Author Archives: moheim

Red Desert Caravan on Labor Day Weekend

 

Who says you have to go to Africa to go on Safari?

Biodiversity Conservation Alliance is taking people out to see the sites of the Red Desert. Better yet, this guided trip is free. Learn more and watch a slideshow of what the trip promises on my Red Desert Blog entry Red Desert Caravan on Labor Day Weekend.


Poultry farms that go organic produce fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria

In this study, poultry houses like this, that transitioned to organic practices and ceased using antibiotics, had significantly lower levels of drug-resistant and multi-drug resistant enterococci bacteria. (Photo/Amy R. Sapkota, University of Maryland)

In this study, poultry houses like this, that transitioned to organic practices and ceased using antibiotics, had significantly lower levels of drug-resistant and multi-drug resistant enterococci bacteria. (Photo/Amy R. Sapkota, University of Maryland)

With all the drug-resistant salmonella outbreaks of late, catching a food-borne illness is no longer a pesky health annoyance, but an increasingly menacing prospect. That’s why it’s nice to hear some calming news coming from a new study about the poultry industry. Researchers at University of Maryland have just published findings that show chicken farms going organic make for fewer drug-resistant bacteria.

The overuse of antibiotics on livestock has led to the evolution of super bacteria that no longer respond to drug treatments. Organic farms don’t use antibiotics, and the switch from conventional to organic cuts the presence of drug-resistant bacteria with dramatic impact.

Researchers compared enterococci bacteria levels — a classic culprit of drug-resistant infection in animals and people —  at 10 conventional large-scale poultry farms with 10 newly organic large-scale farms. The organic farms fared much better for bacteria, several as soon as one generation of chicken. The difference was nothing to bat an eyelash at either. On average, organic farms had three to four times fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventional farms.

Multi-drug resistant bacteria are of particular public health concern because they can be resistant to all available antibiotics, and are therefore very difficult to treat if contracted by an animal or human. (Photo/Amy R. Sapkota, University of Maryland)

“We initially hypothesized that we would see some differences in on-farm levels of antibiotic-resistant enterococci when poultry farms transitioned to organic practices,” explained Dr. Amy R. Sapkota, an Assistant Professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in a press release. “But we were surprised to see that the differences were so significant…It is very encouraging.”

The study is the first of its kind to demonstrate a link between switching to organic practices and reduction in these hard-to-treat bugs. Researchers expect the drop in drug-resistant bacteria to become even more dramatic as more time passes, more farms go organic and reservoirs of drug-resistant bacteria dry up, according to a press release.

For more information you can read the full press release titled “Poultry farms that go organic have significantly fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” go to the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (online August 10, 2011), or contact :

Kelly Blake
kellyb@umd.edu
301-405-9418
University of Maryland


Weird Wildlife Factoid Game

I dug this up from a project I did a few years ago, but wildlife factoids never go out of style. So go ahead and test your wildlife savvy with this wacky wildlife trivia. Some you probably know without breaking a sweat, but others might take you by surprise. (Answers are upside down in the green border at the bottom. You can click on the quiz to view it bigger.)

Weird Wildlife Factoids by Morgan Heim

Mountain plover not warranted for endangered species listing

Nesting mountain plover (Photo/Fritz Knopf)

Here’s some food for thought.

The mountain plover’s populations now range around 20,000 birds left in the world. Across the globe, a very different creature, the saiga antelope, only boasts about 40,000. One of these animals is globally listed as critically endangered, and one was found not qualified for federal endangered species status. Any guesses?

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after a review of the current scientific and commercial information found mountain plover not warranted for listing, citing threats to its habitat as less significant than previously thought.

Mountain plovers are a small ground-nesting bird that rely on short-grass prairies and shrub-steppe environments in the American West for breeding habitat. Land use and habitat loss have been a primary suspect in the disappearance of the plover, an animal so good at hiding, that science is just now starting to get a better idea of how many are left. Recent research shows that rather than being pushed out by agriculture, mountain plovers are actually using farmland as a refuge during nesting season.

I want to take this as good news, but with short-grass prairie and steppe disappearing, swallowed up by energy development and overgrazing, active cropland does not sound like the most stable of refuges for a bird of small numbers, stature and a master of camouflage.  My hope is that not being listed will help avoid animosity of the animal by landowners, and perhaps even foster pride and care of the plover so that farmers will not have to contend with being the harbor of an endangered species.

Saiga Antelope, numbers around 40,000, critically endangered and rightfully so.

How many of an animal is left is not necessarily determinant of whether a species should be protected. Many factors go into the decision. But one has to wonder, what makes a population of 20,000 birds so much more stable than 40,000 of another species?


Video of Rare Ice Age Tree in Boulder

While learning about all things conservation in Boulder, I was told about a special type of tree that grows in one spot here. The paper birch is a species of tree that has grown here since the time of the last Ice Age. They are rare in the West. Boulder represents the southernmost population of the tree west of Nebraska.

Actually seeing them is like stumbling upon a secret. So I made this quick little video to show you what they look like and some of the cool things about them.

Video of Rare Ice Age Tree, posted with vodpod

What I’ve learned is that there are amazing things right in my backyard. I bet there are in yours too.

What’s special about your local nature?

Send in some photos, put up your YouTube clip or even send a few words, and I’d be happy to share it on Nature Files. I bet you won’t have to look very far.


First Photo of Fishing Cat with Baby in Wild

Fishing Cat with Kitten in Wild

Fishing cat with kitten in the wild of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. (Photo/Namfon Cutter, Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project)

 

 

The Secret Lives of Fishing Cats

 

Our resident fishing cat biologist friend, Namfon Cutter, was kind enough to give us permission to share her first-ever photo of a mama fishing cat with kitten in the wild. This is a rarely witnessed event!

With CAT in WATER, we are hoping to add to these efforts by incorporating new high-res camera-traps into the project that will bring you even more intimate views of these amazing critters.

Please enjoy this sweet moment in the life of a rare wild creature courtesy of Namfon and the Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project.

With all the support so far, we are just $124 away from our start-up goal. Thank you to everyone who has pledged. This photo is the epitome of what you are helping to protect when you do so.

We’ll keep fund raising throughout this project, as the camera-trapping is a whole other canister of film. (I know, we like the old school lingo around here.) If you’d like to help support CAT in WATER, click HERE to learn more.

 


Protecting common species more important than saving endangered ones, new research suggests

Atlantic Cod, the importance of the ordinary animal

The once common Atlantic cod

In wildlife conservation, people tend to pay closer attention to the disappearing creatures. There is a sense of urgency, and rightfully so, to save the few, but new research indicates that it is the common things that need protecting. For if they go, all the ways that they influence the nature of the world will be so disturbed that even the rare will have nowhere left to go. Let’s face it. If things get so bad that even common critters aren’t around anymore, we’re in deep doo-doo.

The research, led by Kerstin Johannesson with the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, looked specifically at marine systems. Johannesson found that a vast number of species in the oceans are so rare, it’s difficult to find even  a few individuals anymore. “Committing most resources to saving individual species is not just an expensive business – it would also risk destroying the foundation for ecosystems,” states a press release on the study.

Common species, found Johannesson, create habitat for other species, so by protecting them, it’s possible to protect the rare animals as well.  Johannesson uses the once common cod in the fjords of the Bohuslän coast as an example of this phenomenon. Their numbers have virtually disappeared.

“Without the big predatory fish, the sea-grass meadows become clogged, with the result that the shallow bays no longer act as larders and nurseries for inshore fish,” Johannesson stated in a press release.

I don’t know if Johannesson’s conservation strategy is the right way to go, moreso than concentrating on endangered species, but who’s to say that we shouldn’t really implement both tactics? Regardless, I have no doubt that we need to understand better the value of the common creatures. After all preventative conservation, sure does sound a heck of a lot smarter and potentially easier than waiting to clean up a mess.

What are your thoughts?

Lead Researcher:

Kerstin Johannesson of the University of Gothenburg

Contact:

Kerstin Johannesson, Kerstin.Johannesson@marecol.gu.se, 465-266-8611


Insomniac Cavefish Might Hold Clues to Sleep Disorders in Humans

Mexican Blind Cavefish

Mexican blind cavefish

Sightlessness is a common adaptation of cave-dwelling animals. Sometimes, as in the case of the Olm eyeless cave salamander or “human fish,” they no longer even have eyes. Now scientists have learned that at least in a certain kind of cavefish, the Mexican blind cavefish, sleep, too, is a waste of resources.

Well, that’s not quite the right way to put it. It’s not so much that the fish don’t need sleep, it’s that they need to stay awake more, said the researchers in a press release.

“These fish live in an environment where food is generally scarce,” said Richard Borowsky of New York University. “If you are asleep when a bit of food floats by, you are out of a meal and out of luck.”

Borowsky and lead author of the study Erik Duboué first observed hints of the insomniac tendency of cavefish in the laboratory. Fish that typically hang out in brighter surface waters showed obvious sleep patterns. At night, they would get droopy fins and sink to the bottom of their tank. Captive cavefish on the other hand kept patrolling around the clock.

Cross breeding cavefish with other fish has shown that the wakefulness is genetic. Besides the gee whiz factor of the find, scientists think that this cave critter could hold clues to understanding sleep disorder in humans. That’s because the same gene that keeps the fish partying all night long, is likely also the gene that regulates similar behavior in other animals.

Scientific Journal:

Current Biology, April 7 issue

Authors and Affiliations:

Richard Borowsky of New York University

Erik Duboué of New York University

Contact:

Elisabeth Lyons, elyons@cell.com, 617-386-2121


Naked Penguins

Naked featherless African Penguin by Nola Parsons

Feather-loss disorder has also been observed in African penguins, which inhabit the coast and offshore islands of South Africa. (Photo/Nola Parsons)

Penguins already endure their fair share of image problems. They’re a bit pudgy around the middle (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They have wings, but can’t fly, and a beach strut that’s really more of an awkward waddle. Now these tuxedoed birds can add bald to that list.

In a somewhat alarming twist of fate, penguins are being born featherless, and scientists don’t know why.

The phenomenon first emerged in 2006 when researchers observed featherless black-footed (AKA African) penguin chicks at a rehabilitation center in Cape Town, South Africa. That year about 59 percent of penguin chicks at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds lost their feathers, followed by 97 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Washington in Argentina also observed featherless Magellanic penguins in the wild.

In both cases, the featherless chicks grew at slower rates than their downy counterparts, most likely because they had to expend more energy to regulate their body temperature, said the researchers in a press release. The goose-fleshed penguins also had a tendency to spend more time in the sun, compared to feathered penguins. Many of these vulnerable chicks died during the study.

A researcher holds a featherless Magellanic penguin chick.

A researcher holds a featherless Magellanic penguin chick. (Photo/Jeffrey Smith)

So far, scientists don’t yet know what’s causing what looks like the avian version of mange. Disease, thyroid disorder, genetics and nutrient deficiencies could all be potential culprits, they say.

On a slightly more positive note, it does look like chicks that survive do eventually grow feathers. Researchers are working furiously to figure out what’s causing the trouble.

“We need to learn how to stop the spread of feather-loss disorder, as penguins already have problems with oil pollution and climate variation,” said P. Dee Boersma, one of the study authors in a press release. “It’s important to keep disease from being added to the list of threats they face.”

Scientific Journal:

Waterbirds

Study Authors and Affiliations:

Olivia J. Kane, Jeffrey R. Smith, and P. Dee Boersma of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Washington; Nola J. Parsons and Vanessa Strauss of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds; and Pablo Garcia-Borboroglu and Cecilia Villanueva of Centro Nacional Patagónico

Contact:

John Delaney, jdelaney@wcs.org, 718-220-3275, Wildlife Conservation Society


The lazy animals’ guide to survival

Dormouse in winter sleep

For the dormouse, life can be hard. Raising the kids takes obscene amounts of energy. Anyone’s who’s ever tried to raise one knows these little guys are divas when it comes to feeding time. So dormice only breed when the acorns are good.

To the other extreme, they’re also on a lot of menus: owls, weasels, pine martens and both wild and domestic cats all like to eat them. The poor guy is even called the “edible dormouse.”  Basically, a public life for the dormouse is nothing short of a way to punch the ticket. That’s enough stress to tucker anyone out. So how do these guys survive? By sleeping through 8 months of the year.

You can learn more new science about the dormouse from the new study by Professor Thomas Ruf thomas.ruf@fiwi.at at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna or in the journal paper:

Survival rates in a small hibernator, the edible dormouse: a comparison across Europe by Karin Lebl, Claudia Bieber, Peter Adamík, Joanna Fietz, Pat Morris, Andrea Pilastro and Thomas Ruf at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0587.2010.06691.x/abstract


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