1 Tahrcountry Musings: November 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Whale Inspired Under Water Turbines

The spinoffs from wildlife conservation are enormous. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg. But in our inexorable push for “development” we give scant thought for wildlife conservation. Here is an example of a spinoff from marine conservation.

The low velocity associated with many tidal flows and the difficulty of extracting useful energy from low speed flows had put a damper on the effort to generate electricity from ocean tides. Now researchers from United States Naval Academy have taken a cue from whales to tackle this problem.

The researchers have designed a novel blade modification, which was inspired by humpback whale flippers. The new design has improved stall characteristics and aerodynamic performance .The turbines are very effective in extracting energy at low speeds. Hurray wildlife conservation.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Shifting Diving Geometry in Whale Sharks

I read a very interesting paper in the British Ecological Society's journal Functional Ecology. The scientists describe how Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus)   use geometry to enhance their natural negative buoyancy. The research at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia was headed by Dr Adrian Gleiss from Swansea University.
The scientists attached animal-borne motion sensors and accelerometers, to the free-swimming Whale sharks to measure their swimming activity and vertical movement.
The data collected revealed that sharks are able to glide without investing energy into movement when descending, but they had to beat their tails when they ascended. This is because sharks, unlike many fish, have negative buoyancy.  The steeper the sharks ascended, the harder they had to beat their tail.

The Whale sharks displayed two kinds of movement modes. One was shallow ascent angles, which minimize the energetic demands of moving in the horizontal while the second movement of steeper ascent angles, optimized the energetic cost of vertical movement. The scientists conclude that geometry plays a crucial role in movement strategies of sharks. Movement geometry significantly affects power requirements in a manner similar to travel speed. Sharks are presumed to shift diving geometry with changing currencies and ecological context. 

Moved by that sinking feeling: variable diving geometry underlies movement strategies in whale sharks
Adrian C. Gleiss, Brad Norman,Rory P. Wilson

Functional Ecology

Article first published online: 24 NOV 2010

This week's Wildlife Images from Guardian

Have a look at this weeks magnificent wildlife images from Guardian. Click Here

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Yasuní Dilemma

Want to make a guess about the most bio-diverse forest on earth? Many people I put this question to said Western Ghats.  They are wrong. It is Ecuador's Yasuni National Park. Yasuni has the highest number of species on the planet.  In one hectare of Yasuní, 644 different species of trees have been identified.  Records for amphibians, reptiles, and bats are also unprecedented. It covers about a million hectares.  A single hectare of forest in Yasuní is projected to contain 100,000 different insect species. This biosphere reserve is also the abode of the indigenous Huaorani people.

Yasuni happens to sit atop Ecuador's second largest reserve of crude oil.  There are 846 million barrels of recoverable oil reserves. This is a dilemma for the Government.  Oil lobby has been eying the area for years. The researchers working in the area have waged an international campaign to protect the location.

It was in 2007 that the Ecuador President Rafael Correa offered the proposal in which his country would, in exchange for several billion dollars, keep the oil indefinitely underground.  This proposal has started bearing fruit. United Nations has agreed to oversee a trust fund paid to Ecuador for the project.   On August 3rd 2010 the Government of Ecuador and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a historic deal establishing a trust fund. The funds would be used by the country to conserve its forests, develop renewable energy, and promote social development.

The Yasuni Initiative urgently needs more international funders .This is needed to offset the tremendous pressure from oil lobby.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Obesity levels are increasing dramatically in research animals and others living close to humans

It is a known fact that dramatic increase in obesity has occurred among humans within the last several decades.  I was fascinated to read in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. about the increasing levels of obesity  in research animals and others living close to humans.
David Allison, a statistical geneticist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and his colleagues gathered data on body weights of more than 20,000 adult animals from 24 populations of 8 different species from around North America. All 24 populations of animals, which ranged from primates housed in research facilities to feral rats living in the greater Baltimore area, showed measurable increase in body weight.
Average body weights of captive chimpanzees increased at a rate of 33 percent each decade. It was 9 percent per decade in captive marmosets. Laboratory mice got 12 percent increase  every ten years. The average weight of cats increased by almost 10 percent each decade, while dogs' weights increased by 3 percent every decade.
In 23 out of the 24 populations animals were not just overweight, they were plain obese. Read this against the fact that records of exactly what research animals were fed and their housing conditions haven't changed much in the past 50 years.
Scientists suspect that Environmental toxins and viruses could be the causative factors for the aberration. Endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A (BPA) and some tin-containing compounds have been shown to increase body mass. Adenovirus, have also been linked to significantly increased body mass.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Climate Change Report was a Copy and Paste Affair?

Statistician Edward Wegman has alleged that research report on climate change led by scientist Michael Mann was a copy and paste affair. The research report had claimed that global temperatures were highest in the last century than the previous 1,000 years. Wegman says 'significant' sections of the 91-page report were lifted from 'textbooks, Wikipedia and the writings of one of the scientists criticised in the report'.

Computer expert John Mashey says 35 of the report's 91 pages were 'mostly plagiarized.

We at tahrcountry are shocked by the academic impropriety.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mark Ryan Darmarai from Malaysia wins the BBC Wildlife Magazine camera trap photo competition

Mark Ryan Darmarai from Malaysia has notched up the first prize of BBC Wildlife Magazine camera trap photo competition.

His magnificent picture of a tigress and her adolescent cub investigating Mark's trap won hands down.

Tahrcountry congratulates Mark Ryan Darmarai.

To view the picture click HERE

Monday, November 22, 2010

England- The Return of the “Extinct” Spider

Conservationists in England are an elated lot. The Rosser's sac spider, thought to be extinct in the UK has been photographed for the first time. The discovery was made at Chippenham Fen in Cambridgeshire. 

The light brown spider was first discovered in the 1950s and had slowly disappeared mainly due to changing farming practices. It's a member of the clubionid family of spiders who like to hunt their prey rather than catch them in a web.

The rediscovery was made by spider enthusiast Ian Dawson and the first photograph was taken by Peter Harvey.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

This week's Wildlife Images from Guardian

Have a look at this week's wonderful wildlife images from Guardian. Click HERE

Can the abundance of tigers be assessed from their Signs? A New Paper

The paper “Can the abundance of tigers be assessed from their signs?, authored by Yadvendradev Jhala, Qamar Qureshi and Rajesh Gopal , published in Journal of Applied Ecology is  worth a read by all wildlifers  dealing with tiger conservation.
The authors assess the utility of indices for estimating the abundance of the endangered tiger at landscape scales and come up with a winner. It offers cost effective and rapid methods for estimating abundance of endangered species across large landscapes.

The researchers  used double sampling to estimate two indices of tiger abundance (encounters of pugmarks and scats per km searched) and calibrate those indices against contemporaneous estimates of tiger densities obtained using camera-trap mark–recapture (CTMR) at 21 sites (5185 km2) in Central and North India.

The new model developed permit rapid and cost effective assessments of abundance to monitor the status of tigers at landscape scales. The researchers have certainly done a commendable job.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Environmental Justice Foundation EJF: Call to ban Endosulfan

Endosulfan is an extremely hazardous and outdated agro-chemical banned in over 70 countries, including all EU countries, the US, Australia and Brazil.

Click on the link below to know more. Send a letter to Mr Jairam Ramesh, Indian Minister for Environment and urge the Indian Government to show that it values the health of its people and the environment by supporting a global ban on endosulfan.

Environmental Justice Foundation EJF: Protecting People and Planet

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Shark that Lost its Bearings while Visiting South Africa

I was fascinated to read about the latest on the elusive great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias)   of the Mediterranean Sea.   The provenance of white sharks in the Mediterranean is a mystery and an important conservation issue. New research indicates that white sharks of the Mediterranean Sea may be descended from a single small Australian population that lost its bearings while visiting South Africa 450,000 years ago.

Dr Leslie Noble of the University of Aberdeen says the sharks were probably returning to the Antipodes but became trapped after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar.  The sharks got lost during the Pleistocene epoch, around 450,000 years ago.  

Details if the research appear in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Antipodean white sharks on a Mediterranean walkabout? Historical dispersal leads to genetic discontinuity and an endangered anomalous population

Author Affiliations
1.       1Institute of Biological and Environmental Science, University of Aberdeen,Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ, UK
2.       2Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, Plymouth PL1 2PB, UK
3.       3Institute of Environmental Sciences, Boğaziçi University, Hisar Campus, Bebek, Istanbul TR-34342, Turkey
4.       4Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Istanbul University, Vezneciler, Istanbul TR-34134, Turkey
5.       5Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre, Marine Institute, School of Marine Sciences and Engineering, University of Plymouth, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK
6.       6Ichthyological Research Society, Atatürk Mahallesi, Menteşoğlu Caddesi, Idil Apartment no. 30/4, Ümraniye, Istanbul TR-34764, Turkey
7.       7Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, N122 Ramaley, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Europe is heading towards ‘environmental catastrophe’ warns Dr Henk Tennekes

A new book, The Systemic Insecticides: A Disaster in the Making by toxicologist Dr Henk Tennekes warns that dangerous insecticides known as neonicotinoids are seriously affecting bird and insect life across Europe. He says Europe is heading towards   ‘environmental catastrophe’. Since their introduction in the 1990s, neonicotinoids have become the most widely used insecticides worldwide. 

These dangerous insecticides spread throughout the entire plant and into the nectar and pollen. Bees or butterflies that collect pollen or nectar are poisoned.  They also leach and contaminate soils and groundwater. Numerous bird species do not find enough food for their chicks as insects are being exterminated by pesticides.

Dr Henk A. Tennekes (born in 1950 in Zutphen, The Netherlands) graduated from the Agricultural University of Wageningen in 1974 and did his Ph.D at Shell Research Ltd in Sittingbourne, Kent, UK. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Tricks of Kalahari Drongos

I was reading the other day a paper on Kalahari drongos in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The paper dealt with an ingenious ruse used by drongos to scare away competition and steal their food. The research was carried out by Tom Flower, a Cambridge University PhD student. What hooked me is the neat trick used by drongos. They mimic the alarm calls of other species in order to steal food.

Poor Meerkats are at the receiving end of the clever ploy. The drongos make fake alarm calls that mimic other species that meerkats are wary of. The meerkats run for cover in hearing the call. The drongos then swoop in and have a hearty meal. The birds were observed to deliberately change the type of call they make to make them sound authentic.

In the paper the researcher propose a novel hypothesis that false mimicked alarm calls could be used deceptively to scare other species and steal their food.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cracked - The Puzzle of How Cats Lap up Liquid so Elegantly

The way cats lap up liquid so elegantly has always enamored people. Now the mystery has been cracked by Dr Roman Stocker Working with researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Princeton University using high speed camera.
The scientists discovered that cats use their tongues to delicately draw up water without breaking the surface of the liquid. Dr Sticker explains “The fluid comes in contact with the tongue and sticks to it, and then the action of the tongue being drawn upwards very rapidly creates a liquid column.  Then, by closing its jaw, the cat captures part of that liquid”. This is quite different from dogs, which employ the method of scooping action to quench their thirst.
Big cats such as tigers, leopards and cheetahs also use the same mechanism to draw up liquid.

Details of the study appears in the journal Science

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Predator Prey Relationship - Similarities between Marine and Terrestrial Ecosystems

A new study done by scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Washington, have come up with the findings that there are lot of similarities between marine and terrestrial ecosystems when it comes to predator prey relationship.
The study examined the interactions between wolves and elk in the United States, and sharks and dugongs in Australia.
When sharks are abundant, dugongs graze less in shallow water where they are most vulnerable to sharks. In this process they sacrifice food they might otherwise consume. This allows the seagrass meadows to thrive, with ripple effects on a range of other plant and marine animal species.  This is akin to the presence of wolves in Yellowstone which alters the behavior of Elk constantly, as they try to avoid encounters. The elk graze less in sensitive habitats, which is helping streamside shrubs and aspen trees to recover.
Scientists say a more frequent information exchange between terrestrial and marine ecologists could provide additional insights into ecosystem function.
Details of the study appear in the latest issue of journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

England - Crash of Eel Population Worries Conservationists

A baffling rapid decline of eels in Welsh rivers has flummoxed the conservationists and made them a worried lot. Overfishing and dams that stop elvers (Young eels) migrating up rivers are suspects.

Since 1980 there has been 70% decrease in the number of eels making the two-year migration from the Caribbean. Limits on eel catches do not seem to work. To add to the worries we still don’t know where exactly eels spawn. Smallest eels were recorded in the Sargasso Sea. Young eels, called glass eels are carried by the Gulf Stream and reach river systems across Europe.

Eel is a prized lot. Recently market prices hit a record $2800 per kilogramme. Last year CITES recommended that trade in eels should be controlled. Scientists who advise the European Commission on CITES has called for zero exports this year. Strangely at a meeting in Brussels last week, France which happens to be Europe's leading exporter vetoed the suggestion.

Unless concerted international action is taken on a war footing the outlook for eels looks very bleak.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Scientists Develop a New Statistical Model that Predict Where Big Cats are most likely to Cross Busy Roads that Passes Through their Habitat.

Habitat fragmentation is one of the greatest threats to large carnivores’ across the world. Crisscrossing roads that cuts up habitat is a big nuisance and throws up lot of management challenges  Now a team of Scientists from Germany and Mexico have developed a new statistical model that identifies where big cats are most likely to cross busy roads that passes through their Habitat.
Years of data collected from GPS and radio-telemetry collars fitted to jaguars in Central America were used to come up with the new tool.
The new model is expected to give a big boost to carnivore conservation. The field trials have been highly satisfactory.
Details appear in the latest issue of journal Animal Conservation.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Colombia's Indigenous Wayuu People Skip Eating Turtle Meat to Save Them from Extinction

Here is a great story that is bound to warm the cockles of the heart of the conservation fraternity.

Wayuu people of Colombia have shown that carefully crafted conservation strategy can pay rich dividends. For Wayuu people eating turtle meat as a main protein source is an age-old tradition.
Turtles were becoming scarcer and scarcer over the years. Conservationist drove home the ground realities and the need to protect the turtles to Wayuu people. The Wayuu people were all ears and the community decided to skip eating turtle meat.
At a beach on Bahia Hondita the Wayuu children released 200 Caguama turtles aided by the local NGO the Wayuu Taya Foundation. Community volunteers patrol the beach three times a day to monitor nests and protect baby turtles from natural predators.
This is a glowing example of empowering the community to protect wildlife. We need more such efforts all over the world. 

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Deal to Protect the World's Wild Species and Places – We have been Conned

I read in Guardian a very severe indictment of much touted deal to protect the world's wild species and places. The writing was by George Monbiot.
Monbiot says the declaration of the so-called summit in Japan was a mere hypebole. The problem he sees is this: none of the journalists who made these claims has seen it. All that they had read was a press release which, though three pages long, is almost content-free. 
The draft agreement, published a month ago, contained no binding obligations. No government is obliged to change its policies. A third of the countries attending the conference couldn’t even be bothered to send a minister. 
Monbiot continues “Japan was praised for its slick management of the meeting, but still insists on completing its mission to turn the last bluefin tuna into fancy fast food. Russia signed a new agreement in September to protect its tigers (the world's largest remaining population), but an unrepealed law in effect renders poachers immune from prosecution, even when they're caught with a gun and a dead tiger. The US, despite proclaiming a new commitment to multilateralism, refuses to ratify the convention on biological diversity.
Read the full article in Guardian. Click HERE

Monday, November 01, 2010

Britain sets Up the World's Largest Marine Reserve

I was delighted to hear from Brian my friend from UK about the setting up of world’s largest fully protected marine reserve.  Britain has set up the world's largest fully protected marine reserve. This has come up in the British territorial waters of the Chagos Archipelago, in the Indian Ocean.
The Chagos reserve covers an area of 544,000 square kilometers. It harbours critically endangered hawksbill turtle, green sea turtles and dolphins. It also shelters one of the world's largest coral reefs.
The reserve will not remain a protected area on paper only. A fisheries patrol vessel will police the waters regularly.
Tahrcountry salutes the authorities of UK instrumental in forming the marine reserve.