Persevering pikas, herbicide inhalation in farm states and prehistoric pathogens

Southern Rockies picas unaffected by climate change: A new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder has found that American pikas, despite being temperature-sensitive animals, have not been adversely impacted by climate change. The researchers who conducted the study assessed 69 historical sites known to host pikas within the southern Rockies ranging from southern Wyoming through Colorado and into northern New Mexico. The results showed that 65 of the 69 sites have retained their pika populations. The study was funded primarily by the National Geographic Society. The new study stands in contrast to a study from another research group earlier this year in Nevada’s Great Basin that showed a nearly five-fold increase in local extinction rates of pika populations in the past decade. The different results may be because the more recent study area of the southern Rocky Mountains offers habitats in higher elevations that are also more contiguous than are habitats in Nevada’s Great Basin, according to the study’s researchers. The American pika, which shares its mammal family order with rabbits and hares (lagomorpha), lives in mountainous regions including British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, California and New Mexico. In 2010, the U.S. federal government denied an endangered species listing for the American pika partially because there were insufficient data on its distribution and abundance across western North America. Federal scientists find herbicide in air, water samples: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists report that air and water samples taken from the states of Mississippi and Iowa show that there are considerable levels of a harmful herbicide in the air and water within the states. The federal agency scientists reported that there were significant levels of the chemical glyphosate (used in “Roundup” herbicide) found in every stream sample examined in Mississippi in a two-year period as well as in the majority of air samples. This means people have been inhaling the herbicide, though no known detrimental effects have been yet documented. According to USGS, it is difficult and costly to test for the presence of glyphosate, which is why there has been so little research on its impacts on air and water to date. The herbicide is the most-used worldwide where it is applied to  residential yards, golf courses and farm fields.  Scientific studies have revealed that its wide use has led to glyphosate-resistant ‘super weeds.” USGS scientists affirm that more research is necessary to document effects on soil organisms, plants, animals and people. The USGS data has been submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency for further review. Read more at “U.S. researchers find roundup chemical in water, air” Prehistoric pathogens: DNA contained in recently acquired...

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Iridescent beetles, jet-propelled nautiluses and “walking cactus”

The secret to the Japanese jewel beetle’s shine is layers of chitin, threats to the ancient nautilus, a “walking cactus” provides a link between worm and insect, researchers propose drying out Australia’s cane toads, macaques display awareness of their own uncertainty and Florida’s alligator mating season is close at hand. Here is research in ecology and beyond from the last week in February. Iridescent beetle: A study recently published in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Biological Sciences explored the stacked chitin layers on the body and wings of the Japanese jewel beetle (Chrysochroa fulgidissima). Danielle Venton described the beetle in a Wired Science article: “[S]urface ridges cause visible iridescence, but their primary job is to deflect water or mud. Many are active at night, when their colors can’t be seen. But the Japanese jewel beetle’s surface is smooth, and the study’s authors suspect that iridescence helps these insects recognize each other and find mates.” Read more and see photos at “Gorgeous Jeweled Beetle Reveals Its Tricks.” Jet-propelled nautilus: In the online Scientific American column “Zoologger,” Michael Marshall described the Nautilus pompilius, a shelled cephalopod found in the Indo-Pacific: “Nautiluses mostly scavenge for dead crustaceans, worms and starfish, often digging for them in mud and biting into them with their sharp beaks. They hunt mostly by smell, tracking odours from up to 10 metres away.” This species could be at risk of a severe population decline, said Marshall, due to their slow reproduction rate. Read more at “Jet-propelled living fossil with a problem.” Walking cactus: Jianna Liu from Northwest University in China and colleagues have found the fossil of Diania cactiformis, an organism dubbed the “walking cactus” that may have been related to the velvet worm. “The creature, which dates from around 500 million years ago, is about 6 centimetres long,” wrote Zoë Corbyn in a Nature News article. “It resembles a thin, soft-bodied worm, similar to the lobopodians. But it is also arthropod-like in that it has jointed legs—ten pairs in total. The researchers believe the legs had hardened surfaces, not unlike the tough surfaces of the articulated limbs of crustaceans or insects.’” Read more at “‘Walking cactus’ is anthropods’ lost relative.” Aussie invasions: Researchers are exploring ways of reducing Australia’s cane toad population by drying out the rapidly breeding nonnative pests. As Ed Yong explained in Not Exactly Rocket Science, “While some frogs burrow underground or create protective cocoons, cane toads simply lose water until they die of dehydration. In the heat of Australia’s dry season, they need bodies of water to survive. Fortunately for them, humans have provided them with moisture galore, in the form of...

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Australian scientists fight cane toad invasion with cat food and laced sausages

Scientists from the University of Sydney are getting creative with their efforts to combat destructive cane toad populations in Australia and to protect native species from the pests. Cane toads were introduced to Australia in 1935. Cane toads, which were introduced to Australia in 1935 from Hawaii in an attempt to eradicate cane beetles, have caused a decline in other native species populations, such as snakes, lizards and quolls. Scientists have been trying to control the spread of cane toads for years; recent experiments have shown progress. For example, Georgia Ward-Fear and colleagues used open cans of cat food to lure native meat ants to the shores of ponds inhabited by baby cane toads. Once there, the meat ants turned to the baby toads for a food source. Since the toads’ natural defense mechanism is to freeze and secrete a poison from glands in their backs, the effort is no match for the impervious meat ant. Rick Shine, who heads the lab where both studies were conducted, describes the interaction in a Reuters article: All we’re doing is encouraging the ants to flourish somewhere where they already flourish, letting them know there’s particularly good food around so we get more of them down there on a very short-term basis. Baby toads are incredibly stupid and their reaction to being attacked is to freeze. I think they’re trying to advertise the fact they’re poisonous and let the predator get a taste of that, but it doesn’t work for the ant because it isn’t affected. The results, published in February edition of the Journal of Applied Ecology, are impressive: the meat ants attacked 98% of the toads within the first few minutes. In addition, over 50% of the attacks were immediately fatal and 88% of escapee toads died within 24 hours. Native animals, like this Tiger quoll, are threatened by the rise in cane toad populations. In other research, Stephanie O’Donnell and colleagues are training quolls, one of the predators affected  by the toads, to avoid eating the poisonous amphibians. Quolls, most of which are listed as threatened, are carnivorous marsupials related to the Tasmanian devil. They rely mostly on insects, birds, rodents and amphibians as a food source. However, since the cane toad is non-native, quolls are not predisposed to avoid them. Shine explains in a press release: Quolls have largely disappeared from the areas where cane toads occur. We know from Stephanie’s work that if you don’t train quolls to leave toads alone they’re very likely to eat the first toad they encounter and die as a result. The researchers are attempting to train the quolls to associate the...

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