Science round-up: What morsels have I found this week?

Oh, I have been neglectful. I’ve started a new project and it is leaving little time to wander the interwebs, get distracted reading things and write blog posts.

I have some very mammal-related offerings this week. A new species of African monkey has been described, panic about hantavirus in Yosemite NP is escalating, and population crashes of arctic lemmings is a bad thing.

New monkey species.

Cercopithecus lomamiensis juveniles, image from Hart et al. 2012.

Published in PLoS One, Hart et al. describe the second new species of African primate in 28 years. They don’t say how long it had been beyond that other species 28 years ago. These monkeys are commonly known as guenons, and are semi-arboreal, with records of them using spaces all the way between the canopy and the forest floor. This paper is really neat because it presents a very thorough description, including morphology, molecular data, ecological information and vocalisation data. And, because PLoS journals are online, they included the necessary information pertaining to hard-copy availability of the description (as the manuscript would have pre-dated the changes to the Code of Zoological Nomenclature that I posted about last week). The highlight of the article for me was learning that males of this new monkey have a blue perineum.

Hantavirus in Yosemite.

Peromyscus maniculatus, from Nebraska (photo from IncreasingDisorder’s camera)

Hantavirus is not really a new thing, and but this is the first time that an outbreak on this scale has occured. The virus is rodent-borne, with deermice, Peromyscus spp., being the main culprits. The current outbreak at Yosemite National Park in California has killed 3 people out of the nine confirmed cases so far. But because of the popularity of the site as a tourist destination, officials have sent health advisory notices out to almost a quarter of a million people who have visited the park (info from BBC News). Hantavirus is potentially deadly, so it’s not such a bad thing that these precautions are being taken.

Lemming population crashes are bad….

Stoat with lemming (image via ScienceNOW)

…if you rely on them to eat. Research published in Proc R Soc B and reported by ScienceNOW indicate that recent population crashes of collared lemming populations has had implications for the survival of various carnivores who mainly eat lemmings. As keystone species, the lemmings essentially hold the arctic ecosystems they inhabit together. The natural cycles of population fluctuation observed in arctic lemmings was interrupted by a severe decrease in numbers over the years since 2000. This is thought to be a result of decreased snow cover, and by extension, climate change. Population sizes of lemming predators have also decreased as a result of the population decline.


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