Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Magnitude 5.0 Earthquake in Mendoza Province, Argentina.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 5.0 Earthquake at a depth of 32.9 km in Mendoza Province, Argentina, slightly before 2.40 pm local time (slightly before 11.40 am GMT) on Wednesday 15 January 2020. There are no reports of any damage or injuries relating to this event, but people have reported feeling it in the area around the city of Mendoza as well as in Santiago in Chile. 

 The approximate location of the 15 January 2020 Mendoza Earthquake. USGS.

Mendoza Province is located on the eastern margin of the Andes Mountains, one of the most tectonically active mountain ranges in the world, and the plains to the east of these mountains. The Andes are being formed as the Nazca Plate to the west is subducted beneath the South American Plate. This causes quakes in a number of ways. Firstly there is friction between the two plates as the Nazca Plate passes under South America. Then there is crumpling and upthrust of the South American as it is pushed from the west by the Nazca Plate and from the east by the expansion of the Atlantic. Finally there is volcanic activity in the Andes, as lighter minerals in the Nazca Plate are melted by the heat of the Earth's interior, then rise up through the overlying South American Plate to form volcanoes. 

 The subduction of the Nazca Plate beneath the South American Plate, and how it causes Earthquakes and volcanoes. Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center.

This means that Earthquakes, even large events, are quite common in the area, but since the province is on the eastern margin of the Andes, such quakes usually happen at considerable depth (the margin between the Nazca and South American plates is angled downwards, so that maximum seismic activity happens close to the surface on the coast of Chile and deep within the Earth beneath eastern Argentina), so that much of the energy from the quake is dissipated before it reaches the surface.

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. The international non-profit organisation Earthquake Report is interested in hearing from people who may have felt this event; if you felt this quake then you can report it to Earthquake Report here.
 
See also...
 
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/03/magnitude-47-earthquake-in-san-juan.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2017/01/magnitude-48-earthquake-in-mendoza.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2016/11/magnitude-64-earthquake-in-san-juan.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2015/10/eruption-on-mount-copahue.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2015/10/deadly-earthquake-in-salta-province.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2014/06/magnitude-49-earthquake-in-southern-la.html
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Chinese national arrested trying to smuggle Scorpions through Bandaranaike International Airport, Sri Lanka.

A 30-year-old Chinese man was arrested at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka when he was found to be carrying about 200 live Scorpions in plastic containers in his luggage. The man admitted to having collected the animals from the wild himself, and stated that he was taking them back to China for breeding and to sell. He was eventually allowed to continue his journey, without the Scorpions, after paying a 100 000 rupee fine (about US$550).

Scorpions found in the luggage of a Chinese man detained at Colombo Airport, Sri Lamka. Colombo Gazette.

Sri Lanka has a high biodiversity level, with many endemic species (species not found anywhere else), as might be expected from a large island in a tropical location, It has in theory had legislation to protect its wildlife for decades, but a lengthy civil conflict has made this less of a priority than it might have been, and the country became a centre for wildlife crime, with criminals both targeting the island's own flora and fauna, and using the island as a rout through which to smuggle wildlife and wildlife products from elsewhere in Asia and Africa. The country has stated that it now intends to make tackling wildlife crime a priority, though with a large, and growing population, high poverty levels, and a weak national infrastructure, it remains to be seen how this will be implemented.

See also...

https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/08/alloscorpiops-viktoriae-new-species-of.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/02/physoctonus-amazonicus-new-species-of.html
http://sciencythoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/opsieobuthus-tungeri-scorpion-from.htmlhttp://sciencythoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/tityus-apozonalli-new-species-of.html
http://sciencythoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/scorpiops-ingens-new-species-of.htmlhttp://sciencythoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/two-new-species-of-scorpion-from.html
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Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Sinkhole in Qinghai Province, China, swallows bus and kills at least six people.

At least six people have died after a sinkhole opened up on a busy road in the city of Xining in Qinghai Province, China, on Monday 13 January 2020. The sinkhole appeared at about 5.30 pm local time, beneath a bus that was pulling up at a stop by a health clinic, swallowing the vehicle and nearby pedestrians. Several more people were swallowed while trying to rescue those already trapped as the hole continued to grow, and a breaking power line within the hole is reported to have caused an explosion and fire. As well as the six dead a further four people are missing, and sixteen more were injured.

Rescue workers at the scene of a sinkhole that swallowed a bus and several pedestrians in Qinghai Province, China, on Monday 13 January 2020. STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Sinkholes are generally caused by water eroding soft limestone or unconsolidated deposits from beneath, causing a hole that works its way upwards and eventually opening spectacularly at the surface. Where there are unconsolidated deposits at the surface they can infill from the sides, apparently swallowing objects at the surface, including people, without trace.

 Typical sinkhole formation processes. Southwest Florida Water Management District.

On this occassion the cause of the sinkhole is still being investigated, though concerns have been raised about the rising number of sinkholes appearing in China's fast growing cities, with some people seeing a link between these events and lax building standards in rapidly developing areas.

See also...

https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/10/determining-origin-of-lead-dust-in.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/09/magnitude-54-earthquake-in-sichuan.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/08/seventeen-missing-in-landslide-in.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/09/conglomerate-oilfield-discovered-in.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/07/using-hyperspectral-remote-sensing-to.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2017/10/magnitude-55-earthquake-in-sichuan.html
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Comet 114P/Wiseman-Skiff reaches perihelion.

Comet  114P/Wiseman-Skiff will reach its perihelion (the closest point on its orbit to the Sun) today (Tuesday 14 January 2020), when it will be approximately 1.58 AU from the Sun (i.e. 158% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, slightly outside the orbit of the planet Mars). The comet will be 0.86 AU from the Earth at the time of the perihelion, in the constellation of Aries seen from the Earth, and it will be visible with a good pair of binoculars.

Image of Comet  114P/Wiseman-Skiff taken on 25 August 2019 from Balen in Belgium. The comet is the small object indicated by the arrow, the elongate objects are stars that have moved over the course of the 26 minute exposure. Alfons Diepvens.

Comet 114P/Wiseman-Skiff was discovered in January 1987 by Jennifer Wiseman, then an undergraduate at the Michigan Institute of Technology, while examining  two photographic plates taken in December 1986 by Brian Skiff at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. The designation 114P/Wiseman-Skiff implies that it was the 114th Periodic Comet (Periodic Comets are defined as comets with orbital periods of less than 200 years) discovered, and that it was discovered by Wiseman and Skiff.

The calculated orbit and current position of 114P/Wiseman-Skiff. JPL Small Body Database.

 
Comet 114P/Wiseman-Skiff has an orbital period of 2435 days (6.67 years) and a highly eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 18.3° to the plain of the Solar System, that brings it from 1.57 AU from the Sun at perihelion (157% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, and slightly outside the orbit of the planet Mars); to 5.51 AU from the Sun at aphelion (5.51 times as far from the Sun as the Earth or slightly outside the orbit of the planet Jupiter). As a comet with a period of less than 20 years with an orbit angled at less than 30° to the plane of the Solar System, 114P/Wiseman-Skiff is considered to be a Jupiter Family Comet.
 
See also...
 
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2020/01/cyanide-gas-detected-in-coma-of.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/12/interstellar-comet-2iborisov-makes-its.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/12/comet-114pwiseman-skiff-approaches-earth.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/10/comet-c2018-n2-asassn-makes-its-closest.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/09/comet-c2018-w2-africano-approaches.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/03/comet-69ptaylor-reaches-perihelion.html
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Monday, 13 January 2020

Cuon alpinus: Understanding the distribution of Dholes in northeast India.

The Dhole, or Asian Wild Dog, Cuon alpinus, is an Endangered social carnivore found in forested landscapes of South and Southeast Asia. Historically widespread across Asia, the species’ range has contracted by about 80%. The current distribution extends across most of South and Southeast Asia and parts of China but is largely restricted to protected areas. The protected forest landscapes south of the River Ganges in India are a stronghold for the species, with the largest Dhole population. However, the species has undergone local extirpation across parts of its former range as a result of declines of prey species, loss of habitat and, potentially, disease. Information on Dholes in northeast India in particular is limited, despite the fact that this landscape shares continuous forest with Myanmar and Southeast Asia, forming an important part of the species' global range.

A Dhole, or Asian Wild Dog, Cuon alpinus. David Raju/Wikimedia Commons.

In a paper published in the journal Orynx on 23 October 2019, Priya Singh of Researchers for Wildlife Conservation at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, and the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Florida, Arjun Srivastha of the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida, and David Macdonald of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford, provide a compilation of dhole presence records from across northeast India using data extracted from multiple sources.

Current knowledge of Dholes in north-east India is restricted to landscapes north of the River Brahmaputra. This is primarily because of the paucity of baseline ecological data from the region, given its undulating terrain, difficulty of access, wet climatic conditions, and socio-political insurgencies.

Using data from camera-trap surveys Singh et al. examine factors influencing fine-scale site-use by Dholes in Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mizoram State. They discuss the implications of their results for Dhole conservation in northeast India, where the focus of wildlife managers is directed mainly towards population recoveries of and local recolonisation by the Tiger, Panthera tigris. They further provide recommendations for management interventions that could facilitate conservation of Dholes in this hitherto neglected landscape.

Dampa Tiger Reserve lies in the Indo-Myanmar Biodiversity Hotspot. The reserve is contiguous with the Chittagong Hill Tract region of Bangladesh to the west. The core area of the Reserve covers 500 km², and the multi-use buffer covers an area of 488 km². The Lushai Hills traverse the reserve, with altitudes of 250-1100 m. Mean annual rainfall is 2000-2500 mm. The Reserve supports a high diversity of Carnivores, including, in addition to the Dhole, four species of Felids and two species of Ursids. In the course of the study Singh et al. also recorded the Elephant, Elephas maximus, Gaur, Bos gaurus, Sambar, Rusa unicolor, Red Serow, Capricornis rubidus, Muntjac, Muntiacus muntjak, and Wild Pig, Sus scrofa.

Northeast India, with the Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mizoram and locations where the Dhole, Cuon alpinus, has been recorded, with corresponding reliability scores. Singh et al. (2019).

Singh et al. compiled Dhole presence records for nine northeastern states: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, and West Bengal. They searched for records from 1990 onwards in newspaper reports, scientific articles, grey literature (including species checklists), and reports by Forest Department personnel, local informants and naturalists working in the region. For each record they noted the type of evidence (direct/indirect), the date of the sighting, the administrative status of location (protected/non-protected), and the source person or reference. They assigned reliability scores for each record, from 1 to 5, with 1 being most reliable, and 5 least reliable.

From December 2014 to March 2015, Singh et al. deployed 79 pairs of Cuddeback Ambush IR camera traps across 80 km² in the northeast of Dampa Tiger Reserve’s core area. At each station they placed two cameras facing each other, about 30 cm above the ground, on either side of forest trails or on riverbeds. Mean inter-trap distance was 1.02 km, with traps remaining active for an average of 64 days. Although the stations were intended to photograph wild Felids, they also photographed other Carnivores. Dholes generally use forest trails and riverbeds for movement, marking territories and hunting, and our sampling design therefore incorporated areas used by the species.

Singh et al. obtained presence records from 80 locations for 1990-2018, of which we considered 41 records from 2010–2018 with reliability scores of 1-3. In the case of multiple records for the same site, they considered the most recent record with the highest reliability score. Most records were from Arunachal Pradesh (14) and Assam (8), with five records from Mizoram and Nagaland, four from West Bengal, three from Meghalaya and two from Sikkim. There were no recent records of Dholes from Manipur and Tripura. A total of 5033 camera trap-days in Dampa Tiger Reserve generated 500 photoencounters of Dholes, comprising 92 detections (one per 24 hour duration) across 33 sites. 

Singh et al. found photo-capture frequencies of key prey species: Sambar (236), Muntjac (145), Wild Pig (92); to be positive influences, as were the distance to reserve boundary, and photo-capture frequencies of Forest Department personnel, while photo-capture frequencies of other humans were  negative influences on site-use by Dholes.

There are records of Dholes across several areas of northeast India, including in unprotected areas. Previous global assessments indicated that the species faced near or complete local extirpation to the south of the River Brahmaputra, something refuted by Sigh et al.'s findings from Dampa Tiger Reserve. Corroborating current knowledge from other landscapes, showed a positive relationship between Dhole site-use and Sambar presence. Across their extant distribution, the range of Dholes overlaps with that of Tigers and Leopards, Panthera pardus. Wildlife managers in this region and elsewhere subscribe to unsubstantiated notions that dhole presence impedes colonisation by Tigers, and consequently treat Dholes as a problem species. On the contrary, Tigers, Leopards and Dholes can co-exist provided protected areas support adequate densities of medium- to large-sized prey species.

Dampa Tiger Reserve is an important refuge for Dholes in northeast India. It supports large tracts of inviolate protected spaces, and habitat connectivity with forested landscapes of the Chittagong Hill Tract region to the west, Mamit Forest Division to the north and Thorangtlang Wildlife Sanctuary to the south. Singh et al's camera-trap data indicate the presence of a guild of large herbivores in the Reserve, with at least five prey species of medium and large ungulate herbivores, facilitating the long-term persistence of dholes there. The findings re-emphasise the importance of protected areas, which can serve as source sites for sustaining Dhole populations across the region.

In areas with low prey densities, carnivores may have significant dependence on livestock, and are consequently stigmatised. There is a strong negative relationship between Dholes and livestock owners in Arunachal Pradesh and other locations in the region. Given that Dholes also occur outside protected areas in this region, they are potentially vulnerable to retributory killing. Negative interactions between people and Dholes necessitate interventions to reduce poaching and facilitate recovery of prey, especially for species such as Sambar that are impacted by low recovery rates following prolonged poaching. Singh et al.'s findings need to be augmented with a systematic survey across the locations they identified, specifically in the states of Mizoram and Nagaland, to facilitate a pan-northeast India strategy for Dhole conservation.

See also...

https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/08/leopard-attack-thwarted-by-dog-in.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/08/camper-attacked-by-wolf-in-banff.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/07/worker-at-western-australian-gold-mine.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2016/08/cynarctus-wangi-new-species-of.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2016/07/photogrammetry-as-tool-in-morphometric.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2016/04/lycaon-pictus-african-hunting-dogs.html
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Humpback Whale dies after becoming stranded on the coast of North Sumatra.

A Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, has died after becoming stranded on the coast of North Sumatra on Saturday 11 January 2020. The Whale was first stranded on a sandbank off the coast of the village of Silo Baru on Wednesday 8 January, but was helped to refloat by local fishermen and returned to deeper water. The Whale returned on Friday 10 January and again became trapped, being rescued for the second time by a team from the Natural Resources Conservation Agency. However, it became trapped again the following day, and this time could not be rescued. The body of the carcass is currently trapped on a sand bank about 1.5 km offshore, where it is hoped that the Asahan Fishery and Maritime Affairs Agency will be able to inspect it before it is dragged into deeper water and deliberately sunk.

A Humpback Whale stranded on the coast of North Sumatra on Saturday 11 January 2020. Asahan Fishery and Maritime Affairs Agency.

Humpback Whales were nearly exterminated by commercial Whaling in the first part of the twentieth century. The species has been protected since 1946, and in recent years their population has appeared to be recovering in many areas, now being seen as being of Least Concern  under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. The Whales are recovering in many parts of the globe, and are starting to appear in areas where they have not previously been recorded; this is the first time a Humpback Whale stranding has been recorded on the coast of North Sumatra.

The approximate location of the 11 January 2020 North Sumatra Humpback Whale stranding. Google Maps.

See also...

https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/12/balaenoptera-acutorostrata-northern.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/10/humpback-whale-spotted-im-thames-estuary.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/09/humpback-whale-washes-up-on.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/09/immature-blue-whale-washes-up-dead-on.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/09/megaptera-novaeangliae-how-kermadec.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/09/cetacean-sightings-within-great-pacific.html
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Sunday, 12 January 2020

Fratercula arctica: Tool use observed in Atlantic Puffins, the first known example of this behaviour in a Seabird.

The evolution of tool use is one of the most enduring puzzles in behavioural biology. Investigating the distribution of tool use across different species is key to understanding its adaptive value and hence its evolution in the natural world, and ultimately to understanding the evolutionary history of our own species. Tool use is the exertion of control over an object with the goal of altering the physical properties of another object, substance, surface or medium, or controlling the flow of information between the tool user and the environment or other organisms in the environment. Tools can be used for several purposes, mainly related to feeding, defence, aggression, social displays, or physical maintenance. True tool use requires manipulation of an object detached from the substrate, unlike borderline tool use where the tool remains part of the substrate. Tool use is a rare but phylogenetically widespread behaviour in the wild. It is most common in Birds and Mammals, mainly in the Passeriformes and Primates, some of which use or even manufacture tools to complete complex tasks. Tool use appears to span a continuum between two broad types: genetically based behavioural specialisations, inflexible and applied in a single context, and more flexible behavioural innovations, whose development may also rely partially on genetics but which can be applied creatively to new contexts. The ability of animals to use tools creatively has been linked to their cognitive capacities. Animal tool use is most frequent, and has been most discussed, in a need-for-resources framework, mainly related to feeding. Using tools for physical maintenance is also relatively common; for example, chimpanzees use tools to groom, scratch, or wipe themselves. In birds, captive Parrots have been reported to scratch with sticks, but to date the only avian tool use for physical maintenance reported in the wild is 'anting', depositing Ants on one’s plumage, which is observed in many species, but mostly Passerines.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on 30 December 2019, Annette Fayet of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, Erpur Snær Hansen of the South Iceland Nature Research Centre, and Dora Biro, also of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford,provide evidence of a wild Seabird performing another form of tool use for physical maintenance.

Fayet et al. observed two Atlantic Puffins, Fratercula arctica, Charadriiform Seabirds (i.e. members of the group that also includes Sandpipers, Plovers, Gulls, Auks, and their relatives), scratching with a stick. They describe our observations and discuss their implications in the context of animal tool use. 

Puffins nest on colonies around the North Atlantic, mostly on grassy slopes on predator-free islands. As part of a study on Skomer Island, Wales, observations have been made each June since 2012 at dusk, when Puffins gather on the colony to preen, sleep, and socialise. The Birds’ behaviour was observed with a spotting scope. On 18 June 2014 on Skomer Island an adult Puffin was observed holding a wooden stick in its bill and using it to scratch its back for about five seconds. The Bird was sitting on the sea under the colony’s cliffs, among other members of the same species. Shortly thereafter the Bird took off (still holding the stick, albeit it is unclear for how long) and was lost from view.

In July 2018, Browning motion-activated cameras were deployed near Puffin nests on Grimsey Island, Iceland, to record patterns of nest attendance. The cameras were configured to record ten seconds of footage after each movement detection, with a minimum thirty second pause after each video. On 13 July 2018 on Grimsey Island a camera trap recorded similar behaviour. In the video, an adult Puffin picks up a wooden stick from the ground then uses it to scratch its chest feathers. The video stops shortly after this first bout of scratching. On later videos, the stick is on the ground. It eventually disappears after about twenty four hours, presumably displaced by a Bird or the wind.

Puffin scratching with a stick. Grimsey Island, Iceland. Fayet et al. (2019).

The two instances of Puffins using a stick as a tool for body care represent recorded evidence of a wild Bird exhibiting this behaviour, while to date, in the wild only primates and elephants have been observed scratching with a tool. It is also evidence of true tool use in a Seabird, confirming the behaviour in an avian order previously thought to lack the ability, need, or opportunity to use tools. Furthermore, this suggest that while this behaviour is rare it is not restricted to a single population. Each of these conclusions has important implications for our understanding of the distribution and adaptive significance of tool use in the animal kingdom.

Screenshots of a Puffin scratching with a stick. Time stamps (hours: minutes: seconds) indicate time elapsed since the first panel. The stick’s location is indicated by an arrow. (A) Puffin picking up the stick. (B) Puffin holding the stick. (C) Puffin scratching its chest with the stick. (D) Nine hours later, the stick is still visible on the ground. Fayet et al. (2019).

The observations of Puffins rubbing their body with a stick fit the definition of tool use, as they involved the direct manipulation of a detached object toward a specific part of the environment (the Birds’ plumage) with a specific goal. It is important to note that the observations cannot be mistaken for the collection of nest material. Puffins preferentially collect soft material like grass or feathers to line their nests then quickly carry these inside their burrow, as frequently observed on both study colonies. In Wales, the Puffin was sitting on the water and therefore was not collecting nest material on land. Puffins often assemble in rafts near the colony to rest, preen, and bathe. The observed Puffin engaged in body care like many of its neighbours and most likely picked up the stick on land before flying to the water. In Iceland, videos recorded after the tool-use episode showed the stick on the ground, confirming that the Bird did not take it to its nest. Fayet et al. are therefore confident that our observed Puffins did not pick up the sticks as nest lining material.

Puffin taking a feather inside its burrow to line its nest. Grimsey Island, Iceland. Fayet et al. (2019).

Using sticks is common across tool-using taxa, but mostly in a foraging context to extract food from a cavity. Fayet et al.'s observations aside, stick tool use has exclusively been documented for extractive foraging in wild Birds, which remains the primary use even in Primates. Other, less common uses include communication or defence such as Chimpanzee dominance displays, investigation of novel objects by captive New Caledonian Crows, and scratching by Primates, wild Elephants, and captive Parrots. Since the observed Puffins appeared to be rubbing the sticks on their plumage, it is reasonable to rule out foraging, investigation, or communication as the behavior’s function: Puffins only catch prey underwater, and they were not interacting with other Puffins or probing objects with the stick. As such, they were most likely engaged in body care.

Puffin taking grass inside its burrow to line its nest. Grimsey Island, Iceland. Fayet et al. (2019).

Two alternatives for the function of the stick can be proposed: It may have been used for its mechanical properties, to dislodge parasites or relieve an itch, or its chemical properties, in a manner similar to anting, where Birds rub Ants or plants on their plumage, presumably for their antiparasitic properties. The latter hypothesis seems less likely as the sticks used by the Puffins seemed dry and therefore unlikely to have released chemical substances. As regards the former hypothesis, the absence, so far, of reports of wild Birds using sticks as mechanical tools for preening could be due to a lack of need for this behaviour, as Birds can access most of their body with their beak. Nonetheless, reports of captive Parrots scratching with stick-like objects suggest this behaviour may exist in the wild but has remained unreported due to its rarity. The case of the Puffins may reflect a specific ecological need which only occurs in some circumstances. For example, Puffins suffer from Seabird Ticks, Ixodes uriae, which were particularly abundant on Grimsey Island in the summer of 2018. The stick may have helped with scratching or dislodging them, perhaps more effectively than the beak. In either case, mechanical or chemical application, investigating the role of parasites as potential drivers of the emergence of bodycare-related tool use, for example by testing whether tool use prevalence correlates with parasite load in populations, would be an interesting avenue for future research.

Thus, Fayet et al.'s observations indicate that wild Birds may have a wider tool-use repertoire for physical self-maintenance than current evidence suggests. The fact that several species of Parrots showed this behaviour in captivity further supports this hypothesis, and the pattern of such behaviour having been observed multiple times independently and in different species may suggest that the behaviour may not simply be an artifact of captivity. Furthermore, the similarity of tool use between Birds and Primates has been mainly discussed in the context of feeding to date. Fayet et al.'s findings highlight the need to broaden this discussion to include other functions such as physical maintenance.

More broadly, the findings provide evidence of true tool use in a Seabird. This suggests tool use is rare in this group, but can no longer be considered absent. Tool use is present in a small number of Bird species (less than 1% of known genera) and is mostly related to feeding, presumably because of the high fitness gains reaped by accessing concealed food sources, especially when these are more profitable than non-concealed ones. Seabirds feed at sea, mainly on Fish, and have evolved unparallelled abilities to dive, swim, and catch prey underwater. The ocean seems an unlikely setting for Seabirds to evolve tool use, not least because of the lack of objects to use as tools and of concealed food sources in the water. Tool use, indeed, seems even rarer in aquatic animals than terrestrial ones. Seabirds only visit land to breed, which limits the opportunity for tool use and could favour its use for non-foraging purposes like courtship or physical maintenance. Such behaviours may also remain unreported because Seabirds are difficult to observe: They spend most of their time at sea, underground, or on inaccessible cliffs, and many are nocturnal. Fayet et al.'s finding of another physical maintenance tool-use behaviour in wild Birds besides anting suggests that tool use can emerge without strong selective pressure to obtain resources.

The fact that the two observations occurred on distant populations also raises interesting questions regarding their implications for the Birds’ underlying cognition. One possibility is that the behaviour arose by independent behavioural innovations as flexible problem solving by the Puffins observed, or that they socially learned this behaviour from other innovators. Alternatively, the behaviour could have a genetic component (in that it appears along a fixed developmental pathway without the need for innovation), present in both populations but rarely exhibited. Currently there is no way to distinguish between these scenarios; careful experimentation and information on the Birds’ history of interactions with sticks and conspecifics may reveal the extent to which stick use represents behavioural innovation and has the potential for social transmission. The propensity for behavioural innovation has been shown to increase with relative brain size in Birds and Primates. Seabirds’ relative brain size is comparatively small and they are not generally described as possessing sophisticated cognitive abilities. However, they feed in patchy, unpredictable environments, where they must integrate multiple sources of physical and social information to make complex decisions in space and time. Solving such problems requires behavioural flexibility and skills in multiple domains including learning, memory, and planning, also evidenced by high levels of fidelity in migration and foraging routes in numerous species. As such, Seabirds’ cognitive capacities may have been considerably underestimated. The fact that to date the only other Birds seen scratching with a stick are Parrots, which are prolific tool users and problem solvers, supports this hypothesis.

In summary, our discovery of another type of tool use in wild Birds, outside of the Passeriform order where most avian tool use is known to occur, and of a form so far restricted in the wild to Primates and Elephants, highlights the importance of widening the discussion on the evolution of animal tool use to a broader framework. While efforts to identify a single unifying driver for the emergence of all tool use are unlikely to succeed, a more complete picture of the range of contexts and taxa in which tool use occurs will allow behavioural scientists to break the phenomenon down into more meaningful categories for analysis. Fayet et al. therefore encourage researchers to include species not traditionally considered as good candidates for tool use and to report unusual behaviours across species. Their finding also warrants further studies on Seabird cognition, a topic almost entirely unstudied but clearly rife with opportunity for future research.

See also...

https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/08/sternula-antillarum-hundreds-of-least.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/02/kumimanu-biceae-new-species-of-giant.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2017/11/coconut-crabs-observed-predating.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2017/02/a-hesperornithiform-bird-from-late.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2016/09/choerodon-cyanodus-tool-use-observed-in.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2015/11/fumicollis-hoffmani-new-species-of.html
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