November 24, 2017
What Killed Passenger Pigeons? 
Maybe Genetics
By Steph Yin/The New York Times
Photo by Tim Evanson/flickr
North America was once a utopia for passenger pigeons. When European colonizers first arrived, as many as 5 billion of the gray-backed, copper-breasted and iridescent beauties roamed the continent, possibly the most abundant bird to have ever graced the planet.

When they migrated, they swept across the entire sky, obscuring daylight for hours or even days at a time, the seeming embodiment of infinity. Then, in just a few decades, the inconceivable happened: Commercialized and excessively hunted, the birds vanished.

A paper published in  Science   sheds new light on why the creatures went extinct so swiftly and thoroughly. Analyzing the DNA of preserved birds, the researchers found evidence that natural selection was extremely efficient in passenger pigeons.

This might have made the pigeons particularly well-suited for living in dense flocks, but unable to cope with living in sparse groups once their numbers started to plummet, the authors suggest.

Dogs May Have Hunted with Man for 8,000 Years
By David Grimm/Science
McGraw Photo by Alex Garcia
Carved into a sandstone cliff on the edge of a bygone river in the Arabian Desert, a hunter draws his bow for the kill. He is accompanied by 13 dogs, each with its own coat markings; two animals have lines running from their necks to the man's waist.

The engravings likely date back more than 8000 years, making them the earliest depictions of dogs, a new study reveals. And those lines are probably leashes, suggesting that humans mastered the art of training and controlling dogs thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

"It's truly astounding stuff," says Melinda Zeder, an archaeozoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. "It's the only real demonstration we have of humans using early dogs to hunt." But she cautions that more work will be needed to confirm both the age and meaning of the depictions. 
Nation Expands Hunting Access on Refuges
Sporting Classics Daily
McGraw Photo by Alex Garcia
Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a final rule to open or expand opportunities across 132,000 acres on ten national wildlife refuges. This will bring the number of refuges where the public may hunt up to 373 and 311 where fishing is permitted.

"The nation's sportsmen and women lead the conservation of wildlife and their habitats throughout our nation," said Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan. "They are passionate about the outdoors and are committed to sustainably managing these resources for all Americans to enjoy.

"Refuges provide all Americans with places to hunt, fish, observe the natural world firsthand, and experience the great outdoors. We are pleased to be able to offer hunting and fishing opportunities and other recreational activities where they are compatible with National Wildlife Refuge management goals."
Why the Mottled Duck Is Becoming
a Rare Bird
By Tristan Baurick/
Photo by Kenneth Cole Schneider/flickr
The mottled duck is looking for love in all the wrong places. 

As its breeding grounds disappear along the Louisiana coast, the mottled duck -- the only duck native to the marshes of the American South -- is finding mates farther inland, in urban drainage and park ponds, ditches and farm fields. Problem is, that's increasingly the territory of the mallard, the most common and widespread duck in the world.

Pushed together by the coast's land loss crisis, the two closely-related species are interbreeding, resulting in a hybrid that will eventually look and act more like the dominant mallard and less like the mottled duck. 

"It's a unique species to the Gulf coast, separated (from other species) over millions of years of evolution," said waterfowl biologist Robert Ford, referring to the mottled duck. "Whereas, the mallard is ubiquitous. It's invading the whole United States ." 
Technology Tells Us  Where the Wild Things Go
By Oliver Uberti/Nautilus
Photo by Megan Coughlin/flickr
When I sat down with Iain Douglas-Hamilton at his home in Nairobi to learn how he went from deploying the first radio collars on elephants in 1968 to deploying the first GPS collars on them in 1995, he told me about an elephant named Parsitau. "We put a prototype on him and it lasted for all of 10 days, and we thought this was absolutely the cat's whiskers."

Recording four locations per day, those 40 GPS points were the first ever recorded on an animal in Africa. "It was so incredible," Douglas-Hamilton recalled. "Here was a collar that would go across international borders, work by day, by night, inside forest, outside forest, up hills, down hills." Plus, GPS was far more precise than radio or traditional Argos satellite tracking.

Today, the breakthroughs are still coming. Just a few years ago, Douglas-Hamilton's research and conservation organization, Save The Elephants, partnered with Google to develop a way for GPS locations to feed directly into Google Earth. And they have since created their own real-time tracking app for phones and tablets in partnership with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and his company, Vulcan.

"Go afield with a good attitude, with respect for the forest and fields in which you walk. Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person."