My Weekly Summary of Zoological, Entomological and Scientific News

This week's summary includes small mammals in the Australian Alps, the invasive spotted lanternfly, praying mantises of Rwanda, data archiving, using insects in the classroom, large mammal extinction and climate change, road-effect zones, feral cats, NZ sea lions, distance-sampling for kangaroos, reindeer bot flies, top nine ocean stories in 2015, philanthropy in biodiversity conservation, termite taxonomy, fly brains and odours, log-log regressions, stink bugs, 10 people who matter in 2015, science and gender, conservation biology, and the roles of female elephants.

A 10-year demographic study of a small mammal community in the Australian Alps

This paper describes a 10-year study of the community of two species of small rodents (Mastacomys fuscus, Rattus fuscipes) and one species of dasyurid marsupial (Antechinus swainsonii) in the subalpine zone of the Australian Alps. Each species exhibited differing life-histories with respect to population numbers, intra- and interannual fluctuations in numbers, reproduction, proportion of young in the population, winter survival, immigration and longevity. Of the two species of rodents, M. fuscus had the lowest population numbers, was the least fecund, had the highest rate of survival, and the smallest fluctuations in numbers. A. swainsonii was the least numerous species, and the winter die-off of males and the high fecundity of females resulted in much greater fluctuations in numbers than for either rodent. For all species, there were interannual variations in most demographic parameters, suggesting considerable flexibility in response to annual variations in the environment. None of the three species is known to hibernate, nor is there any evidence of cyclicity, as shown by some species of subarctic and arctic small mammals. Comparisons are made with subalpine small mammals in other parts of the world and the influence of the subalpine environment in determining population numbers is considered.

Citation Happold, D. C. D. (2015). A 10-year demographic study of a small mammal community in the Australian Alps. Australian Journal of Zoology 63, 338–349,

Be Prepared for the Invasive Spotted Lanternfly, Entomologists Warn

The Scout Motto is the best advice for pest managers who want to establish a first line of defense against problematic invasive insects even before they become established, according to Dr. Surendra Dara, an IPM and crop advisor at the University of California. “Be Prepared,” is what he and his co-authors suggest in a paper published in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management on possible tactics to manage the invasive spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), which was detected last year in Pennsylvania. Pest managers who ignore reports of a new invasive species such as the spotted lanternfly because it is not yet established in their locale do so at their own peril, he said.

Source/read more Entomology Today


A college student working in the Museum’s Department of Invertebrate Zoology was the lead author on the first formal survey of praying mantises in Rwanda. Riley Tedrow, a graduate student at Case Western Reserve pursuing field research for the Museum under the direction of curator and co-author Dr. Gavin Svenson, participated in two surveys across four locations in Rwanda.
The survey, conducted in 2013 and 2014, revealed a 155% increase in the known number of praying mantis species in the African country. It also yielded the discovery and description of one new praying mantis species – Dystacta tigrifrutex, which means “bush tiger praying mantis.”
While conducting the survey Tedrow helped collect 739 insects representing 41 mantis species from Akagera National Park, Nyungwe National Park, Volcanoes National Park and the Arboretum de Ruhande at the National University of Rwanda.
“This survey highlights a need for more thorough sampling of the insect fauna of Rwanda,” said lead author Tedrow. “Undiscovered diversity is still out there—strange, wonderful and fascinating creatures whose stories I want to tell. With greater levels of biodiversity recorded in this country, we can inform conservation decisions in these important African national parks.”

Watch the video below to learn more.

The first formal survey of praying mantises in Rwanda, Africa, by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History reveals a rich diversity and increases scientists' knowledge of the praying mantis species present in Rwanda by 155 percent.

A Balanced Data Archiving Policy for Long-Term Studies

Long-term monitoring and experiments are crucial to understanding many important questions in ecology and evolution, and, consequently, the data sets that emerge from long-term projects can be extremely valuable. It is crucial that such data are treated in a way that supports the best interests of science. We must continue to encourage researchers to engage in long-term projects, and we must also ensure that such data are widely available in perpetuity [1,2]. Balancing these sometimes opposing goals is a difficult but not insurmountable problem, and certainly one that should be resolved in a way that balances the needs of those who produced those data with the best interests of science.

Citation Michael C. Whitlock, Judith L. Bronstein, Emilio M. Bruna, Aaron M. Ellison, Charles W. Fox, Mark A. McPeek, Allen J. Moore, Mohamed A.F. Noor, Mark D. Rausher, Loren H. Rieseberg, Michael G. Ritchie, Ruth G. Shaw. A Balanced Data Archiving Policy for Long-Term Studies. Publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof, DOI: org/10.1016/j.tree.2015.12.001

Entomologists Instruct Teachers on How to Use Insects in the Classroom

“People with tarantulas have more fun.”
“When you have an insect, you have people’s attention.”
“Those cookies you just ate? They were made with crickets.”

These are not phrases one hears every day, but they were par for the course at STEMbugs, a one-day teacher’s workshop hosted by the Entomological Foundation to instruct more than 60 area teachers (and some students) on how to incorporate insects into the classroom. This year the event was held on November 12 at the Minneapolis Convention Center during the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America.

Source/read more Entomology Today

Maintaining salt balance helps insects avoid frosty fate: Could assist with pest control

For humans, getting chilly is a problem that can usually be solved with a hat and mitts, but for insects it's not so simple. A study led by a York University Postdoctoral Fellow has found that for some insects, the key to cold weather survival is in keeping their salt balance in check, and that finding could help with controlling pests in the future.

Source/read more York University

Extinction of large animals could make climate change worse

New research published today in Science Advances reveals that a decline in fruit-eating animals such as large primates, tapirs and toucans could have a knock-on effect for tree species.

This is because large animals disperse large-seeded plant species often associated with large trees and high wood density - which are more effective at capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than smaller trees.

Seed dispersal by large-bodied vertebrates is via the ingestion of viable seeds that pass through the digestive tract intact.

Removing large animals from the ecosystem upsets the natural balance and leads to a loss of heavy-wooded large trees, which means that less CO2 can be locked away.

Source/read more University of East Anglia

Delimiting road-effect zones for threatened species: implications for mitigation fencing

Roads are a pernicious form of habitat loss for many wildlife populations because their effects often extend far beyond the roads themselves, giving rise to reduced wildlife abundance in road-effect zones. Quantifying the extent of road-effect zones more accurately portrays their impact on populations and the true extent to which habitat is lost for many species.

Source/read more Wildlife Research

Multiple cameras required to reliably detect feral cats in northern Australian tropical savanna: an evaluation of sampling design when using camera traps

Feral cats are a major cause of mammal declines and extinctions in Australia. However, cats are elusive and obtaining reliable ecological data is challenging. Although camera traps are increasingly being used to study feral cats, their successful use in northern Australia has been limited.

Feral cat with galah |  Mark Marathon/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 4.0 ]

Source/read more Wildlife Research

Long-term survival and reproductive success of New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) treated with ivermectin as pups

Hookworms (Uncinaria spp.) are a common parasite of neonatal fur seals and sea lions around the world and may contribute to decreased pup growth and survival. Removal of these parasitic burdens by administration of the anthelmintic ivermectin has been trialled in New Zealand (NZ) sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) pups at Sandy Bay, Enderby Island, with initial benefits in growth and survival reported. Long-term effects, however, are not known.

Phocarctos hookeri |  Karora/Wikimedia Commons  [public domain]

Phocarctos hookeri | Karora/Wikimedia Commons [public domain]

Source/read more Wildlife Research

Precision, accuracy and bias of walked line-transect distance sampling to estimate eastern grey kangaroo population size

Distance sampling is widely used to estimate the size of wildlife populations, including kangaroos. However, the performance of distance-sampling abundance estimates has seldom been evaluated for wild mammal populations of known size.

Source/read more Wildlife Research

Reindeer Bot Flies Are Not Particularly Festive

Bot flies are not generally considered festive. This is especially true if you are a reindeer, which often have reindeer nasal bot flies, or snot bots, as they are affectionately known. The nasal bot fly life cycle is a marvelous example of evolutionary WTF-ery.

Adult reindeer bot flies look like harmless fluffy bees, and have a slight buzz to their flight. This fools an unsuspecting reindeer into allowing a female fly to approach its face. The fly doesn’t lay eggs on the reindeer. Oh no, it is far more sinister than that. Reindeer snot bot eggs hatch within the mother’s uterus. Then she hovers in the air, squirting tiny maggots into the host’s nose, using what I can only describe as a weaponized maggot-shooting vaginal gun. The larvae shoot forth in batches of 20 to 30, bathed in “unique uterine fluids.”

Source/read more Wired

Top Nine Ocean Stories That Had Us Talking in 2015

From fossil whales to adorable octopuses, here are some of the marine headliners that caught our attention this year.

Source/read more Smithsonian Mag

On Philanthropic Investment in Biodiversity Conservation

In the holiday season there is much talk and recommendations about donations to worthy causes, and this raises an interesting conundrum in biodiversity conservation. The question is relatively simple to answer if you have little money, but any reading of the business pages of our newspapers or a walk around the shopping centers of our large cities makes you realize that there are a great many people with more than a little money. What should you do with your excess cash?

Source/read more Ecological Rants

Termite Experts Attempt to Solve Taxonomic Cold Cases

Coptotermes is one of the most economically destructive genera of termites, and it includes the Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus). For years, taxonomists have struggled with a long list of described species around the world. As some species were described multiple time, species names were gradually removed from the list, which was narrowed down to just 69 valid species within the genus as of 2013. However, some termite researchers think that many names still do not represent a valid biological taxon.

Coptotermes   formosanus  |  USDoA/Wikimedia Commons  [public domain]

Coptotermes formosanusUSDoA/Wikimedia Commons [public domain]

Source/read more Entomology Today

New research explores how the fly brain reroutes odor information to produce flexible behavior

Some responses come automatically, like reflexes. Others vary with circumstance and experience. A once-delicious smell can be easily overlooked during a stressful moment or when it calls to mind a bout of food poisoning, for instance. This happens because, within the brain, molecules known as neuromodulators reroute information about that odor.

New research at The Rockefeller University takes advantage of the simple architecture within the fruit fly brain to examine how one such molecule, dopamine, acts like an operator at a switchboard. The results, published December 17 in Cell, show how it changes the flow of information, the basis for flexibility in behavior.

Source/read more The Rockfeller University

On Log-Log Regressions

Log-log regressions are commonly used in ecological papers, and my attention to their limitations was twigged by a recent paper by Hatton et al. (2015) in Science. I want to look at just one example of a log-log regression from this paper as an illustration of what I think might be some pitfalls of this approach. The regression under discussion is Figure 1 in the Hatton paper, a plot of predator biomass (Y) on prey biomass (X) for a variety of African large mammal ecosystems. I emphasize that this is a critique of log-log regression problems, not a detailed critique of this paper.

Source/read more Ecological Rants

New giant Stink Bug Named after J. R. R. Tolkien’s Ancalagon the Black

A few months ago here at North Dakota State University’s Systematic Entomology Laboratory, we named an insect Planois smaug after J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous creature Smaug the Dragon. We chose that particular name because the specimens of Planois smaug were ‘sleeping’ in collections for about 60 years, like Tolkiens’ creature, and because of the large size of the insect. In fact, it is the largest of its family in the southern tip of South America.

Source/read more Entomology Today

365 days: Nature’s 10

Ten people who mattered this year.

  1. CHRISTIANA FIGUERES: Climate guardian | A dynamic leader charted the path to a new global climate agreement.
  2. JUNJIU HUANG: Embryo editor | A modest biologist sparked global debate with an experiment to edit the genes of human embryos.
  3. ALAN STERN: Pluto hunter | A single-minded planetary scientist brought the dwarf planet into focus.
  4. ZHENAN BAO: Master of materials | A chemical engineer is merging electronics with the human body.
  5. ALI AKBAR SALEHI: Nuclear diplomat | The head of Iran’s nuclear programme helped to forge a pact to keep it peaceful.
  6. JOAN SCHMELZ: A voice for women | A senior astronomer worked to unmask a prominent sexual harasser.
  7. DAVID REICH: Genome archaeologist | A big thinker helped to turn ancient genomics from niche pursuit to industrial process.
  8. MIKHAIL EREMETS: Super conductor | Decades of diligence earned one physicist a record for resistance-free electricity.
  9. CHRISTINA SMOLKE: Fermenting revolution | A synthetic biologist won a breakneck race to produce opioids in yeast.
  10. BRIAN NOSEK: Bias blaster | A psychologist pledged to improve reproducibility in science.

Source/read more Nature

Science and gender: Scientists must work harder on equality

Gender equality in science made headlines repeatedly this year. Nobel-prizewinning biochemist Tim Hunt made his ill-advised quip about women in labs; Shrinivas Kulkarni, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, called astronomers and their telescopes “boys with toys”; and in a much more serious matter, astronomer Geoff Marcy resigned from his post at the University of California, Berkeley, after public disclosure that he had sexually harassed female students. More quietly, there were rumours that at least three astronomers had been dismissed, and in some cases scrubbed from institutional websites.

Source/read more Nature

Conservation biology: Wild at heart

“I sit in the forest. I hear branches crackling,” says George Schaller, recalling a close encounter with a wild giant panda more than 30 years ago. The large female sits down just 5 metres from him. “Her head sinks to her chest and she falls asleep,” he says.

Source/read more Nature

Female elephants inherit social roles

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are organized in family groups of females, which are linked together to form 'bond' groups and loosely affiliated clans. Shifra Goldenberg at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and her team analysed the animals' female social networks in Kenyan reserves over 16 years. There was a roughly 70% turnover in adult females from poaching and natural causes, but the overall female-led social structure persisted.

Source/read more Nature