1 Tahrcountry Musings: December 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Taking a break

I am taking a break of 15 days. Next update will be on 7th January 2012

I wish all the readers a  Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sound as a way to understand the ecological characteristics of a landscape

I have always been a votary for managing soundscape in wildlife reserves. The other day I was discussing with my friend Ramesh, the increasing cacophony in wildlife reserves and its implications for wildlife. Ramesh wanted me to give him a good paper on soundscape ecology. Here is the paper that I suggested
What is soundscape ecology? An introduction and overview of an emerging new science
Bryan C. PijanowskiAlmo FarinaStuart H. GageSarah L. Dumyahn and Bernie L. Krause
From the issue entitled "Special Issue: Soundscape Ecology"
LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY, Volume 26, Number 9, 1213-12328

In this paper the researchers summarise the fundamental elements of soundscape ecology. The various aspects of sound from various sources biological, geophysical and anthropogenic is discussed across different spatial and temporal scales. Terms, soundscapes, biophony, geophony and anthrophony, are introduced and defined.The intellectual foundations of soundscape ecology are described—those of spatial ecology, bioacoustics, urban environmental acoustics and acoustic ecology.

The researchers argue that soundscape ecology differs from the humanities driven focus of acoustic ecology although soundscape ecology will likely need its rich vocabulary and conservation ethic. They present a fascinating framework that describes how climate, land transformations, biodiversity patterns, timing of life history events and human activities create the dynamic soundscape.

What is currently known about factors that control temporal soundscape dynamics and variability across spatial gradients are summarised. Several different phonic interactions (e.g., how anthrophony affects biophony) are also described. 

Soundscape ecology tools that will be needed by the mangers and researchers are discussed. Ways in which soundscapes need to be managed are also presented. 

This paper is highly recommended for wildlife mangers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

IUCN SSC News - New IUCN Red List map browser: visualize and explore

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species website has a brand new feature designed to facilitate the exploration and visualization of species distribution ranges. This new ‘map browser’ allows Red List users to understand species’ distribution with the help of underlying imagery, both terrestrial and marine. Over 30,000 species maps can be explored in the browser, including all comprehensively assessed groups (such as amphibians, mammals, birds and several marine groups including corals, sharks and many others), as well as several freshwater groups.  You can zoom in and out of the maps, and overlay 12 base maps which can be accessed via the basemap feature. The map browser can be accessed via the map thumbnails on individual species fact sheets on the Red List website.  Try it out here

Monday, December 19, 2011

World's tiniest frogs

 Image courtesy of ZooKeys.
This weekend, I was discussing with my friend Ramesh, the recent discovery of new frogs in Wayanad, Naturally our conversation veered towards the World's tiniest frogs that have just been discovered in Papua New Guinea by Dr Fred Kraus.

Two new species in the miniaturized microhylid frog genusPaedophryne were discovered from the forests in south-eastern Papua New Guinea. The first species is described on the basis of two specimens and exhibits female snout-vent length of 8.5–9.0 mm (no males known), whereas that of the second species, described on the basis of 12 specimens, is 8.8–9.3 mm, with males 8.1–8.9 mm. They are currently the smallest known species of tetrapods and inhabit leaf litter

Journal reference
At the lower size limit for tetrapods, two new species of the miniaturized frog genus Paedophryne (Anura, Microhylidae), Fred Kraus
ZooKeys 154 (2011) : 71-88

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Scientists hope to develop natural insecticides from Dufour gland secretions of ant

At the edge of forests in Cameroon, scientists have discovered that a common African ant (Crematogaster striatula)  deploys a powerful venom from their stingers to kill termites. A remote application that is very effective.

This is the first study to report that the toxicity of the Dufour gland contents leads to the irreversible paralysis of termites without direct contact occurring between the ants and the prey.

 The scientists say the results of the study are quite promising because they provide a basis from which further studies can be conducted in the search for natural insecticides, including new molecules effective against insects resistant to currently-used insecticides. They add that once the paralysing substance has been successfully identified, a synthetic product can be created that has numerous applications, something that is easier to do with volatile chemicals than with alkaloids.

Journal reference
Paralyzing Action from a Distance in an Arboreal African Ant Species  
Aline Rifflet,Nathan Tene, Jerome Orivel, Michel Treilhou, Alain Dejean and Angelique Vetillard
PLoS ONE 6(12): e28571. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028571

Friday, December 16, 2011

Simplified criteria for selecting the best wildlife satellite tracking technology

Wildlife tracking technology options and cost considerations
 Bindi Thomas, John D. Holland, and Edward O. Minot  
 Wildlife Research 38(8) 653-663 

Long-distance remote wildlife tracking is de rigueur for many wildlife research projects. Biologists and wildlife mangers are some times on the horns of dilemma trying to select appropriate technologies as a trade off involving financial, technical and operational has to be effected.

Here the researchers try to find options and associated costs to help wildlife researchers and mangers select the best tracking solution for their needs.

The researchers developed a technology-choice decision guide to assist wildlife scientists and mangers select an optimal tracking technology. They undertook four satellite tracking case studies involving avian, aquatic and terrestrial species living in diverse environments around the world and use these case studies to validate and test the technology-choice decision guide and to calculate the cost effectiveness of alternative tracking methods.

The researchers say choosing the tracking method best suited for a project requires (1) clearly specifying the data required to meet project objectives, (2) understanding the constraints imposed by the study species and its environment, and (3) calculating the net cost per datum of the various tracking methods available. 

The researchers suggest that, in most circumstances, global positioning system (GPS) tracking is preferable to other options. Where weight and environmental limitations prevent the use of GPS, alternatives such as Argos satellite Doppler-based positions (Argos) or very high frequency (VHF) can function adequately.

On the whole this is a very useful paper for people trying to go in for long-distance remote wildlife tracking

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The importance of tree hollows

Tree hollows are of conservation importance for a Near-Threatened python species
G. L. Bryant, S. J. Dundas, and P. A. Fleming

Journal of Zoology

Volume 286, Issue 1, pages 81–92, January 2012

This is a very interesting paper that zeroes in on the great importance of the tree hollows with accent on ectotherms . These hollows provide micro habitats for many species. Understanding microhabitat requirements of species vulnerable to anthropogenic threats are very germane for conservation managers. There is definite decline in availability of this important microhabitat throughout the world.

In ectotherms, behaviour and physiology are strongly influenced by thermal conditions of microhabitat retreat sites.  Here the researchers identified retreat sites selected by south-west carpet pythons (Morelia spilota imbricata) through radiotracking 46 pythons over 3 years.  61% (22 of 36 individuals tracked over winter) used tree hollows as retreat sites (56% of all observations in winter), and remained in hollows for an average of 124 ± 49 (range 34 to 210) days. If pythons did not use tree hollows over winter, they found refuge in one of four alternative microhabitats: low vegetation cover (26% of winter observations), ground cover (10%), on tree branches (6%) or in hollow logs on the ground (2%). 

The researchers tested whether tree hollows provide a thermally distinct environment compared with alternative microhabitats. They found no difference in minimum, average, maximum or range of temperatures recorded between microhabitats. When they are inside the  tree hollows over winter, pythons had colder daily average and maximum body temperatures (cf. pythons that used other microhabitats), but this did not give them an energy saving . 

Pythons ate very little over winter and the researchers predict that animals sequestered within tree hollows do not access prey at this time. Tree hollows provide a critical refuge over winter when python body temperature is low, and their responsiveness is limited. At this time individuals are vulnerable to predation by terrestrial predators. Destruction of hollows through fire, land clearing, competition with other fauna species and the significant age required for hollows to form in trees all contribute to the decline in availability of this important microhabitat.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Path breaking research on savanna chimpanzees at Fongoli, Senegal

Now, here comes a big surprise, a fact that is turning topsy-turvy our understanding of animal behaviour.

Sharing food has always been thought of as a defining characteristic of human beings.  Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are one exception, as they commonly transfer meat among non relatives. Latest Research by Jill Pruetz and Stacy Lindshield from Iowa State University has conclusively proved that chimpanzees from her Fongoli research site in Senegal frequently share food and hunting tools with other chimps. This is the first study to document non-meat sharing behavior.

The researchers examined four hypotheses that have been applied to food transfer in apes:

(1) Testing for male-coercive tendency (van Noordwijk and van Schaik, Behav Ecol Sociobiol 63:883-890, 2009),
(2) Costly signaling (Hockings et al. PLoS ONE 2:e886, 2007),
(3) Food-for-sex (Gomes and Boesch, PLoS ONE 4:5116, 2009), and
 (4) sharing-under-pressure (Gilby, Anim Behav 71:953-963, 2006).

The researchers also consider hypotheses posed to explain transfer among callitrichids, where such behavior is more common (Ruiz-Miranda et al. Am J Primatol 48:305-320, 1999)

Finally, they examined variables such as patch and food size and food transport. They discuss their findings relative to general patterns of non-meat transfer in Pan and examine them in the context of chimpanzee sociality in particular. They then contrast chimpanzee species and subspecies in terms of non-meat food and tool transfer and address the possibility that a savanna environment contributes to the unusual pattern observed at Fongoli.

Journal reference
Jill D. Pruetz, Stacy Lindshield. Plant-food and tool transfer among savanna chimpanzees at Fongoli, Senegal. Primates, 2011; DOI: 10.1007/s10329-011-0287-x

Monday, December 12, 2011

The importance of quantifying inbreeding costs relative to population dynamics to effectively manage endangered populations

Translating Effects of Inbreeding Depression on Component Vital Rates to Overall Population Growth in Endangered Bighorn Sheep

Conservation Biology

Volume 25, Issue 6, pages 1240–1249, December 2011

Here is a paper that would be of great interest to those engaged in the conservation efforts of wild goats and sheep.

Evidence of inbreeding depression can be detected from the fitness traits of animals, but, its effects on population growth rates of endangered species ha not been properly assessed. Here the researchers examined whether inbreeding depression was affecting Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae), a subspecies listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. 

The objectives were
1)     To characterize genetic variation in this subspecies
2)     Test whether inbreeding depression affects bighorn sheep vital rates (adult survival and female fecundity)
3)      Evaluate whether inbreeding depression may limit subspecies recovery;
4)      Examine the potential for genetic management to increase population growth rates. 

 Matrix-based projection models demonstrated that inbreeding depression would not substantially inhibit the recovery of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep populations in the next approximately 8 bighorn sheep generations (48 years).  Simulations of genetic rescue within the subspecies did not suggest that such activities would appreciably increase population sizes or growth rates during the period the researchers modeled (10 bighorn sheep generations, 60 years).

 Only simulations that augmented the Mono Basin population with genetic variation from other subspecies, predicted any significant increases in population size.  
The researchers say although they recommend that recovery activities should minimize future losses of genetic variation, genetic effects within these endangered populations—either negative (inbreeding depression) or positive (within subspecies genetic rescue)—appear unlikely to dramatically compromise or stimulate short-term conservation efforts.

 The researchers conclude that distinction between detecting the effects of inbreeding depression on a component vital rate (e.g., fecundity) and the effects of inbreeding depression on population growth underscores the importance of quantifying inbreeding costs relative to population dynamics to effectively manage endangered populations.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

International Mountain Day

International Mountain Day 11/12/2011
International Mountain Day is an opportunity to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build partnerships that will bring
positive change to the world’s mountains and highlands

Friday, December 09, 2011

Sustainable practices create added value for businesses and visitors in protected natural areas


The project ‘Sustainable Tourism in Enterprises, Parks and Protected Areas’ (STEPPA) comes to a close this month. The results of the research carried out within STEPPA show that the performance of a business improves when sustainable measures are implemented. In addition, eco-labels could improve the experience of tourists in protected areas if they were more recognisable.

STEPPA, funded through the EU grant scheme Knowledge networks for the competitiveness and sustainability of European Tourism, ran from June 2010 until the end of this month. The project involved ten partners from seven European countries including the EUROPARC Federation, Leeds Metropolitan University and the lead partner the University of Eastern Finland. The project specifically examined the added value of sustainable tourism in protected natural areas for local businesses using EUROPARC’s European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas (ECST) as the basis for the research.

Research done by Leeds Metropolitan University on nearly 900 tourism and hospitality businesses from 59 European protected areas showed that sustainability and business performance have a positive impact on each other. The main reasons for acting sustainably are altruistic ones, with savings, marketing benefits, and customer demand raking lower. Unfortunately businesses that claim to undertake a large number of sustainability actions often find it hard to implement specific examples. In general businesses that carryout more sustainability measures believe they have benefitted from them and are more satisfied with their financial performance. Finally green businesses do not communicate this effectively.

A second survey was carried out by the University of Eastern Finland on 1300 visitors in protected natural areas across Europe. The aim was to find out visitors' views on sustainability and whether sustainable tourism schemes give added value to their trip. The results showed that there is a definite added value for visitors. In addition, tourists in protected areas are willing to participate in sustainable activities whilst travelling and they have positive opinions on eco-labels. Unfortunately green certificates or eco-labels are not very recognisable to these tourists.

Other project results included a literature review of sustainable practices within the ECST and a document proposing a revised and updated methodology for the ECST with regards to the businesses in the parks participating in the ECST. A summary of each of the research reports are available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish, and the comprehensive reports in English from

Perceived predation risk and its effect on population

Perceived Predation Risk Reduces the Number of Offspring Songbirds Produce per Year
Liana Y. Zanette,Aija F. White,Marek C. Allen and Michael Clinchy
Science 9 December 2011: 
Vol. 334 no. 6061 pp. 1398-1401

Traditionally predator effects on prey demography are associated with direct killing in studies of population ecology and wildlife management. In this paper the researchers show that perception of predation risk itself can act as a big damper on population.

The researchers isolated effects of perceived predation risk in a population of free living sparrows by actively eliminating direct predation. They then played back predator recorded calls and sounds to manipulate perceived risk. The researchers found that perception of predation risk alone brought down number of offspring by 40%.

The researchers conclude that predation risk perception should be given greater consideration in vertebrate conservation and management

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Modelling patterns of habitat selection at multiple scales

Using multi-scale modelling to predict habitat suitability for species of conservation concern: The grey long-eared bat as a case study
Orly Razgour,  Julia Hanmer and Gareth Jones
 Biological Conservation
Volume 144, Issue 12, December 2011, Pages 2922-2930
Traditionally Habitat suitability modelling is used to study broad-scale patterns of species distribution. It also comes in handy to address conservation needs at finer scales.  
Sure, spatial scale is important to come to grips with ecological processes and guiding conservation planning. But studies combining a range of scales are rare. Here the researchers  studied the ability of presence-only species distribution modelling to predict patterns of habitat selection at broad and fine spatial scales for one of the rarest mammals in the UK, the grey long-eared bat (Plecotus austriacus).
The researchers constructed models with Maxent using broad-scale distribution data from across the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) and fine-scale radio-tracking data from bats at one colony. Fine-scale model predictions were evaluated with radio-tracking locations from bats from a distant colony, and compared with results of traditional radio-tracking data analysis methods (compositional analysis of habitat selection).
The researchers say broad-scale models indicated that winter temperature, summer precipitation and land cover were the most important variables limiting the distribution of the grey long-eared bat in the UK. Fine-scale models predicted that proximity to unimproved grasslands and distance to suburban areas determine foraging habitat suitability around maternity colonies, while compositional analysis also identified unimproved grasslands as the most preferred foraging habitat type.
The researchers contend that this strong association with unimproved lowland grasslands highlights the potential importance of changes in agricultural practices in the past century for wildlife conservation. Hence, multi-scale models offer an important tool for identifying conservation requirements at the fine landscape level that can guide national-level conservation management practices.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Culturally defined dialect that sperm whales use.

Sperm whales and culturally defined dialect that they use? Is this something straight out of fiction?. No, this is exactly what Dr Luke Rendell from the University of St Andrews and his colleagues have discovered. All sperm whales in a pod use the same small selection of patterned clicks.

Scientists have discovered that in the pacific, the whales belong to one of five clans, with each clan using a different dialect. They use definite patterned clicks called codas.

The scientists studied mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation among sympatric vocal clans in the Pacific Ocean, using sequences extracted from sloughed skin samples. Their intention was to find out whether the whales' dialects were biologically determined. If the whales' dialects were biologically determined those that share the same dialect would have similar genes too. They found that whales with different repertoires of codas are often genetically similar.

The study points to the fact that instead of focussing solely on where the animals live, protection should also consider which dialect they use. The researchers say ulturally-defined vocal clans may be more appropriate management units.

Journal reference

Can Genetic Differences Explain Vocal Dialect Variation in Sperm Whales,Physetermacrocephalus? 

Luke Rendell, Sarah L. Mesnick, Merel L. Dalebout, Jessica Burtenshaw and Hal Whitehead 

BEHAVIOR GENETICS DOI: 10.1007/s10519-011-9513-y

Monday, December 05, 2011

If the forestry sector ignores gender issues it will miss a huge opportunity to reduce poverty, conserve biodiversity and bolster sustainable development. IUCN News Release

Gender key to sustainable forests
04 December 2011 | News story
Durban, South Africa, 4 December 2011 (IUCN) – If the forestry sector ignores gender issues it will miss a huge opportunity to reduce poverty, conserve biodiversity and bolster sustainable development. This new information is the conclusion of an IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) book, Gender and Forests, launched today – the first ever book of its kind.
Published in partnership with the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO), Gender and Forests recognizes that, after decades of neglect and marginalization, gender issues are at last finding their way into many forest, land use and environmental policies. The new publication takes a fresh look at the issues facing gender and forests around the world, and considers how gender is being addressed both on the ground and in national and international policy discussions on climate change and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). New evidence from forest communities around the world reveal that wherever forest management recognizes the differing needs and capacities of men and women, multiple human and environmental benefits have been obtained.
“Women have important primary roles as managers of forests, land, water and other natural resources in many communities—a position which makes them powerful agents of change in formulating responses to climate change,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General, IUCN. “Women are part of the solution. By inserting gender considerations in to each element of forest management and forest projects, and by developing such things as national gender-sensitive climate change strategies, we can take concrete, practical steps that lead to improved benefits for men, women and nature.”
Women across the developing world are primary users of forest resources and their sale of non-timber forest products is vital to covering household expenses and tiding them through leaner times of the year. Women’s heavy dependence on forests also means that they have more at stake than men when forests are degraded or forest access is denied. For example, in Cambodia, men collect non-timber forest products (NTFPs), such as resin, to sell at the market and women collect NTFPs, such as bamboo, to meet family dietary needs. In Benin and Cameroon, women increase their collection and sale of NTFPs at times of increased need for income, such as during the hungry pre-harvest period.
“There are important differences between men and women’s perspectives on—and use of—forest resources for the wellbeing of their families and communities,” says Stewart Maginnis, Director of IUCN's Environment and Development Group. “Taking a gender perspective in forestry has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with development and conservation effectiveness. We must ensure that the resources forests offer are used sustainably and equitably.”
Numerous studies have shown that women's concerns are often not the same as those of men in the community, and the concerns are often neglected as the ownership of forests and sales of valuable forest products are largely under the control of men. For instance, in Salvatierra, men from Bolivia clear forests for cultivation and hunting, while women visit forests to collect firewood and water. In southern Brazil, women know a wider diversity of plants and cite 41 species that they use exclusively; whereas men cite only 22 species they use exclusively.
“We need to start taking gender issues more seriously, not only to make our work more effective but also to redress gender imbalances by enhancing women’s empowerment, strengthening women’s rights and ensuring that women get their fair share of benefits. More men must take up gender advocacy instead of letting the cause fall to women, as it has in the past,” says Lorena Aguilar, IUCN’s Senior Global Gender Advisor. “This means taking account of gender differences not only when planning projects but also when designing policy interventions that will affect forest communities. When we begin to take these proactive steps towards equality, we will see numerous human and environmental benefits.”