Best of our wild blogs: 17 Aug 11

Hands on with the Green Volunteers
from The Good Paper

The Little King of Camouflage
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Oil-slicked Tanah Merah still alive
from wild shores of singapore and Update on litter and crude oil at Tanah Merah

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Mekong dolphins on brink of extinction - WWF

Reuters AlertNet 17 Aug 11;

TOKYO, Aug 17 (Reuters) - The Irrawaddy dolphin population in the Mekong River numbers roughly 85, with the survival of new calves very low, suggesting they are at high risk of extinction, environmental group WWF said on Wednesday.

The Irrawaddy dolphins live in a 190 km (118 mile) section of the Mekong between Kratie, Cambodia and the Khone Falls, which are on the border with Laos.

Fishing gear, especially gill nets, and illegal fishing methods involving explosions, poison and electricity all appear to be taking a toll, with surveys conducted from 2007 to 2010 showing the dolphin population slowly declining, the WWF added.

"Evidence is strong that very few young animals survive to adulthood, as older dolphins die off and are not replaced," said Li Lifeng, director of WWR's Freshwater Programme, in a statement.

"This tiny population is at risk by its small size alone. With the added pressure of gill net entanglement and high calf mortality, we are really worried for the future of dolphins."

Research also shows that the population of dolphins in a small transboundary pool on the Cambodia-Laos border may be as few as 7 or 8, the WWF added, despite the fact that Irrawaddy dolphins are protected by law in both nations.

The group called on Cambodia to establish a clear legal framework to protect dolphins, including steps such as banning gill nets if needed.

"Our best chance of saving this iconic species from extinction in the Mekong River is through joint conservation action," Li said.

Dolphins once ranged from the Mekong delta in Vietnam up through the Tonle Sap in Cambodia, and then up tributaries into Laos, but shot by soldiers and harvested for oil in the past.

Irrawaddy dolphins are found in coastal areas in South and Southeast Asia, and in three rivers: the Mekong, the Ayeyarwady in Myanmar, and the Mahakam in Indonesian Borneo. (Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Miral Fahmy)

Urgent action needed to avoid extinction of Mekong dolphins
WWF 17 Aug 11;

The critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin population in the Mekong River numbers just 85, WWF research has revealed. Calf survival was found to be very low, leading researchers to conclude that the small population is declining and at high risk of extinction.

Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) inhabit a 190km stretch of the mainstream Mekong River between Kratie, Cambodia and Khone Falls on the border with Lao PDR.

According to Dr Li Lifeng, Director of WWF’s Freshwater Programme, the research is based on photographic identification of dolphins through individually unique features of their dorsal fins. “Most of the dolphins can be identified, and we use that information to estimate the population size.”

Although this population estimate is slightly higher than the previous estimate, the researchers were quick to note that the population had not increased over the last few years.

“With a larger dataset and recent analytical advances, previously unidentifiable dolphins which had few marks on their dorsal fins have been included,” Dr Li said.

However, surveys conducted from 2007 to 2010 show the population slowly declining.

“Evidence is strong that very few young animals survive to adulthood, as older dolphins die off and are not replaced,” Dr Li explained.

The population is ranked as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List​, the highest international threat ranking for endangered species, and Irrawaddy dolphins are fully protected under the highest level of Fishery Law in Cambodia and Lao PDR. Dolphins in the Mekong continue to be threatened by gill net entanglement and the causes of calf mortality remain unclear.

“This tiny population is at high risk by its small size alone. With the added pressures of gill net entanglement and high calf mortality we are really worried for the future of dolphins,” Dr Li said.

The research also indicates that the small population resident in the transboundary pool on the Cambodia – Lao PDR border may number as few as 7-8 individuals. This is the only area in Lao PDR where dolphins remain. WWF is working to coordinate transboundary management with government agencies and local communities in Cambodia and Lao PDR at this most critical dolphin site.

“Our best chance of saving this iconic species from extinction in the Mekong River is through joint conservation action,” Dr Li said. “WWF is committed to working with the Fisheries Administration, the Dolphin Commission, and communities all along the river to reverse the decline and ensure the survival of this beautiful species in the Mekong.”

WWF is asking the government of Cambodia to establish a clear legislative framework to protect dolphins in Cambodia. This should include the designation of dolphin conservation zones and should allow a ban or limit on the use of gillnets where needed. Doing so will require formalizing special legislation to protect dolphins or amendments to existing Fishery Law.

Mekong Dolphin Conservation in Cambodia

WWF is implementing the Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project in collaboration with the Fisheries Administration and the Cambodian Rural Development Team. The project conducts research on the dolphin population and causes of mortality, environmental education, and alternative livelihood development for local communities in dolphin habitat areas.

Each year, the Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project conducts at least two population surveys of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River. The current population estimate is based on 11 surveys from 2007-2010, usually conducted in March to May when dolphins congregate around deep pool areas in the low water.

The Irrawaddy dolphin is regarded as a sacred animal by both Khmer and Lao people, and is an important source of income and jobs for communities involved in dolphin-watching ecotourism initiatives.

Irrawaddy dolphins are found in coastal areas in South and Southeast Asia, and in 3 rivers, the Ayeyarwady (Myanmar), the Mahakam (Indonesian Borneo) and the Mekong. All riverine populations are red-listed by the IUCN as critically endangered, and the species in general is listed as vulnerable.

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Indonesia: Number of hotspots in Kotawaringin Timur up

Antara 16 Jul 11;

Sampit, Central Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - The number of hotspots from forest and plantation fires in Kotawaringin Timur District, Central Kalimantan Province, is increasing.

From August 1 to 15, 2011, a total of 144 hotspots had been detected, Ian Septiawan, the head of the Kotawaringin Timur Nature Resource Conservation Office`s Conservation Section, said here on Tuesday.

Forest and plantation forest fires in Kotawaringin Timur were difficult to control and continued to increase in number, he said.

Some people cleared bushes and forest by setting fire to open new farming area, he said.

Septiawan estimated that the number of hotspots would continue rising if rains did not fall in few days to come.

"Haze coming from forest and plantation fires has covered Sampit City and surrounding areas, and it has disturbed the air and river traffics as well as the local people`s health," he said.

He hoped that the authorities would take legal action to stop the fires.

Harianto, the head of the Haji Asan Sampit airport`s flight security and safety section, said several flight schedules had to be postponed due to haze.

"For the sake of security and safety of passengers, we have to postpone several flight schedules until the runway is clear from haze," he said.

Meanwhile, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) will use cloud-seeding to put out forest fires in four provinces, according to a minister.

"Now the National Agency of Disaster Mitigation (BNPB) is working to tackle hotspots by using cloud-seeding," Environmental Affairs Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta said in Jakarta recently.

During August 2011 alone, some 11,000 hotspots have been detected in Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan, he said.

According to the minister, the government has been committed to cutting the number of hotspots by 20 percent annually through preventive efforts.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Camera-Trap Photos Reveal Secret Lives of Mammals

Jeanna Bryner LiveScience 15 Aug 11;

From a minute mouse to giant anteaters and the enormous elephant, camera-trap photos are revealing the secret lives of mammals, with the first such study documenting 105 species from nearly 52,000 images.

The global camera-trap study confirms that habitat loss and fragmented forests can be detrimental to the survival of mammal populations, the researchers report this week in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The results were unveiled Monday (Aug. 15). [See the camera-trap photos]

"The results of the study are important in that they confirm what we suspected," said study researcher Jorge Ahumada, ecologist with the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM) at Conservation International. "Habitat destruction is slowly but surely killing our planet's mammal diversity."

To gather data, researchers set up a total of 420 cameras, which included 60 camera traps in place for a month at each of seven sites:

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda);
Udzungwa Mountains National Park (Tanzania);
Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (Indonesia);
Nam Kading National Protected Area, in Southeast Asia;
Central Suriname Nature Reserve (Suriname);
Manaus (Brazil);
Volcan Barva Transect (Costa Rica).

The team collected the photos between 2008 and 2010, and thengrouped animals by species, body size, diet and other factors. Compared with smaller, fragmented sites, larger protected areas and continuous forests had: higher species diversity, a greater variety of animal sizes, and a greater variety of diets among those mammals (insectivores, herbivores, carnivores and omnivores).

In addition, the team found that some mammals are more vulnerable to habitat loss than others. For instance, insect-eating mammals such as anteaters, armadillos and some primates seem to be the first to disappear; other groups, such as herbivores, seem to be less sensitive.

The Central Suriname Nature Reserve showed the greatest species diversity, with 28 different mammal species spotted, while the Nam Kading National Protected Area in Laos had the lowest species diversity, with 13 mammal species. Fragmented sites like Nam Kading tended to have one or more functional groups missing; for instance, insectivores, which perform the function of eating insects, were gone from Nam Kading and Bwindi lacked large ungulates.

The camera-trap project is part of the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM), a partnership between Conservation International, The Missouri Botanical Garden, The Smithsonian Institution and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and partially funded by these institutions and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Local partners in the study included: Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia (INPA), Conservation International Suriname, Organization for Tropical Studies, Museo Tridentino di Scienze Naturali, and Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation.

See also
"Secret mammals worldwide caught by camera-traps" slide show on BBC News
"Camera-Trap Pictures: Mammals—And a Poacher—Exposed" on National Geographic News

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Fanged-Frogs: Nine New Species Found

National Geographic News
16 Aug 11;

Boasting "crazy" evolutionary adaptations, a new group of so-called fanged frogs—cousins of this Luzon fanged frog — has been discovered on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, according to biologist Ben Evans.

During a recent expedition, 13 new "fanged" species were seen on Sulawesi for the first time, 9 of them new to science, according to a new study led by Evans, a biologist at McMaster University in Canada.

The "fangs" aren't teeth but bony jaw protrusions—some of which aren't visible past the gumline, said Evans, whose study was published in the August issue of the journal The American Naturalist.

Scientists have yet to discover the fangs' purpose, but one possibility is that the frogs use the spikes to help capture food in fast-moving water. The frogs with the largest fangs seem to prey on fish or tadpoles.

—Rachel Kaufman

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'Fossil eel' squirms into the record books

(AFP) Google News 16 Aug 11;

PARIS — A new species of eel found in the gloom of an undersea cave is a "living fossil" astonishingly similar to the first eels that swam some 200 million years ago, biologists reported on Wednesday.

The strange find was made last year in a 35-metre- (113-feet) deep fringing-reef cave off an island in the Western Pacific state of Palau, they said in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The small brown fish has very few of the anatomical characteristics of modern eels, a vast range whose 819 species are grouped into 19 families.

In contrast, it has many hallmarks of primitive eels which lived in the early Mesozoic era, back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

The similarities include a disproportionately large head, a short compressed body, collar-like openings on the gills, rays on the caudal fin and a jawbone tip called a premaxilla.

The find is so exceptional that the eel not only has been honoured as a separate species, Protoanguilla palau. It also occupies the only niche in a freshly-created taxonomic family, Protoanguillidae.

The name comes from the Greek word "protos," meaning first, and the Latin word for eel, anguilla.

The discovery was made in March last year by a team led by Masaki Miya of the Natural History Museum and Institute in Chiba, Japan.

Using hand nets and lamps, they collected eight specimens, about six to nine centimetres (three to four inches) long, and carried out DNA tests to assess the fish's place in the eel genetic history.

So far, P. palau has only been found in this one location, but it may well have a far wider distribution, according to the study.

The term "living fossil" was coined by Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species.

It is used to describe species that have survived for millions of years, exploiting niches that are so stable that there is little pressure on them to evolve.

New Pacific eel is a 'living fossil', scientists say
BBC News 17 Aug 11;

A newly discovered eel that inhabits an undersea cave in the Pacific Ocean has been dubbed a "living fossil" because of its primitive features.

It is so distinct, scientists created a new taxonomic family to describe its relationship to other eels.

The US-Palauan-Japanese team say the eel's features suggest it has a long and independent evolutionary history stretching back 200m years.

Details appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The animal used as the basis for the new study was an 18cm-long female, collected by one of the researchers during a dive at a 35m-deep cave in the Republic of Palau.

But the scientists also mention other examples of the new eel species in their research paper.

At first there was much discussion among the researchers about the animal's affinities. But genetic analysis confirmed that the fish was a "true" eel - albeit a primitive one.

"In some features it is more primitive than recent eels, and in others, even more primitive than the oldest known fossil eels, suggesting that it represents a 'living fossil' without a known fossil record," write the scientists.

In order to classify the new animal, the researchers had to create a new family, genus and species, bestowing on the animal the latin name Protoanguilla palau.

The team - including Masaki Miya from Chiba's Natural History Museum in Japan, Jiro Sakaue from the Southern Marine Laboratory in Palau and G David Johnson from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC - drew up a family tree of different eels, showing the relationships between them.

This allowed them to estimate when the ancestors of P. palau split away from other types of eel.

Their results suggest this new family has been evolving independently for the last 200m years, placing their origins in the early Mesozoic era, when dinosaurs were beginning their domination of the planet.

The researchers say the Protoanguilla lineage must have once been more widely distributed, because the undersea ridge where its cave home is located is between 60 and 70 million years old.

Most Primitive Living Eel Discovered: Creating a New Species, Genus and Family of Animal
ScienceDaily 17 Aug 11;

Scientists at the Smithsonian and partnering organizations have discovered a remarkably primitive eel in a fringing reef off the coast of the Republic of Palau. This fish exhibits many primitive anatomical features unknown in the other 19 families and more than 800 species of living eels, resulting in its classification as a new species belonging to a new genus and family.

The team's research is published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Aug. 17.

Many of the physical features of this new genus and species of eel, Protoanguilla palau, reflect its relationship to the 19 families of Anguiliformes (true eels) currently living. Other, more primitive physical traits, such as a second upper jaw bone (premaxilla) and fewer than 90 vertebrae, have only been found in fossil forms from the Cretaceous period (140 million to 65 million years ago). Still other traits, such as a full set of bony toothed "rakers," in the gill arches are a common feature in most bony fishes, but lacking in both fossil and living eels. The team's analyses of total mitochondrial DNA indicate that P. palau represents an ancient, independent lineage with an evolutionary history comparable to that of the entire order of living and fossil eel species.

"The equivalent of this primitive eel, in fishes, has perhaps not been seen since the discovery of the coelacanth in the late 1930s," said Dave Johnson, ichthyologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and lead author of the team's research. "We believe that such a long, independent evolutionary history, dating back to the early Mesozoic (about 200 million years ago), retention of several primitive anatomical features and apparently restricted distribution, warrant its recognition as a living fossil."

Anguilliformes, a distinct group of bony fishes, first appeared in the fossil record about 100 million years ago. They eventually lost their pelvic fins, and their dorsal, anal and caudal fins became continuous. Living eels are very diverse and can be found in a large variety of habitats -- from shallow coastal waters to the deep open ocean.

"The discovery of this extraordinary and beautiful new species of eel underscores how much more there is to learn about our planet," Johnson said. "Furthermore, it brings home the critical importance of future conservation efforts -- currently this species is known from only 10 specimens collected from a single cave in Palau."

Journal Reference:

G. D. Johnson, H. Ida, J. Sakaue, T. Sado, T. Asahida, M. Miya. A 'living fossil' eel (Anguilliformes: Protoanguillidae, fam. nov.) from an undersea cave in Palau. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1289

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Urban growth a threat to mangrove bird populations

The Star 17 Aug 11;

KUCHING: Urban development reaching the edges of mangrove areas in Australia has an adverse effect on mangrove bird populations, a study by a Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) lecturer has found.

Conservation biology lecturer Dr Mohd Azlan Jayasilan Abdul Gulam Azad investigated 13 mangrove patches around Darwin, Australia, in his doctorate research.

He concluded that the habitats surrounding the mangrove patches were important in maintaining the number of birds in mangroves.

“The size of the mangrove patches is also important in maintaining a high number of mangrove- dependent bird species and various other species from nearby forests, which frequently use mangroves for breeding and foraging,” he said.

Dr Azlan, who received his PhD from Australia’s Charles Darwin University, said the mangroves in Darwin were home to many scarce and range-restricted birds, including the chestnut rail, white-breasted whistler and mangrove robin.

His research tried to answer fundamental ecological questions relating to the composition of bird species in mangroves.

“When urban development encroaches all the way to the mangrove edges, it has adverse effects on bird populations, including the mangrove-dependent species,” he said.

Dr Azlan, whose study was published in the June issue of Biological Conservation, added that conservation planning for mangrove birds must include the mosaic of habitats surrounding the mangroves.

His research can be applied in Sarawak, which also has wide areas of mangrove patches and where development, if left unmonitored, could spell an end to mangrove bird species here.

Research Findings On Australian Mangrove Birds Applicable To Sarawak
Bernama 18 Aug 11;

KUCHING, Aug 18 (Bernama) -- A research on Australian mangrove birds conducted on 13 mangrove patches around Darwin can be applied to Sarawak, which is rich in mangrove species, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) Resource Science and Technolgy Faculty conservation biology lecturer Dr Mohd Azlan Jayasilan Abdul Gulam Azad said today.

Dr Mohd Azlan Jayasilan, who was conferred a PhD from Charles Darwin University in Australia, said Malaysian mangroves were comparable to those in Darwin, in terms of species richness, but the unrelenting development that was going on could spell an end to the mangrove bird's species if left unmonitored.

"The size of the mangrove patches is also important in maintaining a high number of mangrove-dependent bird species and various other species from nearby forests, which frequently use mangroves for breeding and foraging," he said in a statement here.

Based on his study, published recently in Biological Conservation (June 2011), he found that urban development that had reached all the way up to the mangrove edges was having an adverse effect on mangrove bird populations.

He concluded that the habitats surrounding the mangrove patches were important in maintaining a maximum number of birds in the mangroves of Darwin, home to many scarce or range-restricted birds, including the chestnut rail, white-breasted whistler and mangrove robin.

Dr Mohd Azlan Jayasilan's research tries to answer the fundamental ecological questions relating to the driving factor of bird species composition in the mangroves.

He said that conservation planning for mangrove birds must include mosaics of habitats surrounding the mangroves.

Bird assemblages, including the mangrove-dependent species, would be adversely affected when urban development encroached all the way up to the mangrove edges, he said.


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