Saving the Cape Parrot.
The most endangered parrot in the world now numbers fewer than 1,000 individuals. The beautiful green and gold cape parrot in native to South Africa, but it is an environmental specialist—it lives only in the ever vanishing yellowwood forests of the area. National Geographic Emerging Explorer Steve Boyes is interviewed about his ambitious plans to plant additional yellowwood forests in an effort to save the cape parrot.
Too Hot and Too Cold.
Today’s concerns about global warming may have an odd parallel in what occurred on earth some 116 million years ago when the supercontinent known as pangaea began to break up into the continents we know today. A cooling event took place when photosynthesized plants captured much of the atmospheric carbon dioxide, which sunk to the bottom of the ever-widening oceans. The absence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere prevented global warming and resulted in a 5 degree drop in global temperatures. Global cooling ended only when volcanic eruptions put greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere and rewarmed the planet. Perhaps the takeaway is that while human activity is shaping global climate today, there will always exist much more powerful influences just beneath the earth’s surface.
Gill Nets Responsible for Catching More than Fish.
Gill nets are small mesh fishing nets that are used by fishermen. Anchored by weights, the mesh of the nets is so fine that anything larger than its spaces cannot escape. That means that every year hundreds of thousands of seabirds, turtles and water mammals are imprisoned and drowned in the nets. At one time, the nets could be seen by and avoided by diving seabirds. Today’s materials are much more lightweight and barely visible. If there is any good news here it is that fishermen also would like to avoid entrapping nonfish in their nets. The search is on for a economically sustainable solution.
New Fungus Species Attacks Cats and People.
There is a new addition to the world of fungi, but it’s not a welcome one. A researcher from the University of Sydney has identified the new species named Aspergillus felis. In cats, the fungus is extremely dangerous and can cause fatal tumors in the eye sockets. In humans, it attacks individuals with already compromised immune systems. Even though cats and humans are susceptible, the fungus is not transmitted between cats and humans. To date, one dog has also been diagnosed with the fungal infection.
Dogs’ Ancestor May Have Been Extinct Wolf Species.
Common scientific belief holds that dogs are descended from the grey wolf. However, recent research into dog and wolf DNA suggests a different ancestor. Researchers collected DNA from three widely dispersed grey wolves (Croatia, China and Israel) each location might have been the site of original domestication. They compared the grey wolf DNA to that of three very different breeds of dogs (a boxer, a Basenji and an Australian dingo). The result was that the grey wolves were each equally genetically distant from the dogs, indicating that none of the modern grey wolves likely had a common ancestor with the dogs. Instead, the scientists believe that some 15,000 years ago the first domestication occurred with a now-extinct wolf species. Also, analyzing genes associated with the ability to metabolize starchy food, they concluded that proximity to humandriven starchy diets played no role in dog domestication.
Why Fish Hemoglobin is Special.
Today, ecologists warn of the acidification and increased carbon dioxide levels in the worlds’ atmosphere and oceans. But if evolutionary genetics is any predictor, fish might respond: “been there, done that.” It appears that fish, which like all vertebrates require oxygen for their tissues, evolved a special and highly efficient form of hemoglobin hundreds of millions of years ago when earth’s oceans were much more acidic and had much less available oxygen. Tests run on fish show that when they are under stress, such as that triggered by an overly acidic environment, their hemoglobin kicks into high gear and becomes far more efficient at delivering oxygen to their tissues than is the case with later evolving land animals.
Destroying Ivory to Protect Elephants.
National Geographic explores the decision of the Philippine government to destroy virtually its entire stock—5 tons— of ivory. The Philippines is a consumer of ivory as well as a transit point from which the material is illegally shipped from Africa into China. In the past, other countries have taken similar steps. In 1989, Kenya’s government set fire to 13 tons of ivory. The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is now pressuring the primary supplier countries (Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) as well as the other transit and consuming countries (China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam), to come up with their own action plans to stop the ivory trade.
Billionaires’ Plan to Save the Prairie.
A consortium of billionaires is pooling its own money and raising more in an effort to buy millions of acres of contiguous Montana prairie land from cattle ranchers. BIson, which graze on the Montana prairie, are the visual attraction and have been a magnet for public donations. If the plan is completed, the preserve will be even larger than Yellowstone National Park and will be a haven for the natural denizens of the prairie including bison, coyotes and prairie dogs.
New Zealand’s Marine Mammal Museum.
You don’t have to travel to New Zealand to enjoy the wonderful marine mammal exhibit at Museum Te Papa Tongarewa. Courtesy of Live Science and the internet, the museum can come to you.
Keeping Step with Australian Superb Lyrebirds.
You wouldn’t dance a waltz to rock music. Neither would an Australian lyrebird. Just like people, male superb lyrebirds have four distinct dance routines which they perform for their female audiences while they are singing distinct songs for each dance. To accompany the different dance moves, the lyrebird also uses its feathers in different ways spread over its head like a veil in some routines or in the shape of a mohawk in others. The males are known to occasionally flub their routines under the pressure. Females watch these displays and either select a mate or move on to the next performer.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.