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|San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 23, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 101|
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Arizona State University montageAn amazing glow-in-the-dark cockroach, a harp-shaped carnivorous sponge and the smallest vertebrate on Earth are just three of the newly discovered top 10 species selected by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.
Top 10 species found in 2012
outlined by Arizona State
By the Arizona State University
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences news staff
An amazing glow-in-the-dark cockroach, a harp-shaped carnivorous sponge and the smallest vertebrate on Earth are just three of the newly discovered top 10 species selected by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. A global committee of taxonomists, scientists responsible for species exploration and classification, announced its list of top 10 species from 2012 Wednesday.
The announcement, the sixth in as many years, coincides with the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish botanist responsible for the modern system of scientific names and classifications.
Also slithering its way onto this year’s top 10 is a snail-eating false coral snake, as well as flowering bushes from a disappearing forest in Madagascar, a green lacewing that was discovered through social media and hangingflies that perfectly mimicked ginkgo tree leaves 165 million years ago. Rounding out the list is a new monkey with a blue-colored behind and human-like eyes, a tiny violet and a black staining fungus that threatens rare Paleolithic cave paintings in France.
“We have identified only about two million of an estimated 10 to 12 million living species and that does not count most of the microbial world,” said Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at the university.
“For decades, we have averaged 18,000 species discoveries per year which seemed reasonable before the biodiversity crisis. Now, knowing that millions of species may not survive the 21st century, it is time to pick up the pace,” Wheeler added.
“We are calling for a NASA-like mission to discover 10 million species in the next 50 years. This would lead to discovering countless options for a more sustainable future while securing evidence of the origins of the biosphere,” Wheeler said.
Members of the international committee made their top 10 selection from more than 140 nominated species. To be considered, species must have been described in compliance with the appropriate code of nomenclature, whether botanical, zoological or microbiological, and have been officially named during 2012.
“Selecting the final list of new species from a wide representation of life forms such as bacteria, fungi, plants and animals, is difficult. It requires finding an equilibrium between certain criteria and the special insights revealed by selection committee members,” said Antonio Valdecasas, a biologist and research zoologist with Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain. Valdecasas is the international selection committee chairman for the top 10 new species.
This year’s top 10 come from Peru; the northeast Pacific Ocean off California, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Panamá, France, New Guinea, Madagascar, Ecuador. Malaysia; and China.
Here are the finalists:
Tiny violet: Not only is the Lilliputian violet among the smallest violets in the world, it is also one of the most diminutive terrestrial dicots. Known only from a single locality in an Intermontane Plateau of the high Andes of Perú, Viola lilliputana lives in the dry puna grassland eco-region. Specimens were first collected in the 1960s, but the species was not described as new until 2012. The entire above-ground portion of the plant is barely one centimeter tall. It is named, obviously, for the race of little people on the island of Lilliput in Jonathan Swift’s "Gulliver’s Travels."
Country: northeast Pacific Ocean and California
Carnivorous sponge: A spectacular, large, harp- or lyre-shaped carnivorous sponge discovered in deep water (averaging 3,399 meters) from the northeast Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. The harp-shaped structures or vanes number from two to six and each has more than 20 parallel vertical branches, often capped by an expanded, balloon-like, terminal ball. This unusual form maximizes the surface area of the sponge for contact and capture of planktonic prey.
Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Old World monkey: Discovered in the Lomami Basin of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the lesula is an Old World monkey well known to locals but newly known to science. This is only the second species of monkey discovered in Africa in the past 28 years. Scientists first saw the monkey as a captive juvenile in 2007. Researchers describe the shy lesula as having human-like eyes. More easily heard than seen, the monkeys perform a booming dawn chorus. Adult males have a large, bare patch of skin on the buttocks, testicles and perineum that is colored a brilliant blue. Although the forests where the monkeys live are remote, the species is hunted for bush meat and its status is vulnerable.
No to the Mine! Snake
Snail-eating snake: A beautiful new species of snail-eating snake has been discovered in the highland rainforests of western Panamá. The snake is nocturnal and hunts soft-bodied prey including earthworms and amphibian eggs, in addition to snails and slugs. This harmless snake defends itself by mimicking the alternating dark and light rings of venomous coral snakes. The species is found in the Serranía de Tabasará mountain range where ore mining is degrading and diminishing its habitat. The species name is derived from the Spanish phrase No a la mina or “No to the mine.”
A Smudge on Paleolithic Art
Fungus: In 2001, black stains began to appear on the walls of Lascaux Cave in France. By 2007, the stains were so prevalent they became a major concern for the conservation of precious rock art at the site that dates back to the Upper Paleolithic. An outbreak of a white fungus, Fusarium solani, had been successfully treated when just a few months later, black staining fungi appeared. The genus primarily includes fungi that occur in the soil and are associated with the decomposition of plant matter. As far as scientists know, this fungus, one of two new species of the genus from Lascaux, is harmless. However, at least one species of the group, O. gallopava, causes disease in humans who have compromised immune systems.
World’s Smallest Vertebrate
Country: New Guinea
Tiny frog: Living vertebrates — animals that have a backbone or spinal column — range in size from this tiny new species of frog, as small as 7 millimeters, to the blue whale, measuring 25.8 meters. The new frog was discovered near Amau village in Papua, New Guinea. It captures the title of smallest living vertebrate from a tiny Southeast Asian fish that claimed the record in 2006. The adult frog size, determined by averaging the lengths of both males and females, is only 7.7 millimeters. With few exceptions, this and other ultra-small frogs are associated with moist leaf litter in tropical wet forests — suggesting a unique ecological nitch that could not exist under drier circumstances.
Endangered shrub: Eugenia is a large, worldwide genus of woody evergreen trees and shrubs of the myrtle family that is particularly diverse in South America, New Caledonia and Madagascar. The new species E. petrikensis is a shrub growing to two meters with emerald green, slightly glossy foliage and beautiful, dense clusters of small magenta flowers. It is one of seven new species described from the littoral forest of eastern Madagascar and is considered to be an endangered species. It is the latest evidence of the unique and numerous species found in this specialized, humid forest that grows on sandy substrate within kilometers of the shoreline. Once forming a continuous band 1,600 kilometers long, the littoral forest has been reduced to isolated, vestigial fragments under pressure from human populations.
Glow-in-the-dark cockroach: Luminescence among terrestrial animals is rather rare and best known among several groups of beetles — fireflies and certain click beetles in particular — as well as cave-inhabiting fungus gnats. Since the first discovery of a luminescent cockroach in 1999, more than a dozen species have come to light. All are rare, and interestingly, so far found only in remote areas far from light pollution. The latest addition to this growing list is L. luckae that may be endangered or possibly already extinct. This cockroach is known from a single specimen collected 70 years ago from an area heavily impacted by the eruption of the Tungurahua volcano. The species may be most remarkable because the size and placement of its lamps suggest that it is using light to mimic toxic luminescent click beetles.
No Social Butterfly
Social media lacewing: In a trend-setting collision of science and social media, Hock Ping Guek photographed a beautiful green lacewing with dark markings at the base of its wings in a park near Kuala Lumpur and shared his photo on Flickr. Shaun Winterton, an entomologist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, saw the image and recognized the insect as unusual. When Guek was able to collect a specimen, it was sent to Stephen Brooks at London’s Natural History Museum who confirmed its new species status. The three joined forces and prepared a description using Google Docs. In this triumph for citizen science, talents from around the globe collaborated by using new media in making the discovery. The lacewing is not named for its color — rather for Winterton’s daughter, Jade.
Hanging Around in the Jurassic
Hangingfly fossil: Living species of hangingflies can be found, as the name suggests, hanging beneath foliage where they capture other insects as food. They are a lineage of scorpionflies characterized by their skinny bodies, two pairs of narrow wings, and long threadlike legs. A new fossil species, Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia, has been found along with preserved leaves of a gingko-like tree, Yimaia capituliformis, in Middle Jurassic deposits in the Jiulongshan Formation in China’s Inner Mongolia. The two look so similar that they are easily confused in the field and represent a rare example of an insect mimicking a gymnosperm 165 million years ago, before an explosive radiation of flowering plants.
Arizona State University’s International Institute for Species Exploration announces the top 10 new species list each year as part of its public awareness campaign to bring attention to biodiversity and the field of taxonomy.
Obama administration admits
four American terrorist died
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The Obama administration Wednesday formally acknowledged the killing of four Americans in drone strikes. This came on the eve of a speech by President Barack Obama about the legal principles, since 2009, supporting use of drones against terrorist suspects, and about detention policies.
The use of drone warfare and targeted killings, including of Americans helping al-Qaida or affiliates, stirred major controversy during Obama's first term and continues in his second.
After an intense review he ordered, Obama has been moving toward a major speech to provide a fuller explanation of his policies, and demonstrate he is fulfilling pledges for more transparency.
In his State of the Union address, he said the United States will continue to use a range of capabilities against terrorists, as a way to avoid sending tens of thousands of troops to confront al-Qaida and affiliates.
He signaled that Americans and Congress would hear more about, what he called, a durable and legal policy framework.
"In the months ahead, I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world," said Obama.
Ahead of Thursday's speech, White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to discuss specifics, but said Obama recognizes the importance of clarity and has tried to meet the high bar he set for himself on transparency.
"It is one around which he believes there have been and continue to be legitimate questions asked. He is very concerned about the need to put an architecture in place that governs counterterrorism policy for now and into the future," said Carney.
On the eve of the speech, the Obama administration acknowledged for the first time that four American citizens have been killed in drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.
One of those was Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Muslim cleric killed in Yemen in 2011. The administration said three others killed, including Awlaki's son, were not specifically targeted by the United States.
Attorney General Eric Holder and other administration officials have already discussed in considerable detail much of what Obama is likely to say.
At Northwestern University in 2012, Holder said the U.S. government has clear legal authority to act against individuals posing an imminent lethal threat, including Americans who take up arms against the United States.
"When such individuals take up arms against this country, and join al-Qaida in plotting attacks designed to kill their fellow Americans, there may be only one realistic and appropriate response. We must take steps to stop them in full accordance with the Constitution. In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out, and we will not," said Holder.
At Britain's Oxford University, then-Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson said President Obama insists that U.S. policy be based on clear legal principles.
"President Obama, himself a lawyer and a good one, has insisted that our efforts in pursuit of this enemy stay firmly rooted in conventional legal principles," said Johnson. "For, in our efforts to destroy and dismantle al-Qaida, we cannot dismantle our laws and our values, too."
On detention policy, President Obama is likely to reiterate his determination to close the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He has acknowledged disappointment in failing to do so during his first term, largely blaming opposition from U.S. lawmakers.
Laura Pitter is a counterterrorism adviser with Human Rights Watch.
"We're hoping that in the speech he makes clear that he is still committed to that and perhaps will start transferring some of the detainees out of that facility, especially to Yemen, where the largest majority of the detainees currently slated for release are from," said Pitter.
Pitter says a hunger strike by detainees, and methods used to force-feed prisoners, put the Guantanamo issue back on the political agenda ahead of Obama's speech.
She says Obama could use waiver authority to bypass some congressional restrictions on transferring detainees, and end indefinite detention without trial, but will need to re-engage with Congress.
On drone policy, news organizations quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying the Obama administration may transfer some drone operations from the CIA to the Pentagon.
This has been a major issue of debate within the administration. One outcome of such a step would be opening drone operations to greater congressional scrutiny. It is not known if Obama will announce this on Thursday.
Soldier hacked to death
in UK sidewalk encounter
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
British Prime Minister David Cameron says the daylight killing of a man on a south London street near an army barracks appears to be a terrorist attack.
A special government emergency committee was called into session after the attack Wednesday.
Prime Minister Cameron called the killing appalling and said all indications point to a terrorist attack. Scotland Yard's counterterrorism unit is leading the investigation, but few details were officially released.
Police shot and wounded the two suspects and they are under guard in a hospital. The victim is believed to be a British soldier, but has not yet been publicly identified.
Witnesses say the suspects appeared to hack the victim to death with butcher knives, leaving a stream of blood on the sidewalk.
British television broadcast a bystander's video showing a man with blood-covered hands holding a cleaver and a knife. He said "you people will never be safe," vowing "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
He apologized for women and children witnessing the killing, but said "in our land, women have to see the same." He did not say what land that is. British reporters said he appeared to be speaking with a London accent.
A State Department spokesman condemned the attack, saying the United States stands with its British allies in the face of such senseless violence.
Fate of Gauntanamo hanging
in the balance in Washington
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The Obama administration is asking Congress for more than $450 million to maintain and upgrade the Guantanamo Bay terrorist prison even as the president is searching for ways to close the 11-year-old facility on a U.S. Navy base in Cuba.
Barack Obama first promised to shut down the Guantanamo detention center when he was running for the presidency in 2008. He and other administration officials have blamed members of Congress for preventing him from carrying through with the closure.
The Guantanamo detention facility was set up by the then-president George W. Bush in 2002 to house terrorist suspects following the al-Qaida terror attacks that killed about 3,000 people in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.
Since its opening, about 780 suspected al-Qaida and Taliban suspects have been held at Guantanamo. More than 600 of them have been released or transferred to other countries over the years, many without ever having been formally charged with crimes. The facility currently houses 166 terror suspects.
“Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” Obama declared again last month. “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
The president is expected to talk about Guantanamo’s future again Thursday during a speech on U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
Last week, a former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo delivered a petition to the White House containing more than 370,000 signatures and demanding that the Cuba facility be closed down immediately. The former prosecutor, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis, said the prison was a blot on America record.
“Of the 166 that are still there, there are 86 that have been cleared for transfer, which means that a joint task force made up of the CIA, Department of Justice, FBI and Department of Defense unanimously agreed that these 86 men didn’t commit a crime, we don’t intend to charge them, they don’t pose an imminent threat and we don’t want to keep them,” Davis said in an interview. “Yet still they sit there, year after year after year.”
Adding to the pressures on Obama is a hunger strike by many Guantanamo prisoners that has been going on for more than three months. Many of them are being forced fed to keep them alive.
So why hasn’t the president moved to close down the facility over the past four-and-a-half years? Some of his harshest critics have accused him of being less than totally honest on the issue. His defenders have blamed Republicans in Congress, or noted that closing Guantanamo is easier said than done.
Davis, who served as chief prosecutor at Guantanamo from 2005 to 2007, noted that 56 of the current detainees are from Yemen and were slated to be returned home years ago. He said the transfer was blocked after the so-called underwear bomber tried to blow up a plane over Detroit, Michigan on Christmas Day, 2009.
“When it turned out that the plot for the underwear bombing was hatched in Yemen, so we shut off the pipeline back,” said Davis, now a professor at Howard University law school in Washington D.C.
Davis says some members of Congress have made closing Guantanamo difficult, but not impossible. He says the Yemenis should be sent home immediately and the remaining prisoners divided between those who should be prosecuted before the military commission or in federal courts and those who should be sent home.
But Davis says the White House has not done this because it fears a released prisoner might take up arms against the U.S. later.
The New America Foundation recently released a study of former Guantanamo detainees to determine how many have taken up arms since their release. The study found that about 8.5% returned to the battlefield.
Alberto R. Gonzales, a former U.S. attorney general in the Bush administration, says there are good reasons that Guantanamo hasn’t been closed.
“The problem the U.S. has, of course, is that there’s no viable alternative at this moment, and because the need continues to detain captured enemy combatants somewhere, we need to continue to have Guantanamo open.”
And Gonzales opposes transferring detainees to U.S. prisons.
“I think that we have the capability to provide for the safety of these individuals and to provide for the safety of the surrounding communities,” Gonzales said. “But the truth of the matter is that if you move them to one facility like supermax, the supermax will become the next symbol of American oppression, because I think the enemy has shown that it will use anything that we do as a recruiting tool.”
And Gonzales also is against trying the detainees on terrorism charges in the United States.
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