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Contradictory explanations for the evolution of nectar-drinking in a diverse group of bats have long puzzled scientists, but new research led by the American Museum of Natural History and Stony Brook University provides a clear answer.
The conflicting explanations come from two different types of data. Genetic data suggest that nectar feeding evolved twice in New World leaf-nosed bats whereas earlier analyses of the bats’ anatomy point to a single origin of nectar feeding. These bats are found in Central and South America and, uniquely among bats, eat nectar, fruit, frogs, lizards, and blood.
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In the Solomon Islands, an archipelago of some 1,000 islands east of Papua New Guinea, the Museum is partnering with indigenous communities to improve biodiversity conservation within ancient customary lands. This summer, Michael Esbach, Pacific Programs manager in the Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC), travelled to three of these islands with CBC Pacific Programs Director Christopher Filardi and CBC Director Eleanor Sterling.
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Researchers from the American Museum of Natural History and Louisiana State University have discovered that two groups of blind cave fishes now separated by about 6,000 miles of open ocean are each other’s closest relatives. These eyeless fishes, one group from Madagascar and the other from Australia, descended from a common ancestor before being separated by continental drift nearly 100 million years ago, the scientists say. Their study, which was published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, also identifies new species that add to existing biological proof for the existence of Gondwana, a prehistoric supercontinent that was part of Pangaea and contained all of today’s southern continents.
The cave fishes, of the genus Typhleotris in Madagascar and Milyeringa in Australia, are small—less than 100 millimeters long—and usually lack pigment, a substance that gives an organism its color and also provides protection from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. These characteristics, coupled with a lack of eyes and enhanced sensory capabilities, are common in many cave organisms.
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Preserved for 230 million years in droplets of amber just millimeters long, two newly named species of mites and a fly have set a record. They are the oldest arthropods – invertebrate animals that include insects, arachnids, and crustaceans – ever found in amber, the name typically given to globules of fossilized resin. The results, published by an international team of researchers in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciencestoday, pave the way for a better evolutionary understanding of the most diverse group of organisms in the world.
“Amber is an extremely valuable tool for paleontologists because it preserves specimens with microscopic fidelity, allowing uniquely accurate estimates of the amount of evolutionary change over millions of years,” said corresponding author David Grimaldi, a curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology and a world authority on amber and fossil arthropods.
Even though arthropods are more than 400 million years old, until now, the oldest record of the animals in amber only dates to about 130 million years. The newly discovered specimens are about 100 million years older, the first amber arthropods ever found from the Triassic Period.