New tracking technology reveals birds’ epic and amazing journeys

Smaller and lighter tracking devices are opening up whole new insights into behaviour, movements and migrations

by Guy Anderson

Today sees the launch of the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science – and one of the most exciting areas of research the centre will be involved in is tracking birds and other animals as they migrate, forage and breed.

Last June, at the edge of a small loch on the island of Fetlar in Shetland, RSPB conservationists and members of the local bird-ringing group caught a red-necked phalarope, a dainty, sparrow-sized wading bird. They had caught it exactly one year earlier at the same nesting site, and fitted it with a small rucksack. This was a geolocator, made by the Swiss Ornithological Institute, an electronic tag that records light levels and the time.

It records the time of dawn and dusk every day, relative to a fixed clock, from which you can estimate where the tag was in the world. A geolocator is simple, so it can be small and light enough, at around 0.6g, that a 35g bird can carry it around the world without impediment…

(read more: Guardian UK - Environment Blog)

photos: tagging a red-necked phalarope; by Adam Rowland/RSPB

New Dino Ranks as Europe’s Largest-Ever Predator

by Jennifer Viegas

A newly found dinosaur from Portugal is Europe’s largest-ever terrestrial predator and was the biggest carnivorous dinosaur of the Jurassic Period, according to paleontologists who studied its remains.

The dinosaur, named Torvosaurus gurneyi, measured close to 33 feet long and weighed over 2,200 pounds, according to a paper in the latest PLoS ONE. The predator was at the top of Europe’s terrestrial food chain roughly 150 million years ago.

“The fauna of what is now Portugal was extremely diverse in the Late Jurassic,” paleontologist Octavio Mateus of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, and co-author of the study, said in a press release. “This new species of carnivorous dinosaur is adding a little more (to the) diversity of dinosaurs of Portugal…

(read more: Discovery News)

Artwork by Sergey Krasovskiy

libutron
libutron:

Podarcis carbonellii berlenguensis - male | ©Eduardo Marabuto
The Carbonell’s wall lizard, Podarcis carbonelli berlenguensis (Lacertidae) is an endemic lizard to the small Berlengas archipelago, off the western portuguese coast near Peniche. Here, these lizards are present in one of the highest densities ever recorded for a reptile and are a predominant species.
Males are brighter coloured, appear stronger and are larger than the more gracile females.
Because of its very restricted distribution (Spain and Portugal), Podarcis carbonelli has been classified as a Endangered species on the IUCN Red List.

libutron:

Podarcis carbonellii berlenguensis - male | ©Eduardo Marabuto

The Carbonell’s wall lizard, Podarcis carbonelli berlenguensis (Lacertidae) is an endemic lizard to the small Berlengas archipelago, off the western portuguese coast near Peniche. Here, these lizards are present in one of the highest densities ever recorded for a reptile and are a predominant species.

Males are brighter coloured, appear stronger and are larger than the more gracile females.

Because of its very restricted distribution (Spain and Portugal), Podarcis carbonelli has been classified as a Endangered species on the IUCN Red List.

The short-snouted seahorse, Hippocampus hippocampus, is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea and parts of the North Atlantic. It is found in shallow muddy waters or rocky areas, in estuaries or inshore amongst seaweed and seagrasses, clinging by the tail or swimming upright. Many of the habitats of this species have been degraded by humans, and animals located in the habitat are vulnerable to incidental capture in other fisheries. More about this seahorse: Encyclopedia of LifeImage by Hans Hillewaert via Flickr 

The short-snouted seahorse, Hippocampus hippocampus, is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea and parts of the North Atlantic. It is found in shallow muddy waters or rocky areas, in estuaries or inshore amongst seaweed and seagrasses, clinging by the tail or swimming upright. Many of the habitats of this species have been degraded by humans, and animals located in the habitat are vulnerable to incidental capture in other fisheries.

More about this seahorse: Encyclopedia of Life

Image by Hans Hillewaert via Flickr 

Mysterious Underwater Circles Explained
by Thomas Sumner
The truth behind the mysterious underwater circles that periodically appear off the coast of Denmark has been discovered, and sadly it doesn’t involve aliens, fairies, or the fabled lost city of Atlantis.
In 2008, a tourist snapped photos of several large dark rings that appeared near the white cliffs of Denmark’s island of Møn in the Baltic Sea. The circles, several as large as a tennis courts, sparked numerous theories of their origin—some more outlandish than others. In 2011, when the formations reappeared, scientists discovered they were actually round bands of marine eelgrass, similar to rings of mushrooms known as fairy rings.
Because eelgrass usually grows as continuous underwater meadows, scientists were still baffled by the rims of lush eelgrass with barren cores. Now, researchers say they at last know the rings’ true cause. The scientists found large amounts of toxic sulfide built up in the muds where the eelgrass grows…
(read more: Science News/AAAS)
photos: Jacob T. Johansen; (inset) Ole Pedersen

Mysterious Underwater Circles Explained

by Thomas Sumner

The truth behind the mysterious underwater circles that periodically appear off the coast of Denmark has been discovered, and sadly it doesn’t involve aliens, fairies, or the fabled lost city of Atlantis.

In 2008, a tourist snapped photos of several large dark rings that appeared near the white cliffs of Denmark’s island of Møn in the Baltic Sea. The circles, several as large as a tennis courts, sparked numerous theories of their origin—some more outlandish than others. In 2011, when the formations reappeared, scientists discovered they were actually round bands of marine eelgrass, similar to rings of mushrooms known as fairy rings.

Because eelgrass usually grows as continuous underwater meadows, scientists were still baffled by the rims of lush eelgrass with barren cores. Now, researchers say they at last know the rings’ true cause. The scientists found large amounts of toxic sulfide built up in the muds where the eelgrass grows…

(read more: Science News/AAAS)

photos: Jacob T. Johansen; (inset) Ole Pedersen

Eye-opening New Research Helps Us Understand How Birds Communicate

One species of bird is proving that eyes provide not only a window to the soul, but also an effective means of warding off unwelcome nest competitors.

by Todd Petty

A new study strengthens the case that jackdaws, crow-like birds found in Eurasia and Africa, use their eyes to communicate with other members of their own species—an ability that, up until now, was thought to only exist in humans and other primates. 

Jackdaw eyes bear some resemblance to those of humans—dark pupils and colorful irises surrounded by white sclera. In fact, a 2009 study found evidence that hand-reared jackdaws could follow a human gaze to tell what a person was looking at. The new study, conducted by Gabrielle Davidson of the University of Cambridge and published in Biology Letters, is the first indication that one jackdaw can use its eyes to send a message to another…

(photos: T - Maxwell Hamilton; B - Silvia Reiche/Foto Natura/Minden Pictures/Corbis)

lostbeasts
dendroica:

Giant Prehistoric Bird Crushed Seeds, Not Little Horses

While not so huge as the largest non-avian dinosaurs, Gastornis was nevertheless a giant in its Paleocene and Eocene heyday between 55 and 40 million years ago. In Europe the bird towered over the mammals who inhabited the same forests – the largest herbivores and carnivores of the day were about the size of a German shepherd, with many being considerably smaller. (In North America, where Gastornis fossils were previously labeled “Diatryma“, some of the contemporary herbivorous mammals grew to bigger sizes, but there were still many smaller beasts running about.)
So it seemed only natural that the monstrous bird would have preyed on the scurrying mammals, pouncing on “dawn horses” and cleaving lemur-like primates in two with it’s powerful beak. In museums and documentaries, Gastornis marked the last gasp of dinosaur dominance before mammals took over the world.
But recent research has found that Gastornis wasn’t so terrifying, after all. While a 1991 paper concluded that the bird’s beak could have made short work of many small mammals, other publications pointed out that such a beak would have been just as well-suited to cracking seeds and crunching tough fruit. More recently, tracks of Gastornis – née “Diatryma” – found in Washington show that the bird had blunted toes rather than vicious talons, and a preliminary study of dietary clues preserved in the bones of a German specimen of the bird suggested a menu of plants rather than flesh. And now paleontologist Delphine Angst and colleagues have added another line of evidence that Gastornis probably wasn’t a rapacious mammal-muncher…

(Read more at Phenomena: Laelaps)

dendroica:

Giant Prehistoric Bird Crushed Seeds, Not Little Horses

While not so huge as the largest non-avian dinosaurs, Gastornis was nevertheless a giant in its Paleocene and Eocene heyday between 55 and 40 million years ago. In Europe the bird towered over the mammals who inhabited the same forests – the largest herbivores and carnivores of the day were about the size of a German shepherd, with many being considerably smaller. (In North America, where Gastornis fossils were previously labeled “Diatryma“, some of the contemporary herbivorous mammals grew to bigger sizes, but there were still many smaller beasts running about.)

So it seemed only natural that the monstrous bird would have preyed on the scurrying mammals, pouncing on “dawn horses” and cleaving lemur-like primates in two with it’s powerful beak. In museums and documentaries, Gastornis marked the last gasp of dinosaur dominance before mammals took over the world.

But recent research has found that Gastornis wasn’t so terrifying, after all. While a 1991 paper concluded that the bird’s beak could have made short work of many small mammals, other publications pointed out that such a beak would have been just as well-suited to cracking seeds and crunching tough fruit. More recently, tracks of Gastornis – née “Diatryma” – found in Washington show that the bird had blunted toes rather than vicious talons, and a preliminary study of dietary clues preserved in the bones of a German specimen of the bird suggested a menu of plants rather than flesh. And now paleontologist Delphine Angst and colleagues have added another line of evidence that Gastornis probably wasn’t a rapacious mammal-muncher…

(Read more at Phenomena: Laelaps)

dendroica

oakapples:

The oft-overlooked Common Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa, is my plant of the day. The flowers’ resemblance to human throats led mediæval folk to believe that this species could be used to treat scrofula.

Of course, it was this same disease that was known in England and France as the King’s Evil; the touch of the reigning sovereign was supposed to represent a divine cure. English monarchs traditionally gave an Angel (a type of gold coin) to the sufferer at the same time, until the practice was ended by George I in the early 18th century.

alex-does-science
alex-does-science:


The ancient Britons: ‘Groundwater shrimp’ survive 19 million years of climate change
(Phys.org) —New research has revealed that Britain and Ireland’s oldest known inhabitants are tiny crustaceans still living today in water-filled crevices deep beneath our feet.
Over the last 60 million years, Britain and Ireland have experienced dramatic climate change, with conditions ranging from warm and wet periods, to arid episodes and then repeated coverings by glaciers. For this reason, it was not thought that any animal species (fauna) could have survived through these fluctuations.
Now, a new study led by Dr Bernd Hänfling, Lecturer in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Hull has yielded some surprising results. Published in the journal Molecular Ecology, it shows that two species of Niphargus (small, shrimp-like animals) have persisted in Britain and Ireland for at least 19 million years; making them the oldest known inhabitants of these countries.
Dr Hänfling explains the significance of the data. He said: “All previous research shows that the majority of fauna in Britain and Ireland arrived from mainland Europe following the most recent glaciations. We have a few unique animal species - for example, the Irish hare - but these are rare and most importantly, they have only been around for a few tens of thousands of years.”
"In contrast, our results show that subterranean groundwater contains by far the oldest animals that are unique to Britain and Ireland. These species must have survived a wide range of temperatures as the climate shifted between glacial and warm conditions."
(Read More)

alex-does-science:

The ancient Britons: ‘Groundwater shrimp’ survive 19 million years of climate change

(Phys.org) —New research has revealed that Britain and Ireland’s oldest known inhabitants are tiny crustaceans still living today in water-filled crevices deep beneath our feet.

Over the last 60 million years, Britain and Ireland have experienced dramatic climate change, with conditions ranging from warm and wet periods, to arid episodes and then repeated coverings by glaciers. For this reason, it was not thought that any (fauna) could have survived through these fluctuations.

Now, a new study led by Dr Bernd Hänfling, Lecturer in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Hull has yielded some surprising results. Published in the journal Molecular Ecology, it shows that two of Niphargus (small, shrimp-like animals) have persisted in Britain and Ireland for at least 19 million years; making them the oldest known inhabitants of these countries.

Dr Hänfling explains the significance of the data. He said: “All previous research shows that the majority of fauna in Britain and Ireland arrived from mainland Europe following the most recent glaciations. We have a few unique animal species - for example, the Irish hare - but these are rare and most importantly, they have only been around for a few tens of thousands of years.”

"In contrast, our results show that subterranean groundwater contains by far the oldest animals that are unique to Britain and Ireland. These species must have survived a wide range of temperatures as the climate shifted between glacial and warm conditions."

(Read More)