Polar bears older than biologists used to think

This video is called other Polar Bear and Cubs Emerging from Den – BBC Planet Earth.

From Science:

Nuclear Genomic Sequences Reveal that Polar Bears Are an Old and Distinct Bear Lineage

Frank Hailer1,
Verena E. Kutschera1,
Björn M. Hallström,
Denise Klassert,
Steven R. Fain,
Jennifer A. Leonard,
Ulfur Arnason,
Axel Janke


Recent studies have shown that the polar bear matriline (mitochondrial DNA) evolved from a brown bear lineage since the late Pleistocene, potentially indicating rapid speciation and adaption to arctic conditions.

Here, we present a high-resolution data set from multiple independent loci across the nuclear genomes of a broad sample of polar, brown, and black bears.

Bayesian coalescent analyses place polar bears outside the brown bear clade and date the divergence much earlier, in the middle Pleistocene, about 600 (338 to 934) thousand years ago. This provides more time for polar bear evolution and confirms previous suggestions that polar bears carry introgressed brown bear mitochondrial DNA due to past hybridization. Our results highlight that multilocus genomic analyses are crucial for an accurate understanding of evolutionary history.

See also here. And here.

July 2012. An analysis of newly sequenced polar bear genomes is providing important clues about the species’ evolution, suggesting that climate change and genetic exchange with brown bears helped create the polar bear as we know it today. The international study found evidence that the size of the polar bear population fluctuated with key climatic events over the past million years, growing during periods of cooling and shrinking in warmer times: here.

Will more climate change mean more pizzlies (polar bear-grizzly bear hybrids)? Here.

As climate changes, polar bears switch to polluted food: here.

Thanks to global warming polar bears now risk starvation during their wait for ice to form: here.

Shrinking Arctic sea ice has left polar bears scrambling to find food, and they’ve taken to eggs in a big way, which is bad news for many seabirds. A polar bear in the Northern Hudson Bay region can eat hundreds of seabird eggs at a sitting: here.

German religious dance bans under fire

This video is called Baby Dancing to Beyoncé – ORIGINAL!

From Der Spiegel weekly in Germany:


Protecting Tradition

German Dance Bans Under Fire

Dancing can get you in trouble in Germany. Laws on the books prohibit the practice on certain religious holidays — and the bans are taken seriously. But this week Bavaria moved to weaken its law and a Cologne dance-in was allowed to go ahead on Good Friday. Religious leaders are concerned.

Some would argue that Bavaria is as backward as it gets. The German state is famous for its ongoing love affair with lederhosen and dirndls and even old grannies yell at pedestrians that dare to cross the street at a red light. In the rest of the country, Bavarians are looked down upon in much the same way that New Yorkers view the Deep South.

This week, however, the state took a step which seems tantamount to admitting that times just might have changed. Laws prohibiting dancing on certain Christian holidays are to be relaxed. Slightly. Instead of criminalizing dance club gyrations as of midnight on the eve of religious celebrations, the state said party-goers will now be allowed to boogie until 2 a.m.

Of course, many might be left wondering why Bavaria doesn’t just ditch the dance rules entirely. But far from being forgotten relicts of centuries past, dance bans reflect the state’s deep ties to tradition and, though weakening, the Catholic Church. Indeed, Munich Archbishop Reinhard Marx expressed his dissent on Wednesday, saying that easing laws protecting the sanctity of religious holidays is unacceptable.

Protest Events Banned

There are currently nine days on the Bavarian calendar when dancing is outlawed, including the four days from Ash Wednesday to the Saturday before Easter. The state’s neighbor to the west, Baden-Württemberg, is even more restrictive, banning bop during parts of 18 days — including from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. on New Year’s Day. Every other state in the country, including the famously debaucherous city-state of Berlin, has dance bans on their books too.

Germany’s upstart Pirate Party discovered this year just how serious those prohibitions are taken. The group chose this year’s Good Friday, a day on which dancing is forbidden in every single German state, to stage a series of dance-ins to protest the laws. One of the protests went ahead as planned, with scores of people gyrating to music coming out of their headphones in front of the Cologne Cathedral. But two other events — in Frankfurt and Giessen — were forbidden by the authorities. A legal complaint the Pirates filed with Germany’s high court was rejected.

cgh — with wire reports

Racing team won’t race in dictatorial Bahrain

This video is called Bahrain – Nurse Got Shot By Bahrain Dictator Government and Saudi Military.

From F1technical.net today:

Porsche team withdraws from Bahrain race

A team from the Porsche Supercup, a supporting series during the upcoming Grand Prix of Bahrain this weekend has cancelled its participation in the race, outing its doubts about the safety at the middle-east country.

The MRS team has decided not to travel to Bahrain and therefore skip the first race of the Porsche Supercup.

“It is the first time in our team history that we have to cancel a race of the Porsche MOBIL1 Supercup,” team boss Karsten Molitor said. “In the end we have the responsibility for our employees.

“The race in Bahrain is for us one of the seasons highlights, therefore it was not easy to come to a decision. According to our drivers and partners we have reached the conclusion to start only at the second race in Barcelona on 13th of May.”

See also here.

Madagascar’s vanga birds, new study

Vanga diversity tree; the Madagascan vangas include 22 species which differ considerably in terms of morphology and resulting foraging habits. (Credit: Copyright: Jon Fjelds)

From the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Germany:

Evolution: Vangas Beat Darwin’s Finches in Diversity

ScienceDaily (Apr. 19, 2012) — The diversity of the Madagascan vangas is unique. The bird family only consists of 22 species, but these cover the whole range of body size of the passerines, the bird group vangas belong to (6,000 species). Whereas smaller species use their comparatively small bill to feed by picking up insects, the largest among the vanga species may even catch amphibians with its very large bill. Thus vangas are much more diverse than Darwin’s finches, known to be a model for rapid evolution.

As a study published now in The Proceedings of the National Association of Sciences shows, Vangidae are the only known birds which experienced two peaks of rapid diversification. For birds, only one such peak is common.

The 22 Madagascan vanga species differ considerably from one another. Each species looks different, has a different body size and a different kind of bill specially adapted to their diet. The Nuthatch Vanga (13 centimeters small) usually feed on insects which it picks up in bushes using its small bill. Sickle-billed Vangas (30 centimeters large) on the contrary have a large curved bill which allows the birds to scratch under tree bark in their search for edible insects. Last but not least, Helmet Vangas are equipped with a stunningly huge blue bill in which lizards, frogs or even geckos may end up. The song birds which are endemic to Madagascar are therefore even more diverse than the well-known Darwin’s finches. Researchers from the German Biodiversity and Climate Research Center in Frankfurt, the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen, Denmark and other German, Swedish and French research institutes have now constructed a complete, dated species-level phylogeny to discover how this diversity came about.

At home on Madasgascar

It is now 25 million years ago that an originally African ancestor of the Vangidae arrived on Madagascar. Many potential predators and competitors had not reached the island at this time. This allowed the vangas to quickly occupy ecological niches, diversify and spread across the island. “This first bout of rapid diversification resulted in vanga species which differ considerably in terms of body size. These older species feed on insects which they catch in mid-air or in vegetation” says one of the authors of the study, Dr. Susanne Fritz, at the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F). Once the ecological niche space was filled by the new species, the rate of diversification decreased significantly. Well-known examples of this evolutionary pattern on islands are the Darwin’s finches found on the Galápagos islands. Until now, Madagascan vangas were also viewed to be a textbook example of this process.

New foraging strategy led to second peak of diversification

However, the new study shows that the first peak of diversification was followed by a second one around ten to five million years ago – something that is highly unusual for birds. “Our computer-based models indicate that this unexpected second peak of diversification was caused by an increase in available ecological niche space. One potential explanation might be that the birds simply spread into new areas. However, the vangas only occur on Madagascar. Instead, we show that this second peak of diversification most probably followed the morphological key innovation of a new shape of bill” explains Dr. Fritz. At that time, a group of vangas with very long, sometimes curved bills emerged, such as the Sickle-bill Vanga. These bills enabled the new species to retrieve insects hidden under the bark of trees, and so occupy a new dietary niche.

First evidence for old ideas

The fundamental study by the international team indicates for the first time that the amazing diversity of the vangas evolved in a two-step process. The study also illustrates how much of Madagascar and its unusual biodiversity is still not fully understood, and what exciting scientific discoveries may await there. Furthermore, the study shows that a morphological key innovation and related new foraging strategy may result in a burst of speciation, even after the group has already reached its ecological limit. Previously, researchers had thought this to be possible, but it had never been demonstrated. However, the high specialization of the vangas might now be their doom: the habitat to which the birds have adapted over the past 25 million years is shrinking quickly as a consequence of land use and climate change.

Journal Reference:

K. A. Jonsson, P.-H. Fabre, S. A. Fritz, R. S. Etienne, R. E. Ricklefs, T. B. Jorgensen, J. Fjeldsa, C. Rahbek, P. G. P. Ericson, F. Woog, E. Pasquet, M. Irestedt. Ecological and evolutionary determinants for the adaptive radiation of the Madagascan vangas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1115835109

Beak Heat: Evolutionary Theory of Bird Bills May Need Revision. New research on song sparrows offers a new take on bird-beak evolution that is more nuanced than earlier ideas based on finch studies: here.

Another black Libyan tortured to death

This video is called LIBYA War Crimes: Black Town Tawergha A Ghost Town After Ethnic Cleansing By NATO Rebels & NATO.

From Amnesty International:

Libya: NTC Must Investigate Death of Another Tawargha Man Under Torture

19 April 2012

press release

The Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) must act immediately to investigate and prosecute abuses against the Tawargha community of black Libyans, said Amnesty International today, after another Tawargha man was tortured to death in a Misratah detention centre.

The body of 44-year-old father of two Barnous Bous’a was delivered to his family on 16 April. It was covered with bruises and cuts, including an open wound to the back of the head.

Barnous Bous’a was a civilian who fled his home in Kararim in western Libya during the armed conflict, settling in Sirte.

After his arrest by Misratah militias in October 2011 while fleeing further fighting in Sirte, he was reportedly held at a detention facility under the control of Misratah’s Security Committee, a committee created under the Misratah local council.

“This brutal death highlights the continuing dangers to detainees in the new Libya,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

“How many more victims will die from torture until the authorities realize the gravity of the situation, and deliver on their promises of investigating, prosecuting and putting an end to such crimes?”

Amnesty International has documented more than a dozen deaths in custody at the hands of armed militias since September 2011, amid widespread torture of suspected al-Gaddafi loyalists and soldiers. A high proportion of the victims were Tawarghas.

The entire population of the city of Tawargha, some 30,000 people, has suffered abuses at the hands of armed militias in revenge to for their town’s perceived loyalty to the former government, and for crimes some Tawargha are accused of having committed during the siege and shelling of the neighbouring city of Misratah by al-Gaddafi forces.

Militias from Misratah drove out the entire population of Tawargha in August 2011, looting and burning down their homes. Since then, armed militias from Misratah have been hunting down Tawarghas across Libya, snatching Tawargha men from camps for displaced people, homes, checkpoints and even hospitals.

Those abducted are brought back to detention centres in Misratah, where they are routinely tortured, in some cases to death. Hundreds of Tawarghas are believed to be detained in Misratah with fresh arrests reported to Amnesty International this week.

At least two Tawargha men have been taken from Tripoli since 12 April: one was arrested shortly after he left an IDP camp and the other was captured near his workplace. Their relatives have not been able to locate their exact whereabouts, but heard that both had been transferred to Misratah. There, they are at serious risk of torture and even death.

One relative pleaded to Amnesty International: “We are so afraid for the safety of all Tawarghas once they are taken to Misratah. We cannot bear to hear more bad news…We are not safe anywhere, we can’t leave home, we are trapped. If we go out, we risk arrest too. We can’t even leave and search for our relatives.”

On Monday, Misratah’s local leadership denied widespread reports of torture and other abuses committed by the city’s militias, signalling that “reconciliation between the two towns [Misratah and Tawargha] was probably impossible at the moment” and that “some alternative solution for the Tawargha people” was needed.

“The leadership in Misratah is turning a blind eye to the mounting evidence of abuses committed at the hands of Misratah militias, arguing that only ‘individual mistakes’ take place,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“It is imperative that the NTC now reins in these militias, investigates all abuses and prosecutes those responsible – on all sides – in accordance with international law. Only then will Libya begin to turn the page on decades of systematic human rights violations.”

See also here.

British intelligence conspired with Libyan spooks to pressure asylum seekers to work as spies for both countries, leaked documents show: here.

Information published by the Sunday Times has revealed how the [British] Labour government of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown facilitated the deportation and torture of opponents of the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi: here.

Africa: Libyan Govt Must Protect Kufra Residents From Militia Clashes: here.