1 Tahrcountry Musings: July 2010

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Busted – The belief that monoculture plantations would capture more carbon

Australian scientists, after extensive research have found that the reforestation of damaged rainforests is much more efficient at capturing carbon than softwood monoculture plantations. This finding turns on its head the current thinking.

The scientist studied three projects in Australia: monoculture plantations of native conifers, mixed species plantations and rainforest restoration projects. They found that restoration planting stored significantly more carbon in above-ground biomass than the monoculture plantations of native conifers and tended to store more than mixed species timber plantations.

Restoration projects are more expensive then monoculture plantations. So it is unlikely that carbon markets will plumb for restoration projects immediately

Details are published in the latest issue of journal Ecological Management and Restoration

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pain Killer from Sea Snail Saliva

Here is yet another example where biodiversity comes to our help, this time in the form of a very effective pain killer that holds great promise.
The new medicine is as effective as morphine but without the risk of addiction.
Snails inject the chemicals in the saliva into passing prey with hypodermic-needle-like teeth that shoot from their mouths like harpoons.
People with peripheral neuropathy stand to benefit immensely from the new discovery.
The bottom line is the need to conserve our biodiversity. We have only touched the tip of the ice-berg in our efforts to find new drugs derived from wild plants and animals. Sadly in the inexorable drive for “development” biodiversity id getting depleted at a fast  rate worldwide.
Details of the study appears in the latest issue of journal Chemical & Engineering News

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Coffee and Genetic Diversity in Tropical Forests

A new study by a University of Michigan biologist Christopher Dick and a colleague at the University of California, Berkeley, Shalene Jha, has found that Shade-grown coffee farms support native bees that in turn help maintain the genetic diversity in tropical forests. Native bees carried pollen twice as far in a shade-coffee habitat than they did in the forest.
By pollinating native trees on shade-coffee farms and adjacent patches of forest, the bees help preserve the genetic diversity. Increasingly fragmented landscapes due to onslaught of agriculture are isolating native plant populations in many tropical areas. An estimated 32.1 million acres of tropical forest are destroyed each year this way.
Increasing tendency for coffee growers to resort to "sun coffee," which involves thinning or removing the canopy has to be seen against the backdrop of this new research. There is urgent need to encourage the traditional style of agriculture where coffee is grown in the shade of big trees.
The study was done in shade-grown coffee farms in the highlands of southern Chiapas, Mexico.
Details of the study appear in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Map Showing the Height of the World's Forests

Michael Lefsky, the remote sensing specialist from Colorado State University has produced a first of its kind map that shows in detail the height of the world's forests, using satellite data. The data was collected using NASA's ICESat, Terra, and Aqua satellites.
 LIDAR that's capable of capturing vertical slices of surface features was also put to use. LIDAR is the only instrument that can penetrate the top layer of forest canopy and provides a fully-textured snapshot of the vertical structure of the forest.
The data shows that the world's tallest forests are in the Pacific Northwest of North America and portions of Southeast Asia. Redwoods and sequoias have the tallest canopies well above 40 meters. The height of tropical rain forests is around 25 meters. In boreal forests the canopy is less than 20 meters.
It is hoped that the data generated would help us to build an inventory of how much carbon the world's forests store and how fast that carbon cycles goes through ecosystems and back into the atmosphere.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fungal Disease Threatens to Wipe Out Amphibians before they are discovered

The disease chytridiomycosis, is proving to be the nemesis of Amphibians. Chytridiomycosis caused by the chytrid fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, threatens more than 2,800 amphibian species worldwide. Amphibians infected by the disease develop skin several times thicker than normal skin, which in turn affects their ability to breathe and the transfer of electrolytes.
Details of research published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academies of Science USA makes disturbing reading. A Panamanian park has lost around 40% of its amphibian species in the past decade. Some had died out before biologists had even learned of their existence. Using latest DNA bar-coding biologists discovered 11 new species, only to find that five of them are already extinct in the area.  DNA bar-coding involves sequencing standardized DNA marker fragments to match specimens with known species. Dr Andrew Crawford from the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, was the lead scientist.
The disease is spreading fast.  Scientists are trying the use of probiotics to stall the tragedy. Frogs and salamanders have symbiotic bacteria growing on their skin, defending them against the fungus. Scientist are taking bacteria from healthy populations in the wild and culturing them in the lab. They hope to inoculate wild populations with heavy doses of their own beneficial bacteria.
Scientists also plan to preserve animals by removing some of them from their natural habitat. Animals can be cured with anti-fungal solutions, but the headache is how to introduce them back to wilderness without causing reinfections. Biologists are racing against time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Back from the Oblivian - Sri Lanka's Horton Plains Slender loris

For over six decades the Horton Plains slender loris (Loris tardigradus nycticeboides,) was thought to be extinct by researchers. The subspecies has been seen only four times since 1937.  Attempts to photograph the animal did not succeed.
The species has been rediscovered during a recent expedition by the scientists of the Zoological Society of London working in conjunction with Sri Lankan scientists. They have also managed to get photographs of the elusive animal. The picture shows an adult male characterized by short limbs and long dense fur, sitting on a tree.
Horton Plains slender loris measure about 6-10inches in length. The research team has estimated an upper count of 100 and a lower count of 60 for the animal.
The researchers say the rediscovered loris could even be a species in its own right
For a picture of the animal which has appeared  in Metro.co.uk click HERE

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sad News - Poachers Kill Last Female Rhino in South Africa's Kruger Park

Rhino poaching has reached an all-time high in Africa. The Poachers have killed the last female rhino in South Africa's Kruger Park. The rhino bled to death after having its horn hacked off by poachers. They sawed off the horns with a chainsaw.
Poachers used tranquillizer guns and a helicopter for their heinous activity.
Now there are only 18,000 black and white rhinos in entire Africa, down from 65,000 in the 1970s. How sad.

The Return of the World's Least Known Bird

After a single specimen of Large-billed Reed warbler (Acrocephalus orinus) billed as the world's least known bird, was found in Himachal Pradesh, India in 1867, the species was not seen again until 2006. A live bird was trapped in Thailand in 2006. The bird has remained an enigmatic figure.
Now a breeding site of the bird has been found in Tajikistan by scientists. Ornithologists Dr Raffael Aye and Mr Manuel Schweizer of the Society for Field Ornithology and Bird Protection in Central Asia, and Dr Stephan Hertwig of the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland have discovered eight individual large-billed reed warblers living at three different riverine woodland sites in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan. This is the first confirmed breeding site of the species since its discovery by science.
Conservationists around the world are elated by the discovery.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wildlife Images

Every weekend,  I eagerly look forward to wildlife images from Guardian. I am utterly fascinated by the sheer beauty of the images. Have a look at this week's wonderful images. Click Here

Common Names for Endangered Species

Some of Britain's endangered species which did not have common names have been given appropriate common names. Have a look at the wonderful pictures and slide show of these endangered species from BBC HERE

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One in Four of All Flowering Plants are Under Threat of Extinction

The results of recent research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B makes disturbing reading. One in four of all flowering plants are under threat of extinction. The figures are truly alarming.
The research was headed by Stuart Pimm of Duke University in North Carolina, David Roberts, of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and Lucas Joppa of Microsoft Research in Cambridge.
The researchers’ initially carried out an independent review of how many flowering exist. The team calculated that against the “best estimate" of 352,282 flowering plants there are another 10-20%, or 35,000-70,000, which are yet to be officially discovered.
The next step to assess the level of threats from habitat loss arising from clearing land for planting crops or trees, development and indirect causes like falling groundwater levels and pollution. The researchers say that new species are likely to be found in "biodiversity hotspots", where there are huge numbers of endemic species and a high level of habitat loss. Based on this assumption they estimated that all so-far-undiscovered flowering plants were also at risk.
According to researchers if the number of species that are currently known to be threatened are added to that those that are yet to be discovered, we arrive at an estimate that between 27% and 33% of all flowering plants will be threatened with extinction. These estimates are based on immediate threat, and do not consider further development of destructive factors, including climate disruption.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mammals Decline in Africa's National Parks

A new study published in Biological Conservation paints disturbing scenario of wildlife in Africa. Parks like Masai Mara and the Serengeti have seen populations of large mammals decline by up to 59 per cent.
The study was headed by scientist from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Cambridge University.
An average decline of almost 60 per cent in the population abundance of 69 key species including lion, wildebeest, giraffe, buffalo and zebra was noticed between 1970 and 2005, in 78 protected areas throughout Africa.
Lack of financial and personnel resources, high rates of habitat degradation and the growing bushmeat trade are attributed as reasons for the worrisome decline.
The situation outside the parks is even worse. Many species like rhino are practically extinct outside national parks.

Have alook at my article on Masai Mara HERE

Monday, July 12, 2010

Antibacterial Properties’ of Honey - Scientists Crack the Riddle

It is a known fact that honey kills bacteria, but the mechanism behind it has always been a mystery. Now scientists have cracked the riddle.
Scientists at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam have discovered that bees make a protein called defensin-1, which they add to the honey. This protein defensin-1 is the agent responsible for the antibacterial property of honey.
The new information also sheds light on the inner workings of honey bee immune systems. This could help us to breed healthier honey bees.
Scientists say honey-derived medicines might come in handy for prevention and treatment of infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Full details appear in July 2010 print edition of FASEB Journal.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sea Otters and Carbon Sequestration

Scientists have calculated that Sea otters remove at least 0.18 kilograms of carbon from the atmosphere for every square meter they occupy in coastal waters. This piece of info comes from Dr Chris Wilmer and team from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
It is estimated that in North America alone they could collectively lock up 1010 kg of carbon which is worth more than $700 million in the carbon-trading market.
Sea otters have a stellar role in the ecology of sea. They promote the luxuriant growth of kelp by consuming sea urchins.
Unfortunately Sea Otters are on the decline. In Alaska the populations have dropped from up to 125,000 in the 1970s to around 70,000 today.
According to Dr Chris Wilmer the new calculations provide an incentive to protect sea otters.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Termite Queens Use Specific Chemicals to Prevent Other Termites from Developing into New Queens.

North Carolina State University entomologist Dr. Ed Vargo and colleagues from Japan and Switzerland have for the first time shown that specific chemicals are used by some termite queens to prevent other termites in the colony from developing into new queens.
The key is a combination of two chemical compounds called n-butyl-n-butyrate and 2-methyl-1-butanol in a pheromone perfume. The study gives a peep into the mechanisms behind the ways colonies of termites and other social insects regulate themselves.
The scientists say termites molt frequently throughout their lives and can change castes depending on conditions in the colony.
Details of the study appears in the latest issue of journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Friday, July 09, 2010

Vocal Mimicry at its Best

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and UFAM (Federal University of Amazonas) have documented the first recorded instance of a wild cat species in the Americas mimicking the calls of its prey.
The researchers were observing Pied Tamarins feeding in a ficus tree.  To their utter fascination they observed a Margay emitting calls similar to those made by tamarin babies.
The Tamarin "sentinel, climbed down from the tree to investigate the sounds coming from a tangle of lianas.  At that moment, a margay emerged from the foliage and moved surreptitiously towards the monkeys.  The sentinel realized the ruse and screamed in alarm. This sent the other tamarins fleeing for cover.
According to researchers this vocal manipulation of prey species indicates a psychological cunning which merits further study.
Details of the research appear in the June issue of Neotropical Primates.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Reducing Global Warming with Coriander Turmeric and Cumin

The slow digestive system of ruminants such as cows and sheep contribute to global warming as the digestive process produces methane. Methane is a major contributor to global warming.
Scientists from Newcastle University have found that adding coriander, turmeric and cumin to fodder can reduce the amount of methane produced by sheep by up to 40 per cent. This makes digestive process more efficient producing less methane. It is estimated that each sheep produces around 20 litres of methane a day. 12% of the food energy goes waste as methane. Coriander reduced methane production from 14ml/gram of ''food'' to 8ml/g - a drop of 40%. Turmeric produced a 30 per cent reduction and cumin 22 per cent.

Coriander seeds are often prescribed for stomach complaints while turmeric and cloves are strong antiseptics.
Details of the research appear in Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences 2010.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Hydroelectric Power is not as clean as it is made out to be

Hydroelectric power is listed as a very clean source of power, totally unpolluting. This conventional thought has been turned on its head by a latest piece of research by Brazil's National Institute for Research in the Amazon.
The study says the hydroelectric power generation systems could be releasing significant amounts of methane into the environment. This release is done by the rotting vegetation in the dam.
The submerged vegetation will decompose without oxygen over time, producing dissolved methane. The flow brings in a continuous supply of plant matter to decay.  Plants that grow on the banks of reservoir are submerged when the rainy season comes. The dissolved methane is released into the atmosphere when the water passes through the dam's turbines.
A study of one dam in Pará, Brazil found that its effect on the climate was more than three and a half times greater than if the same quantity of energy had been produced by burning oil.
Even if we take in to consideration the fact that the plants will have taken some carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere during their growth cycle the effect is still deleterious as methane is 21 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Hydroelectric power still scores as it is a renewable source of energy.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Article in Guardian - Conservation can be a weapon against poverty

I read an excellent article by Daniela Pastrana in Guardian titled “Conservation can be a weapon against poverty”. It gives a graphic description of how local people are paid for protecting their environment, in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. Read the story here

Friday, July 02, 2010

Unraveling the Mystery of Menopause Though Killer Whales

Results of a new research done by scientists of Universities of Exeter and Cambridge on killer whales, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, provide fascinating insight in to menopause in killer whales and humans.
Killer whales, pilot whales and humans are the only three known species where females stop breeding relatively early in their lifespan.
According to researchers as age advances females become more related to those around them and   it creates a 'grandmother' role, where the success rate of breeding in the group can be helped by older females sharing parenting knowledge and stopping breeding which in turn allow younger females easier access to resources. Females become more closely related to infants in the group as they get older. This predisposes females of humans and those of killer whales and pilot whales, to the evolution of menopause and late life helping.
In other long lived mammals it is typically males who leave the group to breed, and females who stay with their mother. Older females will be selected to continue breeding.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Bees Observe a Strict Working Day

Scientists working on bees have come up with a surprising finding. Even in conditions of 24-hour sunlight they observe a regime of strict working day. The research was pioneered by Ralph Stelzer and Lars Chittka from Queen Mary University of London, UK.
The movements of bees during the constant light of the Arctic summer were carefully monitored using radio tags.
Increased daylight provides an opportunity for bees to forage and maximize their intake. But the bees do not take advantage of this opportunity.
For comparison the researchers studied both native bees and a group of bee colonies they imported into the Arctic. Both the sets retired to their nests well before midnight. Maximum activity was around midday.
Stelzer and Chittka are trying to work out the riddle. They speculate that the bees must have some way of telling the time in the absence of day/night cues. They could be sensitive to light intensity or changes in temperature.
Despite the light, temperatures fall during the Arctic 'night'. There is a possibility that the bees return in order to warm their brood. Stelzer and Chittka are determined to get to the root of it.
Details of the work appear in the latest issue of journal BMC Biology.