Archive for the ‘extinction’ Category

Is the end near? Scientists at Duke University say the world is on the brink of its sixth great extinction, since certain species of plants and animals are now dying out at least 1,000 times faster than they did before humans came into existence.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, measured the the rate at which species are disappearing from Earth. In 1995, the researchers found that the pre-human rate of extinctions was roughly 1. Now, that rate is about 100 to 1,000.

Stuart Pimm, the study’s lead author, said habitat loss is mostly to blame for the increasing death rates. As humans continue to alter and destroy more land, animals and plants are increasingly being displaced from their natural habitats. Climate change is also a factor, he added.

“Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions,” Pimm warned.

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://theweek.com/article/index/262400/speedreads-earth-is-nearing-sixth-great-extinction-alarming-survey-says#axzz33DjJqxZg

<img src="https://itsinterestingdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/04

The Columbian Mammoth is about to become an official state symbol of South Carolina, but its path to the limelight was long and fraught with controversy.

Here's the text of the bill that made it official:

Section 1-1-712A. The Columbian Mammoth, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field, is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina and must be officially referred to as the ‘Columbian Mammoth’, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field.

This is actually the watered-down version of the bill; one version, proposed earlier, made even more explicit references to the role of a divine creator in the mammoth’s history.

This all started when an 8-year-old suggested that the Columbian mammoth become South Carolina’s state fossil. Olivia McConnell had some good reasoning behind her suggestion: Mammoth teeth found in a South Carolina swamp in 1725 were the first vertebrate fossils identified in North America.

Her submission became a bill. The original draft was simple enough: “Section 1-1-691. The Wooly Mammoth is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina.” But almost immediately the proposal ran into trouble. On a practical level: Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler objected strenuously to having any new state symbols enacted in a state that already has a state spider, state beverage and a state hospitality beverage among many others. On a philosophical level: proclaiming a state fossil in a state where there is still intense debate over teaching evolution as fact creates some problems.

From USA Today:

State Sen. Mike Fair, a Greenville Republican who serves on the panel that will decide the science standards, said that natural selection should be taught as theory rather than as scientific fact. He argues that natural selection can make biological changes within species but it can’t explain the whole progression from microbes to humans.

“This whole subject should be taught as a pro and con,” he said.

Last week, Fair had raised his own objection that temporarily killed Olivia’s bill but withdrew it after another senator told him the story of the Lake City girl’s campaign to get an official state fossil.

Fair wasn’t the only one who had objections. Another State Senator, Kevin Bryant started a pushing a change that would add some biblical flair to the otherwise direct language. The New York Times:

But then Senator Kevin Bryant proposed an amendment rooted in the Book of Genesis, imputing God as the creator of the woolly mammoth: “And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, the cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”
Bryant’s version was struck down, but the final version of the bill did include that language about the Mammoth being created on the sixth day.

There was one other addition, too. Frustrated by the amount of time spent discussing state symbols instead of governing, legislators also added an amendment to the bill prohibiting the General Assembly from enacting any new state symbols “until such time as the General Assembly directly by legislative enactment removes this moratorium.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/south-carolinas-state-fossil-creation-controversy-180950474/#4mOTlJmLsprzxrmM.99

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

bonobo

The rare Bonobo ape – formerly known as the pygmy chimpanzee – faces a serious menace to its continued survival due to the activities of humans, scientists say.

The bonobo is perhaps most widely known for being one of the few species apart from some humans (and as it turns out, fruitbats) to routinely perform fellatio as part of sexual activity. A new scientific study reveals, however, that the fun-loving apes’ very survival is seriously threatened by predatory humans.

“Bonobos that live in closer proximity to human activity and to points of human access are more vulnerable,” says Dr Janet Nackoney, a professor at Maryland uni. “Our results point to the need for more places where bonobos can be safe … which is an enormous challenge in the [war-torn Congo, which is the only place the bonobos are found].”

A press release issued to highlight Nackoney and her colleagues’ study says:

The bonobo is smaller in size and more slender in build than the common chimpanzee. The great ape’s social structure is complex and matriarchal. Unlike the common chimpanzee, bonobos establish social bonds and diffuse tension or aggression with sexual behaviors.

It seems that human aggression is a major problem for the bonobo, which perhaps understandably “avoids areas of high human activity …

“As little as 28 percent of the bonobo’s range remains suitable,” the press announcement adds.

“For bonobos to survive over the next 100 years or longer, it is extremely important that we understand the extent of their range, their distribution, and drivers of that distribution,” says Ashley Vosper of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Bonobos are probably the least understood great ape in Africa, so this paper is pivotal in increasing our knowledge and understanding of this beautiful and charismatic animal.”

Despite the bonobos’ somewhat louche reputation, it seems that there’s nothing salacious about local humans’ interest in them: but the people of the area do hunt apes and monkeys for food, and destruction or partial destruction of forest by farmers is also a major turn-off for the cheery apes. Scientists hope that more terrain suitable for bonobos to live in can be classified as national park – or perhaps discovered within existing parks or otherwise-protected areas.

“The future of the bonobo will depend on the close collaboration of many partners working towards the conservation of this iconic ape,” says Dr Liz Williamson of the International Union for Conservation and Nature Primate Specialist Group.

The new study is published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/27/rare_fellatiogiving_apes_face_extinction_from_interaction_with_humans/

Thanks to Dr. Lutter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

lizard

Scientists have spotted a lizard with a nose like Pinocchio in an Ecuadorian cloud forest. What’s more, the long-nosed reptile was thought extinct, having been seen only a few times in the past 15 years.

“It’s hard to describe the feelings of finding this lizard. Finding the Pinocchio anole was like discovering a secret, a deeply held secret. We conceived it for years to be a mythological creature,” Alejandro Arteaga, a photographer and one of the lizard’s spotters, said in a statement.

Not surprisingly, the defining feature of the Pinocchio lizard—properly named Anolis proboscis, or the horned anole—is the male’s long protrusion on the end of its nose. Far from being a sturdy, rigid structure, researchers have found that the horn is actually quite flexible.

Despite its peculiar appearance, the reptile wasn’t formally described by scientists until 1953. They managed to save only six specimens, all of which were male. It was spotted several times in the next few years, all near the town of Mindo, Ecuador, and then the species seemed to vanish.

“For 40 years, no one saw it. At that point, we thought the species had gone extinct,” said Jonathan Losos, an evolutionary biologist and herpetologist at Harvard University who has studied the animal.

Then, in 2005, a group of bird-watchers near Mindo spotted a strange-looking lizard crossing the road. One of them shared a picture when they got back home, and herpetologists realized that the Pinocchio lizard was still alive and well.

Several teams journeyed to this area of Ecuador to get a closer look. One team, led by Steve Poe, a researcher at the University of New Mexico and an expert at finding hard-to-spot lizards, found that the anoles were actually quite easy to find—if you knew where to look.

Because horned anoles sleep at the end of branches, turning a pale white color as they snooze, Poe’s team discovered that they were easily spotted at night with headlamps or flashlights. The researchers identified several females, none of which had a horn. What the anoles did during the day, however, remained a mystery.

Losos—also a member of the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration—arrived in Ecuador in 2010 to solve this mystery and study the natural history of the Pinocchio lizard. Unable to find the lizard by searching its known hideouts, Losos did what any good detective would: He set up a stakeout.

His team found the pale lizards at night and simply followed them into the day. This sleuthing revealed why the anoles were very rarely spotted during the day.

For one, Pinocchio lizards are extremely well camouflaged and live high in the canopy. They also move very, almost ridiculously, slowly—hardly faster than a crawl.

The latest team to discover the lizard also made some new discoveries about where the Pinocchio lizard lives.

“We discovered this lizard occurs in habitats very different to what has been suggested in the literature. No one had ever found the lizard in deep cloud forest away from open areas. The other sightings were in [the] forest border,” Arteaga said in a statement.

“It’s nice that this group spotted these anoles again,” Losos said. “What we really need are people to just go out into nature and study these creatures for a few months. It’s not that hard to do.”

Scientists have discovered similar horned anoles in Brazil, but a closer analysis revealed that these two species had evolved their horns independently.

And as for what the nose is used for, no one knows. Losos once suspected the males might use the horns in swordfighting-like duels, but the horns are far too flimsy and flexible to be used in such a way.

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/08/pinocchio-lizard-spotted/

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

extinct ttree

For thousands of years, Judean date palm trees were one of the most recognizable and welcome sights for people living in the Middle East — widely cultivated throughout the region for their sweet fruit, and for the cool shade they offered from the blazing desert sun.

From its founding some 3,000 years ago, to the dawn of the Common Era, the trees became a staple crop in the Kingdom of Judea, even garnering several shout-outs in the Old Testament. Judean palm trees would come to serve as one of the kingdom’s chief symbols of good fortune; King David even named his daughter, Tamar, after the plant’s name in Hebrew.

By the time the Roman Empire sought to usurp control of the kingdom in 70 AD, broad forests of these trees flourished as a staple crop to the Judean economy — a fact that made them a prime resource for the invading army to destroy. Sadly, around the year 500 AD, the once plentiful palm had been completely wiped out, driven to extinction for the sake of conquest.

In the centuries that followed, the first-hand knowledge of the tree slipped from memory to legend. Up until recently, that is.

During excavations at the site of Herod the Great’s palace in Israel in the early 1960’s, archeologists unearthed a small stockpile of seeds stowed in clay jar dating back 2,000 years. For the next four decades, the ancient seeds were kept in a drawer at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University. But then, in 2005, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey decided to plant one and see what, if anything, would sprout.

“I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?” said Solowey. She was soon proven wrong.

Amazingly, the multi-millennial seed did indeed sprout — producing a sapling no one had seen in centuries, becoming the oldest known tree seed to germinate.

Today, the living archeological treasure continues to grow and thrive; In 2011, it even produced its first flower — a heartening sign that the ancient survivor was eager to reproduce. It has been proposed that the tree be cross-bred with closely related palm types, but it would likely take years for it to begin producing any of its famed fruits. Meanwhile, Solowey is working to revive other age-old trees from their long dormancy.

http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/extinct-tree-grows-anew-after-archaeologists-dig-ancient-seed-stockpile.html

Chinese-White-Dolphin

China’s unique white dolphins — famous for the actual pink hue of their skin — face going from endangered to extinct — with conservationists doubtful they can be saved.

“We’ve seen alarming decline in the last decade — 158 dolphins in 2003, just 61 dolphins in 2012,” says Samuel Hung, Chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society.

“We are at a critical juncture on whether we can help the dolphins,” adds Hung. “I have no idea whether they will keep going down and down — but what I do know is we need to work urgently to come up with solutions to clean up the dolphin’s habitat.”

Land reclamation for massive engineering projects, resulting water pollution and boat strikes have exacted a heavy toll on the white dolphin population, which is mainly found in the waters of Hong Kong’s Pearl River Delta in southern China.

In 2016, the first automobiles are expected to roll across the 42-kilometer Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, respectively connecting the Asian financial hub with the Chinese mainland’s “special economic zone” and the world’s gambling capital. Now under construction, the world’s longest cross-sea bridge and tunnel link will go “right through the heart of the dolphin population,” says Hung. “There will be lots of piling activities to construct the bridge.”

By 2023, Hong Kong aims to complete a third runway for Chep Lap Kok international airport, already one of the world’s busiest. In the absence of soil on which to build, 650 hectares of land — an area more than 5,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools — will be reclaimed from the sea. The area is also prime habitat for the Chinese white dolphin.

The Hong Kong government has also proposed four additional land reclamation projects in dolphin-populated areas that aim to increase the amount of land on which to build in order to bring down the high cost of housing, adds Hung.

Yet, despite Hong Kong’s plans for numerous engineering projects that will impact the white dolphins’ habitats, the founder of the 10-year old Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society says he “actually applauds” the government’s conservation efforts.

“I don’t doubt their desire to conserve,” explains Hung, who adds that the Hong Kong government has provided more than $1 million Hong Kong dollars (US$125,000) each year for environmental research funds, set up a marine protection park for the white dolphins and helped monitor dolphin population numbers.

“But it’s the other bureaus who want to push economic projects” including Hong Kong’s Airport Authority and the Civil Engineering and Development Department, says Hung.

“The economic departments are more influential so our voice for conservation work is drowned out by the voice for construction.”

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/19/world/china-hong-kong-white-dolphin-extinction/?hpt=hp_c2

snow-rabbitNeanderthals1

Neanderthals became extinct as they were unable to adapt their hunting skills to catch small animals like rabbits, a new study has claimed.

For the study, John Fa of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Trinity, Jersey, and his colleagues counted skeletons of animals that were found in three excavation sites in Spain and southern France.

The team found that up until 30,000 years ago, the skeletons of larger animals like deer were plentiful in caves.

But around the same time, coinciding with Neanderthals’ disappearance, rabbit skeletons became more abundant.

The team postulated that humans succeeded far more at switching to capturing and eating rabbits than Neanderthals, New Scientist reported.

Fa said that it is still not clear as to why Neanderthals had trouble changing their prey.

He said that maybe the Neanderthals may have been less able to cooperate and rather than using spears, early humans probably surrounded a warren and flushed out rabbits with fire, smoke or dogs.

http://www.phenomenica.com/2013/03/inability-to-catch-rabbits-may-have-led-to-demise-of-neanderthals.html