Forest Health & The Ecosystem Services Provided By Mice

Dawn rises over a forest outside Orono, Me. Researchers want to understand what leads mice, voles and other small animals to bury seeds that become forests.

There really are coincidences that have nothing to do with the overreach of internet companies who see what you are reading in one place and put something in front of you instantly, and for a long time following, based on that first subject. In this case, I was reading about the endless quest for a better mousetrap, and then came upon this fascinating article about the ecosystem services that mice convey. This was as smile-inducing a juxtaposition as my reading has provided me lately. I hope I am correct that this pure chance and not some creepy algorithm, which would wilt my grin:

A deer mouse, temporarily captured for a behavioral test before being rereleased to the grounds of a study site at the University of Maine in late October.

Scientists are unearthing a quiet truth about the woods: Where trees grow, or don’t, depends in part on the quirky decisions of small mammals.

It’s easy to look at a forest and think it’s inevitable: that the trees came into being through a stately procession of seasons and seeds and soil, and will replenish themselves so long as environmental conditions allow.

Hidden from sight are the creatures whose labor makes the forest possible — the multitudes of microorganisms and invertebrates involved in maintaining that soil, and the animals responsible for delivering seeds too heavy to be wind-borne to the places where they will sprout. Continue reading

A Paradox Wrapped In A Conundrum

We almost always side with the animals. But sometimes there are no easy answers. Just puzzles.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX. Harbor seals hauled out at low tide on the Nisqually River on October 10, 2022.

In this case, for what it is worth, our support is with the humans:

Seals and sea lions vex Washington tribes as Marine Mammal Protection Act turns 50

50 years ago, President Nixon signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act into law. The act has been hugely successful in restoring the abundance of the marine species it protects. But some say it’s too successful.

Tribes in particular say their treaty rights to fishing are under threat because now, too many seals and sea lions are feasting on endangered salmon. Continue reading

Splooting To Beat The Heat

A squirrel in full “sploot” posture. Credit: Debra L Tuttle/Getty Images

Funny as it sounds, it is worth considering how animals deal with heat:

During a Heat Wave, You Can Blast the AC, but What Does a Squirrel Do?

Although recent spikes in temperature affect all of us, our urban critters have had to find their own ways to beat the heat. Sometimes they “sploot.”

It’s summertime in New York City–birds are chirping, insects are scurrying, and everything feels alive! While recent heat waves have pushed a lot of us indoors to the respite of air conditioning, the critters of this city were left to fend for themselves. Continue reading

Turtles & Tortoises & Negative Senescence

A giant Galápagos tortoise, only as old as it feels. Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

When I learn a new word–even if it is a word I cannot picture using in conversation but it represents a concept that is interesting and surprising, I consider that a good day. Jack Tamisiea, thanks for the science reporting here, and especially for the word senescence:

Tortoises and turtles don’t just live for a long time — they barely age while they live.

The black marsh turtles displayed negative rates of senescence, meaning their mortality risk decreased as they aged. iStock/Getty Images

For mammals like humans, aging is inevitable. No matter how many vitamins we take, skin sags, bones soften and joints stiffen over time. However, turtles and tortoises age more gracefully. Despite their wrinkled skin and toothless gums, species like Galápagos giant tortoises seem unscathed by the ravages of aging. Some show few signs of slowing down as they plod into their 100s.

To determine what drives these ageless wonders, two groups of researchers examined turtles, tortoises and their ectothermic, or coldblooded, brethren in a pair of studies published Thursday in the journal Science. Continue reading

Ed Yong Explains Umwelt

Sally Deng

Ed Yong’s new book was already on our reading list, but just got notched up in the priority list:

Spectacle floods into my eyes whenever I watch a wildlife documentary. A vortex of small fish is gradually picked off by waves of oceanic predators. Snakes chase after marine iguanas. Giraffes clash at sunset. Continue reading

What the #@ ϟ ⚛︎!

The first mention of humpback whales in our pages, more than a decade ago, was a very brief reference in a post explaining the tragedy of the commons, a precursor to Seth’s environmental history honors thesis.  One post mentions humpback whales in Monterey Bay but we missed the video above until now. There have been so many posts about these whales, that missing it makes the following book review all the more interesting to read to the end. Of course, since it is a review by Elizabeth Kolbert, about a book by Ed Yong, you will want to read to the end anyway:

The Strange and Secret Ways That Animals Perceive the World

Nonhuman creatures have senses that we’re just beginning to fathom. What would they tell us if we could only understand them?

One evening almost sixty years ago, a Tufts University researcher named Roger Payne was working in his lab when he heard a radio report about a whale that had washed up on a beach nearby. Although it was a cold, wet March night, he decided to drive to the shore. Continue reading

P-22 & Other Cats In The Santa Monicas

Near the location of the future Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, a volunteer for the National Wildlife Federation carries a cardboard cutout of a mountain lion known as P-22. Photograph by Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times / Shutterstock

When we linked to earlier stories about mountain lions in urban California, P-22 was already the it-cat. And the story below, by Emily Witt, shares some anecdotes about P-22’s less fortunate wider family. But mainly it is about one hopeful initiative that P-22 seems to have unwittingly helped make happen:

An Urban Wildlife Bridge Is Coming to California

The crossing will span Route 101, providing safe passage for mountain lions and other animals hemmed in by the freeways that surround the Santa Monica Mountains.

It was just after midnight on April 21st when the radio collar of P-97, an eighteen-month-old mountain lion, sent its last signal. P-97 had only recently separated from his mother, setting out east in the Santa Monica Mountains in search of territory to call his own. (The “P” stands for puma; the number, 97, marks how many mountain lions the National Park Service had tagged when he received the designation.) Continue reading

Animal Prints & Entrepreneurial Conservation

Conservation-minded scholars hope to harness the cultural power of animal prints. Illustration by Na Kim

It is difficult to judge from Rebecca Mead’s article Should Leopards Be Paid for Their Spots whether and how the idea has a practical future, although the exemplary collaboration between Panthera and Hermes has allure. The concept has plenty of merit, from my vantage point 26 years into an entrepreneurial career that shares some common ground.

If travelers are willing to pay a premium to support the conservation of a place; if they buy things to take home because those things support artisans and farmers; and continue to buy the coffee when back home because it funds bird habitat regeneration (customers tell me via email that in addition to the coffee being excellent, this is a motivator), then why not this too:

Style-setters from Egyptian princesses to Jackie Kennedy to Debbie Harry have embraced leopard prints. Proponents of a “species royalty” want designers to pay to help save endangered big cats.

Jacqueline Kennedy, in 1962. Photograph from Getty

When Jacqueline Kennedy was living in the White House, in the early sixties, she relied upon the taste of Oleg Cassini, the costume designer turned couturier, to supply her with a wardrobe that would befit her role as First Lady, one of the most photographed women in the world. In 1962, Cassini provided her with a striking leopard coat. Knee-length, with three-quarter sleeves and six buttons that fastened across the chest, the coat was not made from a synthetic leopard-patterned fabric. Continue reading

When Fences Are Un-Neighborly

Volunteers modify a wire fence in Wyoming to allow wildlife to pass through. ABSAROKA FENCE INITIATIVE

If we take Robert Frost’s poetic license into the realm of how humans and wildlife might coexist more successfully, then the image above is powerful. Good fences might make good neighbors if they allow wildlife to migrate as needed.

A guanaco at a fence in southern Chile. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

While working in the Patagonia region of Chile, 2008-2010, I saw images like this in the photo to the right regularly. On occasion the sight would be more gruesome. Ranchers had erected fences without regard for the need of guanacos to wander.

During our seven years living in India the human-elephant relationship was often one of worshipful respect, but included too many stories of fences, or worse, as methods farmers used to protect their properties from elephant intrusions. As is the case in Kenya (see the image below) fences are unneighborly. So, we were on the lookout for creative solutions. The following article by Jim Robbins, in Yale e360, is timely and welcome in this regard.

An African elephant alongside an electric fence in Laikipia, Kenya. AVALON / UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Unnatural Barriers: How the Boom in Fences Is Harming Wildlife

From the U.S. West to Mongolia, fences are going up rapidly as border barriers and livestock farming increase. Now, a growing number of studies are showing the impact of these fences, from impeding wildlife migrations to increasing the genetic isolation of threatened species.

The most famous fence in the United States is Continue reading

Octopus Intelligence Illustrated

Octopuses were seen carrying plastic items around while ‘stilt-walking’. Photograph: Serge Abourjeily

It is not how we would prefer to understand them, or for these animals to demonstrate intelligence, but here are some examples of how they adapt to our discarded stuff:

Bottles, cans, batteries: octopuses found using litter on seabed

The most common interaction recorded was using rubbish as shelter. Photograph: Edmar Bastos

Creatures seen using discarded items for shelter or to lay eggs, highlighting ‘extreme ability to adapt’

Whether it’s mimicking venomous creatures, or shooting jets of water at aquarium light switches to turn them off, octopuses are nothing if not resourceful. Continue reading

Guardian’s Week In Wildlife

A sifaka lemur eats leaves at the Berenty Reserve in Toliara province, Madagascar. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

We source from the Guardian frequently for environmental stories, but sometimes just a few good photos from nature are a good way to end the traditional work week:

The week in wildlife – in pictures

The best of this week’s wildlife pictures, including a patient great tit, a hungry lemur, and a lucky escape for one humpback whale

Icelandic horses walk on the snow in Hunavatnshreppur. The horses are unique in that they have five gaits, while other horses typically have three or four. Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters

Weekends are the busiest part of our work week; for us the photos are a motivator for that work; so thanks to Joanna Ruck for these. Click any image to go to the source.

Honeybees venture out of their hive box on a warm afternoon on a farm near Elkton in western Oregon, US. Honeybees become active and start foraging at approximately 12.8C. Full foraging activity is not achieved until the temperature rises to 19C.  Photograph: Robin Loznak/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Dogs Doing Nature No Favors

Overfertilisation reduces biodiversity by allowing a few thriving plants to drive out others and the wildlife that depends on them. Photograph: John Walton/PA

Who knew? Now you do. Yes, one more thing to think about to take better care of your environment:

Deluge of dog pee and poo harming nature reserves, study suggests

Urine and faeces creating nitrogen and phosphorus levels that would be illegal on farms, scientists calculate

Dog faeces and urine are being deposited in nature reserves in such quantities that it is likely to be damaging wildlife, according to a new study. Continue reading

Aesop’s Animals Reviewed In Undark Magazine

An illustration from “Aesop’s Animals” by Hana Ayoob.

The fables attributed to Aesop were mentioned twice in posts in our pages during our first year. Again the following year. And plenty of times since then. But there is plenty more to say about the menagerie, and a new book takes on that task. Dan Falk offers this Book Review: The Science Behind Aesop’s Menagerie in Undark Magazine (click the image above or the title below to read the entire review at the source):

Aesop’s Animals coverIn “Aesop’s Animals,” zoologist Jo Wimpenny provides a guided tour of animal behavior drawn from the classic fables.

SEVERAL CHAPTERS into “Aesop’s Animals: The Science Behind the Fables,” zoologist and science writer Jo Wimpenny explains that, as a very young girl, she sometimes wanted to be a dog. (In a footnote she credits growing up in Wales for encouraging her “to think outside the box.”) This childhood fantasy, as the reader can readily imagine, involved crawling along the ground on all fours. But that only gets one part-way toward doghood, as the grown-up Wimpenny would come to realize. Continue reading

Fuzz, Author Interview

Macaques check out a camera in Galtaji Temple in Jaipur, India. Monkeys have been known to sneak into swimming pools, courts and even the halls of India’s Parliament. One attorney told author Mary Roach about a macaque that infiltrated a medical institute and began pulling out patient IVs. Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This conversation with the author Mary Roach is plentiful with surprises about the human-animal interface, occasionally unfortunate and sometimes hilarious:

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach. Penguin Random House

Animals living among us often ignore the rules we try to impose on them. Science writer Mary Roach experienced this firsthand when a group of macaque monkeys accosted her in India.

“I was kind of asking for it,” Roach admits. “I walked up this trail where I knew there were a lot of macaques, and I walked up holding a bag of bananas.”

At first, nothing happened. Then Roach saw a monkey pop its head up from behind a boulder, “kind of like the bandits waiting for the stagecoach.” Continue reading

Goats’ Appetites Put To Work

Goats made their first appearance in our pages as a matter of pure visual fun. Then there were several in a row that touched on companionship as well as culinary aspects. Finally one treated goats as workers.  That was five years ago. Today Coral Murphy Marcos tells the story, with photographs by Amanda Lucier, about a family, plus one intern, at the cutting edge of fighting fire with appetite:

The Unconventional Weapon Against Future Wildfires: Goats

When megafires burn in unison and harsh droughts parch the West, local governments, utilities and companies struggle with how to prevent outbreaks, especially as each year brings record destruction.

Carrying an unconventional weapon, Ms. Malmberg travels the American West in an Arctic Fox camper, occupying a small but vital entrepreneurial niche.

Ms. Malmberg, 64, is a goat herder and a pioneer in using the animals to restore fire-ravaged lands to greener pastures and make them less prone to the spread of blazes. Continue reading

To Build A Good Home, Sometimes You Need Pluck

We were aware that birds will build nests out of just about anything they can find, and sometimes in the strangest places. But how they get the material is less familiar, and in the article below is a video of a bird plucking fur from a fox, about as fun to watch as anything we have seen recently, so click through to the full story:

Sneaky Thieves Steal Hair From Foxes, Raccoons, Dogs, Even You

It’s simple: Mammals have hair or fur. Birds want it.

As anyone who has ever tried to eat french fries on a beach will attest, stealing is not an uncommon behavior among birds. In fact, many birds are quite skilled at bold and brazen theft. Continue reading

Human Intervention, Hold The Judgement

A burrowing bettong, also known as the boodie, in the Australian Outback. COURTESY OF AWC

I have not acquired the book yet, but I have heard her discuss it and read an interview with her about it; the author has moved from reporting on extinction and climate phenomena to reporting on human intervention schemes that respond to those phenomena. The stories as told in the article below adhere to a claim Kolbert makes in her discussion with Ezra Klein, that as a journalist she is not in the judgement business:

Assisting Evolution: How Far Should We Go to Help Species Adapt?

An Australian project to help threatened marsupial species adapt to avoid predatory cats is among a host of ‘assisted evolution’ efforts based on the premise that it is no longer enough to protect species from change: Humans are going to have intervene to help them change.

Reform School For Cats

The study also found that bells on collars made no difference to the number of animals killed by a cat. Photograph: GluePromsiri/Getty/iStockphoto

I am a cat person by nature. I have lost count of how many cats I had as pets since early childhood and well into adulthood, but I do remember our last two cats from three decades ago. Boris, a black cat with a tip of white on his tail, learned to jump up into my cradled arms if I stood in front of him and made a certain noise. His sister Mimi was named for the plaintive mi-mi cry she made when she climbed up onto the bathroom sink and rubbed her mouth against the faucet head, wanting us to turn the water on to drip out so she could drink. They lived long lives as indoor cats who did no harm to anyone or anything (that we knew of).  But when we learned how many birds, among other wildlife, that cats kill per year we decided not to adopt any more cats; we switched to dogs. Now, all these years later, I am happy to see there is hope for reformed cat behavior:

Meaty meals and play stop cats killing wildlife, study finds

Millions of pet cats are estimated to kill billions of animals a year but grain-free food can change cat behaviour

Feeding pet cats meaty food and playing with them to simulate hunting stops them killing wildlife, according to a study. Continue reading