Good News for Wild Carnivores in Romania
Thanks to the work of a team of dedicated Romanian conservationists, a large part of the Zarand landscape corridor is to be protected as part of the European Union's (EU) Natura 2000 network.
The Zarand landscape is a key focal site for Fauna & Flora International’s work in Romania, and they will be working closely with local non-governmental organization, Zarand Association, to help ensure the effective management of the sites.
A key area for carnivore conservation
Romania is home to a wide range of plant and animal life and supports key populations of large carnivores, including around 40 percent of Europe’s brown bears.
The Zarand landscape corridor plays a vital role in the conservation of these charismatic animals—linking the southern and western Carpathian Mountains, it allows wolves, bears, lynx and other animals to move between the two mountain ranges.
Although people have lived in the area for centuries, it retains an element of wilderness thanks to the traditional, low-impact practices of local communities.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the Zarand corridor has come under increasing threat from new developments and a shift away from small-scale agriculture.
The designation of the Natura 2000 sites within the Zarand corridor represents an important step forward in the conservation of this critical landscape. The sites will be managed by a number of different custodians and administrators who will soon be appointed according to national law.
“Designing a common conservation management plan will require all the decision makers to reach an agreement,” said Anca Serban, Conservation Leadership Programme intern (Fauna & Flora International). “Clearly this will present significant challenges, but it is key to saving this picturesque landscape.”
About the Conservation Leadership Programme
The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) is a partnership between Fauna & Flora International, Conservation International, Birdlife International and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The CLP is working to promote the development of future conservation leaders, ensuring that they have the skills and knowledge required to address today’s most pressing conservation issues.
As a CLP-supported intern, Anca is helping the Zarand team to set up the site management plan and develop community conservation programmes that involve local people in natural resource management. Together, they are now investigating how social and economic factors influence conservation. They are also working to identify the right set of incentives that will achieve the joint objectives of biodiversity conservation and improved rural livelihoods.
For more information, click here.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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