1 Tahrcountry Musings: October 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hop on for a Virtual Tour of the World's Wildlife Refuges and Protected Areas

My friend Ramesh has requested me to blog on the new initiative of UNEP, which allows virtual tour of world’s protected areas.  Ramesh says many people are not aware of it.  UNEP has turned to the wiki-world in an attempt to improve protection of the natural areas. UNEP maintains a database of protected areas around the world, based on data from government agencies. The database doesn't get updated regularly and UNEP thinks the best way for upgradation is to reach out to the public via WIKI
The new imitative allows people to visit little-known protected areas. UNEP hopes this will generate revenue and improve knowledge about them.
So what are you waiting for? Click HERE for a virtual tour of wildlife reserves of the world.

This Monkey sneezes when it Rains

The newly discovered Burmese monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri) has thrown up a surprise. It sneezes when it rains.  To avoid getting rainwater in their noses they spend rainy days sitting with their heads tucked between their knees.
It was an international team of primatologists led by Ngwe Lwin from the Myanmar Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association supported by an international team of primatologists from Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the People Resources and Biodiversity Foundation that discovered the new species of monkey in Northern Myanmar. The species is limited to the Maw River area.  It is classified as Critically Endangered by IUCN. The species has been named Rhinopithecus strykeri in honour of Jon Stryker, President and Founder of the Arcus Foundation who supported the project.
The new monkey has almost entirely blackish fur with white fur only on ear tufts, chin beard and perineal area. It has a relatively long tail.
Full details appear in the latest issue of American Journal of Primatology.

Geissmann. T, Lwin. G, Aung. S, Naing Aung. T, Aung. Z M, Hla. T, Grindley. M, Momberg. F, “A new species of Snub-nosed monkey, Genus Rhinopithecus Milne-Edwards, 1872 (Primates, Colobianae), From Northern Kachin State, Northeastern Myanmar”, American Journal of Primatology

Saturday, October 30, 2010

This week's Wildlife Images from Guardian

From blue fang skeleton spiders to green iguanas, have a look at this week's wildlife images from Guardian. Click HERE

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cycads under Treat of Extinction

IUCN has warned that cycad, which is the world's oldest living seed plant is facing extinction. Cycads - evolved about 300 million years ago, even before the dinosaurs. The threat is from people who collect wild plants from their natural habitats and plant them in gardens. Collectors in America and the Far East are prepared to pay up to £6,000 for a large specimen of a rare species. The removal of cycads from the wild for private collections has resulted in two species becoming extinct in the wild.
Cycads are the most threatened group of organisms assessed by IUCN. The assessment of 308 cycad species shows that their status has declined from 53% threatened in 2003 to 62% threatened in 2010. More than 75% of cycad species are currently threatened with extinction.
Cycads grow slowly and to get a long stem it takes about 400 to 800 years. Some cycads grow up to 40 feet while some are miniscule. They need to be close to other cycads to pollinate.
Concerted international action is the need of the hour

Thursday, October 28, 2010

'Gender-Bending' Chemicals Affecting Reproduction in Fish – First Solid Evidence from UK

A four year study, led by scientists from the universities of Exeter and Brunel have discovered that ‘Gender-bending' chemicals which find their way from human products into rivers and oceans have started affecting the reproduction in fishes. The culprit is Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) coming from sources like female contraceptive drugs, hormone replacement therapy pills and washing up liquid which disrupt the ways that hormones work in the bodies of vertebrates.

The research was done focusing on wild roach in two UK rivers (Bourne and Arun). This is the first solid evidence of EDCs affecting fishes. The scientist discovered that intersex fish -- those that had their sexuality compromised by EDCs and which contain both male (sperm) and female (eggs) sex cells, had their reproductive performance reduced by up to 76%. Scientists are apprehensive that some of the effects seen in fish could occur in other animals too as hormone systems are quite similar across all vertebrates.

Catherine A. Harris, Patrick B. Hamilton, Tamsin J. Runnalls, Veronica Vinciotti, Alan Henshaw, Dave Hodgson, Tobias S. Coe, Susan Jobling, Charles R. Tyler, John P. Sumpter. The Consequences of Feminisation in Breeding Groups of Wild Fish. Environmental Health Perspectives.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Amazing Discovery about Bees

Bees have a brain the size of a grass seed. We don’t usually give much importance to such a small entity. Now, here is the surprise. Scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London have discovered that bees can solve complex mathematical problems. They could easily solve the 'travelling salesman's' shortest route problem. They learn to fly the shortest route between flowers discovered in random order. 

In experiments conducted bees quickly learned to fly the best route for saving time and energy. Scientists are stumped by this feat of bees and are probing ways of getting to the root of the mystery. There seems to be no end to the mysteries of nature. We have only scratched the surface.

Fascinating details of the discovery appear in the latest issue of journal The American Naturalist.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Recommendation - Butterflies – Messages from Psyche

Here is a great book on butterflies, a book which has been described as most visually exciting book of the year by Simon Barnes of The Times.  Philip Howse makes an attempt to decode the colours, patterns, and designs on the wings of butterflies and moths. He explains how these living tapestries have been designed by evolution to protect insects from their principal predators, including birds, lizards, and monkeys.

Surprising images are revealed if we look at the details of pattern on a butterfly in the way that a bird sees it from different angles. These are features of owl eyes, snake heads, caterpillars, lizards, wasps, scorpions, and bird beaks and they carry very complex meanings.

Here are two examples from the book. The Atlas moth, found in the subtropical forests in south East Asia which has wingspans of up to 12 inches, has brightly coloured bands which make it look like a snake's head. The giant owl butterfly, Caligo memnon, found in the rainforests of Mexico and the Amazon, has a large black and yellow spot on its wing which looks like the head of a toad.
This is a book worth the bucks you spend on it.

Butterflies – Messages from Psyche
Philip Howse
Paperback (192 pages)
Publisher: Papadakis,UK
ISBN 97819010902806

Monday, October 25, 2010

Elephants in the Garb of Ecological Engineers: They Can Create More Complex Habitats that can Support More Biodiversity

Areas heavily damaged by elephants are a frequent sight in forest areas. Some view it as a nuisance and waste of resources. Here is a surprising piece of info that adds a new twist to it. New research by a team from Georgia Southern University, US, has come up with the findings that areas heavily damaged by elephants are home to more species of amphibians and reptiles than areas where they are excluded. The elephants are living up to the name "ecological engineers" given to them by some ecologists.
By digging with their front legs, pulling up grass and bringing big trees crashing down, the elephants inadvertently change the shape of the landscape. The digestive system of elephants is not good at processing many of the seeds that they eat and in the process they unwittingly act as seed carriers and rejuvenate the landscape by transporting seeds to new places. Elephant faeces act as a good fertilizer.
"Eighteen herpetofaunal species were identified in areas of high elephant damage. Medium damage areas had 12 species, while areas of low damage had 11 species. A control fenced area maintained by the scientists had the lowest species richness with only eight species
The scientist says the craters and coarse woody debris formed by uprooted and broken trees increased the number of refuges against predators. They added that the locations were also favoured by insects, which were an important food source for amphibians and reptiles. Amphibians and reptiles tend to be sensitive to habitat change, and many of them are limited in terms of how far they can go in a relatively short space of time to escape problems.
The scientists maintain that the findings have implications for habitat and wildlife management strategies. Things may not look particularly pretty to a human eye but that does not mean that it is detrimental to all the life out there in the wilderness.
Details of the study appear in the latest issue of  African Journal of Ecology