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FLORA AND FAUNA
Medium-sized carnivores most vulnerable to environmental shifts
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Dec 4, 2017


Gorillas can learn to clean food on their own, without social cues
Washington (UPI) Dec 4, 2017 - Gorillas don't need to witnesses others cleaning their food to adopt the behavior. They can learn it on their own -- spontaneously.

Many of the gorilla's abilities are thought to be socially acquired, including food cleaning behavior. But during a series of tests, researchers found gorillas cleaned sand from a dirty apple 75 percent of the time.

"In four of our five gorillas, at least one of the techniques for cleaning was similar to that observed in the wild," Damien Neadle, a researcher at the University of Birmingham, said in a news release. "Given that these two groups are culturally unconnected, it suggests that social learning is not required for this behavior to emerge."

Scientists suggest their findings -- published this week in the journal PLoS One -- don't diminish the importance of social learning among apes. It simply proves gorillas can also develop talents and skills not their own.

"Here, we argue that individual learning is responsible for the form of the behavior, whilst social learning possibly contributes to its frequency," Neadle said.

Intrinsic learning and social learning aren't mutually exclusive. Gorillas can learn the same skill in different ways. It's likely that much of what gorillas and other apes learn is acquired through a combination of learning processes, researchers say.

"Rather than being a binary consideration of either cultural learning or not, behaviors like food cleaning, which can be propagated by shared learning but are also capable of being learnt spontaneously by individuals, could be deemed to be 'soft culture,'" Neadle said.

Because medium-sized carnivores spend the most time hunting for food, they're most likely to be negatively impacted by environmental changes, new research shows.

Until now, scientists thought foraging time decreased with body size: the bigger the animal, the less time the animal spends foraging. But new research by scientists at Imperial College London suggests medium-sized species -- including the Malay civet, Iriomote cat, Leopard cat and Crab-eating fox -- spend more time looking for food than their peers, both bigger and smaller.

As such, medium-sized carnivores are most at risk from environmental changes that affect the distribution and abundance of their prey.

The new research -- published this week in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution -- could help conservationists identify species that warrant extra protections.

"We propose a simple mathematical model that predicts how foraging time depends on body size," ICL researcher Samraat Pawar said in a news release. "This can help predict potential risks to predators facing environmental change."

Scientists confirmed the accuracy of their math model using GPS and radio collar tracking data from surveys involving 73 land-based carnivore species.

"Habitat changes can mean that predators have to move more to find the same amount of food, causing them greater stress," Pawar said. "This impacts the health of the individual, and therefore the health of the population."

In order to put the new research to good use, scientists also need to have an accurate understanding of the diets of medium-sized carnivores. Medium-sized species with highly-specific diets would likely be most at risk from environmental shifts.

"If they are able to adapt their diet and diversify their prey, they may fare better," master's student Matteo Rizzuto said.

Researchers suggest medium-size carnivores have to spend more time foraging because they tend to feed on prey that are significantly smaller than themselves. Large predators, like lions and tigers, tend to feed on much larger species.

"Prey that are much smaller than a predator are hard to find and catch, and therefore do not easily satisfy the predator's energy needs and provide insufficient 'bang for the buck,'" said Chris Carbone, a scientist at the Zoological Society of London.

FLORA AND FAUNA
China seizes 12 tonnes of endangered pangolin scales
Beijing (AFP) Nov 30, 2017
Nearly 12 tonnes of smuggled pangolin scales have been confiscated by Chinese officials - the country's largest-ever seizure of the endangered mammal's prized parts as it seeks to curb illegal trafficking. The pangolin, whose brown scales have earned it the nickname "scaly anteater", is the most hunted animal in the world, with one million estimated to have been plucked from Asian and Afric ... read more

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