Courtesy Mark RyanDiscover Life looks to be a great site that can help you identify or get vast amounts of information about plants or animals you see or come across in your daily travels, or just want to know more about. The following description comes from their homepage:
"We provide free on-line tools to identify species, share ways to teach and study nature's wonders, report findings, build maps, process images, and contribute to and learn from a growing, interactive encyclopedia of life that now has 1,354,546 species pages."
That's a lot of species pages. I did a search for the common crow and found tons of information and links about the Corvidae family which includes crows, magpies, ravens, jays, and allies. It brought up a list of 128 genera with links to countless (meaning I didn't count them) species. Plus some pages come with photos you can enlarge and zoom into for close-ups of different details. There are also interactive global maps displaying the ranges of species, and when I checked out "crocodile" it led me to this surprising link. I had no idea.
Courtesy Danielle BauerIn the latest census of ocean biodiversity, scientists from the United States and France have counted more than 5000 new species of marine life living in the extreme depths of the Earth's oceans. The zone beneath the 656-foot level - the depth where sunlight no longer reaches - used to be thought of as a "barren zone", but instead is teeming with strange and wonderful creatures that feed on the organic debris that rains down from above. The research is being led by Robert Carney, a professor of oceanography at Louisiana State University.
Just like the car dealerships, the world of wildlife has announced its new models. Actually, 163 new species of animals have been discovered on Earth in the past year. Here's a link to a slide show of some of the new discoveries. Of course, they've actually been around for more than the past year, we just didn't know about them.
Courtesy Mark RyanExtinction is a fact of life. Species rise up, consume energy, reproduce, radiate to fill their range, and die off. It happens all the time. In fact, nearly 99% of all creatures that have ever lived on Earth have gone extinct. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes the cause for extinction is minor – a subtle change in the environment such as increased competition for a food source or the introduction of a harmful contaminate or virus. Other times it can be more heavy-handed, like when a giant asteroid hurls in from outer space and slams into the planet sending the biosphere into a tizzy, and wiping out entire faunas. Either way it sucks big time.
But now there may be a third, more insidious reason. Extinction could be built into the genes of some unfortunate creatures, and according to the new study, it may be get passed on as an ancestral species branches out into new ones. Meaning extinction is a family affair.
The research team, composed of Kaustuv Roy of the University of California, Gene Hunt from the Smithsonian Institute, and David Jablonski of the University of Chicago, studied a whole gamut of extinction patterns in shelled marine animals such as clams, mussels and scallops. Their paper, which appeared recently in the journal Science, suggests that propensity for extinctions could be passed on through the whole groups of species that share common ancestors.
"Biologists have long suspected that the evolutionary history of species and lineages play a big role in determining their vulnerability to extinction, with some branches of the tree of life being more extinction-prone than others," said Roy, a biology professor at UC San Diego.
"Background extinctions" are the normal extinction rates that occur between major extinction events (e. g. killer asteroids), and usually don’t include those caused by human activity. (I don’t see why not – are we not part of Nature?) Anyway, when the team analyzed ‘background rates” from the Jurassic to the present they were struck by how some of the marine species with the highest rate of extinction during those “normal” times were also the most vulnerable (along with their close relatives) during major extinction events.
"Big extinctions have a filtering effect. They tend to preferentially cull the more vulnerable lineages, leaving the resistant ones to proliferate afterwards," Hunt said.
This means extinction isn't as random as we’d like to think, and actually tends to affect entire genera not just species within them. These clustered extinctions chop off larger branches from the family tree and cut deeper into the lineage history.
"Now we know that such differential loss is not restricted to extinctions driven by us but is a general feature of the extinction process itself," Roy said.
The study, according to evolutionary biologist Charles Marshall of Harvard University, shows how fossils are an important record of evolution’s workings.
"Only by analyzing the past do we get a direct sense of the rules by which evolution has worked and will continue to work,” he said.
Courtesy National GeographicNational Geographic has a nice map feature highlighting some lesser known endangered or threatened species in North America. The nocturnal American Burying Beetle is a quite attractive creature.
Courtesy Mark RyanNowadays, when a new dinosaur is discovered (something that happens about every two weeks) it goes through a careful process of study and description before given an official name. Professor Michael Benton from Bristol University, UK, has made a study of how accurate dinosaur naming is, and if new discoveries are actually that or just duplicates of a previously named creature. His conclusion is that - lately anyway - paleontologists have been doing a pretty good job sorting the new from the old.
"My research suggests we're getting better at naming things; we're being more critical; we're using better material," said professor Benton. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Courtesy WikipediaBack in the 1870’s when two titans of early American paleontology were battling each other for supremacy in their field, new dinosaurs were being described and named on the skimpiest of fossil evidence. During those contentious times, former friends Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope named and described hundreds of dinosaurs, each trying to outdo the other in their quest to be paleontology's Top Dog. Great and wonderful discoveries arose from their fierce competition, but in the frenzy many mistakes were made that would require sorting out. Sometimes newly bestowed names were already in use for a completely different animal not necessarily even a dinosaur (preoccupied name), but usually one would name a dinosaur the other or someone else (including themselves) had already named previously (junior synonym) with similar but less complete remains. Once a name enters the scientific literature it becomes somewhat difficult to remove it.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe most famous case of name confusion involved the Brontosaurus. Bones of the lumbering sauropod were discovered in Wyoming in 1879, and Marsh christened it Brontosaurus excelsus. But in 1903, four years after Marsh’s death, paleontologist Elmer Riggs determined that an earlier discovered sauropod called Apatosaurus ajax was a juvenile version of the same creature, Marsh had named that one, too, just two years before from very partial remains found in Colorado. Since the rules of scientific naming established by the ICZN give priority to the first published name, a compromise was made (Apatosaurus excelsus) and the name Brontosaurus was abandoned from official use, although it has remained in the vernacular.
Courtesy Mark RyanAnother well-known dinosaur, Allosaurus, had originally been named Antrodemus, based on a single partial tail vertebra given to Ferdinand Hayden when he was surveying the western United States. Hayden passed the fossil onto paleontologist Joseph Leidy who named it Antrodemus valens. Even though the name preceded Allosaurus by about seven years, the original fossil was determined just too fragmentary, and its source rock formation uncertain, so the name Allosaurus prevailed sending Antrodemus toward nomen obitum (forgotten name) classification. (Of course new evidence could reverse this). But that wasn’t the end of it. After the genus had been sorted out, many of the separate allosaur species named by Marsh and others were later deemed as either synonymous or having doubtful and invalid names.
Antrodemus then became what is known as a senior synonym, a name preceding the more established Allosaurus but, in this rare case, no longer in use. (Other questionable genera such as Creosaurus, Epanterias, and Labrosaurus are considered by many paleontologists as junior synonyms for Allosaurus or even numen dubium because they haven’t been studied enough to establish distinct genera). All had been collected and named during the Marsh and Cope Bone Wars. Of course Marsh and Cope weren't alone in all this. Many other duplicate and unsubstantiated type specimens have been established by other paleontologists through the years.
Professor Benton’s study, which has been published in the journal Biology Letters, delved into the background of the more than 1000 dinosaur ever named, and re-examined the material used to establish the type specimens. These are the fossils upon which the original research, descriptions and figures (illustrations) were based that led to the naming of the dinosaur. In some cases better and more complete remains were used, and professor Benton he was able to whittle the list down to about 500 distinct species of dinosaurs,
"There's no point somebody such as myself doing big statistical analyses of numbers of dinosaur species through time - or indeed any other fossil group - if you can't be confident that they really are genuinely different," Benton said.
An international team of more than 80 marine biologists has surveyed a coral reef in the Philippines and discovered thousands and thousands of species -- one of the most diverse spots on Earth. So far, over 100 have been confirmed as new to science, though the team estimates there could be several thousand new species in their study. (What makes this all the more amazing is that coral reefs grow in the tropical oceans -- one of the most hostile environments on the planet!)
Carolus Linnaeus, Swedish botanist and explorer, was born on May 23, 1707. What's his claim to science fame? He was the first to lay out principles for defining genera and species of organisms, and a system for naming them. His system of two-part "scientific names" (i.e. Homo sapiens or Architeuthis dux), though modified many times, is still in use today.