Shattering DNA May Have Let Gibbons Evolve New Species
by Colin Barras
Gibbons have such strange, scrambled DNA, it looks like someone has taken a hammer to it. Their genome has been massively reshuffled, and some biologists say that could be how new gibbon species evolved.
Gibbons are apes, and were the first to break away from the line that led to humans. There are around 16 living gibbon species, in four genera. They all have small bodies, long arms and no tails. But it’s what gibbons don’t share that is most unusual. Each species carries a distinct number of chromosomes in its genome: some species have just 38 pairs, some as many as 52 pairs.
"This ‘genome plasticity’ has always been a mystery," says Wesley Warren of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. It is almost as if the genome exploded and was then pieced back together in the wrong order.
To understand why, Warren and his colleagues have now produced the first draft of a gibbon genome. It comes from a female northern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys) called Asia…
(read more: New Scientist)
image: Heather Angel/Natural Visions

Shattering DNA May Have Let Gibbons Evolve New Species

by Colin Barras

Gibbons have such strange, scrambled DNA, it looks like someone has taken a hammer to it. Their genome has been massively reshuffled, and some biologists say that could be how new gibbon species evolved.

Gibbons are apes, and were the first to break away from the line that led to humans. There are around 16 living gibbon species, in four genera. They all have small bodies, long arms and no tails. But it’s what gibbons don’t share that is most unusual. Each species carries a distinct number of chromosomes in its genome: some species have just 38 pairs, some as many as 52 pairs.

"This ‘genome plasticity’ has always been a mystery," says Wesley Warren of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. It is almost as if the genome exploded and was then pieced back together in the wrong order.

To understand why, Warren and his colleagues have now produced the first draft of a gibbon genome. It comes from a female northern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys) called Asia…

(read more: New Scientist)

image: Heather Angel/Natural Visions

Chisel-toothed Creature Pushes Back Origin of Mammals

Jurassic skeletons show that early mammals didn’t just hide in the undergrowth.

by Brian Switek

Squirrel-size mammals scampered through the trees above dinosaurs’ heads, newfound Chinese fossils show, revising our image of the first furry beasts. Three newly described species suggest that mammals evolved earlier, and faster, than previously thought.

Called haramiyids, the recently discovered mammals lived in Jurassic China around 160 million years ago. Slender and graceful, the animals appear to have been specialized for life in the trees, with hands and feet that could grasp branches and a long prehensile tail like today’s monkeys.

"The picture that Mesozoic mammals were shrew-like insectivores that lived in the shadow of the dinosaurs needs to be repainted," says American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Jin Meng, a coauthor of the new study. Discoveries during the past few decades, including the haramiyids, have shown that early mammals occupied a variety of habitats. “They walked on the ground; they also swam, dug to burrow, and glided in the forests,” Meng says…

(read more: National Geographic)

Photograph by Jin Meng; Illustration by Zhao Chuang

Path of the Pronghorn

Since 2003, Wildlife Conservation Society conservation scientists have been involved in a long-term study of the Path of the Pronghorn, an age-old migration route that connects summer range in Grand Teton National Park with winter range far to the south in the western Wyoming’s Green River Valley. The Path is:

One of the longest overland mammal migrations in North America, and the longest left in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The only remaining pronghorn migration route to and from Grand Teton National Park.

More than 100 miles long, but at its narrowest, less than 150 yards wide.
More than 90% on federal lands.

(via: Wildlife Conservation Society)

Red Wolf Recovery at Critical Junction

by Mitch Merry
Online Organizer Endangered Species Coalition

We have reached a critical junction in the recovery of the critically endangered red wolf (Canis rufus). The story of the red wolf is a complicated one, which has likely contributed to its anonymity. Historically distributed across the southeastern United States, the species was extirpated from much of range due to habitat loss and overharvest. Remnant populations then became threatened by hybridization with coyotes, which expanded in range as the red wolf disappeared.

In the 1970s biologists identified only 14 remaining wild red wolves in the species’ last stronghold in a coastal region on the Texas-Louisiana border. Those individuals were transported to Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, WA and the species was declared extinct in the wild in 1980.

Just inland from the famed Outer Banks, the five-county Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula in eastern North Carolina was selected as the location for the first red wolf reintroduction program. At the time, there were no coyotes present in this area. The first wolves were released in 1987 and the population grew slowly. Soon coyotes rapidly colonized the state and in 1993 the first hybridization event between a red wolf and coyote was documented…

(read more: Endangered Species Coalition)

How Much Danger Do Ship Strikes Pose to Blue Whales?
by Jane J. Lee
A new study suggests that blue whale populations are not as vulnerable to ship strikes as previously thought, but experts say, ‘not so fast.’
The eastern North Pacific blue whale population has rebounded since being hammered by commercial whaling, according to a new study. And ship strikes, long feared a major obstacle to the recovery in blue whale numbers, likely aren’t major threats, the authors conclude.
These surprising findings, published Friday in the journal Marine Mammal Science, have gotten a lot of attention in news reports, but experts remain unconvinced.
The study authors used a computer model to estimate the size of the eastern north Pacific blue whale population before commercial whaling decimated their numbers—as well as current abundances and future population trends. They then examined whether the population was more affected by ship strikes or by the environment’s ability to support a certain number of whales…
(read more: National Geographic)
photo by Wolcott Henry, National Geographic Creative

How Much Danger Do Ship Strikes Pose to Blue Whales?

by Jane J. Lee

A new study suggests that blue whale populations are not as vulnerable to ship strikes as previously thought, but experts say, ‘not so fast.’

The eastern North Pacific blue whale population has rebounded since being hammered by commercial whaling, according to a new study. And ship strikes, long feared a major obstacle to the recovery in blue whale numbers, likely aren’t major threats, the authors conclude.

These surprising findings, published Friday in the journal Marine Mammal Science, have gotten a lot of attention in news reports, but experts remain unconvinced.

The study authors used a computer model to estimate the size of the eastern north Pacific blue whale population before commercial whaling decimated their numbers—as well as current abundances and future population trends. They then examined whether the population was more affected by ship strikes or by the environment’s ability to support a certain number of whales…

(read more: National Geographic)

photo by Wolcott Henry, National Geographic Creative

Baby Pygmy Hippo Debuts at Swedish Zoo

Meet Olivia, the rare and endangered baby pygmy hippo (Choeropsis liberiensis) who’s been nicknamed “Michelin Man” because of her adorable rolls of baby fat. Born last month at Parken Zoo in Sweden, Olivia is part of an international breeding program that finds mating partners for these solitary creatures…

(read more: news.com.au)

photographs via: Parken Zoo

The yellow mongoose (Cynictis penicillata) is a small mammal, in the  Carnivoran family Herpestidae, averaging about 1 lb (1/2 kg) in weight and about 20 in (500 mm) in length. Found in southern Africa, it lives in flat areas ranging from semi-desert scrubland to grasslands. This carnivorous species lives in colonies of up to 20 individuals.
 Photograph: Yathin S Krishnappa
(via: Wikipedia)

The yellow mongoose (Cynictis penicillata) is a small mammal, in the  Carnivoran family Herpestidae, averaging about 1 lb (1/2 kg) in weight and about 20 in (500 mm) in length. Found in southern Africa, it lives in flat areas ranging from semi-desert scrubland to grasslands. This carnivorous species lives in colonies of up to 20 individuals.

Photograph: Yathin S Krishnappa

(via: Wikipedia)

Redwood National and State Parks - CA, USA
The rut is almost upon the Roosevelt elk herds within Redwood National and State Park. In this exciting time, the bull elk are rubbing the velvet off their antlers and beginning to seek out and claim herds. This is also the time of year that we hear bugling from competing bulls! Caution is advised since the rutting males can be dangerous and unpredictable. This time of year is also tumultuous for the cows and young, so lots of room should be given to the herd.

The rut is almost upon the Roosevelt elk herds within Redwood National and State Park. In this exciting time, the bull elk are rubbing the velvet off their antlers and beginning to seek out and claim herds. This is also the time of year that we hear bugling from competing bulls!

Caution is advised since the rutting males can be dangerous and unpredictable. This time of year is also tumultuous for the cows and young, so lots of room should be given to the herd.