Wednesday, February 27, 2013

[Ornithology • 2012] Lead poisoning and the deceptive recovery of the critically endangered California condor Gymnogyps californianus

California Condor
Pinnacles National Monument

By ThorsHammer94539 I-Ting Chiang

Endangered species recovery programs seek to restore populations to self-sustaining levels. Nonetheless, many recovering species require continuing management to compensate for persistent threats in their environment. Judging true recovery in the face of this management is often difficult, impeding thorough analysis of the success of conservation programs. We illustrate these challenges with a multidisciplinary study of one of the world’s rarest birds—the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus). California condors were brought to the brink of extinction, in part, because of lead poisoning, and lead poisoning remains a significant threat today. We evaluated individual lead-related health effects, the efficacy of current efforts to prevent lead-caused deaths, and the consequences of any reduction in currently intensive management actions. Our results show that condors in California remain chronically exposed to harmful levels of lead; 30% of the annual blood samples collected from condors indicate lead exposure (blood lead ≥ 200 ng/mL) that causes significant subclinical health effects, measured as>60% inhibition of the heme biosynthetic enzyme δ-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase. Furthermore, each year, ∼20% of free-flying birds have blood lead levels (≥450 ng/mL) that indicate the need for clinical intervention to avert morbidity and mortality. Lead isotopic analysis shows that lead-based ammunition is the principle source of lead poisoning in condors. Finally, population models based on condor demographic data show that the condor’s apparent recovery is solely because of intensive ongoing management, with the only hope of achieving true recovery dependent on the elimination or substantial reduction of lead poisoning rates

Keywords: wildlife, ecotoxicology, hunting, demography, vulture

Myra E. Finkelstein, Daniel F. Doak, Daniel George, Joe Burnett, Joseph Brandt, Molly Church, Jesse Grantham and Donald R. Smith. 2012. Lead poisoning and the deceptive recovery of the critically endangered California condor. PNAS. Doi: 10.1073/pnas.1203141109


California Condors Constantly Suffer From Lead Poisoning

The Humane Society, Audubon California and Defenders of Wildlife are pushing for California to become the first state to ban lead ammunition for all types of hunting to protect California condors and other wild animals.

In 2008, the state banned lead ammunition for hunting in the California condor’s historic range, which runs roughly from Los Angeles to San Jose, but the groups believe that a wider ban is necessary to prevent condors and other birds, such as bald eagles and vultures, from dying as a result of lead poisoning after eating animals that are shot by hunters.

When hunters leave carcasses or gut piles, they may contain lead shot pellets or bullet fragments. Scavengers who pick at the piles can develop lead poisoning, which can cause inability to fly, anemia, blindness, seizures, starvation and death.

“Countless wild animals suffer and die needlessly every year from the continued use of lead ammunition,” said Jennifer Fearing, state director of the Humane Society of the United States. “It is put in the environment and stays there. It’s toxic, and it’s cumulative.”

The California condor population was reduced to 22 birds by 1982, with the last wild condor brought into captivity in 1987. Captive breeding efforts have been very successful since they began in the 1980s and have boosted the population to around 400 birds who are now in the wild and in breeding programs.

Unfortunately, while the population has grown, condors still face the threat of exposure to toxic levels of lead and require a lot interference from people to keep them from disappearing from the landscape yet again. We’re now breeding them, releasing them, recapturing them, treating them for lead poisoning and releasing them again hoping they survive.

Last year a review of more than 1,154 blood samples taken from wild condors and tested between 1997 and 2010 found that 48 percent of the birds had levels of lead in their bodies that would have killed them without treatment in animal hospitals, reports Mercury News.

Some hunters are supportive of the move to ban lead ammunition and are voluntarily making the switch, but the NRA and others are balking at the idea, claiming that this is somehow an attempt to ban hunting altogether and arguing that there is a lack of evidence to support a ban.

However, studies at the University of California, Davis that were funded by the California Department of Fish and Game have found evidence that lead from ammunition often makes its way into carrion-eating birds and that bans on lead ammunition for hunting waterfowl and in condor habitat were effective in reducing lead exposure. An additional study conducted in 2012 matched isotope ratios found in bullets to those found in birds.

“We’re not against hunting,” said Dan Taylor, public policy director for Audubon California. “But hunting is a privilege. For hunting to continue in a state like California it must be done in the most ecologically and sound way possible.”

[Conservation / News • 2013] National Zoo's Clouded Leopard Babies: Two Cubs Born At Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institue

National Zoo's Clouded Leopard Babies via @HuffPostGreen

These cubs aren't just cute, they're genetically important. Clouded leopards are listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Due to hunting and deforestation in Southeast Asia, there are thought to be fewer than 10,000 of these animals, said to have an "arboreal lifestyle," in the wild. 

Also not helping the species' survival: male clouded leopards' somewhat inexplicable propensity for attacking, sometimes killing, prospective mates. (See, e.g., Kitchener, A.C. (1999). Mate killing in clouded leopards: a hypothesis. IZN (International Zoo News).)

The zoo is trying to reduce these risks by hand-rearing these new babies -- which means giving them bottles, and otherwise taking care of them, while making sure not to "imprint" in a way that'll stop them from being able to interact productively with other clouded leopards. 

“We feed them, burp them, and put them back to sleep,” hand-rearing expert, and senior mammal keeper at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute headquarters, Kenneth Lang told Smithsonian Zoogoer in 2011. “We don’t try to make them pets.” 

Early pairing with mates also seems to increase the likelihood of passing on these cutie-pie genes. 

This is the second litter for mother Sita and father Ta Moon, who had another set of twins in 2011. 

Ta Moon, born in March 2009, was the first clouded leopard cub born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. 

Lindsay Renick Mayer, a zoo spokesperson, told that the cubs are a boy, weighing 800g, and a girl who now weighs 700g. (That's under two pounds each -- full-grown, the male will likely reach about 50 pounds, the female about 35.) 

"Their eyes and ears are now open," she said. "Their activity level is increasing daily and they now recognize when we are in the room and about to feed them. They are normally found asleep and wrapped around each other when we enter the room. The feedings have been dropped from 7 times a day to 6 times a day and will be dropped again next week.

National Zoo's Clouded Leopard Babies: Two Cubs Born At Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institue via @HuffPostGreen

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

[Cetology • 2013] A Close Encounter With the World's Smallest baleen whales | Pygmy right whale Caperea marginata washes up in Namibia

Pygmy right whale Caperea marginata washes up in Namibia

A Close Encounter With the World's Smallest baleen whales 

The rough road through the salt pans, lined with greater and lesser flamingos, glossy white pelicans and scurrying speckled waders, led us to the salt works’ pump station. A good 50 metres and more from the waters edge lay a long, thin creature, bedecked in a patchwork jacket of red, purple, black and white that seemed ironically jaunty and carefree. Beneath the soaked rags that provided protection from the sun and drying wind, lay a forlorn pygmy right whale, the world’s smallest baleen whale.

Monday, February 25, 2013

[Ornithology / News • 2013] “Extinct” seabird, New Zealand storm petrel | Oceanites maorianus, discovered breeding 50 km from Auckland, New Zealand

New Zealand storm-petrels Oceanites maorianus were thought to be extinct for more than 150 years until they were rediscovered in 2003.
Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand.
photo: Neil Fitzgerald Photography |

“Extinct” seabird discovered breeding 50 km from Auckland City

Researchers are elated to find the sparrow-sized New Zealand storm petrel, thought extinct until 2003, is breeding on Little Barrier Island Hauturu in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. The team of researchers is led by Chris Gaskin and Dr. Matt Rayner from the University of Auckland.

The seabird is listed as critically endangered by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature and finding the breeding site is vital for their conservation.

Three specimens of the diminutive 35g seabirds were collected off New Zealand in the 1800s and are held by museums overseas. Since its rediscovery, there has been speculation as to where this seabird breeds.

The team camped on the Poor Knights Islands, Mokohinau Islands and Little Barrier Island using radio receivers to zero in on the breeding site.

“It’s like looking for a needle in the haystack,” said Chris Gaskin. A critical breakthrough came last year when the project team found brood (incubation) patches on birds caught at sea. This determined the timing of incubation in New Zealand storm petrel, the best time to find breeding birds on land.

This year, 24 birds were caught at sea using specially designed net guns and small 1g radio transmitters were fitted to each bird. Automated receivers narrowed down the search. Team members, based at a remote camp on the north coast of the Little Barrier Island, using handheld receivers and spotlights, confirmed that birds were coming ashore under the cover of darkness and moving inland. This prompted moving the search area. Then, when a signal was picked up of a bird stationary in forest at night, team members were able to get a clear fix on where that site was.

Dr. Rayner says: “The site being monitored is very fragile and with birds at a delicate stage in their breeding cycle. We are using automated equipment for the most part and maintaining a hands-off approach, although team members visiting the vicinity have also been keeping watch.”

“On Friday morning a bird was discovered on the ground, possibly having just left its burrow. At the same time team members detected another bird, this one most probably on a nest,” said Chris Gaskin. “It’s an amazing result for our enthusiastic and dedicated team.”

Members of the research team will remain on the island over the coming weeks. Aerial surveys are also being used to try and establish the distribution and size of the population.

The Hauraki Gulf Forum is about to publish a Hauraki Gulf seabird management strategy and research plan drawing on the work of Chris Gaskin and Dr. Rayner and New Zealand and international collaborators.

Chair of the Hauraki Gulf Forum, John Tregidga, said locating the breeding ground was internationally significant and further highlighted the importance of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park as a globally significant biodiversity hotspot.

Dr Rayner, a Little Barrier Island trustee, said the discovery reiterated the importance of careful management of conservation jewels, such as Little Barrier Island and surrounding marine environments.

The project has been funded this year by grants from Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Birdlife International Community Conservation Fund, The Little Barrier Island Hauturu Supporters Trust and ASB Trust, Auckland Council, Forest & Bird Central Auckland Branch and Peter Harrison/Zegrahm Expeditions, with further support from the Department of Conservation, Hauraki Gulf Forum and Landcare Research.

“Extinct” seabird discovered breeding 50 km from Auckland via @scoopnz

[Herpetology | Poster • 2012] Venomous Land Snakes of Peninsular Malaysia

Venomous Land Snakes of Peninsular Malaysia
by Norhayati Ahmad 

Venomous Land Snakes of Peninsular Malaysia

[Herpetology / News • 2013] Baby Siamese Crocodiles Crocodylus siamensis Released in Xe Champhone wetland complex in Savanakhet Province, Lao PDR

Members of the Village Crocodile Conservation Group prepare to release three of the nineteen Siamese crocodiles.
(Credit: Alex McWilliam/WCS)

Nineteen Baby Siamese Crocodiles Released in Lao PDR  

 — The Wildlife Conservation Society announced today the successful release of 19 critically endangered baby Siamese crocodiles into a local wetland in Lao PDR, where they will be repatriated into the wild.

The 19-month-old hatchlings, approximately 70 cm in length, are part of a head-starting program where crocodiles are hatched at the Lao Zoo for eventual release into their native habitat.

Conservationists estimate that less than 250 Siamese crocodiles remain in the wild due to overhunting and habitat loss.

The release took place in the village of Than Soum in the Xe Champhone wetland complex in Savanakhet Province near where the eggs of the 19 crocodiles were found during wildlife surveys in 2011.

The hatchlings were transported from the Lao Zoo to a 'soft release' pen and will remain for several months to acclimate with the local area. Members of the Village Crocodile Conservation Group will guard the pen and provide supplementary feeding of the hatchlings to ensure their survival. Once the rainy season begins, the water level in the wetland will rise and allow the crocodiles to swim away, where they will be monitored periodically by conservationists.

A public ceremony will take place on March 6th in Than Soum where local community members will celebrate this collaborative effort with WCS, Government of Lao PDR, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Minmetals Resources Limited, and the Lao Zoo.

WCS Lao PDR Program designed and implemented the release as part of the Community-based Crocodile Recovery and Livelihood Improvement Project. The goal of the program is the recovery of the local Siamese crocodile population and restoration of associated wetlands, linked by socio-economic incentives that improve local livelihoods.

"We are extremely pleased with the success of this collaborative program and believe it is an important step in contributing to the conservation of the species by involving local communities in long term wetland management," said Alex McWilliam a conservation biologist with WCS's Lao PDR Program. "The head starting component of this integrated WCS program represents a significant contribution to the conservation of this magnificent animal in the wild."

Rick Watsford, General Manager, MMG Lane Xang Minerals Limited Sepon, said: "MMG is proud to support the work of the Government of Lao PDR and the WCS in relation to this program. This support demonstrates our company's commitment contributing positively to the communities in which we operate."

Joe Walston, WCS Executive Director for Asia Programs, said: "Successful conservation is about partnerships -- whether it's at the global level with climate change and wildlife trade or the local level with tigers and crocs -- the collective support of local communities, governments, and the private sector in Laos makes stories like this so encouraging."

Classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Siamese crocodile grows up to 10 feet in length. The species has been eliminated from much of its former range through Southeast Asia and parts of Indonesia by overhunting and habitat degradation and loss.
In 2014, the head-starting component of the program will be taken on by local communities in the Xe Champhone wetland complex. WCS has already conducted training for this transition and implemented a trial program of rearing young crocodiles at Than Soum village.

[Paleontology • 2009] Miragaia longicollum ‘wonderful goddess of the Earth’ • A new long-necked 'sauropod-mimic' stegosaur and the evolution of the plated dinosaurs

Miragaia longicollum
Art: Davide Bonadonna |

Stegosaurian dinosaurs have a quadrupedal stance, short forelimbs, short necks, and are generally considered to be low browsers. A new stegosaur, Miragaia longicollum gen. et sp. nov., from the Late Jurassic of Portugal, has a neck comprising at least 17 cervical vertebrae. This is eight additional cervical vertebrae when compared with the ancestral condition seen in basal ornithischians such as Scutellosaurus. Miragaia has a higher cervical count than most of the iconically long-necked sauropod dinosaurs. Long neck length has been achieved by ‘cervicalization’ of anterior dorsal vertebrae and probable lengthening of centra. All these anatomical features are evolutionarily convergent with those exhibited in the necks of sauropod dinosaurs. Miragaia longicollumis based upon a partial articulated skeleton, and includes the only known cranial remains from any European stegosaur. A well-resolved phylogeny supports a new clade that unites Miragaia and Dacentrurus as the sister group to Stegosaurus; this new topology challenges the common view of Dacentrurus as a basal stegosaur.

Keywords: Stegosaurian dinosaurs; Miragaia longicollum; Dacentrurus; neck elongation; niche partitioning; sexual selection

Miragaia skeleton. 
Image courtesy Octavio Mateus

Etymology: Miragaia, after the locality and geological unit of the same name; longicollum, after the Latin longus(long) and collum (neck), in reference to its long neck. In addition, the stem Mira- can be read as the feminine form of Latin mirus, meaning wonderful, while Gaia is the Greek goddess of the Earth, so the name also means ‘wonderful goddess of the Earth’.

Locality and horizon: Close to Miragaia at the municipality of Lourinhã (Portugal) in the Late Jurassic (Upper Kimmeridgian–Lower Tithonian) Miragaia Unit of the Sobral Formation (Lourinhã Group).

a family of Miragaia feeding
by ~EoFauna on @deviantART 

Mateus, Octávio; Maidment, Susannah C.R.; and Christiansen, Nicolai A. 2009. A new long-necked 'sauropod-mimic' stegosaur and the evolution of the plated dinosaurs. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 276 (1663): 1815–1821. doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.1909

[Paleontology • 2001] Hesperosaurus mjosi • New Primitive Stegosaur from the Morrison Formation, Wyoming, northern America

(meaning "western lizard", from Classical Greek, ἕσπερο-/hespero- "western" and σαυρος/saurus "lizard") 

a herbivorous dinosaur from the Kimmeridgian to Tithonian epochs of the Jurassic period (approximately 150 million years ago), whose fossils are found in the state of Wyoming in the United States of America. It is from an older part of the Morrison Formation, and so a little older than other Morrison Stegosaurs.

Carpenter K, Miles CA, Cloward K 2001. New Primitive Stegosaur from the Morrison Formation, Wyoming. In Carpenter, Kenneth(ed). The Armored Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press. pp. 55–75.

[Paleontology • 1992] Gigantspinosaurus sichanensis • Discovery of Gigantspinosaurus and its scapular spine orientation

Gigantspinosaurus sichuanensis
by ~T-PEKC on @deviantART |

Gigantspinosaurus (meaning "giant-spined lizard")
a genus of herbivorous ornithischian dinosaur from the Late Jurassic. It was a stegosaur found in Sichuan, China.

The first fossil was found in 1985 by Ouyang Hui at Pengtang near Jinquan and was reported upon in 1986 by Gao Ruiqi and colleagues, mistaking it for a specimen of Tuojiangosaurus. The type species, Gigantspinosaurus sichuanensis, was described and named by Ouyang in 1992 in an abstract of a lecture. 

The generic name is derived from Latin gigas or giganteus, "enormous", and spina, "spine", in reference to the gigantic shoulder spines. The specific name refers to Sichuan.

Ouyang, H. 1992. Discovery of Gigantspinosaurus sichanensis and its scapular spine orientation. Abstracts and Summaries for Youth Academic Symposium on New Discoveries and Ideas in Stratigraphic Paleontology (in Chinese). 47–49.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

[Crustacea • 2010] Ctenocheloides attenboroughi • a new ghost shrimp (Crustacea: Decapoda: Axiidea: Ctenochelidae) with pectinate claw fingers from Madagascar

Ctenocheloides attenboroughi Anker 2010 

Ctenocheloides, n. gen., is established for a remarkable new species of ctenochelid ghost shrimp, Ctenocheloides attenboroughi, n. gen., n. sp., named after the British naturalist and presenter of numerous BBC nature documentaries, Sir David Attenborough. The holotype, a complete adult female, is presently the only specimen known. It was extracted from a large, mud-cemented piece of rubble collected at a depth of 1.5 m in a mangrove-fringed bay east of Helville, Nosy-Bé, in northwestern Madagascar. Ctenocheloides, n. gen. differs from Ctenocheles, the presumably closest relative and the only other axiidean genus with pectinate cheliped fingers, by the absence of a projecting rostrum, the well-developed corneas, and the shorter and less robust fingers of the major cheliped.

Keywords: Decapoda, Axiidea, Ctenochelidae, ghost shrimp, new genus, new species, Madagascar, Indian Ocean, pectinate fingers

Both the genus Ctenocheloides and its single species, C. attenboroughi were described in 2010 by Arthur Anker, in a paper in the Journal of Natural History. The genus name reflects the close relationship of the genus to Ctenocheles, while the specific epithet "attenboroughi" commemorates the British natural history broadcaster David Attenborough. It was originally placed in the family Ctenochelidae, which was later reduced to a subfamily of a broader Callianassidae.

Arthur Anker 2010. Ctenocheloides attenboroughi n. gen., n. sp. (Crustacea: Decapoda: Axiidea: Ctenochelidae), a new ghost shrimp with pectinate claw fingers from Madagascar. Journal of Natural History 44 (29–30): 1789–1805. doi:10.1080/00222931003633219 

[Crustacea • 2007] A new subfamily, Vulcanocalliacinae n. subfam. (Crustacea, Decapoda, Callianassidae), for Vulcanocalliax arutyunovi n. gen., n. sp. from a mud volcano in the Gulf of Cádiz, Northeastern Atlantic Ocean, between Spain and Morocco

Vulcanocalliax arutyunovi

A new ghost shrimp, Vulcanocalliax arutyunovi n.gen. n.sp., is described and accommodated in the new subfamily Vulcanocalliacinae. This subfamily shares with the Bathycalliacinae Sakai & Türkay, 1999 the resence of epipods on the third maxilliped and the first four pairs of pereopods, but differs by the absence of cardiac sulci and a dorsomedian carina. This is the second record of a thalassinidean crustacean from deep-sea chemoautotrophic communities.

Key words: Callianassidae, Vulcanocalliacinae, Vulcanocalliax, new subfamily, new genus, new species, Gulf of Cádiz, mud volcanoes, deep water

Peter C. Dworschak & Martina R. Cunha 2007. A new subfamily, Vulcanocalliacinae n. subfam., for Vulcanocalliax arutyunovi n. gen., n. sp. from a mud volcano in the Gulf of Cádiz (Crustacea, Decapoda, Callianassidae). Zootaxa. 1460: 35–46. 

A new species of ghost shrimp found associated with mud volcanoes in the Gulf of Cadiz in the Northeast Atlantic is the second recorded thalassinidean crustacean from deep-sea chemoautotrophic communities.

Undersea mud volcanoes are geological features that are often associated with the seepage of cold, methane-rich fluids. Recently, it has been found that the Gulf of Cadiz, a body of water along the continental margins of the Iberian Peninsula and northern Morocco in the Northeastern Atlantic Ocean, has a high concentration of such unique geologic features. One of the most active of these sites, a mud volcano called the Captain Arutyunov which was discovered by researchers on the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission-UNESCO Training Through Research Programme expedition aboard the RV Prof. Logachev, has yielded the discovery of an unusual decapod crustacean considered new to science.

Vulcanocalliax arutyunovi n.gen, n.sp. was collected from the Captain Arutyunov mud volcano at a depth of 1324 m by researchers using a Television-assisted grab. This unusual arthropod, only the second recorded thalassinidean crustacean, commonly known as ghost shrimp, to be found associated with deep-sea chemoautotrophic communities. It exhibits a host of characteristics that have led researchers to propose the designation of a new Subfamily (Vulcanocalliacinae). Unique characteristics include unpigmented eyes and rather large embryos. The occurrence of low numbers of large embryos suggests that these shrimp undergo an abbreviated larval stage.

Up until the discovery of this species, only eleven species of decapods have been collected in association with Gulf of Cadiz mud volcanoes. Of these eleven, most are represented by only a single collected specimen. While decapod specimens have been often observed by deep-towed video, they are rarely caught in benthic samples. These facts suggest that many species of crustaceans in this area may still remain undescribed. Thus, the unique geological environment in the Gulf of Cadiz may contain many potential new species awaiting discovery.

Two new species discovered in the deep Gulf of Cadiz

[PaleoMammalogy • 2012] Early evidence for complex social structure in Proboscidea from a late Miocene trackway site in the United Arab Emirates | Seven-million-year-old footprints from the Arabian Desert provide the oldest known evidence of how elephant ancestors interacted socially

Simulated oblique view of the 7-million year old Mleisa1 trackways with digitized Stegotetrabelodon elephants inserted.
By Mauricio Anton.


Many living vertebrates exhibit complex social structures, evidence for the antiquity of which is limited to rare and exceptional fossil finds. Living elephants possess a characteristic social structure that is sex-segregated and multi-tiered, centred around a matriarchal family and solitary or loosely associated groups of adult males. Although the fossil record of Proboscidea is extensive, the origin and evolution of social structure in this clade is virtually unknown. Here, we present imagery and analyses of an extensive late Miocene fossil trackway site from the United Arab Emirates. The site of Mleisa 1 preserves exceptionally long trackways of a herd of at least 13 individuals of varying size transected by that of a single large individual, indicating the presence of both herding and solitary social modes. Trackway stride lengths and resulting body mass estimates indicate that the solitary individual was also the largest and therefore most likely a male. Sexual determination for the herd is equivocal, but the body size profile and number of individuals are commensurate with those of a modern elephant family unit. The Mleisa 1 trackways provide direct evidence for the antiquity of characteristic and complex social structure in Proboscidea.

Keywords: Proboscidea, social structure, trackways, late Miocene, Arabia

In the footsteps of prehistoric elephants
Seven-million-year-old footprints from the Arabian Desert provide the oldest known evidence of how elephant ancestors interacted socially.

The Mleisa 1 site in the United Arab Emirates features exceptionally long trackways of a single herd of at least 13 elephant individuals. The herd walked through mud and left footprints that hardened, were buried, and then re-exposed by erosion. Analysis of trackway stride lengths reveals the herd contained a diversity of sizes, from adults to a young calf, making this the earliest direct evidence of social structure in prehistoric elephants ever discovered. 

An international team from Germany, France, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates published the study in Biology Letters on February 22, 2012 . Primary author Faysal Bibi is a researcher at the Institut International de Paléoprimatologie, Paléontologie Humaine : Évolution et Paléoenvironnements in Poitiers, France, and the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany. Coauthors are Brian Kraatz, assistant professor of anatomy at Western University of Health Sciences; Nathan Craig, assistant professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University; Mark Beech, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority; Mathieu Schuster, research associate, Université de Strasbourg, France; and Andrew Hill, professor of anthropology, Yale University.

“Basically, this is fossilized behavior,” says Bibi, “This is an absolutely unique site, a really rare opportunity in the fossil record that lets you see animal behavior in a way you couldn’t otherwise do with bones or teeth.”

Not only were the prehistoric elephants herding, but a 260m-long trackway of a solitary male at the same site indicates they also differentiated into solitary and social groups, and that these might have been sex-segregated just like in elephants today. In living elephants, adult females lead the herds while males disperse at sexual maturity and come back only to mate; such behavior is also suggested at the Mleisa 1 site.

a reconstruction of the Mleisa 1 herd, based upon Stegotretrabelodon as the track maker.
Art: Mauricio Antón

“The Mleisa 1 fossil trackways are the most extensive ever recorded for mammals,” said William Sanders, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study. “Bibi et al.’s analysis is an exemplary and comprehensive example of what can be garnered from ancient footprints.”

Mleisa 1 is one of the largest trackway sites in the world, covering an area of 5 hectares. Though the site had been known for some time, it was only when the scientists photographed it from the air that its significance became clear.

“Once we saw it aerially, it became a much different and clearer story,” Kraatz said. “Seeing the whole site in one shot meant we could finally understand what was happening.”

Close up of the kite aerial photomosaic showing the main trackway section at Mleisa 

Co-author Nathan Craig used a camera-mounted kite to take hundreds of aerial photos that were then digitally stitched together to form a highly accurate photomosaic of the site [viewable here:].

Mleisa 1 is one of many fossil sites of the Baynunah Formation, a sequence of mostly riverdeposited sands that is widely exposed over the Al Gharbia region of Abu Dhabi Emirate. Most Baynunah sites have yielded fossilized bones showing a diversity of animals lived in the Arabian Peninsula in the late Miocene Epoch, between 6 and 8 million years ago. The Baynunah rocks and fossil indicate that at this time, a river system came across the Arabian Peninsula through what is today the United Arab Emirates. The freshwater ecosystem supported a thriving African-like fauna during that time. The river subsequently dried up and those animals disappeared with that river system, including the elephant ancestors whose prints are preserved at Mleisa 1. The Baynunah Formation sites in Abu Dhabi Emirate are the only such fossil sites known from this time period from the entire Arabian Peninsula.

"The trackways are visually stunning.” says co-author Andrew Hill. “It is quite obvious to anyone, without any technical knowledge, that these are the footprints of very large animals, and to learn that they are over 6 Ma old presents a visitor with the sensation of walking back in time, across a Miocene landscape where elephants might have strolled by just a little time before."

Marching desert elephants, Damarland, Namibia
by Michael Poliza (2006). 
This herd is crossing the dry and flat plains of the Namib desert in the early morning hours, headed for a watering hole. 7 million years ago, the elephants at Mleisa1 would have looked very similar from the air except that Mleisa was muddy, which meant the elephants left deep footprints that then hardened and preserved for us to see today. 

Bibi, F., Kraatz, B., Craig, N., Beech, M., Schuster, M., and Hill, A. 2012. Early evidence for complex social structure in Proboscidea from a late Miocene trackway site in the United Arab Emirates. Biology Letters. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.1185

#UAE #Stegotretrabelodon / Oldest ever #elephant tracks. . . perfectly preserved after seven million years @MailOnline 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

[PaleoIchthyology • 2013] 'ปลาพุทธบุตร' ไทยอิกธิส พุทธบุตรเอนซิส ภูน้ำจั้น | Thaiichthys (Lepidotes) buddhabutrensis • Osteology and relationships of Thaiichthys nov. gen.: a Ginglymodi from the Late Jurassic – Early Cretaceous of Thailand

Thaiichthys (Lepidotes) buddhabutrensis 
(Cavin, Suteethorn, Khansubha, Buffetaut and Tong, 2003)

The osteology of Thaiichthys buddhabutrensis, nov. gen., from the Late Jurassic – Early Cretaceous of Thailand is described on the basis of a collection of well-preserved specimens. The mode of preservation of the material allows describing the external anatomy, as well as some elements of the internal anatomy (braincase, elements of the vertebral column). Most of the cranial and postcranial skeleton shows a rather conservative anatomy for ‘semionotiformes’, but the jaw apparatus displays specializations. Variations observed in the ossification pattern of the skull roof and of the cheek, in the morphology of the median dorsal scales and in fin rays’ count indicate that caution should be applied when these characters are used in diagnoses and in phylogenetic analyses. A phylogenetic analysis including a set of gars, of ‘semionotiformes’, of Macrosemiiformes and of Halecomorphi shows the following features: (1) the monophyly of Holostei; (2) sister-pair relationships between Tlayuamichin/Semiolepis, Isanichthys/’Lepidotes’ latifrons and Araripelepidotes/Pliodetes; (3) the latter pair, together with Thaiichthys and possibly ‘Lepidotes’ mantelli, are resolved as stem Lepisosteiformes; and (4) the ‘semionotiformes’ (a group gathering species of Semionotus and Lepidotes) do not form a clade.

Keywords: Lepidotes; semionotiformes; phylogenetic relationships; gars; South-East Asia

Super Division HOLOSTEI sensu Grande, 2010
Division GINGLYMODI sensu Grande, 2010
Order LEPISOSTEIFORMES sensu Grande, 2010

Genus THAIICHTHYS gen. nov.
Type species. Thaiichthys buddhabutrensis (Cavin, Suteethorn, Khansubha, Buffetaut and Tong, 2003).

Derivation of name.  From Thailand and Greek, ichthys, fish.

Figure 2. Mode of preservation of specimens of Thaiichthys buddhabutrensis in the site of Phu Nam Jun. Arrows indicate features described in the text. A, KS12-26. B, KS12-238. C, KS12-128. D, KS12-168. Scale bars represent 20 mm.

Lionel Cavin, Uthumporn Deesri and Varavudh Suteethorn. 2013. Osteology and relationships of Thaiichthys nov. gen.: a Ginglymodi from the Late Jurassic – Early Cretaceous of Thailand. Palaeontology. 56 (1): 183–208. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4983.2012.01184.x

[Herpetology • 2013] Cyrtodactylus tebuensis | Gunung Tebu Bent-toed Gecko • Phylogenetic relationships and description of a new upland species of Bent-toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus Gray, 1827) of the C. sworderi complex from northeastern Peninsular Malaysia

Cyrtodactylus tebuensis
Tebu Mountain
(Gunung Tebu) Bent-toed Gecko
 photo: Mohd Abdul Muin

Molecular and morphological analyses indicate that a new upland species of the Cyrtodactylus sworderi complex, C. tebuensis sp. nov. from Gunung Tebu, Terengganu, Malaysia is most closely related to C. sworderi and together they form the sister lineage to C. quadrivirgatus. Cyrtodactylus tebuensis sp. nov. is differentiated from all other species of Sundaland Cyrtodactylus on the basis of having the unique combination of large, conical, keeled body tubercles; tubercles present on top of head, occiput, nape, and limbs, and extending posteriorly beyond base of tail; 43–51 ventral scales; no transversely enlarged, median subcaudal scales; proximal, subdigital lamellae transversely expanded; 17–21 subdigital lamellae on fourth toe; an abrupt transition between posterior and ventral femoral scales; enlarged femoral scales; no femoral or precloacal pores; no precloacal groove; body bearing four wide, bold, dark brown stripes (lateral stripe on each flank and a pair of paravertebral stripes); and a pairwise sequence divergence of 13.0% from its closest relative C. sworderi based on the mitochondrial gene ND2. Cyrtodactylus tebuensis sp. nov. is the first endemic upland species of gekkonid from northeastern Peninsular Malaysia and underscores the necessity for additional field work in all upland systems.

Key words: Gekkonidae, Cyrtodactylus, Cyrtodactylus tebuensis sp. nov., Malaysia, Terengganu, new species

Grismer, L. L., Shahrul Anuar, MohD. A. Muin, Evan S. H. Quah & JR. Perry L. Wood. 2013. Phylogenetic relationships and description of a new upland species of Bent-toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus Gray, 1827) of the C. sworderi complex from northeastern Peninsular Malaysia. Zootaxa 3616(3): 239-252.

[Herpetology • 2013] Cyrtodactylus dati • a new forest dwelling Bent-toed Gecko (Squamata: Gekkonidae) from southern Vietnam

Cyrtodactylus dati Tri, 2013


A new species of Bent-toed Gecko, Cyrtodactylus dati sp. nov. is described from the secondary evergreen forests of Bu Dop District, Binh Phuoc Province, Vietnam. It differs from all other species of Indochinese and Thai-Malay Cyrtodactylus by having a maximum SVL of 70.1 mm (n=6); no distinct dark blotches on the head in adults; no continuous nuchal loop; a blotched dorsal pattern; 17–19 interorbital scales across the frontal bone; 23–26 scales in a straight line between eye and nostril; 42–48 rows of ventral scales between ventrolateral folds; 20–22 irregular, longitudinal rows of keeled tubercles at midbody between the ventrolateral folds; a series of five or six precloacal pores medially interrupted by one poreless scale in males; three or four femoral pores on each thigh in males; 4–7 enlarged scales beneath thighs; 12–13 subdigital lamellae on first toe; 18–19 subdigital lamellae on fourth toe; and small subcaudal scales.

Keywords: Cyrtodactylus, Gekkonidae, description, new species, southern Vietnam

 Tri Ngo Van. 2013. Cyrtodactylus dati, a new forest dwelling Bent-toed Gecko (Squamata: Gekkonidae) from southern Vietnam. Zootaxa. 3616 (2): 151–164. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3616.2.4

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

[Ornithology • 2013] Oceanites pincoyae | Pincoya Storm-Petrel | Golondrina de mar Pincoya • A new storm-petrel species (Procellariiformes: Hydrobatidae) from the Puerto Montt and Chacao channel area, Chile

Pincoya Storm-Petrel  | Oceanites pincoyae

We describe a new species of storm-petrel, Oceanites pincoyae (Pincoya Storm-Petrel), from the Puerto Montt and Chacao channel area, Chile. The description is based on 1 specimen collected at sea in Seno Reloncavi on 19 February 2011 and 11 other individuals that were caught, examined, and released. The new taxon’s foraging ecology and behavioral habits are unique among the southern Oceanitinae, including “mouse-runs” and repeated diving beneath the surface to retrieve food items. Its distinctive appearance includes bold white ulnar bars, extensive white panels to the underwing, and white to the lower belly and vent. Among species of Oceanites, it is unique in showing white outer vanes to the outer two pairs of rectrices. It further differs from all other storm-petrels in having a distinctive juvenile plumage. Morphometrically it is distinct from Oceanites gracilis gracilis (Elliot’s Storm-Petrel) and smaller than O. oceananicus chilensis (the Fuegian form of Wilson’s Storm-Petrel), having a shorter tarsus 
and longer middle toe. There also appear to be differences in the timing of breeding and molt between the new taxon and both O. o. chilensis and O. g. gracilis. We estimate the population size of the new species as ~3,000 individuals.

Key words: Chile, Chiloe Island, Hydrobatidae, Oceanites pincoyae, new species, Puerto Montt.

Identification features and at-sea distribution of
the Pincoya Storm Petrel | Oceanites pincoyae).
(Images by P. Harrison)

Oceanites pincoyae, sp. nov.
Pincoya Storm-Petrel
Golondrina de mar Pincoya (Spanish)

Etymology.— The specific epithet is derived from Pincoya, from Chilotan mythology. She is the spirit of the Chilotan Sea, good and helpful to fishermen, and comes to the aid of shipwrecked Chiloe Islanders. It is hoped that by naming the new species after a local Chilean entity, the residents of the area will be encouraged to adopt the storm-petrel as a symbol for the conservation of their marine environment.

Population and distribution.— Despite our incomplete knowledge of the breeding distribution of both O. g. gracilis and O. o. chilensis, neither taxon is known to breed within 800–1,000 km of Puerto Montt, and there appear to be significant differences in egg-laying dates and molt timings of those two taxa and O. pincoyae. So far, O. pincoyae has been seen only in the sheltered waters of the Chiloe region. It appears to occupy a central breeding location between the northerly O. g. gracilis and the southerly O. o. chilensis. It seems unlikely that such a boldly marked bird as O. pincoyae could escape detection for so long unless it had a restricted and somewhat sedentary range away from shipping routes and such accessible and often-visited areas as Punta Arenas, Iquique, Valparaiso, Mejillones, and Arica (day-long seabirding pelagic trips are regularly undertaken from the latter three locations). The observation of S. Imberti (pers. comm.) and the midwinter visit to Seno Reloncavi by P.H. and M.S. suggest that O. pincoyae does not move north into the greater Humboldt Current region after breeding but remains as an inshore resident within the extensive shallow bays of the Chilean fjord system. We tentatively suggest, therefore, that O. pincoyae is a geographically

Una Nueva Especie de Petrel de Tormenta de Chile
Resumen.— Describimos una nueva especie de petrel, Oceanites pincoyae, del área de Puerto Montt y el canal de Chacao, Chile. La descripción se basa en un espécimen coleccionado en el mar en Seno Reloncavi el 19 de febrero de 2011, y en 11 individuos adicionales que fueron capturados, examinados y liberados. La ecología de forrajeo y los hábitos de comportamiento del nuevo taxón son únicos entre los demás Oceanitinae del sur, incluyendo “carreras de ratón” y buceos repetidos por debajo de la superficie para obtener el alimento. Su apariencia única incluye barras cubitales gruesas y blancas, parches blancos extensos por debajo del ala, y vientre bajo y cloaca blancos. Entre las especies de Oceanites, es único en mostrar el vexilo exterior blanco en las dos parejas exteriores de rectrices. Además se diferencia de otros petreles por tener un plumaje juvenil distinto. Morfométricamente se diferencia de Oceanites gracilis gracilis por tener el tarso más corto y el dedo medio más largo, y es más pequeño que Oceanites oceananicus chilensis. También parece haber diferencias en el momento de reproducción y muda entre el nuevo taxón y O. o. chilensis y O. g. gracilis. Estimamos un tamaño poblacional de la nueva especie de unos 3000 individuos.

Peter Harrison, Michel Sallaberry, Chris P Gaskin, Karen A Baird, Alvaro Jamarillo, Shirley Maria Metz, Mark Pearman, Michael O'Keeffe, Jim Dowdall, Seamus Enright, Kieran Fahy, Jeff Gilligan and Gerard Lillie. 2013. A new storm-petrel species from Chile. The Auk. 130 (1): 180-191.

The Pincoya Storm Petrel dances out into reality! | Alvaro's Adventures