New species of threatened Florida indigo snake could aid conservation efforts

August 1st, 2016
Florida Museum researchers describe a new species, the Gulf Coast indigo snake, Drymarchon kolpobasileus, pictured here, in a study published in Zootaxa this month. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kenneth L. Krysko

Florida Museum researchers recently described a new species, the Gulf Coast indigo snake, pictured here.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kenneth L. Krysko

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — They seem similar at first glance, but it turns out the indigo snakes found on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts are not two of a kind.

Ten years of research by Florida Museum of Natural History scientists led to new information about the origins of Florida’s largest native snake species, which may impact efforts by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to conserve the reptiles and their environments.

Museum researchers confirmed that two distinct lineages of indigo snakes live on opposite sides of Florida. Differences in the genetics and appearances of the Gulf Coast and (more…)

Ancient fossils reveal humans were greater threat than climate change to Caribbean wildlife

October 20th, 2015
Fossils in a flooded cave reveal the impact of human activities on biodiversity. A recent National Science Foundation grant will allow Florida Museum of Natural History researchers to excavate in more caves, including this one on Crooked Island in the Bahamas. Photo courtesy of Kelly Delancy

Fossils in a flooded cave reveal the impact of human activities on biodiversity. A recent NSF grant will allow researchers to excavate in more caves, including this one on Crooked Island in the Bahamas.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Delancy

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Nearly 100 fossil species pulled from a flooded cave in the Bahamas reveal a true story of persistence against all odds — at least until the time humans stepped foot on the islands.

University of Florida researchers say the discovery, detailed in a study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows many human activities pose a threat to the future of island biodiversity, with modern human-driven climate change not necessarily the most alarming. A new $375,000 National Science Foundation grant will allow further exploration of caves on Caribbean islands beginning in December.

Thirty-nine of the species discussed in the new study no longer exist on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Of those, 17 species of birds likely fell victim to changes in climate and (more…)

New UF study reveals oldest primate lived in trees

January 20th, 2015
Dryomomys szalayi reconstruction

Scientists believe Purgatorius looked similar to Dryomomys szalayi, another primitive primate discovered near Yellowstone National Park by co-author Jonathan Bloch.
Illustration courtesy of Doug Boyer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Say “primate” and most people wouldn’t think of a tree-dwelling, squirrel-like creature that weighs no more than a deck of playing cards, but a new study suggests that may perfectly describe humans’ earliest primate ancestors.

Found in the same area of Montana that yielded the massive Tyrannosaurus rex, new ankle bones smaller than a penny provide the first fossil evidence that the oldest primates lived in trees.

That’s important because living in trees gave those early primates access to food sources that other species lacked – likely a critical factor in why primates succeeded in evolution where others may have failed.

The study appearing this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the first bones below the skull of Purgatorius—previously known only by its teeth. The shape of the teeth allowed paleontologists to determine the tree shrew-like animal ate insects and (more…)

New study shows megalodon shark became extinct 2.6 million years ago

October 22nd, 2014
Pimiento in lab

Lead researcher Catalina Pimiento measures a megalodon tooth at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study dismisses claims that megalodon is still alive by determining a date of extinction for the largest predatory shark to ever live.

Researchers from UF and the University of Zurich hope the study appearing online today in the journal PLOS ONE showing the species became extinct 2.6 million years ago will clarify public confusion. The study may also one day help scientists better understand the potential widespread effects of losing the planet’s top predators, said lead author Catalina Pimiento.

“I was drawn to the study of Carcharocles megalodon’s extinction because it is fundamental to know when species became extinct to then begin to understand the causes and consequences of such an event,” said Pimiento, a doctoral candidate at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “I also think people who are interested in this animal deserve to know what the scientific evidence shows, especially following Discovery Channel specials that implied megalodon may still be alive.”

The study represents the first phase of Pimiento’s ongoing reconstruction of megalodon’s extinction. As modern top predators, especially large sharks, are significantly declining worldwide due to the current biodiversity crisis, Pimiento said this study serves as the basis to better understand the consequences of these changes.

“When you remove large sharks, then small sharks are very abundant and they consume more of the invertebrates that we humans eat,” Pimiento said. “Recent estimations show that large-bodied, shallow-water species of sharks are at greatest risk among marine animals, and (more…)

University of Florida reports 2012 U.S. shark attacks highest since 2000

February 11th, 2013

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shark attacks in the U.S. reached a decade high in 2012, while worldwide fatalities remained average, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File report released today.

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, displays a dusky shark jaw and sharpnose shark embryo specimens in Dickinson Hall on the University of Florida campus. ©Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Eric Zamora

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, displays shark specimens in Dickinson Hall on the University of Florida campus.
©Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Eric Zamora

The U.S. saw an upturn in attacks with 53, the most since 2000. There were seven fatalities worldwide, which is lower than 2011 but higher than the yearly average of 4.4 from 2001 to 2010. It is the second consecutive year for multiple shark attacks in Western Australia (5) and Reunion Island (3) in the southwest Indian Ocean, which indicates the localities have developed problematic situations, said George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“Those two areas are sort of hot spots in the world – Western Australia is a function of white shark incidents and Reunion is a function most likely of bull shark incidents,” Burgess said. “What I’ve seen in all situations when there’s been a sudden upswing in an area is that human-causative factors are involved, such as changes in our behavior, changes in our abundance, or an overt shark-attracting product of something that we’re doing.” (more…)

New study shows river turtle species still suffers from past harvesting

September 25th, 2012

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers studying river turtles in Missouri found populations of the northern map turtle have not recovered from harvesting in the 1970s.

Nickerson

Scientists used data collected by Florida Museum of Natural History herpetology curator Max Nickerson in 1969 and 1980 as a baseline, then surveyed the same stretch of river in the Ozarks in 2004 to determine the northern map turtles had not recovered from a previous 50 percent population loss caused by harvesting, likely for food. River turtles help ecosystems function by cycling nutrients and maintaining food web dynamics. Assessment of the northern map turtle, a protected species in some states, is essential as increasing human populations and global warming further alter its habitat. The study was published Sept. 14 in Volume 3 of Copeia, and is scheduled to appear online this week. (more…)

‘Water: Discovering and Sharing Solutions’ exhibit opens Sept. 29

September 20th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Covering about 70 percent of the world, water plays a critical role in life.

Florida Museum of Natural History visitors will soon be able to learn how our daily actions impact the water supply, and how University of Florida scientists are working to find solutions to global challenges involving water in a free exhibit opening Sept. 29.

“Water: Discovering and Sharing Solutions” illustrates why water is critical for life on Earth and explains UF research involving water, invasive plants and animals, and food production. (more…)

UF researchers name new cusk-eels useful for understanding environment

September 10th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A study by University of Florida and University of Kansas researchers describing eight new cusk-eel species provides data for better understanding how disasters like the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill impact biodiversity and the environment.

The 60-year study appearing Tuesday in the Florida Museum of Natural History Bulletin provides a comprehensive taxonomic revision of one of the least-studied groups of cusk-eels, bony fishes distantly related to cod. Although abundant and widespread in the Americas, the fishes in the genus Lepophidium have previously been poorly known to biologists. (more…)

Museum scientists find state record 87 eggs in largest python from Everglades

August 13th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – University of Florida researchers curating a 17-foot-7-inch Burmese python, the largest found in Florida, discovered 87 eggs in the snake, also a state record.

Scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus examined the internal anatomy of the 164.5-pound snake Friday. The animal was brought to the Florida Museum from Everglades National Park as part of a long-term project with the U.S. Department of the Interior to research methods for managing the state’s invasive Burmese python problem. Following scientific investigation, the snake will be mounted for exhibition at the museum for about five years, and then returned for exhibition at Everglades National Park. (more…)

UF researchers discover earliest use of Mexican turkeys by ancient Maya

August 9th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida study shows the turkey, one of the most widely consumed birds worldwide, was domesticated more than 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.

Researchers say discovery of the bones from an ancient Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala provides evidence of domestication, usually a significant mark of civilization, and the earliest evidence of the Mexican turkey in the Maya world. The study appears online in PLoS ONE today. (more…)

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