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/Animal News Stories

News stories and articles that do not necessarily feature extinct animals.

29 11, 2014

Heading for a Sixth Mass Extinction Event

By | November 29th, 2014|Animal News Stories, Main Page|1 Comment

Past Mass Extinctions Linked to Changes in Global Climate

Planet Earth might be teetering on the brink of a sixth mass extinction event, climate change resulting in the huge loss of species associated with the Cretaceous mass extinction or the more devastating (in terms of species affected), Permian Great Dying.  That is the conclusion reached in a documentary being aired on the Smithsonian channel in the United States tomorrow.  The documentary entitled “Mass Extinction: Life at the Brink” explains what scientists now know about the Permian and Cretaceous extinction events, two of the five great extinctions recorded in the fossil record (Phanerozoic extinctions).   The documentary also explores how our activities are altering the climate, which could lead to similar collapses within ecosystems.

Although global warming is still dismissed by some, most of the scientific community supports the theory that the Earth’s climate is changing and that the planet is getting warmer.  One of the key points in the film concerns the issue of if the Earth warms very suddenly, when climate change is examined against the backdrop of geological time, then what would be the consequences?

This documentary and a book written by University of California (Berkeley) palaeontologist and professor of integrative biology, Anthony Barnosky (Dodging Extinction) is just one of a series of increasingly alarming accounts of the impact of climate change on our planet, produced by the academic community.  Back in 2010, a United Nations report stated that about 30% of all the flora and fauna on Earth was in danger of dying out by the end of the 21st Century due to the rapid industrialisation of parts of the world and the West’s inability to curb greenhouse gases that were potentially leading to dramatic changes in climate.

To read more about the United Nations report: Are we Heading for a Sixth Mass Extinction Event?

Professor Barnosky and his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Hadley (a biologist/ecologist at Stanford University), appear in the documentary, helping to explain the evidence that has been amassed that suggests climate change is happening and such shifts in Earth’s climate led to mass extinctions in the past.

Professor Barnosky, now in his early sixties explains:

” I go back to places where I was doing coal exploration geology, beautiful places in western Colorado and now the trees are all dead, mostly from beetle kill because winters have warmed enough so that the beetles can reproduce twice in a season rather than once.  In my lifetime, I have seen it go from verdant forests to literally tens of thousands of acres of dead trees, and that’s just in Colorado.  There are literally millions of square miles of dead trees up and down the Rocky Mountain chain.  All because of greenhouse gases warming the atmosphere”.

Scientists Suggest Global Warming is Leading to the Deaths of Many Forests due to Unchecked Insect Populations

Dead Trees in Yellowstone National Park

Dead Trees in Yellowstone National Park

Picture Credit: Tangled Bank Studios

A Table Listing the Five Major Extinction Events of the Phanerozoic

Mass Extinction in Summary

Table Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The table above documents the five mass extinction events from the Phanerozoic Eon (the eon of visible life from approximately 545 million years ago to the present day).  The table also provides information about the major animal groups affected.

The documentary film’s executive producer is evolutionary biologist Sean B. Carroll, he states that scientists and academics have learned more about what caused the great extinction events of the past.  Dramatic events like asteroid impacts and massive volcanic eruptions led to climate change on a global scale wrecking the world’s ecosystems and devastating life on our planet.

Professor Carroll explained:

“We now know with high confidence from recent work that The Great Dying [Permian extinction event] was caused by massive volcanic eruptions underneath present-day Siberia and that just pumped out massive amounts of climate-changing gases, including massive amounts of carbon dioxide.”

Also appearing in the documentary programme is Walter Alvarez (University of California, Berkeley), who along with his late father, the physicist Luis Alvarez, first uncovered evidence that an extraterrestrial impact had struck the Earth at around the time of the demise of the dinosaurs.  Whilst there has always been extinctions (known as the background rate of extinction), the programme makers warn that as humans reduce the habitat available for other species and alter the composition of the atmosphere, animals and plants are being pushed towards extinction twelve times higher than the background level.

Are We Heading for an Extinction Event as Dramatic as the End Cretaceous Extinction?

Death of the dinosaurs.

Death of the dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For instance, temperatures may rise by perhaps as high as four degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st Century, a rise almost as great as during the end Permian extinction event, which resulted in the loss of some 95% of all life on Earth.  It has been suggested that most of the coral reefs may vanish by the year 2070, as the oceans become more acidic due to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  This could result in the loss of 25% of the fish species in the sea that depend on coral reefs resulting in the loss of 10% of the ocean’s fisheries with direct implications for the human population.

There may be still time to help avert this catastrophe, recent agreements on the restricted use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emission limits if implemented effectively, could help minimise the impact.  In the book, authored by Professor Barnosky, he proposes a series of steps that people can take to help prevent further global warming:

  • Reduce the amount of intensively reared meat that you consume
  • Avoid foods which contain palm oil (palm oil plantations replacing large amounts of natural forest)
  • Only eat fish that has been sustainably harvested

In addition, the authors and the documentary makers urge people to lobby political and business leaders to help bring about fundamental changes in the way that we as a species perceive the natural world and its resources.

28 08, 2014

Walking Fish Provides Clues to the First Tetrapods

By | August 28th, 2014|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Researchers Study Living Fish to Gain Insight Into Fossil Record

Arguably one of the most significant events in the history of life on Earth occurred when the first vertebrates walked on land.  The date when types of prehistoric fish made the move to land and began the evolutionary journey that would lead to the Tetrapods keeps changing in the light of new fossil discoveries.  Tetrapods are vertebrates, this group includes the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals and that means, we are Tetrapods too.  One of the most important fossil discoveries in recent years, was made in a limestone quarry in Poland.  On one stone slab scientists discovered strange track-like marks about fifteen centimetres wide.  These were controversially interpreted as having been made by the limbs of an animal capable of moving around on land.  It was envisaged that whatever strange creature made these marks, it must have been more than two metres long.  This trace fossil suggests that the first animals walked on land around 400-395 million years ago, some thirty-five million years earlier than previously thought.

To read more about this Polish discovery: Clues to the First Land Animals?

A team of researchers from McGill University (Montreal, Canada), have turned to a living fish in order to gain a better understanding of the evolutionary changes that must have taken place to allow certain types of fish such as the Sarcopterygians to adapt to a more terrestrial lifestyle.  If, sometime around 400 million years ago (Lower Devonian Epoch), a group of fish began exploring terrestrial environments, the first stage on the long evolutionary journey to the Tetrapods, how did these fish do it?  What changes to their bodies and fins took place to allow them to adapt to this new habitat?  Helping to answer these questions was the aim of the research team at McGill University and to do this they turned to a living (extant) fish called Polypterus.

Little Fish Takes Part in “Ground Breaking” Experiments

A giant leap for fish-kind!

A giant leap for fish-kind!

Picture Credit: McGill University

There are ten or so species in the Polypterus genus, as far as we at Everything Dinosaur know, they are all African and freshwater fish.  Polypterus is the only vertebrate known to science that possesses lungs and is capable of breathing air but has no trachea.  These little fish have been studied for more than one hundred and fifty years, Thomas Huxley no less was involved in some of the earliest research.  He placed them in the Order Crossopterygii, now regarded as a synonym of the Sarcopterygii – although this classification has now been largely disproved.  The first successful domestic breeding programme commenced in 2005, this paved the way for laboratory studies.

The McGill team in collaboration with the University of Ottawa, studied Polypterus fish to show what might have happened when fish first attempted to walk out of the water.  These air breathing fish can “walk” on land, (really it is a bit of shuffle), but they do superficially resemble Devonian Sarcopterygians, (hence Huxley’s classification).  The scientists raised juvenile Polypterus on land for nearly a year, with an aim of revealing how these “terrestrialised” fish looked and moved when compared to Polypterus specimens raised in a more normal environment.

Project leader, Emily Standen, a former McGill University post-doctoral student stated:

“Stressful environmental conditions can often reveal otherwise cryptic anatomical and behavioural variation, a form of developmental plasticity.  We wanted to use this mechanism to see what new anatomies and behaviours we could trigger in these fish and see if they match what we know from the fossil record.”

The team discovered that these fish underwent remarkable anatomical and behavioural changes in response to their stressful environment.  These fish walked more effectively by placing their fins closer to their bodies, lifted their heads higher and kept their fins from slipping as much as fish that were raised in water.

Polypterus Showed Anatomical and Behavioural Changes

Helping to explain the evolution of Tetrapods.

Helping to explain the evolution of Tetrapods.

Picture Credit: McGill University

Fellow researcher, Trina Du (McGill University PhD student) explained:

“Anatomically, their pectoral skeleton changed to become more elongate with stronger attachments across their chest, possibly to increase support during walking and a reduced contact with the skull to potentially allow greater head or potential neck motion.”

Hans Larsson, Canada Research Chair in Macroevolution at McGill and an Associate Professor at the Redpath Museum added:

“Because many of the anatomical changes mirror the fossil record, we can hypothesise that the behavioural changes we see also reflect what may have occurred when fossil fish first walked with their fins on land.”

The “terrestrialised” Polypterus is unique and provides fresh ideas on how fossil fishes may have used their fins in a terrestrial environment and what evolutionary processes may have been involved.  Hans Larsson went onto to say that this experiment was the first example that they were aware of, that demonstrated developmental plasticity may have facilitated a large-scale evolutionary transition, by first accessing new anatomies and behaviours that could later be genetically fixed in the population by natural selection.

The study was conducted by Emily Standen, University of Ottawa, and Hans Larsson, Trina Du at McGill University and supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Tomlinson Post-doctoral fellowship.  It has been published in the journal “Nature”.  Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of McGill University in the compilation of this article.

16 07, 2014

More Crocodile Attacks Reported from India

By | July 16th, 2014|Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

More Crocodile Attacks Reported in Gujarat State

The number of crocodile attacks reported by the authorities in Gujarat State (western India), continues to rise with the latest victim a sixteen year old boy who was attacked by a crocodile as he swam in a lake close to Dena village (Gujarat).  A day earlier, a woman was dragged into the water by a crocodile near the town of Goraj.  The boy, Moin Qureshi managed to escape but suffered injuries to his legs.  Villagers report that the lake is home to at least two large crocodiles.

A spokes person for the villagers explained that locals had been requested to stay away from the water, Moin is in hospital recovering from his ordeal.  This attack follows a similar incident reported  from northern India last month when two girls were attacked by a crocodile, one of these attacks proved fatal.

There have been a number of such incidents reported from India this year, back in April, Everything Dinosaur team members reported on the series of crocodile attacks in Gujarat State.

To read more about these attacks: Third Fatality as a Result of Crocodile Attack Reported

At certain times of the year, crocodiles are believed to be more aggressive and therefore more likely to attack people, when females are guarding nests or when males are competing for territory for example.  Loss of habitat and the increasing population pressure may also be a factor as people are coming into contact with large crocodiles more frequently.

19 05, 2014

Further Crocodile Attacks

By | May 19th, 2014|Animal News Stories, Main Page|2 Comments

More Crocodile Attack Fatalities

A Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is reported to have attacked and killed a woman whilst she was collecting reeds in the Shire River (Mangochi district, southern Malawi).  Mangochi Police Station Public Relations Officer, Inspector Rodrick Maida stated that the deceased had been in the river gathering reeds with two female friends when the crocodile grabbed her.  The women were unable to free the victim from the crocodile’s grip and ran to nearby houses to fetch help.

A search conducted by a group of villagers from Mtalimanja also ended in tragedy when Walani Lawe (aged 51) was attacked and severely injured whilst attempting to retrieve the woman’s body.  The dead woman’s body has yet to be recovered.  Mr Lawe was taken to Mangochi District Hospital and it has been reported that he is responding well to treatment.  This attack comes just a few days after another fatal crocodile attack this time in Papua New Guinea and the species concerned was a Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile (C. porosus).  Several media sources have reported that a four metre long reptile attacked and killed an eleven year old boy whilst he fished with his parents.  The incident took place on the Siloura River in Gulf Province, in the southern part of Papua New Guinea. The attack occurred on Thursday afternoon.

Police Commander Lincoln Gerari, said in the statement that the boy had been identified as Melas Mero.  Following the fatal attack, a large crocodile was tracked by hunters and killed.   The boy’s limbs and part of the hips were found inside the crocodile’s stomach.  Other body parts have been recovered by the police team.

Describing the sudden attack, the Commander explained:

“The crocodile swept the boy with its tail and then attacked the defenceless child.”

This is the second fatal crocodile attack to be reported from Papua New Guinea in 2014.  On January 1st a man was killed by a Saltwater Crocodile at Rawa Bay in North Bougainville.   According to a Darwin based, crocodile data recording team, this is the seventy-fifth crocodile attack recorded in Papua New Guinea since 1958.  Of these seventy-five attacks, sixty-five have proved fatal.

25 04, 2014

Third Crocodile Attack Fatality in Vadodara (Gujarat State)

By | April 25th, 2014|Animal News Stories, Main Page|2 Comments

Mugger Crocodiles Protecting Nests Blamed for Fatal Attacks

Indian media is reporting a third crocodile attack in as many weeks in and around the city of Vadodara in the state of Gujarat (north-western India).  A sixty year old man was attacked close to the Vishwamitri river on Friday afternoon, despite desperate attempts from local residents and members of the fire brigade, the man was pronounced dead at the scene.  The crocodile initially refused to relinquish the body, but persistent efforts finally succeeded in recovering the victim who has yet to be formally identified.  The Vishwamitri river runs through the city of Vadodara and recent surveys suggest that there is a healthy population of Mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) living in the river.  The Mugger or Marsh crocodile is the most common crocodile species found in India and although these reptiles predominately eat fish, snakes, turtles and small mammals, they have been known to attack people and livestock.   However, the spate of recent crocodile attacks has led city officials to issue notices and warnings with regards to the potential threat of an attack.

An elderly woman was killed by a crocodile three weeks ago, when she was seized close to a lock near the village of Savli.  A teenage boy was killed on April 20th when he fell into the Vishwamitri when trying to cross the river on a wooden plank.

The Mugger crocodile can grow up to around 4.5 metres in length, with adult males growing to larger sizes than females.  They are distributed throughout the Indian sub-continent and can be found in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan with a small population reported from southern Iran.   The recent spate of attacks has been blamed on female crocodiles being extra aggressive at this time of year (spring).  Many female crocodiles might be guarding nests and as a result, they will instinctively attack any creature that wanders too near the eggs.  Animal activists and conservation groups have urged local people to avoid areas where crocodiles are known to nest, not to venture close to the riverbanks and not to go out at night near bodies of freshwater.

A recent study of Mugger crocodiles and American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) by an international team of scientists proved the long held belief that these species use tools to help attract prey close enough for them to grab in their powerful jaws.  These two species of Crocodylians are not closely related but both the American alligator and the Mugger find sticks and balance them on the top of their jaws in a bid to lure birds to perch on them and to steal the sticks during the nesting season when many wading birds are seeking sticks and other materials to help them build nests.  A paper on this observed behaviour was published in the academic journal “Ethology Ecology and Evolution”.

This is the only known incidence of tool use in the Reptilia.

A Mugger Crocodile Lies in Wait for a Bird Looking for Nesting Materials

Mugger crocodile lies in wait to ambush a bird

Mugger crocodile lies in wait to ambush a bird

Picture Credit: Vladimir Dinets

A twelve year old boy from Zimbabwe was killed by a Nile crocodile  (Crocodylus niloticus) on April 22nd and earlier this month a fisherman was mauled to death in Belize with an American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) blamed for the assault.  A Nile crocodile which is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of at least six people was captured by Ugandan game wardens.  The crocodile measured nearly six metres in length and is estimated to have been at least eighty years old.

We are grateful to Brandon who pointed out that the attack reported in Belize was not from an American Crocodile but from a Morelet’s crocodile (Mexican crocodile).  We thank him for the correction.

28 03, 2014

Australia Rejects Controversial Saltwater Crocodile Hunting Ban

By | March 28th, 2014|Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Crocodile “Trophy Hunting” Plan Turned Down

A controversial plan to allow safari hunters in Australia’s Northern Territory state to kill crocodiles, has been rejected by the federal government in Canberra.  This is the latest set back for campaigners demanding a sustained and extensive cull of the many large, Saltwater crocodiles that inhabit water courses in the Northern Territory.

Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt said “trophy hunting” would not be appropriate.  The proposal, which was backed by the authorities and governors in Northern Territory, would have permitted up to fifty crocodiles to be shot for sport.  Currently, around five hundred crocodiles are culled in the region every year.

Those campaigners that put the proposal forward in the first place, argue the plan would bring in much-needed income for some of the indigenous people in the region.   The ability to put on such hunts would attract a lot of interest from shooting enthusiasts and this would give the State a considerable boost to its tourist incomes, but Greg Hunt’s decision to reject the plan has angered some Territorians living in some parts of Australia’s remote outback.

Australia’s Top Predator – The Saltwater Crocodile

Call for a re-introduction of hunting.

Call for a re-introduction of hunting.

Picture Credit: The Press Association

Bess Price, Minister for Wildlife and Parks commented:

“Greg Hunt has made a decision which will do nothing to improve the lives of indigenous Territorians living in remote communities.”

Saltwater crocodiles, otherwise known as Estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) can grow to a length in excess of seven metres and large males can weigh more than a tonne.  They are responsible for a number of attacks on people, pets and livestock in Australia each year, their numbers having bounced back dramatically since a hunting ban was imposed in 1971.  A number of these attacks prove fatal, once these crocodiles are over five feet in length they are regarded as man-eaters.  In January, two crocodiles were shot by park rangers as they tried to recover the body of a twelve year old boy that had been attacked.  In August of last year, team members from Everything Dinosaur reported on the recovery of the body of a twenty-six year old man who had been killed by a crocodile whilst attempting to swim across the Mary River during a birthday party.

7 02, 2014

Museum Victoria Scientists Discover New Species Thanks to Robotic Submersible

By | February 7th, 2014|Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Remotely Operated Deep Sea Vehicle Explores the Ocean’s Depths

Three new species of sea cucumber have been discovered by Museum Victoria scientists almost a thousand metres beneath the surface of the ocean.  The sea cucumbers were discovered on a British-led expedition for new life on seamounts and hydrothermal vents 1500 kilometres  (940 miles) south of the island of Madagascar.  The project involved more than twenty international marine engineers and scientists, including Museum Victoria marine biologists Mark O’Loughlin and Melanie Mackenzie.

Commenting on the deep sea exploration mission, O’Loughlin stated:

“We were able to describe three species of sea cucumber totally new to science.  New technology provided the very rare opportunity to publish colour photos of the new species for fellow scientists.”

The identification of the sea cucumbers was made possible by the expedition’s remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, a remote-controlled robot capable of traversing the ocean floor, collecting samples, and taking video and photographs.  Operators back on the ship control the ROV’s robotic arm, guiding it to collect specimens as they appear on a video screen.  Samples are then sorted and preserved by the scientific team as part of this marine study.

One of the New Species of Sea Cucumber Discovered

New Sea Cucumber Species Discovered

Picture Credit: David Shale

Sea cucumbers belong to the Phylum called Echinodermata which also includes sea urchins, crinoids and starfish.  Sea cucumbers are a very ancient marine animal, so named as their elongated bodies superficially look-like a cucumber in appearance, although our team members at Everything Dinosaur can find no resemblance themselves.  These animals probably evolved in the Cambrian but their fossil preservation potential is relatively poor and very few fossil specimens have been found when compared to other members of the Echinodermata.

Melanie Mackenzie added:

“Specimens often lose their colour during the preservation process, so by the time they’re back at the lab, they look completely different.  The ROV allows us to not only access new environments and take samples, but also to take video and photographs of animals in their natural environments.”

The ROV is about the size of a small, family car  and can work at depths of up to six kilometres (over three and a half miles), opening up a whole new world for scientists.  But while the ROV is useful in exploring new environments, O’Loughlin insists that it is just one of many research tools available to marine scientists.

He stated:

“You still need the scientific expertise to interpret what you find down there, which is what we brought to this collaboration.  We’re proud to belong to a global community of such esteemed institutions.”

The project was led by Professor Alex Rogers (Oxford University) and funded through a grant from the UK-based Natural Environment Research Council.  The three new sea cucumbers will be housed at the British Museum of Natural History (London) for future research.

Australian scientists will soon have greater access to ROV technology, with the Marine National Facility’s new research vessel called “Investigator” due to be launched this year.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the support of Museum Victoria in the production of this article.

12 01, 2014

In Praise of David Attenborough’s Life on Earth

By | January 12th, 2014|Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

BBC Television Series “Life on Earth” Still Impresses

The BBC are repeating on Saturday morning (BBC 2), the ground breaking television series “Life on Earth”.  This thirteen part television series was first broadcast in 1979, the first episode entitled “The Infinite Variety” was first aired in the United Kingdom on the 16th January 1979.  In essence, this television series, voted one of the best television programmes of all time by British viewers, is celebrating its 35th birthday this week.

“Life on Earth: A Natural History”, narrated by David Attenborough may have reached middle age but the amazing imagery, fantastic photography and superb commentary makes it as fresh today as it was all those years ago.  It was the first in a long-line of natural history programmes made by the BBC and narrated by Sir David.  The format is very simple, the programmes, designed to fit into a typical quarter-year for a scheduler (hence thirteen episodes), traces the history of life on our planet with each programme telling the story of a major group of organisms or major evolutionary development.

Life on Earth Celebrates Its 35th Birthday This Week

Life on Earth first shown in 1979.

Life on Earth first shown in 1979.

Picture Credit: BBC

The series sees, Sir David travelling the world and it was made in conjunction with Warner Bros. and Reiner Moritz Productions.  The soundtrack music, which itself was highly regarded, was composed by Edward Williams.  For team members at Everything Dinosaur, this television series remains right up there with some of the best programmes that the BBC has ever made.  Some of us can recall watching this programme when it first was shown back in 1979.  It helped fuel our interest in the natural world and evolution.  Although, some of the information and imagery used in this television series has now been made redundant as our understanding of evolution and fossils has progressed somewhat, it is still compulsive viewing.

“Life on Earth” won the Broadcasting Press Guild Award for Best Documentary Series, it was also nominated for four BAFTA television awards in the following categories:

  • Best Television Factual Series (lost to Circuit 11 Miami)
  • Television Craft/Film Cameraman (lost to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
  • Television Craft/Film Editor (we are not sure who won the BAFTA in 1980)
  • Television Craft/Film Sound (lost to Speed King)

We are pleased that the dedicated team behind this series received recognition for their superb work, we think Sir David Attenborough was granted Fellowship of the BAFTA academy in 1980.  However, for us this television series is still a great pleasure to watch and it does bring back happy memories of when we first saw these programmes more than thirty years ago.

11 01, 2014

New Species of Slender-nosed Crocodile Discovered in Africa

By | January 11th, 2014|Animal News Stories|1 Comment

African Crocodile Diversity Just Gets More and More Complicated

It seems that today’s extant reptiles have still got a lot to teach us about their phylogeny and taxonomic relationships as a team of scientists studying crocodiles in central Africa have discovered a new species of these ancient creatures.  According to a scientific paper published in the academic journal “The Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology)”, the rare Slender-snouted crocodile (Mescistops cataphractus) is actually two species and these two species diverged from each other at least seven million years ago.

An analysis of molecular data and genetic samples provided the University of Florida team, who working in collaboration with scientists from Gabon, with the evidence to suggest that there are two distinct species present in the central African crocodile population.

A New Species of Slender-nosed Crocodile May Have Been Identified

New species of Crocodilian discovered.

New species of Crocodilian discovered.

Picture Credit: Matt Shirley

Describing how the discovery was made, lead author of the paper Matthew Shirley stated:

“It was simply a matter of going to places people before us never wanted to go or thought possible to go.”

This part of Africa had been beset with civil war, local militias and lack of infrastructure, the sites where Slender-nosed crocodiles could still be found were remote and very difficult to get access to.

Post doctorate researcher Shirley and his team have not only identified two genetically different species, but they have noted anatomical and physical differences too.

The researcher explained:

“There were actually two different species of Slender-snouted crocodile, as well as one sub-species, described in the past.  Over the years these were all synonymised with Mecistops cataphractus, but we are now faced with the necessity of determining if any of these previous names is equally applicable to the new taxa.”

When it comes to the scientific names of organisms, any binomial name attributed in the past may take precedence, it will be a question of trawling through the archives to see if such a name exists.  This new discovery has very important implications for the conservation of these small, Africa crocodiles.  The split between the two species suggests that the West African Slender-nosed crocodile is on the verge of extinction.

Matthew Shirley commented on how vulnerable to extinction these crocodiles are:

“Over the past eight years of effort I and others have detected less than fifty Slender-snouted crocodiles in the wild in West Africa, and of these less than seven were adults, compared to nearly 2,000 in Central Africa over the same time period and survey effort.  We recently evaluated its status for the 2014 IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] Red List and found that it is Critically Endangered making it one of the top Crocodilian conservation priorities globally along with  the decline of Gharials, Siamese and Orinoco crocodiles.”

The research team called for drastic measures to help these critically endangered crocodiles.  It has been suggested that captive breeding programmes should be introduced with what crocodiles left in the wild being captured and put into zoos to permit the population to be boosted before any animals bred in captivity are released back into the wild.

Recently, crocodiles native to the African continent have gone through a considerable taxonomic revision.  Up until recently only three species of Crocodilian were recognised in Africa, the very dangerous Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), the Slender-snouted nosed crocodile (Mescistops cataphractus) and the Dwarf crocodile, also often referred to as Broad-snouted crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis).  Studies (also involving staff from Florida University), have suggested that there are two distinct Nile crocodile species, and three, genetically different types of Dwarf crocodile.

Potentially Two Species of Nile Crocodile

Scientists research the dentition of Crocodilians.

Scientists research the genetic characteristics  of Crocodilians.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

If the scientific community recognises all of these new species then the species count for Africa will jump from three to seven.  These changes will mean a re-evaluation of total crocodile numbers in the wild and will have implications for future Crocodilian conservation.

11 11, 2013

DNA Study Suggest “Man’s Best Friend” Domesticated in Europe

By | November 11th, 2013|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

European Origin of “Domesticated Dogs” At Least 18,000 Years Ago

The results of an extensive study of wolves and domesticated dogs including analysis of fossil material has led a team of scientists to conclude that dogs were first domesticated in Europe.  The likes of Charles Darwin did not know, after all, genetics was a branch of science that was unknown to the co-author of the theory of natural selection (Darwin and Wallace jointly presented their ideas in 1858 to the Linnean Society), but it is now widely accepted that all domesticated dogs are descended from the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus).  Just when dogs became a part of people’s lives and started to work in partnership with humans is a hotly debated subject.  The emergence of a form of “domesticated” dog has now been mapped and this new study points to an origin from Europe and at least 18,000 years ago.  It all depends on where you are in the world as to whether 18,000 years ago is classed as the Mesolithic “Middle Stone Age” or the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic), as these time periods are defined by the development and use of tools and other artefacts by indigenous populations, either way, mankind’s relationship with dogs goes back a very long way.

The team of researchers from Turku University (Finland) have somewhat “muddied the waters” when it comes to assessing when and where dogs began to have a much closer relationship with our own species.  Earlier studies had indicated that wolves began to attach themselves with human settlements in the Middle East or perhaps in the near Asia region as recently as 15,000 years ago.  This new data, based on the DNA samples, pushes our relationship with “man’s best friend” further back into prehistory and locates the first domestication as being in Europe.

Scientists Looked at Fossil Evidence from Dogs Buried Close to Human Settlements

Analysis of DNA may hold the key to unravelling the mystery of dog domestication.

However, fossil evidence has challenged this earlier research and indeed, a remarkable excavation site in southern Siberia, dated to around 33,000 years ago (definitely Palaeolithic but who’s counting), puts the date of dog domestication, or at least descendants of wolves having a close relationship with mankind, much further back in time than even this new Finnish study suggests.

To read an article about the discoveries from the southern Siberian dig site: It’s a Dog’s Life!

One of the problems associated with trying to identify exactly where and when dogs began to live alongside humans is that palaeontologists have found some distinctly dog-looking fossil evidence in various sites around both the Old and the New World.  For this research, the scientists looked at the mitochondrial genomes from present-day dogs and wolves, as well as from eighteen fossil Canids, whose remains date from between 1,000 and more than 36,000 years old.

Dr. Olaf Thalmann (Turku University) and his colleagues used genetic sequences from a wide range of fossil and extant sources in order to gain an understanding of the great diversity of dog breeds around today and how they relate to the remains of dogs excavated from various fossil sites.  The analysis revealed that modern dogs are most closely related to ancient European wolves or dogs, they are not closely related to any of the wolf groups from outside Europe.  Intriguingly, the research suggests that domesticated dogs have a link with a strain of ancient European wolf, one that is extinct.  The proposed “start point” for domestication going back beyond 18,000 years is certainly fascinating.  It suggests that dogs began to separate out of wolf populations when our species was nomadic.  Dog domestication may actually have occurred long before we began to settle in farming communities.  It seems that dogs may have come “walkies” with us when we were very much hunters and gatherers.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Both wolves and ourselves are diurnal hunters, perhaps the wolves that were the ancestors of the first domesticated dogs followed human hunting trips, to feed off the scraps that we left behind from the hunting of large, herbivorous mammals like Elk, Ox, Mammoth and Woolly Rhino.  Or indeed, it could have been the other way round with human hunting parties scavenging the kills of wolf packs.”

Over time, wolves and humans began to tolerate each other’s presence and the first steps on the long road to mutual co-operation and subsequent domestication were taken.

Explaining some of the reasoning behind the team’s work, Dr. Thalmann stated:

“You can see how the wolves benefitted from living near humans because they got to the carcases, but humans too would have benefitted.  You have to remember that 18,800 to 32,000 years ago, Europe had much bigger predators than even the wolves, animals such as bears and hyenas.  You can imagine that having wolves living close to you might prove to be a very useful alarm system.  It is a plausible scenario for the origin of the domestication of dogs.”

The precise details surrounding the origin of today’s domesticated canine remain unclear.  The genetic markers that can be traced are extremely difficult to interpret, not helped that due to mankind’s movements, dog populations have become very mixed over time.  In addition, it seems that some populations of dogs may have back-bred with wild wolves causing further confusion.  This particular study and indeed, the majority of the earlier studies, relied on so-called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), a small sub-packet of genetic material in cells that is normally passed down through the generations solely on the maternal line, although incredibly useful,  mtDNA does not represent the fullest information possible.  The much larger DNA retrieved from the cell nucleus (nuclear DNA), could provide a lot more genetic information, but the DNA’s poor preservation ability, the risk of cross-contamination and the difficulty of retrieving substantial amounts from fossils are formidable barriers to progress.

The findings of this research, published in the academic journal “Science”, suggest that an ancient, extinct central European population of wolves gave rise to the domestic dog.  In addition, evidence from the mtDNA indicates that several other types of ancient dog found in the fossil record may represent ultimately doomed previous domestication attempts.   If enough nuclear DNA is recovered from the fossil record, a clearer understanding of our relationship with dogs can probably be obtained, but for the moment it looks like the origins of today’s pets and working dogs are in central Europe and the bond between man and dog goes back into the Palaeolithic.

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