From elephant trails to a planet-friendly diet, here’s the latest in conservation news
The quoll is a carnivorous marsupial native to Australia and Papua New Guinea. They are the size of a large rat and native to a 50,000km range across northern Australia, from Pilbara in WA to the southeast of Queensland. They inhabit diverse environments ranging from rocky escarpments to lowland savannahs. Unfortunately, northern quolls are under pressure to survive thanks to cane toads, bushfires and competition from cats and dingoes, as well as habitat fragmentation. Given the lack of genetic diversity within each pocket of northern quoll population, the ideal way to boost numbers would be cross-breeding. But that runs the risk that the quoll from one environment might not be suited to another environment and, for instance, might have a skull that isn’t suited to eating local prey. Now, researchers from the University of Queensland and Flinders University have analysed northern quoll skull shapes and found that skull shapes of northern quolls are similar across their entire region, meaning that isolated populations may be able to be cross-bred.
Source: Ecology and Evolution
Elephants are conservation landscapers
Start a discussion about conservation and vested interests very quickly get in the way, but a new paper shows how elephants can lead the way beyond this impasse. In the Central African Republic’s Congo Basin elephants move from the fruit trees of the forest to open water sources where they hydrate and, via the rich mud, access minerals they can’t find in the forest. As elephant groups clear routes to their destinations they shape the landscape, creating a complex network of roads that residents, tourists, scientists and even loggers use. If elephant populations decline then the forest grows over these trails. The daily life of local communities and the operation of industries depends on elephant landscape design. If we can broaden the conservation conversation to highlight how conserving species also benefits human beings, then we might get somewhere.
Source: American Anthropologist
When sharks were MEGA
In the Hollywood blockbuster The Meg (2018) scientists exploring the Mariana Trench come across the legendary giant shark the megalodon. Until now, we have largely been guessing exactly how big megalodon was, but researchers have used mathematical modelling combined with comparisons to living creatures to more accurately estimate its size. Megalodons existed for around 20 million years, from 23 million years ago to three million years ago. Living relatives of megalodon include great white sharks, makos, salmon sharks and porbeagle sharks. To put things in perspective, great whites grow to six metres and have a bite force of two tonnes. The researchers estimate that megalodons were about 16 metres long, had a head 4.65 metres long, had a dorsal fin 1.62 metres high and had a bite force of 10 tonnes. An adult human could stand on a megalodon’s back and only be as tall as its dorsal fin, not that you would stand there for long.
Source: Scientific Reports
Diet for a warming planet
In a new study researchers analysed and mapped areas where animal-sourced food is grown. Producing animal-based foods requires 83 per cent of the planet’s agricultural land and suppresses native vegetation. Plant protein foods like lentils, beans and nuts can provide critical nutrients but require a fraction of the land used to produce meat and dairy. Land freed up from agriculture could support ecosystems that absorb CO2. The researchers calculated that shifting to the plant-based foods could allow vegetation regrowth that could remove between nine and 16 years’ worth of fossil fuel emissions. When planetary warming reaches 1.6˚C above pre-industrial levels, severe impacts are expected. The amount of fossil fuel we can burn before hitting that level of increase is called our “carbon budget”. According to the researchers, if we were to significantly switch to plant-based food sources that could effectively double the Earth’s carbon budget.
Source: Nature Sustainability