1 Tahrcountry Musings: March 2016

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Making remote sensing data relevant to wildlife management – A case study

In mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), reproduction patterns closely follow the cycles of plant growth in their habitat. Research led by David Stoner of Utah State University using NASA satellite data has demonstrated that tracking vegetation from space can help wildlife managers predict when does will give birth to fawns. Researchers claim they can forecast the timing of fawning seasons based on vegetation. With satellite data they track when vegetation greens up and how productive it is compared to drought or wet years.

The tool used by researchers is called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), which is a measure of the "greenness" of the landscape. It measures how plants absorb and reflect light -- the more infrared light is reflected, the healthier the vegetation. So by measuring the greenness of the mule deer habitat, scientists were able to mark the beginning and peak of the plant growing season -- and the fawning season.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The butterfly highway of North Carolina

The numbers of Monarch butterfly have taken a dip in recent years.  Disappearance of native perennials is one of the main reasons for the downswing. The butterfly highway of North Carolina meant to ensure connectivity has gathered lot of international attention recently. The innovative scheme is the brain child of Angel Hjarding who is earning a doctoral degree in geography at UNC Charlotte. Biodiversity monitoring is part of her research.
The plight of   Monarch butterfly came to the attention of Hjarding during the course of her monitoring. Monarch butterfly makes its way from North America to Central Mexico and back again each year. North Carolina is a prime area of the butterfly’s route.
Hjarding aims to restore native pollinator habitats to areas impacted by urbanization.  Community gardens, backyard gardens, public spaces and park fragments are planned to act as pollinator and wildlife habitats.   No garden is too small to make an impact. Planting milkweed is encouraged to help the monarchs. It is the only plant they will use to lay their eggs. Asters, phlox, tick seed and native honeysuckle complement the efforts. Trees are also important. Hjarding says Oak trees host more caterpillars than any other plant. What is good for butterflies is also good for bees, birds and other wildlife.
Well done Angel Hjarding . We salute you

Log on to http://www.butterflyhighway.org/ for more information.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The sophisticated warning system of bees

Scientists from UC,  San Diego and tropical botanical garden Chinese Academy of sciences, China, have discovered that bees use sophisticated signals to warn their nestmates about level of danger from predators. The signals encode level of danger in its vibrational frequency. This is the most sophisticated system  of signals discovered in a social insect so far.
The details appear in the latest edition of journal PLOS biology

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Next big thing in drones-powered by hydrogen cells

Drones powered by hydrogen cells are undergoing successful trials in UK. The fuel cells were developed by the firm Intelligent energy. A major manufacturer of drones has already acquired the rights for commercial use.
The drones powered by hydrogen cells can fly up to two hours and the refueling takes only minutes compared to hours needed to charge the battery pack.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Environmentalists' appeal to Yahoo Japan

32 environmental organizations of international repute have jointly appealed to Yahoo Japan and it's partner Softbank to put a stop to online sale of ivory  in Japan. Yahoo Japan is the biggest retailer of ivory online in the world. Previous appeals had seen other  online retailers putting a break on the sale. Conservationists hope that the concerted efforts by them will bring in positive results immediately. They are keeping their fingers crossed.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tiger conservation- A message from Inger Andersen Director General of IUCN

In the last hundred years, the number of tigers in the wild has plummeted by a staggering 97%. The answer to this alarming fall was 2010’s St Petersburg Declaration, strongly backed by the World Bank, which aimed to double the global tiger population by 2022. 

Almost six years have passed since St Petersburg and over this time I have witnessed encouraging signs of progress. Tiger populations are believed to have increased in India, Bhutan, Nepal, the Russian Federation and Thailand. Much more remains to be done, however. These efforts must be sustained over time: countries must scale up their action and monitor remaining tiger populations to ensure the world can meet this ambitious goal.

IUCN’s Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme (ITHCP) provides resources and technical expertise where they are most needed. I am delighted to announce that the first seven initiatives are now underway. The programme builds on the experience of the Global Species Programme and the Species Survival Commission, with input from a number of global experts in species conservation, protected area management and community empowerment.

I am grateful to the German government and  KfW  the German Development Bank, for their support towards conserving this amazing species.
Tiger conservation reflects the challenges conservation is facing globally. Tigers are apex predators and need vast spaces and abundant prey to survive. Pressure on these very resources is increasing as human populations in Asia continue to grow, frequently resulting in conflict with humans. Involving local communities in conservation work is essential to harmonize coexistence between tigers and people and that is what we have done with all the projects under this programme. They simply would not work without it.

Tiger-focused conservation interventions yield benefits to the management of ecosystems that provide vital services to local communities. For instance, ITHCP contributes to watershed management in regions where habitats provide clean water to millions of people. Additionally, significant revenue will be generated by alternative income streams such as sustainable ecotourism developments in the targeted countries
Tigers do not recognise borders. The transboundary nature of many tiger landscapes requires practitioners to collaborate to achieve positive results. IUCN’s objective and evidence-based approach is critical in bringing together multiple states, sectors and stakeholders in working towards this ambitious goal.
Inger Andersen

Friday, March 18, 2016

Effectiveness of Wildlife fencing in combination with crossing structures – An interesting study

Effectiveness of short sections of wildlife fencing and crossing structures along highways in reducing wildlife–vehicle collisions and providing safe crossing opportunities for large mammals
Marcel P. Huijser,Elizabeth R. Fairbank, Whisper Camel-Means, Jonathan Graham, Vicki Watson,Pat Basting and Dale Becker
Biological Conservation.Volume 197, May 2016, Pages 61–68

Here is a good paper for those interested in wildlife fencing.  Wildlife fencing in combination with crossing structures is the most effective strategy to reduce large mammal–vehicle collisions while also maintaining wildlife connectivity across roads. The down side is that it affects the beauty of the environment and it is costly. To overcome this, length of fencing is often reduced arbitrarily.

Here the researchers investigated 1) whether short fenced road sections were similarly effective in reducing large mammal–vehicle collisions as long fenced road sections (literature review), and 2) whether fence length influenced large mammal use of underpasses (two field studies).

The researchers found that   1) short fences (≤ 5 km road length) had lower (52.7%) and more variable (0–94%) effectiveness in reducing collisions than long fences (> 5 km) (typically > 80% reduction); 2) wildlife use of underpasses was highly variable, regardless of fence length (first field study); 3) most highway crossings occurred through isolated underpasses (82%) rather than at grade at fence ends (18%) (Second field study); and 4) the proportional use of isolated underpasses (compared to crossings at fence ends) did not increase with longer fence lengths (up to 256 m from underpasses) (second field study). 

The authors signs off with the remark “Data suggest fence lengths of at least 5 km. While longer fence lengths do not necessarily guarantee higher wildlife use of underpasses as use varies greatly between locations, wildlife fencing can still improve wildlife use of an individual underpass.”

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A blog post inspired by efforts to conserve Vultures in Wayand Wildlife Sanctuary

Under the dynamic leadership of Chief Conservator of Forests Shri Pramod Krishnan IFS, an intensive recovery programme for vultures has been started in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. Awareness programmes, continuous monitoring of the birds and year-round protection to the nests are ensured under this dispensation. 25 indigenous tribal watchers have been selected for monitoring the birds .51 infrared cameras are also in place. Wayand is the only place in Kerala with a breeding population of Gyp vultures which are critically endangered, Indian White-backed Vulture (Gyps Bengalensis) and a Red-headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) 
In the early 1990s, the Gyps vultures of India were among the most abundant large raptors in the country. Within a decade, the populations of three species, White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, Indian Vulture G. indicus, and Slender-billed Vulture G. tenuirostris, took a nose dive. All three are considered Critically Endangered. 
The main villain responsible for the decline of vultures is the veterinary drug diclofenac used to treat inflammation in livestock. When the birds eat carcasses of animals treated with the drugs, they experience acute kidney failure and die within days. Even very low rates of diclofenac contamination—between 1:130 and 1:760—are sufficient to trigger population crash (Green et al. 2004).Use of diclofenac is prohibited for veterinary  use now. This ban has made a remarkable change in the recovery of vultures. Diclofenac is still available for human use, but the Indian Government has recently stipulated that it should be marketed in small vials for single use only
Vultures provide a crucial ecosystem service through the disposal of livestock carcasses .Without vultures, hundreds of thousands of animal carcasses have been left to rot in the open. Livestock carcasses provide a potential breeding ground for numerous infectious diseases, including anthrax. It also brings in its wake a proliferation of pest species, such as rats. Feral dogs have proliferated the bites of which is the most common cause of human rabies. The researchers believe that the increased number of rabies victims may have cost the Indian economy close to $34 billion.
In Peru vultures equipped with GPS and camera have been put to use to track trash dumps. Most trash in Lima, Peru—a city of 10 million people—ends up in illegal dumps. The birds are better at finding the trash than people. Researchers affirm that vultures are better than drones. Drones can't sense trash—vultures can
Vultures are not a popular birds but the campaign in Peru had the unintended effect of helping the reputation of vultures. Now people in Lima like the bird for what they do, locating trash. Social media is abuzz with likes for what the vultures do for the environment

Here's footage from Basan, one of the vultures involved in the programme in Lima.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Targeted gene flow as a tool for conservation

Ella Kelly and Ben L. Phillips from School of Biosciences, University of Melbourne argues that  targeted gene flow, which involves moving individuals with favorite  traits to areas where these traits would have a conservation benefit, could have much broader application in conservation. Across a species’ range there may be long-standing geographic variation in traits or variation that  may have rapidly developed in response to a threatening process.   Rather than simply assuming persistent populations are there purely because of attributes of their environment, decision makers should carefully consider the possibility that these populations persist because of genetic variation in relevant traits. The persistent populations can be exploited for both targeted gene flow and reintroduction efforts. Targeted gene flow could be used to promote natural resistance to threats to increase species resilience. They go on to add that targeted gene flow is a currently underappreciated strategy in conservation.  Targeted gene flow may provide novel solutions to a number of conservation problems across a wide range of species and threatening processes.

   Targeted gene flow for conservation
    Ella Kelly and Ben L. Phillips
Conservation Biology, Volume 30, Issue 2, pages 259–267, April 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Desert cactus purifies contaminated water

To clean contaminated water for farmed fish, drinking and other uses, scientists are now turning to mucilage or inner 'guts' of cacti. Have a look at the video below

Dr Norma Alcantar, the lead researcher from University of Florida says “The mucilage also attracts sediments, bacteria and other contaminants. It captures these substances and forms a large mass or ‘floc’ that sort of looks like cotton candy. For sediments, the flocs are large and heavy, which precipitate rapidly after the interaction with mucilage.” The technology grew from century-old knowledge that mucilage from some common cacti can clean drinking water

Monday, March 14, 2016

Achievement of the required area in Target 11of CBD should not be an end in itself but generate genuine benefits for biodiversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity established ambitious PA targets as part of the 2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. The avowed targets are to “improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity. Target 11 aims to put 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine regions under PA status by 2020. These areas are expected to be of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative, and well-connected and to include “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs). The authors of the paper say “There is a real risk that Target 11 may be achieved in terms of area while failing the overall strategic goal for which it is established because the areas are poorly located, inadequately managed, or based on unjustifiable inclusion of OECMs”. They argue that the conservation science community can help establish ecologically sensible PA targets to help prioritize important biodiversity areas and achieve ecological representation; identify clear, comparable performance metrics of ecological effectiveness so progress toward these targets can be assessed; and identify metrics and report on the contribution OECMs make toward the target. By providing ecologically sensible targets and new performance metrics for measuring the effectiveness of both PAs and OECMs, the science community can actively ensure that the achievement of the required area in Target 11 is not simply an end in itself but generates genuine benefits for biodiversity.

Bolder science needed now for protected areas
James E. M. Watson, Emily S. Darling,Oscar Venter, Martine Maron, Joe Walston, Hugh P. Possingham, Nigel Dudley, Marc Hockings, Megan Barnes and Thomas M. Brooks
Conservation Biology, Volume 30, Issue 2, pages 243–248April 2016

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Drones that fly into a wildfire and send back information in real time

Professor Andrew Bennett and his team of students from Robotics department of Olin College are at work to use drones to aid in fighting wildfires. Their drones will fly into wildfire and send back information in real time.
Professor Bennett was approached by Scientific Systems, a company that specializes in developing products that "collaboratively accomplish missions in difficult environments." armed with a NASA-funding to pay for the research. Highly impressed with their previous work, FAA has granted Olin College a research exemption to fly drones to "conduct research on its own behalf and on behalf of other research groups.” Professor Bennett was the brain behind SnotBot, which is a drone that collects whale blow via a sponge-like attachment on its underside. The drone captures the mucus and flies back to a boat. 
Right now, firefighters receive information on where a fire is headed from pilots and first-hand info from the field. This info is used to deploy fire bombers, personnel, and other resources. The flip side of this data is that the data can be 12-24 hours out of date and is often unreliable. If a fire shifts course, the firefighters may be caught on wrong foot and unprepared to quickly move resources to a new location. It is here that the new drone comes in handy. It will send back data immediately.

Professor Bennett said, "We can fly over land, water and sea. We have equipped our drones with 1080 quality video cameras, as well as thermal imaging cameras,” Great work Professor Bennett. We salute you.

Friday, March 11, 2016

New frog species discovered in India’s rocky wastelands

A new frog species Microhyla laterite has been discoverd in laterite habitats in and around the coastal town of Manipal, India. The frog, which is the size of a thumbnail, was discovered by a team of researchers from India and the National University of Singapore (NUS). The research team was led by Mr Seshadri K S, a PhD student from the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS. The frog was delimited using molecular, morphometric and bioacoustics comparisons. The frog has a call that can be easily mistaken for that of a cricket. 
The laterite rock formations date as far back as the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary and are considered to be wastelands in-spite of their intriguing geological history.
The researchers sign off saying “With molecular tools becoming increasingly reliable and affordable; studies could shed light into the population dynamics of these small frogs found in isolated and severely fragmented landscapes. In context of laterite habitats, studies have estimated the early diversification period of Microhylidae to be at the late Cretaceous period and that of Microhyla to be in the lower Tertiary period; signifying that several lineages survived through the KT boundary. Since Mlaterite appears to be restricted to laterite rock formations along the West coast, further research on determining divergence times of Mlaterite and testing for an association with laterite formations would enable a better understanding of biogeography, systematics and paleo-ecology. This will enable us to explore interesting evolutionary ecology questions inMicrohyla.”

Journal Reference:
K. S. Seshadri, Ramit Singal, H. Priti, G. Ravikanth, M. K. Vidisha, S. Saurabh, M. Pratik, Kotambylu Vasudeva Gururaja. Microhyla laterite sp. nov., A New Species of Microhyla Tschudi, 1838 (Amphibia: Anura: Microhylidae) from a Laterite Rock Formation in South West IndiaPLOS ONE, 2016; 11 (3): e0149727

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Rediscovery of a tree species thought to be extinct in Malaysia

Rediscovering a species thought to be extinct is indeed great news to conservationists. It was with great delight that I read about the rediscovery of Aquilaria rostrata by Malaysian researchers. It was last seen in the wild about 100 years back

The tree was discovered in the forested Gunung Tebu, Besut, Terengganu, about 100 kilometers from the spot where it was first found in Gunung Tahan, Pahang. The species was first discovered in 1911 at Wray's Camp, Gunung Tahan by H.N Ridley.

Details appear in the latest issue of journal Blumea - Biodiversity, Evolution and Biogeography of Plants

Tuesday, March 08, 2016


Congress Website  is ready. It is up and running. Log on to  http://www.mountainungulates.gov.cy    to get all the details

Announcement from Congress Chairman:Dr Eleftherios Hadjisterkotis

The Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Cyprus, Frederick University, and the IUCN Caprinae Specialist Group, invites you to attend the: 6th WORLD CONGRESS ON MOUNTAIN UNGULATES and 5th INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON MOUFLON
AUGUST 28 - SEPTEMBER 1, 2016, NICOSIA, CYPRUS, Under the Auspices of the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Socrates Hasikos.
Congress Chairman:Dr Eleftherios Hadjisterkotis
The Congress website is ready now.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Study by DR Kieron Doick establish that even small to medium green spaces in a city provide beneficial cooling effects

DR Kieron Doick and his team from Forestry Research UK, Studied small and medium sized parks in London to determine the optimum size, distribution and composition of urban green spaces needed to achieve urban cooling.

Very small green spaces with areas of less than 0.5 ha (slightly smaller than an average football pitch) did not affect the air temperatures of their surrounding areas; however as the area of green space increased the distance over which cooling was achieved increased linearly.
Spaces with more tree canopy coverage increased the distance beyond the boundaries of the green space over which cooling was measurable, while the amount of cooling was more strongly linked to the amount of grass coverage present. On calm warm nights they estimate that a network of green spaces of around 3-5 hectares each situated 100-150 m apart would provide comprehensive cooling for a city with a climate and characteristics similar to London.

DR  Kieron Doick says “This information could help urban planners to design environments that can lead to lower temperatures in cities” said Dr Kieron Doick who led the research, “Trees and areas of grass both have an important role to play in aiding the cooling of cities – trees mean that a cooling effect is felt further afield and areas of grass increase the amount of cooling so a mix of the two is ideal”.

Details of the study appears in the latest issue of journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Understanding differences within species is critical to conservation efforts

A new study led by Maria Hällfors, a doctoral student at the Finnish Museum of Natural History at the University of Helsinki, and Jessica Hellmann, director of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment has come up with the finding that differences within a species across geographically distinct ranges should be taken into account during conservation planning as the climate changes.  Local populations of species might have adapted to the specific conditions in the areas where they occur; which means they would require different conditions than other individuals of the same species. This against the back drop that scientists, conservationists and land managers often predict future distributions of species assuming that all individuals of the species thrive in the same conditions.

Hällfors says  "This study shows that the models ecologists and others typically use to predict the future of species can reach very different conclusions if we consider the species as one single group versus composed of distinctly different populations,"

Hellmann.says "This study highlights the importance of understanding population differences when designing conservation plans for endangered species,"

Journal Reference:
Jessica Hellmann et al.  Addressing potential local adaptation in species distribution models: implications for conservation under climate change. Ecological Applications, March 2016

Saturday, March 05, 2016

High degree of reproductive competition trigger violent evictions of male and female banded mongooses from their family groups

It was with great fascination that I read this paper on banded mongoose that appeared in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. .DOI: 

In a 16-year study in Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwest Uganda, University of Exeter researchers have found out that intense levels of reproductive competition bring about violent evictions of male and female banded mongooses from their family groups. Another striking feature is that all group members help to raise pups even if they don't breed themselves. All adult females breed together, giving birth to a communal litter on exactly the same day. Eviction can also act as a major source of gene flow in social animals.

The researchers summarize their results like this.

“To summarize, our results suggest that intrasexual reproductive competition is the trigger for mass eviction of both sexes from groups of banded mongooses. Eviction of females appears to alter the landscape of intrasexual competition among males, leading to the mass eviction of males at the same time as, but separate from, the eviction of females. We did not find evidence to link eviction events to the enforcement of helping or the propagation of alleles through a structured population. Nevertheless, our study highlights that the consequences of resolving within-group reproductive competition can scale up to affect population structure and demography. This link between within-group conflict strategies and population processes has been little studied theoretically or empirically, but may be an important determinant of life-history evolution in viscous animal societies.”

Friday, March 04, 2016

Be wary of energy drinks. They could trigger abnormal heart rhythm, rise in blood pressure

A clinical study led by researchers from University of the Pacific and David Grant Medical Center has come out with strong evidence to suggest that energy drinks may be bad for your heart. 
Dr Phillip Oppenheimer, who spearheaded the study said the findings are of special concern among young adults. “Energy drinks are widely consumed within the college population, which further extends the relevance of this study,” 
Primary investigator DR Sachin A Shah, an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Pacific’s Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences said “ “Our findings suggest certain energy drinks may increase the risk of having an abnormal heart rhythm when consumed in high volumes,” 
The study enrolled 27 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40. Subjects drank either two cans of an energy drink, an equivalent volume of a drink containing panax ginseng (an ingredient in the energy drink), or a placebo beverage once a day, every six days, for three weeks. Neither the volunteers nor the researchers knew who was getting which drink until the end of the three weeks.
The volunteers who consumed the energy drink experienced a statistically significant increase in a marker of abnormal heart rhythm risk known as the QTc interval. These volunteers also experienced a slight rise in blood pressure. These effects persisted for two hours after the energy drink was consumed.  The ginseng and placebo groups showed no rises in QTc interval or blood pressure.
The research was funded by a University of the Pacific Eberhardt Research Grant.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Habitat fragmentation and genetic diversity in natural populations of the elephant – Importance of connectivity between spatially distinct populations- A case study of Bornean elephant population in Sabah

Habitat fragmentation and genetic diversity in natural populations of the Bornean elephant: Implications for conservation
Benoit Goossensa,Reeta Sharmae, Nurzhafarina Othmana, Célia Kun-Rodriguese, Rosdi Sakonga, Marc Ancrenazf, Laurentius N. Ambuc, Nathaniel K. Jueg, Rachel J. O'Neillg, Michael W. Bruforda and  Lounès Chikhie.
Biological Conservation,Volume 196, April 2016, Pages 80–92

The Bornean elephant population in Sabah, with only 2000 individuals, is currently found in limited number of forest reserves. Fragmentation of habitat and isolation of the existing herds are posing serious threat to elephants. To give a boost to the conservation initiatives the researchers assessed the genetic diversity and population structure of Bornean elephants using mitochondrial DNA, microsatellites and single nucleotide polymorphisms. The results reinforced a previously reported lack of mitochondrial control region diversity, characterized by a single widespread haplotype. Microsatellite analysis showed that Bornean elephants from the Lower Kinabatangan and North Kinabatangan ranges are differentiated and perhaps isolated from the main elephant populations located in the Central Forest and Tabin Wildlife Reserve. 
The results of the study amply demonstrated that (i) Bornean elephants probably derive from a very small female population, (ii) they rarely disperse across current human-dominated landscapes that separate forest fragments, and (iii) forest fragments are predominantly comprised of populations that are already undergoing genetic drift. The researchers emphasize that to maintain the current levels of genetic diversity in fragmented habitats, conservation of the Bornean elephants should aim at securing connectivity between spatially distinct populations.