Coral reef decline in Hong Kong


This 2015 video is called Hong Kong coral reef thrives despite pollution.

From The University of Hong Kong:

Was Hong Kong once a coral reef paradise?

October 15, 2020

Researchers from The University of Hong Kong’s School of Biological Sciences and The Swire Institute of Marine Science, have for the first time investigated the historical presence of coral communities in the Greater Bay Area, revealing a catastrophic range collapse and loss of diversity that occurred in the last several decades.

The research, published in the journal Science Advances, looks at fossil corals collected from over 11 sites around Hong Kong, and creates the first palaeoecological baseline for coral communities in the Greater Bay Area. Led by PhD candidate and National Geographic Explorer Jonathan CYBULSKI, the team revealed what coral genera were present in the past well before major human impacts, and these include: Acropora, Montipora, Turbinaria, Psammacora, Pavona, Hydnophora, Porites, Platygyra, Goniopora and Faviids.

Every fossil tells a story

“The data we collect helps us to create a sort of fossil time machine,” said Cybulski. “As corals grow naturally, parts of them will break off and fall to seafloor becoming a part of the sediment. Over time, many different layers of these coral skeletons will stack on top of one another. With a bit of effort we can core through the sediments and collect the different layers and reveal what coral communities were like through time,” Cybulski explained. By using this method, the team was able to collect skeletons from over 5,000 years ago, which they determined thanks to radiocarbon dating by collaborator Dr Yusuke YOKOYAMA of the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute at The University of Tokyo.

When the team compared their fossil data to a modern-day dataset collected by collaborators at Baptist University — Dr Jian Wen QIU and Dr James XIE, several striking conclusions were revealed. First, there has been about a 40% decrease in the number of different corals living in Southern Hong Kong waters. Second, the greatest loss was of the ecologically important yet highly-sensitive staghorn corals (Acropora), which now only lives in an area about 50% smaller than its historic range. Finally, the greatest impact and losses of corals occurred in waters that are closest to the Pearl River Estuary in the southwest and Tolo Harbor in the Northeast. Based on the data, the teams best guess for the timing of this coral community change is conservatively within the last century, but likely within the past few decades. The overall conclusion: poor water quality driven by increased development and lack of proper treatment is presently the regions greatest threat to the survival of corals.

More hope for corals

“This trend we saw of a diversity decline and the loss of Acropora is consistent with other research in different areas of the world,” Cybulski continues: “It’s particularly bad news for this region, as Acropora represents the only type of coral that is complex, and creates physical space that promotes greater biodiversity. The loss of this coral is similar to losing all the big trees in a forest.” However, similar to trees in a forest, Cybulski continued by saying there is hope for Hong Kong’s corals through conservation efforts.

Indeed, this historical research has already played a critical role in protecting and restoring corals locally. In July earlier this year, PhD Candidate Ms Vriko YU, also of the Baker Lab at HKU, pioneered a coral restoration project in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park (Note 1). This project aims to restore and better understand what it will take to save Hong Kong corals, and was made possible due to the water quality improvements in the bay by the local government.

Using Cybulski’s historical data to infer the appropriate steps needed, the team is now returning corals such as Acropora that previously thrived in Hoi Ha, back to their proper home. To date, 100% of the reintroduced coral have survived. Furthermore, the team has documented several coral-associated invertebrates at the site, showing that this restored habitat is indeed increasing biodiversity. The team feels this multi-faceted model — historical research that identifies major stress targets for local improvements — can be used by other researchers who hope to give corals their greatest chance for future survival.

War criminal Tony Blair also coronavirus spreader


This 30 July 2020 video says about itself:

As European countries expand protection measures like quarantines and mask-wearing for Covid-19 patients, courts are being left with the job of interpreting and enforcing the new laws. In Austria, a woman has been sentenced to a suspended jail term for visiting a supermarket while under quarantine – a move the judge slammed as ‘dangerous’.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

British former Prime Minister Tony Blair has discredited himself by allegedly violating the coronavirus rules. According to The Sunday Times, he did not go into home quarantine after a two-day trip to the United States. People entering Great Britain from that country are required to go into isolation for two weeks.

The newspaper says it has photos of Blair showing him leaving a London restaurant ten days after his return from Washington. The Sunday Times reports that Blair filed for an exemption but was not granted it.

Why is this war criminal, responsible for killing over a million Iraqis, many Afghans, etc. not yet in a prison cell in The Hague? Why can he fly to the USA, world coronavirus epicentre ‘thanks’ to Donald Trump, and fly back to Britain, bringing the virus with him? Are war criminal politicians only put on trial in The Hague if they are black Africans?

New pterosaur species discovery in Morocco


This 16 October 2020 video, in Vietnamese, is about the discovery of the new pterosaur species Leptostomia begaaensis.

From the University of Portsmouth in England:

Beak bone reveals pterosaur like no other

October 14, 2020

A new species of small pterosaur — similar in size to a turkey — has been discovered, which is unlike any other pterosaur seen before due to its long slender toothless beak.

The fossilised piece of beak was a surprising find and was initially assumed to be part of the fin spine of a fish, but a team of palaeontologists from the universities of Portsmouth and Bath spotted the unusual texture of the bone — seen only in pterosaurs — and realised it was a piece of beak.

Professor David Martill of the University of Portsmouth, who co-authored the study, said: “We’ve never seen anything like this little pterosaur before. The bizarre shape of the beak was so unique, at first the fossils weren’t recognised as a pterosaur.”

Careful searching of the late Cretaceous Kem Kem strata of Morocco, where this particular bone was found, revealed additional fossils of the animal, which led to the team concluding it was a new species with a long, skinny beak, like that of a Kiwi. …

The new species, Leptostomia begaaensis, used its beak to probe dirt and mud for hidden prey, hunting like present-day sandpipers or kiwis to find worms, crustaceans, and perhaps even small hard-shelled clams. …

Dr Nick Longrich, from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, said: “Leptostomia may actually have been a fairly common pterosaur, but it’s so strange — people have probably been finding bits of this beast for years, but we didn’t know what they were until now.”

Long, slender beaks evolved in many modern birds. Those most similar to Leptostomia are probing birds — like sandpipers, kiwis, curlews, ibises and hoopoes. Some of these birds forage in earth for earthworms while others forage along beaches and tidal flats, feeding on bristle worms, fiddler crabs, and small clams.

“Pterosaur fossils typically preserve in watery settings — seas, lakes, and lagoons — because water carries sediments to bury bones. Pterosaurs flying over water to hunt for fish tend to fall in and die, so they’re common as fossils. Pterosaurs hunting along the margins of the water will preserve more rarely, and many from inland habitats may never preserve as fossils at all.

“There’s a similar pattern in birds. If all we had of birds was their fossils, we’d probably think that birds were mostly aquatic things like penguins, puffins, ducks and albatrosses. Even though they’re a minority of the species, their fossil record is a lot better than for land birds like hummingbirds, hawks, and ostriches.”

Over time, more and more species of pterosaurs with diverse lifestyles have been discovered. That trend, the new pterosaur suggests, is likely to continue.

The paper was published today in Cretaceous Research.

COVID-19 infected four-year-old on intensive care


This 16 October 2020 video says about itself:

The Colombian Ministry of Health confirmed 6,823 new infections of Covid-19 and 151 deaths in the last 24 hours. With this figure, the number of cases registered since the beginning of the pandemic has increased to 936,982 and the number of deaths to 28,457. teleSUR

Translated from Belgian daily De Standaard, 16 October 2020, by Eveline Vergauwen:

A boy of four years old, Kaïs, is in intensive care. His father reports that he has hyperinflammatory syndrome, an overreaction after being infected with covid-19. “It rarely occurs in children,” says pediatrician Petra Schelstraete (UZ Gent). But he is not the first.

Kaïs’s father warned other parents on Facebook about the disastrous consequences of Covid-19 for his son. “Covid can also be dangerous to children,” he noted. …

In the first wave, the link was made with Kawasaki disease, which suddenly seemed to occur more often. “The response is similar to Kawasaki disease, which is also an overreaction of the immune system,” Schelstraete explains. “But while Kawasaki usually occurs in children under the age of five, after covid-19 we also see an overreaction in older children. With covid-19 we see that children are also much sicker.”

The link between the immune system overreaction and a corona infection has also been proven in recent months. “Many of the children who showed these symptoms during the first wave have been shown to be linked to covid-19.”

7 Things People With Long COVID-19 Really Want You To Know: here.

“Long COVID” may be four different syndromes — here’s what they are.

American pikas fight climate change


This 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

An American Pika runs along his kingdom among the boulders.

From Arizona State University in the USA:

American Pikas show resiliency in the face of global warming

October 13, 2020

The American pika is a charismatic, diminutive relative of rabbits that some researchers say is at high risk of extinction due to climate change. Pikas typically live in cool habitats, often in mountains, under rocks and boulders. Because pikas are sensitive to high temperatures, some researchers predict that, as the Earth’s temperature rises, pikas will have to move ever higher elevations until they eventually run out of habitat and die out. Some scientists have claimed this cute little herbivore is the proverbial canary in the coal mine for climate change.

A new extensive review by Arizona State University emeritus professor Andrew Smith, published in the October issue of the Journal of Mammalogy, finds that the American pika is far more resilient in the face of warm temperatures than previously believed. While emphasizing that climate change is a serious threat to the survival of many species on Earth, Smith believes that the American pika currently is adapting remarkably well.

Smith has studied the American pika for more than 50 years and presents evidence from a thorough literature review showing that American pika populations are healthy across the full range of the species, which extends from British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, to northern New Mexico in the U.S.

Occupancy in potential pika habitat in the major western North American mountains was found to be uniformly high. Among sites that have been surveyed recently, there was no discernible climate signal that discriminated between the many occupied and relatively few unoccupied sites.

“This is a sign of a robust species,” Smith said.

Smith said most of the studies that have raised alarms about the fate of the pika are based on a relatively small number of restricted sites at the margins of the pika’s geographic range, primarily in the Great Basin. However, a recent comprehensive study of pikas evaluating 3,250 sites in the Great Basin found pikas living in over 73% of the suitable habitat investigated. Most important, the sites currently occupied by pikas and the sites where they are no longer found were characterized by similar climatic features.

“These results show that pikas are able to tolerate a broader set of habitat conditions than previously understood,” Smith adds.

Smith’s most interesting finding is that pikas are apparently much more resilient than previously believed, allowing them to survive even at hot, low-elevation sites. Bodie California State Historic Park, the Mono Craters, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Lava Beds National Monument, and the Columbia River Gorge (all hot, low-elevation sites) retain active pika populations, demonstrating the adaptive capacity and resilience of pikas. Pikas cope with warm temperatures by retreating into their cool, underground talus habitat during the hot daylight hours and augment their restricted daytime foraging with nocturnal activity.

This doesn’t mean that some pika populations have not been pushed to their limit, leading to their disappearance from some habitats. Smith’s review points out that most documented cases of local loss of pika populations have occurred on small, isolated habitat patches.

“Due to the relatively poor ability of pikas to disperse between areas, those habitats are not likely to be recolonized, particularly in light of our warming climate,” Smith said. “In spite of the general health of pikas across their range, these losses represent a one-way street, leading to a gradual loss of some pika populations. Fortunately for pikas, their preferred talus habitat in the major mountain cordilleras is larger and more contiguous, so the overall risk to this species is low.”

Smith’s work emphasizes the importance of incorporating all aspects of a species’ behavior and ecology when considering its conservation status, and that all available data must be considered before suggesting a species is going extinct. For the American pika, the data conclusively show that rather than facing extinction, American pikas are changing their behaviors in ways that help them better withstand climate change, at least for now.

Swiss yodeling concert, coronavirus superspreader


This 14 October 2020 Swiss German video from Schwyz canton says about itself (translated):

The number of COVID-19 cases in the inner part of the canton has been rising rapidly for 10 days. In Schwyz, we currently have one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in all of Europe. …

Our isolation ward for COVID patients fills up more every day and the proportion of patients requiring ventilation is increasing. …

Therefore: Wear masks and avoid crowds – also privately! It is time to react. Immediately!

Translated from Dutch NOS radio, 15 November 2020:

Yodel concert turns out to be superspreader

In the Swiss canton of Schwyz, the number of coronavirus infections has increased sharply after two yodel concerts. About 600 people attended those concerts at the end of last month. Face masks were not required, though those present were asked to keep their distance from each other.

Nine days after the performances, several visitors turned out to be infected and that number has now increased to 1,238 cases of infection that can be directly or indirectly related to the concerts. Half of the people who take a test turn out to be positive. According to a Swiss doctor, the explosive increase in the number of cases in Schwyz is “one of the worst in Europe“.

The yodellers probably infected the public. Shortly after the concert it turned out that some yodellers were infected with the virus. They probably spread the virus to the public with their singing.

‘Fresh coffee now smells like exhaust gas’, ex-coronavirus patients find out. Are they really ‘ex-‘patients? ‘Mild‘ coronavirus infection so often turns out to be not that mild.

Mammal-like reptile discovery in Greenland


A team of scientists led by Grzegorz Nied?wiedzki from Uppsala University have investigated the jaw anatomy and tooth structure of a recently described new mammaliaform species named Kalaallitkigun jenkinsi. Credit: Marta Szubert

From Uppsala University in Sweden:

A tiny jaw from Greenland sheds light on the origin of complex teeth

October 13, 2020

A team of scientists led from Uppsala University have described the earliest known example of dentary bone with two rows of cusps on molars and double-rooted teeth. The new findings offer insight into mammal tooth evolution, particularly the development of double-rooted teeth. The results are published in the scientific journal PNAS.

The first mammals originated in the latest Triassic period, around 205 million years ago. An ancestor to mammals were the therapsids, “mammal-like reptiles” referred to as stem mammals or proto-mammals, which originated about 320-300 million years ago. One unique characteristic of the lineage that included mammals and animals related to mammals (synapsids) was that they developed complex occlusion. Close ancestors to mammals, called mammaliaforms, developed rows of cusps on molar-like teeth adapted for more omnivorous feeding. The origin of this multicusped pattern and double-rooted tooth has thus far remained unclear.

A team of scientists led by Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki from Uppsala University have investigated the jaw anatomy and tooth structure of a recently described new mammaliaform species named Kalaallitkigun jenkinsi. It was discovered on the eastern coast of Greenland and was a very small, shrew-like animal, probably covered with fur. It would have been the size of a large mouse and lived during the Late Triassic, around 215 million years ago.

“I knew it was important from the moment I took this 20 mm specimen off the ground,” says Niedzwiedzki, researcher at Uppsala University and the corresponding author of the publication.

Kalaallitkigun jenkinsi exhibits the earliest known dentary with two rows of cusps on molars and double-rooted teeth. The anatomical features place Kalaallitkigun jenkinsi as an intermediate between the mammals and the insectivorous morganucodontans, another type of mammaliaform.

The researchers believe that the structural changes in the teeth are related to changed feeding habits. In this case study, the animals were switching to a more omnivorous/herbivorous diet and the tooth crown was expanding laterally. Broader teeth with “basins” on the top surface are better for grinding food. This development also forced changes in the structure of the base of the tooth.

The biomechanical analysis that was carried out within the study found that multi-rooted teeth are better able to withstand mechanical stresses, including those of upper and lower tooth contact during biting, compared to single-rooted teeth. Human teeth, for instance, have this characteristic. The results suggest that the development of molar-like teeth with complex crowns may have developed together with biomechanically optimised dual roots.

“The early evolution of mammals is a particularly interesting topic in evolutionary studies. This tiny jaw from Greenland shows us how complex mammalian teeth arose and why they appeared,” says Niedzwiedzki.

“Our discovery of the oldest mammalian ancestor with double-rooted molars shows how important the role of teeth was in the origin of mammals. I had this idea to look at the biomechanics and the collaboration with the engineers turned out great,” says Tomasz Sulej, researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences, first author of the publication.

“It seems that the fossils of close mammalian ancestors must be looked for in even older rocks,” says Sulej.

Murderous Greek Golden Dawn nazis convicted


This 14 October 2020 video says about itself:

A member of the far-right Golden Dawn party has been handed a life sentence for the 2013 murder of a rapper.

Yiorgos Roupakias was found guilty of the murder. Other senior members of the group were also given jail terms.

That includes the head of Golden Dawn, Nikos Mihaloliakos, who has been sentenced to 13 years in prison.

The group is now considered a criminal organisation.

By Kevin Ovenden in Athens, Greece:

Greek neonazi leaders sentenced to 13 years jail in historic victory for anti-fascist movement

THE leadership of neo-nazi party Golden Dawn have been sentenced to hefty 13-year jail terms in a historic victory for the anti-fascist movement in Greece and internationally.

Would-be fuehrer Nikolaos Michaloliakos and five other former MPs received that sentence, two years short of the maximum, today for “directing a criminal organisation.” A seventh got 10 years. They constitute the fascist party’s whole executive committee.

The panel of three judges in the most important trial of Nazi criminality since Nuremberg will next consider applications to suspend those and other sentences of the 57 Golden Dawn convicts pending appeals, or instead to issue arrest warrants and send them to jail.

Appeal hearings could be years away. Lawyers for Golden Dawn’s victims insist that vindication for their clients and for democratic public opinion in Greece depends on the neonazis being jailed.

It is also a matter of public safety, according to anti-fascist campaigners. One convicted leader is Ilias Kasidiaris, who has set up one of several breakaway Golden-Dawn-lite parties looking to take up its mantle.

He became notorious for assaulting female left MP Liana Kanelli on TV in 2012. A botched state prosecution meant he was not convicted.

Other sentences include five to seven years for the 20 convicted principally for membership of a mafia-type organisation, and life imprisonment for the murderer of anti-racist rapper Pavlos Fyssas. His co-perpetrators got seven to 10 years. That crime in 2013 led to the popular eruption that forced a conservative-led government to prosecute Golden Dawn.

Those guilty of the attempted murder of Egyptian fisherman Abouzid Embarak got seven to 10 years; of the attack on trade unionists of the Pame organisation, two years — the maximum sentence was three.

Mr Embarak’s lawyer, Thanasis Kampagiannis, said, “The sentences for the leaders are stiff, but not the strictest. The penalties for those involved in the criminal organisation and for the perpetrators of individual crimes are lower than what is appropriate.”

The Communist Party of Greece said similarly and added: “These sentences must be applied immediately to put the Nazi criminals in prison.”

There was little doubt that if that did not happen, then popular indignation would burst onto the streets as it has done repeatedly in driving through the conviction of Golden Dawn that parts of the Greek state fought to avoid.

In any case, anti-racist campaigners of the Keerfa coalition and others are to hold two days of action this weekend in solidarity with refugees held by the state in inhuman camps and to build on the court victory.

On Monday, the Greek equivalent of the Daily Telegraph newspaper ran a feature on how respected lawyer Dimitris Zotos first brought a suit to have Golden Dawn declared a criminal gang in 1996 on behalf of socialist activists assaulted by the neonazis. He was also part of this prosecution under the same penal article.

We might well imagine that Pavlos Fyssas and others would be alive today had the state authorities not blocked Mr Zotos’s legal action 24 years ago.

No-one in Greek public life can honestly claim that they did not know. This week, international labour movement opinion certainly knows.

Mysterious young sea stars, new research


Valvaster striatus sea stars

From the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, 13 October 2020:

Sea star’s ability to clone itself may empower this mystery globetrotter

October 13, 2020

Summary: The identity of wild cloning sea star larvae has been a mystery since they were first documented in the Caribbean. The most commonly collected cloning species was thought to belong to the Oreasteridae, on the basis of similarity with sequences from Oreaster reticulatus and Oreaster clavatus.

For decades, biologists have captured tiny sea star larvae in their nets that did not match the adults of any known species. A Smithsonian team recently discovered what these larvae grow up to be and how a special superpower may help them move around the world. Their results are published online in the Biological Bulletin.

“Thirty years ago, people noticed that these asteroid starfish larvae could clone themselves, and they wondered what the adult form was,” said staff scientist Rachel Collin at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). “They assumed that because the larvae were in the Caribbean the adults must also be from the Caribbean.”

Scientists monitor larvae because the larvae can be more sensitive to physical conditions than the adults and larval dispersal has a large influence on the distribution of adult fishes and invertebrates. Collin’s team uses a technique called DNA barcoding to identify plankton. They determine the DNA sequence of an organism, then look for matches with a sequence from a known animal in a database.

“This mystery species was one of the most common in our samples from the Caribbean coast of Panama,” Collin said. “We knew from people’s studies that the DNA matched sequences from similar larvae across the Caribbean and it matched unidentified juvenile starfish caught in the Gulf of Mexico — but no one had found a match to any known adult organism in the Caribbean. So we decided to see if the DNA matched anything in the global ‘Barcode of Life’ data base.”

“That’s when we got a match with Valvaster striatus, a starfish that was thought to be found only in the Indo West Pacific,” Collin said. “The is the first-ever report of this species in the Atlantic Ocean. We could not have identifed it if Gustav Paulay from the University of Florida didn’t have DNA sequences from invertebrates on the other side of the world.”

But why are the larvae common in the Caribbean if adult Valvaster starfish have never been found here? Are the adult starfish hidden inside Caribbean reefs, or are the larvae arriving from the other side of the world?

V. striatus is widespread but rare in the western Pacific. The few reports from collectors and the confirmed photos on iNaturalist range from the Indian Ocean to Guam and Hawaii. These starfish live deep in the reef matrix, only coming out at night. So, it is possible that there are adults in the Caribbean that have never been seen. But the other possibility, that the ability to clone themselves may allow them to spread around the world, is also intriguing.

“It’s possible that the ability of the larvae to clone themselves is not just a clever way to stay forever young,” Collin said. “There’s a natural barrier that keeps organisms from the western Pacific and the Indian ocean from crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean. After they make it around the tip of Africa, they are met by a cold current that presumably kills tropical species.”

“Just how cloning could help them get through the barrier is still not known, but it’s intriguing that another sea star species from the Indo West Pacific that was collected for the first time in the Caribbean in the 1980s also has cloning larvae,” Collin said.