1 Tahrcountry Musings: March 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Predator – Prey Relationships - New Findings

Our understanding of predator-prey relationship has undergone sea changes with the publication of latest research findings. As a wildlife manger I followed the findings with great interest.

Some of the the findings shake our present concepts about predator prey relationships and calls for changes of management strategies in some wildlife reserves. I have posted a piece on this fascinating research in my other blog. Click here to read it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Butterflies are Declining Worldwide

Butterflies are a sight to behold anytime. They are as source of inspiration even for the urban people with their miniscule gardens. Sadly butterflies are on the decline worldwide. 
Butterfly experts from around the world are meeting in Reading, Berkshire, attending Butterfly Conservation's Sixth International Symposium against the backdrop of declining butterflies worldwide. 
Sir David Attenborough who is President of Butterfly Conservation says "Butterflies are sensitive indicators. They decline when habitats are destroyed and when man harms the environment. We have known about butterfly losses in Britain for over 50 years. Now there is mounting evidence that it is a global problem. If butterflies are disappearing, other wildlife will be declining too. Some will be facing extinction.  " 
The conference is part of the attempt to assess the success of efforts around the world in meeting the United Nation's target of halting biodiversity declines by 2010. Sir David adds halting biodiversity loss is on a par with getting a man on the moon in the 1960s. 
Tahrcountry wishes the very best for the conference and hopes that something concrete would emerge from the deliberations to halt the decline of the butterflies.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CITES Needs New Direction

The Doha conference has clearly exposed the limits of environmental co-operation when it comes to CITES. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)    imposes restrictions of varying severity on the trade on 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 plants. Everything looks rosy on paper but ground realities are very grim. 
CITES suffers from limited funding and no legal powers to enforce its rulings on member states.  Smugglers and poachers have devised ways to overcome official restrictions. Internet has emerged as one of the chief threats. 
The agreement between 175 member states of CITES is very tenuous. There are increasing attempts to breach the consensus. Look at what has happened to Blurfin Tuna. After intense lobbying, Japan succeeded in stonewalling attempts to impose a ban on Bluefin tuna fishing. Trade in red and pink coral also went the same way with pressure from Italy and China. The species is on its way to extinction. Short-term national interests ride roughshod over science and conservation. 
CITES clearly needs a shot in the arm. Member countries will have to give preference to science and conservation over their parochial interests if the organization is to achieve what it is intended for.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fascinating Information about Octopuses.

The information from nature that we regularly cull never ceases to amaze me with its complexities. Sometimes it makes you feel humble. The latest issue of Journal of Experimental Biology has some fascinating information about octopuses. Believe it or not the octopuses are far more excited by HDTV when compared to standard definition TV.
The research was headed by Ms Renata Pronk from Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia and colleagues. The team collected gloomy octopuses (Octopus tetricus) from Sydney Harbour, transferred them to a tank at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and exposed the octopuses to three HDTV videos, recording the animals' response.
In experiments evaluating how the creatures react to moving images, the animals responded far more vigorously to HDTV than standard definition TV. HDTV has roughly five times as many pixels as standard definition TV (SDTV).
Scientists say Octopuses appear to be intelligent animals. They respond to their environment with brilliant colour changes. They have relatively high standard eyesight.
The scientist also demonstrated that gloomy octopuses have "episodic personalities", which means their personality varies over time. One day an octopus would react excitedly to the crab video, but it would show little interest on another day. Crab is a favorite food of octopuses.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Now You Can Identify People Based on the Bacteria They Leave Behind

I was fascinated to read in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the forensic identification using skin bacterial communities. Scientists Noah Fierera and associates at the University of Colorado in Boulder have been able to identify individuals based on the bacteria they leave behind on their computers.
Every individual harbours a mix of microbe that’s different from their neighbors. This has been effectively used by Noah to identify specific individuals. There is a high degree of interindividual variability in the composition of bacterial communities.
Skin-associated bacteria can be readily recovered from surfaces, including computer keys and computer mice.
The signatures can be recovered for up to 2 weeks at room temperature. The scientist say the new discovery introduces a forensics approach that could eventually be used to independently evaluate results obtained using more traditional forensic practices.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Praise of Moringa Tree

Drumsticks from Moringa (Moringa oleifera) are used extensively in Indian cooking. The leaf is an excellent vegetable additive.
Another facet of the tree known to indigenous communities is now getting scientific validation. The seeds of Moringa are an excellent base for purifying water.
A low-cost water purification technique published in Current Protocols in Microbiology is based on Moringa seeds. The technique can produce a 90.00% to 99.99% bacterial reduction in previously untreated water. Read this against fact that a billion people across Asia, Africa, and Latin America are estimated to rely on untreated surface water sources for their daily water needs. Of these, some two million are thought to die from diseases caught from contaminated water every year.
The researchers rates Moringa to be to be one of the world's most useful trees. Moringa tree seeds, when crushed into powder, can be used as a water-soluble extract in suspension. This acts as an effective natural clarification agent for highly turbid and untreated pathogenic surface water.
The paper has been made free to download as part of access programs under John Wiley & Sons' Corporate Citizenship Initiative. Read it here

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Fresh Air Fund

This blog post is at the request of Ms Sara Wilson of The Fresh Air Fund and is mainly targeted at US citizens. Others can gain inspiration from the programme and try to start similar programme in their countries. Here I would like to mention germane research by Zaradic.  Zaradic has recently proved that time spent hiking or backpacking is correlated with increased conservation contributions 11–12 years later. Their results suggest that each hiker or backpacker translates to $200–$300 annually in future NGO contributions. They project that the recent decline in popularity of hiking and backpacking will negatively impact conservation NGO contributions from approximately 2010–2011 through at least 2018.

 THE FRESH AIR FUND, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer vacations to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877. Nearly 10,000 New York City children enjoy free Fresh Air Fund programs annually. In 2008, close to 5,000 children visited volunteer host families in suburbs and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada. 3,000 children also attended five Fresh Air camps on a 2,300-acre site in Fishkill, New York. The Fund’s year-round camping program serves an additional 2,000 young people each year.
 In 2009, The Fresh Air Fund's Volunteer Host Family program, called Friendly Town, gave close to 5,000 New York City boys and girls, ages six to 18, free summer experiences in the country and the suburbs. Volunteer host families shared their friendship and homes up to two weeks or more in 13 Northeastern states from Virginia to Maine and Canada.
 Thanks to host families who open up their homes for a few weeks each summer, children growing up in New York City’s toughest neighborhoods have experienced the joys of Fresh Air experiences.
 Friendly Town host families are volunteers who live in the suburbs or small town communities. Host familiesFresh Air experience is as enriching for their own families, as it is for the inner-city children. There are no financial requirements for hosting a child. Volunteers range in size, ethnicity and background, but share the desire to open their hearts and homes to give city children an experience they will never forget. Hosts say the may request the age-group and gender of the Fresh Air youngster they would like to host. Children on first-time visits are six to 12 years old and stay for either one or two weeks. Youngsters who are re-invited by the same family may continue with The Fund through age 18, and many enjoy longer summertime visits, year after year. A visit to the home of a warm and loving volunteer host family can make all the difference in the world to an inner-city child. All it takes to create lifelong memories is laughing in the sunshine and making new friends.

The majority of Fresh Air children are from low-income communities. These are often families without the resources to send their children on summer vacations. Most inner-city youngsters grow up in towering apartment buildings without large, open outdoor play spaces. Concrete playgrounds cannot replace the freedom of running barefoot through the grass or riding bikes down country lanes.

Fresh Air children
are registered by more than 90 participating social service and community organizations located in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the five boroughs of New York City. These community-based agencies are in close contact with children in need of summer experiences in rural and suburban areas. Each agency is responsible for registering children for the program. 

Visit http://freshairfundhosts.com/ to get to know more about the programme and contribute your mite.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

King Cobra Charms Researchers

Here is yet another bonanza arising from conserving wildlife. This time it comes from King Cobra.
Researchers have been studying King Cobra venom for the past 50 years. They are still   continuing to find new compounds. The latest discovery of a new protein has enormous potential for new drug discovery and to advance understanding of disease mechanisms.

Many common drugs such as the widely prescribed blood pressure medication Captopril and anti-clotting drug Eptifibatide have been developed from snake and other animal venoms.  

The newly discovered protein has been named haditoxin. Haditoxin was discovered in Professor     Manjunatha Kini's laboratory at the National University of Singapore Co- researcher is Dr S   Niru Nirthanan, now at Griffith University on the Gold Coast.  

The new toxin is a relatively large complex made up of two identical protein molecules known as three-finger toxins linked together.This has enormous potential according to researchers. The new discovery has the potential for developing drugs for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, anxiety and depressive disorders and nicotine addiction.  

The details of the research appear in Journal of Biological Chemistry (March 12, 2010). The editorial board of the journal has selected this work as the "Paper of the Week"

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Very Effective Anti-Fungal Drug Developed from Carnivorous Plants

Here is yet another example of the benefits that accrue from conserving biodiversity. Scientists have developed drugs from pitcher plant Nepenthes khasiana that work as effective anti-fungal agent.  
Fungal infections are widespread in hospitals around the world. Secondary fungal infections acquired during stay as patients in hospitals are a constant source of worry for the doctors. Skin fungal infections lack effective treatments.
Scientist say to avoid sharing precious food resources with other micro-organisms such as fungi, the carnivorous plant has developed a host of agents that act as natural anti-fungal agents. Scientists have zoomed in to this characteristic of the pitcher plants.
The credit for the discovery goes to Prof. Aviah Zilberstein, Prof. Esther Segal and Dr. Haviva Eilenberg   from Tel Aviv University.
Details appear in the latest issue of Journal of Experimental Biology

Monday, March 01, 2010

Wasps Discovered Antibiotics Millions of Years Ago

Some discoveries make you feel humble. I was amazed when I read about the use of   antibiotics by wasps. They have been using it for millions of years. Invading fungal mold and harmful bacteria are major threats to the wasp larvae. The insects were using nine antibiotic varieties to ward off trouble. For us the era of antibiotics began only in 1928 when Alexander Fleming spotted how penicillin produced by green mold killed bacteria. The amazing discovery was made by the scientists of Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany. 
Philanthus wasps use beneficial bacteria to manufacture a cocktail of drugs that protect its larvae from infection. According to the scientists writing in the journal Nature Chemical Biology the insects not only evolved a method of manufacturing antibiotics, they used them in a highly effective way. Philanthus wasps teamed up with a type of bacteria called Streptomyces in a symbiotic relationship that benefited both species. In exchange for the coziness of a home, the bugs produced a cocktail of nine different antibiotics effective against a broad range of harmful bacteria and fungi. 
The scientists believe that the discovery could assist the development of new agents to combat human ''superbugs''.