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Cara J

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  1. When people get sick, they tend to retreat to their beds, opting for rest and recovery instead of infecting others. It’s been widely believed that sick wild animals also isolate themselves and minimize disease transmission, but new research suggests that those in arid areas and other habitats with scant resources might pass pathogens around by spending more time than expected close to healthy individuals. “If you think of dry environments, a lot of animals aggregate at small waterholes,” said Mathias Franz, first author on the study published in Functional Ecology. “That could affect contact patterns and how sickness might affect these contact patterns.” In 2017, Franz, a postdoctoral researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, and his colleagues modeled the movement of infected solitary vertebrates on dry landscapes based on various assumptions about their behavior. Their model applies to species such as the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer), which carry serious illnesses like foot and mouth disease and bovine tuberculosis and rely heavily on the limited water in the savannah. “The stronger the water dependency of the animals, the stronger the increase in disease spread due to sickness behavior,” Franz said. “What we think of as [...] View the full article
  2. The Senate has passed the appropriations bill (H.R. 6147) for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies as part of a small omnibus package, or “minibus,” with the Agriculture, Financial Services-General Government and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bills. The Aug. 1 passage is the first time since 2010 that the Senate was able to advance the Interior-EPA appropriations bill without including it as a large omnibus spending package at the end of the fiscal year. The Interior-EPA bill is often controversial because it is a popular vehicle for environmental policy riders. The Senate version of the bill is largely free of riders thanks to an agreement between Democrats and Republicans to reduce the number of amendments to the bill in order to ease passage. However, combining the bill with the House version in a conference committee may be difficult because the House version contains many of the controversial policy riders the Senate avoided, including some that would affect enforcement and management under the Endangered Species Act. Overall, funding levels between the two bills are relatively similar. The House version would provide $35.3 billion for the Interior-EPA bill, while the Senate version puts funding levels at 35.9 billion. The Interior Department would [...] View the full article
  3. As public funding for conservation appears to be dwindling and the need for projects increases, a panel of speakers at the TWS 25th Annual Conference in Cleveland offer glimpses into where future conservation dollars might come from. The Caesar Kleberg Keynote: The Future Funding for Wildlife Conservation will look at four models that bring in funds from nontraditional sources. The common denominator for all of them is private dollars for a profession that has historically relied on public funding, said David Hewitt, executive director of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, which is sponsoring the keynote and is a platinum sponsor of the conference. The keynote takes place Thursday, Oct. 10 from 10:20 a.m. to 11:50 p.m. at the Huntington Convention Center. “There are projections of less money being available, and it’s obvious there is more and more conservation work that needs to be done,” Hewitt said. His own organization is one of the success stories he wants to share. Although the nonprofit wildlife research institute is affiliated with Texas A&M’s Kingsville campus, most of its budget comes from private funds, primarily through endowments and annual gifts. “It’s really opened up a lot of potential to [...] View the full article
  4. In the past, researchers have found an array of pharmaceuticals, evident in the bodies of animals near sewage treatment plants. Researchers recently found the antidepressant Prozac may affect starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) with diluted concentrations of the drug in their systems. In a recent study, researchers discovered male starlings are less attracted to female birds that have concentrations of Prozac similar to those near sewage sites. The males sang less to females who were fed diluted concentrations of the antidepressant. Researchers say this could eventually make it hard for the birds to find a mate and breed. Read more about it on the University of York’s website or read the study in Chemosphere. View the full article
  5. Compared to the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) seems to get overlooked. And compared to the peaks and parks of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, so does eastern Wyoming’s sagebrush steppe. An exhibit at the Buffalo Bill Center for the American West’s Draper Natural History Museum seeks to change that. The new permanent exhibit, “Monarch of the Skies: The Golden Eagle in Greater Yellowstone and the American West,” is based on nine years of research on Bureau of Land Management land by Chuck Preston, a TWS member and senior curator at the museum. “The golden eagle really is an icon of the open spaces of North America,” Preston said. Preston set out to gather data on golden eagle populations in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin. He found the bird’s reproduction fluctuated each year — changes that appeared to be tied to the rising and falling of its chief prey base, desert cottontails (Sylvilagus audubonii). “The pattern is clear,” Preston said. “When cottontails decline, so does golden eagle reproduction.” But Preston decided he didn’t just want to record and publish the data in scientific journals. He also wanted to use golden eagles to inspire the public to recognize the uniqueness [...] View the full article
  6. Most piping plover (Charadrius melodus) research focuses on disturbances during their breeding season, but researchers recently found anthropogenic disturbances can also have consequences for the shorebirds where they overwinter. “The nonbreeding season is a very important part of the piping plover lifecycle, and disturbances that they face during this season can really have population-level consequences,” said Daniel Gibson, a postdoctoral researcher at Virginia Tech and lead author of the recent study published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications. Gibson’s project began when his colleagues were studying piping plovers after the Deepwater Horizon spill. They picked an area in Georgia as a control site to compare plovers inside and outside of the spill area. By happenstance, Georgia had a major cold weather event that changed the course of the study. “In January and February 2011, people in the field noticed a 50 percent reduction in survival over a two-week period,” he said. “Our control site had less survivability than the Deepwater Horizon sites.” This led Gibson and his colleagues to look at piping plovers on their nonbreeding grounds and the environmental factors that may affect them. In North and South Carolina and Georgia, they also began noticing variation in the amounts of [...] View the full article
  7. Registration for the 8-week online course, Climate Academy, is open now through Sept. 14. Climate Academy is offered through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) and is developed each year through the work of partner organizations — USFWS’ NCTC, The Wildlife Society, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, National Park Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center and America Adapts Climate Change podcast. Climate Academy webinars will be held weekly starting on Jan. 9 and conclude on March 13. The goal of the program is to cover the fundamentals of climate science, provide tools and resources for climate adaptation and increase climate literacy and communication. Participants can expect to spend at least three hours per week completing readings and engaging in discussions and lectures. At the end of the course, each participant will develop a final project based on what they have learned and how they plan to integrate that knowledge into the work they do in the natural resource and conservation field. Natural resource and conservation professionals are encouraged to attend this course — no previous climate knowledge is necessary. Climate Academy tuition is $200, though it is waived for [...] View the full article
  8. Hundreds of least tern chicks may have been killed at a shoal on Alabama’s Mobile Bay earlier this summer after beachgoers arrived at a breeding ground, scaring adults from their nests and using their eggs to decorate the sand, the New York Times reports. Biologists said they confirmed only 85 fledglings out of 1,400 birds at the site in August. “That’s an astronomical loss for reproductive output for the species,” Katie Barnes, a senior biologist at Birmingham Audubon, told the Times. Audubon members who investigated said they found a volleyball net at the site and 26 eggs placed in a circle, including some that were in the process of hatching. Read more in the New York Times. View the full article
  9. The Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) has released a report of recent changes to the country’s Migratory Bird Regulations for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons. The ECCC manages migratory game birds under the Migratory Bird Convention Act, a complement to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States. The Canadian regulatory process requires proposals for hunting regulations to be finalized by the end of February and passed into law in June, with reports of the changes released in July. The changes vary between provinces, but one of the most common adjustments are increases to the daily bag limits for American black ducks (Anas rupripes). This species is managed under the American Black Duck International Harvest Strategy, an agreement between CWS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was adopted in 2012. A “liberal” management regime was adopted across most areas, which allows for a 30 percent increase in harvest limits over the 1997-2010 mean levels. The liberal strategy will also be implemented for the 2019-2020 season in several provinces. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick the daily bag limit was increased to six black ducks for most [...] View the full article
  10. In a memo to the U.S. Border Patrol, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has warned that building a border wall through Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park could force it to close. The Texas Tribune reports that an October 2017 memo warns the proposed wall “would certainly call into question whether TPWD could continue to safely operate the property as a state park, and thereby possibly causing the site to revert back to the original Grantors’ heirs.” The park, which was sold for $1 to the state in 1944 by the family of the late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, is a top birdwatching destination. Read more in the Texas Tribune. View the full article
  11. Insectivorous birds, which make up more than 6,000 species around the world, use as much energy as a megacity the size of New York, according to new research. In a study published in The Science of Nature, researchers found the birds consume 400 to 500 million tons of prey annually. They also found when all insectivorous birds are put together, they weigh a total of around 3 million tons. Based on the amount of prey they consume annually, the team found the birds consume about the same amount of energy as New York, which has a value of about 2.8 exajoules. Scientists say these birds are important and contribute to natural insect pest suppression. Read more in Science Daily. View the full article
  12. If you can’t save all the endangered species in the world, which ones do you choose? It’s not an easy question for conservationists, but they do have a way to answer it: choose species with the most diverse traits. To do that, they’ve relied on picking species with diverse genetic lineages. But that’s taking a chance — a “phylogenetic gambit” that diversity in evolutionary history, or phylogenic diversity, translates to diversity in traits, or functional diversity. Does that gambit pay off? “It’s a risky proxy,” said Florent Mazel, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia and lead author on a study in Nature Communications looking at how well phylogenic diversity stands in for functional diversity. The idea can get abstract, but its core is simple. If you have, say, a mouse, a rat and an elephant, Mazel said, and you can only save two of them, which two do you save? Well, the elephant is a given, because its traits are so distinct from the mouse and the rat. “When we talk about maximizing diversity, it’s about taking species far apart on the tree of life,” he said. He and a group of colleagues from Canada, the United States, [...] View the full article
  13. For the first time, biologists noted American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) touching, attacking and attempting to mate with dead crows. Kaeli Swift, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, discovered this while showing one of her experiments to a film crew where she left a stuffed taxidermy crow on the ground. She was surprised to see a nearby crow attempting mating with the dead crow. Previous research showed crows sense danger when they see dead crows on the ground, but this new finding adds a twist, researchers say. They think the odd behavior may be caused by hormonal fluctuations that cause some crows confusion when responding to stimuli. Read about this in the New York Times or read the study here in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. View the full article
  14. Northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) face plenty of external threats, including habitat loss, deforestation and competition from invasive barred owls (Strix varia). They also face threats from inbreeding, according to new research. “A lot of research has gone into studying northern spotted owl dispersal and looking at effects of barred owls and deforestation,” said Mark Miller, a statistician with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center. “All of these things have had an impact on owls. One thing that’s important but is not known about is the extent that inbreeding is occurring in northern spotted owls. We took this up as a challenge. How we could quantify inbreeding rates in northern spotted owls?” In a study published in the Auk: Ornithological Advances, lead author Miller and his colleagues developed northern spotted owl pedigrees for almost 14,200 owls that had been collected over 30 years, using a method they developed and described in a 2017 Journal of Heredity in 2017 paper. “We need to know the parents, the grandparents and even the great-grandparents,” Miller said. “These data are not often available. There are ways to account for missing information to figure out how common inbreeding is.” The [...] View the full article
  15. Biodiversity in tropical ecosystems throughout the world face dramatic declines, unless drastic measures are taken, according to a new study. These declines are due to climate change, habitat loss, pollution, overfishing, hunting and other human impacts. The researchers said exploitation by industrialized countries plays an improtant role. With the tropics including almost all shallow-water corals and over 90 percent of terrestrial birds, scientists say if actions aren’t taken, the ecosystems will face a large biodiversity loss. In a study published in Nature, scientists call for a multinational effort to protect and preserve biodiversity in the tropics. Read the study here. View the full article
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