I’ve been following the Open Researcher & Contributor ID (ORCID) initiative since its announcement late last year, but the collaborators have been quietly hammering out the details behind the scenes. As of this week, they’ve just released a PDF with a lot more information, including some ideas on how the implementation will work, such as potential manuscript submission interfaces, metadata importation, and mock-ups of interfaces for authors to input publications, affiliations, and contact information.

It appears that ORCID has come a long way since their initial announcement. They now have over 90 participating organizations (is your organization involved yet?), up from an initial 23, including big name publishers like Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, PLoS, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and many large research universities, including Harvard and Cornell. Now that the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) has firmly taken root in scientific publishing, a clear-cut author identification program like ORCID should be widely implemented easily, especially with substantial backing from Nature Publishing Group. A 2009 Nature editorial discusses some of the potential applications of ORCID, such as allowing researchers to create an ongoing digital curriculum vitae, or to receive credit for work which isn’t part of a high-profile publication but still has a major contribution to a body of scientific knowledge.

There are still many kinks to be ironed out—the latest announcement notes that “privacy and access rights as well as funding issues are being tackled.” They also indicate that “ORCID may be linked to other registries, such as the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) a draft international standard for tracking creators, actors, artists and performers,” but it bodes well that they’re taking all of these factors into account. With all of the Professor Zhangs and Dr. Wilsons floating around publishing prolifically, a standard name identification scheme like ORCID is overdue and poised for success.

Have you heard of the Kihansi spray toad? I’ve got a trip to New York planned this summer, and seeing these cute little guys is now at the top of my list of things to do.

…And New York is pretty much the only place in the world you can see them now, sadly. They’re extinct in the wild, which is unsurprising considering their native habitat is made up of just two hectares along the Kihansi Gorge in Tanzania. When a dam blocked 90% of the water flow to their waterfall habitat, the Kihansi toad population crashed. An outbreak of the amphibian dread-disease chytrid fungus cut the remaining population down to critical numbers, prompting the Wildlife Conservation Society to swoop in and rescue 499 of the tiny toads and whisk them back to the Bronx.

Although some of the toads were sent to five different zoos in the US, only the Bronx Zoo and the Toledo Zoo managed to keep them alive. As it turns out, evolving in such a specific area left the toads with very specialized needs, and the zoo has set up pure mist sprayers from filtered water, halogen lamps, and disease-free specially-bred insects for food. Now that they’re able to keep the toads alive and breed them successfully in captivity, WCS is working towards a re-introduction plan that involves an artificial mist system and the eradication of invasive plant species.

For now though, you can see them at the new World of Reptiles exhibit at the Bronx Zoo. Kihansi spray toads are unusual, charismatic amphibians — mustard yellow in color, and tiny enough to sit on the face of a dime. Unlike most amphibians, they also give birth to tiny, purple-ish live young, small enough to sit on the head of a pin.

If that’s not a poster child of cuteness for conservation, I don’t know what is.

I’m leaving for a few weeks on vacation tomorrow night. I couldn’t be happier about this, and I’ll post all about my trip when I get back (at least, the science-y and library-related parts of it), but for now, I need to prepare. I anticipate being very busy playing catch-up when I return, and I’ve been posting here less than I’d like to. Therefore, I present to you a huge list of things I’ve been meaning to post about but never got around to. I might post in more detail on some of these topics later as I get a chance, but I encourage you to check out these links in my absence. In no particular order:

  • HOME is a stunningly beautiful 90-minute film from director Yann Arthus-Bertrand. It was released on June 5th simultaneously in over 50 different countries, and is freely available to watch on YouTube in HD. It covers the history of life on Earth, focusing heavily on human changes to the environment that have resulted in ecological collapses across the planet and global warming. The last 20 minutes or so provide a summary, but I highly recommend setting aside some time to watch the whole thing.
  • Another possibly global-warming related news item: The New York Times reports on the PNAS study about disappearing ice caps atop Mt. Kilimanjaro.
  • Toxic waste from a shipwreck off the coast of Madagascar is wreaking ecological havoc, according to the WWF.
  • Two female spectacled bears at the Leipzig Zoo are suffering from hair-loss. The Telegraph article isn’t very informative, but spectacled bears have a history of this problem in captivity. It’s limited to female bears and is thought to be stress-related. Incidentally, cross your fingers that I see a fully-furred spectacled bear while on vacation… they’re native to the Andean forests!
  • This collection of photographs of pollution in China has been heavily making the internet rounds. You’ve probably already seen it, but if not, you’ll be shocked. The photographs are so well-done they’re almost beautiful, but the content will make you cry.
  • Here’s some happy news, albeit a bit old: decades-long efforts by the French to clean up pollution in the Seine is finally paying off! After high levels of pollution in the middle of last century killed off all but four fish species in the river, France instituted large-scale efforts to clean up the waters, including a purification plant. Now, Atlantic salmon have returned to their historic breeding grounds up-river without any human interference. One of these was caught by an angler outside of Paris. There are now 32 species present in the river!
  • Have you heard about the Genome 10K project? “The Genome 10K project aims to assemble a genomic zoo—a collection of DNA sequences representing the genomes of 10,000 vertebrate species, approximately one for every vertebrate genus.” Thanks to the drastic reduction over the years of the cost to sequence a genome, this project is finally feasible, and collaborators are coming from all corners of the globe.
  • DNA is also going to ensure that we have delicious heritage apples for years to come, I hope.
  • The Bronx Zoo’s Wildlife Conservation Society recently opened a new LEED gold-certified Center for Global Conservation that looks to be very impressive.
  • Attention parents: Black bears in Yosemite prefer minivans.
  • The winners of the British Wildlife Photography Awards were announced last month. Here’s the Coast & Marine winner:
  • New York is seeing “coywolves”, coyote-wolf hybrids that are smaller than wolves and larger than coyotes. These are fertile hybrids, stronger than coyotes, but appearing in areas where wolves can’t cope with the human development.

  • There are more article I have bookmarked, but I’ll save those for another vacation. See you next month!

I originally heard about this on NPR, and it brightened my morning drive up a bit to hear about Sea World’s successful hatching of 82 endangered green sea turtle babies last month. As a lifelong San Diego resident, I’ve been to Sea World many, many times. They’re a for-profit organization and I never got the impression that the animals there were very happy, so I haven’t felt compelled to visit for many years, but I was delighted to hear about the turtle births.

According to the Associated Press reports, the turtles were all hatched on the park’s Shipwreck Beach without any human assistance or intervention. Thad Dirksen, curator of fishes remarked, “It’s unusual to have sea turtles hatch in a zoological environment. And this time marked the first time we’ve done so without assisting the eggs through incubation.” Indeed, hearing about sea turtle births anywhere is pretty exciting for me, since they’re adorable and all sea turtle species are endangered or threatened. But it’s especially fun to hear about a hatching this size, right in my own neighborhood. They should go on display before the end of the year, so I’ll try to go out and visit them.

The Cove, the striking documentary about the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, has finally screened in Japan. It was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival this week, according to an interview with director Louie Psihoyos, posted on Boing Boing today.

Although Psihoyos noted the screening was tucked away at 10:30am and not publicized, showing the movie in Japan is a hugely important step for those concerned about dolphin conservation. The movie debuted earlier this year (I saw a preview for it before The End of the Line), and shows damning footage of the bloody annual hunt, including dolphin meat being sold to Japanese schools surreptitiously. Since dolphins are top-level predators, they can have dangerously high levels of mercury — up to 5000 the levels legally allowed by Japan. Of course, dolphins are also highly charismatic animals, beloved by most people. It’s particularly striking that the dolphin hunters in Taiji make a much larger profit for capturing a dolphin and selling it to amusement parks or aquariums than selling it for meat.

Last month, on September 1, the media arrived in Taiji to publicize the beginning of the annual hunt. For the first time, even members of the Japanese media were present. Under the pressure, the hunt was delayed as hunters debated how to proceed. Former Flipper trainer Rick O’Barry, star of The Cove, was even in town to watch events unfold.

By the end of the first week of September, however, the hunt had finally begun. Of the dolphins caught that day, half were sold to aquariums, and half were released.

Although the publicity has been unkind to Taiji, their dolphin hunt is not the only one of its kind. Because of the cove setting, it’s very photogenic, but dolphin hunts outside of Japan persist, mainly for food. Dolphin hunts are ongoing in the Soloman Islands. Less than 100 dolphins are killed there each year, but there may only be hundreds of dolphins in the entire population in that area. The public outcry over The Cove will hopefully help contribute to awareness of dolphin slaughter.

A new study from Duke University, presented at the American Chemical Society conference last week, describes the process by which mercury emissions get converted into more harmful toxic forms of methylmercury through organic reactions in the environment. According to the press release, “Mercury is extremely toxic and can lead to kidney dysfunctions, neurological disorders and even death. In particular, fetuses exposed to methylmercury can suffer from these same disorders as well as impaired learning abilities.” The researchers also note that the most common sources of mercury ingestion are fish and shellfish, due to their “natural tendency to store methylmercury in their organs”.

Coincidentally, the US Geological Survey recently released a detailed report, titled “Mercury in Fish, Bed Sediment, and Water from Streams Across the United States, 1998–2005“. The USGS conducted tests of mercury levels in fish over a period of seven years across 291 rivers and streams in the United States, including agricultural, urbanized, mined, and undeveloped (forested, grassland, shrubland, and wetland land cover) stream basins.

Mongabay.com reports, “Not one fish had escaped mercury contamination. One-quarter of the fish tested contained levels of mercury higher than those deemed safe for humans, and over two-thirds of the fish tested had mercury levels that exceeding those that safe for fish-eating mammals according the Environmental Protection Agency.” The Department of the Interior issued a press release of the findings, noting that the EPA regulates mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Emissions as a result of coal mining and burning enter the air, are precipitated into water systems, then converted to methylmercury and absorbed by fish, who are then ingested by larger fish, and so on. Through this process, high levels of mercury were found in fish even in pristine, protected ecological areas. Coal is the source of more than half of the nation’s electricity. I don’t eat fish, but maybe you do. More importantly, high environmental pollution and elevated levels of mercury affect the wildlife who share our ecosystems, and that’s hardly fair.

How Mercury Becomes Toxic In The Environment.

The Great Beyond: America’s quicksilver fish.

Earlier this summer, the Journal of Mammalogy published findings from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) study of long-beaked echidnas in Papua New Guinea. WCS trained an intern, Muse Opiang, to track, tag, and study the elusive monotremes. Opiang has since formed his own non-profit organization, the Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research.

Although the other two members of the order Monotremata, the duck-billed platypus and short-beaked echidna, are fairly well-known to people, the long-beaked echidna has never been studied and is critically endangered. Opiang spent 500 hours in the field before he found a single one. After 6,000 hour of field work, he managed to capture 22 echidnas, tagging 12 of these with radio transmitters. Their larger size makes them a popular bushmeat target of hunters.

Monotremes are egg-laying mammals, an evolutionary link between birds and reptiles, and placental mammals. They nurse young via lactation patches in their skin. A single opening, or cloaca, serves both reproductive and digestive functions. The recent sequencing of the platypus genome provided further insights into mammalian evolution. The study of long-beaked echidnas will enable scientists to develop conservation practices, ensuring the animals’ survival in the wild.

The Children’s Zoo at the San Diego Zoo is home to Victor, a short-beaked echidna who also happens to be the zoo’s oldest mammal. My favorite part of going to the zoo is visiting him, and encouraging other zoo guests to pet him. You’re actually allowed to pet him, and his quills are surprisingly soft. Oddly, I don’t have any photos of friends doing this, but someone on Flickr does! Monotremes are some of my favorite animals (not least because the babies are called puggles, and really, how cute is that?). I’m looking forward to learning more about long-beaked echidnas as new information from this study trickles in.

Brainy Echidna Proves Looks Aren’t Everything – NYTimes.com.