneo has plummeted to 50 percent in less than 60 years. 80 percent of Borneo's cats face extinction. Widespread deforestation for timber and oil palm plantations are the main reasons for the disappearance of the forests.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Environmentally Safe Biological Weapon to Counter Tree-eating Bark Beetles

Researchers at Northern Arizona University have developed an environmentally safe method to counter the threat posed by tree-eating armies of bark beetles.  
The researchers exposed the beetles to digitally altered recordings of their own calls, the sounds they make to attract or repel other beetles. The response was instantaneous. The beetles stopped mating or burrowing. Some fled, and some violently attacked each other. As far as the researchers were concerned the best result was that they stopped chewing the bark of the trees. Bark beetles have killed nearly 80 million ponderosa, piñon and lodgepole pines in Arizona and New Mexico.
 Scientists are now experimenting with variations of the calls and studying its effects. When they made the beetle sounds louder and stronger than a typical male mating call the female beetle rejected the male and moved toward the electronic sound. When the researchers manipulated the sounds, at a certain point, the male stopped mating and tore the female apart. 
Researchers are confident that they can come up with an ideal mix of electronic calls to thwart the beetles.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Hilly Areas with a Mix of Habitats Such as Woodland and Grassland are Ideal for Butterflies

Latest research by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Butterfly Conservation and the University of York has convincingly shown that hilly areas with a mix of habitats such as woodland and grassland are ideal to maintain stable butterfly populations.
 A mix of terrain was found to help the butterflies survive better in the face of threats such as drought. The findings are based on data from satellites.
 Areas with varied features, such as slopes facing north, south, east and west, were also found to be more ideal for the insects.
 The study highlights the importance of taking a landscape perspective for species conservation
 Details of the study appears in the latest issue of journal Ecology Letters

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Mimicry in butterflies and the Riddle of the wing Colour and Pattern

I have always wondered about the mimicry in butterflies, how two butterfly species have evolved exactly the same striking wing colour and pattern.
 For years, scientists have pondered whether when different species evolve to look the same, they have a common genetic mechanism. Because there are thousands of genes in the butterflies' genome, most scientists felt it was unlikely that the same genes should be involved.  Now Scientists at Cambridge have cracked the riddle. The Cambridge led study suggest that despite the many thousands of genes in the genome of butterflies there is only one or two that are useful for changing this colour pattern.

 Results of the study appears in the latest issue of journal PLoS Genetics

 Müllerian mimicry happens when two poisonous or unpalatable species evolve to look the same. Batesian mimicry happens when an edible species evolve to look like a species that is toxic or unpleasant to eat.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Well-designed plantations Can Provide the Same Ecosystem Services as Natural Forests

Forest plantations have acquired a bad reputation when it comes to biodiversity. Against this background I was fascinated to read about the latest research by Alain Paquette from the Université du Québec à Montréal. According to Alain Paquette not all plantations need to be biological deserts.
 Observations of Alain Paquette came from his latest research. He goes on to add that well-planned plantations can actually alleviate some of the social, economic and ecological burden currently being placed on natural forests. In addition, these biologically diverse, multi-purposed plantations can mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon, off-setting deforestation and reducing ecological strain on natural forests.
 The researchers found that plantations were capable of alleviating the ecological stressors placed on natural forests when used within an integrated forest zoning approach—that is, when rules are enforced to ensure any increase in plantations is matched by protected areas within the same landscape. The researchers says that even industrial monocultures can produce meaningful ecological services when managed correctly
 Paquette says "We have to look beyond the rows of uniform trees and evaluate plantations over larger temporal and spatial scales
 By improving plantation design through, among other methods, less intensive soil preparation, mixed-species vegetation and greater tolerance of other species in long-term maintenance, the authors believe that such plantations can deliver social, economic and environmental services similar to that of natural forests.
 Details of the research appears in February's issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment