Sand martins nesting in Sweden


This May 2007 video is about a sand martin nesting colony in Sweden.

Special Permian beetle fossil discovered in Australia


These are 3-D habitual and environmental reconstructions of Ponomarenkia belmonthensis restored after linedrawing of the holotype and 2-D reconstruction. The plant is Australian cycadophyt Lepidozamia hopei from the Botanical Garden of Jena University. Credit: © Evgeny V. Yan/FSU Jena

From the Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena in Germany:

300 million-year-old ‘modern’ beetle from Australia reconstructed

July 24, 2017

He’s Australian, around half a centimetre long, fairly nondescript, 300 million years old, and he’s currently causing astonishment among both entomologists and palaeontologists. The discovery of a beetle from the late Permian period, when even the dinosaurs had not yet appeared on the scene, is throwing a completely new light on the earliest developments in this group of insects. The reconstruction and interpretation of the characteristics of Ponomarenkia belmonthensis was achieved by Prof. Dr Rolf Beutel and Dr Evgeny V. Yan of Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). They have published this discovery together with beetle researcher Dr John Lawrence and Australian geologist Dr Robert Beattie in the current issue of the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. It was Beattie who discovered the only two known fossilised specimens of the beetle in former marshland in Belmont, Australia.

“Beetles, which with nearly 400,000 described species today make up almost one-third of all known organisms, still lived a rather shadowy and cryptic existence in the Permian period,” explains Jena zoologist Beutel. “The fossils known to date have all belonged to an ancestral beetle lineage, with species preferring narrow spaces under bark of coniferous trees. They exhibit a whole series of primitive characteristics, such as wing cases (elytra) that had not yet become completely hardened or a body surface densely covered with small tubercles.”

Earliest form of the modern beetle

In contrast, the species that has now been discovered, assigned to the newly introduced family Ponomarenkiidae, can be identified as a modern beetle, in spite of its remarkable age. Modern characteristics are the antennae resembling a string of beads, antennal grooves, and the unusually narrow abdomen, tapering to a point. What is more, unlike previously known Permian beetles, the wing cases are completely hardened, the body’s surface is largely smooth, and the thoracic segments responsible for locomotion show modern features, notes insect palaeontologist Yan. In addition, it appears that this little beetle had stopped living under tree bark, the habitat favoured by its contemporaries, and had adopted a much more exposed lifestyle on plants. A significant fact is that, due to its unorthodox combination of ancestral and modern characteristics, this genus does not fit in any of the four suborders of beetles that still exist, which is why Yan and Beutel have given it the nickname Bad Boy. “Ponomarenkia belmonthensis shows above all that the first major events of radiation in the evolution of beetles took place before the Permian-Triassic mass extinction,” says Rolf Beutel. Beetles as a whole survived this dramatic event, which saw the acidification of the seas and major volcanic eruptions, considerably better than most other groups of organisms, presumably because of their terrestrial life style and hardened exoskeleton. However, the Bad Boy ran out of luck, as there are no more traces of its existence in the Mesozoic era.

Name honours eminent palaeontologist

The Jena researchers dedicated the genus and family to Moscow palaeontologist Prof. Alexander G. Ponomarenko. He has had a strong influence on beetle palaeontology for decades and supervised Dr Evgeny V. Yan’s doctorate. Yan obtained his doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences, spent five years as a postdoc at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing, and since June 2016 he has done research at the Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology with Phyletic Museum of the University of Jena as a guest researcher funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. It is Yan’s elaborate reconstructions on the computer that have provided the precise insights into Ponomarenkia belmonthensis.

In the first stage, some 40 photographs were taken of the two specimens, which were available as impressions on stone. “With this series of photographs an accurate 2D reconstruction was possible, with which we were able to correct for deformations in the original fossil. This allowed us to get closer to the actual beetle,” explains Dr Yan. Based on precise drawings and with the help of a special computer program that is also used for animation and computer games, a very informative 3D model was created. “The 3D reconstruction also enables us to draw conclusions about the way the beetle moved and lived,” the palaeontologist adds. He has developed this method of visualisation, as well as the analytical process in which he also includes hypothetical ancestors of the beetle, since his arrival in Jena. “We have already been able to apply this process to three newly discovered ancient beetle species,” Prof. Beutel is happy to report. “In this way, we have made significant steps towards deciphering the earliest stages in the evolution of an extremely successful genus of animals.”

‘Jehovah’s witnesses, a pedophile’s paradise’


This video from the USA says about itself:

Candace Conti: Former Jehovah’s Witness Takes on Church over Sex Abuse Allegations

13 March 2015

Candace Conti says the church failed to protect her from a predatory pedophile, which Jehovah’s Witnesses has denied.

Translated from daily Trouw in the Netherlands:

‘A paradise for pedophiles

Marinde van der Breggen and Rianne Oosterom

5:30, July 22, 2017

The way in which Jehovah’s Witnesses deal with abuse cases is traumatic for the victims, according to research by Trouw. Mark (37) was sexually abused as a child and fought for recognition. …

It was 1994 … Mark is fifteen and his grades at school are bad. Since a biology lecture on genital diseases, he is often awake at night. He is afraid he has a disease. When he returns from a meeting with Jehovah’s Witnesses [to which his family belongs], he says, “Mom, I want to tell you something.”

He tells what happened six years ago, when the 17-year-old son of the head of the church went upstairs with him “to play at being at school” or to “read” during Bible study. With a toilet roll under his arm.

For three years, from Mark’s seventh to his tenth year, Wilbert shut down the curtains of Mark’s bedroom almost every week and closed the door while congregation members underneath studied the words of Jehovah. It began as masturbating, says Mark. But it got worse.

“The abuse consisted mainly of oral intercourse. I had to do that with him. I had to get undressed and he touched my genitals. He shared his sexual fantasies, for example, about a woman from our municipality. He used violence. He beat me, abused power. ”

17-year-old Wilbert was already 2 meter tall, says Mark. “I had a lot of awe for him, so I listened to him. As a little boy, I thought: this is normal. What ‘we’ do should not happen really, he said often. When it was over, he said, “You can not tell this to anyone, because then Jehovah would become angry.”

With Jehovah’s Witnesses, the elders are detectives and judges at the same time. They investigate a possible crime and act if there is sufficient evidence with an internal trial. They consider abuse to be proven if there are two witnesses of abuse or a confession. If not, they do nothing about the situation.

The elders promised to talk to Wilbert. When they confronted him about the abuse, he denied everything. Because Mark is the only witness, the elders do nothing.

The elders or Mark’s parents did not go to the police. “My mother said: “When we would go to the police, then you would have big headlines and we do not want to harm the reputation of our religious community?”” …

It’s half a year after Mark informed his mother. …

When Mark confronts Wilbert about the abuse, he whitewashes it as just mutually masturbating. The elder demand that Mark should forget and forgive, he recalls. An impossible task, he finds. “I felt very lonely, could not tell my story for years.” What hurts him is that he remembers that an elder whitewashed the abuse as “child’s play”. …

The 23-year-old Mark is depressed. He gets ill, must swallow pills. The abuse hurts him.

He decides to tackle the battle again and approaches the national executive of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 2002 he wrote a letter to them: “It’s all so bad that I even dream about it in my sleep. And I’m terribly nervous.”

Letters go back and forth. But much is not happening, according to the correspondence seen by Trouw. …

If, after a number of years, Mark recovers from his depression by therapy, he gives up – it does not help. In 2008, he is finished with Jehovah’s Witnesses and leaves the community behind. …

After this phone call [when Mark tried yet again later] Mark has not heard anything for a while. Until he is called by one of the elders. They do not want to do anything against Wilbert because Mark no longer meets the “organizational requirements”: he no longer belongs to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Only if he would come back they might take steps. …

Mark succeeds in leaving the past for what it is. He thinks that something must change fundamentally with the Jehovah’s Witnesses concerning abuse. For that reason, he tells his story. “It’s a paradise for pedophiles,” he says.

Both Mark and Wilbert are not their real names.

Also translated from Trouw:

July 21, 2017

The way in which Jehovah’s Witnesses deal with abuse is traumatic to victims, according to research by Trouw. Victim Marianne de Voogd was taught French kissing by her elder.

Marianne de Voogd is thirteen years old when the elder massages her two ‘peas’ for the first time, as he calls her starting breasts. He also pinches them when they sit together on the back bench of a Bible study of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Meppel, says Marianne, now 53. She must keep the Bible in front of it.

She looks startedly at Elder Derk, one of the leaders of the Jehovah’s congregation. He looks back and does not stop. When she keeps the bible over her lap, he strokes her upper leg with his fingertips, she tells. The man of about fifty slowly gets higher and fondles between her legs. …

Derk threatens her too, she says. When he fondles her, he says, “This is our secret,” and “If you tell about this, nobody will believe you: I am an elder and very beloved in the congregation” and “If you open your mouth, then I will hurt you.’ …

When she was eighteen, in 1981, Marianne is expelled by the congregation because the elders think she has sex with her boyfriend while she is not married – that is sinful according to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The abuse continues to pursue her: for example, she can not stand people walking behind her at a railway station. She is in therapy, which lasts for years. …

These findings are in line with a report published by a National Australian Research Commission in November about the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The conclusion: Children are insufficiently protected from abuse and the organization does not deal adequately with accusations.

Three out of four victims who spoke to Trouw were abused by elders.

See also here.

Three new toad species discovered in Nevada, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

24 July 2017

Scientists have discovered three new species of toads living in Nevada’s Great Basin in the US, that have been isolated from other populations for 650,000 years and may already be at risk of extinction. Discoveries of new amphibians are extremely rare in the US with only three new frog species discovered since 1985 – and toad species are even more rare, with the last species discovered north of Mexico, the now extinct Wyoming toad, in 1968.

“We’ve found the toads in small, wet habitats surrounded by high-desert completely cut off from other populations,” said Dick Tracy, professor at University of Nevada in the US. “These are absolutely new, true species that have been separated from other populations for 650,000 years,” said Tracy. The three new species, the Dixie Valley toad, Railroad Valley toad and Hot Creek toad are not connected geographically.

They were found in Tracy’s 10-year long survey of the desert-dominated Great Basin. The toads are small in size, yet each have a suite of unique physical features that differ from each other, as well as other toads in the region. Each of the species have slightly different colours, and they are about two inches long when full grown.

“The Dixie Valley toad is a pretty toad, with flecks of gold on an olive background,” said Tracy. The Dixie Valley toad is only found in an isolated spring-fed marsh which make up less than four square miles surrounded by an arid region where aquatic resources are both rare and widely scattered. The habitat occupied by this newly described species is also adjacent to a proposed site for a geothermal power plant that could dry up the marsh and threaten the toad’s survival.

“If this power plant goes in and the habitat is dried up, this recently discovered species could go extinct,” Tracy said. “It’s a good candidate for an Endangered Species Act listing,” he said. The Dixie Valley species has the smallest body size among the region’s complex of related species in the western US, and can be further diagnosed from other toads in the complex by the large glands on its hind legs in addition to its distinctive colouration.

The Railroad Valley toad is in the Tonopah Basin in the central Nevada desert and the Hot Creek Toad is about 56 kilometres away but in Hot Creek Mountain Range, in a drainage isolated from the Railroad Valley toad. All three new species are natives of the Great Basin in Nevada, which was once covered by large marshes and giant inland lakes during the Pleistocene Epoch and is now among the most arid regions in the US with only one per cent of the landscape containing water. The findings were published in the journal Zootaxa.

From the University of Nevada, Reno in the USA:

Rare discovery of three new toad species in Nevada’s Great Basin

July 21, 2017

Summary: Three new species of toads have been discovered living in Nevada’s Great Basin in an expansive survey of the 190,000 square mile ancient lake bottom, report investigators.

Three new species of toads have been discovered living in Nevada’s Great Basin in an expansive survey of the 190,000 square mile ancient lake bottom. Discoveries of new amphibians are extremely rare in the United States with only three new frog species discovered since 1985 — and toad species are even more rare, with the last species discovered north of Mexico, the now extinct Wyoming toad, in 1968.

“We’ve found the toads in small, wet habitats surrounded by high-desert completely cut off from other populations,” Dick Tracy, a biology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lead scientist on the project, said. “These are absolutely new, true species that have been separated from other populations for 650,000 years.”

The three new species, the Dixie Valley toad, Railroad Valley toad and Hot Creek toad are not connected geographically. They were found in Tracy’s 10-year long survey of the desert-dominated Great Basin. His team used 30 “shape” metrics and DNA studies to analyze these toads’ characteristics to determine if each were distinguishable from the closely related Western toad, found throughout the Western United States.

The evidence supports the recognition of three distinct new species. The toads are small in size, yet each have a suite of unique physical features that differ from each other, as well as other toads in the region. Each of the species have slightly different colors, and they are about two inches long when full grown.

“The Dixie Valley toad is a pretty toad, with flecks of gold on an olive background,” Tracy, a long-time professor in the biology department of the College of Science, said. “It’s not like the big, common green toads you might find in other marshes around the west or even in Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno.”

The Dixie Valley toad is in Churchill County about 100 miles east of Reno. The toad is only found in this isolated spring-fed marsh which make up less than four square miles, surrounded by an arid region where aquatic resources are both rare and widely scattered. Dixie Valley is the hottest and most geothermally active system in the Basin and Range Province. The habitat occupied by this newly described species is also adjacent to a proposed site for a geothermal power plant that could dry up the marsh and threaten the toad’s survival.

The power plant development is on hold while the Bureau of Land Management reviews the geothermal project and the possible impacts on the toad species. The Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group based in Tucson, Arizona, marshaled more than 1000 letters to the BLM asking them to reconsider permitting the power plant being built at the site of the newly discovered species.

Potential for Endangered Species Act listing

“If this power plant goes in and the habitat is dried up, this recently discovered species could go extinct,” Tracy said. “It’s a good candidate for an Endangered Species Act listing. The ESA was passed under Richard Nixon in 1973, and the second species listed under the new Act was the Houston Toad. This is a tough conflict between commerce and biological resources, and we need to seek compromises so if the project proceeds, it won’t hurt the toads.”

Tracy’s team includes his master’s student Michelle Gordon from the University’s Biology Graduate Program, who is the lead author of the scientific paper describing the new species, and his former doctoral student Eric Simandle from the University’s Ecology and Evolution and Conservation Biology Graduate Program. Simandle is now an associate professor at Paul Smiths College in New York and is a co-author on the study that discovered the toad in the thick underbrush of the spring-fed marsh.

The small isolated toad populations also have the smallest individuals compared to other western toads.

The Dixie Valley species has the smallest body size among the region’s complex of related species in the western United States, and can be further diagnosed from other toads in the complex by the large glands on its hind legs in addition to its distinctive coloration.

The overall population numbers of the Dixie Valley toad are unknown, and the current range is severely restricted, suggesting that this species’ population is likely very small and especially vulnerable to changes in environment.

“The toads are perfectly concealed in the dense vegetation of their habitat,” Gordon said. “You could easily miss seeing them during the day, making accurate counts difficult. But, during one trip at dusk, toads were everywhere, giving the impression that toads were locally abundant. And, without the water in this habitat, this toad species would completely disappear.”

Isolated by Desert

The Railroad Valley toad is in the Tonopah Basin in the central Nevada desert and the Hot Creek Toad is about 35 miles away but in Hot Creek Mountain Range, in a drainage isolated from the Railroad Valley toad. All three new species are natives of the Great Basin in Nevada, which was once covered by large marshes and giant inland lakes during the Pleistocene Epoch and is now among the most arid regions in the United States with only one percent of the landscape containing water.

“Our goal has been to understand the relationships among toad populations in the Great Basin,” Tracy said. “We’ve found that our knowledge of amphibian diversity in the western United States remains incomplete and that novel discoveries continue to occur, even in unlikely settings. This is really, really neat; an exciting thing, to find something not known to exist before.”

Tracy has been honored as a Guggenheim Fellow, as a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as a Distinguished Scholar at Pepperdine University, and as a Fellow of the Association of Western Universities. He is the recipient of an American Society of Zoologists’ Service Award, a Desert Tortoise Council Conservation Award and a Service Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tracy has authored more than 200 scientific papers, and his work is known internationally.

“Dr. Tracy has long been recognized as one of the world’s leading ecologists,” Jack Hayes, chair of the Department of Biology said. “In recent years as he has turned his attention to conservation issues, he has been translating his basic knowledge into studies that make a difference for Nevada, the U.S., and the biodiversity of the world. The discovery of a new species of vertebrate in North America at this point in time is extremely rare, so the research by Dr. Tracy and his graduate students is a remarkable and exciting accomplishment.”

The discovery of the Dixie Valley toad was announced in the peer-reviewed science journal Zootaxa on July 6.

Malaysian seagrass, important for dugongs, fish


This video says aout itself:

Dugongs Eating, Swimming, and Serving as Seagrass “Mascots” | One Minute Dive with Pew

18 February 2015

Perhaps best known for inspiring mermaid folklore in the Pacific, the rotund, graceful dugongs—close relatives of manatees—are stars of Malaysia’s shallow ocean meadows. See dugongs eating and swimming. Plus, learn more facts about the unique relationship between vulnerable coastlines and these loveable, but critically endangered, seagrass “mascots.”

As a developing nation, Malaysia’s coast is undergoing rapid, large-scale development, putting pressure on the region’s sensitive seagrass meadows and the many animals that call them home. Seagrass beds are essential to the survival of a wide variety of species. But no other animals are more directly dependent on these meadows than the dugong, which have developed unique adaptations to seagrass life over the centuries.

This Pacific cousin to the manatee is critically endangered in Malaysia, and it relies solely on seagrass for its food and habitat. Pew marine fellow Louisa Ponnampalam is working off the coast of Johor, Malaysia, to identify habitats that are crucial for one of the country’s last remaining populations of dugongs.

From the University of Malaya in Malaysia:

Seagrass meadows: Critical habitats for juvenile fish and dugongs in the east coast Johor islands

July 21, 2017

Scientists at University of Malaya, Malaysia, have found that the seagrass meadows in Johor harbor three times more juvenile fish than coral reefs. They also found that the dugong herds there prefer certain types of meadows over others.

Seagrass, the world’s oldest living thing, is a marine flowering plant that forms vast underwater meadows throughout all the oceans of the world, except in the Antarctic. These flowering plants first appeared in fossil records 100 million years ago and are the key to the survival of our seas, by providing oxygen, filtering out pollutants and bacteria, and capturing large stores of carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate warming. Despite these, seagrasses do not enjoy as high a public profile as coral reefs and mangroves. A team of researchers at the University of Malaya is motivated to raise the profile of seagrass by studying how these plants contribute to something that is naturally compelling to most people — as a rich, productive habitat and a source of food.

The researchers began their project by documenting the types and numbers of fish life in the seagrass meadows around the islands of Johor, and did the same in coral reefs as a way of juxtaposing the two ecosystems. The usual way of doing this kind of study is to drag a trawl net to dredge up all the marine life on the sea-bed. However, the researchers wanted to avoid destructive sampling as they were working in marine parks. As such, GoPro underwater cameras were deployed in a series of 2 x 2 m plots within the seagrass beds and coral reefs to view the types of fishes that visited the ecosystems, and how they utilized the space. The method was painstaking, because it took roughly one day to collect just three samples in the field, and they needed at least sixty! After eighteen months of sampling across different seasons and locations, Nina Ho Ann Jin, MSc student of the project, found three times more juvenile fishes than adult fishes in the seagrass video recordings. She also noted that fishes in the seagrass meadows spent most of their time feeding, while those in the adjacent coral reefs were more occupied by defending their territory. Clearly, the two ecosystems have very different roles from the viewpoint of the average fish: seagrasses are nursery and feeding areas, whereas coral reefs are the home of adult fish. These two ecosystems complement each other in supporting the survival needs of marine organisms at different parts of their life cycle. Thus, seagrasses are no less important than coral reefs in providing us with marine resources, and deserve much more public attention than they have currently received.

Recently, the researchers turned their attention to studying the feeding ecology of dugongs because they depend almost entirely on seagrass as a food source. These shy ‘sea cows’ have great popular appeal, and by showing the public how closely linked their fates are with that of their seagrass habitats, the profile for seagrass conservation is also raised. There is a thriving dugong population in the researchers’ long-term study area in the Johor islands. The researchers tracked the feeding patterns of dugongs by mapping out their feeding trails across different seasons. Feeding trails are sinuous, bare tracks left behind by dugongs when they graze by ripping the seagrass up from the roots upward. Using the geographical approach, Harris Heng Wei Khang, MPhil student, was able to identify dugong feeding hotspots within the meadows, where dugongs return to feed on preferentially over and over again. Harris Heng is now focusing on finding out why these locations are preferred over others, and has a hypothesis that plant nutrient content may be the key factor. As a result of this work, the researchers’ local NGO collaborator has been able to zone the meadows for different levels of protection, based on whether the dugongs use them consistently as feeding grounds or not. This information has also been used to present a persuasive case for establishing a State-sanctioned dugong sanctuary in the area.