EvoLiteracy News 03 24 2015

Unprecedented Letter: “The Natural History Museum” has posted on its website “An Open Letter to Museums from Members of the Scientific Community.” The letter states: “…We are deeply concerned by the links between museums of science and natural history with those who profit from fossil fuels or fund lobby groups that misrepresent climate science…”

David Koch Board of Directors SmithsonianThe text continues: “…We are concerned that the integrity of these institutions is compromised by association with special interests who obfuscate climate science, fight environmental regulation, oppose clean energy legislation, and seek to ease limits on industrial pollution… When some of the biggest contributors to climate change and funders of misinformation on climate science sponsor exhibitions in museums of science and natural history, they undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions responsible for transmitting scientific knowledge.” To read the complete letter go to Open Letter. The Natural History Museum is inviting scientists to sign the letter. The organization states its mission as follows: “[To] affirm the truth of science.  By looking at the presentation of natural history, we demonstrate principles fundamental to scientific inquiry, principles such as the commonality of knowledge and the unavoidability of the unknown.  We inquire into what we see, how we see, and what remains excluded from our seeing. Through this inquiry, we act as museum anthropologists attuned to the social and political forces inseparable from the natural world.”

New species of frog can rapidly change skin texture from smooth to spiny. The “mutable rainfrog” (Pristimantis mutabilis), discovered in Ecuador, is not only cute but scientifically intriguing.

Mutable Rainfrog Ecuador Zoo J Linnean SocietyThe new amphibian species was discovered in the humid, mossy cloud forest habitat in Ecuador’s Reserva Las Gralarias, in the Andes. The study was just published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. The authors, Juan M. Guayasamin and four other collaborators, describe a “striking case of phenotypic plasticity” (= the frog overall appearance) in which the anuran has the ability to modify its skin texture within minutes, changing between two discrete character states: from presence to absence of tubercles. Interestingly, the “mutable frog” [note that the authors use this term to advertise the fast switch from one appearance to another] is not the only species with this trait; the biologists also describe a second sympatric frog (P. sobetes) with comparable characteristics. It is not clear, however, why these frogs can morpho-change their appearance, although environmental factors –including camouflage (the hypothesis favored by the authors since specimens resemble the mossy habitat in which they live), predators, sexual selection or an anatomical/physiological adaptation to the role of the skin in the animals’ biology– often shape the phenotype. The authors speculate that the so quick changes in the skin appearance “could involve allocation of more or less water to existing small structures (e.g. warts and tubercles),” but it is obvious that the process is not fully understood. Guayasamin and coauthors describe that “individuals of Pristimantis mutabilis presented a markedly tubercular skin texture when found on vegetation or hidden in moss during the night. Large tubercles were evident on the dorsum, upper and lower lips, upper eyelid, arms and legs.” And they add: “After frogs were captured, they all showed a sudden and drastic change in skin texture; all tubercles became reduced in size.” Amazing, indeed! For journalistic information on this story go to amphibians.org.

Amphibian was top predator. A species of crocodile-like amphibian was among Earth’s top predators more than 200 million years ago. The University of Edinburg.

Metoposaurus algarvensis Marc Boulay Cossima Productions

Model of Metoposaurus algarvensis. Credit: Marc Boulay, Cossima Productions

The research was just published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. as  A new species of Metoposaurus from the Late Triassic of Portugal and comments on the systematics and biogeography of metoposaurid temnospondyls. Brusatte et al. write in the summary of their research “Metoposaurids are a group of temnospondyl amphibians that filled crocodile-like predatory niches in fluvial and lacustrine environments during the Late Triassic. Metoposaurids are common in the Upper Triassic sediments of North Africa, Europe, India, and North America… We here erect Metoposaurus algarvensis, sp. nov., the first Metoposaurus species from the Iberian Peninsula, based on several new specimens from a Late Triassic bonebed in Algarve, southern Portugal… The new Portuguese bonebed provides further evidence that metoposaurids congregated in fluvial and lacustrine settings across their geographic range and often succumbed to mass death events…” For complete article go to Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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