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Fanged frog, 162 other new species found in Mekong

A gecko with leopard-like spots on its body and a fanged frog that eats birds are among 163 new species discovered last year in the Mekong River region of Southeast Asia, an environmental group said Friday.

WWF International said that scientists in 2008 discovered 100 plants, 28 fish, 18 reptiles, 14 amphibians, two mammals and one bird species in the region. That works out to be about three species a week and is in addition to the 1,000 new species catalogued there from 1997 to 2007, the group said.

"After millennia in hiding these species are now finally in the spotlight, and there are clearly more waiting to be discovered," said Stuart Chapman, director of the WWF Greater Mekong Program.

Researchers working for WWF warned that the effects of climate change, including an upsurge in droughts and floods, threaten the diverse habitat that supports these species. That is on top of traditional threats such as poaching, pollution and habitat destruction.

In the photo shown above taken Jan. 1, 2008, released by The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) a Cat Ba leopard gecko, known by its scientific name Goniurosaurus catbaensis, is seen in Cat Ba Island National Park in northern Vietnam. This species was among 163 new species discovered last year in Greater Mekong region, a biologically rich region that stretches over five countries and borders the mighty Mekong River, an environmental group said Friday, Sept. 25, 2009. (AP Photo/Thomas Ziegler, WWF Greater Mekong)

Rare giant squid netted in Gulf of Mexico

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- A giant squid has been netted in the Gulf of Mexico, the first of its kind to be landed in 55 years, scientists say.
U.S. government scientists caught the 20-foot-long, 103-pound giant squid while trawling 1,500 feet down, the Houston Chronicle reported.
"This was beyond everyone's expectations," said Deborah Epperson, a U.S. Minerals Management Service biologist.
The recent catch, off the Louisiana coast, marks the first giant squid found in the gulf since a dead one turned up on the surface in 1954. The latest catch had been alive but died as it was being brought to the surface because the squid cannot survive such quick changes in water depth.

Bee deaths set apiculture congress abuzz

MONTPELLIER, France — Pesticides, viruses, industrialised farming, fungus... what on Earth is killing our bees?
That's the big question being asked at Apimondia, the 41st world apiculture congress, where 10,000 beekeepers, entomologists and other actors in the honey business are gathered in this southern French city until Sunday.
Across parts of North America and swathes of Europe, but also now in patches of Asia, bee hives have been struck by a mysterious ailment dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
At normal times, bee communities naturally lose around five percent of their numbers. But in CCD, a third, a half -- sometimes even 90 percent -- of the insects can be wiped out. Eerily, no bodies are typically found near the hive.
The phenomenon is alarming for beekeepers, many of them small-scale operators or hobbyists, who lack the clout and subsidy support that other agricultural sectors enjoy.
But food experts and environmental scientists are also worried.
The Western honey bee is a vital link in the food chain, fertilising nearly 100 kinds of crops.
Around a third of the food on our plates gets there thanks to Apis mellifera.

Sierra Nevada birds move in response to warmer, wetter climate

The findings, to be published the week of Sept. 14 in an online early edition of the journal , reveal that 48 out of 53 bird species studied in California's Sierra Nevada mountains have adjusted to climate change over the last century by moving to sites with the temperature and precipitation conditions they favored.
The few species, including the Anna's Hummingbird and Western Scrub-Jay, that did not pack up and leave when the climate changed were generally better able to exploit human-altered habitats, such as urban or suburban areas, the researchers said.
"In order to conserve biodiversity in the face of future climate change, we need to know how a species actually responds to a warming climate," said study lead author Morgan Tingley, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management and at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley. "Comparing past and present ranges of species that experienced climate change is one of the best ways to gain this knowledge. Understanding how species will respond to climate change allows us to take steps now to restore key habitats and create movement corridors that will help them respond to the changes we have coming."

'Death Stench' Is A Universal Ancient Warning Signal

The smell of recent death or injury that repels living relatives of insects has been identified as a truly ancient signal that functions to avoid disease or predators, biologists have discovered.
 David Rollo, professor of biology at McMaster University, found that corpses of animals, from insects to crustaceans, all emit the same death stench produced by a blend of specific fatty acids.
The findings have been published in the journal Evolutionary Biology.
Rollo and his team made the discovery while they were studying the social behavior of cockroaches. When a cockroach finds a good place to live it marks the site with pheromone odours that attract others. In trying to identify the precise chemicals involved, Rollo extracted body juices from dead cockroaches.
"It was amazing to find that the cockroaches avoided places treated with these extracts like the plague," says Rollo. "Naturally, we wanted to identify what chemical was making them all go away."
The team eventually identified the specific chemicals that signaled death. Furthermore, they found that the same fatty acids not only signaled death in ants, caterpillars, and cockroaches, they were equally effective in terrestrial woodlice and pill bugs that are actually not insects but crustaceans related to crayfish and lobsters.

Guatemala declares hunger crisis

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has declared a "state of public calamity" to try to mobilise funding to tackle severe food shortages in the country.

Officials say 54,000 families living in an area prone to extreme weather are in a critical situation.

So far this year, some 25 children are believed to have died of hunger.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) announced it would start distributing 20 tonnes of nutritional biscuits to the worst affected areas.

President Colom made his announcement on Tuesday, saying the declaration of a state of public calamity would help the government to access the funding and resources needed to tackle the food crisis.

"There is food, what is lacking is the money for the affected people to buy food," Mr Colom said. "We are not going to wait until we've reached starvation levels to act."

The move allows the government to make emergency purchases of food.

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Mobile phone towers threaten honey bees

The electromagnetic waves emitted by mobile phone towers and cellphones can pose a threat to honey bees, a study published in India has concluded.
An experiment conducted in the southern state of Kerala found that a sudden fall in the bee population was caused by towers installed across the state by cellphone companies to increase their network.
The electromagnetic waves emitted by the towers crippled the "navigational skills" of the worker bees that go out to collect nectar from flowers to sustain bee colonies, said Dr. Sainuddin Pattazhy, who conducted the study, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Giant statues give up hat mystery

At 2,500 miles off the coast of Chile, the island is one of the world's most remote places inhabited by people.

Up to 1,000 years ago, the islanders started putting giant red hats on the statues.

The research team, from the University of Manchester and University College London, think the hats were rolled down from an ancient volcano.

Dr Colin Richards and Dr Sue Hamilton are the first British archaeologists to work on the island since 1914.

They pieced together a series of clues to discover how the statues got their red hats. An axe, a road, and an ancient volcano led to their findings.

Dr Richards said: "We know the hats were rolled along the road made from a cement of compressed red scoria dust."

Each hat, weighing several tonnes, was carved from volcanic rock. They were placed on the heads of the famous statues all around the coast of the island.

Precisely how and why the hats were attached is unknown.

Like an altar

An axe was found in pristine condition next to the hats. The scientists think it might be an ancient offering.

Dr Richards told BBC News: "These hats run all the way down the side of the volcano into the valley.

"We can see they were carefully placed. The closer you get to the volcano, the greater the number.

"It's like a church; you can't just walk straight to the altar.

"The Polynesians saw the landscape as a living thing, and after they carved the rock the spirits entered the statues."

Dr Richards and Dr Hamilton are joint directors of the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Landscapes of Construction Project. They will be working on the island over the next five years.

Dr Richards added: "We will look to date the earliest statues. Potentially this could rewrite Polynesian history

Global starvation imminent as US faces crop failure

The world faces “mass starvation” following North America’s next major crop failure. And it could even happen before year’s end. So says Chicago-based Don Coxe, who is one of the world’s leading experts on agricultural commodities, so much so that Canada’s renowned BMO Financial Group named the fund after him.   

Climate change will cause shorter crop growing seasons and the world’s under-developed farming sector is ill-prepared to make up for the shortfall, Coxe says. He has been following the farming industry for many years and benefits from more than 35 years of institutional investment experience in Canada and the United States. This includes managing the best-performing mutual fund in the United States, Harris Investment Management, as recently as 2005.
 

In particular, an imminent crop failure in North America will have particularly dire consequences for major overseas markets that are highly reliant on U.S. crop imports, Coxe cautions. Sadly, this scenario could have been avoided had successive North America’s governments not weakened the farming industry with too much political interference, he suggests.
 

“We’ve got a situation where there has been no incentive to allocate significant new capital to agriculture or to develop new technologies to dramatically expand crop output. We’ve got complacency,” he told BNW News Wire. “So for those reasons I believe the next food crisis – when it comes – will be a bigger shock than $150 oil.” 

Scientists Find "Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch"

Scientists have just completed an unprecedented journey into the vast and little-explored "Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch."

On the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX), researchers got the first detailed view of plastic debris floating in a remote ocean region.

It wasn't a pretty sight.

The Scripps research vessel (R/V) New Horizon left its San Diego homeport on August 2, 2009, for the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, located some 1,000 miles off California's coast, and returned on August 21, 2009.

Scientists surveyed plastic distribution and abundance, taking samples for analysis in the lab and assessing the impacts of debris on marine life.

The scientists found that at numerous areas in the gyre, flecks of plastic were abundant and easily spotted against the deep blue seawater.

Among the assortment of items retrieved were plastic bottles with a variety of biological inhabitants. The scientists also collected jellyfish called by-the-wind sailors (Velella velella).

On August 11th, the researchers encountered a large net entwined with plastic and various marine organisms; they also recovered several plastic bottles covered with ocean animals, including large barnacles.

"Finding so much plastic there was shocking," said Goldstein. "How could there be this much plastic floating in a random patch of ocean--a thousand miles from land?"

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