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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: birds (7)

Where the locals know best

Author
by Paing Soe
Publish date
26 November 2013
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Paing Soe is a Master of Environment student at the University of Melbourne.

This is the third post of an MV Blog mini-series celebrating the past, present and future of exploration on planet Earth and commemorating the adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace who died 100 years ago.

Dr. Kevin Rowe and Dr. Karen Rowe give their unreserved credit to the local people—the guides, the village heads and the Indonesian scientists—for the discoveries that they've made together in Sulawesi. But it took a bit of work to get them on side, according to Kevin. "They were not convinced that you can make a living doing what we do. So they were suspicious that we probably had a hidden agenda," he says.

Sulawesi field team A photo opportunity with the local team in Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, May 2012.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

"On these mountains, only the local people really know what's there," says Kevin. The locals in Mamasa, a mountain town on the island of Sulawesi, had a name for almost every species, including animals that have not been described by science. Such knowledge was essential in the scientific discovery of an almost toothless rodent, Paucidentomys vermidax.

Man holding rodent Gherzhon, a local guide from Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, holding the recently described Paucidentomys vermidax he helped collect.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On the last day of a trip in 2012, local guides caught a rare rat that in local tradition is believed to safeguard homes from fire. While some of the guides wanted to keep the rat for this reason, one guide argued how important it could be to the expedition and made sure it was shared with the scientists. The specimen turned out to be the only record of the species at the site. "That kind of support depends on building trust and relationships with local people," says Kevin.

"It's just impossible really, to go in there without a local partner," agrees Karen. Local scientists understand the cultural context, the bureaucracy, and are much more effective with exploration and conservation when it comes to biodiversity on these islands. Working with Anang Achmadi, Curator of Mammals, and Tri Haryoko, Curator of Birds, at the national museum of Indonesia, Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, their research programs have led to a strong collaboration between Museum Victoria and MZB.

The more that local scientists can work independently, the better. Kevin and Karen Rowe take this approach despite the fact that their own expeditions are going so well. "The future of biodiversity research in Indonesia lies with local scientists. Our hope is that we can promote their training and success," says Kevin.

Anang Achmadi, curator of mammals Anang Achmadi, Curator of Mammals at Museum Zoologicum Bogorinese in camp on Mount Gandangdeata near Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, Sulawesi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Check out the other posts in this mini-series: The Age of Exploration continues and Exploration of Sulawesi, Indonesia

Exploration of Sulawesi, Indonesia

Author
by Bonnie & Rashika
Publish date
11 November 2013
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Bonnie Gambhir is a Computer Science student with interests in scientific exploration. Rashika Premchandralal is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Biotechnology. Both are studying at the University of Melbourne.

This is the second post of an MV Blog mini-series celebrating the past, present and future of exploration on planet Earth and commemorating the adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace who died 100 years ago.

Wallace's exploration of the islands of Indonesia contributed to the theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the field biogeography–the study of the distribution of species over space and time. Wallace famously divided the world’s animals into zoogeographic regions, with his travels through modern day Indonesia providing important clues about the transitions of more Asian-like species to those of Australian origin.

"The island of Sulawesi is a place where many Asian lineages get their easternmost distribution and many Australian lineages get their westernmost distribution, and Sulawesi represents a mixture of the flora and fauna of these two great continents," says Dr Kevin Rowe.

Skull of Babirusa MV specimen R8050: skull of Babirusa, Babyrousa celebensis, an ancient lineage of pigs on Sulawesi. Pigs are not native to the Australian continent and Sulawesi represents their easternmost distribution.
Image: Karen Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

mount of Bear Cuscus MV specimen C27221: mount of Bear Cuscus, Ailurops ursinus. An ancient relative of the Ringtail Possum, the Bear Cuscus is endemic to Sulawesi and represents the westernmost distribution of Australian marsupials that never reached the Asian continent.
Image: Karen Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
  

Since Wallace’s time, further scientific exploration in Wallacea has contributed immensely to our understanding of the distribution and evolution of species.

Researchers at Museum Victoria are continuing this exploration on the island of Sulawesi; Dr Kevin Rowe and Dr Karen Rowe have made several expeditions in recent years, leading to the description of new mammal species and new knowledge of the evolutionary relationships between Indonesian and Australian birds.

When Wallace visited Sulawesi, he recorded only five species of rodents. Today, we recognise almost fifty. Described in 2012 by Kevin and colleagues, one recently- discovered species from Sulawesi challenges the definition of rodent. The unique rat, Paucidentomys vermidax, (meaning “few-toothed worm-devouring mouse”) is the only rodent, among more than 2,200 species, with pointed upper incisors and no molars.

Dr Kevin Rowe with Paucidentomys vermidax Dr Kevin Rowe with Paucidentomys vermidax, a nearly toothless rodent, on the day of its discovery in the rainforests of Sulawesi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The honeyeater family Meliphagidae is one of the most diverse groups of Australian birds. Most of the nearly 170 species are found in Australia, New Guinea and adjacent Pacific Islands. A few species are native to Wallacea where the family reaches the westernmost limits of its distribution. Through her fieldwork on Sulawesi, Karen is studying the endemic genus Myza and their relationship to all other honeyeaters.

Lesser Sulawesi Honeyeater Lesser Sulawesi Honeyeater, Myza celebensis, found in the forests of Mount Dako, Sulawesi in 2013.
Image: Karen Rowe
Source: Mustum Victoria
 

Expeditions to Sulawesi by MV researchers and their Indonesian and US colleagues have produced several new records of species that have not been recorded since the 1970s. Many of these species were previously known from a single locality and are listed as 'data deficient' by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Hence the recent exploration of Sulawesi is helping to improve understanding of the habitat requirements and distributions of these little-known species.

Local knowledge and assistance is as much a part of modern exploration as it was in Wallace’s time. Our final post in this series will explore how international cooperation has contributed to the success of Museum Victoria’s research in the region.

Links:

MV Blog posts about Sulawesi field research

New species in the MV Field Guide app

Author
by Nicole K
Publish date
5 April 2013
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To celebrate the upcoming release of the Android version of the MV Field Guide app, we're adding a suite of new species; species that have been specifically requested by the users of the existing iOS app.

However, we were missing images of a few species, including Victoria's bird emblem the Helmeted Honeyeater. With no images, these species were going to be left out of the app.

So we asked our MV Blog readers for help – and the response was overwhelming!

Helmeted Honeyeater, <i>Lichenostomus melanops cassidix</i> Helmeted Honeyeater, Lichenostomus melanops cassidix
Image: Ian J. Wilson
Source: Ian J. Wilson
 

Thank you to everyone who sent in images for our MV Field Guide photography competition. We wanted to include them all, but we had to be mindful of download size (with over 700 species in the app, that's a lot of pictures).

The winning photographers were:

  • Neville Bartlett
  • Leo Berzins
  • Arthur Carew
  • Micha Jackson
  • Gordon Slater
  • Ian J. Wilson

Thanks to these people, the upcoming Android version of the MV Field Guide (and the iOS upgrade) will include the Helmeted Honeyeater, the Diamond Firetail and the Little Eagle (along with 25 other new species).

Haven't got the MV Field Guide app? Download it for free from the App Store. Android users, stay tuned – it's coming soon!

UPDATE: The Android version is now available from Google Play. Hooray!

Diamond Firetail, <em>Stagonopleura guttata</em> Diamond Firetail, Stagonopleura guttata
Image: Gordon Slater
Source: Gordon Slater
 

Return from Mount Dako

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
2 April 2013
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Kevin is our Senior Curator of Mammals. He investigates the systematics, evolution and conservation biology of mammals with a particular interest in rodents.

On Saturday 23 March, we returned to Melbourne from our expedition to Sulawesi, Indonesia. Our last week we spent at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense sorting specimens and preparing permits to return to Australia. A week earlier on 16 March, we left our camp in the forest of Mount Dako on the island of Sulawesi. We hiked all day from 1600 metres above sea level to the village of Malangga Selatan at 200 metres. Our team at 400 metres elevation also left camp and met us in the town of Toli Toli.

Sulawesi field team The mammal team and guides at 1600m elevation on the last day in the high camp on Mount Dako. Left to right: Kevin Rowe, Mardin Sarkam, Anang Achmadi, Jamudin, Jake Esselstyn, and Jamal.
Image: Karen Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It wasn’t easy to get to our camps on Mount Dako. After a week of permits in Jakarta, a week of scouting two mountains, and several days arranging local assistance, we finally arrived in Malangga Selatan ready to hike up the mountain. With over 300 kg of gear, our team of ten researchers, and fifty local men waiting to help us up the mountain, our local guide, Jamudin, suddenly expressed concern about water on the mountain. Apparently we were going farther into the forest than he was accustomed. We showed him the many drainages on the map that all fed into a big river to the east, but our only option to convince him was to send another scouting party two days hike up the mountain. The rest of our team and the porters set the low elevation camp. After two days, I reached the crest south of Mount Dako with our scouting party and made camp beside a small stream. That night the rain fell heavy for several hours and our tent flooded in the rain. We sought shelter with our guides under a tarp and spent several hours sitting on a small log until the rain subsided enough to return to our tent. The next day we sent two of our guides down the mountain to return with the rest of our team and our gear two days later. We moved our camp to a drier location farther up the ridge and enjoyed the only two days without rain for the rest of our trip.

Sulawesi moss forest Lush and wet lower montane moss forest near camp at 1600 metres elevation on Mount Dako.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Our high camp was set in lower montane rainforest with moss-covered trees including oaks and pandanus. Even when it’s not raining, clouds bring moisture to the forest and there is nearly constant dripping. Orchids and pitcher plants grow in the moisture of the moss. Spiny rotan erupt from tiny plants on the forest floor to tree size vines emerging from the canopy. They climb with the aid of curved thorns that grip human hands and bodies as easily as the trunks of trees.

Plants of Sulawesi Left: Spiny palm tree along the trail to the high camp on Mount Dako. Right: Pitcher plant in lower montane forest.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Over the last two weeks, our two camps documented 26 species of bats, rats and shrews and 31 species of birds in the forests of Mount Dako. In total, our surveys produced nearly 500 mammal and 150 bird records.

We documented a wide range of mammal species including the giant rat, Paruromys dominator, the small orange-brown rat, Maxomys musschenbroekii, the long-haired rat, Rattus xanthurus, the soft-furred rat, Bunomys penitus, and the small arboreal mouse, Haeromys minahassae. We documented two squirrels, the small arboreal, Prosciurillus murinus, and the long-nosed, terrestrial, Hyosciurus ileile. We also documented five species of shrews, including the dark-furred, Crocidura rhoditis.

Three Sulawesi mammals Three of the mammals recorded in Mt Dako's lower montane forests. Top: Giant rat, Paruromys dominator. Middle: The soft-furred rat, Bunomys penitus. Bottom: The long-nosed squirrel, Hyosciurus ileile.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Many endemic and beautiful bird species were documented as well, including the Green-backed Kingfisher, Lesser Sulawesi Honeyeater, Sulawesi and Hair-crested Drongos, Malia, Philippine Scrubfowl, Yellow-flanked Whistler, Fiery-browed Starling, Golden-mantled Racquet-tail, and two species of small hawks, the Spot-tailed Goshawk and Vinous-breasted Sparrowhawk.  Many species of fruit-doves were also noted, including the Sulawesi Ground-dove, Purple-crowned Fruit-dove and Black-naped Fruit-dove. Population densities of several species were high, including the Yellow-sided Flowerpecker. This species is in the same family as Australia’s Mistletoebird, which is often only found singly or in pairs. An exciting find was the large Ashy Woodpecker. Sulawesi represents a limit to the distribution of woodpeckers, which are found world-wide with the exception of the Australo-Pacific region.

Two birds of Sulawesi Left: The Green-backed Kingfisher found in lower montane forest on Mount Dako. Right: The endemic Malia found at 1600 m on Mount Dako.
Image: Karen Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Our return to Melbourne is only the beginning of our studies as now we begin the cleaning and detailed examination of specimens, including genetic sequencing and comparison to described specimens to confirm identifications and examine geographic variation within species. Our collections from Mount Dako are a rare collection from the western portion of the northern peninsula of Sulawesi. They will help us understand the diversity, distribution, and origin of species on the island of Sulawesi and its significance in the biogeography of the Indo-Australian region. That understanding will emerge through our research at Museum Victoria and our collaboration with the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense and our international partners in Canada and the USA. 

Wild record-breakers

Author
by Wayne
Publish date
1 July 2012
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 Your Question: Animals break records too?  Really?

"I love the exhibition Wild: Amazing Animals in a changing World and wanted to know more about birds and mammals, and the amazing things they can do."

It is true, animals break records too, but not in the same way Olympians do, or those fighting for recognition in the Guinness Book of Records. Below are some interesting facts about birds and mammals, some of which you can see in the exhibition.

What mammals or birds have the…

Fastest heartbeat – Hummingbirds.  Hummingbirds are native to North and South America and are the little birds that hover mid air.  They are also the only bird that can fly backwards.

Detail of hummingbird case Detail of a hummingbird on display in the Wild exhibition.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Fastest runner – the Cheetah. Unlike other big cats, the Cheetah has blunt claws that cannot be retracted. 

Fastest swimmers – Penguins. Penguins spend their life half on the land and in the water.

Fastest flyers – Pigeons are the fastest straight line flyers, but falcons are the fastest flyers overall, so falcons can hunt pigeons!

Slowest heartbeat – the Blue Whale.  Blue Whales can be up to 27 metres long.  You can see the articulated skeleton of a Blue Whale outside the entrance to the Science and Life Gallery.

Slowest mover – Sloths. There are both Two-toed and Three-toed Sloths found in tropical South America.

Maned Three-toed Sloth Maned Three-toed Sloth, a mounted mammal specimen in the Wild exhibition.
Image: Heath Warwick
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Tallest – the Giraffe. There are nine subspecies of giraffe, and Africa is the only place where they can be found naturally. 

Shortest – a shrew. Shrews are small mouse-like carnivorous mammals with (proportionally) long pointed noses.

Longest gestation – the African Elephant. A female African Elephant is a cow and her young a calf.

Shortest gestation – the Opossum. The gestation period of the opossum is between 12 and 14 days. 

Didelphis virginiana, Virginia Opossum mounted mammal specimen A mounted Virginia Opossum specimen from the Wild exhibition.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Found in the most places across the world – humans! 

Most endangered – This one is difficult to answer. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources produces the Red list of Threatened Species. It is a globally-recognised comprehensive tool that records the conservation status of plants and animals and Museum Victoria used the Red List when recording the status of animals in the exhibition.

Got a question? Ask us!

Links:

WILD: Amazing Animals in a changing World

IUCN Red List

Penguin Awareness Day

Author
by Karen Rowe
Publish date
20 January 2012
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Karen Rowe is a Research Associate at MV where she studies evolutionary ecology and behaviour in birds and mammals.

January 20th is an auspicious day for birding enthusiasts, marking Penguin Awareness Day. With 17 species currently recognised, members of the family Spheniscidae (pronounced sfen-IS-kuh-dee) are found only within the southern hemisphere. While most of us think of penguins as cold-adapted animals, surviving long treks over ice to breed and raise their young in the middle of winter, many species live further north, among the islands off of Antarctica, along the coasts of New Zealand and Australia, and one species is found on the Galapagos Islands (the aptly named Galapagos Penguin).

Royal Penguins Royal Penguins (Eudyptes schlegeli) – among Elephant Seals on Macquarie Island.
Image: Julie McInnes
Source: Julie McInnes
 

As a group, penguins possess an amazing array of adaptations, uniquely suited to their predominately marine existence. Unlike other birds, penguins have solid, rather than air-filled bones, to help them dive in the water. They have highly modified feathers that form a thick insulating layer that cover the body, rather than growing in the well-defined feather tract found in other birds. They also have unique eyes that allow them to see clearly both on land and in the sea. And while their short legs and feet make them seem awkward on land, many species actually travel tremendous distances over land and rocks to reach their breeding sites – some even traveling as far as three kilometres from water.

Magellanic Penguin Captive Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) floating in the water. The coloured flipper band allows zoo keepers to distinguish between individuals.
Image: Erich Fitzgerald
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Extant species show a wide range of body sizes, from our own Little (or Fairy) Penguins, weighing 1.1 kg and standing 40 cm tall, to the largest species, the Emperor Penguin, at a whopping 30 kg and up to 115 cm tall.

Little Penguins Little Penguins (Eudyptyla minor) in captivity. These coloured leg bands are another way to tell individuals apart.
Image: Erich Fitzgerald
Source: Museum Victoria
 

But even the Emperor Penguin is dwarfed in size by some of the extinct fossil penguins, including a 15-million-year-old giant penguin (Anthropodyptes gilli) from Victoria that may have approached twice its size. Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, Dr. Erich Fitzgerald studies fossil penguins here at Museum Victoria. "Victoria was home to a remarkable diversity of penguins over the last 20 million years," says Dr. Fitzgerald. "The tiny Little Penguin living in Australia today is an oddity on a geologic timescale. The fossil record tells us that most penguins that have lived in Australia were large to huge in size and that at any one time there were perhaps two or more species coexisting here." Currently, Dr. Fitzgerald and his student, Travis Park, are working on six-million-year-old fossil penguins found in Melbourne on the shores of Port Philip Bay that are thought to be the size of the living Gentoo and Emperor Penguins.

Penguin limb bones The upper wing bone (humerus) of living penguins compared with their fossil counterparts from Victoria. From left to right: the 18-million-year-old fossil Anthropodyptes gilli; the living emperor penguin Aptenodytes forsteri; the living fairy penguin Eudyptula minor; the living gentoo penguin Pygoscelis papua; and the 6-million-year-old fossil Pseudaptenodytes. Credit: Photograph by Erich Fitzgerald
Image: Erich Fitzgerald
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Emperor Penguin and chick Emperor Penguin and chick, Antarctica.
Image: Julie McInnes
Source: Julie McInnes
 

The unique ecology of penguins makes them particularly susceptible to a variety of human-induced threats. In particular, commercial fishing, often leading to death through by-catch or competition for prey items (which include fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods), directly impacts their survival. Penguins are also dependent on breeding grounds close to the shore and habitat loss is a major source of population declines. Smaller and fewer breeding grounds also promotes disease, as most species of penguins breed in large colonies.

Royal Penguin colony Royal Penguin colony. This species is endemic to Macquarie Island and this is the largest Royal Penguin colony with over 180,000 breeding pairs. The fluffy young penguin in the front on the right is in moult.
Image: Julie McInnes
Source: Julie McInnes
 

Although little research has been done looking at the impact of climate change on penguins, their specialised lifestyle suggests that climate change could have dramatic impacts on their distribution and abundance. "Penguins are an ancient group of birds, with a history stretching back some 65 million years to the extinction of the dinosaurs," says Dr. Fitzgerald. "In southern Australia they have persisted through the last 20 million years of major climatic changes, but it is unknown how they will respond to the current human-exacerbated wave of environmental upheaval. It would be a terrible shame to see this ancient and superbly successful group of birds become threatened with extinction within our lifetime."

Adelie Penguin, Bechervaise Island, Antarctica. Adelie Penguin, Bechervaise Island, Antarctica.
Image: Julie McInnes
Source: Julie McInnes
 

Links:

Emperor Penguins in the Wild: Amazing animals in a changing world

Penguins on Atlas of Living Australia

Happy Feet Two at IMAX Melbourne

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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