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Showing posts with label Animals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Animals. Show all posts

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Human activities are responsible for the gradual disappearance of fireflies

When night falls and they dot the landscape with their bioluminescence, the fireflies and glow worms offer a truly magnificent spectacle. However, this magic of nature is on hold. The development of urbanization, deforestation, the use of pesticides and light pollution are all factors contributing to the progressive decline of fireflies all over the world. And recently, the alarm signal concerning their extinction was raised by the Group of Specialists of Fireflies of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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Fireflies are in serious trouble, with many species threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and exposure to pesticides, according to the first major review of their global status. Their natural luminosity is also stifled by artificial light pollution, report researchers in the journal BioScience .

More than 2,000 species of fireflies - which are actually beetles - light up wetlands, marshes, grasslands, forests and city parks around the world. A few, such as Photinus pyralis in the United States, appear to be thriving. "These insects can survive just about anywhere," says Sara Lewis, a biologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

But other varieties - glow worms from southern England, synchronous fireflies from Malaysia, and the blue ghost of the Appalachians, both of which attract tourists - are dying out due to human activity. "Some species are particularly affected by the loss of habitat because they need specific conditions to complete their life cycle."

Urbanization: a major factor in the disappearance of fireflies

The Malaysian firefly ( Pteroptyx tener ), for example, lives during its larval phase in the riparian mangroves, many of which have been uprooted to make way for oil palm plantations and fish farms.

The glow-worm ( Lampyris noctiluca ) has another problem: females are unable to fly, which means that they simply cannot move to a new location when their habitat is destroyed by a suburb, crop or road the country.

Deforestation, the construction of new housing and light pollution, in the context of exponential urbanization, are the main factors behind the disappearance of fireflies. Credits: Sara M Lewis et al. 2020

Other species of fireflies, which only eat during their larval phase, have "specialized diets", which means that they survive on one or two types of snails, earthworms or other body prey soft. When orchards in Mediterranean Spain are abandoned or give way to urbanization, like snails consumed by Lampyris iberica , firefly larvae have nothing to eat.

Meanwhile, adult Pteroptyx in Malaysia congregate for nocturnal courtship displays in specific trees along the mangrove rivers. Many of these trees have been felled.

Out of 10 possible extinction factors, experts have identified habitat loss as the main threat worldwide - except in East Asia and South America. In these two regions, artificial light was considered to be the greatest threat to luminescent beetles in the world.

Light pollution, insecticides and tourism: they worsen the overall situation of fireflies

"In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms, light pollution has a negative impact on firefly mating rituals" explains Avalon Owens, biologist. Many species of fireflies depend on their ability to light up to find and attract partners. To make matters worse, this window of opportunity is very narrow: while the larval firefly phase lasts for months or years, adults generally only live a few days.

Around the world, fireflies and glow worms are threatened by habitat loss, insecticides, light pollution and water pollution. Credits: Sara M Lewis et al. 2020

Sparkling beetles are so focused on reproduction that they don't even eat. The investigation found that fireflies are also being wiped out by commonly used insecticides, the third major threat. "Organophosphates and neonicotinoids are designed to kill pests, but they also have non-targeted effects on beneficial insects."

Fireflies light up by triggering a chemical reaction - involving oxygen, calcium and an enzyme called luciferase - inside special organs in their abdomen, a process called bioluminescence. Tourism focused on fireflies (long popular in Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan) is also wreaking havoc, with fragile ecosystems damaged by too much pedestrian traffic.


A Global Perspective on Firefly Extinction Threats

Sara M Lewis, Choong Hay Wong, Avalon C S Owens, Candace Fallon, Sarina Jepsen, Anchana Thancharoen, Chiahsiung Wu, Raphael De Cock, Martin Novák, Tania López-Palafox

BioScience, biz157,

Published: 03 February 2020

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

A particularly lazy cave salamander would have stayed in the same spot for 7 years

The eel proteus ( Proteus anguinus ), olm, or “cave salamander”, is a salamander known to be able to live in a very restricted area for years, without ever moving. Recently, researchers discovered an extreme case: a specimen remained in the same place for 7 years without ever venturing outside of its small “comfort” zone.

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"They hang around, they do almost nothing," says Gergely Balázs, of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. Olms are salamanders that live in European caves, known for their particularly slow lifestyle. They have adapted to living in total darkness: their skin is pale and their eyes do not develop, which makes them blind. Their life expectancy can reach decades, even centuries.

Their particular way of life makes them difficult to study in nature, explains Balázs, so that most of the observations are made on captive specimens.

One of the first long-term studies on wild olms

In an attempt to elucidate certain behavioral aspects of the animal, Balázs and his team carried out one of the first long-term studies on wild olms.

The researchers followed the olms living in the Vruljak 1 cave in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Between 2010 and 2018, the team entered the cave several times and marked the salamanders by injecting a unique, black pigment in their caudal fins. When they returned (regular and often spaced several months apart), they tried to find out where the marked olms were. A total of 19 specimens were tracked.

Most of them have moved less than 10 meters, although they have been recaptured years after being tagged. Most salamanders only moved an average of 5 meters per year! The most active olm had moved 38 meters in 230 days. On the other hand, another was found in exactly the same place after 2,569 days, more than seven years. The results of the study are available in the journal Journal of Zoology.

However, olms may be more active than the data suggests, says Gábor Herczeg, a colleague at Balázs. " We don't know the daily activity of these animals, " he says, noting that visits to the cave were often spaced several months apart. Olms can move in a tight space, he adds.

However, an inactive lifestyle would make sense to them. In fact, they are predators who use a “waiting strategy”, explains Balázs. Their prey is small crustaceans, which are not common. To save energy, the olm can sit still and slow down its metabolism until one of them approaches. "They can survive without food for years," he says.

Although the very slow lifestyle of olms is suitable for their underground habitat, it also makes them vulnerable to dramatic changes in their environment. If the conditions in their cave become inhospitable, for example due to the increase in floods due to climate change, they may find it difficult to move to a new habitat.


Extreme site fidelity of the olm (Proteus anguinus) revealed by a long‐term capture–mark–recapture study

G. Balázs  B. Lewarne  G. Herczeg

First published:28 January 2020

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Genetically modified butterflies could herald a new era in crop protection

New study highlights successful test including field release of genetically modified butterflies. Scientists believe this success could pave the way for an effective and sustainable approach to pest control in crops.

The butterfly in question is the cruciferous moth ( Plutella xylostella ), or cabbage moth, a species of moth (butterfly) of the family Plutellidae. The agricultural industry has been trying for decades to find organic and environmentally friendly ways to fight the cruciferous moth, a species largely resistant to insecticides.

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In order to counter this, a strain of these moths has been newly designed and field trials (in the United States), conducted by Cornell University, have been successfully conducted. These results are promising for future biotechnology crop protection applications and are also a potential solution for this global agricultural pest. In fact, this moth is very harmful to crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and canola.

But now this new modified cruciferous moth strain, developed by Oxitec Ltd, has been specially designed to target and control these pests in agricultural crops. The new study showed that the modified strain had behaviors (towards cultures) similar to those of unmodified ringworms.

Scientists have genetically modified Plutella xylostella to develop a new sustainable strategy to protect agricultural crops from this otherwise harmful species. Credit: Shutterstock

In other words, the so - called Oxitec self-limiting butterfly is modified to control its harmful counterparts in the field.

How does it work?

After the release of males from this modified strain, the latter find and mate with unmodified and harmful females. Then, the self-limiting gene transmitted to the offspring prevents the female caterpillars from surviving. Scientists explain that with these prolonged releases, the pest population will be targetedly suppressed, in addition to being an environmentally sustainable solution. Indeed, after the cessation of discharges, the self-limiting insects decline and disappear from the environment in a few generations.

The field test is based on previously published work, which had been carried out in greenhouses, by Professor Shelton and his colleagues, who thus demonstrated that prolonged releases of the self-limiting strain effectively suppressed populations of pests and prevented resistance to an insecticide, a win-win situation for pest control. Note that this study was led by Professor Anthony Shelton, of the Entomology Department of AgriTech at Cornell University in New York. "Our research is based on the sterile insect management technique that was developed in the 1950s," reports Professor Shelton. "The use of genetic engineering is simply a more effective method to achieve the same goal,” he said.

Modified male butterflies as a crop protection solution

By observing the results in the field, in the laboratory, as well as by using mathematical modeling, the researchers gathered relevant information regarding the genetically modified cruciferous moth strain, whose unmodified wild counterparts cause considerable damage to around the world.

This study is the first in the world to release self-limiting agricultural insects in an open field. “To carry out the field study, we used the 'mark-release-recapture' method, which has been used for decades to study the movement of insects in the fields. Each strain was sprinkled with a fluorescent powder to label each group before release, then captured in pheromone traps and identified by the color of the powder and a molecular marker in the modified strain," explained Shelton.

Pest test results

"When released into a field, male self-limiting insects behave in the same way as their unmodified counterparts in terms of factors relevant to their future application in crop protection, such as survival and distance traveled Shelton reports."Our mathematical models indicate that the release of the self-limiting strain would control a pest population without the use of additional insecticides, as has been demonstrated in our greenhouse studies," he added.

According to Dr. Neil Morrison, chief agricultural officer of Oxitex and co-author of the study, the latter demonstrates the immense potential of this technology as an effective pest control tool, which could well help protect cultures from around the world in an environmentally sustainable way.


First Field Release of a Genetically Engineered, Self-Limiting Agricultural Pest Insect: Evaluating Its Potential for Future Crop Protection

Anthony M. Shelton, Stefan J. Long, Adam S. Walker, Michael Bolton, Hilda L. Collins, Loïc Revuelta, Lynn M. Johnson and Neil I. Morrison

Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol., 29 January 2020

Will the incredible regenerative capacities of axolotl one day benefit humans?

The axolotl is a very special animal: it has unprecedented regeneration capacities. The Axolotl, from its scientific name  Ambystoma mexicanum , is a species of salamander. Losing a limb, part of the heart or even a large part of its brain is absolutely not a problem for this animal. They grow back.

"It regenerates almost anything from almost all kinds of non-fatal injuries ," said Parker Flowers, postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of Craig Crews, professor of molecular and cellular biology, development, chemistry and pharmacology.

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If scientists succeed in discovering the genetic basis of this incredible ability of axolotl to regenerate, they may well find ways later on to restore damaged tissue in humans. Unfortunately, the researchers were thwarted in this attempt by another peculiarity of the axolotl: the latter has the largest genome of all animals sequenced to date, 10 times larger than that of humans.

But now Flowers and colleagues have found an ingenious way to bypass the animal's complex genome to identify at least two genes involved in regeneration.

It was notably the advent of new sequencing technologies and gene editing technology that allowed researchers to draw up a list of hundreds of candidate genes that could be responsible for the regeneration of members. However, the large size of the axolotl genome, populated by large areas of repeated stretching of DNA, made it difficult to study the function of these genes.

But scientists do not despair. Flowers and Lucas Sanor, a former laboratory graduate student and co-author of the study, used gene editing techniques in a multi-step process to essentially create markers capable of tracking 25 genes suspected of being involved. in limb regeneration.

This method has already enabled them to identify two genes in the blastema (a mass of dividing cells that form at the site of a severed limb), which were also responsible for the partial regeneration of the tail of the axolotl.

According to the researchers, since humans have similar genes, scientists may one day find out how to turn them on to speed up wound repair or regenerate tissue or even whole limbs.


Multiplex CRISPR/Cas screen in regenerating haploid limbs of chimeric Axolotls

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Certain species of wasps are able to recognize the faces of their congeners

While many vertebrate species are able to recognize and identify the individual faces of their congeners, this ability is almost absent in insects. Recently, researchers have shown that the Nordic wasp is well endowed with this faculty, allowing it to communicate better with its peers and thus to obtain a certain evolutionary advantage in a life in society. This discovery also highlights the possibility for cognition to evolve in leaps and bounds, and could explain certain evolutionary acquisitions of Man over time.

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A species of wasp has developed the ability to recognize individual faces among its peers - which most other insects cannot do, signaling an evolution in the way they learned to work together.

A team led by researchers from Cornell University used population genomics to study the evolution of cognition in the northern wasp ( Polistes fuscatus ).

Research suggests that the growing intelligence of wasps has provided an evolutionary advantage and highlights the way intelligence evolves in general, which has implications for many other species, including humans.

"The really surprising conclusion here is that the most intense selection pressures in the recent history of these wasps have not been related to the climate, the capture of food or parasites, but to better treatment," says Michael Sheehan, professor of neurobiology and behavior. The results were published in the journal PNAS.

Facial recognition: an evolutionary advantage in life in society

Many vertebrate animals can recognize individual faces, at least under certain circumstances, but in insects, facial recognition is quite rare. This study explored how and when this ability evolved by analyzing patterns of genetic variation within species.

The few species of insects that can recognize faces share a trait: community societies with multiple queens. In communal groups with a single queen, such as bee colonies, the roles are clear and each individual knows his place. But northern wasps can have five or more queens in a nest, and facial recognition helps these queens communicate with each other.

Although research has focused on the wasps Polistes, Sheehan and his colleagues wanted to answer mainly the question of how intelligence evolves in general. “Our discovery indicated that cognitive evolution is not necessarily progressive. There are mutations that cause big changes. This suggests the possibility that a rapid adaptation of cognitive capacity could have been important also for other species, such as language in humans ”.


Evolutionary dynamics of recent selection on cognitive abilities

Sara E. Miller, Andrew W. Legan, Michael T. Henshaw, Katherine L. Ostevik,  Kieran Samuk, Floria M. K. Uy, and  Michael J. Sheehan

PNAS first published January 24, 2020

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