Jan 5

You may have noticed that we’ve been a bit quiet recently, and so to make up for it, and in case you haven’t been keeping a close eye on the environment and wildlife news over the festive period, we’ve rounded up some of the most interesting news stories to bring you up to speed for the New Year.

DNA evidence suggests African elephant is two species

African elephant

The African savannah elephant (pictured) is much larger and heavier than the forest elephant.

Researchers comparing African elephant DNA sequences have carried out the first study that looks at the genetic distance (which estimates how long ago two species separated from a common ancestor) between the African savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), leading to the remarkable conclusion that they have been separated for at least three million years, and making them as distinct from each other as Asian elephants are from the extinct woolly mammoth.

To read more about the study, and to find out about how a split may impact elephant conservation, go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12054343

Rare monk seal colony found in the Mediterranean

Male Mediterranean monk seal

The Mediterranean monk seal is Critically Endangered.

A thriving colony of one of the world’s most endangered mammals – the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) – has been found on an isolated island in Greece. The location, which is being kept secret to protect against disturbance by human visitors, is the only place where the Mediterranean monk seal is known to lie out in the open on the sandy beaches.

To read more about the discovery of the Mediterranean monk seal colony, go to: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9317000/9317582.stm

China’s rarest bird discovered wintering in Indonesia

Chinese crested tern landing with fish

The Critically Endangered Chinese crested tern was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 2000.

A wintering Chinese crested tern (Sterna bernsteini) has been seen and photographed in Indonesia – the first non-breeding record for over 70 years. The Chinese crested tern population is thought to have fewer than 50 birds, making it more endangered than the giant panda.

To find out more about the sighting and to read an account, go to:

Blood-sucking fish feed on whales

Sea lamprey attached to stone

The sea lamprey is a primitive vertebrate which has a jawless, sucker-like mouth.

New research has shown that the parasitic sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) feeds on prey as big as minke whales, humpback whales and North Atlantic right whales, challenging old theories which suggested that they attached themselves to large cetaceans to ‘hitch a ride’ and move long distances.

To read more about the new research on sea lampreys and their feeding habits, go to: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9281000/9281424.stm

Wildlife thriving in UK rivers

Water vole on river bank

Water voles declined dramatically in the 1990s but have since returned to many UK waterways.

The otter (Lutra lutra), the water vole (Arvicola terrestris) and many species of freshwater fish have shown dramatic population increases in the last decade, with streams and rivers throughout the UK at their cleanest since the Industrial Revolution.

To read more about the improvement in UK rivers and the effect on local wildlife, go to: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/dec/31/freshwater-wildlife-thriving-clean-rivers

Helen Roddis, ARKive Scientific Text Author