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Animal News Roundup: Otters, Marmots, and Blue-Footed Boobies

Travel News — By Carlo Alcos on August 5, 2010 at 11:45 am
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What’s the latest from the animal kingdom?

1. California sea otters’ numbers in decline

They were hunted to near extinction for their soft pelts, according to Wired.com. But efforts by the government — they are a federally protected species — saw their numbers gradually increase over time. Until now. For reasons yet unknown, their numbers are in decline again. It appears to be due to a combination of factors, “both natural and human caused,” says biologist Tim Tinker of the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Diseases that come from terrestrial sources are one of the factors that are also contributing to increased mortality. Sea otters are a really good indication in the health of the coastal ocean,” said Tinker. “And what they’re telling us right now is that it’s not doing so well.“

2. Population explosion of Colorado marmots

Fatter and more populous marmots in the mountains of Colorado may be further evidence of climate change. Wired.com reports that the marmots are emerging from hibernation around 20 days earlier than normal, as compared to their patterns in the late ’70s. This has led to more time for fattening up in summer, less time for weight loss in winter, and a big increase in their survival and reproductive success.

“We believe that gradual change in climate crosses a threshold, and causes abrupt changes in population,” said biologist Arpat Ozgul from the Imperial College of London. It’s not believed that this will sustain over the long run as food resources will be limited and they will most likely be more vulnerable to predators.

“I’d be surprised if the population keeps growing, even if the summers keep getting longer,” said biologist Murray Humphries from McGill University. “What goes up must come down.”

3. Bullied Blue-Footed Boobies do just fine in life

Hugh Drummond of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City, has shown that smaller and weaker siblings, while tormented in the nest, live normal lives and produce just as many chicks as their older, bullying siblings.

They may lose out on 17% of the food while young, but they experience a growth spurt and will grow just as large as the others by the time they’re ready for flight. But it’s not all fun and brotherly games. If the food is scarce enough, the older sibling can kill its younger ones, and the parents do not intervene.

[Image: mikebaird / Flickr]

Tags: animals, blue-footed booby, marmot, news, sea otters

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