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James Croll Medal awarded to Richard Preece

News from this site - Fri, 15/01/2021 - 14:38

The Department is delighted to hear that the Quaternary Research Association (QRA) has awarded Dr Richard Preece the James Croll Medal, their highest honour. The Medal is normally awarded to a member of the Association who has not only made an outstanding contribution to the field of Quaternary science, but whose work has...

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Why do hairs and cilia grow out in one particular direction?

News from this site - Wed, 16/12/2020 - 10:41

Why do hairs and cilia grow out in one particular direction?​ The Lawrence Group , has been trying to answer this question and has recently published a paper in Open Biology which explores and tests different models and hypotheses. Peter Lawrence explains that cells in developing animals detect their orientation and use...

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Connect to nature with '12 Days of Winter Wildlife'

Cam ac uk zoology department feed - Mon, 30/11/2020 - 09:04

The ‘12 Days of Winter Wildlife 2020’ aims to encourage everyone to get involved in spotting wildlife over winter, and helping to look after it.

With fascinating facts, films and activities to do at home, the event - which runs from 1st to 12th December 2020 - is suitable for all ages. Experts will cover a range of topics including how to support garden birds and spot winter visitors, and how to find hibernating insects like butterflies and ladybirds. 

“There’s so much we can do to help animals survive the coldest months of the year, and we hope this event will show people how they can enjoy playing their part,” said Professor Rebecca Kilner, Director of the Museum.

With activities such as how to make a winter insect hotel, and a test to find out whether your memory is as good as a squirrel, this celebration of winter wildlife will even share tips on creating animal-inspired gifts.

“There’s a lot more winter wildlife in the UK than you might expect – and we hope this event will not only be educational but a lot of fun,” said Dr Roz Wade, Senior Learning & Engagement Coordinator at the Museum of Zoology.

She added: “Lots of interesting birds can be spotted in the UK at this time of year - and for some, winter in the UK is an escape from much colder conditions further north. And despite some of our native animals going into hibernation, many others stay active through winter – from moths to water birds to foxes and squirrels. Not to mention what’s living in the compost heap.”

‘12 Days of Winter Wildlife’ launches at 4:30pm on 1st December 2020 with a YouTube Live event. Bird expert Rob Jaques from the British Trust for Ornithology will be on hand to answer questions from the public, and there will be a virtual tour of Cambridge University Botanic Garden wildlife. 

To add to the fun, the launch includes a festive sing-along with a wildlife twist. Written by PhD student Kate Howlett and recorded by Museum volunteers, staff & friends, ‘The 12 Days of Critters’ will be making its debut at the event.

Films, animal facts, activities and more will be posted daily at 9am on the Museum’s blog

 

The University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge is temporarily closed to visitors due to the current lockdown measures. Updates on its opening status will be posted on the Museum’s website and Twitter and Facebook pages.

The Museum holds one of the largest and most important natural history collections in the UK, with an extraordinarily rich history dating back to 1814. In 2018 it reopened after a five-year, £4.1million redevelopment – including nearly £2 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund – to reveal thousands of incredible specimens from across the animal kingdom, including whales, elephants, a giraffe, giant ground sloth, insects, corals as well as items collected by Charles Darwin. 

 

Researchers and staff at the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge are getting ready to share their enthusiasm for winter wildlife in a special 12-day online event. 

There’s a lot more winter wildlife in the UK than you might expect – and we hope this event will not only be educational but a lot of funRoz Wade 12 Days of Winter Wildlife Live Launch Robin by TeeFarm on PixabayRobin by TeeFarm on Pixabay


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Female mongooses start violent fights to mate with unrelated males

Cam ac uk zoology department feed - Tue, 10/11/2020 - 09:30

Mongooses rarely leave the group they are born into, so members are usually genetically related. The new study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals how females get around the problem of inbreeding.

The research team, led by the University of Cambridge and the University of Exeter, say ‘exploitative leadership’ of this kind, which is also seen in human warfare, leads to frequent and damaging conflicts.

"Female banded mongooses start fights between groups to gain genetic benefits from mating with outsiders, while the males within their group – and the group as a whole – pay the costs,” said Professor Michael Cant, at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, who was involved in the research.

He added: "A classic explanation for warfare in human societies is leadership by exploitative individuals who reap the benefits of conflict while avoiding the costs.

"In this study, we show that leadership of this kind can also explain the evolution of severe collective violence in certain animal societies."

Dr Faye Thompson at the University of Exeter, and senior author of the report, added: "The findings do not fit a heroic model of leadership, in which leaders contribute most to aggression and bear greatest costs, but rather an exploitative model, in which the initiators of conflict expose others to greater risks while contributing little to fighting themselves."

The findings suggest that decoupling leaders from the costs of their choices amplifies the destructive nature of intergroup conflict.

Professor Rufus Johnstone from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and first author of the report, said: "Exploitative leadership in banded mongooses helps to explain why intergroup violence is so costly in this species compared to other animals.

"The mortality costs involved are similar to those seen in a handful of the most warlike mammals, including lions, chimpanzees - and of course humans."

The study used long-term data from wild banded mongooses in Uganda.

Reference

Johnstone, R.A. et al; “Exploitative leaders incite intergroup warfare in a social mammal." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nov 2020. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2003745117

Adapted from a press release by the University of Exeter.

Female banded mongooses lead their groups into fights then try to mate with enemy males in the chaos of battle, new research has found. Meanwhile, males bear the costs of these fights - injuries and deaths are common. 

The mortality costs involved are similar to those seen in a handful of the most warlike mammals, including lions, chimpanzees, and humansRufus Johnstone Mongoose groups fighting Banded Mongoose Research ProjectMongoose groups fighting


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Climate change and food demand could shrink species’ habitats by almost a quarter by 2100

Cam ac uk zoology department feed - Fri, 06/11/2020 - 10:06

The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications, analysed changes in the geographical range of 16,919 species from 1700 to the present day. The data were also used to predict future changes up to the year 2100 under 16 different climate and socio-economic scenarios. 

A diverse abundance of species underpins essential ecosystem functions from pest regulation to carbon storage. Species’ vulnerability to extinction is strongly impacted by their geographical range size, and devising effective conservation strategies requires a better understanding of how ranges have changed in the past, and how they will change under alternative future scenarios.

“The habitat size of almost all known birds, mammals and amphibians is shrinking, primarily because of land conversion by humans as we continue to expand our agricultural and urban areas,” said Dr Robert Beyer in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, first author of the report.

Some species are more heavily impacted than others. A worrying 16% of species have lost over half their estimated natural historical range, a figure that could rise to 26% by the end of the century. 

Species’ geographical ranges were found to have recently shrunk most significantly in tropical areas. Until around 50 years ago, most agricultural development was in Europe and North America. Since then, large areas of land have been converted for agriculture in the tropics: clearance of rainforest for oil palm plantations in South East Asia, and for pasture land in South America, for example.

As humans move their activities deeper into the tropics, the effect on species ranges is becoming disproportionately larger because of a greater species richness in these areas, and because the natural ranges of these species are smaller to begin with.

“The tropics are biodiversity hotspots with lots of small-range species. If one hectare of tropical forest is converted to agricultural land, a lot more species lose larger proportions of their home than in places like Europe,” said Beyer.

The results predict that climate change will have an increasing impact on species’ geographical ranges. Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns will alter habitats significantly, for example: other studies have predicted that without climate action, large parts of the Amazon may change from canopy rainforest to a savannah-like mix of woodland and open grassland in the next 100 years. 

“Species in the Amazon have adapted to living in a tropical rainforest. If climate change causes this ecosystem to change, many of those species won’t be able to survive - or they will at least be pushed into smaller areas of remaining rainforest,” said Beyer.

He added: “We found that the higher the carbon emissions, the worse it gets for most species in terms of habitat loss.” 

The results provide quantitative support for policy measures aiming at limiting the global area of agricultural land – for example by sustainably intensifying food production, encouraging dietary shifts towards eating less meat, and stabilising population growth. 

The conversion of natural vegetation to agricultural and urban land, and the transformation of suitable habitat caused by climate change are major causes of the decline in range sizes, and two of the most important threats to global terrestrial biodiversity.

“Whether these past trends in habitat range losses will reverse, continue, or accelerate will depend on future global carbon emissions and societal choices in the coming years and decades,” Professor Andrea Manica in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, who led the study.

He added: “While our study quantifies the drastic consequences for species’ ranges if global land use and climate change are left unchecked, they also demonstrate the tremendous potential of timely and concerted policy action for halting - and indeed partially reversing - previous trends in global range contractions. It all depends on what we do next.”

This research was supported by the European Research Council. 

Reference
Beyer, R.M. & Manica, A.: ‘Historical and projected future range sizes of the world’s mammals, birds and amphibians.’ Nature Communications, Nov 2020. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19455-9

Mammals, birds and amphibians worldwide have lost on average 18% of their natural habitat range as a result of changes in land use and climate change, a new study has found. In a worst-case scenario this loss could increase to 23% over the next 80 years.  

We found that the higher the carbon emissions, the worse it gets for most species in terms of habitat loss.Robert BeyerUlet Ifansasti/ GreenpeaceBaby orangutans in Central Kalimantan. Expansion of oil palm plantations is destroying their forest habitat.


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Cheating birds mimic host nestlings to deceive foster parents

Cam ac uk zoology department feed - Fri, 02/10/2020 - 14:23

Working in the savannahs of Zambia, a team of international researchers collected images, sounds and videos over four years to reveal a striking and highly specialised form of mimicry. They focused on a group of finches occurring across much of Africa called the indigobirds and whydahs, of the genus Vidua

Like cuckoos, the 19 different species within this group of finches forego their parental duties and instead lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Each species of indigobird and whydah chooses to lay its eggs in the nests of a particular species of grassfinch. Their hosts then incubate the foreign eggs, and feed the young alongside their own when they hatch. 

Grassfinches are unusual in having brightly coloured and distinctively patterned nestlings, and nestlings of different grassfinch species have their own unique appearance, begging calls and begging movements. Vidua finches are extremely specialised parasites, with each species mostly exploiting a single host species. 

Nestlings of these ‘brood-parasitic’ Vidua finches were found to mimic the appearance, sounds and movements of their grassfinch host’s chicks, right down to the same elaborately colourful patterns on the inside of their mouths. The study is published in the journal Evolution

“The mimicry is astounding in its intricacy and is highly species-specific,” said Dr Gabriel Jamie, lead author on the paper and a research scientist in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, and at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town.

He added: “We were able to test for mimicry using statistical models that approximate the vision of birds. Birds process colour and pattern differently to humans so it is important to analyse the mimicry from their perspective rather than just relying on human assessments.”

While the mimicry is very precise, the researchers did find some minor imperfections. These may exist due to insufficient time for more precise mimicry to evolve, or because current levels of mimicry are already good enough to fool the host parents. The researchers think that some imperfections might actually be enhanced versions of the hosts’ signal, forcing it to feed the parasite chick even more than it would its own. 

The mimetic adaptations to different hosts identified in the study may also be critical in the formation of new species, and in preventing species collapse through hybridisation. 

“The mimicry is not only amazing in its own right but may also have important implications for how new species of parasitic finches evolve,” added Professor Claire Spottiswoode, an author of the paper and a research scientist at both the University of Cambridge and Cape Town. 

Vidua nestlings imprint on their hosts, altering their mating and host preferences based on early life experiences. These preferences strongly influence the host environment in which their offspring grow up, and therefore the evolutionary selection pressures they experience from foster parents. When maintained over multiple generations, these selection pressures generate the astounding host-specific mimetic adaptations observed in the study.

Reference
Jamie, G. A, et al: ‘Multimodal mimicry of hosts in a radiation of parasitic finches.’ Evolution, July 2020. DOI:10.1111/evo.14057

 

 

The common cuckoo is known for its deceitful nesting behaviour – by laying eggs in the nests of other bird species, it fools host parents into rearing cuckoo chicks alongside their own. While cuckoos mimic their host’s eggs, new research has revealed that a group of parasitic finch species in Africa have evolved to mimic their host’s chicks - and with astonishing accuracy.

The mimicry is astounding in its intricacy and is highly species-specific.Gabriel Jamie


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Oil palm replanting may decrease arthropod biodiversity

News from this site - Mon, 28/09/2020 - 10:22

Oil palm replanting may decrease arthropod biodiversity New study suggests biodiversity impact in multiple microhabitats Oil palm is the most traded vegetable oil in the world, featuring in products ranging from instant noodles to lipstick . It has long been the source of huge controversy as plantations – most of them in...

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