Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jun 11

27 Jul (Wed): Discussion on "The Seacil Artificial Reef" hosted by the Nature Society (Singapore) from wild shores of singapore

29 Jun (Wed): "Singapore's sea anemone diversity" by Dr Daphne Fautin from wild shores of singapore

Hot on a Snail Trail
from Pulau Hantu and Blog Log: 26 June, 2011

12 and 13 Jul (Tue and Wed): FREE screening of “The Cove”
from wild shores of singapore

Job Opportunity: Research Assistant (1 Position)
from Raffles Museum News

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Unique carnivores of Borneo

Muguntan Vanar The Star 27 Jun 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Twenty-four carnivore species are unique to the Borneo island, international conservation experts gathered here confirmed.

They have also got a better understanding of the carnivores found in the world's third biggest island and have taken moves to classify some of these carnivores as “critically endangered” species.

This came about at the three-day brainstorming session of the first Borneo Carnivore Symposium that ended here on Saturday.

Almost 200 delegates from 15 countries presented and discussed the diverse range of carnivore species on the island, which included cats such as the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), civets such as the Malay civet (Viverra tangalunga), known locally as tangalunga, Sunda stink badger (Mydaus javanensis), also referred to as the Malay badger or teledu, and the playful otters.

The findings at the symposium will determine priorities for Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, the countries sharing Borneo island, to take steps to preserve the carnivores, many of which are rare and some thought to be extinct only until a few years ago.

“Coming together of scientists, conservationists and government agencies is the first step towards efforts to ensure the survival of all our carnivores,” said Sabah Wildlife Department director Dr Laurentius Ambu.

“One of our goals was to establish a knowledge base for the priority areas and threats faced by these unique carnivore species,” said Dr Laurentius, the organising chairman of the symposium.

He said like other species of wildlife, the carnivores need adequate and different types of forests to support the wildlife and plant life diversity.

“If developed for other uses, such as cultivation of oil palm, it has to be with proper landscape planning to ensure the species' survival,” Dr Laurentius added.

According to Dr William Duckworth, director of the Small Carnivore Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC), the symposium will be used to upgrade some of the carnivores on the IUCN/SSC red list of threatened species.

He added that one of the species to be upgraded is the Borneo ferret badger (Melogale everetti) that is found in Sabah's Crocker Range highlands.

“We really do not know much about the Borneo ferret badger, even about its habitat.

“All confirmed records only come from the high elevation areas of Sabah's Crocker Range and the Kinabalu National Parks,” he said.

Other carnivore species, including the elusive Borneo bay cat (Catopumabadia) were recorded in Kuching and the Baram region of Sarawak, while the recently rediscovered hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana) and otter civet (Cynogale bennettii) would also be listed.

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The Istana is not just a green park

Lim Jing Jing Today Online 28 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE - It was once a nutmeg plantation. Today, it is the Istana, the official residence of the President of Singapore.

At 43 hectares, about the size of 53 football fields, it is home to more than 10,000 trees, which in turn house a variety of wildlife.

The trees were here more than a century ago, long before any of the dense concrete jungle of shopping malls were built along Singapore's Orchard Road.

The yellow flame trees lining the path leading to the Istana quietly greeted countless state visitors which included foreign dignitaries, statesmen and royalties.

Today, other than functioning as the green lungs of urban Singapore, the trees of Istana have become a science lab for the National Parks Board's (NParks) study of wildlife in Singapore.

"One good reason why we do it in the Istana is because it's serene and well-protected, so we can do our work quietly," NParks chief executive officer Poon Hong Yuen said.

"Key figures, like Mr Lee Kuan Yew, have (also) been very encouraging of NParks doing new things in the Istana because these are the things he also enjoys very much."

As a result, NParks introduced a pair of oriental pied hornbills in 2008 to the gardens to understand their nesting and feeding habits. Today, the Istana gardens is home to eight of these birds.

The NParks says there are about 150 varieties of trees in the gardens of Istana.

Over 70 of them are featured in the new book, Trees of the Istana, which was launched yesterday by President S R Nathan.

The book took three years to write and was first mooted by President Nathan.

The release of the book this year coincides with the United Nations' International Year of Forests.

Leaf through book on Istana's trees
New tome showcases 70 tree species found at President's residence
Royston Sim Straits Times 28 Jun 11;

THE oldest tree on the Istana grounds is a 150-year-old tembusu standing near the Sri Temasek bungalow, where Cabinet ministers have their meetings. And the one with the widest girth is a kapok tree near the main gate, which measures 7m around its trunk.

These are two of the 70 tree species detailed in a book called Trees Of The Istana, launched yesterday by the National Parks Board (NParks).

Besides showcasing the greenery and wildlife at the official residence of the President of Singapore, the hardcover book also covers the planting and landscaping activities of the 41ha grounds from past to present.

The idea for the book came from President S R Nathan in 2008; it is the third in a series of books on the Istana, after Gardens Of The Istana and Birds Seen At The Istana.

NParks' director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah, who co-authored the book, said: 'There are many beautiful and majestic trees here, and not many Singaporeans know about them. We hope they can find out more through this book.'

The other authors are Istana curator Koh Soon Kiong, Dr Duncan Sutherland and Ms Aileen T. Lau, founder of Suntree Media, which publishes the book.

The Istana grounds, formerly a failing nutmeg plantation owned by merchant Charles R. Prinsep until it was acquired in 1867, are tended to by 13 full-time staff, aided by contractors.

In a nod to history, NParks staff have planted eight nutmeg trees on the grounds; one has produced fruit with twin seeds instead of a single seed.

NParks chief executive Poon Hong Yuen said the agency uses the Istana as a 'laboratory', a place to plant new trees, introduce wildlife and see whether they can adapt to the environment.

Trees Of The Istana costs $48 and hits major bookstores and the Singapore Botanic Gardens' Garden Shop today; the Istana will also stock the book on open-house days.


13 full-time National Parks Board staff tending to the Istana grounds

20 species of fruit trees, including banana, chiku, jackfruit and durian

150 species of trees in all in the Istana grounds

400 fruit trees

10,000 trees in total

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Singapore: $400m for research to make life in city better

Cheryl Ong Straits Times 28 Jun 11;

SCIENTISTS or commercial companies with good ideas on efficient energy use, making buildings more eco-friendly, or safeguarding Singapore's food supply can now tap into a fund for research into these areas.

A $400 million kitty has been set aside for this.

Announcing this yesterday, Minister of State for National Development, Brigadier-General (NS) Tan Chuan-Jin, said: 'Which other city-states would feel the pressures of urbanisation more keenly than us? I think Singapore has to blaze this trail to find our own innovative solutions.'

He was speaking at the inaugural Urban Sustainability R&D Congress at the Biopolis.

Three-quarters of the fund - $300 million - will be for research into energy-related issues.

This 'Energy Resilience for Sustainable Growth' fund, to come from the $1 billion earmarked by the National Research Foundation (NRF) last year, will pay for studies into affordable alternatives to fossil fuels or those that find ways to use fuels more efficiently.

Of the remaining $100 million, half will come from the NRF for studies into protecting Singapore's food supply and raising the nation's food output. Applications for this have been received and are being evaluated, said a spokesman.

The remaining $50 million will come from the Ministry of National Development (MND) Research Fund for the Built Environment.

This money will pay for research into areas such as constructing buildings that use less electricity, improving transport systems, and protecting the environment.

A spokesman for MND said it is drafting the call for proposals.

At the congress yesterday, BG Tan also handed out the inaugural Minister for National Development's R&D Awards to three statutory boards that showed creativity in incorporating urban sustainability in their projects.

The Housing Board's Treelodge @ Punggol and the Building & Construction Authority's Zero Energy Building were given Distinguished Awards, while the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority's Vertical Farming project in Sembawang won a merit prize.

Research companies and institutes hailed the availability of these funds for research.

Dr Raj Thampuran, the executive director of the Science & Engineering Research Council of A*Star, said: 'Research allows us to be fast adopters, quick followers, innovators and enables to us gain the knowledge to shape solutions to our needs.'

Hitachi Asia's Research and Development Centre general manager Nobutoshi Sagawa said the money will stimulate positive growth in the sector, while Ms Lily Toh, managing director of local green-tech firm Winrigo, said the money is a godsend for small outfits like hers.

'It's quite difficult to get funding for research because many grants look at a company's turnover, favouring big companies over small- and medium-sized ones like ours, so I support this new funding as it will help SMEs and benefit the community and consumers,' she said.

The congress, which brought together people from the public sector, industry and researchers to discuss issues facing cities like Singapore, ends today.

Government to commit S$400m on urban sustainability R&D
Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: The government will commit S$400 million to spearhead research and development (R&D) in urban sustainability.

This was announced at the first ever Urban Sustainability Research and Development Congress on Monday morning.

The congress will see some 800 participants from government agencies, research institutes and the private sector discuss R&D responses to urban sustainability challenges.

The congress will bring together 12 government agencies, which will discuss R&D priorities in five key areas including Sustainable Urban Living, and Urban Ecology and Food.

Opening the congress, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower, Tan Chuan-Jin, said one of the key challenges facing Singapore is creating sustainable urban living given our space constraints.

"Every year, we have many young Singaporeans coming out into the workhouse, setting up families and we need to house them. And we need to find a creative way to organize ourselves from an infrastructural perspective. But I think it's not just the building space, it's really about the living space - how do you integrate everything together."

Participants will also collaborate on projects in "living labs" such as Punggol Eco-Town, CleanTech Park, Jurong Lake District and Marina Bay.

Each living lab will present different opportunities. Punggol is a residential test-bed, Clean Tech Park is an industrial testbed while Marina Bay and Jurong Lake District will present opportunities for test-bedding in a mixed use setting.

Brig-Gen (NS) Tan added that S$300 million will go towards driving Energy Resilience for Sustainable Growth.

The aim is to develop cost-competitive energy solutions for deployment within 20 years so that Singapore can improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and increase its energy options.

To address urban sustainability challenges, the Ministry of National Development (MND) will do a S$50 million top up to its research fund, while the National Research Foundation (NRF) will earmark S$50 million to develop food supply resilience and sustainability.

The NRF has set aside this sum under its Competitive Research Programme Call on "Meeting Future Food Demands for Singapore." Proposals are currently under evaluation. This will complement MND's S$10 million Food Fund to enhance food supply resilience.

Brig-Gen (NS) Tan also presented the Minister for National Development R&D awards to recognise and support technological innovations.

The Housing and Development Board's Treelodge@Punggol and BCA's Zero Energy Building received the Distinguished Award while the Vertical Farming prject by the Agri-Food and Vetrinary Authority won the Merit Award.

- CNA/fa
S$400m boost for urban sustainability
Vimita Mohandas Today Online 28 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE - In the search for urban sustainability here, energy resilience looks set to be the key focus.

Of the S$400 million the Government has committed to spearhead research and development for a sustainable Singapore, three-quarters of the amount will go towards energy solutions that can be deployed within 20 years.

The announcement yesterday at the inaugural Urban Sustainability R&D Congress highlighted five priority areas of sustainable urban living, urban mobility, green building, urban ecology and food.

Already, projects could soon be underway to meet Singapore's future food demands, with proposals now under evaluation by the National Research Foundation under a S$50-million programme set aside for this.

Another S$50 million will come from the National Development Ministry, which is doubling its research fund to cover other aspects of urban sustainability for the nearer term.

But long-term cost competitive energy solutions that can improve efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and increase energy options will get the most resources.

And yesterday's R&D congress kicks off a new platform for government, research institutes and the private sector to discuss which R&D responses can best overcome Singapore's urban sustainability challenges.

Some 800 participants, including from 12 government agencies, participated yesterday.

Opening the congress, Minister of State (National Development) Tan Chuan-Jin said space constraint was another key challenge.

"Every year, we have many young Singaporeans going into the workforce, setting up families. We need to house them and we need to find a creative way to organise ourselves from an infrastructural perspective," he told reporters.

"But it's not just the building space, it's really about the living space - how do you integrate everything together."

The set-up of the congress will allow for collaboration on some specific projects, such as Punggol Eco-Town, CleanTech Park, Jurong Lake District and Marina Bay.

These "living labs" present different opportunities: Punggol is a residential test-bed, CleanTech Park is an industrial test-bed, while Marina Bay and Jurong Lake District are mixed-use settings.

And as these sites undergo development, the Government wants companies and researchers to focus on applying cutting-edge technologies that can come onstream in the near term.

"The next chapter of the Singapore Story must be about us confronting these challenges with the same human ingenuity as we did before," said Brigadier-General (NS) Tan.

"Because there are few city states in the world that will feel the pressures of urbanisation more keenly than us, Singapore cannot rely on ready solutions from others and must lead the way to find innovative solutions."

To recognise and support such efforts, he presented the Minister for National Development R&D awards yesterday for three technological innovations.

The Housing and Development Board's Treelodge@Punggol and the Building and Construction Authority's Zero Energy Building received the Distinguished Award, while the Vertical Farming project by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority won the Merit Award.

Looking to live smaller, closer
Esther Ng Today Online 28 Jun 11;

Big, sprawling cities such as Tokyo and Mexico City will be a thing of the past, some experts said yesterday at the inaugural Urban Sustainability R&D Congress here.

Living smaller and closer are the keys to sustainability, they said, because shrinking the distance between people and their destinations would reduce energy use, carbon emission and waste.

But what population density before a city becomes unliveable? For instance, Singapore's density is now 95 people per hectare, while Hong Kong's is 400.

"It's possible to increase that density but that's a political question," said Curtin University of Technology's Professor of Sustainability Peter Newman.

"It boils down to whether people want that density to increase or not."

While higher population density is usually seen as a threat, he said this need not always be so: "Density enables us to multiply sustainability and take advantage of better waste management, better transport links and local services."

Santa Fe Institute's Distinguished Professor Geoffrey West added that spreading out a city makes its population more "car-attendant", while spending more than two hours commuting is "intolerable".

He referred to the "Marchetti Wall" - the growing realisation that people do not like to spend more than one hour each day travelling to work.

"That's why we're not going to see any more Tokyos or Mexico City," said Prof Newman.

While Singapore has made progress in urban sustainability, the experts felt that the Republic needs to think beyond its shores.

"The urban transformation, the policies are just so Singapore-centric - there ought to be five to 10 per cent value-added to it." said Prof West.

"Singapore needs to take a leadership in big thinking, in influencing business, in culture and science and with that, it can be a truly great city like Venice, London or New York." ESTHER NG

$400m boost for R&D in urban sustainability
Awards were also given out to three MND statutory boards
Mindy Tan Business Times 28 Jun 11;

THE government will commit $400 million to spearhead research and development in urban sustainability, said the Ministry of National Development (MND) at yesterday's inaugural Urban Sustainability Research and Development Congress.

Of this, $300 million will be set aside for the first National Innovation Challenge, on building 'Energy Resilience for Sustainable Growth'.

The aim is to drive energy resilience and specifically develop cost-competitive energy solutions for deployment within 20 years, thus allowing Singapore to improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and increase energy options.

In addition, MND will be topping up the MND Research Fund with an additional $50 million, bringing their total commitment to- date to $100 million.

The fund will support research that covers other aspects of urban sustainability beyond energy.

Finally, the National Research Foundation will set aside $50 million under its Competitive Research Programme Call on 'Meeting Future Food Demands for Singapore'.

Proposals are currently under evaluation, and are expected to contribute to the sustainability of Singapore's future food supply. This will complement MND's current $10 million Food Fund to enhance food supply resilience.

Guest of Honour, Brigadier-General (NS) Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower, said: 'Like many other cities in the world, we will need to grapple with fresh challenges, from climate change, competition for resources, and opportunities from mega cities, changing demographics, and growing demands on urban services . . . I think Singapore has to blaze this trail to find our own innovative solutions.'

Mr Tan also presented the Minister for National Development's R&D Awards to three MND statutory boards to recognise and support technological innovations.

The Building and Construction Authority's Zero Energy Building (ZEB) and the Housing & Development Board's Treelodge@ Punggol were the Distinguished Award winners.

The Vertical Farming project by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority won the Merit Award.

ZEB, a test-bed for clean energy technologies, is the first building in South-east Asia to be fully retrofitted with green building technologies. It achieved zero net consumption in its first year.

The biennial Urban Sustainability R&D Congress brings together government agencies, research institutes, and private sector companies to discuss R&D in national urban sustainability issues and collaborate on projects in 'living labs', such as Punggol Eco-town, CleanTech Park, Jurong Lake District, and Marina Bay. The two-day event, which hosted 800 participants, ends today.

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Malaysia: Can't count on bounty of the sea

New Straits Times 28 Jun 11;

THE national love for fish is demonstrated daily by the kind of crowds we produce at wet markets and in the evenings, at the overflowing seafood outlets.

It is time, however, to consider some hard facts: 1.43 million tonnes of fish catches last year, not including squids, prawns and oysters, are not enough to feed a population of 28.5 million.

Among the first few to raise the alarm are the World Wide Fund for Nature and Malaysian Nature Society. In an exercise completed in May last year, they listed 17 species on the watch-out list, those facing depletion, including our beloved grouper (kerapu) and pomfret (bawal).

The New Straits Times did a survey of retail outlets to see if Malaysians are heeding such pleas for restraint.

No luck there.

At the Pasir Penambang market in Kuala Selangor -- where Kuala Lumpur buyers snap up fresh seafood -- buyers and sellers shared their love for grouper and pomfret. But the supply of senangin, white pomfret, and mackerel (tenggiri) there has been on the low side.

Understandably, researchers, sellers, enforcement people and fishing boat owners are alarmed by dwindling catches.

Forty years ago, Kuala Selangor traditional fisherman Chan Chong Ying, 61, used to catch 20kg of fish worth RM3,000 from a day out at sea.

"It is difficult to land 2kg of fish now," said Chan, who with some exaggeration, announced his retirement. "My boat is now at the jetty -- permanently."

The owner of Joo Lian Fisheries, Lim Ah Lam, 69, recalls the time his business was at its peak when he had boxes stacked up until the entrance.

"These days, we are down to two boxes in a day."

On the ground, coastal fishermen are pointing fingers at deep-sea fishermen, including foreign crews, monopolising the area of catch until the exclusive economic zone -- 200 nautical miles from the shore.

Daud Husin, 47, a coastal fisherman, said deep-sea vessels, equipped with trawl nets, have destroyed their fishing gear and damaged the seabed.

The real "villains" in the piece are the Vietnamese vessels and crew.

These are boats owned by local operators who retain the original Vietnamese crews. The authorities recently probed their activities.

Kota Kinabalu Fishermen's Association general manager, Hassim Kassim, said these Vietnamese vessels did not unload and declare their catches at the jetties.

There have also been recent reports of fishing groups going on strike in Kuantan, Hutan Melintang and the coastal parts of Sarawak.

These were sparked by the reduction of their super diesel subsidies.

Previously, the price of super diesel was set at RM1.25 per litre for vessels from all zones but it has since risen to RM1.80.

The Department of Fisheries said deep-sea vessels were making a pile from selling subsidised diesel to "third parties".

The subsequent crackdown on them brought about strikes by fishermen, resulting in a pattern of reduced catches.

Away from the din at the jetties, industry scientists and researchers are equally troubled.

Associate Professor Dr Kusairi Mohd Noh, senior fellow at Institute of Agricultural and Food Policy Studies at Universiti Putra Malaysia, is arguing for a more efficient stock-management policy.

"In a blink, fishing spots can be wiped out."

Overfishing, illegal trade activities, trawling, rising costs and habitat disruption are blamed for the depletion in fish stock.

To avert a crisis, the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry has issued more permits to import fish from Thailand.

Thailand is the second biggest exporter of fish to Malaysia after China, the source of frozen fillets, mackerel, sardines, shrimps, prawns, cuttlefish and squids.

Imports are one alternative to depletion, but what about the future?

Director-general of fisheries Datuk Ahamad Sabki Mahmood said there was a need to invest in conservation, which must be in proportion with the public consumption and harvest rate.

With this, the Department of Fisheries is seeking RM25 million to deploy 50 artificial reefs.

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A case for shark conservation through ecotourism

Conservation dollars and sense
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science EurekAlert 27 Jun 11;

MIAMI – Shark populations over the last 50 years have decreased dramatically. From habitat degradation to overfishing and finning, human activities have affected their populations and made certain species all but disappear.

A new article in Current Issues in Tourism by Austin J. Gallagher and Dr. Neil Hammerschlag of the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami study the impact of these apex predators on coastal economies and the importance of including conservation efforts in long term management plans.

The team collected data from a total of 376 shark ecotour operations across 83 locations and 8 geographic regions. Oceania, The Greater Caribbean and North America ranked at the top for highest proportion of different locations offering shark tour services, and the Bahamas alone contained over 70% of all shark ecotourism in the Greater Caribbean and generated over $78 million in revenue in 2007. The Maldives saw similar numbers, and in 2010 banned shark fishing due to shark-based ecotourism contributing and estimated >30% towards their GDP.

"We know that for many countries, sharks are an important piece of the economy -- in this study we wanted to examine their value as a recreational resource in a new and refreshing way by taking a global perspective," said Gallagher.

"It makes total economic sense for us to protect these resources, whether you are in charge of a coral atoll somewhere in Indonesia or working off the coast of New England—if the sharks can remain, the divers will follow and livelihoods can flourish."

According to the study, a single reef shark could be valued at $73 a day alive, as opposed to the one-time value of a set of shark fins used for shark fin soup at $50. Over the course of that same shark's life, it could be worth more than $200,000 using a conservative 15-year life cycle. The study also documented trends by species, and found that reef sharks and whale sharks are among the most well-represented in the ecotourism industry.

"Our study clearly shows that, economically speaking, sharks are worth more alive than dead; however, sharks are also ecologically important, helping maintain the balance and health of our oceans," says Hammerschlag.

Sharks reproduce very slowly, so even modest amounts of fishing can negatively impact local populations. But with appropriate conservation policies, sharks can begin their recovery, a road that could be both enjoyable and profitable through ecotourism.

"After the 1975 release of the movie JAWS, the general public felt that 'the only good shark was a dead shark,' however in the thirty years that have followed, this mentality has changed. A growing number of people are turning their fear into fascination and want to continue to see sharks in the wild," said Hammerschlag.

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Gene machines may help save endangered Tasmanian devil

Julie Steenhuysen Reuters Yahoo News 28 Jun 11;

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Scientists are using high-tech gene sequencing machines in a desperate attempt to save the Tasmanian devil from an infectious cancer called devil facial tumor disease that is threatening to wipe out the species.

"The disease is like nothing we know in humans or in virtually any other animal. It acts like a virus but it actually is spread by a whole cancerous cell that arose in one individual several decades ago," Penn State University's Stephan Schuster, who is working on the project, said in a statement.

The cancer, first observed just 15 years ago, is quickly spreading among populations of the already endangered Tasmanian devil, the world's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial that lives on the Australian island state of Tasmania.

Devil facial tumor disease disfigures the victim and causes death from starvation or suffocation.

"It has 90 to 100 percent lethality in a few months. In many regions of Tasmania, it is completely lethal," said Schuster, who worked on the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Conservation experts have been isolating and breeding a population of healthy animals and plan to release them in the wild once the cancer runs its course.

To help select the best animals for the effort, a team led by Schuster and Webb Miller of Penn State and Vanessa Hayes of the Venter Institute in San Diego sequenced two Tasmanian devils, Cedric and Spirit, from the extreme northwest and southeast regions of Tasmania, respectively, to determine the genetic diversity of the animals.


Then they compared the range of genetic diversity to that of humans, the most studied species on the planet.

"In the case of the Tasmanian devil, those two only have 20 percent of the genetic diversity that living humans have," Schuster said in a telephone interview.

The study is one of the first to use whole genome sequencing as a tool to conserve an endangered population, Schuster said.

Whole genome sequencing technology allows researchers to read all the little bits of code -- the A, C, T, G sequences -- that are the building blocks of DNA.

It took 10 years and $3 billion for the international Human Genome Project to get the first draft of the human genome a decade ago.

The scans now cost $10,000 to $20,000 each, but companies such as Illumina, Life Technologies Corp, Pacific Biosciences and Roche Holding are working hard to bring the cost down even more.

Schuster's scan of the two Tasmanian devils showed the population already had low genetic diversity, which likely made them vulnerable to the infectious cancer, which is spread by skin-to-skin contact.

"Transmission is through biting, fighting and mating," he said, and the disease has the potential of "burning through the entire population within a decade."

Using the genetic code from the two animals, the team devised a test that could look for specific genetic differences within the species to find the most genetically diverse animals for the breeding program.

"It costs $150 per animal, whereas the sequence of the complete genome is in the $10,000 range," Schuster said.

The team used a new gene sequencing platform from Roche Holding AG, which helped pay for the research.

Schuster said the findings show that whole genome sequencing can be a useful tool in conservation. He said future studies are planned in cattle and other domestic animals.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Climate change hots up in 2010, the year of extreme weather

Last year was the joint-warmest on record and also the wettest over land, with sea ice levels dropping and drought on the rise
John Vidal 27 Jun 11;

The year 2010 may have been the most extreme in terms of weather since the explosion of Indonesia's Mount Tambora in 1816, when much of the world experienced reduced daylight and no summer, says one of the world's most prominent meteorologists.

A combination of abnormal climatic phenomena resulted in the year being the hottest, wettest, and in many cases also the driest and coldest in recorded history, says Jeff Masters, co-founder of climate tracking website Weather Underground.

According to Masters 2011 is already on track to be exceptional, with a deepening drought in Texas – where 65% of the state is now in "exceptional drought" conditions – and one of the warmest springs experienced in 100 years taking place across much of Europe. It is also the most extreme tornado year recorded in the US, with Arctic sea ice already at its lowest ever for the time of year.

US and UK government scientists declared in January that 2010 had tied with 2005 as the warmest year of the global surface temperature record – the 34th consecutive year with temperatures above the 20th-century average – but, says Masters, new data on other climatic phenomena suggest that extremes were widespread.

Scientists recorded the second-worst year for coral bleaching (caused by raised sea temperatures), the lowest-ever volume of Arctic Sea ice, highly unusual monsoons in China and a series of abnormal storms across the US and elsewhere. Some of the phenomena have been linked to a strong El Niño/La Niña episode, which follows unexplained temperature changes in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. Global tropical cyclone activity, however, was the lowest on record.

According to Masters, 19 countries – covering nearly 20% of the global land area – experienced their hottest recorded years in 2010. "Hot years tend to generate more wet and dry extremes than cold years. This occurs [because] there is more energy available to fuel the evaporation that drives heavy rains and snows, and to make droughts hotter and drier in places storms are avoiding," he says.

"Many of the flood disasters in 2010-11 were undoubtedly heavily influenced by the strong El Niño and La Niña events that occurred, [but] the ever-increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases humans are emitting into the air puts tremendous pressure on the climate system to shift to a new, radically different, warmer state, and the extreme weather of 2010-11 suggests that the transition is already well underway.

"I don't believe that years like 2010 and 2011 will become the 'new normal' in the coming decade. [But] a warmer planet has more energy to power stronger storms, hotter heat waves, more intense droughts, heavier flooding rains, and record glacier melt that will drive accelerating sea-level rise. I expect that by 20-30 years from now, extreme weather years like we witnessed in 2010 will become the new normal," he says.

Climate abnormalities in 1816 caused average global temperatures to decrease by about 0.4-0.7 °C, resulting in major food shortages across the northern hemisphere. It is believed that this was largely caused by a succession of major volcanic eruptions capped off by the Mount Tambora eruption of 1815 – the largest known eruption in over 1,300 years.

2010: a year of extremes

Temperatures in Earth's lower atmosphere tied with the warmest year on record. Unofficially, 19 nations set all-time extreme heat records in 2010.

The atmospheric circulation in the Arctic took on its most extreme configuration in 145 years of record-keeping. Canada had its warmest and driest winter on record, but the US its coldest winter in 25 years. A series of remarkable snowstorms pounded the eastern US with the "Snowmageddon" blizzard dumping more than two feet of snow on Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Sea ice
Arctic Sea ice volume in 2010 was the lowest on record, with 60% missing in September 2010 compared to the average from 1979-2010.

Coral reefs took their second-worst beating on record in 2010, thanks to record or near-record high summer water temperatures over much of the planet's tropical oceans.

Last year set a new record for the wettest term in Earth's recorded history over land areas. The difference in precipitation from the average in 2010 was about 13% higher than that of the previous record wettest year, 1956. The record wetness over land was counterbalanced by relatively dry conditions over the oceans.

The Amazon rainforest experienced its second 100-year drought in five years with the largest northern tributary of the Amazon river – the Rio Negro – dropping to 13 feet (four metres) below its usual dry-season level. This was its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1902.

Cyclones and hurricanes
Each year, the globe has about 92 cyclones – called hurricanes in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific, typhoons in the western Pacific and tropical cyclones in the southern hemisphere. In 2010, we had just 68.

An abnormal summer monsoon helped lead to precipitation 30-80% below normal in northern China and Mongolia, and 30-100% above average across a wide swath of central China. Western China saw summer precipitation of more than double the average.

A scorching heatwave struck Moscow in late June 2010 and steadily increased in intensity through July, as the jet-stream remained "stuck" in an unusual loop that kept cool air and rain-bearing low-pressure systems far north of the country.

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