Site update

Since I have been really terrible at updating the blog (but pretty good at keeping up with the facebook blog posts) I've added the widget below so that facebook cross posts to the blog.

You shouldn't need to join facebook but can just click on the links in the widget to access the articles. If you have any problems or comments please mail me at arandjel 'AT'

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Funniest zoo signs ever.

Environmental Grafitti has a gallery of the 20 most ridiculous zoo signs. I've posted some of these before, and I picked my favorite and reposted below, but go to their page to see the full set. Too funny. -MA
via Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservaytion facebok page

Photo: Sparks68

Photo: BenSpark


Photo: alexstaubo

Photo: tenioman

Photo: maestroben


Photo: AxsDeny

Rhino DNA kits added to South Africa's Arsenal

From Rhino

South Africa’s embattled rhinos now have a new weapon on their side: 1,000 DNA kits have been provided to South African National Parks (SANParks) by the faculty of Veterinary Services of the University of Pretoria.

The kits are expected yield a higher conviction rate for rhino crimes, according to Dr. Cindy Harper, Head of Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL) at the Faculty of Veterinary Science.

"The ability to obtain a full DNA profile from rhino horn allows us to match recovered horns to specific poaching incidents."

SANParks CEO, Dr David Mabunda, noted that DNA profiling would allow prosecutors to be tougher on rhino crimes.

"This will certainly go a long way in changing the trend of suspects found in possession of rhino horn only being charged with possession as the horns will be linked to a carcass lying somewhere in a national park or game reserve."

Read the entire release at SANParks receives kits to fight rhino poaching .

DNA analysis at work
Indeed, it was DNA evidence that led to at least three successful convictions over the past 13 months.

For example, in June 2010, a Vietnamese rhino horn smuggler was sentenced to 10 years in prison after the rhino horns in his possession were found to be a DNA match to rhinos that were killed a few days earlier.

So far this year, DNA analysis has been instrumental in two cases which put a total of four rhino killers in jail.

In April 2011, DNA evidence helped put two killers behind bars for a combined total of 19 years.

Earlier this month, DNA analysis of the rhino and horns helped secure the convictions of two Mozambican nationals, who were sentenced to a combined total of 16 years in prison.

Killing continues
SANParks announced that the year’s rhino death toll had already reached 173 as of June 6th.

Since that time, a female rhino was killed on a private game farm in Hoedspruit. The assailants also shot and wounded her four-month-old calf.

However, the number could be as high as 186, according to sources outside the media.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

US apartment complexes genotyping residents' dogs to match up to uncollected poops

I have always been fascinated by this idea since reading about years ago. It always seemed financially unfeasible on a large scale but this makes perfect sense. The program "poo prints" is the brain child of BioPet Vet labs and more info can be found on their website -MA

DNA tests provide the poop on bad dog owners
from CNN

A New Hampshire apartment complex is mandating that residents submit pet DNA samples.

Why? To check if any of them are abandoning their dogs' waste on the property.

"Ninety-eight percent do what they're suppose to do," property manager Debbie Violette said of her residents with dogs, "but there are some that don't and you don't know who that is. That'd be pretty foolish if they did that right in front of me."

Timberwood Commons in Lebanon, New Hampshire, says it is among a growing number of apartment complexes implementing PooPrints.

That's a program that matches samples of unclaimed dog waste to DNA collected through pets' mandatory mouth swabs in the hope of imposing greater responsibility among pet owners.

Violette says her violators will first receive a warning if caught, paying a $60 fee to cover the DNA costs. However, if it happens again, it's a lease violation and the offender will be forced to live somewhere else.

"They have a choice to rent here or not. If you live in that community you have to live by those rules and regulations," Violette said. "It's a privilege."

She said she got the idea from a residential community in Boston. Eric Mayer, director of franchise development with BioPet Vet Lab, says the program is currently assisting rental complexes in multiple states, with increasing interest as far away as Canada and Germany.

The tests bought through PooPrints, a subsidiary of BioPet Vet Lab in Knoxville, Tennessee, match the DNA already captured to a sample of each pet's waste. Poop that isn't scooped can then be analyzed.

According to Mayer, apartment complexes that impose a pet deposit or fee on residents could potentially cover the testing costs incurred with the initial DNA registration. The cost of the DNA analysis each time a sample is tested could theoretically be paid through a fee on convicted freeloaders.

It's a service Violette admits to be potentially costly, but with more than 30 dogs on her property, some as large as a St. Bernard, "it's really not about the money for us," she said, "it's about having a nice place to live."

And reaction has been positive, she said.

"I did have one resident that thought it was completely over the top, who's not a pet owner," Violette said. But after considering the possibility of stepping in a mess he himself didn't leave behind, "he changed his mind," she said.

Violette sees long-term benefits in the PooPrints system, saying it could reunite lost pets and owners, especially in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Mayer says he remains focused on both environmental and human health benefits through the system.

"It's a huge problem with growing environmental impact," Mayer said of the waste. The PooPrints website estimates a single pet creates 276 pounds of waste per year. "We want people to be responsible and not leave things behind. Down the drain means it's going into your lakes, rivers and streams," he added.

New DNA-based Panda census to begin!

China to use droppings to count endangered pandas
from Reuters
Thanks to Zoran A for the link!

China will use analysis of panda droppings as it embarks upon a once-in-a-decade census of the endangered animal, state media said on Monday.

Authorities are training some 70 trackers in southwestern China who will begin their work this week and end the survey by late July, Xinhua news agency said.

"The trackers will collect panda droppings for DNA analysis, which will allow zoologists to track individual pandas and accurately estimate the number of pandas living in the wild," it quoted wildlife official Chen Youping as saying.

The census will count not only how many wild pandas there are, but also their living conditions, how old they are and the state of their habitat, Xinhua added.

The last census 10 years ago counted 1,596 wild pandas in China, most of them in Sichuan province, it said.

A 2004 census by the Worldwide Fund for Nature revealed there were 1,600 pandas in the wild.

Considered a national treasure, the panda is seen as having come back from the brink of extinction while remaining under threat from logging, agriculture and China's increasing human population.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bummer alert: Serengeti road still a go, polticians are still tricksies.

Thanks to Deb M and Alex P for the link!

From Save the
Alert! The Serengeti – Why We’re Not Celebrating
Those who believe that we’ve stopped the Serengeti highway and achieved a great victory need to step back and look again.

Whose Victory?
Unfortunately, some in the media have claimed a great victory for conservation, believing that plans for a road across the Serengeti have been stopped. Some conservation organizations have diplomatically praised President Kikwete for his wisdom.

But we do not share this view, knowing that those who have pushed for a commercial route through the Serengeti can claim their victory as well.

If their plans continue,

* They will get their road across the Serengeti.
* They get improved connecting roads on either side of the park.
* They get a bonus southern route around the Serengeti.
* The way will be paved for more development.

The current Tanzanian government has been refused funds for the Serengeti highway by every major donor, government, and lending institution in the world.

Those who want a true commercial highway clearly cannot achieve it now. But they can make inroads and later connect the dots.

A New Road Across the Serengeti is Likely

In its recent letter to the World Heritage Committee, the government of Tanzania stated that the road through the Serengeti will not be paved, but will “remain gravel road.”

The truth, however, is more complicated. No gravel road exists across this 53 km stretch. Much of this area is designated as a Wilderness Zone, with no public access.

The 10-year Serengeti management plan, painstakingly developed in 2005 by scientists, Park officials, and conservation organizations clearly indicates that the area in the northwestern part of the Park is particularly sensitive.

As shown on the map below, from the 10-year management plan, the area of the proposed road cuts through areas designated as “Low Use” and “Wilderness” zones.

The Low Use Zone “will have a lower number and density of visitors” and “more limited road network and lower bed capacity.” The Wilderness Zone in green “is subject to minimal disturbance. As a result, visitor access will be restricted to walking safaris, with game viewing by vehicle prohibited. The only infrastructure permitted will be a limited number of access roads that can be used by Park management and support vehicles for walking safari operations.”

These areas were not designated lightly. They are critical to the migration of two million animals as they make their way between Kenya and Tanzania. Of special concern to scientists is the fragmentation of this ecosystem.
Fool Me Once…
The media has been fooled before. Over the past year, the government spin publicly “gives in” and downgrades the road to gravel, saying it won’t be paved with tarmac after all.

In reality, the road was initially announced as gravel.

In November, 2009, the Tanzanian delegation to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre announced the road through the northern Serengeti. Representing their government, they stated a “53 km stretch within the Serengeti would be a gravel and not a tarmac road.”

Yet in September of 2010, appearing to give into pressure, President Kikwete said that, okay they’ve decided not to pave the road. Again on February 9, speaking to the World Bank, he repeated, “we will not build a tarmac road.” And at this year’s World Heritage Committee meeting in Paris, the mantra was repeated: no tarmac road.

In fact, the initial road surface has never been the real issue. Tanzania’s original statement of a gravel road prompted the WHC to warn of dire consequences to the ecosystem.

“The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that, if built, the North Road could critically impact the property’s Outstanding Universal Value and justify its inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger.”

What is different now? The government curiously says that the current road across the same 53 km stretch across wilderness zone will “remain” gravel, though no such road exists. They do not exclude commercial use, stating that it will be “mainly for tourism and administrative purposes as it is currently.” And clearly, it will be the only connection between upgraded roads being planned on either side of the Serengeti. Whatever route is now there, which is not much, will have to be upgraded to make this connection happen.

One good piece of news – the road will remain under the management of the Park. This will mean gates and restrictions. But for how long?
Just the Beginning

When the road was announced, conservation organizations and scientists immediately sounded the alarm. Though initially announced as gravel, no one, in fact, ever believed that the road would remain unpaved.

Tony Sinclair, one of the world’s leading experts on the Serengeti, wrote:

“The soils are largely of silt and cannot take heavy vehicle traffic. Although the road may be initially of murrum (a clay soil) or gravel, the increasing flow of vehicles will inevitably lead to a tarmac road. This will result in road kills when as many as one million wildebeest will be settled, not just crossing, along this road… Essentially the Serengeti as we know it will no longer exist. History has shown that once we start this process of road development, there is no turning back on the sequence.”

Last year, Serengeti Watch conducted a survey of 302 world scientists. 71% of them believed that if the road was built, the collapse of the migration would be very or extremely likely, or inevitable. See the petition and survey

Even the government’s own Environmental Impact Statement assumed that the road would not be paved, yet predicted it would carry hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year. Those estimates will certainly be reduced, as yet another impact study is prepared. The expected volume of traffic should go down, and this is good.

But after the government’s latest announcement, a leading infrastructure expert wrote us saying, the road from Mugumu to Loliondo (those sections on the margins of the park) not being paved is “clearly progress against the previous statement that only the road through Serengeti section will not be tarmac.” But he adds,

“That is however only 20% (of the entire route) and likely not a great deterrent against large scale through traffic. The fundamental question remains: what would be the purpose of this road?””


Recently, information has come to light about other motives behind the highway. In fact, if some have their way, the highway will actually be a railway.

In 2010, the Uganda and Tanzanian governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the development of a new transportation route between Uganda and the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in Tanzania. The route would extend from Lake Victoria through the Serengeti, on to Arusha, and then to the Indian Ocean.

Tanzania’s Transport Minister, Omar Nundu, spoke earlier this year about the plans for this new route. He stated the project would involve the construction of a new port at Mwambani harbor, near Tanga. It would also include a Tanga-Arusha-Musoma Railway. (Musoma is on Lake Victoria.)

This would give Uganda an alternate means of exporting oil and minerals, in addition to the railway through Kenya. It would also provide the Chinese with another route for minerals from the African interior, particularly coltan, a mineral used in cell phones. Along this route lies Lake Natron, virtually the only breeding ground for East Africa’s lesser flamingos. President Kikwete has recently vowed to mine Lake Natron for soda ash, regardless of what any environmental impact study says.

And the terminus of this route, Mwambani Harbor, where the Coelocanth Marine Reserve would be sacrificed.

The Future
So with the recent statement on the Serengeti road, have these big plans now changed? One June 23, one day after the letter to the World Heritage Centre was released, The Guardian newspaper interviewed Deputy Minister for Transport, Athuman Mfutakamba. The article says

“that apart from improving Tanga port, they would also construct a new port in Mwambani area. He noted that the new port would mainly serve as a gateway for consignments transported to the northern part of the country, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Southern Sudan after completing the Arusha-Musoma railway.”

The Serengeti highway has been proposed three times in the past. Inevitably, as population and trade grows, the Uganda-Tanga commercial route will be more and more compelling. Road traffic will grow, settlements will expand, and with it, what experts have feared (and predicted) all along, demands that the road be paved and fenced.


There is always hope. Not hope that traffic will be kept to a minimum, but that the Serengeti road won’t be build at all, that the area will be kept intact for the migration.

Hope that the world will see through what one world authority on wildebeests has termed “smoke and mirrors” and understand the struggle is far from over. Hope that authorities will understand the economic asset that the Serengeti represents.

And hope that people living around the park, and throughout Tanzania, will see real benefits and protect the Serengeti for future generations.

With a growing population and expanding human needs, increased pressure is inevitable. This is a critical time. To make the Serengeti ecosystem viable, we must make sure that the Serengeti provides for the needs of the people whose heritage it is.

We cannot afford to lose the Serengeti, because once gone, it will be gone forever.

Possible Solutions:
Build support for a rational solution that benefits the Tanzanian people.

What's Being Done:

Continued pressure to abandon the road altogether.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tanzania FTW - Serengeti road cancelled

Great news today - a major victory for East Africa and its wildlife, and a great victory for the power of social media. Today hope wins. -MA

Thanks to Deb M and Cyril G for the link


In what is a victory for environmentalists, scientists, tourism, and the largest land migration on Earth, the Tanzanian government has cancelled a commercial road that would have cut through the northern portion of the Serengeti National Park. According to scientists the road would have severed the migration route of 1.5 million wildebeest and a half million other antelope and zebra, in turn impacting the entire ecosystem of the Serengeti plains.

"The State Party confirms that the proposed road will not dissect the Serengeti National Park and therefore will not affect the migration and conservation values of the Property," reads a statement from the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. A paved road, however, will be constructed close to the park boundaries: ending at Mugumu on the western side (12 kilometers from the park's border) and Loliondo on the eastern side (57.6 kilometers from the border), allowing a slim buffer of habitat around the park. It is uncertain whether a gravel road will be constructed through the park, but if it is it will remain under the park authority TANAPA and will be used for tourists and administration according to the statement.

According to a recent scientific study direct impacts from the road would have cut the wildebeest herd down by over one-third (over half a million animals) with indirect impacts, such as poaching and new development, exacerbating the situation.

"[The road's cancellation] is a wise and insightful decision by the Tanzanian Government," Andrew Dobson, who was one of the authors on the study, told "It will ensure the long-term persistence of the Serengeti ecosystem and it's world famous wildebeest migration, while also providing infrastructure to the people who live to the East of the Serengeti. It allows Tanzania to show great leadership to other African nations, by illustrating that the way to economic success in the 21st Century is to balance natural resource conservation with economic development."

A leaked government environmental impact study largely agreed with Dobson's study, finding that the road would 'limit' the Serengeti migration and hurt predator populations (lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, crocodiles, etc.) due to a declining prey base.

By 2015, the government report predicted that 800 vehicles per day would cross the proposed 30 mile (50 kilometer) stretch of the park. By 2035, the number of vehicles per day is expected to rise to 3,000, or well over a million a year. Conservationists and researchers in the area told that these were conservative figures.

For over a years conservationists warned that the road would eventually kill the iconic migration, crippling Tanzania's tourism industry and ending one of the last great wildlife spectacles on the planet. Wildlife NGOs fought fiercely against the road, including crafting images of wildebeest being mowed down by semi-trucks.

But concern regarding the road came from more than just environmentalists. The US and German governments, as well as the UN, voiced opposition to the road plans. The World Bank offered to pay for an alternative route circumventing the park, while the German government offered to pay for local roads for cut-off people in the northern Serengeti region. Connecting far-flung local populations was the Tanzanian government's line on the need for the road, however many suspected that the road was being aggressively pushed as part of an industrial corridor to bring raw materials from the African interior quickly and cheaply to the coast. In the statement on the road cancellation, Tanzania says it is considering the alternative southern route.

"A battle has been won, but the struggle to save the Serengeti goes on. Roads will still be constructed up to the edges of the park. The pressures on the Serengeti, including a commercial corridor to Uganda, still exist. The highway across the Serengeti has been proposed three times now, and can be raised again. But yes, let's congratulate ourselves on the work we've done," reads a statement from the NGO Serengeti Watch.

Environmentalists have been increasingly concerned by government plans in Tanzania. While the Serengeti road has received the most coverage, Tanzania has also recently announced plans to mine soda ash in the world's most important lesser flamingo breeding ground, Lake Natron. The plans were abandoned in 2008 due to concerns that it would disrupt the flamingo's breeding, but were recently resurrected and put on the fast-track. Over half of the world's lesser flamingos (65-75%) breed on the single lake.

However, Dr. Dobson says now is the time to credit the Tanzanian government for safe-guarding the Serengeti ecosystem.

"President Kikwete and Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekial Maige, deserve the nation's and the world's praise for making a wise and forward looking decision at a time when they were under pressure from multiple national and international sources to make a very difficult decision," Dobson said. "They have shown great leadership that points the way to the future for all African nations."
"A battle has been won, but the struggle to save the Serengeti goes on. Roads will still be constructed up to the edges of the park. The pressures on the Serengeti, including a commercial corridor to Uganda, still exist. The highway across the Serengeti has been proposed three times now, and can be raised again. But yes, let's congratulate ourselves on the work we've done," reads a statement from the NGO Serengeti Watch.

Environmentalists have been increasingly concerned by government plans in Tanzania. While the Serengeti road has received the most coverage, Tanzania has also recently announced plans to mine soda ash in the world's most important lesser flamingo breeding ground, Lake Natron. The plans were abandoned in 2008 due to concerns that it would disrupt the flamingo's breeding, but were recently resurrected and put on the fast-track. Over half of the world's lesser flamingos (65-75%) breed on the single lake.

However, Dr. Dobson says now is the time to credit the Tanzanian government for safe-guarding the Serengeti ecosystem.

"President Kikwete and Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekial Maige, deserve the nation's and the world's praise for making a wise and forward looking decision at a time when they were under pressure from multiple national and international sources to make a very difficult decision," Dobson said. "They have shown great leadership that points the way to the future for all African nations."

"A battle has been won, but the struggle to save the Serengeti goes on. Roads will still be constructed up to the edges of the park. The pressures on the Serengeti, including a commercial corridor to Uganda, still exist. The highway across the Serengeti has been proposed three times now, and can be raised again. But yes, let's congratulate ourselves on the work we've done," reads a statement from the NGO Serengeti Watch.

Environmentalists have been increasingly concerned by government plans in Tanzania. While the Serengeti road has received the most coverage, Tanzania has also recently announced plans to mine soda ash in the world's most important lesser flamingo breeding ground, Lake Natron. The plans were abandoned in 2008 due to concerns that it would disrupt the flamingo's breeding, but were recently resurrected and put on the fast-track. Over half of the world's lesser flamingos (65-75%) breed on the single lake.

However, Dr. Dobson says now is the time to credit the Tanzanian government for safe-guarding the Serengeti ecosystem.

"President Kikwete and Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekial Maige, deserve the nation's and the world's praise for making a wise and forward looking decision at a time when they were under pressure from multiple national and international sources to make a very difficult decision," Dobson said. "They have shown great leadership that points the way to the future for all African nations."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Migration tracking reveals a marine Serengeti

Estimates of the daily mean position in the north Pacific of the six marine predator groups studied. Top, left to right: tuna (yellowfin, bluefin, albacore); pinnipeds (northern elephant seals, California sea lions, northern fur seals); sharks (salmon, white, blue, common thresher, mako). Bottom, left to right: seabirds (Laysan and black-footed albatrosses, sooty shearwaters); sea turtles (leatherback, loggerhead); cetaceans (blue, fin, sperm and humpback whales).
From Nature News via RARE
Decade of tagging has mapped predatorial pathways in the north Pacific Ocean.

Two vast areas of the north Pacific Ocean, one off the west coast of the United States and the other between Hawaii and Alaska, have been revealed as marine counterparts of East Africa's Serengeti plain. Teeming with life, these oceanic 'hotspots' provide major migration corridors for large marine predators ranging from tuna to whales.

The discovery comes from a huge data set that synthesizes and compares the seasonal migration patterns of 23 species of predators. The findings are published today in Nature.

Between 2000 and 2009, the species were tracked under the Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) programme, part of the Census of Marine Life international collaboration. Electronic tags attached to the animals recorded their movements and the water conditions around them, including temperature, salinity and depth. In total, the programme deployed 4,306 electronic tags, yielding 1,791 individual animal tracks and resulting in 265,386 days' worth of tracking data. The data derived over the course of the project have now been combined for the first time.
(click for a larger image).Block, B. A. et al.

"It is like asking, 'How do lions, zebras and cheetahs use Africa as a whole continent?', only we have done it for a vast ocean," says Barbara Block, a marine scientist at Stanford University in California and lead author of the paper. "We have had single-species papers before on a lot of the migration patterns, but they have never been put together as a whole."
In the zone

The combined data from the tagged species, which carefully removes any bias introduced from where the animals had been tagged, shows two 'hotspot' regions where the predators' migration routes concentrate in the north Pacific. These are the south-flowing California Current off the United States, and the North Pacific transition zone (NPTZ), which runs east–west between Hawaii and Alaska along a boundary between cold sub-Arctic waters and warmer subtropical waters, and which acts like a trans-oceanic migration highway.

"These are the oceanic locations where food is most abundant, and that's driven by high primary productivity at the base of the food chain. These areas are the savannah grasslands of the sea," says Block.

Combining movement and physical data from so many tags can help to explain the behaviour patterns observed. For example, populations of salmon sharks, white sharks and mako sharks can be seen to "split the turf of the central and eastern Pacific", says Block. Records from the tags show that slightly different preferences for water temperature prevent the closely related species from treading on one another's fins.

The work also shows that many species with long migratory paths — including yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, white sharks, elephant seals and salmon sharks — return faithfully from their migration to the same region every season. "For me, this homing capacity has been the biggest surprise," says Block. "We didn't really know these creatures had neighbourhoods."
Pinning down predators

The TOPP data suggest that water temperature and the amount of ocean productivity from upwelling (where nutrient-rich water from the depths comes to the surface) could drive the seasonal migration of many species, with the effect particularly evident in the California Current. "Using satellite observations of temperature and chlorophyll concentrations alone, we can now predict when and where individual species are likely to be," said Daniel Costa, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a co-author of the paper.

Patrick Halpin, a marine geospatial ecologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who is a member of the Census of Marine Life but not of TOPP, says that the study is groundbreaking, providing not only a comprehensive picture of patterns of marine-predator behaviour in the region, but also a methodological framework for further broad-scale studies. "Future analyses originating from other regions will likely fill in a more comprehensive picture of the entire Pacific basin and identify additional hotspots," he says.

David Sims, a behavioural ecologist at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, UK, also praises the study, noting its "unprecedented number" of electronic tags. "They have launched marine animal behaviour as a 'big' science, rivalling in ambition, perhaps, some large projects in astronomy or physics," he says.

Block says that information from the study could aid efforts to protect and conserve the biodiversity of the hotspots. Knowing where and when species overlap is valuable information for efforts to manage and protect critical species and ecosystems, she says.

Block BA, Jonsen ID, Jorgensen SJ, Winship AJ, Shaffer SA, Bograd SJ, Hazen EL, Foley DG, Breed GA, Harrison A-L, Ganon JE, Swithenbank A, Castelton M, Dewar H, Mate BR, Shillinger GL, Schaefer KM, Benson SR, Weise MJ, Henry RW, Costa DP (2011) Tracking apex marine predator movements in a dynamic ocean. Nature doi:10.1038/nature10082

Pelagic marine predators face unprecedented challenges and uncertain futures. Overexploitation and climate variability impact the abundance and distribution of top predators in ocean ecosystems. Improved understanding of ecological patterns, evolutionary constraints and ecosystem function is critical for preventing extinctions, loss of biodiversity and disruption of ecosystem services. Recent advances in electronic tagging techniques have provided the capacity to observe the movements and long-distance migrations of animals in relation to ocean processes across a range of ecological scales. Tagging of Pacific Predators, a field programme of the Census of Marine Life, deployed 4,306 tags on 23 species in the North Pacific Ocean, resulting in a tracking data set of unprecedented scale and species diversity that covers 265,386 tracking days from 2000 to 2009. Here we report migration pathways, link ocean features to multispecies hotspots and illustrate niche partitioning within and among congener guilds. Our results indicate that the California Current large marine ecosystem and the North Pacific transition zone attract and retain a diverse assemblage of marine vertebrates. Within the California Current large marine ecosystem, several predator guilds seasonally undertake north–south migrations that may be driven by oceanic processes, species-specific thermal tolerances and shifts in prey distributions. We identify critical habitats across multinational boundaries and show that top predators exploit their environment in predictable ways, providing the foundation for spatial management of large marine ecosystems.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

*updated* Bad News from Bwindi

(original post June 20, 2011)
Just posted by the Gorilla organization facebok page: "Just heard some awful news from Bwindi - blackback Mizano has been found dead, and looks like he was murdered by poachers. Will let you know more as soon as we hear more. Sorry to bring you such a tragic story on a Monday"

From what I can tell Mizano is a blackback from the habituated Habinyanja gorilla group

From the Ugandan Wildlife Authority facebook page:
Merciless poachers on Friday morning of June 17th,speared one of most playful mountain gorillas called Mizaano of Habinyanja Family.The paochers had laid traps targeting antelopes which ended up catching the gorilla.During a fierce fight between the gorilla and the dogs,the paochers are believed to have speared the gorilla to save their dogs,their lifeline.Suspects are gradually being apprehended.

Homophobic Men Most Aroused by Gay Male Porn

Thanks to Deb M for the link!
Fom Psychology Today

Homophobic Men Most Aroused by Gay Male Porn
Homophobia Associated with Penis Arousal to Male on Male Sex
Even a man who thought that women want to have sex with their fathers and that women spend much of their lives distraught because they lack a penis is right sometimes. This person, the legend that is Sigmund Freud, theorized that people often have the most hateful and negative attitudes towards things they secretly crave, but feel that they shouldn't have.

If Freud is right, then perhaps men who are the most opposed to male homosexuality have particularly strong homosexual urges for other men.

One study asked heterosexal men how comfortable and anxious they are around gay men. Based on these scores, they then divided these men into two groups: men that are homophobic, and men who are not. These men were then shown three, four-minute videos. One video depicted straight sex, one depicted lesbian sex and one depicted gay male sex. While this was happening, a device was attached to each participant's penis. This device has been found to be triggered by sexual arousal, but not other types of arousal (such as nervousness, or fear - arousal often has a very different meaning in psychology than in popular usage).

When viewing lesbian sex and straight sex, both the homophobic and the non-homophobic men showed increased penis circumference. For gay male sex, however, only the homophobic men showed heightened penis arousal.

Heterosexual men with the most anti-gay attitudes, when asked, reported not being sexually aroused by gay male sex videos. But, their penises reported otherwise.

Homophobic men were the most sexually aroused by gay male sex acts.

Adams HE, Wright LW, Lohr BA (1996) Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?
Journal of Abnormal Psychology 105(3): 440-445. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.105.3.440

The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men (n = 35 ) and a group of nonhomophobic men (n  = 29); they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia (W. W. Hudson & W. A. Ricketts, 1980). The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A. H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies

Why Hammocks Make Sleep Easier, Deeper

I wonder if this has anything to do with the idea that increased sleep quality via construction of nightly nests has been critical for the evolution of advanced cognitive capabilities in great apes (including humans). Seems like a slowly swaying hammock could be a lot like a tree bough - MA

From NPR

Napping in a hammock is one of the more delightful tasks of summer, and Swiss researchers say they now know why.

The gentle rocking motion makes people fall asleep faster, and they sleep deeper. Those changes in brain activity may inspire new ways to help insomniacs, the researchers say.

Neuroscientists at the University of Geneva rigged up a bed so it would sway gently from side to side every four seconds, considerably slower than the pendulum on a cuckoo clock. "This rocking is very gentle, very smooth, oscillating every four seconds," Sophie Schwartz, a professor of neurology who led the study, told Shots. "It's not like rocking like you would see some mothers rocking their babies, it's more gentle."

A dozen adult research subjects napped on the bed for 45 minutes while scalp electrodes recorded brain activity. During one nap the bed swayed; for another, it was stationary.

The scientists weren't too surprised to find that people fell asleep faster when the bed rocked. But they were surprised at the big difference that rocking made in brain activity.

Rocking increased the length of N2 sleep, a form of non-REM sleep that takes up about half of a good night's rest. It also increased slow oscillations and "sleep spindles." Sleep spindles are brief bursts of brain activity, which look like sudden up-and-down scribbles on an electroencephalogram.

"We were basically trying to find a scientific demonstration of this notion of rocking to sleep," Michel Muehlethaler, a professor of neuroscience who conducted the research with Schwartz, tells Shots. The fact that the brain waves changed so much, he says, was "totally unexpected." The results were published in the journal Current Biology.

Sleep spindles are associated with tranquil sleep in noisy environments and may be a sign that the brain is trying to calm sleepers stuck in them. Spindles also have been linked with the ability to remember new information. And that is associated with the brain's ability to rewire itself, known as brain plasticity.

That ability is important in recovery from stroke, and the researchers say that rocking while sleeping should be tested on people with strokes or other brain injuries. Rocking is "changing things in your brain," Schwartz says.

The Swiss scientists are eager to try the rocking bed on night-time sleepers, to see if it might help with insomnia and other common sleep disorders. But Shots readers may not want to wait for those results, and instead head directly to the back yard and their own time-tested research tool, the hammock.

Bayer L, Constantinescu I,Perrig S, Vienne J, Vida P-P, Mühlethaler M, Schwartz S (2011) Rocking synchronizes brain waves during a short nap. Current Biology 21(12) R461-R462 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.05.012

Why do we cradle babies or irresistibly fall asleep in a hammock? Although such simple behaviors are common across cultures and generations, the nature of the link between rocking and sleep is poorly understood [1,2]. Here we aimed to demonstrate that swinging can modulate physiological parameters of human sleep. To this end, we chose to study sleep during an afternoon nap using polysomnography and EEG spectral analyses. We show that lying on a slowly rocking bed (0.25 Hz) facilitates the transition from waking to sleep, and increases the duration of stage N2 sleep. Rocking also induces a sustained boosting of slow oscillations and spindle activity. It is proposed that sensory stimulation associated with a swinging motion exerts a synchronizing action in the brain that reinforces endogenous sleep rhythms. These results thus provide scientific support to the traditional belief that rocking can soothe our sleep.

Important Harvard Scientists Attack Kin Selection

Thanks to Kevin L for the link!

In case you are unfamiliar with the "debate" there is a great write up on Jon Wilkins' blog

Monday, June 20, 2011

2 Vaccine reports: HPV vaccine programe already found to have decreased cervical cancer rates and children dying of whooping cough

HPV Vaccination Programs Showing Early Results

From Science Mag

With many vaccines, it's easy to see a quick impact: the number of cases of a disease rapidly drops. But for other vaccines that target slower-moving ailments, it can take years or even decades until a population reaps the benefits. Such appears to be the case with human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that can spread during sex and cause cervical cancer and genital warts. A new analysis of the first 3 years of an HPV vaccination program in Victoria, Australia, reveals a drop in the incidence of cervical lesions among young women. The study didn't find a similar effect in women over 18, but that's likely to come with time.

The first HPV vaccine was licensed in 2006. Although many countries now offer an HPV vaccine, Australia was the first to roll out a national program, in April 2007, that aimed to vaccinate as many girls and young women as possible. It focused on those between 12 and 26 years old. Because the vaccine only prevents infection from the virus and can't help once someone already has HPV, doctors favor vaccinating girls and women who have not yet started having sex.

Recently, public health physician Julia Brotherton and physician and epidemiologist Dorota Gertig, both of the Victorian Cytology Service in East Melbourne, Australia, along with their colleagues, speculated that 3 years of the HPV vaccine in Australia might be enough to see an effect. So they combed through Pap smear data from the 4 years before the vaccine program launched, and from April 2007 to December 2009, after the vaccine was being offered. The researchers were interested in whether the frequency of certain cervical abnormalities, called "high-grade" and "low-grade," had changed. Using the Victorian Cervical Cytology Registry, which is one of eight registries in Australia that gathers information on Pap smear results, Brotherton and her colleagues gathered data on about 337,000 girls and women under age 26 who had Pap smears before the vaccine and 208,000 after.

The team found that high-grade cervical abnormalities, which include precancerous changes to cells that can progress to cancer, were much less common in the under-18 set in the post-vaccine years. Before the vaccine was introduced, 0.8% of girls tested had a high-grade abnormality. Afterward, it was 0.42%. The total numbers were small—109 in the first group, 23 in the second—because few women this young get Pap smears at all. (Australia recommends that Pap smear screening not begin until age 18 or 2 years after the first time a girl has sex, whichever is later. However, not all doctors follow the guidelines, and some offer Pap smears to younger girls who are sexually active.) The researchers didn't see any change in high-grade abnormalities in those over 18. Nor were there post-vaccine changes in low-grade abnormalities in either age group, they report online today in The Lancet.

Nonetheless, seeing any effect this early is arguably impressive, given how long it takes for HPV infection to progress to precancerous changes and cervical cancer. "Most models have predicted that we would not see an impact from the vaccine until 7 to 10 years" after its introduction, says Mona Saraiya, a preventive medicine and public health physician at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. But Australia has "really high vaccine coverage," she notes, which may make it easier to see an effect quickly.

It's not clear why there was no sign yet of a benefit from the vaccine in women over 18. Brotherton and her colleagues note that one limitation of the study was that they don't know that all these women actually got the vaccine, just that they were likely offered it. Saraiya also wonders whether screening might have become less common in the under-18 crowd, suggesting that cervical abnormalities had dropped when they haven't—or at least, not yet.

"It's not like I have any doubts that the vaccine will have an impact," Saraiya says. "My opinion is, it will just take a little bit longer." And, she predicts, Australia will be one of the first countries with the evidence to show for it.


Also Vanessa vanD sent me this article on the anti-vaccination movement in Australia, that includes this tragic video of infants who have died because of the current anti-vaccination propaganda.-MA

Pertussis can kill, and you can help stop it from Discovery blogs

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What came first? the empathy or the orgasm

This is a terrifically written pop science article, one of the best writes up I have ever read. The topic is beyond intriguing and the study has a really great sample size and an elegant research design (for a human study of this kind). It also reminded me of the article "Empathy is what really sets vegetarians apart". So clearly this proves that vegetarians make better lovers ;) - MA


Does Empathy Make Us Orgasmic or Do Orgasms Give Us Empathy?

A paper published this month in the Journal of Adolescent Health turns our attention to a much under researched area of sexual health; pleasure. Specifically the authors, Adena Galinsky and Freya Sonenstein from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health used data collected by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and examined associations between individual reporting on sexual pleasure and self-reports of autonomy, self-esteem, and empathy.

The researchers point out that despite a growing acceptance of the idea that sexual pleasure is a key aspect of sexual health (and that sexual health doesn't mean simply an absence of disease or unintended pregnancy), science hasn't contributed much in the way of data on the relationship between feeling sexual pleasure and experiencing overall sexual, or general, health.

Here sexual pleasure was measured by three questions:

1. When you and your partner have sexual relations, how often do you have an orgasm? (answer options were: most of the time, more than half the time, about half the time, less than half the time, hardly ever)
2. How much do you like for your partner to perform oral sex on you? (answer options were: like very much, like somewhat, neither like nor dislike, dislike somewhat, dislike very much)
3. How much do you like to perform oral sex on your partner? (same as above)

Autonomy, self-esteem, and empathy were measured by having participants respond to statements such as "I defend my own beliefs, I am independent, I am willing to take a stand, and I am assertive." and "I am sympathetic, I am sensitive to the needs of others, I am understanding, and I am compassionate" indicated how true each is for them.

The researchers then examined the relationship between orgasm frequency/enjoyment with oral sex and the extent to which participants scored high or low on self-esteem, empathy, and autonomy.

Findings on Sexual Pleasure
There were 3,237 people (60% were women, almost three quarters were white, mean age was 22) all of whom had been in a sexual relationship with an opposite gender partner for at least three months.

The good news is that the majority of all respondents seem to be enjoying sex more than half of the time they are having it. While gender differences in this kind of research always need to be taken with a truckload of salt, it may be worth noting the discrepancy in regularity of orgasm. 87% of men reported orgasm most or all of the time and 47% of women reporting it most of the time.

Perhaps a less expected discrepancy was found in responses to who enjoys performing oral sex. 61% of men as opposed to 37% of women, reported enjoying performing oral sex most or all of the time.

Sexual Pleasure, Autonomy, Self-Esteem, and Empathy
When they compared people's responses statements about autonomy, and their enjoyment of sex, they continued to find gender differences. While regarding oneself as autonomous was connected for men to regularity of orgasm, it wasn't connected to enjoyment performing or receiving oral sex. For women it was connected to all three (although a weaker connection was found with the oral sex measurements than with the orgasm measurement).

Turning to self-esteem, for men it was only related to enjoyment of performing oral sex (that is men who rated self-esteem higher were more likely to enjoy performing oral sex). For women self-esteem was related to all three measures of sexual enjoyment, the strongest relationship was to enjoyment of performing oral sex (again, higher self-esteem rating, more likely to enjoy performing oral sex.

The one consistent finding for all participants was with empathy. For all participants empathy was significantly related to all measures of sexual enjoyment, although not equally, as empathy was more strongly associated with regularity of orgasm than with liking giving or receiving oral sex. Nonetheless, this finding held to varying degrees across all groups of participants.

Enough With the Numbers, How Can I Be Better in Bed?
Unfortunately pretty much all the news and bloggy coverage of the study has traded in basic science for a catchy headline. This study does not tell us that being more empathetic makes you a better lover or even enjoy sex more. The research can't know the direction of the correlation found, so it's impossible to know which came first, the empathy or the orgasm.

While most of the headlines proclaim that being an empathic person makes you a better lover, it's just as likely that the more orgasms you have, the more empathetic you become. Maybe it's the experience of being with someone experiencing intense pleasure, pleasure that you presumably had a hand (or some other body part in) that builds up your self-esteem or empathy. It's possible that being autonomous makes orgasms come easier because we're able to focus on our own pleasure and not the pleasure of the other. Maybe the more oral sex I perform on someone, the higher my self-esteem goes.

This research is exciting not because it delivers any sex tips or provides the foundation for another sex manual, it's exciting because of the questions it asks, and the directions the findings suggest for future research. Why, for example, does it seem that rating yourself high on self-esteem is more connected to enjoyment performing oral sex than receiving oral sex? What goes into us being able to enjoy receiving oral sex anyway? If you think it's all about anatomy and response, how come there's such variation?

As the authors themselves state, this study is just the beginning. Lucky for us, it's a clearly written and fairly presented beginning, which hopefully will inspire more research not just on this topic, but of this caliber.

Read more - HealthDay: Self-Confidence, Empathy May Make for Better Sex

Citation: Galinsky, A.M. & Sonenstein, F.L. (2011) The Association Between Developmental Assets and Sexual Enjoyment Among Emerging Adults. Journal of Adolescent Health 48: 610-615.


To examine the associations between three key developmental assets and an aspect of sexual health, sexual enjoyment, which has rarely been studied in young adults, although its importance is stressed in all recent sexual health policy statements.

Using data from wave III (2001–2002) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and multiple logistic and ordered logistic regression, we explored the associations between sexual pleasure and autonomy, self-esteem, and empathy among 3,237 respondents aged 18–26 years in heterosexual relationships of ≥3-month duration. We also examined the distribution of sexual pleasure across various socio-demographic groups.


Compared with young women, young men reported more regular orgasms and more enjoyment of two kinds of partnered sexual behavior. Sexual enjoyment was not associated with age, race/ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Among women, autonomy, self-esteem, and empathy co-varied positively with all three sexual enjoyment measures. Among men, all associations were in the same direction, but not all were statistically significant.

A substantial gender difference in enjoyment of partnered sexual behavior exists among emerging adults in the United States. This study is the first to use a representative population sample to find a relationship between developmental assets and a positive aspect of sexual health − sexual pleasure.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Thanks to Mark W for the link

Goose parade

That is all.

Thanks to Jesse D for the link

Dog-walking anarchists turn a profit

From the Washington Post
Dog-walking collective strolls thin line between anarchist principles, profits

A meeting of anarchists, progressives, a self-described “surly feminist” and others on the far left of the political spectrum is underway. They’re young and radical. They’re organizing intently. The matter at hand could be oppression, or the police state, or revolution.

But it’s not. It’s walking dogs.

They sit in a circle in the living room of a Petworth group house and tick off their “route updates,” which mostly consist of details about the new canine clients they’ve signed up.

That’s because business is booming.

The seven people present belong to Brighter Days, a dog walkers’ collective founded on anarchist principles. Last year, the five-year-old business grossed more than $250,000. Its members have equal ownership and make business decisions by reaching consensus during weekly meetings such as this one. Any of them can block any decision. They split their earnings evenly, have a group health insurance plan and cover for each other on days off. They even get paid vacation — seven weeks of it.

Moving from would-be anarchist to successful business owner brings a few quandaries. If you oppose the idea of a state, should you pay taxes? Is it ethically sound to care for the animals of professionals while they are at work at institutions such as the International Monetary Fund? And if you don’t believe in corporations, should you buy health insurance from one?

From the start, Brighter Days has taken a path in the middle, keeping as close to its anarchist ideals as possible while running a legitimate business.

“We made compromises about any number of things,” says Joshua Stephens, who started the collective in 2006 with his friend John Seager, the drummer in his punk band.

Like paying taxes, for starters. “A sure-fire way to get shut down and needlessly go to jail is not paying taxes,” Stephens says. “I admire people who do war-tax resistance, but they don’t do it as a business.”

The health insurance issue has also forced some reluctant interactions with the corporate world. “They’re all evil,” Seager, the co-founder, says of health insurance companies.

The collective’s disdain for the corporate world notwithstanding, its clients — Washingtonians who can afford to pay $16 for a 30-minute walk — are generally establishment types. “They’re definitely all professionals,” Seager says. “I would hesitate to slap any other label on all of them.”

In the beginning, when Stephens fielded the calls from Hill staffers, lawyers and bureaucrats who needed dog walkers, he would always take time to describe the collective’s mission, how it was employee-owned and their generous benefits, he said.

“Nine times out of ten, the answer I got back from people was, ‘Can I come work for you?’ ” Stephens says. “There is no better endorsement of anarchist politics than that.”

These days, not all of the collective members “circle their A’s” — a capital “A” encircled by a capital “O” is an anarchist symbol — but the group still has a strong sense that even through walking dogs, they can make a difference, however small. They give discounts to people who foster dogs. They donate money to social-justice nonprofit groups. Their Web servers run on wind energy.

Dog-walking is a common job for the city’s punk rockers, who are attracted to the flexible nature of the work. It’s one of a handful of occupations that seem to employ a disproportionate share of the counterculture kids who play in the region’s metal bands and attend its radical conferences.

Many of these jobs require a creative reconciliation with core beliefs. Just ask the line sitters who stand for hours so lobbyists can get into congressional hearings, the cooks who feed politicians and the bike messengers who carry documents for agencies.

Pragmatism generally wins out in the end. “An economy is an economy,” says Stephens, who left Brighter Days two years ago to form another anarchist dog-walking collective.

The business comes with few inherent challenges besides the weather — the rain, the cold, but most of all the heat.

“The heat gives me more of a surly attitude,” says Devin Miller, 29. “Last summer was really hard.”

It’s harder still for Seager, because he wears black most of the time.

“I need more white shirts,” Seager says. “I just so despise the concept of fashion.” Worrying about clothing is, at best, “one of the least-interesting human pursuits” and, at worst, “embarrassingly pathetic,” Seager says.

After heat, the dog walker’s biggest bane is boredom. The collective’s members usually walk the same dogs on the same streets at the same time, every day. Miller says he actually prefers the difficult dogs because they keep things interesting.

At one building in Adams Morgan, he walks six dogs almost every day. When he enters the first apartment, Johnny, a rescued basenji-terrier-Chihuahua mix, starts barking immediately. When Miller approaches, Johnny’s at the back of the room growling and shaking, and it takes a little work to get a leash on him.

Johnny shares an apartment with Lloyd, who has droopy eyes and big, floppy ears that are large even for a beagle. As usual, he’s on his owner’s bed, still and silent, and does not want to get up for a walk. “They’re almost a yin and a yang,” Miller says.

He makes the rounds to pick up Haley Barbour the pug and Rascal, a beagle mix who likes to stand on his hind legs. Lloyd waddles along at the back of the pack and flops down whenever he gets the chance. Miller talks to the dogs. “Come on, lovers,” he says as they pass the Planet Pet day-care and grooming center, which some of them frequent.

Lloyd is falling behind, which is no surprise, but he’s also favoring his front right paw. Miller squats to see what’s the matter and sees a spot of blood on one of Lloyd’s pads. He pushes on it and pulls out a shard of glass.

After dropping off the other dogs, he cradles Lloyd next to the kitchen sink in the owner’s apartment, a loft-style condo with designer lighting, high ceilings and baby accouterments everywhere. He washes Lloyd’s front paws with dish soap and a paper towel and calls the owner to let her know what happened.

It’s an unusual piece of drama in his day. “Usually the only reason I have to call people is if the dog is [pooping] slime,” he says.

He says this with the conviction of someone who stoops to pick up poop several times a day.

“I might be one of the grossest ones with it because I don’t really use bags,” Miller says. He prefers to grab a piece of litter from the street for environmental reasons.

“Occasionally, I’ll get it on my hands or under a nail,” he says while hurling just such a package into a street garbage can. “If anything, I think it boosts my immune system.”

Stephens says the concept for Brighter Days came to him nearly five years ago when he was a freelance dog walker working part-time at the Institute for Anarchist Studies in the District. He had visited Argentina shortly after its 2001 economic collapse and became fascinated with the success of worker-run cooperative factories there.

“I could have become a professor or something, but I was a dog walker, so I just started where I was,” he says.

His main focus in organizing the business was eradicating all forms of hierarchy. “Anarchism,” he says, “is about turning all relationships of domination into relationships of cooperation.”

Unfortunately, the classical anarchist texts don’t address the dominance inherent in almost all human relationships with animals, Stephens says. It’s only more recently that many animal-rights activists have started arguing that domestication is a self-serving form of oppression.

“I don’t necessarily think they’re wrong, but I also don’t know that it’s my biggest concern right now,” Stephens said. “I’m going to pick my battles, and that’s just not one of them — and I say that as a 17-year vegan.”

Stephens left Brighter Days after a bitter falling-out with the collective’s other members. “I think these people felt like stripping away the bosses and stripping away the hierarchy was a way of minimizing obligation,” he says. “It became evident that it was becoming a tool for people to have slacker lives, and I didn’t want that.”

Stephens went on to start a second anarchist dog-walking collective that encompasses Washington, Baltimore and New York, where he now lives. Members of the new collective don’t get to participate in decision-making for a year while they take a course in animal behavior and study texts on cooperative business management, the politics of revolution and alternative economics.

He says he’ll probably walk dogs for a very long time.

“I can’t imagine a better job,” he says. “I get paid to ride my bike, be nice to people and hang out with dogs. It’s like every 8-year-old kid’s dream.”

Science Ink - Awesome Nerd Tattoos

I love body art! Last year I blogged about the amazing wildlife tattoo gallery from the bushwarriors blog, and now I found the Science Tattoo Emporium which has a companion book out at the end of the is year. CLICK HERE to go to the gallery.

A few more of my faves:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Police Dogs Can Distinguish Identical Twins

From ScienceMag

Being an identical twin might seem like a great way to fool a DNA test and get away with the perfect crime. But furry forensic experts can make sure justice is served. In a new study, researchers instructed a group of children, including two sets of identical twins and two sets of fraternal twins, to swab the insides of their cheeks and place the swabs in glass jars. Working with ten police German shepherds and their handlers from the Czech Republic police, the researchers then ran a mock crime scene investigation. The handler presented one twin’s scent to the dog and then told it to go find the matching scent in a lineup of seven jars, which included the other twin’s scent. In twelve trials per dog, none of them ever identified the wrong twin as a match, the researchers report online this week in PLoS ONE, even though the children lived in the same home, ate the same food, and had identical DNA. No word yet on whether these dogs will be getting their own CSI spinoff.


Pinc L, Bartoš L, Reslová A, Kotrba R (2011) Dogs Discriminate Identical Twins. PLoS ONE 6(6): e20704. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020704

Earlier studies have shown variation among experimental attempts to establish whether human monozygotic twins that are genetically identical also have identical individual scents. In none of the cases were the dogs able to distinguish all the individual scents of monozygotic twins living in the same environment if the scents were presented to them separately. Ten specially trained police German Shepherd dogs of three Czech Republic Police Regional Headquarters were used for scent identification in our study. The dogs were supposed to match scents of two monozygotic pairs (5 and 7 years old) and two dizygotic twin pairs (8 and 13 years old). Scents were collected on cotton squares stored in glass jars. Dog handlers were blind to the experiment details. In each trial (line-up), one scent was used as a starting scent and the dog was then sent to determine if any of the 7 presented glass jars contained a matching scent. Scents of children of similar ages were used as distractors. In the matching procedure, the dogs matched correctly the scent of one twin with the other, as well as two scents collected from every single identical and non-identical twin to prove their efficacy and likewise, the presence of the matching twin scent in any given glass jar. All dogs in all trials distinguished correctly the scents of identical as well as non-identical twins. All dogs similarly matched positively two scents collected from the same individuals. Our findings indicated that specially trained German Shepherd dogs are able to distinguish individual scents of identical twins despite the fact that they live in the same environment, eat the same food and even if the scents are not presented to them simultaneously.

Holy shit...Human poop turned into meat alternative

Are you eating?
No? good.
Yes? Probably wait until you are done to watch/read this. Eventhough I have very little problem with invitro meat or using poop as fuel, this one made me a bit squeemish. A+ for inventiveness! -MA

Thanks to Deb M for the link!

From INhabitat
POOP BURGER: Japanese Researcher Creates Artificial Meat From Human Feces

Some hardcore carnivores have a hard time finding meat alternatives such as soy protein or tofu burgers to be palatable. But non-meat eaters may lose their appetite along with their carnivorous friends over this one – a meat alternative made from HUMAN EXCREMENT. Yep, you heard me correctly — Japanese scientist Mitsuyuki Ikeda has developed a “burger” made from soya, steak sauce essence, and protein extracted from human feces.

The meatpacking industry causes 18 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, mostly due to the release of methane from animals. The livestock industry also consumes huge amounts of feed and water in relation to the amount of meat that it yields, and many find the industry to be inhumane and cruel to animals. These factors alone are reason enough for vegetarians to replace their meat intake with vegetable proteins and legumes. But Ikeda, a scientist at the Environmental Assessment Center in Okayama, sought to further the field of alternative proteins by recycling a form of protein-rich waste : sewage mud.

“Sewage mud” is exactly what you think it is – poop. Ikeda’s process begins by extracting protein and lipids from the “mud.” The lipids are then combined with a reaction enhancer, then whipped into “meat” in an exploder. Ikeda then makes the poop more savory, by adding soya and steak sauce.

Currently, the price of the poop burgers are 10-20 times that of regular meat, due to the cost of research, but he feels they will even out in a few years. He admits that “some people” may have a psychological aversion to eating artificial meat made of their own poop at first, but thinks many would be open to personally completing the food chain. He also notes that the burgers are extremely low in fat.

The artificial meat is low in fat and reduces waste and carbon emissions, however it’s hard to believe that any number of benefits could persuade consumers to take a bite out of a poop sandwich.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

daughters inherit slutiness from fathers (in zebra finches)

"Casanova gene" in female songbirds
Females inherit "infidelity gene" from their fathers
Max Planck Society Press Release

It is assumed that many bird species are monogamous, yet infidelity is a widespread phenomenon. The advantage for the male seems obvious as in this way he can increase the number of his offspring. A female, however, mostly faces costs. The cuckolded partners often reduce their parental care. In addition, the extra lovers also may transmit diseases. Nevertheless, some females actively seek such contacts. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen investigated a large number of zebra finches and found a possible explanation for this behaviour. In a genetic long-term study they found that females inherit the disposition for their infidelity from their fathers.

For quite some time it was common thinking that most bird species lead a strictly monogamous way of life. Yet, using molecular genetic methods scientists have found over the past 20 years that many juveniles do not originate from their social fathers. Initially, the explanation for these extra-pair paternities seemed plausible. The males could enhance their reproductive success through a higher number of offspring and females received high quality genes when they were keeping an eye out for attractive mates.

Recently, scientists have cast doubt on this explanation as the actual benefits for the females were not as high as expected by theory. To the contrary, the negative aspects even prevailed. The cuckolded males often reduce their parental effort and also support from extra-pair mates cannot be expected because they rather help their own mate. Therefore the question remained as to why some females actively seek other males for extra-pair matings.

Behavioural ecologist Wolfgang Forstmeier and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen have now found a possible explanation for this phenomenon. Within a period of eight years the researchers investigated the sexual behaviour of over 1500 zebra finches. At first, unmated male and female birds were subjected to a test of their sexual motivation or libido. Afterwards a subset of the finches was transferred into aviaries in order to test how socially monogamously mated individuals behaved to each other within a large group. Using a video surveillance system the researchers could observe how mated females were reacting to advances of their own partner and of stranger males. In addition, the researchers conducted genetic paternity analysis by using a microsatellite marker method in order to determine the number of offspring that a male had sired in a foreign nest. They also indentified the number of offspring that a female produced together with an extra-pair male.

The result was surprising. Apparently the readiness of females to engage in extra-pair contacts was inherited from their fathers that had been cheating on their partners as well. The predisposition for infidelity shows a moderate, but evolutionarily crucial, genetic basis. Since the readiness for infidelity is passed on from the fathers to the daughters the researchers arrived at a new interpretation of female infidelity. “It is not essential that there is an evolutionary benefit for the females”, says Wolfgang Forstmeier, author of the study. “It is rather sufficient that the male ancestors had benefits that resulted from their promiscuity. A “Casanova-gene” will increase its frequency within a population as long as the benefits to the male gene carriers outweigh the costs for the female gene carriers”.

Whether the hypothesis of a correlated evolution of male and female infidelity can be transferred to the situation in humans is still open for speculation. There is no doubt, however, that there is a genetic basis for many aspects of human sexual and pair-bonding behaviour. “The question to what extent it is the same genes that influence female and male behaviour in a similar way has to be answered in follow-up studies”, says Forstmeier.

Forstmeier W, Martin K, Bolund E, Schielzeth H, Kempenaers B (2011) Female extrapair mating behavior can evolve via indirect selection on males PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1103195108


In many species that form socially monogamous pair bonds, a considerable proportion of the offspring is sired by extrapair males. This observation has remained a puzzle for evolutionary biologists: although mating outside the pair bond can obviously increase the offspring production of males, the benefits of such behavior to females are less clear, yet females are known to actively solicit extrapair copulations. For more than two decades adaptionist explanations have dominated the discussions, yet remain controversial, and genetic constraint arguments have been dismissed without much consideration. An intriguing but still untested hypothesis states that extrapair mating behavior by females may be affected by the same genetic variants (alleles) as extrapair mating behavior by males, such that the female behavior could evolve through indirect selection on the male behavior. Here we show that in the socially monogamous zebra finch, individual differences in extrapair mating behavior have a hereditary component. Intriguingly, this genetic basis is shared between the sexes, as shown by a strong genetic correlation between male and female measurements of extrapair mating behavior. Hence, positive selection on males to sire extrapair young will lead to increased extrapair mating by females as a correlated evolutionary response. This behavior leads to a fundamentally different view of female extrapair mating: it may exist even if females obtain no net benefit from it, simply because the corresponding alleles were positively selected in the male ancestors.