There isn't much genetic research on the puma (FYI: puma, cougar, mountain lion, catamount, panther... all the same thing, just depends on where you are and who you talk to). The scientific community seems to be quite torn about taxonomic assessment and there has been much debate around subspecies distinction, particularly in the case of using cougars in Texas to repopulate the Florida panther population. Some say they are distinct enough that they shouldn't be hybridized while others say they are the same so one can successfully repopulate the other. According to the Federal Register, "the best available information continues to support the assignment of the eastern taxon to Puma concolor couguar as distinct from other North American subspecies" based primarily on biology and life history.
The proposal to remove the eastern cougar from the endangered species list does not affect the status of the endangered Florida panther subspecies, a cluster of conservation genetics issues to discuss in more detail at another time. But, although the extinct animals will no longer be protected under the Endangered Species Act, which is intended to save animals and plants that still have a recorded population, it will also no longer be able to be used to protect similar animals, such as the Florida panther. Not sure if that matters since the Florida panther is already protected (and possibly diluted with Texas cougar) but its interesting nonetheless.
Some scientists were already skeptical about adding iron to the oceans due to the unknown impact the process could have on the ocean and the thought that it may only decrease carbon-dioxide levels temporarily. In 2007, another chemist at WHOI said, “While there is still no agreement on the efficiency of [carbon-dioxide] reduction or its environmental impacts, some scientists are willing to consider further experiments to address these remaining uncertainties, given that future policies and carbon-offset markets may emerge with or without a sound scientific basis,” and this recent study did just that.
Now I am going to stand on my soap box. I think we as humans have a responsibility to interfere when we are deliberately hurting the environment but it can be prevented (such as poaching, overfishing, deforestation, etc.); however, sometimes I think we need to just let nature do its thing. The earth has an ebb and flow of heating and cooling, productivity and sterility, a series of highs and lows trying to create a balance. For some reason humans think we can affect the balance for our benefit but what says by pumping the oceans full of iron to reduce something bad we don’t actually end up producing something worse when nature tries to compensate for our actions. Humans don’t think in an earthly timescale, they think in a humanly timescale. The productivity boom after the ice age was produced over hundreds of years. I’m sure the people who want to pump the oceans with iron aren’t thinking of that kind of a timeline. They are thinking they will see results they’ll see immediately, which there may be A result immediately but THE result may not be for another hundred or thousand years. The statement by the WHOI chemist saying “future policies and carbon-offset markets may emerge with or without a sound scientific basis” is a perfect example of how politics are manipulating people who want to do good for the planet into doing things that may not be. If only we could just keep politics out of it.
So excited I've finally added this to my DVD library!
Look what got delivered today! If you haven't seen (or heard of) The Last Lions, come on over and we'll watch it. This is one of the best documentaries, wildlife or non, I have ever seen. It has the film quality of Planet Earth but follows a story rather simply documenting behavior. It's a real life Lion King - and it doesn't hurt that it's narrated by Scar (Jeremy Irons).
Most people are exposed to "true" wildlife through channels such as Animal Planet. But, in our reality show driven society, the programming on these stations is no longer focused on education but rather, entertainment. You are not going to learn anything of value about wildlife from Finding Bigfoot or Hillbilly Hand Fishing. (I don't even watch Animal Planet anymore their programming is so worthless). Disney Nature has done a pretty good job trying to get people interested in nature not "nature" having come out with a few wildlife films, which are wonderful but definitely geared towards a certain demographic. African Cats, which followed the lives of a family of lions and a family of cheetahs was absolutely adorable, however, it is for a rated G audience and life in the wild is not rated G.
I had the opportunity to go to the premiere of The Last Lions at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego on February 9, 2011. The premier included a Q&A with the filmmakers Dereck & Beverly Joubert. What makes this film unlike any other wildlife program is that this husband and wife team took the time for the lions to habituate to their presence allowing for a virtually, truly wild portrayal of a lion's life. They lived amongst these lions for years basically becoming one with the bush so we can have a glimpse into the lion's world. They also made a point not to anthropomorphize while writing the script. In other words, they didn't give the lions human emotions, leaving the interpretation up to the viewer. There is no holding back in this movie. It is very real and you will feel all the emotions that go along with that.
In honor of Jurassic Park opening in 3D today, I thought I would share with everyone the new developments in science which could make this science fiction, science fact. While it will be a LONG time (if ever) until we will be able to clone a T-rex, it is a very real possibility that we will be able to clone more recently extinct animals to create an “insert time period here” park.
Natural decay rates make it impossible to retrieve the whole genome of animals that went extinct tens of millions of years ago but animals that have gone extinct within the past 50,000 years or less could contain enough viable DNA to piece together a fully sequenced genome. The ability to bring back extinct animals is so within reach there was a TEDx conference held in Washington D.C. on March 15th of this year where they discussed the ethics of “De-Extinction.”
After the successful, yet very short lived, cloning of an extinct Ibex in 2003, scientists have been improving and perfecting the process. Now, cloning the megafauna which went extinct during the last ice age is no longer just conjecture. After finding well-preserved mammoths in the Siberian tundra, scientists at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in Seoul teamed up with mammoth experts from a university in Siberia to find mammoth tissue buried in the cliffs of the Permafrost. From the bone marrow, hair, skin and fat they found, the scientists are looking for a live cell they can reprogram to grow into an embryo cell then clone. If they can’t find a live, viable cell, their next plan of action is going to be to transfer a mammoth nucleus into an emptied elephant egg cell. But, even if they found a viable cell today, we are still a number of years away from a mammoth being born. After implantation into an elephant surrogate, it would still be 2+ years before any offspring would grace us with its presence (elephant gestation is 645 days).
But, even though the ten year old inside of me thinks this is the COOLEST idea ever, however amazing it would be to see a real, live mammoth, saber-toothed cat or Jefferson’s sloth, what’s the real purpose other than pure entertainment value? There was a reason these species went extinct 10,000 years ago and, while humans may have been a factor and some people may feel “responsible”, we have to remember, it’s been 10,000 years. The ecosystem has had a chance to adapt, change and evolve. Adding those megafauna back into the mix could end up causing more problems than solving. The list of objections and potential conflicts far outweighs the perceived benefits, and this is without adding de-extinction into the equation. But, just because I don’t think a mammoth should be brought back to life, doesn’t mean this research is for not. While I believe it is more important for us as intellectual beings to focus our efforts on pre-extinction than de-extinction, I CAN see the benefits of being able to bring back a species which has recently been wiped off the earth because of human thoughtlessness. Would this research make it possible to see a western black rhino, which was declared extinct only a year and a half ago, on the plains of Africa again? It will be interesting to see where this research takes us in the next decade whether its to a Pleistocene Park or a new population of rhinos in Africa.
Illustration from Mark Hallett Paleoart/Photo Researchers (NationalGeographic.com)
Somewhere out there a scientist is measuring lizard emissions and, while it may seem like a complete waste of resources to some people, the findings make for an interesting comparison for current and past environmental conditions and the politics and culture that surround it.
National Geographic recently released an article entitled "Dinosaurs' Gaseous Emissions Warmed Earth?" (Published May 7 by Charles Choi on NationalGeographic.com) in which it describes and critiques the findings of a study done by Dr. Dave Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University. The jist of the article is if modern day lizards and mammals give off 50-100 million metric tons of methane gas annually then 20-ton dinosaurs probably gave off somewhere close to the total amount of current natural as well as man-made daily emissions, which is around 520 million metric tons annually. And, while the comments left by readers of the article indicate a bit of debate and skepticism, I believe the results are simply a reflection on how much we know and don't know about the earth and its geological and environmental history.
Really, this is just more proof that warming and cooling are all a part of the natural cycle of things. "...fossil findings make it clear that sauropods lived in a much warmer world than we do. People sometimes describe it as a super-greenhouse." Haha, yeah, a super-greenhouse of dino farts!
I am a biologist and my life is crap!