• Arctic sea ice continues to shrink

    Arctic sea ice shrank to the lowest winter extent ever recorded, according to data released today by the US-based National Snow and Ice Data Center. The record-low ice level follows earlier news that 2014 was the warmest year since record keeping began.
     
    An unusually warm February in parts of Alaska and Russia contributed to the record ice low. The winter reach of Arctic ice decreased 1.1 million square kilometres compared to the average maximum from 1981 to 2010. This represents an area more than twice the size of Sweden.
     
    "This is not a record to be proud of. Low sea ice can create a series of reactions that further threaten the Arctic and the rest of the globe," said Alexander Shestakov, Director, WWF Global Arctic Programme.

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  • The importance of methane seeps in microbial biodiversity of sea floor

    A new study “provides evidence that methane seeps are island-like habitats that harbor distinct microbial communities unique from other seafloor ecosystems." These seeps play an important role in microbial biodiversity of the sea floor.

    Methane seeps are natural gas leaks in the sea floor that emit methane into the water. Microorganisms that live on or near these seeps can use the methane as a food source, preventing the gas from collecting in the surrounding hydrosphere or migrating into the atmosphere.

    “Marine environments are a potentially huge source for methane outputs to the atmosphere, but the surrounding microbes keep things in check by eating 75 percent of the methane before it gets to the atmosphere. These organisms are an important part of the underwater ecosystem, particularly as it relates to global gas cycles that are climate important in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,” said University of Delaware assistant professor of marine biosciences, Jennifer Biddle.

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  • When whales roamed in what is now Africa

    Uplift associated with the Great Rift Valley of East Africa and the environmental changes it produced have puzzled scientists for decades because the timing and starting elevation have been poorly constrained.​

    Now paleontologists have tapped a fossil from the most precisely dated beaked whale in the world - and the only stranded whale ever found so far inland on the African continent - to pinpoint for the first time a date when East Africa's mysterious elevation began.

    The 17 million-year-old fossil is from the beaked Ziphiidae whale family. It was discovered 740 kilometers inland at an elevation of 620 meters in modern Kenya's harsh desert region, said vertebrate paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

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  • Bill Proposed to Ban Wild Animals from Circus Performing

    Circus elephants just scored a victory with an announcement that Ringling Bros. will be retiring its performers, but big cats and other wild animals left behind may get their own victory in Pennsylvania if a state senator can get them banned.

    The emotional and physical toll life on the road as performers takes on elephants has taken center stage, but for other species like big cats, life in the entertainment industry is just as bad.

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  • Zoos Boost Biodiversity Understanding

    Zoos and aquariums around the world have a crucial role to play in helping people understand how they can protect animals and their natural habitats, new research from the University of Warwick, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and Chester Zoo has found.

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  • How the Gecko keeps itself so clean in a dusty habitat

    In a world first, a research team including James Cook University scientists has discovered how geckos manage to stay clean, even in dusty deserts. 

    The process, described in Interface, the prestigious journal of the Royal Society, may also turn out to have important human applications. 

    JCU's Professor Lin Schwarzkopf said the group found that tiny droplets of water on geckos, for instance from condensing dew, come into contact with hundreds of thousands of extremely small hair-like spines that cover the animals' bodies. 

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  • Invasive Carp Look for Love in all the Right Places

    If you’re looking for love and there are ten bars in town, your chance of meeting someone is 10 per cent.  In a town with only one bar, your odds are 100 per cent. The same thing happens in nature and is called landmarking. Butterflies and other species find mates by gathering at easily identifiable locations such as the tallest tree or mountain.

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  • Success Story: Baby Tortoises Return to Pinzón

    Wonderful news! Ten baby tortoises have been spotted on the Galapagos island of Pinzón, in Ecuador. This might not seem like such a big deal–after all, aren’t the Galapagos famous for their tortoises? But in this case, it’s been more than 100 years since the last baby tortoise was seen on Pinzón. Sadly, it was human activity that brought these cute animals to the brink of extinction. Sailors first arrived on Pinzón Island in the mid-18th century, bringing with them on their boats numerous rats that quickly gained a foothold in the fragile ecosystem, feasting on the eggs and hatchlings of the island’s tortoises who, up until then, had few natural predators.

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  • Social Status has Impact on Wild Animals

    High social status has its privileges ­­when it comes to aging – even in wild animals.

    In a first-of-its-kind study involving a wild species, Michigan State University researchers have shown that social and ecological factors affect animal health. The results, published in the current issue of Biology Letters, focused on spotted hyenas in Kenya.

    “High-ranking members in hyena clans reproduce more, they live longer and appear to be in better overall health,” said Nora Lewin, MSU doctoral student of zoology and co-lead author. “If you want to see the hierarchy of spotted hyenas, throw down some fresh meat near them. It’s quickly apparent who’s dominant and who’s not.”

    But Lewin wondered if long-accepted biological markers would support what she was seeing in the field. Thanks to working with fellow lead author Kay Holekamp, MSU zoologist, and her long-running hyena experiment, Lewin had access to more than 25 years of data and was able to spend a summer afield in Kenya, observing hyenas’ social structure firsthand.

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  • Bristol University sheds new light on early terrestrial vertebrate

    The first 3D reconstruction of the skull of a 360 million-year-old near-ancestor of land vertebrates has been created by scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge. 

    The 3D skull, which differs from earlier 2D reconstructions, suggests such creatures, which lived their lives primarily in shallow water environments, were more like modern crocodiles than previously thought. 

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