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(506) 223-1327        Publshed Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 202      E-mail us    
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Warning is of a species crisis
Scientists say they solved tropical biodiversity riddle
By the University of Chicago News Service

A team of scientists has completed a study that explains why the tropics are so much richer in biodiversity than higher latitudes. And they say that their work highlights the importance of preserving those species against extinction.

“If you came from outer space and you started randomly observing life on Earth, at least before people were here, the first thing you’d see was this incredible profusion of life in the tropics,” said the report’s lead author, David Jablonski, a professor in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago. “This is the single most dramatic biodiversity pattern on this planet.”

[Costa Rica, for example, has about .03 percent of the world's sea and land area but about 4 to 5 percent of the world's species, some 500,000 of which about 300,000 are inspects.]

Jablonski and his co-authors, Kaustuv Roy, of the University of California, San Diego, and James Valentine, of the University of California, Berkeley, present their new findings on the origins of this global diversity trend in the Oct. 6 issue of the journal Science.

Why the tropics are so much richer in species and evolutionary lineages than elsewhere on earth has loomed as one of the largest questions facing biologists for more than a century. Biologists have proposed virtually every possible combination of origination, extinction and immigration to explain the pattern at one time or another. But for the past 30 years, they have tended to view the tropics either as a cradle of diversity, where new species originate, or as a museum of diversity, where old species persist. And no resolution has been in sight.

The fossil data of the past 11 million years has broken this logjam. It shows that it’s not an either/or proposition. The new study is the first to amass enough data to dissect the roles of extinction, origination and immigration directly. “I think we’ve killed the idea that the tropics is either a cradle or a museum of biodiversity. It’s both,” said Valentine, professor emeritus of integrative biology at Berkeley.

As the engine of global biodiversity, the tropics are where new species evolve and persist while spreading to higher latitudes, said Roy, a UCSD professor of biology. “The world is connected. It’s a global village, even for organisms. Along the California coast here, most of the marine species belong to lineages that originated in the tropics.”

The Science study underscores the need to avert a tropical diversity crises, its authors said.

“Human-caused extinctions in the tropics will eventually start to affect the biological diversity in the temperate and high latitudes,” Roy said. “This is not going to be apparent in the next 50 years, but it will be a long-term consequence.”

Noted Valentine: “We should preserve the tropics, because without them, we’ve lost a key source for diversity in higher latitudes.”

The fossil record indicates that the tropics have enjoyed a richness of biodiversity spanning at least 250 million years. Jablonski compared the population of species on earth to the population of a modern town. To understand how that population mix came about would entail an 

J. T. Smith, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Marine bivalves show a wide array of shapes and life habits and are an important component of marine biodiversity.

examination of birth records, cemetery records and immigration records.

The team acquired its data for the Science study by analyzing bivalves, a class of marine life that includes clams, scallops and oysters. “They live everywhere,” Jablonski said. “They’re found from the Arctic Ocean to the hottest part of the tropics, and they have left a great fossil record.”

This record permitted the team to track more than 150 bivalve lineages back through time and answer a series of key questions: where do they start? How long do they last? Where do they persist? And where do they spread?

As the paleontologists traced the lineages back into geologic time, they found a consistent pattern in each slice of time, regardless of the prevailing climatic conditions. Over the entire 11-million-year period, they found that more than twice as many bivalve lineages started in the tropics than at higher latitudes. Meanwhile, only 30 varieties of organisms that lived only in the tropics went extinct, compared to 107 that lived outside the tropics, or at all latitudes.

“It’s a really striking, surprising pattern,” Jablonski said. “And it appears that other animals and plants were playing the same game, even on land,” now that previous studies are looked at with new eyes.
The three paleontologists began working on the problem more than a decade ago. The first step involved completing a massive standardization of all living and many fossil bivalve species to ensure their consistent and proper classification.

To accomplish the task, Jablonski churned through stacks of monographs, some dating back to the 19th century, and combed drawer after drawer of bivalve specimens in the Smithsonian Institution and other natural history museums in Chicago; London; Brussels, Belgium; and Leiden, The Netherlands.

The forces behind the flood of evolutionary activity that flows from the tropics remain a mystery. “But now that we have a handle on the dynamics that set up this spectacular planet-sized gradient, we can begin to get at the underlying processes in a whole new way,” Jablonski said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 202

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A.M. Costa Rica graphic from Red Sismológica Nacional
Red dots show locations of bigger quakes this year.

The beat just goes on
below the Costa Rican soil

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

So far this year, some 53 earthquakes in Costa Rica have been strong enough to be considered "felt quakes," according to a count of incidents reported by the Red Sismológica Nacional of the Universidad de Costa Rica.

Another one happened Tuesday at 3:20 p.m. and its location was about 15 kms. (9 miles) northeast of Parrita on the central Pacific coast. The magnitude was about 3.5, just enough to rattle dishes.

There was a slightly stronger one Tuesday about 5:26 a.m. That was a 4.2 quake along the Panamá border.

There were five quakes that qualified as "felt" quakes in September. The strongest was a 4.5 event Sept. 1 along the Panamá border. But that is only part of the picture.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica of Universidad Nacional detected 321 quakes during that month. In fact, the observatory's instruments detected 2,854 quakes so far this year, but only 34 were categorized as "felt" by this organization.

Most clustered around the junction of the Caribe and Coco plates on which Costa Rica rests.

These numbers do not count the local vibrations sent out by Volcán Poás, which began small eruptions Sept. 25.

The small eruptions were similar to those that took place in March and April. All the ejected material stayed within the crater. Officials said these types of small eruptions were normal.

Central Valley drenched
by afternoon downpour

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Central Valley got the bulk of the rain that fell starting about 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Some 84.7 mms. or 3.33 inches fell in downtown San José between 3 and 7 p.m. This did not help traffic, which was stalled in some areas by flooding.

In Santa Bárbara de Heredia, a rain meter there registered 63.4 mms. or about 2.5 inches in the same period.

The downpours were not shared with the Caribbean coast or Guanacaste, which got almost no rain Tuesday, according to Instituto Meteorológical Nacional rain meters there.

The drenching did not help those trying to reopen highway 32 from San José to Guápiles. Several major landslides have closed the road which now looks like a big truckstop parking lot. Highway workers hoped to open the route by this afternoon, pending the weather, of course.

Artists now can join
nation's civil service

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Artists who work for the government will soon have the chance to become part of the civil service.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez signed a bill into law Tuesday that creates a system for artists of all types to gain protection of the civil service rules and salaries similar to others who work for the government.

This is a measure that had been introduced in the previous legislature.  María Elena Carballo, the minister of Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, pushed for the measure, and it was passed on second reading by the Asamblea Legislative last week.

The law creates five steps for artists, who may be from the fields of audiovisual, dramatic, literary, musical, or similar. Artists will win advancement and more pay as they earn points for academic degrees, shows presented, expositions given and other work as artists.

A university degree is not required, although having one will earn the artist points, said a summary of the new law.

Bank massacre trial
continues in Puntarenas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trial of Erlin Hurtado Martínez, the man accused in the Santa Elena bank massacre, continues in the Tribunal de Juicio in Puntarenas. It began Sept. 4.

The bungled bank robbery March 8, 2005, left nine dead, including two robbers.  Hurtado is facing charges of murder, kidnapping, carrying prohibited weapons and inflicting physical damage.

The Poder Judicial said that 54 witnesses have been called to testify and that 22 persons have filed civil demands that will be heard along with the criminal charges. Judical officials expect the three-judge panel to end the trial around Nov. 17.

Hurtado is being represented by Randall Peraza, a public defender. The prosecution is by Fabricio Wong.

Three men tried to storm the Banco Nacional branch in Santa Elena, which is near Monteverde. Guards engaged them in a shootout, and Hurtado, the sole surviving robber, held hostages for 28 hours. A police officer, Óscar Quesada Fallas, died when the tactical squad tried to storm the bank.

Part of the trial will be to determine if Banco Nacional, the guard service it employed or the government of Costa Rica have any liability in the case.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 202

Can you believe that all the stores are decked out for Christmas?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It is just October, but Christmas is all over San José.

The colors and lights invite people like little Julisa to get in the holiday — and spending — spirit.

This Christmas scene is in El Universal on the Avenida Central boulevard where a lot of the seasonal products already have vanished.

There's still more than two months left until Christmas, and children from 0 to 90 years old cannot avoid the temptation to go into the stores looking for Santa, Christmas decorations or just for a bit of the Christmas feeling.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Arias administration scurries to avoid link to drug trafficker
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration finds itself in another scandal as a trail to the Medellín drug cartel leads to the very door of Casa Presidencial.

The brother of Kevin Casas, the second vice president, has been chummy with the alleged leader of the infamous Colombian drug network, and the man, now under arrest in the United States, has been in and out of Costa Rica using false documents at least 11 times since 2005.

The case at least brings into focus Costa Rica's role as a major site for drug negotiations, including one case that goes all the way to Eastern Europe.

Kevin Casas said he has met the alleged drug lord, George Nayor, just once — at a birthday party for Ciro Casas, his brother, in August.

Ciro Casas is not around to answer questions. Kevin Casas said the brother vanished nine days ago. The family of Ciro Casas said the man is in Colombia attending a seminar and should be home today.

The situation was enough to cause President Óscar Arias Sánchez to issue a statement Tuesday. The administration is totally committed to clearing up all the ties and conditions that exist between the brother of the second vice president and George Nayor, said the Casa Presidencial statement.

Casas gave his own press conference in which he said that he only met Naylor once.

The statement from Arias said that as soon as Kevin Casas learned of the situation, he contacted the president and the news media because he wanted to be very transparent. Casas said he learned about Naylor when he saw his photo in a newspaper after he was arrested.
"It is evident," said Arias, "that what there is here is secure money laundering." But he said that he was going to wait to see what the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública and the Ministerio Pública, the nation's prosecutor, come up with. Press reports from El Salvador said Naylor has $15 million stashed in various Costa Rican accounts.

The Arias government appears to be embarrassed that one of the most sought after drug suspects, possibly the successor to Pablo Escobar, could come in and out of the country at will. And Casa Presidencial aides certainly will begin to make a complete study of campaign donations to Arias to see if any are linked to the Medellín, Colombia, cartel.

Naylor was living in El Salvador and used the name Julio Mayorga Ramos, a supposed citizen of Honduras.

El Salvador President Antonio Saca said last week that there was a plan afoot to kill him, and he named Naylor as one of the participants. Saca said the attempt on his life was because of his efforts against the narcotics trade.

Naylor was detained and expelled from El Salvador into the hands of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He is now in a cell in Florida.

That Costa Rica has become a negotiation site for drug deals has become clear when Polish police busted up a gang in that country. The gang had plans to import some 1,300 kilos of cocaine into Eastern Europe. And  Costa Rica figured heavily in the strategy.

The newspaper Warsaw Zycie Warszawy reported that one gang member received a Costa Rican passport from a diplomat and that the diplomat had contacts with the Medellín  cartel.  Once hooked up with the smugglers, the gang shipped some 100 electronic gambling machines to Costa Rica as part-payment for the drugs, said the newspaper.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 202

Garica meets with Bush
and plugs for free trade

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and special reports

Peruvian President Alan Garcia says he hopes his country's free trade agreement with the United States will help his country fight poverty and achieve security through democracy.

President Garcia met with U.S. President George Bush Tuesday at the White House to discuss the free trade agreement, which the U.S. Congress has yet to ratify. Peruvian lawmakers ratified the agreement earlier this year. President Bush told reporters after the meeting that he will push for congressional approval of the free trade pact as soon as possible.

The two leaders also discussed the illegal drug trade. Garcia said he sees the free trade agreement as a tool to fight the illegal drug industry, by providing alternate tools for economic growth.

The deal makes 80 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial goods duty-free in Peru. It also renders duty-free two-thirds of U.S. farm exports to Peru.

Garcia will later meet with economic officials, including representatives from the Inter-American Development Bank.

White House photo by Eric Draper
 President George W. Bush talks with President Alan Garcia of Peru in the Oval Office.

New U.S. task force will target those citizens going to and dealing with Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Bush administration has announced the creation of a new law enforcement task force to aggressively pursue violators of U.S. trade and travel sanctions against Cuba. A number of Cuban-American groups support the get-tough policy.

The announcement of the stricter new approach to violators of the 40-year-old trade embargo against Cuba comes at a time of political uncertainty on the island. In late July, Cuban President Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul, and some experts believe Fidel Castro's 47-year reign may already be over.

U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta told a news conference in Miami Tuesday that the task force will coordinate the efforts of officials from several agencies, including the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Acosta would not answer questions about the timing of the announcement, coming four weeks ahead of congressional elections, saying only. "We believe that this is an appropriate time to set this as a priority. These sanctions programs have an important purpose, to bring about a speedy transition to democracy in Cuba,"

Acosta promised to prosecute the import and export of goods to and from Cuba, transfers of hard currency, and unapproved visits to the Caribbean island. He said the purpose of the sanctions is to deprive the Castro regime of
the U.S. dollars it needs, and to hasten the transition to democracy.

Camila Gallardo, of the Cuban American National Foundation, a powerful Cuban-American lobbying group based in Miami, agrees. "Particularly now when the situation in Cuba is so volatile and changing day by day, we think it's important to maintain not only the current policy, but to enforce that policy, and to make sure people are not abusing the system, and contributing directly or indirectly to keeping Fidel Castro and his cronies in power," he said.

Gallardo said many Americans have found "creative" ways to circumvent strict regulations limiting their travel to Cuba.

"People manage to get licenses to travel supposedly for education purposes and so forth, for humanitarian reasons, for religious reasons, and when you dig a little deeper, these people are actually engaging in tourist travel."

Cuban-Americans with family on the island may visit once every three years and may remit money only to direct family members. Violators of the embargo can face up to 10 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

Some critics of the embargo say it has actually helped President Castro more than it has hurt him, by allowing him to blame Cuba's economic miseries on the United States.

Under U.S. law, the sanctions will remain in place until multi-party elections are planned, political prisoners are released and both Castro brothers are out of power.

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