Wildlife

Plant Virus May Be Behind Massive Honeybee Deaths

Chinese and U.S. researchers say a virus that typically infects plants has been found in honeybees.

The scientists inadvertently found tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV) during routine screening of bees.

“The results of our study provide the first evidence that honeybees exposed to virus-contaminated pollen can also be infected and that the infection becomes widespread in their bodies,” said lead author Ji Lian Li, at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science in Beijing.

He added that the honeybees can also spread TRSV as they move from flower to flower and between plants.

TRSV is particularly dangerous since it produces a flood of mutations that infect in different ways.

Bee colonies found with high levels of various viral strains were less successful in surviving harsh months last winter than those with lower levels of infections.

One-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died off during the winter of 2012-13, a 42 percent increase in fatalities from the previous winter.

TRSV infections could be at least one factor behind colony collapse disorder, which has stumped scientists for years.

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Wildlife

Record Year for Rhino Poaching

The number of rhinos illegally slaughtered in South Africa in 2013 reached an all-time high, with an average of three rhinos killed each day, according to new figures released this month by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.

Wildlife

Japanese Fishermen Terrorize Dolphins Before Slaughter

More than 200 bottlenose dolphins spent a second day penned in a cove by Japanese fishermen, U.S. conservationists said Sunday, many of them stressed and bloodied from their attempts to escape.

The dolphins will spend a third night without food or rest in Taiji Cove before the fishermen likely start to slaughter them Monday for meat, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said.

Until now, the fishermen have focused on selecting dolphins to be sold into captivity at marine parks and aquariums in Japan and overseas, the conservation group said. Twenty-five dolphins, including a rare albino calf, were taken on Saturday “to a lifetime of imprisonment,” and another 12 on Sunday, the group said. Two dolphins have died in the process.

Although the hunting of dolphins is widely condemned in the west, Japanese defend the practice as a local custom — and say it is no different to the slaughter of other animals for meat.

Wildlife

Sydney’s Bald Reef Gets a Seaweed Transplant

Seaweed transplants could help revive an underwater forest off the coast of Sydney, Australia, that was wiped out by sewage dumping decades earlier, a new study suggests.

The large brown seaweed species Phyllospora comosa, commonly called crayweed, once thrived off the city’s shores, providing food and shelter for other undersea creatures like fish and abalone. But in 2008, researchers discovered that this macroalgae had disappeared from a 43-mile (70 kilometres) stretch of Sydney’s coastline — and that it had probably been missing for years.

A group of ecologists took fertile crayweed from surrounding coastal areas and transplanted the species onto two barren reef sites off Sydney. At one site off Long Bay, transplanted crayweed individuals survived just well as those left undisturbed, and they even reproduced.

Seaweeds are the “trees” of the ocean, Campbell added; they support life along temperate coastlines, which can help promote biodiversity and sustain fishing and tourism industries.

Seaweed transplant

Environment

Mild Scandinavian Winter Stirs Bears and Buds Flowers

The bulge of warm air over Northern Europe, pushed up by the Arctic vortex on the other side of the Atlantic, has caused bears to emerge early from hibernation in Finland and plants to bud earlier than normal in Norway.

While North Americans have shivered in the coldest weather in decades, Nordic residents have experienced one of the mildest winters in a century.

The Norwegian newspaper Sunnmørsposten published reader photographs of daffodils emerging as early as mid-December, along with crocuses, daisies, dandelions and honeysuckle.

“It was very unusual to see no snow in large areas where it is normal in December,” said Ketil Isaksen, a scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

“Only in the mountains and certain parts of Norway could you find snow.” Heavy rainfall, instead of snow, is believed to have flooded bear dens, forcing the animals out of hibernation.

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Wildlife

Bats Fall Dead From Sky During Australian Heatwave

A spell of scorching summertime weather in Australia’s southern Queensland state killed as many as 100,000 bats in an environmental disaster officials called unprecedented.

Many of the flying foxes, or fruit bats, fell dead from the sky while the carcasses of others hung on branches.

Local residents said the stench of decay was unbearable as temperatures reached nearly 110° F in Brisbane.

At least 16 people were reportedly receiving anti-viral treatment after coming into close contact with a bat.

The animals sometimes carry lyssavirus, which can cause paralysis and even death in humans.

But wildlife officials say the flying foxes are a key part of the ecosystem, and such a massive loss to their populations will have consequences.

“I don’t necessarily like the bats, but I don’t like seeing them dead,” Dayboro resident Murray Paas told Guardian Australia.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was caring for many young bats left orphaned by the heat disaster.

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Wildlife

Lions Face Extinction in West Africa

Lions in West Africa are on the brink of extinction, new research suggests.

Fewer than 250 adults may be left in West Africa, and those big cats are confined to less than 1 percent of their historic range.

The new study, detailed in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that without dramatic conservation efforts, three of the four West African lion populations could become extinct in the next five years, with further declines in the one remaining population, study co-author Philipp Henschel, the lion program survey coordinator for Panthera, a global wildcat conservation organization wrote.

The West African lions are genetically distinct from their brethren in other regions of the continent and are closely related to Barbary lions of North Africa and the few Asiatic lions left in India.

Cubs and mom

Wildlife

Mysterious Silkhenge Spider

About six months ago, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology first spotted a mysterious web unlike anything scientists had seen before: Each one of the weird webs was a tiny sphere surrounded by a circular fence less than an inch in diameter.

Web structure tarp

The student, Troy Alexander, found the mysterious formation underneath a tarp at the Tambopata Research Centre in Peru and had no idea what it was, so he posted photos of the webs on Reddit. Despite consulting with several experts who made several wild guesses, from moths to slide moulds no one knew what built the structure, or for what purpose.

About a month ago, the researchers finally got a chance to go back to the spot where they found the webs. They searched around the area where the first ones were found, eventually spotting 45 to 50 of the weird formations.

They then spent day and night studying the structures to see if they could find any signs of activity.

“We were really hoping to catch something being made or hatching out of it, or interacting in some way,” Torres told LiveScience’s OurAmazingPlanet. And they did.

One of their first hypotheses was that the blobs in the middle were spermatophores, or packages filled with sperm and nutritious food that would attract female spiders. But over the course of a week, they didn’t find any signs of females coming to eat the packages.

Finally, the researchers removed three of the structures from a tree and put them under a glass. After about a week, the mystery was finally solved when two spiderlings came out of two of the structures, and later, a third spiderling hatched from the formation.

During one of their days of observation, they saw an ant approach a tower and then turn back. The web towers are found on Cecropia trees, which have a symbiotic relationship with ants, so one possibility is that the fence defends against ant invaders that live on the tree.

Web structure bark

Wildlife

Polar Birthday

About 5,000 polar bear cubs were born in the Arc- tic around New Y ear’ s Day, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The end of December is typically when the bears give birth — a time when the northern polar region is blanketed by some of the coldest and darkest conditions of the year. WWF celebrates the polar bears’ birthday on Dec. 29 and estimates the global population of the iconic animal is between 20,000 and 25,000. The bears, which can typically live to be about 25 years old, are threatened by poachers, global warming and pollution. They have become the “poster animal” for climate change and the resulting melt of their Arctic ice cap homes.

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Locusts Devour Yemen’s Crops: Hunger Looms

Starvation looms for some residents of the Arab nation of Yemen as a plague of desert locusts has devoured vast tracts of crops there.

Unusually heavy rainfall during the past several months has created perfect breeding conditions for the insects, according to agriculture officials.

About 75 percent of Yemen’s population relies on agriculture for a living, and many farmers may not have any crops left to harvest in the aftermath of the swarms.

The Food and Agriculture Organization says that ground spraying has been conducted along Yemen’s Red Sea coast, where new generations of the insects were emerging.

The U.N. agency says that the insects can lay waste to entire farming regions within days.

Yemen’s last severe locust swarms arrived following heavy rainfall in 2007.

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Disease

Sydney measles outbreak spreads in NZ

AN outbreak of measles linked to a Sydney hip-hop dance festival has spread from Auckland to the New Zealand cities of Turangi and Taupo, with 10 cases confirmed.

West Nile Virus Killing Bald Eagles

An unprecedented wintertime outbreak of West Nile virus has killed more than two dozen bald eagles in Utah and thousands of water birds around the Great Salt Lake.

At least 27 bald eagles have died this month in the northern and central parts of Utah from the blood-borne virus, and state biologists reported that five more ailing eagles were responding to treatment at rehabilitation centres.

The eagles, whose symptoms included leg paralysis and tremors, are believed to have contracted the disease by preying on sick or dead water birds called eared grebes that were infected by the West Nile virus, said Leslie McFarlane, Utah wildlife disease coordinator.

Some 20,000 of the water birds have died in and around the Great Salt Lake since November in an outbreak that may be a record in North America, McFarlane said. Initial testing suggested an infectious bacterial disease such as avian cholera caused the deaths, but findings released on Tuesday showed West Nile virus was the culprit, McFarlane said.

The dead birds do not pose a risk to people, Utah Health Department epidemiologist JoDee Baker said in a statement. Yet Baker urged those who find sick or dead birds to avoid handling them.

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Wildlife

Bottlenose Dolphins Oiled By Deepwater Horizon Spill are Dying

The oil spill resulting from the explosion of the deepwater horizon drilling platform initiated immediate concern for marine wildlife, including common bottlenose dolphins in sensitive coastal habitats according to a new study.

To evaluate potential sublethal effects on dolphins, health assessments were conducted in Barataria bay, Louisiana, an area that received heavy and prolonged oiling, and in a reference site, sarasota bay, florida, where oil was not observed.

Dolphins were temporarily captured, received a veterinary examination, and were then released. Dolphins sampled in Barataria bay showed evidence of hypoadrenocorticism, consistent with adrenal toxicity as previously reported for laboratory mammals exposed to oil.

Barataria bay dolphins were 5 times more likely to have moderate−severe lung disease, generally characterized by significant alveolar interstitial syndrome, lung masses, and pulmonary consolidation. Of 29 dolphins evaluated from Barataria bay, 48% were given a guarded or worse prognosis, and 17% were considered poor or grave, indicating that they were not expected to survive. Disease conditions in Barataria bay dolphins were significantly greater in prevalence and severity than those in sarasota bay dolphins, as well as those previously reported in other wild dolphin populations.

Many disease conditions observed in Barataria bay dolphins are uncommon but consistent with petroleum hydrocarbon exposure and toxicity. The study is the first to confirm that bottlenose dolphins in the areas heavily affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are suffering injuries that are consistent with exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons.

Beached dolphin

Wildlife

Sahara Desert Species Vanishing

The world’s largest tropical desert has lost much of its wildlife population in recent years, according to a new study of the Sahara.

Led by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London, researchers found that half of the 14 desert species studied were regionally extinct or confined to 1 percent or less of their historic ranges.

Writing in the journal Diversity and Distributions, the team found that the bubal hartebeest is extinct, the scimitar-horned oryx is extinct in the wild and the African wild dog and African lion no longer live anywhere in the Sahara.

Cycles of political instability and long-term regional conflicts have for decades prevented researchers from determining exactly what has decimated the wildlife populations.

“The Sahara serves as an example of a wider historical neglect of deserts and the human communities who depend on them,” said the study’s lead author Sarah Durant.

But some countries have recently begun to protected what species remain.

Niger just established the nearly 40,000-square-mile Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve, which is home to most of the world’s approximately 200 remaining wild addax — a type of antelope.

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Wildlife

Shooting of Snowy Owls at NYC Airports

One of the largest influxes of Arctic snowy owls in history is in progress across the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region. Experts from Cornell University say a shortage of their favorite food up north, lemmings, or a bumper crop of young, is responsible for the “irruption.”

An outcry over the killing of the impressive raptors in the name of aircraft safety at New York area airports prompted the Port Authority to switch to nonlethal methods to remove the snowy owls from JFK and LaGuardia airports.

The agency said five planes at the three main New York City airports had been struck by owls in recent weeks.

“The Port Authority’s goal is to strike a balance in humanely controlling bird populations at and around the agency’s airports to safeguard passengers on thousands of aircrafts each day,” the agency said.

The birds appear to be attracted to airports because their open expanses in the midst of urban sprawl look similar to the owls’ normal Arctic tundra homes.

Bird strikes around area airports became a more pressing issue after U.S. Airways flight 1549 was forced to ditch into the Hudson River in 2009 because Canada geese were sucked into both of the jetliner’s engines.

Last January, unprecedented numbers of the snowy owls wintered as far south as Seattle and Oklahoma. One was even sighted in Hawaii for the first time ever before being shot.

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Wildlife

Disease kills hundreds of seabirds on remote Alaska island

A disease has killed hundreds of seabirds on an island in the Bering Sea — the first documented outbreak in the state.

Avian cholera is to blame for the birds found dead on the beaches of St. Lawrence Island, 200 miles from the mainland, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The disease is common elsewhere, including in California, Nevada and Texas.

Most of the birds turned up on a 10-mile beach frequented by seal hunters. One hunter in Gambell spotted a bird on the beach with its head flopping backward before it dropped dead.

Early reports put the number of dead birds at 200 to 300 bird per square kilometre.

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Wildlife

Chimp ‘Human’ Rights Argued in U.S. Court

Using a legal strategy once employed to fight human slavery, an animal rights group is asking a New York court to declare that chimpanzees are almost human enough to deserve some of the same rights as people.

The Nonhuman Rights Project filed a classic writ of habeas corpus, demanding that a chimp named Tommy be released from a cage in a Gloversville used-trailer lot.

It asks that the primate be the beneficiary of a trust that would house him in one of the eight facilities of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance.

“This petition asks this court to issue a writ recognising that Tommy is not a legal thing to be possessed by respondents, but rather is a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned,” the court filing says.

Tommy’s owner argues the chimp is well cared for and has many toys. He says he rescued Tommy from a home where was badly treated.

“If they were to see where this chimp lived for the first 30 years of his life, they would jump up and down for joy about where he is now,” Patrick C. Lavery told The New York Times.

A ruling in favour of the writ would set chimps apart from other animals and could possibly trigger moves to confer similar rights to other non-human creatures.

The Spanish Parliament in 2008 granted chimps certain legal rights, and countries like India have had sporadic success in similar efforts.

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Global Warming-Related Rainfall Killing off Canadian Peregrine Falcon Chicks

Excess rain in the Arctic has been deadly for adolescent Canadian peregrine falcons.

The rain is believed to have been brought on by climate change, and may be posing as much of a threat to the birds as the chemical DDT did before it was banned, a University of Alberta news release reported.

The rain is believed to interfere with the falcons’ reproductive success. The team looked at breeding records dating back to the 1980s. They also monitored falcon nests using motion-sensitive cameras. The cameras showed one third of the nestling deaths could be attributed to rain.

The nestlings died from hypothermia and in some cases from drowning in their flooded nests. Without constant parental care, they are most vulnerable to cold and wet conditions in the first three weeks of life.

The population of peregrine falcons in Canada have been steadily declining over the past 30 years.

A mother peregrine falcon tries to brood two chicks that have died from exposure to cool wet conditions caused by heavier rainfall in the arctic