Starved polar bear perished due to record sea-ice melt, says expert


Climate change has reduced ice in the Arctic to record lows in the past year, forcing animals to range further in search of food.

This 16-year-old male polar bear died of starvation resulting from the lack of ice on which to hunt seals. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images

This 16-year-old male polar bear died of starvation resulting from the lack of ice on which to hunt seals. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images

 

A starved polar bear found found dead in Svalbard as “little more than skin and bones” perished due to a lack of sea ice on which to hunt seals, according to a reknowned polar bear expert.

Climate change has reduced sea ice in the Arctic to record lows in the last year and Dr Ian Stirling, who has studied the bears for almost 40 years and examined the animal, said the lack of ice forced the bear into ranging far and wide in an ultimately unsuccessful search for food.

“From his lying position in death, the bear appears to simply have starved and died where he dropped,” Stirling said. “He had no external suggestion of any remaining fat, having been reduced to little more than skin and bone.”

The bear had been examined by scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute in April in the southern part of Svalbard, an Arctic island archipelago, and appeared healthy. The same bear had been captured in the same area in previous years, suggesting that the discovery of its body, 250km away in northern Svalbard in July, represented an unusual movement away from its normal range. The bear probably followed the fjords inland as it trekked north, meaning it may have walked double or treble that distance.

Polar bears feed almost exclusively on seals and need sea ice to capture their prey. But 2012 saw the lowest level of sea ice in the Arctic on record. Prond Robertson, at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, said: “The sea ice break up around Svalbard in 2013 was both fast and very early.” He said recent years had been poor for ice around the islands: “Warm water entered the western fjords in 2005-06 and since then has not shifted.”

Stirling, now at Polar Bears International and previously at the University of Alberta and the Canadian Wildlife Service, said: “Most of the fjords and inter-island channels in Svalbard did not freeze normally last winter and so many potential areas known to that bear for hunting seals in spring do not appear to have been as productive as in a normal winter. As a result, the bear likely went looking for food in another area but appears to have been unsuccessful.”

Scientists are tracking polar bears with radio collars in Svalbard, Norway, to monitor their search for food. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images

Scientists are tracking polar bears with radio collars in Svalbard, Norway, to monitor their search for food. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images

 

Research published in May showed that loss of sea ice was harming the health, breeding success and population size of the polar bears of Hudson Bay, Canada as they spent longer on land waiting for the sea to refreeze. Other work has shown polar bear weights are declining. In February, a panel of polar bear experts published a paper stating that rapid ice loss meant options such the feeding of starving bears by humans needed to be considered to protect the 20,000-25,000 animals thought to remain.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest professional conservation network, states that of the 19 populations of polar bear around the Arctic, data is available for 12. Of those, eight are declining, three are stable and one is increasing.

The IUCN predicts that increasing ice loss will mean between one-third and a half of polar bears will be lost in the next three generations, about 45 years. But the US and Russian governments said in March that faster-than-expected ice losses could mean two-thirds are lost.

Attributing a single incident to climate change can be controversial, but Douglas Richardson, head of living collections at the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie, said: “It’s not just one bear though. There are an increasing number of bears in this condition: they are just not putting down enough fat to survive their summer fast. This particular polar bear is the latest bit of evidence of the impact of climate change.”

Ice loss due to climate change is “absolutely, categorically and without question” the cause of falling polar bear populations, said Richardson, who cares for the UK’s only publicly kept polar bears. He said 16 years was not particularly old for a wild male polar bear, which usually live into their early 20s. “There may have been some underlying disease, but I would be surprised if this was anything other than starvation,” he said. “Once polar bears reach adulthood they are normally nigh on indestructible, they are hard as nails.”

Jeff Flocken, at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “While it is difficult to ascribe a single death or act to climate change it couldn’t be clearer that drastic and long-term changes in their Arctic habitat threaten the survival of the polar bear. The threat of habitat loss from climate change, exacerbated by unsustainable killing for commercial trade in Canada, could lead to the demise of one of the world’s most iconic animals, and this would be a true tragedy.”

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Russia and Ukraine likely to block huge Antarctic marine reserve


Adélie penguins in the Ross Sea, off Antarctica. Photograph: John Weller/AFP/Getty

Adélie penguins in the Ross Sea, off Antarctica. Photograph: John Weller/AFP/Getty

 

Conservation body meets to discuss protection of area 13 times the size of the UK, which would require unanimous agreement

 

Russia and Ukraine look likely to block a plan to create two huge marine reserves off the coast of Antarctica that combined would be bigger than the area of all the world’s protected oceans put together.

The 25-member Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meets in Bremerhaven, Germany, on Thursday to discuss the proposal to create the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Ross Sea, off the east coast of Antarctica. A decision, expected on Tuesday, would require unanimous agreement.

The proposal, backed by the US, New Zealand, Australia, France and the EU, would designate an area 13 times the size of the UK as one in which natural resource exploitation, including fishing, would be illegal. Advocates say the MPAs would provide environmental security to a region that remains relatively pristine.

Publicly, delegates and environmental NGOs have expressed optimism that the meeting will be a success. But a senior source at the meeting said the attitudes of Russia and Ukraine as they entered were looking negative.

The debate highlighted a rift between “pro-[fish]harvesting countries” and those who style themselves proponents of conservation, such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and the EU, according to Alan Hemmings, a specialist in Antarctic governance at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.He said: “You would put Russia and the Ukraine near the top of the states that are likely to be concerned about marine protected areas in the Antarctic on a large scale, along with China, Japan and, on and off, South Korea.”

“There’s a tug of war between those who want to establish conservation management and those who want to keep working with smaller-scale fisheries management,” said Steve Campbell, campaign director at the Antarctic Ocean Alliance. But he expressed “quiet optimism” that the proposals would be passed, if not at the meeting in Germany, then at the next annual meeting in Hobart, Australia later in the year.

The US and NGOs have been lobbying countries who expressed reservations at the last CCAMLR meeting. NGOs and delegates reported that China, South Korea and Japan looked likely to support the proposals.

Many countries have valuable fisheries in the region, particularly for patagonian toothfish and krill. Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Southern Ocean sanctuaries, said defining the boundaries of the reserves to balance ecology and economic interests would represent a challenge to negotiations.

Additionally, a sunset clause for the reserves, proposed by Norway and supported by Russia and Japan, would mean the protected status of East Antarctic and Ross Sea reserves would have to be renewed in 2064 and 2043 respectively. Campbell said reserves with time limits were highly unusual.

“Precedent tells you that if you set up a protected area, you set it up for an indefinite period of time. If you set up a national park in a country, you designate it in perpetuity.” He said the potential for fishing and other resources in the future was driving the push.

“It’s not just about what’s there now, it’s also about what could be a future economic interest or a future interest in the region,” said Campbell.

The extraordinary session in Bremerhaven was arranged after the last annual meeting of CCAMLR in November, 2011 failed to reach a consensus on the MPAs. At the time Russia, China and Ukraine expressed concerns at a lack of available science in favour of the reserves. The decision was taken to reconvene this summer with the agenda solely focused on the proposals.

Green groups expressed dismay at last year’s inaction. They were joined by delegates from the USA, UK, EU and Australia who feared that CCAMLR had lost its proactive attitude to conservation.

At the end of the 2011 meeting, the Ukraine delegation said well-grounded scientific arguments were lacking. They said MPAs were only one approach to managing an ecosystem and that “only fishing, at least at some level, can guarantee that research is conducted” to monitor fish stocks.

“Russia was of the view that previous scientific committee advice was related to only some aspects of MPAs and that all available information needed to be considered,” said the Russian delegation.

Russian and Ukraine declined to comment further on this week’s meeting.

Obama’s rhetoric makes climate action a simpler question of right and wrong


Will other world leaders take a cue from US President who is making climate change action a question of ethics and morals?

President Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change in Washington. Photograph: Charles Dharapak/AP

President Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change in Washington. Photograph: Charles Dharapak/AP

THERE are a lot of decisions in life that are easier because we know the difference between right and wrong – it’s why we wouldn’t steal a biscuit from a poor homeless orphan or kick away a pensioner’s walking stick as they’re about to step on to a pedestrian crossing.

For these reasons, stealing stuff that’s not yours or assaulting pensioners (or anyone else for that matter) is considered by the community at large to be ethically or morally wrong as well as being against the law.

Recent rhetorical flourishes from father-of-two Barack Obama, the President of the United States, have tossed climate change into this same bucket of ethical decisions.

Obama has tugged at the needle of our moral compasses several times with soundbites loaded with ethical ordnance. Take these examples from his recent climate change speech in Washington and his weekly White House address.

Some day our children and our children’s children will look us in eye they and they will ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer and more stable world? I want to be able to say, yes we did… Decades of carefully reviewed science tells us our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on the world we leave to our children… those of us in positions of responsibility will need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of our children… The question is not whether we need to act.  The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late…. We will be judged – as a people, as a society, and as a country – on where we go from here… power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.

It’s not the first time the President has asked us to look into the eyes of our kids for a reason to act on climate change. In his second term victory speech in November 2012, he said  “we want our children to live in an an America… that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

During his State of the Union address in February, he said that “for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change”.

Looking at the words alone, Obama is simplifying the climate change issue down to a question of right and wrong. Cutting the use of fossil fuels = right. Not cutting the use of fossil fuels = wrong.

Climate campaigners will point to a mismatch between the words and his ongoing support for fracked gas, but taking such an emotive position on the issue hands a very large metaphorical stick to campaigners with which they can beat their President if and when his actions fail to match the words. When Obama says he wants to lead the world on the issue, the stick gets handed around to everyone else.

But this strong ethical position on the issue may give other leaders cause to stop and think about how they justify action on climate change to their citizenry.

Alongside arguments made on an economic basis (we’ll fall behind in the Clean Industrial Revolution or we’ll get slugged with massive clean up bills from fires, floods and storm surges), a health basis (prolonged heat waves can kill) or a survival basis (we’ve still got to find food when extreme weather decimates crops), how many other leaders will simply say – as Obama now is – that strong action is ethically the right thing to do?

Australia, for example, is a relatively small contributor to the global problem when it comes to its own emissions – roughly three per cent of global emissions if you count greenhouse gases emitted domestically and those dug up and sent overseas to be burned elsewhere. Emissions from the likes of China, India and the US eclipse those of Australia.

Yet in per capita terms, Australia is one of the worst offenders. Then there’s the country’s world leading position on coal exports, its soon-to-be world leading position on exports of Liquified Natural Gas and, as I’ve already written here, the ongoing support for further expansion of fossil fuel mining and exports.

Just as President Obama prefaced his speech on the decades of scientific research into the impacts of burning coal, oil and gas on the climate, Australia’s Climate Commission recently laid out the issue clearly for all concerned.

Looking at what needs to happen to have a decent chance of staying beneath 2C of global warming and the real-life impacts that come with that benign-sounding number, the commission said:

It is clear that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground and cannot be burned.

But some watchers might question the wisdom of that 2C guardrail, given the kind of extreme weather events being delivered now after only 1C of global warming.

A new study just released has looked at Australia’s record melting summer heatwave of 2012/13.

Chart showing maximum temperatures reached across Australia during 2012/13 summer heatwave

Chart showing maximum temperatures reached across Australia during 2012/13 summer heatwave

 

As the Bureau of Meteorology has recorded, the heatwave gave Australia its hottest day on record – 40.3C (104.5F). For seven days straight, the average maximum temperature across the country was 39C (102F).

During the heatwave, a maximum temperature of 45C (113F) or more was recorded at least once for 46.9 per cent of the country.

Thongs (aka flip-flops) melted and petrol pumps were turned off to stop fuel vaporising. Hundreds of bush fires destroyed properties and livelihoods.

The study in the leading journal Geophysical Research Letters found that the extra greenhouse gases in the atmosphere put there by human activity had increased the risk of the heatwave happening by a factor of between two-and-a-half and five.

So are decisions made now and into the future to increase these risks by digging up and burning more fossil fuels ethically questionable? If you take your cue from Obama’s words, then the answer may be yes.

US Department of Agriculture probes Oregon Monsanto GM wheat mystery


Company cries foul over appearance of genetically modified wheat but scientist who found it doubts claim of sabotage.

The Department of Agriculture is investigating the presence of genetically modified wheat plants in an Oregon field. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

The Department of Agriculture is investigating the presence of genetically modified wheat plants in an Oregon field. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

 

It is a mystery that could cost the American farmer billions: how rogue genetically modified wheat plants turned up on a farmer’s field in Oregon.

The scientist who first discovered the renegade grain – by dipping a plastic strip into a tube of pulped plant, in order to check its genetics – believes the GM wheat could have entered America’s food supply undetected years ago, and could still be in circulation.

“There’s a lot of potential for how it could have got into the supply,” said Carol Mallory-Smith, a professor of weed sciences at Oregon State University. “It could have already been processed. It could have gone for animal feed somewhere or it could have gone for something else. It could have gone for storage.”

The Department of Agriculture, which is conducting a secretive investigation into the renegade GM wheat outbreak, maintains the GM wheat remained confined to a single 125-acre field on a single farm in eastern Oregon. Officials said there was no evidence the contaminated wheat was in the marketplace.

Monsanto, which manufactured the altered gene and conducted field trials of the GM wheat several years ago, strongly suggested in a conference call with reporters on Friday that the company was the victim of sabotage of anti-GM campaigners. Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer, said:

It’s fair to say there are folks who don’t like biotechnology and who would use this as an opportunity to make problems.

The real story is unlikely to emerge – if at all – until the publication of the final report by 18 Department of Agriculture investigators who are now scouring grain elevators, farmers’ fields and university research stations in eastern Oregon, hunting for a few grains of suspicious wheat.

The stakes are high for America’s wheat exports, with Japan and South Korea cancelling shipments; for Monsanto, which faces lawsuits from farmers for falling wheat prices and a consumer backlash against GM products; and for the US government, which must shore up confidence in the safety and integrity of the food supply.

The crisis for wheat farmers began in late April, with a phone call from a crop consultant seeking the advice of researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis. The consultant had sprayed Roundup, a weed killer also manufactured by Monsanto, on some fallow land. Ordinarily, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, would be expected to clean out the entire 125-acre field. This time, however, some plants survived.

The consultant, fearing he had come across a “superweed”, got in touch with the university and sent some plants in for testing. A clump of plants, carefully wrapped in plastic to keep them green, arrived by Fed-Ex on 30 April. Scientists separated 24 samples and tested them for the presence of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene, CP4, which was developed to be resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer.

“They all came up positive,” she said. So did a second battery of tests by another lab at the university and independent testing on a different set of wheat plants collected by researchers from the Department of Agriculture. The scientists were still slightly disbelieving, however. The only chance for contamination by the GM wheat, it was thought, was from field trials Monsanto conducted in the late 1990s until 2005.

The wheat was grown in more than 100 test plots in 16 states over several years, but the company wound down the last of the trials in 2005, because it saw little market potential. Unlike the other big crops – corn, soybeans, cotton and canola – American farmers have never raised GM wheat on a commercial basis. The US exports much of its wheat to Asia and Europe, who do not want GM products. The Oregon field trials stopped in 2001.

“Our customers have zero-tolerance for GM wheat,” said Wally Powell, president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League.

Monsanto is currently testing a next generation of GM wheat in North Dakota and Hawaii. The company insists the seeds from those earlier trials were shipped backed to its labs in Missouri or destroyed in the field and driven deep into the earth with a backhoe.

“Most of the seed was destroyed in the field,” said Jeff Koscelny, who heads Monsanto’s wheat sales team. “It never left the site, and it was buried. To us, it’s not logical there were any seeds out there.”

Monsanto has faced a backlash over GM products. Photograph: Nigel Treblin/AFP/Getty Images

Monsanto has faced a backlash over GM products. Photograph: Nigel Treblin/AFP/Getty Images

 

While Monsanto’s chief technology officer suggested eco-activists were to blame, Mallory-Smith said deliberate contamination was the least likely scenario:

The sabotage conspiracy theory is even harder for me to explain or think as logical because it would mean that someone had that seed and was holding that seed for 10 or 12 years and happened to put it on the right field to have it found, and identified. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense.

She was also sceptical of Monsanto’s claims to have gathered up or destroyed every last seed from its earlier GM wheat trials. In recent years, as American farmers rely increasingly on GM crops, there have been a spate of such escapes, including rice, corn, soybean, and tomato. Oregon is still trying to contain a 2006 escape of GM bentgrass, used on golf courses, which has migrated 13 miles from where it was originally planted.

“Once we put a trait or a gene into the environment we can not expect that we are going to be able to retract or bring back that gene and find every last gene that we put out there,” said Mallory-Smith. Tracing the course of an escape so long after Monsanto’s field trials will be even more difficult, she said. “It’s like finding a needle in a hay stack,” she said.

One morning in late June, farmers from wheat-growing areas in Oregon, Idaho and Washington state drove their pick-up trucks to the station, to learn about the latest advances in farm technology – including toy-sized drones – and to catch up on the latest on the GM wheat escape. Some of the farmers were relatively relaxed – those whose land sits relatively high up and don’t expect to harvest their crop until August.

Wheat prices reached historic highs before the GM discovery. If there is no further evidence of contamination, they figure they can ride out the crisis, store their wheat, and wait until Japan and South Korea place orders again. But there is also an undercurrent of suspicion and anger at the unidentified farmer who reported finding GM wheat on his land – consequently putting all of their crops in jeopardy.

“It’s a mystery to me how they even found that GM wheat,” said Herb Marsh, 80, who has been farming in eastern Oregon his entire life. “It’s hard for me to swallow that he would go, and actually get it tested.

“It’s just a big mystery,” he said.

The Age of Stupid ( Full Movie )


The year is 2055. The Earth is devastated. One man (Oscar® nominee Pete Postlethwaite, The Usual Suspects, Clash of the Titans) remains in “The Global Archive,” a vast storage facility protecting all of humanity’s collective achievements.

Based on mainstream scientific projections from the present day, THE AGE OF STUPID focuses on the archivist as he tries to work out why we didn’t save ourselves while we still had the chance. He flips through a startling array of news clips, interviews and scientific reports from our current time, each its own warning sign of the destruction that is looming if we don’t change our current consumption practices.

From the director of McLibel and the producer of the Academy Award®-winning One Day in September, the fresh, fast-paced and often hilarious THE AGE OF STUPID continues to break all the rules of independent film distribution—including smashing the world record for the largest live film event when its global premiere reached over a million viewers in 63 countries.

Stunning 30-year timelapse shows earth’s changing surface


Originally posted by:

 

 

A timelapse of the Columbia glacier retreat, via Google/TIME


In 1984, the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA launched a program called Landsat, capturing and archiving hi-resolution satellite images of the earth’s surface. Google and Time magazine recently teamed up to create time-lapse videos from the images, releasing the results of the project on Thursday.

“We believe this is the most comprehensive picture of our changing planet ever made available to the public,” Rebecca Moore, engineering manager for Google’s Earth Engine & Earth Outreach program, wrote in a blog post announcing the Timelapse launch.

Zooming in, users can see startling video footage of melting glaciers in Alaska, deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon, coastal expansion in Dubai and urban sprawl in Las Vegas, created using millions of historical satellite images:

We started working with the USGS in 2009 to make this historic archive of earth imagery available online. Using Google Earth Engine technology, we sifted through 2,068,467 images—a total of 909 terabytes of data—to find the highest-quality pixels (e.g., those without clouds), for every year since 1984 and for every spot on Earth. We then compiled these into enormous planetary images, 1.78 terapixels each, one for each year.

As the final step, we worked with the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, recipients of a Google Focused Research Award, to convert these annual Earth images into a seamless, browsable HTML5 animation.

“Consider: a standard TV image uses about one-third of a million pixels per frame, while a high-resolution image uses 2 million,” Time’s Jeffrey Kluger noted. “The Landsat images, by contrast, weigh in at 1.8 trillion pixels per frame, the equivalent of 900,000 high-def TVs assembled into a single mosaic.”

A timelapse of Las Vegas Urban Growth, as seen through Google Earth.

Blackbird hitches a ride atop a red-tailed hawk


Remarkable image is one of a series captured by a photographer during a recent trip to a Northern California wildlife area

Originally posted by

grindtv.com by

Brave Little Balckbird

Brave Little Balckbird

Landing On A Raptor Sonoma-Spring-62

Earlier this week we shared vivid photos of red-tailed hawks engaged in a dogfight with two ravens that were interested in the raptors’ nest and babies.

The image atop this post might be even more incredible—or at least unique. It shows a red-winged blackbird standing on the back of a red-tailed hawk, looking as if it’s catching a ride to another destination.

The series of images were captured recently by photographer Eric Dugan at Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area in Northern California. They first appeared in a San Francisco Chronicle story written by outdoors columnist Tom Stienstra.

Dugan described the event:

“I was exploring the wildlife refuge and heard the screech of a red-tailed hawk, loud and repeated. I scanned the sky but didn’t see anything at first. Then, in the distance, I saw a young red-tailed hawk sitting on a telephone pole and the red-winged blackbirds were jumping on and off its back and head, apparently to drive it away from a nesting area.

 

“I immediately stopped, changed to my long lens, and set up my camera in anticipation for the show. As I walked closer, I anticipated that the hawk would take flight and the blackbirds would pursue it, to drive it out of their territory. I raised the camera and the blackbird actually landed on the hawk multiple times.

 

“The small bird was so far more maneuverable in flight that all the hawk could do was tolerate it and fly away.”

Dugan stated via email that the photos “are 100 percent legit” and that his only edits were exposure- and shadow-related since lighting was harsh at certain points because of the bright sunshine.

“I went back to the same spot a few days later hoping lightning would strike twice,” Dugan said. “But the red-tailed hawks were hunting way off in the distance.”

His final remark: “Red-winged blackbirds are fearless.”

—Dugan’s photos can be viewed on his Flickr page

—Find Pete Thomas on Facebook and Twitter

 

Dogs and Humans Evolved Together, Study Suggests


The gray wolf (Canis lupus lycaon), also known as the timber wolf, is the largest wild member of the dog family. Found in parts of North America

The gray wolf (Canis lupus lycaon), also known as the timber wolf, is the largest wild member of the dog family. Found in parts of North America

Originally posted by:

Dogs are more than man’s best friend: They may be partners in humans’ evolutionary journey, according to a new study.

The study shows that dogs split from gray wolves about 32,000 years ago, and that since then, domestic dogs‘ brains and digestive organs have evolved in ways very similar to the brains and organs of humans.

The findings suggest a more ancient origin for dog domestication than previously suggested. They also hint that a common environment drove both dog and human evolution for thousands of years.

“As domestication is often associated with large increases in population density and crowded living conditions, these ‘unfavorable’ environments might be the selective pressure that drove the rewiring of both species,” the researchers wrote in their article, published today (May 14) in the journal Nature Communications.

First domestication

It isn’t clear precisely when wolves were tamed and transformed into man’s best friend, and the date has been hotly debated. An ancient, doglike skull uncovered in the Siberian Mountains suggested that the first dogs were domesticated around 33,000 years ago from gray wolves. But genetic analysis suggested dogs in China were domesticated only about 16,000 years ago.

In any case, most researchers agree that by about 10,000 years ago, dogs were firmly ensconced in human society. [10 Breeds: What Your Dog Says About You]

Some studies show that the wild dogs of South China may have been the first domesticated canines.

To understand this domestication, Guo-dong Wang, a genetics researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his colleagues analyzed the DNA of four gray wolves, three indigenous Chinese dogs and a German shepherd, a Belgian Malinois and a Tibetan mastiff.

The DNA suggests that the gray wolves split off from the indigenous dogs about 32,000 years ago, the researchers said.

“Chinese indigenous dogs might represent the missing link in dog domestication,” the researchers write in the paper.

Since then, dogs’ evolution has been gradual, and there were no sharp decreases in the dog population over time, suggesting dogs gradually became domesticated, after many years of scavenging from humans.

Parallel evolution

The team then compared corresponding genes in dogs and humans. They found both species underwent similar changes in genes responsible for digestion and metabolism, such as genes that code for cholesterol transport. Those changes could be due to a dramatic change in the proportion of animal versus plant-based foods that occurred in both at around the same time, the researchers said.

The team also found co-evolution in several brain processes — for instance, in genes that affect the processing of the brain chemical serotonin. In humans, variations in these genes affect levels of aggression. (This shared genetic trajectory might explain why Fluffy can be helped by antidepressant drugs, the authors hypothesize.)

This is Pretty Funny…


Stunning footage shows attacking bullfrog’s epic fail versus dragonfly

Photographer says he captured the extraordinary scene by accident

April 08, 2013 by

The New York Times recently published a story about dragonflies and how prolific the flying insects are as hunters. But what probably stood out for most readers was the jaw-dropping footage used to illustrate the piece–notably the super-slow-motion footage showing a spotted skimmer dragonfly evading a predatory leaping frog (watch as the frog believes it has scored an easy meal, only to fall into the water empty-handed).

We asked Dr. Andrew Mountcastle, the Harvard researcher who captured the footage, to share a few details about his photo session and he confessed that he chronicled the event by accident while at a city park in Seattle, filming for a project featuring insect flight.

“Eight spotted skimmers frequently hunt from perches on twigs and rocks near water, so I had focused my camera on one such perch to try to capture take-off and landing sequences,” Mountcastle explained. “As I was waiting for the dragonfly to take off, I briefly looked away, at which point I heard a splash in the water. When I looked back at the perch, the dragonfly was gone and the water underneath the perch was disturbed.

“But fortunately the camera had recorded the entire event. It wasn’t until I reviewed the video that I saw the frog had stolen the scene.”

New research, according to the New York Times, suggests that dragonflies “may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom.”

For example, they manage to snare prey items–flies and mosquitoes, etc.–in midair at an astonishing 95 percent success rate.

Furthermore, they’re surprisingly voracious. Stacey Combes, another Harvard researcher, once watched a dragonfly consume 30 flies in a row.

Their adeptness stems from their ability to calculate a trajectory to intercept their prey, and to adjust that trajectory as needed.

Clearly, judging by the footage, they’re masters of evasion as well.

–To view more of Mountcastle’s movie clips, visit his website