Zoology Society of UNE

Zoologists under unnatural selection

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about a publication called Science under Siege: Zoology under threat, which was published by RZSNSW and available for free online. Unfortunately it looks like the links in that blog post no longer work, so don’t try them.

Emeritus Professor Gordon Grigg (Uni of Qld) had the daunting task of writing the first chapter, and in amongst his 3,500+ words was this gem:

“Zoologists? Well, we are a pretty special mob. We are probably the best informed about the place of humans in the biosphere. We know our history, at least for many hundreds of millions of years, and we understand the current impact that we’re having. We understand this much better, by the way, than veterinarians and medicos and lawyers. The sad fact is that the people who actually run the show have a very limited understanding of it, and the world’s population is not being run, or thought of as a biological entity at all.”

I guess what struck me hardest was suddenly realising how much responsibility falls on our collective shoulders as zoologists.

But that’s what we’re here for, right?

Anyway, I’m coming back to Science under Siege because I recently discovered that Prof Chris Dickman (Uni of Sydney), who coedited the publication and co-authored Chapter 10 (along with Dr Melissa Danks, a UNE alumnus), is coming to the University of New England and will be speaking at a LEE Seminar on Wednesday 29 July 2015.

I’m proud to admit the nerd in me is ridiculously excited.


Prof Chris Dickman. (Photo from https://iconiclandscapes.wordpress.com/page/2/.)

Prof Dickman and Dr Danks wrote about how “frivolous litigation stifles public comment”:

“Scientists presenting inconvenient facts or ideas that run counter to commercial interests may place themselves at risk of legal action. Frivolous or even vexatious lawsuits are a recognized tool for silencing criticism of corporate or individual commercial interests, particularly where the critics are private individuals or non-commercial entities. Termed SLAPPs, strategic lawsuits against public participation, are meritless defamation or damages actions designed to intimidate and punish scientists and others for speaking in opposition to commercial interests. Such cases are well known and appear frequently in some jurisdictions but are not regularly discussed in scientific circles. Evidence from the US suggests that even the threat of such litigation can stifle public comment and change scientific monitoring and reporting practices. Cases identified as SLAPPs mostly fail in court, but take the intended heavy toll on the defendant, draining energy, time, and money. In this chapter we examine SLAPPs in regard to scientists’ involvement in public commentary and provision of scientific information to government and the wider public. Are evidence-based science and the right to speak out in the public interest under threat from SLAPPs? We highlight several known cases and discuss the implications for Australian scientists.”

Professor Dickman also co-authored the final chapter Zoology under threat: a distressing case of science under siege, and I’ve reproduced the abstract here:

“The most striking feature that links all the contributions to the theme of Science under Siege: Zoology under threat, is the rejection of the notion that science is optional in our society, i.e. that science can be ignored, even derided. In the main, these anti-science worldviews derive from religious groups that are hostile to science, a political or commercial stance that sees short-term gains in rejecting or undermining science, or a non-zoological understanding of animals that arrives at a philosophical position opposed to the study and management of wild animals. The extreme ‘animal rights’ position is also inimical to conservation of our native fauna, although an ethical approach to animals and the environment is a critical component to their long-term management and we both encourage, and participate in, this debate. Brian Martin, in his engaging paper on Breaking the siege: guidelines for struggle in science, observed that when scientists come under attack, it is predictable that the attackers will use methods to minimise public outrage over the attack, including covering up the action, devaluing the target, reinterpreting what is happening, using official processes to give an appearance of justice, and intimidating people involved. Zoology is under attack, so are working zoologists, and the distressing consequence for our fauna will be its continuing decline. With increasing rates of extinction that reflect threats, such as invasive species and climate change compounding the impact of simplified landscapes, Australia is being progressively robbed of its rich zoological legacy.”

So, if you happen to be in Armidale, I strongly encourage you to come along and hear Prof Chris Dickman speak.


Have you ever cited one of the ESA’s journals?

Chances are you have, but you didn’t realise it.

According to the website, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists founded in 1915 to:

  • promote ecological science by improving communication among ecologists;
  • raise the public’s level of awareness of the importance of ecological science;
  • increase the resources available for the conduct of ecological science; and
  • ensure the appropriate use of ecological science in environmental decision making by enhancing communication between the ecological community and policy-makers.

Ecology is the scientific discipline that is concerned with the relationships between organisms and their past, present, and future environments. These relationships include physiological responses of individuals, structure and dynamics of populations, interactions among species, organization of biological communities, and processing of energy and matter in ecosystems.

ESA’s over 10,000 members conduct research, teach, and use ecological science to address environmental issues that include:

  • biotechnology
  • natural resource management
  • ecological restoration
  • ozone depletion and global climate change
  • ecosystem management
  • species extinction and loss of biological diversity
  • habitat alteration and destruction
  • sustainable ecological systems.

ESA publishes a suite of publications, from peer-reviewed journals to newsletters, fact sheets and teaching resources.

The Society’s Public Affairs Office works to infuse ecological knowledge into environmental decision-making, convey ecological science to the media and the general public, and to provide services to the ecological community.

The Science Programs Office, founded in 1992 as the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative (SBI), promotes the continued development of ecological science and its integration into decision-making and education, linking the ecological research and management communities.

The Education and Diversity Programs Office works to increase diversity within ecology-related professions, to engage the public in a dialogue on ecological research and issues, and to improve the quality of ecology education at all levels.



Here are some of the most recent abstracts from the journal Ecology, including some that are pre-print/in press:

Reproductive patterns result from age-related sensitivity to resources and reproductive costs in a mammalian carnivore

Although the effects of individual age, resource availability and reproductive costs have been extensively studied to understand the causes of variation in reproductive output, there are almost no studies showing how these factors interact in explaining this variation. To examine this interaction, we used longitudinal demographic data from an 18-year study of 53 breeding female wolverines (Gulo gulo), and corresponding environmental data from their individual home ranges. Females showed a typical age-related pattern in reproductive output, with an initial increase followed by a senescent decline in later years. This pattern was largely driven by four processes: (1) physiological/ behavioral maturation between ages two and three, (2) age-related differences in the costs of reproduction resulting in an initial increase and then a declining probability of breeding two years in a row as individuals aged, (3) resource availability (reindeer carcass abundance; mostly Eurasian lynx kills) in the months preceding parturition which influenced the probability of having cubs, but only for individuals that had successfully bred in the previous year, and (4) resource availability also influenced the cost of reproduction in an age-dependent manner, as prime age females that had bred in the previous year were more responsive to resource availability than those at other ages. This study demonstrates that by examining how drivers of reproductive variation interact we can get a much clearer understanding of the mechanisms responsible for age-related patterns of reproduction. This has implications not only for general ecological theory, but will also allow better predictions of population responses to environmental changes or management based on a population’s age-structure.

DOI http://www.esajournals.org/doi/10.1890/15-0262.1

Species sorting and patch dynamics in harlequin metacommunities affect the relative importance of environment and space

Metacommunity theory indicates that variation in local community structure can be partitioned into components including those related to local environmental conditions vs spatial effects and that these can be quantified using statistical methods based on variation partitioning. It has been hypothesized that joint associations of community composition with environment and space could be due to patch dynamics involving colonization-extinction processes in environmentally heterogeneous landscapes but this has yet to be theoretically shown. We develop a two-patch type-two species competition model in such a ‘harlequin’ landscape (where different patches have different environments) to evaluate how composition is related to environmental and spatial effects as a function of background extinction rate. Using spatially implicit analytical models, we find that the environmental association of community composition declines with extinction rate as expected. Using spatially explicit simulation models, we further find that there is an increase in the spatial structure with extinction due to spatial patterning into clusters that are not related to environmental conditions but that this increase is limited. Natural metacommunities often show both environment and spatial determination even under conditions of relatively high isolation and these could be more easily explained by our model than alternative metacommunity models.

DOI http://www.esajournals.org/doi/10.1890/14-2354.1

Variation in recruitment and the establishment of alternative community states

Mussel beds and rockweed stands (fucoid algae) have been shown to be alternative states on rocky intertidal shores in New England, and here the hypothesis that variation in recruitment provides opportunity for the development of alternative community states was tested. Disturbance by ice scour opens patches for development of alternative states, and in winter 1996-97, 60 experimental clearings of differing sizes were established on Swan’s Island, ME, US. Half of the plots were re-cleared during the winter of 2010-11. Recruitment data for barnacles, mussels and fucoid algae collected from 1997 to 2012 were used to (1) test for persistence of scale-dependent thresholds, (2) estimate the magnitudes and sources of variation, (3) fit a surface of alternative states as defined by the cusp catastrophe, and (4) test if 1997 recruitment would predict 2010-11 recruitment in re-scraped plots (i.e. a test of divergence, which is expected in systems with alternative states). For barnacles and mussels, recruitment varied enormously year-to-year and among sites, but showed consistent patterns over the long-term with respect to clearing size. Average recruitment prior to re-clearing was a good predictor of recruitment afterwards. In contrast, over 50% of the variance in fucoid recruitment was unexplained with weak effects among years and locations. Past fucoid recruitment was a poor predictor of subsequent recruitment. The cusp analysis indicated that fucoid recruitment defines the alternative states. Fucoid recruitment was largely unpredictable and suggests long-term, small-scale priority effects drive the development of alternative states. These observations strongly reinforce the notion that long-term and well-replicated experiments are necessary to develop robust tests of ecological theory.

DOI http://www.esajournals.org/doi/10.1890/14-2107.1

Animal movement constraints improve resource selection inference in the presence of telemetry error

Multiple factors complicate the analysis of animal telemetry location data. Recent advancements address issues such as temporal autocorrelation and telemetry measurement error, but additional challenges remain. Difficulties introduced by complicated error structures or barriers to animal movement can weaken inference. We propose an approach for obtaining resource selection inference from animal location data that accounts for complicated error structures, movement constraints, and temporally autocorrelated observations. We specify a model for telemetry data observed with error conditional on unobserved true locations that reflects prior knowledge about constraints in the animal movement process. The observed telemetry data are modeled using a flexible distribution that accommodates extreme errors and complicated error structures. Although constraints to movement are often viewed as a nuisance, we use constraints to simultaneously estimate and account for telemetry error. We apply the model to simulated data, showing that it outperforms common ad hoc approaches used when confronted with measurement error and movement constraints. We then apply our framework to an Argos satellite telemetry data set on harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) in the Gulf of Alaska, a species that is constrained to move within the marine environment and adjacent coastlines.

DOI http://www.esajournals.org/doi/10.1890/15-0472.1

Connectivity structures local population dynamics: a long-term empirical test in a large metapopulation system

Ecological theory predicts that demographic connectivity structures the dynamics of local populations within metapopulation systems, but empirical support has been constrained by major limitations in data and methodology. We tested this prediction for giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera–a key habitat-forming species in temperate coastal ecosystems worldwide–in southern California, USA, by combining a long-term (22 years), large-scale (~500 km coastline), high-resolution census of abundance with novel patch delineation methods and an innovative connectivity measure incorporating oceanographic transport and source fecundity. Connectivity strongly predicted local dynamics–well-connected patches had lower probabilities of extinction and higher probabilities of colonization, leading to greater likelihoods of occupancy–but this relationship was mediated by patch size. Moreover, the relationship between connectivity and local population dynamics varied over time, possibly due to temporal variation in oceanographic transport processes. Surprisingly, connectivity had a smaller influence on colonization relative to extinction, possibly because local ecological factors differ greatly between extinct and extant patches. Our results provide the first comprehensive evidence that southern California giant kelp populations function as a metapopulation system, challenging the view that populations of this important foundation species are governed exclusively by self-replenishment.

DOI http://www.esajournals.org/doi/10.1890/15-0283.1

Detecting cyclicity in ecological time series

Cyclic population dynamics are of central interest in ecology. Reliably identifying and quantifying the cyclicity of populations is valuable for the understanding of regulatory mechanisms and their variability across spatiotemporal scales. Cyclicity can be detected using periodogram analysis of time series. The statistical significance of periodogram peaks is commonly evaluated against the null hypothesis of uncorrelated fluctuations, also known as white noise. Here, we show that this null hypothesis is inadequate for cycle detection in ecosystems with non-negligible correlation times. As an alternative null hypothesis we propose the so-called Ornstein-Uhlenbeck state-space (OUSS) model, which generalizes white noise to allow for temporal correlations. We justify its use on mechanistic principles and demonstrate its advantages using numerical simulations of simple population models. We show that merely contrasting cyclicity against white noise greatly increases the false cycle detection rate and can lead to wrong conclusions even for simple systems. A comparative statistical analysis of the Global Population Dynamics Database using both null hypotheses suggests that a significant number of populations might have been misinterpreted as cyclic in the past. Our proposed methods for cycle detection are available as an R package (peacots).

DOI http://www.esajournals.org/doi/10.1890/14-0126.1

Home ranges of Recent mammals

The data provided here include home range and body sizes for 285 species of mammals in 177 genera. Data were extracted from 552 published sources, and have been used in multiple papers since we originally published results of analyses in 1999 and 2001. While this likely is the most comprehensive such data set available, it is arguably biased taxonomically and geographically. While some mammal orders are well represented taxonomically most are not. Hence, while all genera in Monotremata, Proboscidea, and Pholidota are represented, these comprise only 60, 66, and 20% of species, respectively; moreover, these are relatively minor radiations. In contrast, we have no species of Paucituberculata, Microbiotheria, Notoryctemorphia, Tubulidentata, Hyracoidea, Cingulata, Scandentia, Dermoptera, and Primates (the latter likely reflecting a bias in data acquisition). The modal proportion of genera and species across 27 terrestrial orders is zero; the median values are 10.8% (genera) and 3.7% (species), suggesting that further data should be sought to confirm generalizations provided by these data.

DOI http://www.esajournals.org/doi/10.1890/14-2264.1


Promiscuous ladybirds; light traps; dogs; gray whales; animal tracking; butterflies

Parasite of the Day – Coccipolipus hippodamiae

Today we feature a guest post by Katie O’Dwyer who recently completed her PhD at the Evolutionary and Ecological Parasitology group at Otago University. She has previously written for Parasite of the Day about Phronima – a parasitic crustacean that turns gelatinous salps into floating zombies. This time she has written a story about why “Promiscuous ladybirds pay the price when it comes to parasites”.

Source: http://dailyparasite.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/coccipolipus-hippodamiae.html

Light trap lures more mosquitoes, fewer bugs you don’t need to kill

Scientists find a light trap that captures more mosquitoes so mosquito control officials can save time and money in their spraying efforts.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150609092805.htm
Read more: http://www.bioone.org/doi/pdf/10.1653/024.098.0118

What are you looking at? Dogs are able to follow human gaze

Dogs are known to be excellent readers of human body language in multiple situations. Surprisingly, however, scientists have so far found that dogs do not follow human gaze into distant space. Scientists investigated how this skill of dogs is influenced by aging, habituation and formal training. The outcome: Gaze following to human gaze cues did not differ over the dogs’ lifespan, however, formal training was found to directly influence gaze following in dogs.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150612091146.htm
Read more: http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0003347215001608/1-s2.0-S0003347215001608-main.pdf?_tid=f5b23f9a-12f2-11e5-99ac-00000aab0f02&acdnat=1434327221_9660fe13498d4f6c7e6a6acf5beab1e1

Undersea phosphate mine threatens Mexico’s Gray whale nursery

A project to mine 225,000 acres of seabed in Baja California’s San Ignacio lagoon threatens the myriad sea life of the area, writes Haydée Rodríguez: not just Gray whales but Blues, Humpbacks and Loggerhead turtles, from noise, disturbance and radioactive releases.

Source: http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2906104/undersea_phosphate_mine_threatens_mexicos_gray_whale_nursery.html

Entering a ‘golden age’ of animal tracking

Animals wearing new tagging and tracking devices give a real-time look at their behaviour and at the environmental health of the planet, say research.


Big-data animal tracking. The red trajectory shows how studies can now track animals with unprecedented detail, allowing researchers to predict the causes and consequences of movements, and animals to become environmental sensors. Multisensor tracking tags monitor movement, behavior, physiology, and environmental context. Geo- and biosciences merge now using a multitude of remote-sensing data. Understanding how social and interspecific interactions affect movement is the next big frontier.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150612131632.htm
Read more: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6240/aaa2478.full.pdf

How and why butterflies survive fires

Deciding how often and when to use prescribed fire can be tricky, especially when managing for rare butterflies, scientists say. That realization stems from a new study in which researchers experimented with pupae — insects in their immature form between larvae and adults — of butterflies known to frequent fire-prone habitats of Florida.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150612103652.htm

Fish, killer whale, cuckoo finch, entomophagy, pigeons, crabs, bats, skunks, hawkmoths, and blue whales

Fish declines linked to effects of excess nutrients on coastal estuaries

A comprehensive study of a major California estuary has documented the links between nutrient runoff from coastal land use, the health of the estuary as a nursery for young fish, and the abundance of fish in an offshore commercial fishery. The study focused on Elkhorn Slough and Monterey Bay on California’s central coast.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150608213119.htm
Read more: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/06/03/1505815112.full.pdf

Greedy killer whale eats 27 porpoises and seals

In 1861, a dissection of a dead killer whale revealed the presence of 27 large mammals in its stomach. It was so surprising that Jules Verne wrote the beast into Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/science/animal-magic/2015/jun/11/greedy-killer-whale-orca-eats-porpoises-seals

A cuckoo finch in sheep’s clothing

Cuckoo finches in Africa have adopted a unique disguise to help them lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, biologists have found.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150611091345.htm
Read more: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/royprsb/282/1810/20150795.full.pdf

Seven reasons to eat insects

Eating bugs may not seem appetizing, but according to experts, insects are a sustainable alternative protein source with nutritional benefits that can’t be ignored.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150609124315.htm

Pigeon ‘chain of command’ aids navigation

Having a hierarchical social structure with just a few well-connected leaders enables pigeon flocks to navigate more accurately on the wing, new research shows.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150609213053.htm
Read more: http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/12/108/20150213

Zoologger: Decorator crabs accessorise to avoid being eaten

Species: Decorator crabs (superfamily Majoidea)
Habitat: Shallow waters worldwide

If there’s one thing we have in common with these crabs, it’s our keen sense of fashion. Many of us love to don new clothes, wear jewellery or get tattoos and piercings.

So it is with the decorator crabs. About three-quarters of over 900 species of crab in the family Majoidea decorate themselves, making them perhaps nature’s most fashion-conscious animal.

Although not the only animals known to decorate themselves, the crabs are the most well-researched group, according to a study reviewing such behaviours.

They improvise accessories using whatever is around, grabbing items such as seaweed, corals and sponges, and sticking them on their shells. Everything stays in place thanks to the hooked hairs, called setae, which line their shells and act like Velcro.

Source: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27702-zoologger-decorator-crabs-accessorise-to-avoid-being-eaten.html?cmpid=RSS%7CNSNS%7C2012-GLOBAL%7Czoologger#.VXo9h_mqpuA
Read more: http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/11/6/20150325

Bats fertilize tropical trees: A win-win situation in the rainforest

Bats in tropical regions are fertilizing trees with their excretions. An international team of scientists recently discovered that seeds of a tropical tree species, which regularly hosts bats in large hollows, contain nutrients from bat excreta. Many tropical ecosystems are low in nutrients. Especially phosphorus and nitrogen are essential for plant growth and their availability limits the productivity of plants. Past studies showed that plants in nutrient-poor environments use animal-derived nutrients on a large-scale basis.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150610093004.htm
Read more: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/btp.12226/epdf

Ask Smithsonian: What Makes Skunk Spray Smell So Terrible?

The scent of a skunk is legendary and lingering, but not in a good way.

As powerful as it is, however, the spray is a closely-guarded weapon of mass destruction, says Kenton Kerns, a biologist at the Small Mammal House of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C.. It is never used in skunk-on-skunk fights over territory, only for predators that don’t get the message—and then, sparingly.

Source: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/ask-smithsonian-what-makes-skunk-spray-smell-so-terrible-180955553/?no-ist

How the hawkmoth sees, hovers and tracks flowers in the dark

Using high-speed infrared cameras and robotic flowers, scientists have learned how the hawkmoth juggles the complex sensing and control challenges of seeing in the dark, hovering in mid-air and tracking moving flowers. The work shows that the creatures can slow their brains to improve vision under low-light conditions — while continuing to perform demanding tasks.


A hawkmoth with its proboscis extended approaches a robotic flower on which another hawkmoth has already landed. The research shows that the creatures can slow their brains to improve vision under low-light conditions — while continuing to perform demanding tasks. Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150611144246.htm
Read more: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6240/1245

Epic journey by blue whale

Scientists studying blue whales in the waters of Chile through DNA profiling and photo-identification may have solved the mystery of where these huge animals go to breed, as revealed by a single female blue whale named “Isabela.”

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150611161218.htm
Read more: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mms.12239/pdf

Longest ever tiger shark tracking reveals remarkable, bird-like migrations

A new study has yielded the first ever continuous, two or more-year satellite tagging tracks for tiger sharks. This study reveals remarkable, and previously unknown, migration patterns more similar to birds, turtles and some marine mammals than other fishes.

Long-distance movements of animals are an important driver of population spatial dynamics and determine the extent of overlap with area-focused human activities, such as fishing. Despite global concerns of declining shark populations, a major limitation in assessments of population trends or spatial management options is the lack of information on their long-term migratory behaviour. For a large marine predator, the tiger shark Galeocerdo cuvier, we show from individuals satellite tracked for multiple years (up to 1101 days) that adult males undertake annually repeated, roundtrip migrations of over 7,500km in the northwest Atlantic. Notably, these migrations occurred between the highly disparate ecosystems of Caribbean coral reef regions in winter and high latitude oceanic areas in summer, with strong, repeated philopatry to specific overwintering insular habitat. Partial migration also occurred, with smaller, immature individuals displaying reduced migration propensity. Foraging may be a putative motivation for these oceanic migrations, with summer behaviour showing higher path tortuosity at the oceanic range extremes. The predictable migratory patterns and use of highly divergent ecosystems shown by male tiger sharks appear broadly similar to migrations seen in birds, reptiles and mammals, and highlight opportunities for dynamic spatial management and conservation measures of highly mobile sharks.

SSM corrected geolocations for all tiger sharks in winter and summer, overlaid on mean seasonal sea surface temperature (SST).

SSM corrected geolocations for all tiger sharks in winter and summer, overlaid on mean seasonal sea surface temperature (SST).

Source: http://goo.gl/Jx0thb
Read more: http://goo.gl/NeG3nD

Nature.com Research Highlights

Coral faces algal sabotage; Warming threat to ocean biodiversity; Migration explains drab female birds


Microbial invasion of the Caribbean by an Indo-Pacific coral zooxanthella

Caribbean coral have been invaded by algae that slow their growth and may have been introduced by humans.

Tye Pettay and Todd LaJeunesse at Pennsylvania State University in University Park and their colleagues sampled various coral species (Orbicella faveolata) from around the world and analysed the genetics of their symbiotic algae. They found that one alga in the Caribbean, Symbiodinium trenchii, comprised just a few lineages that were closely related to those in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Corals living with this symbiont tolerated high temperatures better than those without it, but incorporated calcium into their skeletons at around half the rate.

The findings indicate that this alga invaded the Caribbean thanks to human activities, and could have negative long-term ecological impacts in this region.

Source: http://goo.gl/68AaBT.
Read more: http://goo.gl/E6RkwA.


Future vulnerability of marine biodiversity compared with contemporary and past changes

Marine biodiversity could undergo drastic changes in as much as 70% of the world’s oceans if global warming is not limited to below 2°C by 2100.

Grégory Beaugrand (at the CNRS Laboratory of Oceanology and Geosciences in Wimereux, France), Richard Kirby (at the University of Plymouth, UK), and their colleagues modelled how patterns of biodiversity across the oceans would change under different future climate scenarios, and compared them to patterns over the past 50 years and during prehistoric warm and cold periods.

With low levels of warming (mean temperature rise of roughly 1°C), around 16% of the ocean would see increased biodiversity through species invasions and about 6% of oceans would experience a decrease. In the most extreme warming scenario, of roughly 3.7°C, these numbers rise to about 32% and 44%. Such severe warming could produce a greater change in marine biodiversity than has been seen over the past 3 million years or so.

From: http://goo.gl/joJuWC.
Read more: http://goo.gl/zYHHwf.


Migration explains drab female birds

Some female warblers lost their bright colours just as the birds were evolving to become migratory, suggesting that this behavioural change spurred the evolution of sex differences in plumage colour.

To find out why female songbirds are often as colourful as the males in tropical species but less colourful in northern ones, Troy Murphy at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and his colleagues studied 108 species of wood warblers (Setophaga tigrina). Migratory species tend to live farther north, and the authors found that the longer the bird’s migration, the more distinct the sexes look. In multiple species, these sex differences evolved at around the same time as the birds first began migrating.

The findings suggest that sex differences in colour are driven by the needs of females. Non-migratory females often defend their territories using bright colours to signal fighting ability. But females that migrate rarely act in this way, and bright colours could make them more visible to predators during their migration.

From: http://goo.gl/gzTTu2.
Read more: http://goo.gl/z7ofjb.



New frog species x 8; Lizard evolution; Gelatinous outbreaks

Smithsonian, Nat Geo and The Guardian are all abuzz today with news of a new frog species found in New York (see what I did there? Three ‘new/s’ in one sentence!); and a new species of frog has also been found in Sri Lanka and India; while the peeps at Nature are reporting that lizards are evolving rapidly in response to invasive competitors, and human activities are contributing to jellyfish outbreaks.

New Leopard Frog Found in New York City

There’s a newly discovered vocalist in the Big Apple with a sound unlike any other in the city.

In 2008, Jeremy Feinberg, a graduate student at Rutgers University, was wading around in a wetland on Staten Island when he heard something strange. In a swampy patch less than 10 miles from the Statue of Liberty, he picked up on a peculiar chirp-chirp call that was distinct from the croaks of the known leopard frogs on the island. Investigating that song ultimately led Feinberg and his colleagues to a new species of leopard frog – the first amphibian discovered in New York since 1854, and the first found in the U.S. in three decades. They describe this unexpected find today in the journal PLOS ONE.

Read more http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/new-leopard-frog-found-new-york-city-180953182/?no-ist


Introducing Rana kauffeldi, a newly recognized New York City resident. (Photo credit: Feinberg et al., PLOS ONE).

Big City, Big Surprise: New York City’s Newest Species Is a Frog

Even in one of the most densely populated places on Earth, nature is still capable of some big surprises. Biologists have described a new species of leopard frog discovered in New York City.

Only the second new frog species found in the continental United States in the past 30 years, it remained hidden in plain sight in a city of 8.4 million people.

“It’s a pretty unique event,” said Rutgers University ecologist Jeremy Feinberg, part of a group of researchers who made the discovery.

Read more http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141029-frog-species-new-york-city/

New frog species found in New York

“I remember every detail of that night.” It was November 2011 and Brian Curry was on the lookout for a frog. As it was late in the year and most amphibians would be hiding away for the winter, the chances of finding a specimen were slim, especially as he was standing on Staten Island, less than 15km from the Statue of Liberty. “I did not arrive at the site with high hopes,” he says.

Read more http://www.theguardian.com/science/animal-magic/2014/oct/29/new-frog-species-new-york

Surprising Inner-City Frog Among 7 New Species Found in Asia

Seven new species of golden-backed frogs have been discovered in Sri Lanka and India – including one in the middle of a bustling city, a new study reports.

Scientists caught the urban golden-backed frog (Hylarana urbis) in a weed-choked lake surrounded by a concrete jungle of factories, hotels, and businesses in Kochi (map), a city of 2.3 million in India.

The surprising new species, which dwells in ponds and overgrown waterways, is known to exist only in two urban settings, said study leader Sathyabhama Das Biju, an amphibian researcher at the University of Delhi.

Read more http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141029-golden-backed-frogs-animals-science-new-species/

Lizards adapt quickly to invaders

Lizards in Florida have rapidly evolved traits that make them better tree-climbers, probably in response to an invasive competitor.

Read more http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v514/n7524/full/514538a.html

Coastal havoc boosts jellies

Five-year Chinese study suggests that human activity made gelatinous outbreaks worse.

“It was a truly gelatinous world,” says marine ecologist Sun Song, recalling a jellyfish outbreak last year in the Yellow Sea off China’s eastern coast. “The slimy monsters were everywhere, their long tentacles fluttering ferociously in the rolling waves.” Such blooms have repeatedly choked Chinese waters in the past decade, posing substantial threats to tourism, fisheries and coastal facilities such as chemical plants and nuclear power stations.

Read more http://www.nature.com/news/coastal-havoc-boosts-jellies-1.16236

Bird embryos; Climate change; Penguin chicks; Earthworms, ants and termites

In the news today from National Geographic, Ecologist and Science Daily:

Bird Embryos Can Discern Between Calls — a First in Nature

We’re not the only species that can recognize voices in the womb: Inside the egg, tiny songbirds called superb fairy wrens can discriminate sounds from different birds of their own species, a new study reveals.

The embryos pay attention to surrounding noises and can tell if they are listening to calls from a fairy wren they haven’t heard before, according to the study published October 28 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The findings represent the first time a species other than humans has been shown to distinguish between individuals in utero.

Read more http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141028-birds-wrens-embryos-science-animals-sounds/

Climate deniers lost for words: 2014 set for hottest year on record

Just as 2014 is looking like going down as the hottest year since records began, motor-mouthed climate change deniers are shrinking into the shadows, writes Richard Heasman.

Climate deniers have been left red-faced as the world basks in some of the hottest temperatures in living memory, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicting that 2014 could break all records.

Read more http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2612541/climate_deniers_lost_for_words_2014_set_for_hottest_year_on_record.html

Penguin chick weights connected to local weather conditions

Oceanographers have reported a connection between local weather conditions and the weight of Adélie penguin chicks. Adélie penguins are an indigenous species of the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP), one of the most rapidly warming areas on Earth. Since 1950, the average annual temperature in the Antarctic Peninsula has increased 2 degrees Celsius on average, and 6 degrees Celsius during winter.

Read more http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141027144628.htm


UD researchers have reported a connection between local weather conditions and the weight of Adélie penguin chicks. Credit: Image courtesy of University of Delaware.

Earthworms, ants, termites: The real engineers of the ecosystem

New the research has focused on the study of soil invertebrates because they are indicators of its quality, scientists say. “These organisms fulfill various functions,like allowing the soil to absorb processed organic matter such as leaves, wood, trunks and branches and with this nourishing crops; they also maintain an ecological balance capable of preventing the invasion of pests and provide greater fertility without using chemicals. This happens when growing different types of plants, allowing the existence of a wide variety of soil invertebrates” researchers explain.

Read more http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141023154945.htm

Interspecific interaction; African Lions; Sea monsters; Cats; Statistics; Migrating birds

Another busy day on the Zoological front! (1) Nuismer and Harmon (2014) have found that phylogenetic relationships among species can influence trait evolution and rates of interaction among species, but only under particular models of species interaction; (2) the African Lion may be deemed ‘threatened’ in the United States (yes, you read correctly); (3) from kraken to mermaids, some monsters are real – if you know how to look for them; (4) your cat thinks you’re a huge, unpredictable ape; (5) what do separate tortoise species in an archipelago connected by rafts of flotsam, variations in sequences of shuffled integers, and the wriggling perimeter of a bacterial colony and other kinds of random growth all have in common?; and (6) how flooded rice paddies are helping migrating birds.

Predicting rates of interspecific interaction from phylogenetic trees

Integrating phylogenetic information can potentially improve our ability to explain species’ traits, patterns of community assembly, the network structure of communities, and ecosystem function. In this study, we use mathematical models to explore the ecological and evolutionary factors that modulate the explanatory power of phylogenetic information for communities of species that interact within a single trophic level. We find that phylogenetic relationships among species can influence trait evolution and rates of interaction among species, but only under particular models of species interaction. For example, when interactions within communities are mediated by a mechanism of phenotype matching, phylogenetic trees make specific predictions about trait evolution and rates of interaction. In contrast, if interactions within a community depend on a mechanism of phenotype differences, phylogenetic information has little, if any, predictive power for trait evolution and interaction rate. Together, these results make clear and testable predictions for when and how evolutionary history is expected to influence contemporary rates of species interaction.

Read more http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ele.12384/abstract;jsessionid=6C5492264FE2D6DF033AF7AB1A1DE8AC.f04t03

Africa’s Lions May Be Deemed Threatened in U.S. — Will It Help?

The African lion — thousands of miles away but beloved by Americans — might become protected under U.S. law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday.

The proposed new rule, which doesn’t apply to zoos, would list lions as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. If approved, the law would make it illegal to kill or hunt captive lions in the U.S. without a permit or for a U.S. citizen to sell lions or lion parts across state or international borders. The sale of lions or lion parts within a U.S. state will remain under state jurisdiction.

Read more http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141027-african-lions-endangered-species-act-nation-animals-science/

Five “Real” Sea Monsters Brought to Life by Early Naturalists

HIC SUNT DRACONES.” This phrase translates from the Latin as “here are dragons.” It is etched on the eastern coast of Asia on one of the oldest terrestrial globe maps, the Lenox Globe, dating to 1510. Though the phrase itself is found on only one other historical artifact – a 1504 globe crafted on an ostrich egg – depictions of monsters and mythological beasts are common on early maps. They mostly crop up in unexplored reaches of the oceans, warning would-be explorers of the perils of these unknown territories.

Read more http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-real-sea-monsters-brought-life-early-naturalists-180953155/?no-ist


A “Sea Devil” as depicted by Conrad Gessner in Historia Animalium, 2nd ed, 1604. (Smithsonian Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Why Your Cat Thinks You’re a Huge, Unpredictable Ape

Shingles isn’t my condition; he’s my cat. I love him like crazy, but he gets under my skin. I’m not alone as a conflicted cat fancier. Tony Buffington is a veterinarian at Ohio State University, and he recently told me many cat owners are constantly frustrated by their feline companions. Even though we feed them, clean up after them, and pet, hug, and hold them, Buffington says that few of us know how to listen to our cats. This can make things more frustrating for them than for us. That’s because no matter how much we love them, cats are our captives, domesticated aliens with no way of explaining their customs, or of interpreting ours.

Read more http://www.wired.com/2014/10/cat-thinks-youre-huge-unpredictable-ape/

Mysterious Statistical Law May Finally Have an Explanation

Imagine an archipelago where each island hosts a single tortoise species and all the islands are connected – say by rafts of flotsam. As the tortoises interact by dipping into one another’s food supplies, their populations fluctuate. In 1972, the biologist Robert May devised a simple mathematical model that worked much like the archipelago. He wanted to figure out whether a complex ecosystem can ever be stable or whether interactions between species inevitably lead some to wipe out others. By indexing chance interactions between species as random numbers in a matrix, he calculated the critical “interaction strength” – a measure of the number of flotsam rafts, for example – needed to destabilize the ecosystem. Below this critical point, all species maintained steady populations. Above it, the populations shot toward zero or infinity.

Read more http://www.wired.com/2014/10/tracy-widom-mysterious-statistical-law/

Crowdsourcing and Satellites Give Migrating Birds 10K Acres of New Wetlands

When they’re flying south for the winter, birds need to rest their weary wings – preferably somewhere with food and water. But due to California’s agricultural development (not to mention its record-breaking drought), their preferred West Coast wetland stopovers are few and far between. So Matt Merrifield, a geographer with the Nature Conservancy of California, dove into geospatial data to help develop an alternative. The answer: flooded rice paddies.

Read more http://www.wired.com/2014/10/bird-migration/

Creepy but Curious – ABC Radio New England North West

Every Tuesday at 9:30 am, UNE’s very own A/Prof Nigel Andrew, Dr Tommy Leung, Dr Paul McDonald, and Dr Kirsti Abbott talk about “creepy but curious” zoological things on ABC Radio New England North West.

If you’ve missed some/most/all of these episodes… don’t be annoyed, because you can still listen to them online!

Below is a list of the 2014 episodes to date:

  1. Dr Tommy Leung talks about the Colossal Squid: Kraken vs Leviathan – it is a real Clash of the Titans!
  2. Dr Paul McDonald talks about the complex world of dog behaviour: Can dogs eavesdrop on human interactions and use that information for their own cunning plans?
  3. Dr Kirsti Abbott talks about the defence mechanisms of insects: And a warning too – if a catepillar looks like a toupee don’t touch it!
  4. Dr Tommy Leung talks about the Velvet Worm and Hallucigenia: They look like cuddly plush caterpillars, but they are in fact in their own separate group of arthropods.
  5. A/Prof Nigel Andrew talks about overwintering insects: How do insects cope with the cold?
  6. Dr Kirsti Abbott talks about the world of mucus: Embrace your mucus!
  7. Dr Tommy Leung talks about the silence of the crickets: So does this spell doom for the crickets? Is that why the crickets have fallen silent – because the males have fallen prey to this parasitic fly?
  8. A/Prof Nigel Andrew talks about plant SOS: Are the aromatic scents from our favourite herbs a cry for help, a warning sign, an SOS?
  9. Dr Paul McDonald talks about brains and how they influence our behaviour: Brains! Clearly a very important part of the body, a look at some interesting research from diet to internet-based mind control.
  10. Adjunct Professor Harold Heatwole talks about sea snakes: An international expert on sea snakes joins us to explore this fascinating underwater world.
  11. Dr Tommy Leung talks about sea spiders: They look like spiders with a shrunken body walking on stilts.
  12. A/Prof Nigel Andrew talks about the Weta: The weta is legendary not just on the basis of its size… and it is a real whopper!… its character, its colouration, its utter weirdness…
  13. Dr Kirsti Abbott talks about insect poo: Frass and honeydew and it might even be a part of the your beauty regime.
  14. Dr Tommy Leung talks about vampire snails: Sniffing out their prey from 24 metres away… there’s no escape from the Vampire Snail.
  15. A/Prof Nigel Andrew talks about funnel web venom protecting bees: Another reason to respect one of the world’s most poisonous spiders.
  16. Dr Kirsti Abbott talks about the Mt Kaputar Red Slug Part II: The hunt for Red Gastropoda.
  17. Dr Tommy Leung talks about killer sponges: What happens when sponges have killer instincts?
  18. A/Prof Nigel Andrew talks about insect biophilia: The urge to affiliate with other forms of life.
  19. Dr Paul McDonald talks about quirky human behaviour: Can you give someone the cold shoulder and wish someone sweet dreams?
  20. Dr Kirsti Abbott talks about the Mt Kaputar Red Slug Part I: Will this be Australia’s first recognised endangered land snail community?
  21. Dr Tommy Leung talks about the Blue Sea Slug: A pretty little sea slug with a diet that grants it some degree of protection from death.
  22. A/Prof Nigel Andrew talks about entomophobia, the fear of insects: Are you scared of cockroaches? spiders? bees? slugs? There’s a couple of reasons why…
  23. Dr Paul McDonald talks about spitting and jumping spiders: More on the endearing end of the spider continuum rather than the completely frightening end.
  24. Dr Tommy Leung talks about the Emerald Jewel Wasp: With an exquisitely nightmarish life-style that no monsters in any horror movie or TV series or novel have ever come to matching.
  25. A/Prof Nigel Andrew talks about the Schmidt Index: Does it feel like a tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm or like a running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath?
  26. Dr Paul McDonald talks about the dastardly acts in songbirds: Is the chirp a happy song or a warning to stay out? Is the lark a musical tribute or a sign of menace?
  27. Dr Kirsti Abbott talks about the return of Red Crabs to Christmas Island.
  28. Dr Tommy Leung talks about the Horsehair Worm parasite.