People who experience childhood abuse, neglect and other hallmarks of a rough childhood are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes and other health problems later in life, even after the stressful events have passed, previous research shows. A new study from Duke University, the University of Notre Dame and Princeton University finds that wild baboons that experience multiple misfortunes during the first years of life, such as drought or the loss of their mother, grow up to live much shorter adult lives. Their life expectancy is cut short by up to ten years compared with their more fortunate peers. The results are important because they show that early adversity can have long-term negative effects on survival even in the absence of factors commonly evoked to explain similar patterns in humans, such as differences in smoking, drinking or medical care, said Jenny Tung, an assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology and biology at Duke who co-authored the study. The findings, scheduled to appear online April 19 in Nature Communications, come from a long-term study of 196 wild female baboons monitored on a nearly daily basis between 1983 and 2013 near Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya. Life isn't easy for a wild baboon. Like many animals on the African savanna, baboons endure drought, overcrowding, disease and predation. The researchers focused on six potential sources of early adversity. Some baboons, for example, saw very little rainfall in their first year of life, or experienced stiff competition for resources because of sibling spacing or rising numbers within their group. Others lost their mothers to death or illness, or had moms with lower rank or little social support. More than three-fourths of the baboons in the study had at least one of the six early risk factors; 15 percent had three or more. Baboons who lost their mothers before age four, or whose next-born sibling arrived before they were fully weaned, were found to be the most vulnerable. For baboons, like humans, the tougher the childhood, the higher the risks of premature death later in life. Young females that experienced just one or no adverse events—a group the researchers nicknamed the "silver spoon kids"—generally lived into their late teens and early twenties, whereas those that endured three or more often died by age nine. The "bad luck" babies not only lost more than ten years off their adult lives, they also had fewer surviving offspring. "It's like a snowball effect," said co-author Elizabeth Archie, associate professor at the University of Notre Dame. Two females named Puma and Mystery, for example, were both born during years of little rainfall, and raised by low-ranking moms who died before their third birthdays. Puma eventually met her end at age seven at the jaws of a leopard. Mystery lived until her disappearance at age 14, presumably to a predator, leaving behind a single infant who died shortly thereafter. Some researchers studying the effects of childhood stress on adult health in humans pin the blame on differences in medical care or risky behavior. People who had troubled childhoods, the thinking goes, are more likely to turn to drugs, alcohol or other coping mechanisms that are bad for their health. But wild baboons don't smoke or binge on junk food, and they don't carry health insurance. This supports the idea that differences in lifestyle and medical care are only part of the story, said co-author Susan Alberts, professor of biology at Duke. Baboon females that experienced the most misfortune in their early years were also more socially isolated as adults, suggesting that social support may also be at play. Together with study co-author Jeanne Altmann of Princeton, the team plans to investigate how some baboons manage to overcome early adversity. It could be that those who form and maintain supportive relationships as they grow older are better able to survive and thrive, Archie said. Baboon DNA is 94 percent similar to that of humans, which indicates these patterns could be deep-rooted in primate physiology, the researchers say. "This suggests that human adult health effects from childhood stresses are not simply products of the modern environment, but have likely been present throughout our evolutionary history," says George Gilchrist, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research. More information: "Cumulative Early Life Adversity Predicts Longevity in Wild Baboons," Jenny Tung, Elizabeth Archie, Jeanne Altmann and Susan Alberts. Nature Communications, April 19, 2016. DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS11181
News Article | September 6, 2016
A snake species has been discovered in Madagascar. Aptly called "ghost snake" thanks to its pale color, the reptile's name comes from the local Malagasy term "lolo," meaning ghost. In a new study, researchers claimed that the ghost snake belongs to a larger group of snakes known as Madagascarophis, which are cat-eyed, nocturnal and distinguished by their vertical pupils. Researchers at the American Museum of Natural History, the Université de Mahajanga in Madagascar and LSU Museum of Natural Science published their research work on the ghost snake in the scientific journal Copeia. "None of the other snakes in Madagascarophis are as pale and none of them have this distinct pattern," said the lead author of the paper, Sara Ruane, who is a post-doctoral fellow at the LSU Museum of Natural Science. Ruane asserted that the discovery of the new snake species, now known as Madagascarophis lolo, has been an exciting endeavor because there are many cat-eyed snakes in the island but this one stood out as an entirely new species and hitherto remained unknown because of poor exploration of the region. The researchers came across the ghost snake on pale gray limestone Tsingy rocks in the Ankarana National Park in northern Madagascar. Tsingy rock formations are the high point of Ankarana. The rocks are sharp and hard to walk on, yet the researchers traced the ghost snake's closest kin to be Madagascarophis fuchsi, discovered 100 kilometers north of Ankarana, a few years ago. They said the common factor binding the duo is that they both found them in rocky and isolated areas. More Research On Ghost Snake In The U.S. The researchers are now back in the U.S. after discovering the new ghost snake species and are planning in-depth genetic and morphological analyses of the reptile. In the preliminary studies, the focus is on physical characteristics of the snake with attention on scales spread on the belly, back, and those near the eyes and lips. Ruane has taken the ghost snake's DNA from the tissue samples and will compare it with the Madagascarophis fuchsi. She used three genetic markers found in existing Madagascarophis species to compare with the new one. With the help of her colleauges, she also mapped out the genetic family tree of the Madagascarophis and found that there are five species all in all. "All of the analyses we did support that this is a distinct species despite the fact that we only have this one individual," Ruane said. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
Study first author and U postdoctoral scholar Kendra Chritz says that her method of using hippo enamel isotopes could help scientists reconstruct past changes in vegetation in Africa's national parks, areas with relatively little ongoing scientific observation. The results could give ecologists an idea of what could happen to Africa's grasslands if elephants, whose populations are steeply declining, went extinct or reached near-extinction. "We have a window into what these environments could look like without megaherbivores, and it's kind of grim," Chritz says. Grasslands are an important ecosystem in Africa, hosting many animals and serving as corridors for wildlife movement. Lowland tropical grasses, such as those in elephant ecosystems, are part of the C4 class of plants, a reference to the enzyme used to process carbon dioxide into sugars during photosynthesis. Corn and sugarcane are also C4 plants. C3 plants, which use a different enzyme, include trees, shrubs, flowering plants and herbs. C3 plants compete for resources with C4 grasses in African savannas, including sunlight. Elephants and other megaherbivores help keep woody plant encroachment in check by browsing seasonally on shrubs and trees. But without that herbivore control, C3 plants can advance on grasslands unimpeded. The presence of shrubs and trees, which can be seen in aerial photographs, give only a partial picture of the balance of power between C3 and C4 plants. Observing herbs and flowering plants requires ground-level observation, and records of such observations in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park, and many national parks in Africa, is sparse. The two plant groups' metabolic processes treat isotopes of carbon differently, so that C4 plants have a higher proportion of heavy carbon isotopes than C3 plants. As animals, such as hippos, eat plants, and the isotopic signatures of the plants in their diet are incorporated into the animals' bodies and preserved in durable tissue, such as teeth. The hippos of Queen Elizabeth National Park, Chritz found, had been indirectly "observing" the plant makeup of the grasslands all along. Queen Elizabeth National Park sits on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and covers the channel that connects two lakes. In 1971, Idi Amin became president of Uganda, and management of the national parks essentially ceased. The Ugandan military killed thousands of elephants between 1971 and the mid-1980s, both to sell ivory to fund the regime and as food. Aggressive poaching continued after Amin's ouster, and by the mid-80s the park's elephant population had dropped from more than four thousand down to around 150. Around 4,000 hippos were poached as well. Studies showed increased areas of woody plants in the park once management resumed in the 1990s. Because the change happened over a span of a few decades, Queen Elizabeth National Park was an ideal ecosystem in which to test whether herbivore teeth could represent the shift from C4 to C3 plants. Getting and testing the teeth Hippo teeth are not easy to come by, Chritz says. The teeth haven't been used before for isotope analysis due to the difficulty of obtaining samples from a wide range of time periods. One of Chritz's co-authors, Hans Klingel of Universitaet Braunschweig in Germany, conducted important research on the behavior of hippos in Queen Elizabeth National Park in the 1980s and 90s. He contributed teeth from the 1960s, pre-poaching, and from 2000. Chritz and her colleagues sampled enamel every centimeter along the length of each tooth, using known growth rates to correlate sections of the tooth to different years. All of these samples taken together recorded diet history from approximately the last decade of the animal's life. But analysis showed that the two teeth displayed very different isotopic signatures. Chritz needed a third sample, in between the two time periods. While in Uganda in 2013, Chritz approached the current game warden about obtaining another hippo tooth. The warden showed her a skeleton on display at a park museum from a hippo that died in 1991 - perfectly within the time range Chritz had aimed for. (Hear more about the retrieval of the tooth and about sampling it in adverse conditions in the attached sound file). Results showed that the 1960s hippo ate approximately 80 percent C4 plants, and that the percentage of C4 in the later hippos' diets had dropped to around 65 percent. This showed that, within a time scale of only a few decades, C3 plant encroachment had progressed enough to significantly impact the diets of the animals in the park. The results also showed the validity of Chritz's method and reconstructed the progression of vegetation changes since the 1960s. Another surprise in the results was the proportion of C3 plants in the later hippos' diets. Initial studies of hippo diets surmised that hippos only ate grass. "And few researchers have suggested otherwise," Chritz says. "It appears that they're actually quite flexible in their diets and adaptable to environmental change." The clear implication from Chritz's work is that the loss of elephants and other megaherbivores can lead to rapid environmental and ecological change. "We've built a record that shows just how drastic the loss of megaherbivores in a park can be on a very short timescale," she says. "Within ten years, we see a big change in what's happening in this once diverse grassy area of the park. This is a window into the future of what could to happen in East African savannas as elephants continue to be poached at the currently unprecedented rate." Chritz is hopeful that restoring elephant populations could reverse the changes and cause the grasslands to re-emerge. "But when you have too many elephants, they can also decimate forests by over-browsing," she says. "There's a balance you have to reach. The most important thing right now is to work hard at fighting poaching." People can combat poaching by reducing the demand and financial incentive for harvesting the elephants' tusks, Chritz says. "Not purchasing ivory and knowing which products you might use that are made from ivory is the best thing you can do to protect elephants." Explore further: When African animals hit the hay: Fossil teeth show who ate what and when as grasses emerged
Behold the cinnamon bear! The beautiful Ursus americanus cinnamomum is a cousin of the American black bear – or a color phase and subspecies, to be precise. And what a pretty picture it makes, what with its spice-colored coat and the magnificent manzanita from which it is foraging for berries! This beauty was photographed in Kings Canyon National Park, California, by nature photographer Don Quintana, who notes, "Usually I like my subjects to be a little cleaner looking but foraging manzanita berries is messy work." All in day's job for the cinnamon bear. Would you like to see your nature photo featured as the TreeHugger photo of the day? Join TreeHugger’s Reader Photo Pool on flickr and add your pictures to the group.
News Article | February 27, 2016
Drone of adventurous photographer Bradley Ambrose was able to film the world's largest lava lake inside Congo's Mount Nyiragongo - an active volcano. The images were all breathtaking and the video was able to capture the lava lake in its hot and fiery form. Ambrose is not new to the volcano-climbing scene. In fact, he has made descents into different volcanoes in other parts of the world. He said he and his colleagues are protected by a safety line to prevent them from falling so he was not nervous. However, his recent experience in Mount Nyiragongo entailed apparent dangers considering it is an active volcano. Ambrose and five other adventurers climbed about 12,000 feet to the top of the volcano. Aside from his usual gear and safety apparel, he also carried a drone in the hopes of getting amazing shots. True enough, he was able to capture raw pictures of the molten beauty that is Nyiragongo's caldera. He stood on the edge and took the pictures from above, thus capturing the entire ring of fire. Ambrose explains further that he flew the drone over where his team stayed, just above the initial descent point. He had heard reports of drones falling from the sky while above the crater and he does not want to risk losing his. All in all, he was satisfied with his photos. "I'm really glad I was able to get these pictures," he says. The fearless team has been supporting Japanese experts who are studying the volcano. Ambrose is a well-known storm chaser and is also an award-winning photographer. Mount Nyiragongo can erupt anytime because it is considered active, says volcanologists. Even with the absence of eruption, active volcanoes can still cause tremendous hazards and even death. For example, people can get killed with carbon dioxide toxicity, which the locals call "mazuku" or evil winds in Swahili. Children appears to be the most at risk, with reports of mazuku killings in children even recently. Mount Nyiragongo last erupted in 2011, but the last major explosion was in 2002, which killed 147 people. The lava flowed through the city of Goma and the shores of Lake Kivu. About 13 percent of Goma was wrecked and approximately 12,000 to 15,000 houses were wiped out. The toxic gases can also heavily seep from the grounds. Since there are no winds to move it, this can be deadly for humans and the environment. Mount Nyiragongo measures 3,470 meters (11,385 feet) above sea level. It is specifically located in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The volcano's primary crater measures approximately 2 kilometers (6,562 feet) in width and commonly contains the vast lava lake, which may reach 600 meters (2,000 feet) in depth.