Category Archives: Ecology

Life in an Urban Jungle

We share our living space with some 40000 species of plants and animals.

Watch where you tread.

Full article here.

Life in an Urban Jungle

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Giant fungus discovered in China

 

Giant fungus discovered in China

The most massive fruiting body of any fungus yet documented has been discovered growing on the underside of a tree in China.

The fruiting body, which is equivalent to the mushrooms produced by other fungi species, is up to 10m long, 80cm wide and weighs half a tonne.

That shatters the record held previously by a fungus growing in Kew Gardens in the UK.

The new giant fungus is thought to be at least 20 years old.

The first example of the new giant fungus was recorded by scientists in 2008 in Fujian Province, China, by Professor Yu-Cheng Dai of the Herbarium of biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shenyang and his assistant Dr Cui.

“But the type collection was not huge,” Prof Dai told BBC Nature.

However, “we found [the] giant one in Hainan Province in 2010.”

The researchers were in the field studying wood-decaying fungi when they happened upon the specimen, which they describe in the journal Fungal Biology.

“We were not specifically looking for this fungus; we did not know the fungus can grow so huge,” he said.

“We were surprised when we found it, and we did not recognise it in the forest because it is too large.”

The fungus, F. ellipsoidea, is what mycologists call a perennial polypore – otherise known as a bracket fungus.

Being a perennial, it can live for a number of years, which may have enabled it to grow to such large size.

By colonising the underside of the large fallen tree, the fungus also had a huge amount of dead and decaying wood to feed on, helping to fuel its growth.

Fruiting bodies, such as mushrooms and toadstools, are the sexual stages of a many higher types of fungi, producing seeds or spores that produce further generations.

The giant fruiting body of F. ellipsoidea forms a long, brown shape up to 10.85m long, 82-88cm wide, and 4.6-5.5cm thick.

Tests on the density of the fruiting body suggest the whole thing weighs 400-500kg; it is also estimated to hold some 450 million spores.

“A small piece of the fruiting body is almost like my size,” said Prof Dai.

The previous record holder was a specimen of Rigidoporus ulmarius, a polypore with a pileate fruiting body found in Kew Gardens in the UK in 2003.

It measured approximately 150cm in diameter with a circumference of 425cm.

After their initial encounter with the new record-breaking fungus, the scientists took samples of it back to the lab where to be analysed.

These tests revealed that the fungus was the species Fomitiporia ellipsoidea, and the researchers made two subsequent trips to study the specimen further.

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The Birds of Singapore – Online Book

 

Our concept is very simple.  In fact, it might seem a little altruistic, possibly even anarchic!

 

We feel many reference books should be published on the World Wide Web, made freely accessible to anyone with a computer and an internet connection, especially books that are very rare or out of print.

It will facilitate research and will be environmentally friendly since students will no longer have to make reams of photo-copies at reference libraries.

The true concept, however, will be best applied to works-in-progress.  Many natural history books tend to get updated every five to ten years.  Buying such updates can become an expensive business for students or libraries, even for the publishers.

Published on the Web, minor corrections or major updates can be done even on a day-to-day basis, at practically no additional cost at all.  The book keeps on growing and, literally, becomes a living book!


The Birds of Singapore

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Wired Science: A Mud-Loving, Iron-Lunged, Jelly-Eating Ecosystem Savior

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Meet the bearded goby, a six-inch-long fish that lives in toxic mud, eats jellyfish, lasts for hours without oxygen, and has saved a coastal African ecosystem from a nightmare fate.

Over the last several decades, as other fish populations off the coast of the Namibia collapsed, jellyfish and bacteria populations exploded — a condition widely considered to be ecological an dead end, incapable of supporting rich webs of life.

But amidst this turmoil, the goby has thrived. It circulates nutrients that would otherwise be lost, feeds animals who lost their historic prey, and provides that rare thing: a happy, or at least not-so-bad, ending to an environmental disaster story.

The goby “has the ability to consume what were considered dead-end resources and convert them into bite-sized chunks for higher trophic levels,” said Mark Gibbons, a University of the Western Cape biologist. “Gobies have become anything but a dead-end resource. The gobies are now sustaining the rest of the ecosystem.”

Half a century ago, the bearded goby was just one of many species living in what’s known as the Benguela Large Marine Ecosystem, about 7,000 square miles of continental shelf off the coast of southwest Africa.

The region supported a prosperous commercial fishing industry, but overfishing depleted the northern Benguela’s keystone species, the sardine. By eating plankton and being eaten by larger fishes, sardines had provided a direct conduit between the bottom and top of the Benguela’s food chain. Now that link was gone.

Adding to the upheaval, naturally occurring upwellings of deep, cold water in the Benguela deliver nutrient loads that feed enormous plankton blooms, which feed oxygen-gobbling, dead zone-creating bacteria and eventually fall to the ocean floor, forming a toxic sludge. Methane gathers in the mud, belching out in fish-killing gas eruptions. Without sardines to eat the extra plankton, the effects of this natural feature became more pronounced.

Such radical stresses produced what ecologists call a regime shift. The web of life didn’t simply adjust a bit, but took a whole new form, one that didn’t require a rich assortment of fishes to circulate energy and nutrients. In this lowest-common-denominator system, there were only a few opportunist fish species, bacteria and, at the top of the food chain, giant jellyfish.

Giant jellies have no natural predators, and aren’t even eaten by humans. In the systems they dominate, nutrients and energy go from plankton to jelly, with little between. “The massive increase in jellyfish biomass after the collapse has been regarded as a trophic dead end,” wrote Gibbons and colleagues in a study published July 15 in Science. The same has happened in China’s Bohai Sea, the Sea of Japan, and the northwest Mediterranean. But unlike those ecosystems, the northern Benguela has the bearded goby.

In recent years, fishermen and researchers noticed more bearded gobies than before. Gobies were showing up in the bellies of seals, penguins and the remaining large fish, such as horse mackerel and hake. But nobody quite knew what they were doing, so Gibbons, along with University of Bergen biologists Anne Utne-Palm and Anne Salvanes, decided to find out.

They measured oxygen content and chemical composition throughout the northern Benguela’s waters and across its floors. They used radar to track the movements of goby populations, and conducted a series of aquarium experiments on individual fishes. What they found is a fish extraordinarily well-suited to its new environment.

During the day, gobies live on and in the Benguela’s toxic sea sludge. They do fine without oxygen: After spending hours in aquariums filled with oxygen-free water, gobies are still alert. Given the choice between toxic mud and sand, they picked the sludge.

The gobies feed on the mud, scooping it up and waiting until evening, when they swim into the higher-oxygen water column, to digest it. While in the water column, they prefer to stay among giant jellyfish, whose stinging tentacles discourage predators from following. And the gobies have developed a taste for the jellies: The researchers’ autopsies found that jellyfish can form up to 60 percent of a bearded goby’s diet.

These adaptations are likely rooted in the gobies’ evolution in the Benguela, where they dealt with toxic mud and low-oxygen waters, albeit in lower quantities than now, for millions of years. “This ‘pre-conditioning’ allowed them to capitalize on changes to the system,” said Gibbons.

For many, the Benguela’s current state is still far from ideal. Philippe Cury, a fisheries biologist at France’s Institute of Research for Development, called it a “ghost ecosystem” for fisheries. “So tell your kid, ‘Eat your gobies with your jellyfish!’” he said. But without the goby to feed other species — and, critically, to keep nutrients in circulation during particularly extreme years, when other fish can’t survive — the situation would be far worse.

“There would be less hake, less seabirds, seals and cetaceans and all those other organisms that feed on gobies,” said Gibbons. “That would be a desert.”

Whether other jellyfish-dominated systems will prove to have their own versions of the bearded goby remains to be seen. But at least the northern Benguela has avoided total catastrophe.

“Fortunately for the Benguela, they had the goby,” said Utne-Palm. “It’s a lucky end to something that could have been more of a disaster.”

Images: 1) Benguela goby./Hege Vestheim. 2) Benguela goby and jellyfish./Kim Andreassen.

 

Citation: “Trophic Structure and Community Stability in an Overfished Ecosystem,” By Anne C. Utne-Palm, Anne G.V.Salvanes, Bronwen Currie, Stein Kaartvedt, Göran E. Nilsson, Victoria A. Braithwaite, Jonathan A.W. Stecyk, Matthias Hundt, Meganvander Bank, Bradley Flynn, Guro K. Sandvik, Thor A. Klevjer, Andrew K. Sweetman Volker Brüchert, Karin Pittman, Kathleen R. Peard, Ida G. Lunde, Rønnaug A.U. Strandabø, Mark J. Gibbons. Science, Vol. 329 No. 5989, July 16, 2010.

 

Source: Wired Science

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ST.com News: Crude oil spill off S’pore

May 25, 2010

ST.com News: Crude oil spill off S’pore

CRUDE oil was spilled off Singapore’s south-eastern coast after two ships collided on Tuesday, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said in an e-mailed statement.

The MT Bunga Kelana 3 tanker collided with the MV Waily bulk carrier at about 6.10am in the Singapore Strait, 13km south-east of Changi East, the statement said.

‘There were no report of injury to crew members. However, MT Bunga Kelana 3 suffered damage to one of its cargo tanks, resulting in an oil spill. The Master of MT Bunga Kelana 3 estimated that 2,000 tonnes of crude oil could have spilled into the sea,’ the statement said.

It added that the MPA ‘immediately dispatched four patrol and emergency response craft to the affected area. MPA also activated oil spill response compan…

Click here for to read the full story.

Or cut and paste this URL in your browser:
http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_531044.html

 

What is the impact of oil spill on Chek Jawa? (from Wild Singapore Blog)

From the Straits Times:

Prof Ng said that the oil slick that has hit the Chek Jawa wetlands has not resulted in any mass destruction of wildlife there. However, signs of death may show up over the next few days. Yesterday, fishes and crabs could still be spotted near the shoreline.

‘In the short term, some animals will die. We have not seen mass kills but I’m sure some are affected,’ he told reporters during a trip to the wetlands yesterday to observe the damage. The breathing of fishes, for example, will be affected if their gills are coated with oil.

Prof Ng and his team of researchers have been working closely with the National Parks Board to monitor the situation at the nature area.

While the scale of the pollution was ‘minor’, he cautioned that any amount could upset the fragile ecosystem in Chek Jawa.

With most of the oil patches along the wetlands cleaned up yesterday evening, he said the next step will be to monitor the long- term effects of the pollution. As this is the first major pollution in the area, it is unclear how the ecosystem there will react.

Oil pollution could reduce the reproduction rate of the wildlife and stunt its growth, he said, adding that the accident was a ‘wake-up call as to what can go wrong’.

A post-mortem of the clean-up efforts should be done to help the relevant bodies prepare for a similar situation, or worse.

‘The authorities have already done what there is to be done… At this stage, the system has to self-recover,’ he said. ‘If we don’t let too much oil hit it, the chances of recovery are not too bad.’

[Prof Peter Ng is director of the Tropical Marine Science Institute, and director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore.]

Andrew Tan, CEO, National Environment Agency is quoted as saying: “Our priority was to remove the sludge rather than rescue the animals.”

He also said “It’s unfortunate that Chek Jawa had suffered two environmental threats within such a short time.” Three years ago, as a result of heavy rains, the area was hit by freshwater flooding which altered the salinity of the water and led to the deaths of many sea creatures there. “It will take time to see how soon the ecosystems here will recover,” he said.

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Life Cycle of Leucochloridium paradoxum

Infecting a Snail: Life Cycle of the Grossest Parasite

 

 

From barnacles that hijack crabs to a protozoan that makes rodents cozy up to cats, parasites do a lot more than make you puke. But for sheer gross-out glory, it’s hard to beat Leucochloridium paradoxum. These flatworms live in birds’ rectums, and they give garden snails a glimpse of hell.

1/ A grazing snail eats a bird dropping. Gross, right? Well, what’s even grosser is that the dropping is filled with parasite eggs. Garden snails can’t digest the eggs. They survive their trip through the snail’s tummy intact and spread to nearby organs.

2/ The invading Leucochloridium runs through a couple of life-cycle stages before landing in the snail’s hepatopancreas, the organ that passes for its liver-pancreas-thing.

3/ The parasite pumps embryo after embryo into fat, throbbing brood sacs it builds in the snail’s eyestalks.

4/ An intelligent designer might have stopped at systemic infection and pulsating, brightly colored tentacles. Not evolution, though. Evolution goes up to 11. The parasite takes control of the snail’s rudimentary brain, making the mollusk forget that it’s scared of daylight and spurring it to inch out into the open.

5/ To us, the infected tentacles look like a fleshy, Cronenbergian nightmare. To birds, they look like delicious caterpillars.

6/ The birds eat the eyestalks and get infected by the parasites, which reproduce and lay eggs in the bird’s rectum, ready to be deployed in future poop.

7/ Even if the snails survive the destalking, they stay parasitized—which means they can infect other birds, which can infect other snails. It’s the circle of life.

 

More about this parasite: 

Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leucochloridium_paradoxum

Animal biodiversity web: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Leucochloridium_paradoxum.html

The Encyclopedia of Life: http://www.eol.org/pages/2924152

 



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The invader that is strangling an ecosystem The invader that is strangling an ecosystem

The invader that is strangling an ecosystem

Navin Singh Khadka, BBC News 19 Mar 10;

An invasive plant is emerging as a major problem in a Nepalese national park renowned for protecting endangered wildlife species, say scientists.

The Chitwan National Park is listed as a Unesco world heritage site and is a major tourist attraction.

It has been a huge conservation success story, with nearly 100 breeding adult tigers and more than 400 rhinos roaming within its territory.

But a quiet intruder has emerged as a possible threat to the park’s ecosystem.

A native plant of Brazil, the weed Mikenia micrantha , has already covered 20% of the national park in southern Nepal.

Most of the affected areas are important to the tigers, rhinos and some endangered bird species – moist places and riversides that are conducive to the growth of the invasive creeper.

“Already 50% of the rhino’s habitat is covered by this alien plant,” says Naresh Subedi of Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation, which has carried out research in the Chitwan national park.

“If uncontrolled, it will spread over half of the park’s entire area.”

Suffocating creeper

Also known as “mile by a minute” because of its fast spreading rate, the weed can smother anything that gets in its way – from grasses to even large trees.

“As a result, we have seen some trees grow old quickly and die. And grasses [that many animals eat] have simply disappeared,” says Narendra Man Babu Pradhan, chief warden of the park.

“We call this vegetation imposition.”

Conservationists say that the impacts upon the park’s animals.

“For example, there is this tree that bears fruits called ‘rhino’s apple’ that is killed once it is covered by the [weed]. This means a food source for the rhinos becomes scarce,” explains Mr Subedi.

Mr Pradhan says that different types of grasses, which form an essential part of the diets of small animals such as deer, are also disappearing from areas of the park invaded by the weed.

“Small animals need good quality food and these grasses are very important for them.”

And if the deer are affected, this is likely to have a knock-on effect on the tigers’ diet.

“There is a possibility that the food chain in the park is adversely affected,” Mr Pradhan says.

Dr Richard Kock, a scientist with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) says that the weed reduces “suitable cover” for the tiger. He is trying to help park officials to tackle the problem.

“It forces animals to forage more widely and outside of the park in farmland. This increases conflict and the risk of death from poaching or revenge attacks [by farmers whose crops are eaten up by park animals],” he says.

Spreading invasion

Park officials say they have seen some rhinos that have begun to eat Mikenia micrantha because they have “no choice”.

“As megaherbivores, they need plenty of food, so we can imagine why some of them have begun to eat this plant,” says Mr Pradhan.

And the droppings of these rhinos, and other herbivores that eat the plant, will spread the invasive weed.

The park officials have started to look into how Mikenia micrantha is affecting the rhinos.

They have attached radio collars to two rhinos and they will track six more in the same way in order to monitor their foraging behaviour.

They hope to have the results from this study within two years, but the invasive plant is likely to have spread far more by then.

It has already crept out of the park and is advancing towards the west. Latest findings show it has reached the Dang area in western Nepal.

Conservationists fear that, at this rate, it will soon reach the nearby Bardiya National Park – another protected area that has successfully conserved several endangered species, including tigers.

Out of control

Scientists say that the plant was first seen in the eastern part of Nepal, where it did some ecological damage to the Koshi Tappu wildlife reserve – a bird watcher’s paradise.

“The weed covered areas near wetlands, grassland and open places in the forest. [It has caused a reduction in] the number of endangered swamp francolin birds in Koshi Tappu,” says Hem Sagar Baral, a noted ornithologist in Nepal.

“The creeper alters the vegetation to such an extent that birds do not get the right natural setting for nesting and laying eggs.

“Species like the reed warbler and some thrushes are also declining there.”

Although there is no clear record, conservationists say the plant probably came from India, where it was said to have been imported during World War II.

“It is believed that it was brought into India to camouflage army camps during the war,” says Mr Subedi.

Conservationists say that some national parks in the north-eastern part of India have also seen the spread of this invasive creeper.

Hands-on effort

Authorities have tried uprooting the plant from some sections of the Chitwan national park. Even Prime Minister Madhab Kumar Nepal rolled up his sleeves when he recently joined a “weeding” effort.

But this measure has so far proved unsuccessful because the plant has already covered wide areas. It continues to regrow, stimulated to spread by the movement of people and animals within the park.

Authorities do not want to use chemical or biological measures, which they fear could harm the park’s ecosystem. So officials are left somewhat helpless.

Mikenia micrantha continues to grip this valuable natural site, stifling its vegetation and threatening its wildlife.

Source- BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8576646.stm

More reading: GLOBAL INVASIVE SPECIES PROGRAMME
Tags: Exotic species, alien invaders

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