Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ants Save Mates Trapped in Sand

Helpful acts, such as grooming or foster parenting, are common throughout the animal kingdom, but accounts of animals rescuing one another from danger are exceedingly rare, having been reported in the scientific literature only for dolphins, capuchin monkeys, and ants. New research shows that in the ant Cataglyphis cursor, the behavior is surprisingly sophisticated.

Elise Nowbahari of the University of Paris North, Karen L. Hollis of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and two colleagues mimicked a natural situation—an ant restrained by collapsing sand and debris.

But hidden beneath the sand was a nylon snare holding the ant firmly in place. The ant’s nestmates consistently responded by digging around the victim and tugging at its limbs until they found the trap, then biting at the nylon strand. Potential rescuers did not, however, do the same for unrelated ants or insects of other species.

The ants’ ability to discern and then tackle the unfamiliar nylon snare demonstrates cognitive and behavioral complexity, unlike such simple actions as digging or limb pulling, which could arguably be elicited by a chemical distress signal. Nowbahari and Hollis distinguish rescue behavior from other cooperative acts in that both participants risk physical harm (rescuing ants could themselves be trapped under falling sand), with no possibility of reward for the rescuer aside from the benefits of kin selection.

An ant bites a nylon thread, attempting to free its lassoed nestmate. Credit: Elise Nowbahari

The research was detailed in the journal PLoS ONE.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Scientists plan ‘genome zoo’

6 November 2009

An international consortium of scientists plans to collect DNA sequences for 10,000 vertebrate species, approximately one for every vertebrate genus.

Known as the Genome 10K Project, it involves gathering specimens of thousands of animals from zoos, museums, and university collections worldwide, and then sequencing the genome of each species to reveal its complete genetic heritage.

The project was launched in April 2009 and now involves more than 68 scientists, calling themselves the Genome 10K Community of Scientists (G10KCOS). The group outlined its proposal in the Journal of Heredity this month.

According to one of the lead authors, the cost of genome sequencing has been dropping steadily over the past decade, making the sequencing of 10,000 genomes a realistic possibility.

So far, the online database contains samples from more than 16,000 different species of vertebrate animals compiled from more than 50 institutions.

Participants expect the Genome 10K Project to help understand the genetic basis of recent and rapid adaptive changes within vertebrate species and between closely related species. The results can help conservation efforts by enabling scientists to predict how species will respond to climate change, pollution, emerging diseases, and invasive competitors.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Climate change causes extinction of 13 species of animal in Bangladesh

Climate change and man-made adverse environment have so far caused extinction of 13 species of animal and endangered 800 other species in Bangladesh.

Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB), a national institution committed to conserving the biological diversity of Bangladesh, said the extinct animals are: peacock, crocodile, wolf, wild buffalo, nilgai and rhinoceros, national news agency BSS reported on Wednesday.

Chief Executive Officer of the WTB Anwarul Islam said half of the country's 1,600 species are endangered.

Emphasizing the need for protection of biological diversity, he said political and social commitment are needed in this connection, otherwise 150 more species will be extinct gradually.

The endangered species include 50 species of fish, 41 species of mammal, eight species of amphibian and 58 species of reptile.

At present, the South Asian country has 708 species of fish, 22 species of amphibian, 126 species of reptile, 528 species of bird, 113 species of mammal and 3,006 species of algae.

Source: Xinhua


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Butterfly Payload To Launch Nov. 16 On Space Shuttle

ScienceDaily (Nov. 10, 2009) — When NASA's space shuttle Atlantis launches for the International Space Station on Nov. 16 it will carry a University of Colorado at Boulder butterfly experiment that will be monitored by thousands of K-12 students across the nation.

The butterfly payload was designed and built by BioServe Space Technologies in CU-Boulder's aerospace engineering department and will carry two butterfly habitats containing monarch and painted lady butterfly larvae and enough nectar and other food to support them as they develop. CU-Boulder, with the help of elementary and middle school students, will compare the growth and development of butterfly larvae in the weightless environment of the International Space Station with butterfly larvae being raised simultaneously in participating classrooms on Earth.

Dubbed "CSI 03 -- Butterflies in Space," the project is the fourth K-12 educational experiment to be flown by CU-Boulder on ISS, said BioServe Director Louis Stodieck, principal investigator on the project. "One of the most exciting things about this project is that we can use the International Space Station to bring spaceflight experiments into classrooms around the country," he said. "Our continuing goal is to inspire K-12 students around the country in science, technology, engineering and math."

About 100 elementary and middle schools across the nation -- including classrooms in the Denver Public Schools and Jefferson County schools -- are receiving official classroom kits with butterfly habitats that will allow them to participate in the project, said BioServe Payload Mission Manager Stefanie Countryman. Hundreds of additional schools will be participating informally and will be building their own classroom butterfly habitats, she said.

The experiments will fly on BioServe's Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, or CGBA, a suitcase-sized payload that has been used to carry out BioServe experiments in space since the early 1990s. BioServe has designed, built and flown over 50 different payloads on more than 35 space flight missions, including NASA space shuttles, the ISS and Russia's MIR space station and Soyuz spacecraft.

Countryman said the painted lady butterfly larvae will be six days old and the monarch butterflies will be about 10 days old at launch and will be transferred from Atlantis to the ISS about two days later. It will take the butterfly larvae about five days to pupate and form a chrysalis, or cocoon, and another seven to 10 days to emerge, she said.

Participating teachers have been provided with classroom kits that contain the butterfly larvae and will allow the students to compare differences in growth rates, feeding, pupation and the emergence of butterflies between environments on Earth and in space.

Once the habitats are transferred into the BioServe payload on ISS, images of the larvae will be taken every 15 minutes. The images will be downlinked from the ISS daily to Earth and uploaded to Internet sites for students to view.

The butterfly experiment is sponsored in part by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute based in Houston and is being conducted in collaboration with several nonprofit educational organizations. Participating students and the public will be able to view the butterfly images online at bioedonline.org/, a science support and teacher training site of the Baylor College of Medicine's Center for Education Outreach, which developed the curriculum guide for teachers and Web site support.

The butterfly images from ISS also will be available at the Monarch Watch Web site, an educational and research group at the University of Kansas, which supplied the monarch butterflies. The painted lady butterflies were provided by Gulf Coast Butterflies in Naples, Fla., and Clearwater Butterflies in Clearwater, Fla.

The Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colo., is providing science support and teacher training.

BioServe flew similar educational CSI payloads on shuttle missions in 2006, 2007 and 2008 that reached more than 10,000 students around the world, said Countryman.

BioServe payloads -- including biomedical and life science experiments conducted in conjunction with industrial partners -- have been manifested on every shuttle flight until the space shuttle program is retired in 2011. "Between now and then, we are seeking sponsors for our educational payloads to enhance the learning opportunities for the K-12 community in Colorado and around the world," said Countryman.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Studies 'overstate species risks'

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

Alps and valley, Switzerland (Image: BBC)
Different models predicted differing outlooks for Alpine species

Some large-scale computer simulations may be overestimating the impact of climate change on biodiversity in some regions, researchers have suggested.

They said models that analyse vast areas often failed to take into account local variations, such as topography and microclimates.

Local-scale simulations, which did include these factors, often delivered a more optimistic outlook, they added.

The findings have been published in the journal, Science.

One of the studies cited in the paper looked at the fate of plant species in the Swiss Alps.

"A coarse European-scale model (with 16km by 16km grid cells) predicted a loss of all suitable habitats during the 21st Century," the researchers wrote.

"Whereas a model run using local-scale data (25m by 25m grid cells) predicted (the) persistence of suitable habitats for up to 100% of plant species."

Micro v macro

Co-author Shonil Bhagwat, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford, UK, said when vegetation was looked at on a smaller scale, scientists saw a different picture.

"For example, smaller plots give data on microclimatic variations, whereas large-scale models predict (uniform) changes throughout the landscape."

Advances in computing power meant that more large-scale datasets were being made available to scientists, Dr Bhagwat explained.

"There is more interest in predicting widespread, large-scale effects," he told BBC News, "that is why coarser-scale models are normally used.

"However, the changes in communities of vegetation occur at a much smaller scale."

In the paper, Dr Bhagwat and co-author Professor Kathy Willis, wrote: "These studies highlight the complexities that we are faced with trying to model and predict the possible consequences of future climate change on biodiversity."

The researchers called for more micro-scale studies to be carried out that complement the overall picture presented by larger models.

However, they added that the overall picture for biodiversity loss was still bleak, especially once the rate of habitat loss and fragmentation was taken into account.

"Predicting the fate of biodiversity in response to climate change combined with habitat fragmentation is a serious undertaking fraught with caveats and complexities," they observed.

For example, Dr Bhagwat explained, the current system of having fixed nature reserves may need to be reconsidered.

"We have 12% of the Earth's land surface covered in protected areas, but climate change is likely to push species out of their home ranges and out of reserves," he added.

"So we need to look beyond reserves and create the conditions that allow the migration of species."


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Species' extinction threat grows

Kihansi spray toad (Image: IUCN/Tim Herman)
The Kihansi spray toad is now considered to be extinct in the wild

More than a third of species assessed in a major international biodiversity study are threatened with extinction, scientists have warned.

Out of the 47,677 species in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 17,291 were deemed to be at serious risk.

These included 21% of all known mammals, 30% of amphibians, 70% of plants and 35% of invertebrates.

Conservationists warned that not enough was being done to tackle the main threats, such as habitat loss.

"The scientific evidence of a serious extinction crisis is mounting," warned Jane Smart, director of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Biodiversity Conservation Group.

At what point will society truly respond to this growing crisis?
Professor Jonathan Baillie,
Zoological Society of London

"The latest analysis... shows that the 2010 target to reduce biodiversity loss will not be met," she added.

"It's time for governments to start getting serious about saving species and make sure it's high on their agendas for next year, as we are rapidly running out of time."

The Red List, regarded as the most authoritative assessment of the state of the planet's species, draws on the work of thousands of scientists around the globe.

The latest update lists amphibians as the most seriously affected group of organisms on the planet, with 1,895 of the 6,285 known species listed as threatened.

Of these, it lists 39 species as either "extinct" or "extinct in the wild". A further 484 are deemed "critically endangered", 754 "endangered" and 657 "vulnerable".

infographic (BBC)

The Kihansi Spray Toad (Nectophyrnoides asperginis) is one species that has seen its status change from critically endangered to extinct in the wild.

It was only found in the Kihamsi Falls area of Tanzania, but its population had crashed in recent years from a high of an estimated 17,000 individuals.

Conservationists suggest that the rapid decline was primarily the result of of a dam being constructed upstream from the toads' habitat, which resulted in a 90% reduction in the flow of water.

"In our lifetime, we have gone from having to worry about a relatively small number of highly threatened species to the collapse of entire ecosystems," observed Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation programmes at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

"At what point will society truly respond to this growing crisis?"

The updated data from the 2009 Red List is being made publicly available on the IUCN website on Tuesday. [IUCN Red List]