The continued onslaught by white nose syndrome against North America’s bats is one of the stories of the year—number 13, in fact, on DISCOVER’s Top 100 of 2010. But some help soon could be on the way in the form of Endangered Species Act protection. Earlier this month, a group of conservationists and scientists filed an emergency petition with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to list the little brown bat under the act.
Emergency listing for a species does happen, but not very often, says Ann Froschauer, national white-nose syndrome communications leader for FWS. “Given the urgency of white-nose syndrome and recent information about predicted declines in little brown bat populations, the Service is committed to quickly reviewing scientific information, both published and provided by organizations such as these, in assessing the status of little brown bats and other bat species affected by WNS.” [Scientific American]
Listing the bats as endangered could force government action to protect them, including increased funding and the designation of critical habitat.
The demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago opened the door of opportunity for mammals to take over the Earth—that much is clear. What’s coming into focus, thanks to a study out in Science, is just how fast mammals maxed out their size once the terrible lizards were out of the way.
“For the first 140 million years of our evolutionary history we really did nothing—we were really kind of boring,” Felisa Smith, an associate professor of biology at the University of New Mexico and coauthor of the new study. … But across all of the major continents, during the first 25 million years after the dinosaurs were wiped out, mammals underwent an explosive growth spurt. By 42 million years ago, however, the researchers found, the intense growth had leveled off. [Scientific American]
Smith’s team surveyed fossils from around the world, including 32 different mammalian orders. No matter where they looked, she says, they saw the same pattern. Mammals that survived the extinction event were small, mostly rodent-sized. Then all over the planet they exploded in size during that period of 20 to 25 million years.
Sunday marked the opening of the worldwide tiger summit, which brought together high-level representatives from the 13 tiger-habitat countries, including Russia and China, to discuss the best plan to save the tigers. The meeting goes through Wednesday.
Only about 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, and without help experts say populations will start to go extinct in less than 20 years.
“Here’s a species that’s literally on the brink of extinction,” said Jim Leape, director general of conservation group WWF. “This is the first time that world leaders have come together to focus on saving a single species, and this is a unique opportunity to mobilise the political will that’s required in saving the tiger.” [BBC News]
The working plan includes provisions to decrease poaching and smuggling of the tigers and calls for more protected habitats. Researchers say that if tigers are left alone and provided with enough habitat and prey, the population could double in 12 years.
We know things are bad for biodiversity. But just how bad across the board? The scientists at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as they will from time to time, just updated their Red List—an accounting of how much trouble vertebrate species face. According to them, one in five around the world is threatened, and the numbers are worse for groups like sharks and amphibians.
The survey results, which are coming out in the journal Science, are based on research conducted in nearly 40 countries. The 174 scientists studied about 25,000 species to estimate the condition of the approximately 56,000 species on the Red List. From IUCN’s release:
“The ‘backbone’ of biodiversity is being eroded,”says the emminent American ecologist and writer Professor Edward O. Wilson, at Harvard University. “One small step up the Red List is one giant leap forward towards extinction. This is just a small window on the global losses currently taking place.”
The bones of dinosaurs have told countless tales about their origins and behaviour, but dinosaurs left behind more than just their skeletons. As they walked about, they made tracks, and some of these also fossilised over time. They too are very informative and a new set, made by some of the dinosaurs’ closest relatives, reveals how these ruling reptiles rose to power at a leisurely pace.
Dinosaurs evolved during the Triassic period from among a broader group called the dinosauromorphs. These include all dinosaurs as well as their closest relatives, species like Lagerpeton and Lagosuchus that only just miss out on membership in the dinosaur club. Fossils of these latter animals are extremely rare and only ten or so species are well documented. Their tracks, on the other hand, are more common.
Indeed [their footprints] suggest that the dinosauromorphs evolved in a geological heartbeat after the greatest mass extinction of all time, a cataclysmic event “when life nearly died”.
For more about the footprints, and how they might push back the date of these dinosauromorphs back to 250 million years ago, check out the rest of the post at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Walking with dinosaur ancestors – footprints put dinosaur-like beasts at scene of life’s great comeback
80beats: How Tyrannosaurs Grew from Tiny “Jackals” to Ferocious Giants
80beats: Apparent Discovery of Dino Blood May Finally Prove the Tissue Preserves
Image: American Museum of Natural History
When it comes to explaining why the woolly mammoths died out, “death from above” could be down for the count.
Nearly 13,000 years ago, North American megafauna like the mammoths and giant sloths—and even human groups like the people of the Clovis culture—disappeared as the climate entered a cold snap. As DISCOVER has noted before, there’s been a controversial hypothesis bubbling up saying that a comet impact caused it all, but other scientists have been shooting holes in that idea of the last couple years. In a study in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team led by Tyrone Daulton pooh-poohs what may be the last major evidence that supports the impact idea.
That evidence takes the shape of nano-diamonds in ancient sediment layers, a material said to form during impacts only.
During the Pleistocene epoch animals thought big: It was the age of the megafauna, when creatures like the mammoth, an 8-foot-long beaver, and a hippopotamus-sized wombat walked the Earth. But these giants vanished one by one, and scientists have long wondered why.
Debate over what caused the megafauna to die out has raged for 150 years, since Darwin first spotted the remains of giant ground sloths in Chile. Possible causes have ranged from human influence to climate change in the past, even to a cataclysmic meteor strike. [BBC]
Now, a discovery on the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu seems to have answered the question for at least one species. Researchers have turned up the bones of a giant land turtle in a dump used by the people who settled on the islands 3,000 years ago, and lead researcher Trevor Worthy says the evidence strongly suggests that the turtles were hunted into extinction.
In 18 countries around the world, biologists are setting out what may be fruitless quests. Conservation International is sponsoring expeditions to seek 40 amphibian species that haven’t been spotted for over a decade, and that may well be extinct. The group hopes its “Search for Lost Frogs” project will draw attention to the plight of amphibians, which are threatened by fungal diseases, toxic chemicals, habitat loss, and climate change–some researchers even say the global population decline is a sign that the world’s sixth mass extinction event is underway.
Dr Robin Moore, of Conservation International, a US-based charity, said: “This role as the global ‘canary in a coalmine’ means that the rapid and profound change to the global environment that has taken place over the last 50 years or so – in particular climate change and habitat loss – has had a devastating impact on these incredible creatures.” [The Guardian]
Still, the biologists hope they’ll find that some of these 40 species are still hanging on. “Although there is no guarantee of success,” Conservation International said in a press release, “scientists are optimistic about the prospect of at least one rediscovery.”
The group also compiled a list of the 10 “most wanted” species. Photo gallery after the jump.
Five years ago, there were six and a half million little brown bats in the Northeastern United States. In 2020, there may be next to none.
This week in Science, a study models the collapse in bat populations brought on by white-nose syndrome, which was first found in 2006 and is seemingly caused by a nasty fungus. Researchers think that bats with the affliction awaken too early from hibernation, messing up their natural cycles and draining their reserves of energy. A team led by Winifred Frick checked the math on bat population decline and found that they could be locally extinct in many parts of the United States by 2020.
The loss of all these bats would be bad for us, not just them, because they like to dine on pesky insects. So far, researchers have little idea how to cure diseased bats or stop the blight from spreading. The U.S. Forest Service last month proposed to close off abandoned mines in several states, hoping to protect the bats who live in them from the disease. For more about the bats, check out Ed Yong’s Not Exactly Rocket Science.
80beats: Frog Species Are Hopping Into Extinction Before They’re Even Discovered
80beats: Bats Are Dying from White Nose Mold, But Researchers Aren’t Sure Why
80beats: With Chirps and Trills, Bats Sing Love’s Sweet Song
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Pocket Science – lessons from spongy genomes, and a deadly bat-killing disease
Image: Al Hicks, NY DEC
Andrew Crawford and his colleagues discovered 11 new species of amphibians in Panama. But they wish it hadn’t happened this way.
The team just completed a long-term study of amphibians in Panama’s Omar Torrijos National Park, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showing the startling disappearance of species there. Co-author Karen Lips began the study back before the disease chytridiomycosis, which is caused by a fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and has devastated amphibian populations, reached that place and began to afflict its inhabitants.
The pre-decline surveys identified 63 species of amphibians within just a 1.5-square-mile (4-square-kilometer) area. After 2004, 25 of those species had disappeared from the site. As of 2008, none had reappeared. An additional nine species saw an 85 percent to 99 percent decline in their abundance [MSNBC].