Scientists discover what triggers carnivory in rare West African plant
A rare species of vine from West Africa, known to science as Triphyophyllum peltatum, has long been known to unfurl carnivorous leaves, complete with glands oozing sticky secretions that trap beetles and other insects.
Unlike other famous plant carnivores like the Venus flytrap, T. peltatum is the only plant known to become a carnivore under certain conditions. Until now, what those conditions were, remained a mystery.
Now, scientists studying the plants under laboratory conditions in Hannover tested their reaction to deficiencies in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Only when deprived of phosphorus did the plants produce carnivorous leaves, according to their findings published in New Phytologist.
The results were confirmed when the plants were transferred into pots of soil in a glasshouse.
Carnivory appears to be a survival mechanism the vines, also known as lianas, use in their natural environment in tropical evergreen forests in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast.
There they grow on mountain slopes with shallow acidic soils that are low in nutrients, especially phosphorus, at the end of the monsoon rains in September.
The plants produce two other types of non-carnivorous leaf, including ones with hooks on the end of them to help the liana to climb. The latter gave rise to the name the German research team used for the plant: hakenblatt, or hook leaf.
The non-carnivorous hooked leaf of the liana that helps it to climb | Traud Winkelmann
Baboon contraception might not solve conflict with humans, study suggests
Cape Town, South Africa’s second biggest city, has its fair share of human-wildlife conflict, and conflict with chacma baboons is particularly rife.
The animals raid vineyards, damage crops and property and sometimes cause havoc at tourist sites where the brazen primates occasionally grab food or drinks from unsuspecting visitors.
The baboon population is growing, and with it the strife. The authorities have considered contraception as a non-lethal solution to try to curb the animals’ numbers, but new research suggests why that might not be a good idea.
A female chacma baboon was fitted with a GPS collar, and her movements monitored shortly before and after she gave birth. Once she had a baby she avoided urban spaces, even as the rest of her troop continued with their incursions into built-up areas.
It’s thought she did this to protect her baby not just from humans, but from infanticidal rival male baboons.
From the data gathered on her movements and those of two other new mothers without GPS collars, it would appear that female baboons with young confine themselves to natural areas and avoid built-up spaces.
Contraception would have the opposite effect.
"If females are prevented from reproducing, this could translate to even more urban space use by the city's chacma baboons,” the authors note.
A baboon walks alongside a road in Cape Town | David Berkowitz | Wikimedia
Seal-hunting lioness adapts to human presence on her stretch of Namibian beach
Conservationists in Namibia are working to protect humans and lions from coming into conflict with each other along a remote stretch of beach in the Skeleton Coast National Park.
There, some of the country’s desert-adapted lions prey on Cape fur seals and other marine creatures in the intertidal zone to supplement their diet in a harsh landscape that is often critically short of prey.
But the presence of lions along a 20-kilometre (12-mile) stretch of beach near the Uniab River raises the risk of them coming into conflict with sport anglers and holiday makers who flock to a seasonal campsite known as Torra Bay each December-January.
During the last season, members of the Desert Lion Conservation Trust closely monitored the movements of one resident lioness and provided constant updates to the campsite on her whereabouts.
It’s believed this helped to avoid potentially dangerous interactions between the anglers and the apex predator.
The conservation team also gathered useful data on the lioness from the day the fishing camp opened, they write in the Namibian Journal of Environment.
“Showing remarkable awareness and adaptation to the new dynamics in her usual hunting grounds, the lioness changed her behaviour and refrained from spending any time on the beaches during the daytime,” they report.
“Most tourists were understanding and respectful of the presence of the lioness in the area.”
Lion food: Cape fur seals on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast | Hans Hillewaert | Wikimedia
Nature Notes: ground hornbills prefer to live alongside humans in Zimbabwe
Seventy years. That’s how long one extraordinary species of southern African bird – the ground hornbill – can expect to live, albeit in captivity.
In the wild life is shorter, but the strikingly-large black birds (they’re the size of turkeys) with red facial skin and long eyelashes still manage to live for up to 50 years there, according to Peter Makhusa, a self-funded Zimbabwean conservationist.
He is using WhatsApp groups to garner data from around the country to work out how many birds there are left. So far reliable records supplied by members of the public come mostly from protected areas, leaving a question mark over the birds’ wellbeing across large swathes of their historical range.
In Zimbabwe, habitat destruction through land clearance by farmers, and poisoning from pesticides, are among the biggest threats they face, but there is a lack of data to measure the impact these are having on the hornbills.
Curiously, all of the 19-20 breeding pairs that live in the Matopos area, south-western Zimbabwe, live and breed outside of the Matopos National Park, says Makhusa.
These areas are densely populated with humans, but have fewer natural predators like leopards and baboons that would otherwise pose a threat to the birds’ nestlings inside the park.
Ground hornbills are revered among human communities surrounding the park, and to harm one is a punishable offence.
“Even the dogs don’t chase them,” Makhusa told a recent meeting of BirdLife Zimbabwe that I attended in Harare.