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Oldest Fossil of Giant Panda Family Discovered

New fossils found in Spain are thought to be of the oldest recorded ancestor of the giant panda, according to Science Daily.

 The fossils reveal the origins of this unique bear, as described in a paper published Nov. 14 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Juan Abella and colleagues from the National Museum of Natural Sciences and the Catalan Institute of Paleontology, Spain.

The two 11.6 million-year-old fossil jaws and teeth were discovered in southwest Europe and represent a new genus likely to be the oldest known members of the giant panda family. The fossils bear the characteristics of a bear adapted to eating tough plant material like bamboo. The giant panda, native to certain parts of China, is the only living member of this unique bear family with these dietary habits.

Corresponding author Juan Abella adds: "The new genus we describe in this paper is not only the first bear recorded in the Iberian Peninsula, but also the first of the giant panda's lineage."

The Spanish Ministerio de Economı´a y Competitividad (CGL2011-28681, CGL2011-25754, and RYC-2009-04533 to DMA), the research group BSCH-UCM 910607, and the Generalitat de Catalunya (2009 SGR 754 GRC) supported this research. Fieldwork at ACM was funded by CESPA Gestio´n de Residuos, S.A.U.

Two weird animals



This one is the favorite species by far. It lives on an island off the coast of Panama. They hang out in the mangrove swamps where they like to eat a special algae that scientists have discovered contains a chemical that has a similar effect to Valium. So these sleepy sloths don't just look stoned, they are stoned.






The echidna is an ancient termite-eating mammal from the topsy-turvy island of Australia that still shares features with our reptile ancestors. Instead of giving birth to live young, the females still lay eggs. But the oddness doesn't end there. Most of the year it is hidden inside but in breeding season it pops out, like a rubber glove, ready for action.

 Maher Taki

The Syrian Environment Society: together, for a Clean Environment




The Syrian Environment society is a nongovernmental organization, established in 2001 with a mission to call for the creation of a clean and healthy environment through volunteer social works and through exerting efforts to raise the level of environment awareness, which depends on work  ethics , responsible citizenship and respect for the self and others.

The main activities of the society are concentrating on raising awareness in schools by using modern methods to capture students interest, encourage discussions, provide teaching aids and activate environmental topics within the school health curricula and  holding cleaning campaigns in public parks like Tishreen park in Damascus. The activities are carried out by volunteers with the aim of preserving the cleanliness of parks and improving  garbage  collecting methods,  taking part in exhibitions including the book exhibition, and the flower shows, by organizing art activities for children, getting  the schools in Damascus involved in  a world contest for waste recycling, working in cooperation with Damascus  city council and municipality , in order  to establish an environmental friendly garden , adjoining  the castle of Damascus , and to convert the neglected and margined lands into a Damascene garden.

Among the  society's remarkable activities was the campaign which aimed at  reviving the Barada river. The event was carried out  in cooperation with the  Japanese embassy in Damascus. The society  ran a campaign aimed at raising the  awareness  of citizens  and urging them to keep Barada clean by not disposing waste and  polluted water into it and by using its water wisely. The activity included , visiting the sensitive sites in villages situated on the banks of the river, investigating the river situation there and holding public awareness raising awareness. Several  cleanup campaigns  were also held for the river, involving the participation of locals and volunteers  with the aim of raising awareness and advocating  proper behavior to save the Barada river with the help of municipalities concerned.

Of no less important objective of the society is to maintain networking  with local, regional and  international counterpart societies, that are concerned with environmental issues, sustainable development and the production of a national heritage and establishing a data bank research on the environment and sustainable development and disseminating the findings to the public.

T. Fateh




Dolphin 'sponging' spans centuries

 Scientists analysed data on the dolphins of Shark Bay, Australia, to model the appearance and transmission of the skill over generations.

The study found that "sponging" could have begun with a single "innovation event" between 120 and 180 years ago.

 It suggested that mothers passed on the skill by teaching their offspring.

 The analysis is published in the journal Animal Behaviour, and used previous field studies to investigate how sponging was established and maintained.

 "It has been thought that behaviours which are exclusively learnt from one parent are not very stable. With our model we could now show that sponging can be a stable behaviour," said Dr Anna Kopps, a biologist at the University of New South Wales.

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The study created a new technique to calculate the likelihood that the offspring of a "sponger" would learn the ability and pass the skill on.

 By modelling the emergence of "sponger" dolphins in a computer simulation, the team could see different scenarios in which the skill could have spread among the dolphin population over the years.

 They then compared the results of these simulations with field data on the genetic relationship between the spongers, to estimate the role of mothers teaching their offspring in transmitting the skill.

 They found that if the likelihood of a sponger's offspring learning the ability was less than certain, the dolphins that did pick up the technique needed to gain a survival advantage from the skill, in order for the ability to pass on to the next generation.




Extreme Temperatures Blamed for 'Dead Zone'


Scientists have discovered why the 'broken world' following the worst extinction of all time lasted so long -- it was simply too hot to survive.

The end-Permian mass extinction, which occurred around 250 million years ago in the pre-dinosaur era, wiped out nearly all the world's species. Typically, a mass extinction is followed by a 'dead zone' during which new species are not seen for tens of thousands of years. In this case, the dead zone, during the Early Triassic period which followed, lasted for a perplexingly long period: five million years.

A study jointly led by the University of Leeds and China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), in collaboration with the University of Erlangen-Nurnburg (Germany), shows the cause of this lengthy devastation was a temperature rise to lethal levels in the tropics: around 50-60°C on land, and 40°C at the sea-surface.

Lead author Yadong Sun, who is based in Leeds while completing a joint PhD in geology, says: "Global warming has long been linked to the end-Permian mass extinction, but this study is the first to show extreme temperatures kept life from re-starting in Equatorial latitudes for millions of years."

It is also the first study to show water temperatures close to the ocean's surface can reach 40°C -- a near-lethal value at which marine life dies and photosynthesis stops. Until now, climate modellers have assumed sea-surface temperatures cannot surpass 30°C. The findings may help us understand future climate change patterns.

The dead zone would have been a strange world -- very wet in the tropics but with almost nothing growing. No forests grew, only shrubs and ferns. No fish or marine reptiles were to be found in the tropics, only shellfish, and virtually no land animals existed because their high metabolic rate made it impossible to deal with the extreme temperatures. Only the polar regions provided a refuge from the baking heat.

Before the end-Permian mass extinction, Earth had teemed with plants and animals including primitive reptiles and amphibians, and a wide variety of sea creatures including coral and sea lillies.