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Threat Assessment and Action Planning to Begin for the Lesser Zab River of Iraq

Threat Assessment and Action Planning to Begin for the Lesser Zab River of Iraq

Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper

In November, the Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper was awarded a grant from the U.K.-based Rufford Small Grants Foundation to conduct a threat assessment of the Lesser Zab River in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq and develop action plans for addressing the important problems on the river. The Lesser Zab River has its origins in Iran, where two small streams join together to from the Chami Kalveh in the Azarbayjane-Gharbi region of Iran. For part of its travels the river forms the border between Iraq and Iran, and it is here that it is eventually joined by the Siwayl River (flowing entirely in Iraq). It eventually leaves the border and flows northwest to the wide Dukan basin (now a reservoir, controlled by the only major dam on the river, the Dukan Dam). From the dam it flows 402 km west-southwest to meet the Tigris River near the town of Bayji. One of the key rivers within the jurisdiction of the Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper, the Lesser Zab faces a host of threats that include fuel spills from smuggling activities, water diversion and irrigation projects, dam construction, gravel mining operations, municipal sewage and solid waste impacts, and issues from some industrial activities such as oil exploration, but most of these impacts have simply not been documented.

There has never been any comprehensive or consistent monitoring of the river until Nature Iraq, an Iraqi conservation organization, started water quality sampling there in 2007. Funding such activities within a post-conflict country like Iraq has been difficult, as most support is focused on reconstruction, development and the hallowed but narrowly-defined concept favored by international development agencies—“democracy building." The environment usually gets put on the back burner as being outside of these issues. Because of lacks of funds, Nature Iraq was not able to continue its water quality monitoring effort after 2009. But in the following year Nature Iraq initiated efforts to form a Waterkeeper program and affiliate with the international WATERKEEPER® Alliance. Formal acceptance into the Alliance took place in 2011 and the Waterkeeper, Nabil Musa, began work primarily getting familiar with the rivers under his jurisdiction and conducting a number of clean-up, outreach and educational projects.

With the assistance of the Rufford Small Grant, in 2012 the Waterkeeper will start the first comprehensive survey of one of his key rivers from the point it enters Iraq to the point it joins the Tigris River. He will utilize a specific threat assessment methodology utilized by Nature Iraq in past survey work that will identify areas along the river with the highest threats and allow us to prioritize the different issues facing the watershed. The main goal will be to develop a list of strategies and action plans designed to mitigate or resolve these threats, which the Waterkeeper can use to guide his future activities and focus, but which can also be provided to local municipalities along the river as well as the Iraqi and the Kurdistan regional governments to persuade, encourage, and/or cajole them into also taking actions to address the many problems on the river.

For further information on the project or other activities of the Waterkeeper project in Iraq, click here or visit the Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper Facebook Page.

For more information, click here.

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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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