There is a world somewhere between reality and fiction. Although ignored by many, it is very real and so are those living in it. This forum is about the natural world. Here, wild animals will be heard and respected. The forum offers a glimpse into an unknown world as well as a room with a view on the present and the future. Anyone able to speak on behalf of those living in the emerald forest and the deep blue sea is invited to join.
--- Peter Broekhuijsen ---

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( This post was last modified: 01-04-2015, 05:32 PM by brotherbear )

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/offbeat/3-...nsnewsap11 
 ~ANCHORAGE, Alaska — There's an extra moose alive in southcentral Alaska thanks to three snowmobilers who freed it from an avalanche.Marty Mobley, Rob Uphus and Avery Vucinich, residents of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, on Sunday went riding on the west side of Hatcher Pass about 55 miles northeast of Anchorage, Alaska Dispatch News (http://bit.ly/1AinLEQ ) reported. With Alaska's unseasonably warm weather, they were wary of avalanches, Mobley said.The came upon a hillside that had both moose tracks and ski tracks. The latter stood out because they don't see many skiers in the area.About an hour later, they returned and saw that an avalanche had come down, wiping out the tracks. The three friends were concerned that a skier might have been trapped but also knew more snow might fall."We had about 2,500 feet of mountain above us still," Mobley said. "Half slid, half didn't, so we didn't want to screw around a bunch there."~Mobley spotted something brown moving in the hard-packed snow of the debris field."It looked like a guy's arm at first because we were expecting to see a skier," Mobley said. "But it was moaning and groaning and moving and we realized it was a moose, even though only his ears and some of its snout was sticking out of the snow."The men grabbed shovels. Two men dug while the other looked for signs of another avalanche. When the animal's head was cleared, Vucinich took a picture. The moose didn't struggle and appeared calmer as they cleared snow."It didn't even fight us," Mobley said. "It was like, 'Help me. Help me.' It was totally docile and let us touch it. It just (lay) there," Mobley said.After about 10 minutes, Mobley said, three-quarters of the animal was free. The men were not sure if the moose was injured. One poked the moose's rump with a shovel.
 ~"It stood right up and towered over us, because we were in kind of a hole from the digging," Mobley said. "It looked like the abominable snowman because its fur was so packed with snow and it looked at us, shook the snow off it, and off it went."The moose was "at full steam" when it ran down the mountain. It appeared to be uninjured, which was a surprise."It slid at least 1,500 to 2,000 feet down the mountain when it got caught in the avalanche," Mobley said.Mobley said the men couldn't leave the moose to die."Besides, we deal with a lot of avalanches and a lot of snow," he said. "That kind of karma is something we don't pass up."

 

 

 
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( This post was last modified: 01-08-2015, 03:16 PM by brotherbear )

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150107-...arge-rival
 ~Talk about having a big personality.Scientists have spotted and filmed a dwarf male Asian elephant wandering the forests of Sri Lanka.The elephant has a normal-sized head and body, but very short and stubby legs.Thought to be the first of his kind ever recorded, the elephant surprised the researchers further by engaging in his very own rumble in the jungle.In a series of extraordinary encounters in the Uda Walawe National Park, the elephant, nicknamed the Walawe Dwarf by observers, waged an all-out battle against a full-sized male elephant.What’s more, he appeared to be winning.
   ~Elephant researcher Shermin de Silva, Director of the Uda Walawe Elephant Research Project, and her colleagues, reported their encounters with the dwarf in the journal BMC Research Notes.Barely two metres tall, the Walawe Dwarf, according to the researchers, is the first confirmed case of disproportionate dwarfism in a fully-grown Asian elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) in the wild. His condition is most likely caused by a genetic mutation resulting in disproportionately short limbs.
 ~Researchers first spotted the Walawe Dwarf in 2012, an encounter that lasted for a fleeting moment. The dwarf came out from behind a bush, trumpeted, ran across the road, and then disappeared.“At the time, I didn't even notice it was a dwarf,” Nilmini Jayasena from the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, who saw the animal in 2012, told BBC Earth. “It was a quick glimpse, mostly through the camera view finder.” A year later, Jayasena compared the elephant’s photographs with those in de Silva’s database and confirmed that the individual had indeed been the dwarf.
  ~The following year, in July 2013, another team of scientists spotted the dwarf sparring with a young-adult male elephant in the forest.de Silva’s team, too, saw the animal a few days later, walking down a forest road, while the fights with the much larger rival were recorded in June 2014. In both the 2013 and 2014 encounters, the researchers observed that the dwarf had dark streaks on the sides of his head, resulting from his temporal gland secretions. These secretions are indicative of a physiological state called ‘musth’.Male elephants in musth, characterised by a surge in the levels of their sex hormone testosterone, show heightened sexual excitement, and increased aggression towards other male elephants. Since only sexually mature elephants periodically go into musth, researchers estimate that the Walawe Dwarf is likely to be over 20 years old.
     ~“He is probably 30-35 years old judging by the development of his secondary sexual characteristics and the extent of musth,” Prithiviraj Fernando, scientist at the Centre for Conservation and Research in Sri Lanka, who reported his team’s observations of the dwarf elephant in 2013, told BBC Earth.When de Silva’s team saw the Walawe Dwarf challenging the big bull in 2014, they were taken aback by how the dwarf was not only the more aggressive of the two, but he also seemed to be winning the match. Despite being shorter, the dwarf and the bull may have been evenly matched in terms of weight, de Silva said.
    
~“The dwarf could very effectively charge his opponent head on whereas the taller individual had to stoop down awkwardly,” she said. “The taller bull could be more easily knocked off balance, while the dwarf’s low center of gravity made it more difficult. So it really seems the mismatch was actually working in favour of the dwarf so long as his opponent was of comparable weight.”
 ~de Silva’s team did not observe the outcome of the battle. But two days later, they saw the Walawe Dwarf at the same location, resting under a tree with a group of females and calves.Since female elephants tend to be much smaller than adult males, Fernando said, the Walawe Dwarf may also be able to mate, especially with a smaller female.The Walawe Dwarf’s success in the wild, despite his disproportionate stature, could be because elephants don’t have predators, he added. “However, in almost all species such a condition would be a death warrant in the wild as most species are prey or predators, and would be unable to get away or catch prey respectively.”According to the researchers, there is no record of the Walawe Dwarf in the Uda Walawe National Park before 2012. This is probably because elephants move over large areas, floating in and out of the national park. The dwarf, too, like most other bulls, probably spends most of his time ranging in forests and croplands outside the protected areas, de Silva said.
  ~Digging through historical photographs of captive elephants, de Silva’s team found that a young tusker, captured from the wild in Sri Lanka in 1933, could also fit the bill of a dwarf based on his recorded measurements. But unlike the Walawe Dwarf, the tusker’s body and limbs were proportionate, making him a possible proportionate dwarf. The tusker was taller than the Walawe Dwarf.Small elephants also occur in the island of Borneo. But these endangered Borneo pygmy elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis), are only slightly shorter than the mainland Asian elephants, and are not dwarfs.
 ~During the Pleistocene Period, however, dwarf elephants did once populate the Mediterranean Islands. “However, all such instances refer to individuals that were simply small (called proportionate dwarfism),” Fernando said. “The elephant observed in Uda Walawe Sri Lanka is the first confirmed record of an individual with 'disproportionate dwarfism'.”Follow BBC Earth on twitter.

 
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India, Russia working actively to save rare wildlife species: Russian environment minister

Read more at:
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/arti...aign=cppst
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Into the wild with Valmik Thapar

Valmik Thapar's book is a reminder of India's sumptuous wildlife wealth at a time when there is a steady dilution of conservation policies.


*This image is copyright of its original author




Read more in the link below
http://www.business-standard.com/article...554_1.html

 

 
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New monkey species discovered in the Amazon Rainforest

Flaming orange tail and ochre sideburns set new Brazilian monkey apart from its closest relatives.

Scientists have discovered a new species of titi monkey in Brazil, according to a recent paper published in scientific journal Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia.

Titis are new world monkeys found across South America. These tree-dwelling primates have long, soft fur and live in small family groups consisting of a monogamous pair and their offspring. Rather touchingly, they are often observed sitting or sleeping with their tails entwined.

In 2011, researcher Julio César Dalponte spotted an unusual looking titi monkey on the east bank of the Roosevelt River, whose colouration did not match any known species. Intrigued, a team of scientists supported by the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP – a partnership between three NGOs, including Fauna & Flora International) headed back into the field to collect the information needed to formally describe what they believed to be a new species.

Over the course of a number of expeditions, the team recorded several groups of these unusual monkeys, whose ochre sideburns, bright orange tail and light grey forehead stripe set them apart from other known species in the genus.


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Based on these morphological differences, scientists were able to formally describe the monkey as a new species, which they have named Callicebus miltoni (or Milton’s titi monkey) in honour of Dr Milton Thiago de Mello, a noted Brazilian primatologist who is credited with training many of the country’s top primate experts.

“More than luck”

Found in a small area of lowland rainforest south of the Amazon River in Brazil, Milton’s titi monkeys spend most of their time in the upper reaches of the forest, where they feed on fruits.

Like their close relatives, they live in small groups consisting of a mated pair and their offspring. These groups are territorial and use warning calls to keep others at bay – they are particularly vociferous early in the morning and during the rainy season.


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Because they are not able to swim or cross mountainous terrain, these monkeys are restricted to a small area, effectively hemmed in by a number of rivers and hills. This small range could put the species at risk from human activities, particularly because only around a quarter of this area is protected.

Deforestation rates are high in this region, with forest fires also posing a significant threat. Added to this, the Brazilian Government’s ongoing development programme includes several new hydroelectricity dams and an extension of the road system planned within the Amazon.

“It goes without saying that we are really excited about this new discovery,” said researcher and CLP alumnus Felipe Ennes Silva, who collected the data for the new species description. “It is always thrilling to find something new in the Amazon, as it reminds us just how special this rainforest is and how lucky we are to have it on our doorstep.

“But it will take more than luck if we are to keep making scientific finds like this. The rainforest is under threat like never before, and it will take dedicated, hard work – not just by conservationists but by the government and every other sector of society too – to make sure that this forest ecosystem can continue to support a wide diversity of life and help regulate our planet’s climate.”

Sources (scroll to the bottom for the press release): http://www.fauna-flora.org/news/new-monk...ainforest/
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'Extinct' Bird Rediscovered in Myanmar, Surprising Scientists

Scientists found the Myanmar Jerdon's babbler alive and well during a recent expedition.

By Christine Dell'Amore, National Geographic 

PUBLISHED MARCH 05, 2015


*This image is copyright of its original author

When scientists heard the call of a Myanmar Jerdon's babbler (above), they quickly recorded it and played the recording back, prompting one of the birds to come investigate. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT TIZARD, WCS

A bird thought to have gone the way of the dodo decades ago has been rediscovered in Myanmar (Burma), scientists reported Thursday.

A team led by the Wildlife Conservation Society stumbled upon the bird, a Myanmar Jerdon's babbler, last May while studying other birds in a small grassland area near an abandoned agricultural research station. (See "Pictures: Extinct Species That Could Be Brought Back.")

Once they heard its distinctive call, the scientists quickly recorded it and  played the recording back, prompting an adult Myanmar Jerdon's babbler to come investigate. The team caught the the first known glimpse of the animal since 1941, according to a Thursday press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Over the next two days, the team found several more individuals of the "extinct" bird and took blood samples and high-resolution photographs.

The brown, sparrow-size bird (Chrysomma altirostre altirostre) is one of three subspecies of Jerdon's babbler, which are found throughout the river basins of South Asia.

Diminishing Habitat

First described by British naturalist T. C. Jerdon in 1862, the last known sighting of the Myanmar Jerdon's babbler happened near the town of Myitkyo (map), in southern Burma's Sittaung River floodplain.

Over the past century, the area has been transformed from mostly bird-friendly grasslands to a more human-dominated landscape of settlements and farms.

"Future work is needed to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from them," Colin Poole, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Regional Conservation Hub in Singapore, said in a statement. (Also see "First New U.S. Bird Species in Decades-Already Extinct?")

The key now, is to find out how much habitat is left where the babbler was rediscovered, says Richard Thomas, a council member of the Oriental Bird Club, which described the discovery in a recent issue of its magazine BirdingASIA. That will help conservationists figure out how to protect the animal and its remaining grassland home.

That the team found several birds is a "very good sign," Thomas said. "It suggests they're ... OK, and the habitat is still there."

Back From the Dead

This is not the first time scientists have rediscovered a species long thought extinct. In 2009, Worcester's buttonquail, a bird thought extinct in the Philippines, was photographed for the first time, before being sold as food at a poultry market.

Thomas noted that there are a few other species experts are hoping to find again, including the white-eyed river martin of Thailand, last seen in 1978, and the pink-headed duck, whose last confirmed sighting was in 1949.

"There's a slim chance some [pink-headed ducks] may still hang on in northern Myanmar—a challenge for any budding ornithologist to go out and make a name for themselves by rediscovering it," he said.

"Against the odds, these species are sometimes able to hang on."

Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/...s-science/
 
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Odd, odd studies on mice...

Mice don't need the cortex to sing their songs
Date:
March 6, 2015

Source:
German Primate Center

Summary:
The human language is unique in that we can refer to objects, events and ideas. The combination of syllables and words enables humans to generate an infinite number of expressions. An important prerequisite for language is the ability to imitate sounds, i.e. to store acquired acoustic information and to use this for one's own vocal production. Cortical structures in the brain play a crucial role in this. While songbirds and certain marine mammals are capable of such vocal learning, there is very little evidence for vocal learning in terrestrial mammals -- not even in our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees. Nonhuman primate vocal production is largely restricted to an innate repertoire of sounds.


*This image is copyright of its original author


The human language is unique in that we can refer to objects, events and ideas. The combination of syllables and words enables humans to generate an infinite number of expressions. An important prerequisite for language is the ability to imitate sounds, i.e. to store acquired acoustic information and to use this for one's own vocal production. Cortical structures in the brain play a crucial role in this. While songbirds and certain marine mammals are capable of such vocal learning, there is very little evidence for vocal learning in terrestrial mammals -- not even in our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees. Nonhuman primate vocal production is largely restricted to an innate repertoire of sounds.

In order to explain the foundations of vocal learning, mice attracted increasing attention in recent years. They are more closely related to humans than birds or dolphins, vocalize frequently, and there are numerous so-called "mouse models," where certain genes can deliberately be manipulated. Besides, there was some evidence that to a certain extent mice could be capable of vocal learning. In their recently published study, Julia Fischer and Kurt Hammerschmidt of the German Primate Center (DPZ) in Goettingen together with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry have shown that mice are less suited to study the foundations of vocal learning than previously assumed. Animals that do not have a cerebral cortex due to a genetic defect do not differ from healthy mice in their vocalization ("song"). Their vocalizations are thus controlled in evolutionarily older brain areas and are not dependent on cortical processing.

One of the most pressing questions in human evolution is the emergence of language. We have the ability to imitate words and learn how to use them in certain appropriate situations. Both for higher-order processing of sounds as well as for the planning of vocalizations, the cerebral cortex is essential. There are numerous studies of songbirds, bats, and increasingly of mice that deal with the fundamentals of vocal learning. However, the studies in mice are currently contradictory: It was previously disputed as to whether mice are able to change their vocalization due to imitation or learning. Together with Gregor Eichele and Gabriela Whelan of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Julia Fischer and Kurt Hammerschmidt of the German Primate Center examined the ultrasonic sounds of mice that did not have a cerebral cortex due to a genetic defect and compared these with the sounds of their siblings with a normal brain.

The researchers focused on two characteristic vocalizations of the mice. First, they examined so-called isolation calls that occur when young mice are separated from the mother. Since nine-day-old mice that were still incapable of hearing made these calls, Fischer and her colleagues were not surprised that the calls of the mice without a cerebral cortex did not differ from those of control mice. Second, they studied the "song" of adult males, which is used to attract females. The fact that there was no difference in neither the occurrence of calling nor the acoustic quality of the songs uttered by males with and without cerebral cortex, was a rather unexpected findings for the scientists.

"Apparently, the vocalization of mice is controlled by evolutionarily older areas of the brain," says Julia Fischer, Head of Cognitive Ethology Laboratory at the German Primate Center. Other than in humans, the cerebral cortex is not as important in the vocal communication of mice. "Mice are therefore less suitable for the study of the mechanisms that support vocal learning," she concluded. "Nevertheless, we believe that they are valuable models for the study of the genetic fundamentals of social behavior," she added.

Journal Reference:
Kurt Hammerschmidt, Gabriela Whelan, Gregor Eichele, Julia Fischer. Mice lacking the cerebral cortex develop normal song: Insights into the foundations of vocal learning. Scientific Reports, 2015; 5: 8808 DOI: 10.1038/srep08808

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/201...073738.htm
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'Big Bang' of bird evolution mapped: Genes reveal deep histories of bird origins, feathers, flight and song

Date:
December 11, 2014
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
The first findings of the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium are being reported nearly simultaneously in 29 papers -- eight papers in a Dec. 12 special issue of Science and 21 more in Genome Biology, GigaScience and other journals. The analyses suggest some remarkable new ideas about bird evolution, including insights into vocal learning and the brain, colored plumage, sex chromosomes and the birds' relationship to dinosaurs and crocodiles.


*This image is copyright of its original author


The genomes of modern birds tell a story of how they emerged and evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs and almost everything else 66 million years ago. That story is now coming to light, thanks to an ambitious international collaboration that has been underway for four years.

The first findings of the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium are being reported nearly simultaneously in 29 papers -- eight papers in a Dec. 12 special issue of Science and 21 more in Genome Biology, GigaScience and other journals.

Scientists already knew that the birds who survived the mass extinction experienced a rapid burst of evolution. But the family tree of modern birds has confused biologists for centuries and the molecular details of how birds arrived at the spectacular biodiversity of more than 10,000 species is barely known.

To resolve these fundamental questions, a consortium led by Guojie Zhang of the National Genebank at BGI in China and the University of Copenhagen, Erich D. Jarvis of Duke University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and M. Thomas P. Gilbert of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, has sequenced, assembled and compared full genomes of 48 bird species. The species include the crow, duck, falcon, parakeet, crane, ibis, woodpecker, eagle and others, representing all major branches of modern birds.

"BGI's strong support and four years of hard work by the entire community have enabled us to answer numerous fundamental questions to an unprecedented scale," said Guojie Zhang. "This is the largest whole genomic study across a single vertebrate class to date. The success of this project can only be achieved with the excellent collaboration of all the consortium members."

"Although an increasing number of vertebrate genomes are being released, to date no single study has deliberately targeted the full diversity of any major vertebrate group," added Tom Gilbert. "This is precisely what our consortium set out to do. Only with this scale of sampling can scientists truly begin to fully explore the genomic diversity within a full vertebrate class."

"This is an exciting moment," said neuroscientist Erich Jarvis. "Lots of fundamental questions now can be resolved with more genomic data from a broader sampling. I got into this project because of my interest in birds as a model for vocal learning and speech production in humans, and it has opened up some amazing new vistas on brain evolution."

This first round of analyses suggests some remarkable new ideas about bird evolution. The first flagship paper published in Science presents a well-resolved new family tree for birds, based on whole-genome data. The second flagship paper describes the big picture of genome evolution in birds. Six other papers in the special issue of Science describe how vocal learning may have independently evolved in a few bird groups and in the human brain's speech regions; how the sex chromosomes of birds came to be; how birds lost their teeth; how crocodile genomes evolved; ways in which singing behavior regulates genes in the brain; and a new method for phylogenic analysis with large-scale genomic data.

The Avian Phylogenomics Consortium has so far involved more than 200 scientists hailing from 80 institutions in 20 countries, including the BGI in China, the University of Copenhagen, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, the Smithsonian Museum, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Louisiana State University and many others.

A Clearer Picture of the Bird Family Tree
Previous attempts to reconstruct the avian family tree using partial DNA sequencing or anatomical and behavioral traits have met with contradiction and confusion. Because modern birds split into species early and in such quick succession, they did not evolve enough distinct genetic differences at the genomic level to clearly determine their early branching order, the researchers said. To resolve the timing and relationships of modern birds, the consortium authors used whole-genome DNA sequences to infer the bird species tree.

"In the past, people have been using 10 to 20 genes to try to infer the species relationships," Jarvis said. "What we've learned from doing this whole-genome approach is that we can infer a somewhat different phylogeny [family tree] than what has been proposed in the past. We've figured out that protein-coding genes tell the wrong story for inferring the species tree. You need non-coding sequences, including the intergenic regions. The protein coding sequences, however, tell an interesting story of proteome-wide convergence among species with similar life histories."

This new tree resolves the early branches of Neoaves (new birds) and supports conclusions about some relationships that have been long-debated. For example, the findings support three independent origins of waterbirds. They also indicate that the common ancestor of core landbirds, which include songbirds, parrots, woodpeckers, owls, eagles and falcons, was an apex predator, which also gave rise to the giant terror birds that once roamed the Americas.

The whole-genome analysis dates the evolutionary expansion of Neoaves to the time of the mass extinction event 66 million years ago that killed off all dinosaurs except some birds. This contradicts the idea that Neoaves blossomed 10 to 80 million years earlier, as some recent studies suggested.

Based on this new genomic data, only a few bird lineages survived the mass extinction. They gave rise to the more than 10,000 Neoaves species that comprise 95 percent of all bird species living with us today. The freed-up ecological niches caused by the extinction event likely allowed rapid species radiation of birds in less than 15 million years, which explains much of modern bird biodiversity.

Increasingly sophisticated and more affordable genomic sequencing technologies and the advent of computational tools for reconstructing and comparing whole genomes have allowed the consortium to resolve these controversies with better clarity than ever before, the researchers say.

With about 14,000 genes per species, the size of the datasets and the complexity of analyzing them required several new approaches to computing evolutionary family trees. These were developed by computer scientists Tandy Warnow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Siavash Mirarab, a student at the University of Texas at Austin and Alexis Stamatakis at the Heidelburg Institute for Theoretical Studies. Their algorithms required the use of parallel processing supercomputers at the Munich Supercomputing Center (LRZ), the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) and the San Diego Supercomputing center (SDSC).

"The computational challenges in estimating the avian species tree used around 300 years of CPU time, and some analyses required supercomputers with a terabyte of memory," Warnow said.

The bird project also had support from the Genome 10K Consortium of Scientists (G10K), an international science community working toward rapidly assessing genome sequences for 10,000 vertebrate species.

"The Avian Genomics Consortium has accomplished the most ambitious and successful project that the G10K Project has joined or endorsed," said G10K co-leader Stephen O'Brien, who co-authored a commentary on the bird sequencing project appearing in GigaScience.

A Genomic Perspective of Avian Evolution and Biodiversity
For all their biological intricacies, birds are surprisingly light on DNA. A study led by Zhang, Cai Li and the consortium authors found that compared to other reptile genomes, avian genomes contain fewer of the repeating sequences of DNA and lost hundreds of genes in their early evolution after birds split from other reptiles.

"Many of these genes have essential functions in humans, such as in reproduction, skeleton formation and lung systems," Zhang said. "The loss of these key genes may have a significant effect on the evolution of many distinct phenotypes of birds. This is an exciting finding, because it is quite different from what people normally think, which is that innovation is normally created by new genetic material, not the loss of it. Sometimes, less is more."

From the whole chromosome level to the order of genes, this group found that the genomic structure of birds has stayed remarkably the same among species for more than 100 million years. The rate of gene evolution across all bird species is also slower compared to mammals.

Yet some genomic regions display relatively faster evolution in species with similar lifestyles or phenotypes, such as involving vocal learning. This pattern of what is called convergent evolution may be the underlying mechanism that explains how distant bird species evolved similar phenotypes independently. Zhang said these analyses on particular gene families begin to explain how birds evolved a lighter skeleton, a distinct lung system, dietary specialties, color vision, as well as colorful feathers and other sex-related traits.

Important Lessons
The new studies have shed light on several other questions about birds, including:
How did vocal learning evolve?  Eight studies in the package examined the subject of vocal learning. According to new evidence in the two flagship papers, vocal learning evolved independently at least twice, and was associated with convergent evolution in many proteins. A Science study led by Andreas Pfenning, Alexander Hartemink, Jarvis and others at Duke, in collaboration with researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle and the RIKEN Institute in Japan, found that the specialized song-learning brain circuitry of vocal learning birds (songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds) and human brain speech regions have convergent changes in the activity of more than 50 genes. Most of these genes are involved in forming neural connections. Osceola Whitney, Pfenning and Anne West, also of Duke, found in another Science study that singing is associated with the activation of 10 percent of the expressed genome, with diverse activation patterns in different song-learning regions of the brain, controlled by epigenetic regulation of the genome. Duke's Mukta Chakraborty and others found in a PLoS ONE study that parrots have a song system within a song system, with the surrounding song system unique to them. This might explain their greater ability to imitate human speech. In a BMC Genomics study, Morgan Wirthlin, Peter Lovell and Claudio Mello from Oregon Health & Science University found unique genes in the song-control brain regions of songbirds.

The XYZW of sex chromosomes. Just as the sex of humans is determined by the X and Y chromosomes, the sex of birds is controlled by the Z and W chromosomes. The W makes birds female, just as the Y makes humans male. Most mammals share a similar evolutionary history of the Y chromosome, which now contains many degenerated genes that no longer function and only a few active genes related to "maleness." A Science study led by Qi Zhou and Doris Bachtrog from the University of California, Berkeley, and Zhang found that half of bird species still contain substantial numbers of active genes in their W chromosomes. This challenges the classic view that the W chromosome is a "graveyard of genes" like the human Y.

This group also found that bird species are at drastically different states of sex chromosome evolution. For example, the ostrich and emu, which belong to one of the older branches of the bird family tree, have sex chromosomes resembling their ancestors. Yet some modern birds such as the chicken and zebra finch have sex chromosomes that contain few active genes. This opens a new set of questions on how the diversity of sex chromosomes may drive the diversity of sex differences in the outward appearance of various bird species. Peacocks and peahens are dramatically different; male and female crows are indistinguishable.

How did birds lose their teeth? In a Science study led by Robert Meredith from Montclair State University and Mark Springer from the University of California, Riverside, a comparison between the genomes of living bird species and those of vertebrate species that have teeth identified key mutations in the parts of the genome that code for enamel and dentin, the building blocks of teeth. The evidence suggests that five tooth-related genes were disabled within a short time period in the common ancestor of modern birds more than 100 million years ago.

What's the connection between birds and dinosaurs? Unlike mammals, birds (along with reptiles, fish and amphibians) have a large number of tiny microchromosomes. These smaller packages of gene-rich material are thought to have been present in their dinosaur ancestors. A study of genome karyotype structure in BMC Genomics analyzed whole genomes of the chicken, turkey, Peking duck, zebra finch and budgerigar. It found the chicken has the most similar overall chromosome pattern to an avian ancestor, which was thought to be a feathered dinosaur. This work was led by Darren Griffin and Michael Romanov from the University of Kent, and by Dennis Larkin and Marta Farré from the Royal Veterinary College, University of London.

Another study in Science examined birds' closest living relatives, the crocodiles. This team, led by Ed Green and Benedict Paton from the University of California, Santa Cruz, David Ray from Texas Tech University and Ed Braun from the University of Florida, found that crocodiles have one of the slowest-evolving genomes. The researchers were able to infer the genome sequence of the common ancestor of birds and crocodilians (archosaurs) and therefore all dinosaurs, including those that went extinct 66 million years ago.

Do differences in gene trees versus species trees matter? In the phylogenomics flagship study by Jarvis and others, the consortium found that no gene tree has a history exactly the same as the species tree, partly due to a process called incomplete lineage sorting. Another Science study, led by Tandy Warnow at the University of Texas and the University of Illinois, and her student Siavash Mirarab, developed a new computational approach called "statistical binning." They used this approach to show it does not matter much that the gene trees differ from the species tree because they were able to infer the first coalescent-based, genome-scale species tree, combining gene trees with similar histories to accurately infer a species tree.

Do bird genomes carry fewer virus sequences than other species? Mammalian genomes harbor a diverse set of genomic "fossils" of past viral infections called "endogenous viral elements" (EVEs). A study published in Genome Biology led by Jie Cui of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, Edward Holmes of the University of Sydney and Zhang, found that bird species had 6-13 times fewer EVE infections in their past than mammals. This finding is consistent with the fact that birds have smaller genomes than mammals. It also suggests birds may either be less susceptible to viral invasions or better able to purge viral genes.

When did colorful feathers evolve? Elaborate, colorful feathers are thought to be evolutionarily advantageous, giving a male bird in a given species an edge over his competitors when it comes to mating. Zhang's flagship paper in Science, which is further analyzed by Matthew Greenwold and Roger Sawyer from the University of South Carolina in a companion study in BMC Evolutionary Biology, found that genes involved in feather coloration evolved more quickly than other genes in eight of 46 bird lineages. Waterbirds have the lowest number of beta keratin feather genes, landbirds have more than twice as many, and in domesticated pet and agricultural bird species, there are eight times more of these genes.

What happens to species facing extinction or recovering from near-extinction? Birds are like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine because of their sensitivity to environmental changes that cause extinction. In a Genome Biology study led by Shengbin Li, Cheng Cheng and Jun Yu from Xi'an Jiaotong University and Jarvis, researchers analyzed the genomes of species that have recently gone nearly extinct, including the crested ibis in Asia and the bald eagle in the Americas. They found genes that break down environmental toxins have a higher rate of mutations in these species and there is lower diversity of immune system genes in endangered species. In a recovering crested ibis population, genes involved in brain function and metabolism are evolving more rapidly. The researchers found more genomic diversity in the recovering population than was expected, giving greater hope for species conservation.

The Start of Something Bigger
This sweeping genome-level comparison of an entire class of life is being powered by frozen bird tissue samples collected over the past 30 years by museums and other institutions around the world. Samples are sent as fingernail-sized chunks of frozen flesh mostly to Duke University and University of Copenhagen for DNA separation. Most of the genome sequencing and critical initial analyses of the genomes have then been conducted by the BGI in China.

The avian genome consortium is now creating a database that will be made publicly available in the future for scientists to study the genetic basis of complex avian traits.
Setting up the pipeline for the large-scale study of whole genomes -- collecting and organizing tissue samples, extracting the DNA, analyzing its quality, sequencing and managing torrents of new data -- has been a massive undertaking. But the scientists say their work should help inform other major efforts for the comprehensive sequencing of vertebrate classes. To encourage other researchers to dig through this 'big data' and discover new patterns that were not seen in small-scale data before, the avian genome consortium has released the full dataset to the public in GigaScience, and in NCBI, ENSEMBL and CoGe databases.

Under the leadership of Dave Burt, the National Avian Research Facility at the Roslin Institute and Edinburgh University, UK, has created genome browser databases based on the ENSEMBL model for 48 species.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/201...142136.htm

You guessed it, Sciencedaily has been my daily news source since grade school.

Anyhow, the paper: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/346/6215/1308
 

 
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Another rhino loses it life to poaching in Kaziranga National Park…In what should set the alarm bells ringing, an adult male rhino has been found killed by poachers in the Kaziranga National Park, Assam. The poachers took away the horn after killing the helpless animal. With this latest casualty, the number of total rhinos killed by poachers has already reached six in the first three months of 2015.Forest officials say that upon hearing sounds of gunshots near Tamulipathar camp in the Agaratoli Range of the rhino habitat, they launched an extensive search operation in the morning. But unfortunately it turned out to be a futile exercise as by then the poachers had already killed the rhino and escaped with the horn. Divisional forest officer S K Seal Sarma informed that they have recovered five AK rifle cartridges near the carcass of the rhino.The point of suspicion at the time of writing this article is directed towards Karbi Peoples Liberation Tigers (KPLT) militants. It must be noted here that forest security guards have so far gunned down five poachers/linkmen in separate incidents Sonitpur, Karbi Anglong, Nagaon, Golaghat and Lakhimpur districts; two security guards have also laid down their lives while defending these endangered animals.Kaziranga National Park continues to be the most badly affected from poaching activities accounting for 60 of the total 75 rhinos being killed in the state since 2013. Among the other parks on the receiving end of poaching activities include: Manas National Park (6), Orang National Park (4), and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary (4).Here is a table showing the year-wise rhino causalities in the state.YearKilled by poachers20156 (Till Date)201432201337The Minster for Environment and Forest Atuwa Munda, while replying to a question by AIUDF MLA Ali Hussain, also said that 145 rhinos lost their lives in the Kaziranga National Park from natural causes. The death toll in Orang of natural causes is one.Elaborating more on natural deaths, the minister told that during the corresponding period 12 tigers and 115 elephants lost their lives.The minister went on to assure the public that his government is aware of the ongoing poaching menace and that they are working out a plan to address it. He informed that as many as many as 124 poachers have been arrested in Kaziranga during the period and security would be beefed up even further. Steps like revamping the existing infrastructure and equipping the forest guards with more modern and sophisticated weapons are undertaken to address the situation. Further, he informed that there is a renewed emphasis on departmental coordination which apart from beefing up the security network will bring the guilty swiftly to justice.
https://www.tourmyindia.com/blog/poachin...onal-park/
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( This post was last modified: 03-30-2015, 11:39 PM by Pckts )

Electric fences kill more tuskers in Tamil Nadu than poachersCHENNAI: Electric fences are wreaking havoc in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, killing four tuskers in the last six months. Erected illegally on private estates, agricultural farms and resorts, these fences are being seen as the biggest threat to elephants in the Reserve that is home to almost 25% of the total Asian elephant population in the country. According to available records, electric fences kill more tuskers than poachers in Tamil Nadu.

READ ALSO: Tamil Nadu forest officials tighten anti-poaching vigil ahead of Diwali

The first elephant electrocution in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in the last six months was reported at a private resort in Bokkapuram in September 2014. The second tusker came in contact with an electric fence on an agricultural farm at Chokkanalli on January 4 this year and the third died on a garlic farm in Sholur on January 29. The last death was reported from Gudalur, again on an agricultural farm, on Friday.

READ ALSO: Ivory objects worth Rs 50 lakh seized, 2 held

All these fences had been drawing electricity illegally from connections meant for houses or sheds and in most cases, the officials concerned were aware they had been erected without permission. Owners of these estates have not been booked for the deaths. Equally responsible for the fences coming up are foresters, guards and watchers who patrol the forests, say naturalists.

In January 2012, in response to a petition, Madras high court directed the secretary of the state environment and forests department to remove illegally erected fences, solar and electric, in the elephant corridor in Nilgiris. Subsequently, an appeal was preferred against this order in Supreme Court which dismissed it. Despite the high court order, farm owners and others continue to put up fences in the elephant corridor, say conservationists.
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/...669479.cms


 

Golden Heart Electric fences are wreaking havoc in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, killing four tuskers in the last six months. Erected illegally on private estates, agricultural farms and resorts, these fences are being seen as the biggest threat to elephants in the Reserve that is home to almost 25% of the total Asian elephant population in the country. According to available records, electric fences kill more tuskers than poachers in Tamil Nadu.

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30 rhino poachers shot in northeast last year


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http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news...57638.aspx
 
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 World Wildlife Trust (WWT) added 3 new photos.5 hrs · Edited ·Bus Toppled after hitting a GaurA speeding SRS travels bus toppled after ramming into a Indian Gaur & killing it on spot in Aanechoukoor forest of Kodagu District, Karnataka.6 People were seriously injured in the incident.Reckless driving & speed inside reserve forest is been blamed for the cause of this accident> This incident happened today around 08:30 P.M

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India's killer heatwave is now so hot it causes the roads to MELT: Death toll soars above 1,100 and people are told to stay indoors as crisis continues
  • Pictures have emerged of road surfaces melting in New Delhi, India as temperatures hit a blistering 45 degrees
  • The death toll from the heatwave has topped 1,100 and forecasters are now predicting that it will get even hotter 
  • Nearly 900 have died in 10 days in the state of Andhra Pradesh - double the total of heat-related deaths last summer

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-...z3dM8wHfIg
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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-...es.htmlThe death toll from India's killer heatwave has topped 1,100 as people battle to contend with conditions so hot roads are beginning to melt.Road surfaces in New Delhi have started melting as temperatures hit a blistering 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) - and forecasters have warned it will get even hotter.  Southern India has been hit hardest by the sweltering weather and many of the victims are construction workers, elderly or homeless people unable to heed official advice to stay indoors.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-...z3dM96t29q
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Karnataka state gets a new elephant reserve


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http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/...607773.cms
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 Tiny Newborn Rhino Refuses To Give Up After Losing His Mom

 


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https://www.thedodo.com/rescue-newborn-r...66753.html
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