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Thailand's monkeys use tools to crack nuts, shuck oysters
Monday 26 March 2018, 09:00AM
Wild macaque monkeys have learned to use tools to crack open nuts and even shuck oysters, researchers said last Wednesday (Mar 21), identifying a rare skill-set long thought to be the exclusive party trick of humans and chimps. Scientists from Britain and Thailand, where the native long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) feeds on sea almonds, oil palm nuts and the occasional bivalve, observed the monkeys using stones for two distinct tasks. Larger rocks, some weighing up to two kilograms, were used as a hammer to smash open nuts, while sharper stones formed knife-like levers to jimmy open prey such as oysters. Before the study, conducted on Thailand's Piak Nam Yai island, it was thought that only chimpanzees and bearded capuchins used stones to break open food in the wild. Professor Tomos Proffitt, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at University College London, who wrote the study, said it could have wide relevance to primate studies. "It contributes to our increasing understanding that not only apes and humans use tools for different tasks," he told AFP. "We should view macaques as highly intelligent problem solvers, in the same way that chimpanzees, capuchin monkeys are and early humans were also." Scientists in Brazil in 2016 observed wild-bearded capuchin monkeys hammering away at stones to create rough flakes similar to the tools first used by human forerunners. But one of the macaques' food sources, the oil palm, was only introduced to their island in the past few decades, meaning that the monkeys have learned to use tools to access its fruit for food extremely quickly, evolutionarily speaking. "What we see is that they are adapting this stone tool use to other food sources away from the coast," Proffitt said. "In many cases of primate tool use these behaviours are learnt by youngsters through many years of observation and is not something that is genetically coded into them." The study was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Species in decline worldwide, humans at risk
Saturday 24 March 2018, 10:54AM
Human activity has driven animals and plants into decline in every region of the world, putting our own well-being at risk by over-harvesting and polluting, a comprehensive species survey warned Yesterday (Mar 23). Asia-Pacific fish stocks may run out by 2048 and more than half of Africa's bird and mammal species could be lost by 2100 unless drastic measures are taken, according to four comprehensive reports released at a major environmental conference in Medellin, Colombia. Up to 90 percent of Asia-Pacific corals will suffer "severe degradation" by 2050, while in Europe and Central Asia, almost a third of known marine fish populations, and 42 percent of land animals and plants, are in decline. In the Americas, just under a quarter of species assessed are at risk of extinction. "This alarming trend endangers economies, livelihoods, food security and the quality of life of people everywhere," warned the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Compiled by nearly 600 scientists over three years, the reports underline that nature provides humans with food, clean water, energy, and regulates Earth's climate – just about everything we need to survive and thrive. One of the reports found that Nature's contribution to people can be in the order of thousands of dollars per hectare per year. "We're undermining our own future well-being," IPBES chairman Robert Watson said of the findings. "Biodiversity continues to be lost across all of the regions of the globe. We're losing species, we're degrading ecosystems... if we continue 'business as usual', we will continue to lose biodiversity at increasing rates." The IPBES assessment divided the world into four regions: the Americas, Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia – the whole planet except for the Antarctic and the open seas. Volunteer scientists combed through some 10,000 scientific publications for the most extensive biodiversity survey since 2005. The findings were summarized in four reports approved by 129-member IPBES' member countries in Colombia. They contain guidelines for governments to make biodiversity-friendlier policies in future. The texts make for grim reading, and come in the same week that the death of Sudan – the world's last northern white rhino male – served as a stark reminder of the stakes.   Mass extinction will continue  For the Americas, the survey warned that species populations – already 31 percent smaller than when the first European settlers arrived – will have shrunk by about 40 percent by 2050. An estimated 500,000 square kilometers of African land is estimated to be degraded, it added. The continent will suffer "significant" plant losses, and its lakes will be 20-30 percent less productive by 2100. In the European Union, meanwhile, only seven percent of marine species assessed had a "favorable conservation status". "If we continue the way we are... the sixth mass extinction, the first one ever caused by humans, will continue," Watson old AFP. Scientists say mankind's voracious consumption of biodiversity has unleashed the first mass species die-off since the demise of the dinosaurs -- only the sixth on our planet in half-a-billion years.   Demand will grow In many places, climate change driven by burning fossil fuels for energy was worsening the loss of biodiversity, the reports found. "Climate change for the last 30 years has been increasing its role in changing nature, changing the ability of how nature can contribute to human well-being, and it is by far the fastest-growing pressure," said Jack Rice, a co-author of the Americas report. "It is likely by 2050, a generation away, climate change will be as strong a pressure as all the ways that we have historically converted natural lands to human-dominated systems."   There are plenty of hurdles ahead. "Economic growth is going to continue. Population growth is going to continue to 2050, therefore demand for resources will grow," said Watson. Even at best-case-scenario levels, global warming will continue adding to species loss, which will cause further degradation of ecosystems. But the scientists point to possible solutions: creating more protected areas, restoring degraded zones, and rethinking subsidies that promote unsustainable agriculture. Governments, businesses, and individuals must consider the impact on biodiversity when taking decisions on farming, fishing, forestry, mining, or infrastructure development. Different regions will require different solutions, said Watson. "It's not too late" to halt or even reverse some of the harm, he said. "Can we stop all of it? No. Can we significantly slow it down? Yes," Watson said. The IPBES will bring out a fifth report on the global state of soil, fast being degraded through pollution, forest-destruction, mining, and unsustainable farming methods that deplete its nutrients.
Ocean plastics raise risk of coral reef disease, says study
Saturday 27 January 2018, 05:00PM
When coral reefs come in contact with plastic trash in the ocean, their risk of becoming diseased skyrockets, said an international study out on Thursday (Jan 25). Researchers examined more than 120,000 corals on 159 reefs – some polluted with plastic, others not – from Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar and Thailand for the study in the journal Science. "We found that the chance of disease increased from four percent to 89 percent when corals are in contact with plastic," said lead author Joleah Lamb, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia. Lamb said scientists are still trying to figure out why plastics are so dangerous for coral, which are living organisms that cover about 0.2 percent of the ocean floor – but provide crucial habitat for nearly a million species of young fish. It could be that "plastics make ideal vessels for colonizing microscopic organisms that could trigger disease if they come into contact with corals," she said. "For example, plastic items such as those commonly made of polypropylene, like bottle caps and toothbrushes, have been shown to become heavily inhabited by bacteria that are associated with a globally devastating group of coral diseases known as white syndromes." The problem of plastic pollution is widespread in the world's oceans, and is rapidly getting worse. "We estimate there are 11.1 billion plastic items on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific and forecast this to increase by 40 percent within seven years," Lamb said. "That equates to an estimated 15.7 billion plastic items on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific by 2025." Coral reefs are already under stress due to global warming, which boosts diseases and can cause coral to bleach and die.