Big Cat Geneology

The exact progression of evolution for big cat species is widely contested, although the Clouded Leopard seems to be the agreed upon common ancestor for todays big cats. The panthera sub family includes the Clouded leopard, Snow Leopard, Leopard, Jaguar, Tiger, Lion, and recently discovered Sunda Clouded Leopard. Recently new ancient species of the panthera suggests speciation in the felidae family began much earlier than originally thought. Originally big cats were thought to have begun to diversify 3 million years ago. Now with the discovery of several more species there is evidence that by 6 million years ago at least three different groups of cats including the Clouded Leopard, Snow Leopard, and a branch leading to the Tiger. This speciation would have occurred during the last ice age when the Himalayas were being formed. There is skepticism due to only three individual’s fragments being found in the Zanda Basin in the Tibetan Plateau. DNA has also suggested earlier than previously though speciation of the panthera tree. The DNA and skeletal analysis has pushed back the beginning of panthera speciation to 16 million years, with large room for error.

Roughly 10 million years ago the puma lineage diverged from the panthera. The panthera are the “true” big cats which have the ability to roar, but cannot purr. The puma sub family is the reverse. Recently there have been a vast increases in the amount of crossbreeding between members of the panthera. This has been a viable business for collectors of exotic animals. Crossbreeding panthera species like lions and tigers are largely illegal because they become main tourists attractions. Ligers, cubs with a lion father and tiger mother, grow to become the largest big cat in the world. Tigons, a cub with a Tiger father and Lion mother, have become rarer than the Liger and much smaller than both their parents. The earliest known record of a Liger was 1798 on a color plate by St. Hilaire. They were a known and well recorded novelty item in the 1800s.

In 1977 at Southam Zoo in Warwickshire, UK a tigress mated with a black panther and produced a cub, which was dubbed by the media Pantig although technically it is called a Leoger. This cub was the only of such a mating to survive. When the reverse happens the cubs are still born, as it places too much strain on the smaller leopard mother. The cub was sold to an American Zoo when it matured. In 2009 the first ever Tiger Jaguar hybrid was born at the Altoplano Zoo in San Pablo, Mexico. This cub was born to a Amur Tiger father and Jaguar mother. This cross is known as a Tiguar. These types of breedings can endanger the mother if she is the smaller of the two cats.

Cubs born from these cross breedings are unable to further breed to develop a new species. All male cubs that have been born have been infertile, the females however usually can have cubs, although any male cubs born are sterile as well.

Recently smaller puma species have been bred with house cats, creating not only behavioral problems with these unfit “house pets”, but on the feral cats problem as well. Hybrid cats are becoming an out of hand problem as shelters that take these animals are running out of room. Current laws are also vague on the amount of “wild blood” allowed in house pets. Hybrid cats are also more adept hunters and damage local wildlife populations more so then the collection of local feral cats. As they are larger they also require more food and are more likely to hunt for food.

 

<Panthera

Ancient Cat May Reshape Feline Family Tree by Kelly Servick Nov. 12. 2013 Sciencemag.org

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Improving Renweable Energy

This past Saturday Anthony and I took a trip to the DC National Cherry Blossom Festival. While in DC we visitited the Botanic Gardens. Outside the botanic Gardens was a wind spiral.

Wind spirals produce electricity like a wind turbine, but are much smaller and quieter. They are small enough to compact many into smaller areas and not affect bird and bat migration routes as wind turbines do. This could greatly improve the gathering of wind energy.

Currently wind turbines create great problems for birds and bats. They are so large that they create areas of great pressure that turn the internal oragans of animals that fly through them to a jelleton substance. They are also an eyesore. The smaller wind spiral would improve both of thee issue caused by the turbines.

The Solution to Pollution

This coming weekend I will be helping Zach with his second cigarette butt cleanup. I know campus but be filthy and filled with them, but I have no idea how many people smoke, or how much. This is just one part of the pollution problem on campus and Nationwide. I think Zach and his group are doing a great thing that people will remember. By showing the impact of cigarettes by pilling them in the North Plaza later this month, Zach’s group will demonstrate how one seemingly small thing can add up, hopefully making people more aware of their actions, and the consequences of those actions.

The cigarette butt cleanup could be the beginning of something great, what if the Mason community could be invigorated to stop pollution in their every day lives? Fairfax, not only George Mason University, would be a much cleaner place. If the project was continued and expanded to include all trash, how shocked would Mason students be to learn the full impact George Mason has as a whole on the local environmental scale? Enough to pick up a cup or bottle and put it in the trash or recycling? What if we showed them how much of their trash could be recycled? It could make just one more person recycle every day. Just one more person over their lifetime can make a difference. Statistics could be shown on the estimated impacts of one person. The impact on the local plant and wildlife could also be shown through statistics. For example, how many animals are found dead on campus due to pollution.

One person can inspire many to do better. I hope Zach’s project goes well, and I am looking forward to helping him. If his event can alter the view of just one person and make them more aware, then something will have changed to make the future just a little brighter.

 

Wilderness and ANWR

My peer teaching project for this semester will be on the National Park System and Wildernesses. Wilderness are areas of the upmost protection that cannot be touched by development. Wildernesses primarily exist within national parks, national forests, or wildlife refuges. In order to declare land a wilderness a piece of legislation must makes its way through Congress and pass. There are 759 Wildernesses Areas in the US, which is composed of 109,754,604 acres of land out of the 2.3 billion acres in all of the United States. Wilderness areas began with the Wilderness Act of 1964. In 1964 the United States population was exiting the baby boom years and had a vast expanse of suburbia. The Act was passes to insure that the rapidly growing US population did not completely overtake all the available land in the US. So far there has never been a precedent to strip land of its protection as a wilderness.

One of the most well known Wildernesses is located within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the northern floodplains of Alaska, also known as ANWR. It is one of the few pristine wildernesses left in the United States and the primary arctic reserve. There is a potential for oil to be found the in refuge, oil having been found in areas surrounding ANWR. Currently in politics ANWR is a huge controversial issue with Republicans wanting to drill for oil within the refuge and democrats trying to block it. Last year President Obama attempted to have more of the land declared a Wilderness in order to prevent any drilling from occurring in the refuge. If ANWR was drilled for oil it would be catastrophic to the ecosystem, the arctic is an extremely fragile ecosystem in which a minor disturbance could nearly destroy the whole ecosystem. Minimum exploratory drilling has been done within ANWR and thus far no substantial oil deposits have been found.

ANWR provides one of the last refuges for polar bears to breed and summer. These great predators need large amounts of sea to support themselves and they barely survive the summer. Without ANWR polar bears would begin to decline even more rapidly. Many other arctic species depend on ANWR to summer and breed, arctic foxes inhabit ANWR as well as grizzly bears. May arctic plants also call ANWR home and one of their last refuges. ANWR is extremely important for biodiversity and should remain a natural treasure rather then exploited for economic gains.

While National Parks and Forests are representations of conservation at its best, Wildernesses are representations of Preservation instead. Conservation balances human need and protection the environment while preservation puts the environment before people, something discussed in my environmental bio course this semester. I am hoping in my upcoming research for the peer teaching project I can find more examples of these two ideals around the globe, and how different countries deal with conservation and preservation.

Native Plants

I am very excited to be working on the native plant garden. As an environmental science major concentrateing in conservation I find biodiversity very important. My favorite part about working on the garden will definably be learning the different roles of all kinds of pants. Working with John is something I am also looking forward to and I hope to learn from him during the project.

I have learned some about native plants from the previous trip to the food forest. Also I learned that a south facing garden is beneficial to it due to our location in the Northern hemissphere. Different plants provide different benefits to a garden and should compliment each other.  However it is scarcly anything.

I don’t know very much about gardening or native plants however. Which is one of the reasons I chose this project group. Someday I wish to start my own native plant garden and this experience with the GMU one will help me reach my future goal. There is a lot of work to be done. Learning to navigate through the school’s many departments and apply for funding will add to my experiences and make me more capable in the future.

My job in the group at the moment is assisting in coordination of different plants and learning how different flora interact with others. Learning to place plants in a way that will compliment each other will be a major reason that I will be able to use for the rest of my life.

The effects of certain plants on the local fauna is also of great interest to me. I hope we are able to include plants that will help not only promote plant biodiversity but animal biodiversity as well.

I think restoring the native plant garden will help Mason students learn about the efforts of groups lHowever Sustainability LLC and spread knowledge on the benefits of campus gardens, particularly native gardens. The sign in front of the garden will hopefully be a source on information for GMU students.

The garden will be around after I have left and leave a lasting impression on the campus.

Native Plants

Since I joined the biodiversity group I have had a growing interest in native plants. I am super excited to be working on the garden. Native plant gardens help maintain the biodiversity and integrity of an area. As an environmental science major and concentrateing in conservation biodiversity is major for me. I love it.

I want to start a native garden of my own someday. This work will help me understand how to set up a garden and the work it entails. Also how to recognize certain plants.

At this moment I don’t know much about anything to do with gardening or native plants. Even though I find it important. That is one of the reasons I joined the group and an looking forward to the work ahead.

The Buzz About Beekeeping

The trip to the GMU beekeeper’s hives was really fascinating to me because of the recent massive decline of pollinators. Honey bees are key pollinators around the world and critical to many species of flowering plants. At the hives we wore protective gear to avoid being stung by the bees. The bee suits are extremely hot to be in and it was a cooler day, actively working in those during the summer would be smoldering. The bee hives were different sizes, the larger ones for the colonies that have grown from their original size. Each hive had slots that provided areas for the bees to store honey and the queen to lay eggs.

Currently weird behaviors surround honey bees as colonies up and leave productive hives at times that have low survival rates for bees establishing a new hive. Queens will abandon hives, bringing the rest with her. These colonies that act strangely also abandon their larvae, something healthy bees never do as well as leaving large deposits of honey unconsumed. The hives that these bees abandon are never used by another colony again, scientists believes the stressed bee colony that abandoned the hive leaves some kind of hormone that signals other bees to stay away.

In order for a new queen to be born a hive must have grown to a certain size that it can split into two colonies. The queen bee will release a hormone signaling the bee larvae to be fed the royal honey that will allow the bees to become queens. The larvae then develops into several queen bees that fight to the death, the survivor then takes half the colony and leaves to start a new hive while the old queen remains with her colony. All larvae is fed this special honey up until six days I believe, at which point the diet is changed, which will in turn prevent any of the larvae from becoming queens.

In a bee colony there are many different roles. Drones and guards are two roles of bees in the colony. An individual bee’s role is determined by its age alone. The older the bee the less it is in the hive I believe. The oldest bees seek out pollen to turn into honey while the youngest defend the hive from attack. All working bees are female. The males almost never leave the queen and their sole purpose is to mate with her.

In order to work a bee hive the colony must be smoked, using white smoke only, which is produced from something organic like pine needles. This smoke sends bees into a panic of eating honey in case a fire should destroy the hive, that way they all have the energy to escape and build a new hive. Honey is made by the bees as their source of food. Honey is stored for the winter and consumed then, as the bees do not leave the hive when it is col and no too little pollen can be found.

I personally want to know more about what may be putting pressures on the bees and what is causing colonies to abandon their hives and larvae at times of high risk.

Gardening

Last week our class went to the food forest, for me this was a great experience because I got to learn about native plants and sustainable agriculture. Personally I try to live more sustainably and encourage others to do so as well. I enjoyed viewing the food forest and being introduced to the different flora species in the garden. Restoring biodiversity is important to me. Learning about the lack of topsoil and the need to build it up in order to maintain healthy plants was an old concept that was expanded what I already knew. However, I learned there are particular plants that can help the process of restoring top soil, which the use in Mason’s food forest, I fail to recall its name but it starts with a c, maybe comfrey. Seeing what I had only previously dreamed about first hand really solidified my determination to work on conservation and to make a difference through education and practice.

Some obstacles to conservation and suitability work were also introduced, like bureaucracy and cost. The cost of things similar to food forests have a large upfront cost and high maintenance until plants settle in, and some grow to maturity, then they become self-sustaining. Long term gardens like the food forest and rain garden are worth they investment because of their ability to provide food, control runoff, and restore top soil.

Sustainability is important to me, however I do not know everything I can do to be more sustainable, and how to promote sustainable landscaping on a larger scale from the point of an individual. I would like to learn how to set up a garden back home that requires low maintenance, and is beneficial to the environment. How to identify plants that are native and that will grow well in certain areas.

This trip helped my knowledge of sustainability grow as I learned about how gardens are set up to best suite the plants in them, like the comfreys placement and at what elevations certain plants grow best and the amount of water particular areas receive. The best part of the trip was seeing how a variety of plants were used to fill in ecosystem niches and every plant had a role in the productivity and health of the gardens. Getting more in depth on these kind of subjects and process would be highly enjoyable and valuable to me. Ecologically, and in my opinion, these gardens should be models for the kinds of projects being worked on in order to reach a sustainable society.