Best of our wild blogs: 15 Dec 11

Fishing at Serangoon reservoir (legally)!
from Nature rambles

Hanging on
from The annotated budak and Left hanging

Return of the Whip Spider
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Local biodiversity and dinosaurs goes to Geylang East Public Library! from Toddycats!

Read more!

India: 5,800 hectares of mangroves line city

Shibu Thomas Times of India 16 Dec 11;
MUMBAI: Six years after the Bombay High Court ordered a stop to the destruction of mangroves, Mumbai and its neighbouring areas now boast of more than 5,800 hectares of mangrove land designated as protected forests.

According to environmental activists , even by conservative estimates, the move has ensured more than 2,500 hectares of open green space in the city and its suburbs. The state forest department recently set up a special mangrove cell to oversee their protection on Maharashtra's coasts.

This was not the situation at the start of the decade when mangroves were indiscriminately hacked to make way for multi-storey apartments. There was also rampant dumping of debris and garbage on such plots. A sustained campaign by environmental groups, finally leading to the high court order, ensured that the city's remaining mangroves were brought under the umbrella of the forest department.

"To a large extent, land-grabbing in mangrove areas by unscrupulous builders in the city has stopped. This was the biggest threat to mangroves in urban areas," said Debi Goenka of the Bombay Environmental Action Group, which had filed the public interest litigation in the high court to protect mangroves.

Besides calling an end to the destruction of mangroves, the high court had also directed the state to conduct satellite mapping of the coast to identify mangrove land and then designate each as protected forests.

Around 5,800 hectares of land in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane with mangrove cover was notified as protected forests and handed over to the forest department. The state is now in the process of designating more than 26,000 hectares of coastal land in the rest of Maharashtra as forests.

"Earlier, though mangroves were under the purview of the Coastal Regulation Zone, the authorities were hardly bothered about protecting them. But the tag of forests has made it difficult for developers to obtain permission," said Goenka.

However, Goenka hastened to add that it still does not mean mangroves in the city are safe. "Day-to-day problems such as dumping of debris still exist," Goenka said. Vigilant local citizen groups have so far ensured that offenders are brought to book.

The most recent case include that of builder Jayesh Shah who was ordered by the Supreme Court to open the bunds he had constructed and remove debris that would have led to the extinction of more than 400 acres of mangroves in Dahisar.

Read more!

Flotsam from Japanese tsunami reaches West Coast

AP Yahoo News 16 Dec 11;

PORT ANGELES, Wash. (AP) — Some debris from the March tsunami in Japan has reached the West Coast.

A black float about the size of a 55-gallon drum was found two weeks ago by a crew cleaning a beach a few miles east of Neah Bay at the northwest tip of Washington, the Peninsula Daily News reported ( Wednesday.

The float was displayed at a Tuesday night presentation at Peninsula College by Seattle oceanographers Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham, consultants who produce the "Beachcombers Alert" newsletter.

Tons of debris from Japan will likely begin washing ashore in about a year, from California to southern Alaska, they said. Items that wash up may include portions of houses, boats, ships, furniture, portions of cars and just about anything else that floats, he said.

That could include parts of human bodies, Ebbesmeyer said. Athletic shoes act as floats.

Flotsam in a current travels an average of 7 mph, but it can move as much as 20 mph if it has a large area exposed to the wind, Ebbesmeyer said. The latest float sits well atop the water, has a shallow draft and is lightweight. Similar floats have been found on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Models show currents could pull some Japanese tsunami debris into the Strait of Juan de Fuca as far as Port Townsend.

"All debris should be treated with a great reverence and respect," Ebbesmeyer said.

If the debris has any kind of identifiable marking, such as numbers or Japanese writing, it may be traceable, Ebbesmeyer said. Families in Japan are waiting to hear of any items that may have been associated with their loved ones.

Ebbesmeyer is retired from a career that included tracking icebergs, the 1989 Exxon Valdes oil spill and Puget Sound currents that affect sewage outflows. He wrote the 2009 book, "Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How a Man's Obsession with runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science."

Ingram has retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he created computer models of ocean currents.

Read more!

1,000 Hidden Species Revealed in Aussie Outback Underground

Katherine Tweed Yahoo News 15 Dec 11;

The Australian Outback is hot, dry and desolate. But just under the surface it is teeming with life.

A team of researchers in Australia has been looking for invertebrates in small underground cavities beneath the desert. So far the team, including scientists from the University of Adelaide, the South Australian Museum in Adelaide and the Western Australian Museum in Perth, has found more than 1,000 new species. They estimate there are another 3,500 beneath the arid topsoil.

"When the discovery was first made, we didn't really believe it,"said team leader Andy Austin, professor of biology at the Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology & Biodiversity at the University of Adelaide. "We thought maybe it was unique to just three or four locations."

Instead, they have found the tiny creatures, including small crustaceans, spiders, beetles and worms, in nearly every bore hole they've looked down. [Images: Underground Creatures]

Hiding under the desert

Years ago, it was obvious that stygofauna—small animals that live within groundwater systems —were typical in European countries, which are wetter and more temperate.

Australia was once a wetter, lusher environment—nearly like a rainforest —before it began drying out around 15 million years ago. Some of the small invertebrates that were in aquatic environments many years ago took refuge in subterranean environments, whereas today, "what you get on the surface is an array of vertebrates of more recent origin,"Austin told OurAmazingPlanet.

Team member Bill Humphries, a researcher from the Western Australia Museum, speculated years ago that maybe, just maybe, stygofauna like the ones in Europe were hiding in the Australian desert too. Humphries'discovery of these critters beneath the Australian desert about 15 years ago was the catalyst forthe ongoing project.

The advent of DNA barcoding in the past few years has helped speed the discoveries.

DNA barcodes

In earlier times, biologists would use physical traits like size, shape and color to try to identify species out in the field. But with advancements in DNA sequencing, now it is much cheaper and easier to look at genetic material to tell species apart.

For all fauna, DNA barcoding looks at the same short genetic sequence in each species. That area is known to be unique between each species, helping to distinguish different species that might appear similar to the human eye.

The purpose of discovering the species is to better understand the biodiversity under the desert and maybe understand its origins, but also to protect them. Australia has a very active mining industry, and in Western Australia, mining companies have to show that their work won't cause the extinction of any species. Austin said that many mining companies work actively with the researchers so that they understand the environment they're drilling into.

The benefit of quickly and accurately identifying species using DNA barcoding also goes far beyond the Australian red center. DNA barcoding is being used for everything from identifying timber species to cut off illegal logging distribution chains, to identifying fish that are being sold as another species.

"There's a range of applications we're just starting to see,"Austin said. "It's great for when you rapidly need to understand what something is."

Undiscovered species

In the Australian Outback, there are still likely thousands more invertebrates to be discovered.

The Outback is not alone, either. Austin said that other continents, like Africa and South America, likely have thousands of undiscovered stygofauna.

"If you start multiplying this on a global basis,"he said, "there's likely to be massive diversity that will be uncovered in coming decades."

Read more!

140 New Species Described by California Academy of Sciences in 2011

ScienceDaily 15 Dec 11;

In 2011, researchers at the California Academy of Sciences added 140 new relatives to our family tree. The new species include 72 arthropods, 31 sea slugs, 13 fishes, 11 plants, nine sponges, three corals, and one reptile. They were described by more than a dozen Academy scientists along with several dozen international collaborators.

Proving that there are still plenty of places to explore and things to discover on Earth, the scientists made their finds over six continents (all except Antarctica) and three oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian), climbed to the tops of mountains and descended to the bottom of the sea, looked in their owns backyards (California) and on the other side of the world (Cameroon).

Their results, published in 33 different scientific papers, add to the record of life on Earth and help advance the Academy's research into two of the most important scientific questions of our time: "How did life evolve?" and "How will it persist?"

Discovering new species, formally describing them, and determining their evolutionary relationships to other organisms provide the crucial foundation for making informed conservation decisions at a national level. For example, earlier this year, Academy scientists embarked on the largest expedition in the institution's recent history -- a 42-day journey to the Philippines to survey the shallow water, deep sea, and mountain habitats of Luzon Island. Early estimates indicate that they may have discovered as many as 500 new species. While it takes months and even years to formally describe and publish a new species in a peer-reviewed scientific journal (the reason they are not included in the 2011 total), Academy scientists had enough initial data to provide a formal recommendation to Conservation International and the Philippine government outlining the most important locations for establishing or expanding marine protected areas. Formal species descriptions in the coming years should help the scientists bolster and refine their initial recommendations.

Below are a few highlights among the 140 species described by the Academy this year. For a full list of species, including geographic information, visit

Four New Sharks

Academy research associate David Ebert and his colleagues described four new species of deep-sea sharks this year. The African dwarf sawshark (Pristiophorus nancyae) was collected via a bottom trawl at a depth of 1,600 feet, off the coast of Mozambique. It is notable for its elongated blade-like snout, or "rostrum," which is studded with sharp teeth and used as a weapon. The sawshark will swim through a school of fish swinging its rostrum back and forth, stunning and injuring prey, and then swim back to consume the casualties. Ebert and his colleagues also described two species of lanternshark: Etmopterus joungi from a fish market in Taiwan, and Etmopterus sculptus from trawling at depths of 1,500 -- 3,000 feet off the coast of southern Africa. Like their name suggests, lanternsharks emit light on various parts of their body -- probably a strategy to camouflage themselves from upward-looking predators and also to interact with others of their own species. Finally, a new species of angel shark (Squatina caillieti) was described from a single specimen collected in 1,200 feet of water off the Philippine island of Luzon. Angel sharks have flattened bodies and large pectoral fins resembling wings.

A Bounty of Arthropods

There are more species of arthropods -- insects, spiders, crustaceans, and other joint-legged creatures -- than any other group of animals on Earth, and more are being discovered every day. So it's no surprise that over half of the new species on this year's list consists of arthropods: 43 ants, 20 goblin spiders, six barnacles, and three beetles. In addition, Academy scientists took it to the next level -- literally -- by describing six new genera ("genus" being one classification level higher than "species"). These include three new genera of goblin spiders from Africa (Malagiella, Dalmasula, Molotra) and three new genera of barnacles (Minyaspis, Pycnaspis, and the fossil Archoxynaspis).

Gorgeous Sea Slugs

Despite the common name of "sea slug," nudibranchs are breathtaking in their beauty and diversity. Every color of the rainbow is represented among nudibranchs, in a wide variety of patterns, making them a favorite for underwater photographers. These animals use color as a warning sign -- predators learn to associate their vivid colors with their toxic or unpalatable nature, and so they avoid eating them.

More than 3,000 nudibranch species have been discovered and described to date, and scientists estimate that another 3,000 species are yet to be named. Academy Dean of Science Terry Gosliner and his colleagues did their part to increase our knowledge of nudibranch diversity by describing 31 new species this year, from places as close as Florida to faraway countries like Papua New Guinea.

A Tale of Two Tortoises

In a ZooKeys article published this year, Academy curator emeritus Alan Leviton and colleagues, collaborating with Dr. Robert Murphy of the Royal Ontario Museum, solved the identity crisis of the desert tortoise Gopherus agassizii -- a saga almost as old as the Academy itself. First, by sifting through the original species description in The Proceedings of the California Academy of Natural Sciences (as the Academy used to be called), they determined that the species was first described in 1861, not 1863 as had long been thought. Next, they deduced that one of the three original specimens used to describe the species was likely lost during the most devastating event in the Academy's history -- the 1906 earthquake and fire. (A second specimen is currently housed at the Smithsonian, while the whereabouts of the third remain unknown.) Third, they reviewed the tumultuous taxonomic history of the species, which has changed its genus name five times in the past 150 years. Finally, using DNA analysis, they concluded that G. agassizii is not one, but at least two distinct species -- one that lives to the northwest of the Colorado River in California and Nevada (G. agassizii), and one that lives to the southeast of the river in Arizona and Mexico (a new species, which they named Gopherus morafkai).

This newfound clarity has important implications for conservation, because the geographic range of G. agassizii is now only 30% of its former range. Having significantly declined in numbers over the past three decades, it may warrant a higher level of protection than its current "threatened" status. And now that G. morafkai has a distinct name and its own identity, its conservation status can be evaluated as well.

Read more!

New TEEB study to help businesses address their impacts on nature

IUCN 15 Dec 11;

As the business community begins to embrace ecosystems and biodiversity as key components of commercial success, a ground-breaking report from the major study of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is being published by Earthscan today.

The TEEB study is a project hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme and led by Pavan Sukhdev. This new volume entitled ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Business and Enterprise’ provides important evidence of growing corporate concern about biodiversity loss and offers examples of how leading companies are taking action to conserve biodiversity and restore ecosystems as part of their day-to-day business activity.

The volume has been edited by Joshua Bishop, TEEB for Business coordinator, former chief economist at IUCN and recently appointed National Manager for Markets, Sustainability and Business Partnerships at WWF Australia.

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN sees the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity as crucial for the business community to grasp in order to develop strategies for long term business sustainability:

“This volume is a ‘must read’ for the business community," she says. "The current economic climate reminds us that business needs to assess all kinds of risks, including environmental ones. The TEEB study provides clear guidance for the private sector to understand and manage the income we derive from ‘Natural Capital’, an asset on which all businesses and economies depend. By understanding the value of these services and the ecosystems that provide them, companies can minimize environmental risks and realize new market opportunities.”

“It is encouraging to see new initiatives since the launch of the initial TEEB for Business report last year", says TEEB Study leader, Pavan Sukhdev. "But clearly, to survive in the 21st Century, business can and should do much more to account for their impacts on nature, both on their own and in partnership with governments and civil society,”

To take forward work, an umbrella grouping, the TEEB Business coalition, has been formed under the leadership of Pavan Sukhdev. Coordinated by ICAEW (the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) together with The Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project, WWF-UK, the GRI, UNEP and a number of companies, will advance the TEEB for Business work-stream by catalysing research and action on corporate externalities. Among other things this includes implementation and standardisation of measurement and disclosure as well as engagement on public policy reforms. The Coalition has received formal support by the UK government in the recent Natural Environment White Paper.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Business and Enterprise, is published on 15 December by Earthscan. A discount price of GBP 31.99 can be gained by using the order form available at

Read more!