This Unusual Bird Superpower Goes Back to the Dinosaur Extinction

The ibis and the kiwi are dogged diggers, probing in sand and soil for worms and other buried prey. Sandpipers, too, can be seen along the shore excavating small creatures with their beaks. It was long thought that these birds were using trial and error to find their prey.

But then scientists discovered something far more peculiar: Their beaks are threaded with cells that can detect vibrations traveling through the ground. Some birds can feel the movements of their distant quarry directly, while others pick up on waves bouncing off buried shells — echolocating like a dolphin or a bat, in essence, through the earth.

There’s one more odd detail in this story of birds’ unusual senses: Ostriches and emus, birds that most definitely do not hunt this way, have beaks with a similar interior structure. They are honeycombed with pits for these cells, though the cells themselves are missing.

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Earth Is on the Cusp of the Sixth Mass Extinction. Here’s What Paleontologists Want You to Know

Rhinos, elephants, whales and sharks — the list of endangered species is long and depressing. But it’s not just these big, beautiful, familiar animals at risk. Earth is hemorrhaging species, from mammals to fish and insects. The loss of biodiversity we’re facing right now is staggering, thanks to habitat loss, pollution, climate change and other calamities.

There have been five mass extinctions in the history of planet Earth. We’re on the threshold of a sixth. But extinction events don’t happen overnight. They unfold over millions of years. For humans that live maybe 80 or 90-some years, that’s very hard to wrap our minds around.

To get an idea of how to think about the sixth mass extinction, I spoke to people who’ve intensively studied the first five: paleontologists. I asked them what they’d like the rest of us to know. And I asked them what, in these scary times, gives

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Blue whales return to sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia after near local extinction — ScienceDaily

An international research team led by UK scientists has revealed the return of critically endangered Antarctic blue whales to the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, 50 years after whaling all but wiped them out. The new study follows recent research that humpback whales are also returning to the region.

The discovery, based on analysis of 30 years’ worth of sightings, photographs and underwater sound recordings, is crucial evidence in learning how the species is recovering following a ban on commercial whaling in the 1960s. The findings are published today (19 November) in the journal Endangered Species Research.

Blue whales were abundant off South Georgia before early 20th century industrial whaling between 1904 and 1971 killed 42,698 of them there. Most of these were killed before the mid-1930s.

The species all but vanished from the region — dedicated whale surveys from ships off South Georgia resulted in only a single

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Burning Fossil Fuels Helped Drive Earth’s Most Massive Extinction

Paleontologists call it the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, but it has another name: “the Great Dying.” It happened about 252 million years ago, and, over the course of just tens of thousands of years, 96 percent of all life in the oceans and, perhaps, roughly 70 percent of all land life vanished forever.

The smoking gun was ancient volcanism in what is today Siberia, where volcanoes disgorged enough magma and lava over about a million years to cover an amount of land equivalent to a third or even half of the surface area of the United States.

But volcanism on its own didn’t cause the extinction. The Great Dying was fueled, two separate teams of scientists report in two recent papers, by extensive oil and coal deposits that the Siberian magma blazed through, leading to combustion that released greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

“There was lots of oil, coal

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New placement for one of Earth’s largest mass extinction events

jurassic park
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Curtin University research has shed new light on when one of the largest mass extinction events on Earth occurred, which gives new meaning to what killed Triassic life and allowed the ecological expansion of dinosaurs in the Jurassic period.


The research, published in the prestigious journal PNAS, examined biomarkers (molecular fossils) and their stable isotopic compositions which suggest the end-Triassic mass extinction of prehistoric creatures such as conodonts and phytosaurs began after a volcanic eruption spewed carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, disrupting the Earth’s natural carbon cycle and sparking a chain reaction of environmental events.

That carbon disruption led to acidic ocean waters which then affected delicate marine ecosystems, and led to other unfavorable planetary changes.

Lead author, Curtin Ph.D. graduate Dr. Calum Peter Fox, from the WA-Organic and Isotope Geochemistry Center (WA-OIGC) in Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said the team analyzed

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Newly discovered primate in Myanmar ‘already facing extinction’

In a rare find, scientists have identified a new species of primate, a lithe tree-dweller living in the forests of central Myanmar with a mask-like face framed by a shock of unruly grey hair.

The Popa langur — named for an extinct volcano home to its largest population, some 100 individuals — has been around for at least a million years, according to a study detailing the find, published Wednesday in Zoological Research.

But with only 200 to 250 left in the wild today, experts will recommend that the leaf-eating species be classified as “critically endangered”.

“Just described, the Popa langur is already facing extinction,” said senior author Frank Momberg, a researcher at Flora & Fauna International (FFI), in Yangon.

Throughout its range, the lithe monkey with chalk-white rings around its eyes is threatened by hunting and habitat loss, he said in a statement.

The first evidence of the new

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Large volcanic eruption caused the largest mass extinction — ScienceDaily

Researchers in Japan, the US and China say they have found more concrete evidence of the volcanic cause of the largest mass extinction of life. Their research looked at two discrete eruption events: one that was previously unknown to researchers, and the other that resulted in large swaths of terrestrial and marine life going extinct.

There have been five mass extinctions since the divergent evolution of early animals 450 — 600 million years ago. The third was the largest one and is thought to have been triggered by the eruption of the Siberian Traps — a large region of volcanic rock known as a large igneous province. But the correlation between the eruption and mass extinction has not yet been clarified.

Sedimentary mercury enrichments, proxies for massive volcanic events, have been detected in dozens of sedimentary rocks from the end of the Permian. These rocks have been found deposited inland,

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Extreme Life Thrived in Hot Asteroid Pit After Dinosaur Extinction, Evidence Suggests

An asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula, seen here from the International Space Station, 66 million years ago, sparking a mass extinction event.

An asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula, seen here from the International Space Station, 66 million years ago, sparking a mass extinction event.
Photo: Tim Peake/ESA/NASA

A gigantic pool of magma emerged beneath Earth’s surface following the impact event that wiped out all non-avian dinosaurs. New research suggests this hellish subterranean chamber hosted a biological ecosystem, a finding that could give clues as to how life emerged during Earth’s tumultuous early days.

When the asteroid struck our unfortunate planet some 66 million years ago, it created a 110-mile-wide (180-kilometer) impact crater in what is now the Yucatan Peninsula. Evidence presented earlier this year showed the impact also produced a gigantic subterranean magma chamber, which persisted for hundreds of thousands of years, possibly even millions of years. Incredibly, this hydrothermal system supported an entire microbial ecosystem, according to new research published today in Astrobiology.

David Kring, the

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Climate change drives plants to extinction in the Black Forest in Germany — ScienceDaily

Climate change is leaving its mark on the bog complexes of the German Black Forest. Due to rising temperatures and longer dry periods, two plant species have already gone extinct over the last 40 years. The populations of many others have decreased by one third. In the next couple of decades ten more species could become extinct, researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) write in Diversity and Distributions.

There are only a few healthy ombrotrophic bogs, raised bogs and spring mires left in Germany. They used to cover large swathes of north-western Germany. Today they are still found in the foothills of the Alps and on low mountain ranges, for example in the Black Forest. They are very sensitive ecosystems that are highly dependent on certain climatic conditions. “These bogs and spring mires are seismographs of climate change. They

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Study found no sign of inbreeding or ‘extinction vortex’ often linked to small populations — ScienceDaily

The critically endangered vaquita has survived in low numbers in its native Gulf of California for hundreds of thousands of years, a new genetic analysis has found. The study found little sign of inbreeding or other risks often associated with small populations.

Gillnet fisheries have entangled and killed many vaquitas in recent years and scientists believe that fewer than 20 of the small porpoises survive today. The new analysis demonstrates that the species’ small numbers do not doom it to extinction, however. Vaquitas have long survived and even thrived without falling into an “extinction vortex,” the new study showed. That’s a scenario in which their limited genetic diversity makes it impossible to recover.

“The species, even now, is probably perfectly capable of surviving,” said Phil Morin, research geneticist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the new study published this week in Molecular Ecology Resources.

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