12 May 2010


JAGUARS. I'm not certain why it takes a quarter century for this sort of thing to make the news. As a student in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona in the mid-1980s, one of many debates concerning wildlife habitat was whether it was more effective to have many smaller areas of wilderness set aside for wildlife, or to have fewer, larger areas. (Subsequent research reveals that larger areas are more conducive, especially for migrating ungulates and for larger predators -- the more such areas, the better.) What was not questioned was the need for protected corridors for migrating between areas -- thus allowing a better mixing of the gene pool. A recent study not only confirms this principal, but notes that, at least in the case of big cats, it is entirely possible for human residents to accomodate themselves without undue disruption to the movement of feline predators. Big cats are, by and large, active nocturnally -- this is certainly true for the jaguars of Costa Rica and other Central American countries. With a little common sense and understanding, it is perfectly possible for humans and predators to coexist.

ARCHAEOPTERIX. Similarly, it is not news that the iconic fossil Archaeopterix represents a vital transitional link between dinosaurs and birds -- possessing jaws with sharp teeth, three fingers with claws, a long bony tail and ..... feathers. Now comes further evidence of the link to birds. Using hair-thin Xrays, researchers have mapped the body chemistry of Archaeopterix, confirming what fossilized bones and feathers had indicated. The film Jurassic Park had it right.

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