QUIRKY SCIENCE | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 16, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 16, 2016

QUIRKY SCIENCE

Devastating Decline for the Giraffe

Over 700 newly recognized bird species have been assessed for the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM, and 11% of them are threatened with extinction. The update also reveals a devastating decline for the giraffe, driven by habitat loss, civil unrest and illegal hunting. The global giraffe population has plummeted by up to 40% over the last 30 years, and the species has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Today's IUCN Red List update also includes the first assessments of wild oats, barley, mango and other crop wild relative plants. These species are increasingly critical to food security, as their genetic diversity can help improve crop resistance to disease, drought and salinity.

The update was released at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP13) in Cancun, Mexico. The IUCN Red List now includes 85,604 species of which 24,307 are threatened with extinction.

“Many species are slipping away before we can even describe them," says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. "This IUCN Red List update shows that the scale of the global extinction crisis may be even greater than we thought. Governments gathered at the UN biodiversity summit in Cancun have the immense responsibility to step up their efforts to protect our planet's biodiversity -- not just for its own sake but for human imperatives such as food security and sustainable development."

Glimpse of Feathered Dinosaur Tail

Researchers from China, Canada, and the University of Bristol have discovered a dinosaur tail complete with its feathers trapped in a piece of amber.

The finding reported today in Current Biology helps to fill in details of the dinosaurs' feather structure and evolution, which can't be surmised from fossil evidence.

While the feathers aren't the first to be found in amber, earlier specimens have been difficult to definitively link to their source animal, the researchers say.

Ryan McKellar, from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, said: "The new material preserves a tail consisting of eight vertebrae from a juvenile; these are surrounded by feathers that are preserved in 3D and with microscopic detail.

"We can be sure of the source because the vertebrae are not fused into a rod or pygostyle as in modern birds and their closest relatives. Instead, the tail is long and flexible, with keels of feathers running down each side. In other words, the feathers definitely are those of a dinosaur not a prehistoric bird."

The study's first author Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing discovered the remarkable specimen at an amber market in Myitkyina, Myanmar in 2015.

The amber piece was originally seen as some kind of plant inclusion and destined to become a curiosity or piece of jewellery, but Xing recognized its potential scientific importance and suggested the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology buy the specimen.

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