Dinosaur age crocodilians, new research


This video says about itself:

4 May 2018

Evolution of crocodiles: Of all the reptiles alive today, crocodiles and alligators may be the least changed from their prehistoric forebears of the late Cretaceous period, over 65 million years ago—although the even earlier crocodiles of the Triassic and Jurassic periods sported some distinctly un-crocodile-like features, such as bipedal postures and vegetarian diets.

Along with pterosaurs and dinosaurs, crocodiles were an offshoot of the archosaurs, the “ruling lizards” of the early to middle Triassic period; needless to say, the earliest dinosaurs and the earliest crocodiles resembled one another a lot more than either resembled the first pterosaurs, which also evolved from archosaurs.

1. Xilousuchus
250,000,000 bc – 200,000,000 bc
2. Phytosaur
228,000,000 bc – 199,000,000 bc
3. Erpetosuchus
200,000,000 bc
4. Sarcosuchus
110,000,000 bc
5. Stomatosuchus
100,000,000 bc – 95,000,000 bc
6. Deinosuchus
80,000,000 bc
7. Champsosaurus [not a crocodile, though looking like one]
70,000,000 bc – 50,000,000 bc
8. Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction Event
65,000,000 bc
9. Crocodylidae (Modern day crocodile)
55,000,000 bc – Present
10. Quinkana
23,000,000 bc – 40,000 bc
11. Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni
4,200,000 bc

From the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa:

In the gaping mouth of ancient crocodiles

As an apex predator, the crocodile’s mode of attack — its mouth — had humble beginnings

June 18, 2018

Summary: A new study has endeavoured to further explore the mouth of one of the earliest occurring and least understood groups of crocodilians, the shartegosuchids.

The mouth of today’s crocodilians inspires fear and awe, with their wide gape and the greatest known bite force in the vertebrate animal kingdom. However, this apex predator of today and its modus of attack (its mouth) had humble beginnings.

The very earliest crocodilians were very different to the beasts we know well today, they were much smaller bodied, slender and had longer legs. It is speculated that they led a much different lifestyle to the crocodiles we all know and fear today.

A new study by a team of international experts, led by University of Witwatersrand PhD candidate Kathleen Dollman and Professor Jonah Choiniere published today in the American Museum Novitates, endeavoured to further explore the mouth of one of the earliest occurring and least understand groups of crocodilians, the shartegosuchids.

In 2010, Choiniere was a part of a field team working in the Late Jurassic (±160 mya) exposures in the western Gobi in Mongolia, when he found the fossil of a small snout of a shartegosuchid. This work was co-authored by researchers based at the American Museum of Natural History, the George Washington University and the Institute for Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology.

The snout was later CT scanned at the American Museum of Natural History, exposing an unusual, closed secondary palate. Crocodilians are one of only a few groups of animals that evolve a completely closed, bony secondary palate (along with turtles and mammals). A closed secondary palate has many biological implications for crocodilians, including breathing whilst under water and reinforcing the skull to allow for their incredible bite force.

This study showed that these early crocodilians, the shartegosuchids, are important because they evolved a completely closed secondary palate much earlier than previously thought. This is an interesting example of convergent evolution, whereby a similar feature evolves independently in two completely unrelated groups. The advent of a convergent evolutionary event allows scientists to test questions about why that feature evolved and even the function of that feature which in this case is the first step in understanding the purpose of a closed secondary palate in crocodilians.

“I was surprised to find that there were many features in the palate and snout that were completely different between shartegosuchids and extant crocodilians,” says Dollman. Shartegosuchids have a thickened and sculptured palate together with a tall and short rostrum, whereas extant crocodilians have a smooth palate with a long and broad rostrum.

“We would expect to see the same palatal structures and snout shapes in both shartegosuchids and extant crocodiles if they were using it for similar functions and had evolved a closed palate for similar reasons”, says Dollman. “The observed differences tell us that shartegosuchids likely had predation practices to which there is no modern analogue in crocodilians.”

“It’s been nearly 10 years since we collected this fossil after driving 5 days across the Gobi Desert,” said Choiniere, “and I am delighted that it’s formed a part of Kathleen’s PhD.”

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Italian far-right minister wants persecution of Roma


This 2012 video is called An overview of a gypsy [Roma] camp located in the middle of a trash pile on the outskirts of Catania, Italy.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

The Italian Minister of Internal Affairs Matteo Salvini wants to register how many Roma people live in the country. His intention is to expel Roma without valid papers. “We unfortunately have to keep Roma with Italian citizenship here”, he said on TV channel TeleLombardia. …

It is estimated that between 130,000 and 170,000 Roma live in Italy. About half are said to be Italian citizens. … Many Roma also complain that they are victims of discrimination in Italy.

Horrible history

Salvini is the leader of the anti-immigration party Lega and has long advocated special policies for Roma. For example, his party has suggested making it easier to separate Roma children from their families if they do not attend school. Salvini also said earlier that he wants to “bulldozer” Roma camps and he prefers to accuse the group of being criminals rather than working.

The proposal to count the Roma caused indignation in Italian media. Newspaper La Repubblica writes that Salvini causes a “shock” with his plan. …

Several opposition members say that Italy has a horrible history with censuses. They refer to the counts of Jews by the fascist regime of Mussolini, in the late 30’s of the last century.

Most of these Jews counted by Mussolini were later murdered in concentration camps like Auschwitz.

“The minister does not seem to know that an origin-based count is not allowed in Italy”, said the chairman of an advocacy group for Roma and Sinti. He says that it has long been shown how many people live in legal and illegal Roma camps. He also points out that most undocumented Roma are stateless and can therefore not be deported.

Great white sharks dive deep, new research


This video says about itself:

21 July 2017

Watch OCEARCH’s video showing the process of tagging [great white shark] Mary Lee.

Video courtesy: OCEARCH

Read WTOP’s articles on Shark Week here.

From the University of Washington in the USA:

Great white sharks dive deep into warm-water whirlpools in the Atlantic

June 18, 2018

Summary: Tracking data from two great white sharks reveals that they spend more time deep inside warm-water eddies, suggesting that’s where they like to feed.

It’s always good to know where great white sharks are likely to be swimming. That’s true if you’re a nervous beachgoer, a fishing boat trying to avoid illegal bycatch, or a marine biologist hoping to conserve this vulnerable species.

A study from the University of Washington and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution looked at the movements of adult female white sharks in the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Ocean. Results showed, surprisingly, that they prefer warm-water eddies — the clockwise-spinning whirlpools in the ocean — and tend to spend more time deep inside these slowly spinning features.

The open-access study was published in May in Scientific Reports.

“We’ve decimated some open-ocean shark populations to a fraction of what they were 100 years ago. And yet we don’t know the basics of their biology”, said lead author Peter Gaube, a senior oceanographer at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory. “If we know where those sharks, or turtles or whales might be in the open ocean, then the fisheries can avoid them, and limit their bycatch.”

Gaube investigates how ocean eddies, or whirlpools, influence the behavior of marine animals. His previous study, on loggerhead sea turtles, similarly found that they prefer the anticyclonic, or clockwise-spinning, eddies. These features trap large amounts of water at the ocean’s surface and are most often warm, clear and low in nutrients.

The new study analyzes movements of two female great white sharks tagged in September 2012 off Cape Cod and in March 2013 off Jacksonville, Florida. The tricky job of tagging the animals was done by OCEARCH, a nonprofit that focuses on tagging and tracking sharks. One shark just had a position tag, while the other had a second tag that also recorded temperature and depth. The sharks were tracked for nearly 6 years, with one still reporting its position regularly, as they swim north with the Gulf Stream and then out into the open ocean.

The high-tech tags are made by Wildlife Computers in Redmond, Washington. The early shark-tagging projects could just offer rough ideas of where sharks were swimming, Gaube said. But since precise satellite position networks were made available to the public, and with improvements in computing and batteries, the tags can now collect detailed information as sharks travel throughout the marine environment.

Researchers took the data from the two sharks and compared their position in the ocean with sea-surface height data from satellites showing where the huge, swirling warm- and cold-water eddies were located at that time.

“These eddies are everywhere, they cover 30 percent of the ocean’s surface,” Gaube said. “It’s like what you see if you’re walking along a river, and these eddies form behind rocks, but it happens on a different scale in the ocean: Instead of being a little thing that disappears after a few seconds, they can be the size of the state of Massachusetts, and can persist for months to years. You could be in the middle of an eddy in a ship and you’d probably never know it. The water may be a little warmer, and it could be a little clearer, but otherwise you wouldn’t know.”

Analysis shows that the two sharks spent significantly more time in warm-water eddies than the cold-water eddies that spin the other way. Sharks lounged the longest at about 450 meters (about a quarter of a mile) deep inside the warm-water eddies, especially during the daytime, likely feeding on the abundant fish and squid at these depths. They were more likely to come to the surface at night.

This preference goes against common wisdom, because it’s the cold-water eddies that generally bring nutrient-rich water up from the depths of the ocean, and satellite images show that cold-water eddies are rich in marine plant life. This study is the first to show that sharks gravitate toward eddies, and that they prefer the warmer variety.

“White sharks are effectively warm-blooded”, Gaube said. “They have to keep their body temperature elevated. We believe that these warm eddies allow white sharks to forage longer at depth, where most of the biomass in the open ocean is found. One reason that the sharks might prefer them is by diving in these warm eddies, they can spend more time in the deeper water.”

Second, recent studies suggest that the “twilight zone,” below the depths that satellites can see, contains many more fish than previously believed — and much more than at the surface. Those patterns might be different than the ones we can easily detect from space.

“Could these ‘ocean deserts’ actually be super productive at depth? That’s what we think might be happening”, Gaube said.

Some recent deep-sea net surveys have found larger, toothy fish like pomfret below the surface in anticyclonic eddies, which could provide a motivation for the sharks to dive there.

“These sharks are 2,800 pounds. It’s hard to imagine that they’re just eating krill and small fish all of the time they’re in the open ocean”, Gaube said. “If they can find pomfret and lots of squid in these eddies, then sharks can really get a meal out of that.”

Data collected by sharks could help to protect this “twilight zone” as it’s just beginning to be targeted by major fisheries, Gaube said. And information about where great white sharks like to hang out could help conserve this vulnerable species.

“Maybe if we understand the biology of these animals, how they use these features, we could say, ‘OK, do not fish anticyclonic eddies during this time of year, because you’re more likely to catch white sharks'”, Gaube said. “Instead of cordoning off a particular area, we could say there’s this feature, it moves every day, let’s make a ‘mobile marine protected area’ and not touch it because we know it’s a hot spot for great white sharks.”

Honduran two-year-old girl cries because of Trump’s Border Patrol


A two-year-old girl from Honduras cries as her mother gets strip searched and arrested at the USA-Mexican border. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Photo of 2-year-old girl feeds outrage over US immigration policy

In the United States, criticism is growing against President Trump’s immigration policy. …

And if there is one image that feeds that indignation, it is the above photo by the American photojournalist John Moore. Some American newspapers have published it and the photo is widely shared on social media.

We see a 2-year-old girl from Honduras who looks up cryingly at her mother, who is being arrested by the border police. They were part of a group of about twenty people who had crossed the border with Texas. The border police caught them on 12 June at McAllen.

The US American photographer John Moore was there. He has been working along the Mexican border for ten years. “When the border patrol noted the names of the people, I could see a mother holding a young child. … [The Border Patrol] … asked the mother to set down her daughter. At that moment, the young child broke into tears, and she started wailing. ”

“And I took a knee and had very few frames of that moment before it was over. Almost overwhelmed by emotions, she picked up her daughter, and they were rushed into the van and all taken away.” I had to take a few deep breaths to recover.”

The mother still said that they came from Honduras. They had been on the road for one month and were exhausted. “But as a father – and I have a toddler myself. It was very difficult to see what was happening in front of my lens and thinking what it would be like for my kids to be separated from me”, says Moore. “Because I thought they would be separated quickly. I saw from their faces that they had no idea what would happen to them.”

It is not clear whether this girl has really been separated from her mother. This usually does not happen immediately with the arrest. It happens when the parents are prosecuted because they cross the border illegally. Then they are not allowed to keep their children in prison.

The US government recently introduced a zero tolerance policy. Almost 2,000 children have been separated from their families since April. According to the rules, children under 5 years of age may stay with their parents. But that does not always seem to be the case in practice. Due to language problems or lack of staff in the reception centers it sometimes goes wrong.

Unknown where the girl is

The American BuzzFeed News made inquiries with the American border police last weekend. A spokesperson did not know what had happened to this girl. …

Photographer John Moore also does not know what happened to her. “I would very much like to know. Ever since I took those pictures, I think about that moment often. And it’s emotional for me every time.”

In Honduras, there was a right-wing military coup deposing the center-left president in 2009. Then President Obama at least verbally condemned that coup; but his then Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton supported it. Ever since, the regime, its death squad supporters and violent drug dealers massively murder pro-democracy activists, environmentalists, indigenous people, teachers, lawyers, feminists, journalists and little girls who complain about bad situations at schools.

BORDER PATROL CHASE ENDS IN DEADLY CRASH At least five people were killed and several others injured when an SUV believed to be carrying undocumented immigrants crashed in southern Texas after being chased by Border Patrol agents. [HuffPost]

PROTESTERS DESCEND ON TEXAS TENT CITY Constructed last week to shelter migrant children, the site became home to a protest Sunday as crowds marched to oppose the separation of immigrant families at the border. [HuffPost]

Primates in danger, new research


This 2011 video is called Primates- What is a Primate?

From the German Primate Center:

Primates in peril

June 17, 2018

Primates are fascinating. They are intelligent, live in complex societies and are a vital part of the ecosystem. Lemurs, lorises, galagos, tarsiers, monkeys and apes are our closest biological relatives and just like them, humans are also primates. However, while the human population spread to all corners of the earth, many of our closest relatives are under serious threat. An international team of leading primate researchers, including Christian Roos of the German Primate Center (DPZ) — Leibniz Institute for Primate Research, has analyzed and evaluated the situation of many endangered non-human primate species in Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a review article published today. In their study, the researchers investigated the influence of human activities on wild primate populations.

The destruction of natural forests and their conversion into agricultural land threatens many species who thereby lose their habitat. However, hunting and the bushmeat trade also lead to a massive and rapid decline of many populations. A simulation of agricultural land expansion by the end of the century showed a decline of up to 78 percent in the distribution areas of many primate species. In their study, the scientists ask for immediate measures to protect the endangered primate species and supply recommendations for the long-term conservation of primates and to avert primate extinction (Peer Journal 2018).

Primates live in tropical and subtropical areas and are mainly found in regions of Africa, South America, Madagascar and Asia. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists 439 species. 65 percent (286) of these are located in the four countries Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Around 60 percent of them are threatened by extinction. Particularly dire is the situation in Indonesia and Madagascar, where 90 percent of primate population declined and more than three-quarters of species are endangered.

In a comprehensive literature review, the authors of the study analyzed the major threat factors for primates in four countries. In Brazil, Madagascar and Indonesia the increasing destruction of their habitats is a stressor for the animals. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the bushmeat trade is the biggest threat. In addition, primates are sold illegally as pets or used in traditional medicine. Poverty, the lack of education, food insecurity, political instability and corruption further encourage the depletion of natural resources in the countries concerned and make it more difficult to protect the animals.

“The destruction of the natural environment through deforestation, the expansion of agricultural land and infrastructure development to transport goods has become a major problem,” says Christian Roos, a scientist in the Primate Genetics Laboratory at the DPZ and co-author of the study. “The main contributors of this development are the industrial nations. There is a high demand for raw materials such as soy, palm oil, rubber, hardwood or fossil fuel. The four primate-rich countries cover 50 percent of these export goods to China, India, the US and Europe.”

The scientists combined data from the United Nations and World Bank databases to simulate the estimated spread of agricultural land in the four countries until the turn of the century. Assuming a worst-case scenario, the researchers were able to predict a decline in the geographical range of the primate populations. Accordingly, by the year 2100 78 percent of the primate habitats in Brazil, 72 percent in Indonesia, 62 percent in Madagascar and 32 percent in the Congo could have disappeared. At the same time, the authors investigated the size and distribution of protected areas. Their estimates show that Brazil and Madagascar have around 38 percent, Indonesia 17 percent, and The Democratic Republic of Congo 14 percent of primate habitats in protected areas. The majority of the distribution areas are without protection status and primates are therefore under threat.

The authors call for the extension of protected areas, the reforestation of forests and the planting of corridors as important measures to preserve primate populations. In addition, the local population must be made aware of the precarious situation. Governments, scientists, conservation organizations and economists need to work together to promote sustainable, organic farming while preserving traditional lifestyles. In addition, the governments of the countries concerned should work harder to combat illegal hunting, forest destruction and primate trade.

“Primates are like canaries in a coal mine,” says Christian Roos. “They are invaluable for tropical biodiversity as they are vital for the regeneration of forests and stable ecosystems. Their extinction will serve as an alarm bell for humans and an indication that these habitats will become unusable in the long run.”