October 16, 2008. A team of vertebrate paleontologists have recently described a previously unknown prehistoric amphibian, Kryostega collinsoni. The animal is estimated to have lived about 240 million years ago in Antarctica and belongs to a diverse group of prehistoric animals known as the temnospondyli—semi-aquatic animals that resembled large salamanders or crocodiles. Kryostega is thought to have been about 15 feet in length.
October 12, 2008. Beaver dams are important factors in bolstering the diversity of migratory songbirds in the semi-arid regions of western North America. A study conducted by scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society have discovered that the dams beavers build create ponds. Those ponds, in turn, support an abundance of wetland vegetation—habitat that is critical for birds. The study revealed that the more beaver dams there were, the more diverse and abundant the local songbird populations became.
September 24, 2008. Over three hundred species of soft corals have been recorded by scientists studying the species diversity of coral reefs at various locations off Australia's coasts. As many as half of the soft corals found by the researchers are believed to be species not previously known to science. The research was conducted as part of the Census of Coral Reef Ecosystems (or CReefs) program, a global research project aimed at collecting species diversity data for coral reefs around the world.
September 19, 2008. A handful of Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata) have given scientists new insights into the subject of immunocompetence. Immunocompetence is the ability of an organism to produce an appropriate immune response when faced with exposure to a pathogen—in short, it's a measure of how well an organism fights illness. By understanding how a group of organisms responds to pathogens at different times during their life cycles and how those responses vary between the sexes, scientists can gain valuable insights into sexual selection, population dynamics, and the evolution of life history.
September 5, 2008. During the breeding season, many types of animals produce vocalizations that, in some manner, reflect the individual's quality as a mate. In mammals, scientists have focused primarily on how vocalizations reflect body size—for instance, lower frequency calls produced by larger males convey information about the male's size (and value as a potential mate) to females listening to the calls. Now, scientists Elisabetta Vannoni and Alan McElligott from the University of Zurich have taken the investigation of mammalian calls a step further. Their recent research has investigated the extent to which the calls of male fallow deer reflect their social dominance.
September 3, 2008. At dawn and dusk, Jamaican lizards engage in a lively display of strength to mark their territories. They bob their heads, they perform rigorous push-ups, and they extend their dewlap (a colorful flap of skin under their neck). The lizards' behavior has been likened to dawn and dusk declarations in a variety of other animal groups—the chirping of birds, the croaking of frogs, and the howling of primates. But the lizards' daily displays are unique in one important manner—it turns out they are the first animal known to use visual displays of territory instead of auditory ones.
September 1, 2008. Tens of thousands of rare primates have been discovered in the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, a nature reserve located in a remote corner of eastern Cambodia. The newfound primate populations—estimated to include 42,000 Black-Shanked Douc Langurs (Pygathrix nemaeus) and 2,500 Yellow-Cheeked Crested Gibbons (Nomascus gabriellae)—represent the world's largest known populations of each species.
August 10, 2008. Sometime shortly after the end of World War II, an unwelcome predator found its way to the island of Guam: the Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis). There is no way to know exactly how or when the snake arrived on Guam. The most likely explanation is that after the war ended, snakes from the Admiralty Islands (located off the northwest coast of Papua New Guinea) repeatedly found their way onto US military cargo ships bound for the new US Pacific Headquarters on Guam.
August 1, 2008. A research team from the University of New Hampshire has tagged three wild Leatherback Turtles—one male and two females—as part of an effort to learn more about the species and to identify ways to better protect it. Each satellite tag, which costs about $5,000, is linked to a GPS system which transmits information about the turtle's activities and surroundings including swimming depth, water temperature, and location. Kara Dodge, a Ph.D. student at University of New Hampshire and leader of the research project, believes it is the pursuit of jellyfish that has brought increased numbers of Leatherback Turtles to the area.
July 25, 2008. Scientists from Oregon State University report that coral reef communities throughout the Caribbean are being devastated by the invasive Lionfish. The predatory fish feeds on unsuspecting native fish with alarming efficiency. The study revealed that in a single 30-minute period, one adult Lionfish consumed 20 smaller fish. Additionally, within a five-week period, the Lionfish reduced the population of juvenile fish within the study plots by 79 percent. The message is clear: shortly after Lionfish invade a reef, nearly 80 percent of the other reef fish species disappear.