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Fri, 24 Sep 2021
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Mountain gorillas in dire straits, DNA reveals

baby Gorilla kisses a silverback male
© Paul Souders / Corbis
A baby Gorilla kisses a silverback male, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

Mountain gorillas are in more trouble than we thought. Fewer of them are living in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) than previous estimates suggest. This is one of only two places worldwide where the gorillas survive in the wild.

Traditionally, conservationists estimate gorilla numbers by counting nests and examining the dung outside each one. "Each individual constructs a nest to sleep in, and before they leave in the morning, they defecate outside it," says Katerina Guschanski at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig, Germany.

According to this method, there are 336 gorillas left in the 331-square-kilometre national park. But when Guschanski's team analysed DNA samples from each pile of dung using a new genetic counting method, the population estimate dropped by 10 per cent to 302. This suggests that some individuals had been counted twice using the old technique (Biological Conservation, DOI: link).

Bizarro Earth

Multiple Quakes Strike Northern California

Tres Pinos -- Several small earthquakes have rattled a remote area outside of Hollister.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the four largest temblors struck late last night and early this morning and ranged from magnitude-3.5 to magnitude-3.8.

They were all centered near the city of Tres Pinos, about ten miles south of Hollister and 50 miles south of San Jose.

Another magnitude 3.0 was recorded at 6:46 this morning.

Better Earth

Sea otter diets affect disease exposure

Davis, California - The U.S. Geological Survey says central California sea otters risk higher exposure to disease-causing parasites due to the food they eat and where they feed.

Researchers said sea otters that eat small marine snails are at a higher risk of exposure to Toxoplasma gondii, a potentially deadly protozoal pathogen, than animals that feed exclusively on other prey. Sea otters living along the coast near San Simeon and Cambria are more at risk than sea otters outside that area.

"Recovery of the sea otter in California has been especially sluggish at the center portion of its range, where sea otter densities are highest and where most of the reproduction occurs," said Tim Tinker, co-leader of the study led by the USGS and the University of California-Davis. "Where food resources are limited, individual sea otters tend to become diet specialists, and the specific skills used to secure food are passed on from mother to pup."

Bizarro Earth

Australia state declares massive monsoon disaster

Australia's tropical Queensland state on Thursday declared a flood disaster over an area the size of France and Germany after recent monsoon storms.

Thirty Queensland communities covering 969,000 square km (374,000 sq miles) were declared disaster zones by the state's emergency services minister, Neil Roberts, including many outback and rural communities.

Queensland residents affected by storms would be able to apply for government assistance payments if they were "unable to recover via their own means", Roberts said.

Satellite

Satellites may be used to find water in drought-ravaged Africa

Image
© ESA
An ESA Envisat image of Lake Chad, a freshwater lake located in central Africa
High flying satellites, which have already proven their mettle in delivering television programs, cell phone calls and views of our neighborhoods (thank you, Google Earth), can also locate potable water in countries such as Niger where droughts have made it scarce, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced this week.

The agency said satellites had successfully pinpointed 90 locations in western Niger where, based on satellite images taken between 1993 and 2007, drinkable surface water was likely to be; the Regional Center of the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control (AGRHYMET) confirmed the satellites were right in all cases. AGRHYMET is a Niger-based agency formed in 1974 to gather information about food availability and the management of water and other natural resources in the Sahel, the region in Western Africa that forms the border between the Sahara desert to the north and the less arid forests to the south.

Black Cat

Scotland: Cheetah-like big cat spotted by commuter

A North-East commuter claims he spotted a cheetah-like big cat on his way home last night.

Steven Mathieson spotted the creature near New Byth in Aberdeenshire as he drove from Aberdeen to Macduff.

The financial adviser said he could not believe his eyes when his headlights picked out the animal's eyes in a field at the edge of the road at about 8.30pm.

"I can't believe I saw it," he said. "I drive along that road every day and I've never seen anything like that, although I'm usually a bit earlier.

Frog

Appetite for frogs' legs harming wild populations

frog legs
© Andrew McConnell/Robert Harding Picture Library Ltd/Alamy
Gastronomic demand may be depleting regional populations of many frogs to the point of no return.

Are frogs being eaten to extinction? We're used to hearing about how disease, climate change, and habitat degradation are endangering amphibians, but conservationists are warning that frogs could be going the same way as the cod. Gastronomic demand, they report, is depleting regional populations to the point of no return.

David Bickford of the National University of Singapore and colleagues have called for more regulation and monitoring in the global frog meat market in order to avoid species being "eaten to extinction".

Statistics on imports and exports of frog legs are sparse as few countries keep track of the amount of meat harvested and consumed domestically.

According to UN figures, global trade has increased in the past 20 years. France - not surprisingly - and the US are the two largest importers; with France importing between 2500 and 4000 tonnes of frog meat each year since 1995.

Fish

Sex Smell Lures 'Vampire' To Doom

Vampire Fish
© Gary Maszaros
The sea lamprey's mouth has garnered it the nickname "vampire fish."
A synthetic "chemical sex smell" could help rid North America's Great Lakes of a devastating pest, scientists say.

US researchers deployed a laboratory version of a male sea lamprey pheromone to trick ovulating females into swimming upstream into traps.

The sea lamprey, sometimes dubbed the "vampire fish", has parasitised native species of the Great Lakes since its accidental introduction in the 1800s.

The work is reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Great Lakes on the US-Canada border support recreational fishing worth billions of dollars a year, which the lampreys would wreck but for a control programme costing about £20m annually.

This is thought to be the first time that pheromones have been shown to be the basis of a possible way of controlling animal pests other than insects.

Better Earth

New Ice Age Maps Point to Climate Change Patterns

Ice Age Map
© Dr Timothy Barrows/Elsevier
New Ice Age maps point to climate change patterns.
New climate maps of the Earth's surface during the height of the last Ice Age support predictions that northern Australia will become wetter and southern Australia drier due to climate change.

An international consortium of scientists from 11 countries has produced the maps, which appear in this week's issue of Nature Geoscience.

Dr Timothy Barrows of the Research School of Earth Sciences at The Australian National University was responsible for the Australian sector of the reconstruction.

"During the last Ice Age - around 20,000 years ago - sea surface temperature was as much as 10 degrees colder than present and icebergs would have been regular visitors to the southern coastline of Australia," Dr Barrows said.

The temperature was estimated by measuring changes in abundance of tiny plankton fossils preserved on the sea floor, together with chemical analyses of the sediment itself.

Bizarro Earth

GM damages environment but not pests, says study

Scientists were yesterday embroiled in an international row over genetically modified cotton after a study in China suggested for the first time that the crop was permanently damaging the environment and that insects were building up resistance to it.

The study by the Nanjing institute of environmental sciences, part of the Chinese government's environmental protection administration, draws together laboratory and field work undertaken by four scientific institutions in China over several years.

It suggests that GM cotton, which incorporates a gene isolated from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), harms the natural parasitic enemies of the cotton bollworm, the pest that it is designed to control. It also indicates that populations of pests other than cotton bollworm had increased in Bt cotton fields and some had replaced it as primary pests.