November 20, 2012

At Least of Third of Marine Species Still Unknown

Flightless marine midge Pontomyia
Photo by Danwei Huang 2012
Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
University of California at San Diego

At least one-third of the species that inhabit the world's oceans may remain completely unknown to science. That's despite the fact that more species have been described in the last decade than in any previous one, according to a report published online on November 15 in the Cell Press publication Current Biology. The report details the first comprehensive register of marine species of the world-a massive collaborative undertaking by hundreds of experts around the globe. Lanna Cheng, a marine insect specialist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, is a coauthor of the report.

The researchers estimate that the ocean may be home to as many as one million species in all-likely not more. About 226,000 of those species have so far been described. There are another 65,000 species awaiting description in specimen collections.

"For the first time, we can provide a very detailed overview of species richness, partitioned among all major marine groups. It is the state of the art of what we know-and perhaps do not know-about life in the ocean," says Ward Appeltans of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

November 2, 2012

Elephant Imitates Human Speech

Brought to you by NPR's Morning Edition

Scientists say an Asian elephant at a South Korean zoo can imitate human speech, saying five Korean words that are readily understood by people who speak the language.

The male elephant, named Koshik, invented an unusual method of sound production that involves putting his trunk in his mouth and manipulating his vocal tract.

"This is not the kind of sound that Asian elephants normally make, and it's a dead-on match of the speech of his trainers," says Tecumseh Fitch of the University of Vienna in Austria.

Many birds are excellent vocal mimics, but this isn't common among mammals.