Dinosaur age flowering trees discovered

Tropidogyne pentaptera. 100-million-year-old fossilized flower identified and named by OSU researchers George Poinar Jr. and Kenton Chambers. Credit: Image courtesy of George Poinar Jr., Oregon State University

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Seven complete specimens of new flower, all 100 million years old

August 15, 2017

A Triceratops or Tyrannosaurus rex bulling its way through a pine forest likely dislodged flowers that 100 million years later have been identified in their fossilized form as a new species of tree.

George Poinar Jr., professor emeritus in Oregon State University’s College of Science, said it’s the first time seven complete flowers of this age have been reported in a single study. The flowers range from 3.4 to 5 millimeters in diameter, necessitating study under a microscope.

Poinar and collaborator Kenton Chambers, professor emeritus in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, named the discovery Tropidogyne pentaptera based on the flowers’ five firm, spreading sepals; the Greek word for five is “penta,” and “pteron” means wing.

“The amber preserved the floral parts so well that they look like they were just picked from the garden,” Poinar said. “Dinosaurs may have knocked the branches that dropped the flowers into resin deposits on the bark of an araucaria tree, which is thought to have produced the resin that fossilized into the amber. Araucaria trees are related to kauri pines found today in New Zealand and Australia, and kauri pines produce a special resin that resists weathering.”

This study builds on earlier research also involving Burmese amber in which Poinar and Chambers described another species in the same angiosperm genus, Tropidogyne pikei; that species was named for its flower’s discoverer, Ted Pike. Findings were recently published in Paleodiversity.

“The new species has spreading, veiny sepals, a nectar disc, and a ribbed inferior ovary like T. pikei,” Poinar said. “But it’s different in that it’s bicarpellate, with two elongated and slender styles, and the ribs of its inferior ovary don’t have darkly pigmented terminal glands like T. pikei.”

Both species have been placed in the extant family Cunoniaceae, a widespread Southern Hemisphere family of 27 genera.

Poinar said T. pentaptera was probably a rainforest tree.

“In their general shape and venation pattern, the fossil flowers closely resemble those of the genus Ceratopetalum that occur in Australia and Papua-New Guinea,” he said. “One extant species is C. gummiferum, which is known as the New South Wales Christmas bush because its five sepals turn bright reddish pink close to Christmas.”

Another extant species in Australia is the coach wood tree, C. apetalum, which like the new species has no petals, only sepals. The towering coach wood tree grows to heights of greater than 120 feet, can live for centuries and produces lumber for flooring, furniture and cabinetwork.

So what explains the relationship between a mid-Cretaceous Tropidogyne from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and an extant Ceratopetalum from Australia, more than 4,000 miles and an ocean away to the southeast?

That’s easy, Poinar said, if you consider the geological history of the regions.

“Probably the amber site in Myanmar was part of Greater India that separated from the southern hemisphere, the supercontinent Gondwanaland, and drifted to southern Asia,” he said. “Malaysia, including Burma, was formed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras by subduction of terranes that successfully separated and then moved northward by continental drift.”


British Conservative government’s Grenfell Tower disaster cover-up

This video from London, England says about itself:

Justice for Grenfell Protest March – interviews with families

17 June 2017

People gathered at Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall on Friday 16th June to confront the council over their handling of the Grenfell Tower fire. This was then followed by a peaceful march to Grenfell Tower. This video includes interviews with relatives of residents of Grenfell Tower and also John Sweeney of BBC Panorama.

By Felicity Collier in Britain:

Grenfell Probe ‘precisely what we feared’

Wednesday 16th August 2017

Tories ‘running scared’ after wider social housing concerns excluded from inquiry

LABOUR accused the government of “running scared” yesterday after it announced that the inquiry into the Grenfell fire disaster would not scrutinise survivors’ wider concerns about social housing.

Justice4Grenfell, one of the campaign groups working with survivors, insisted that — after the blaze killed at least 80 people and left many more homeless and without possessions — the probe must restore public confidence in the safety of tower blocks across Britain.

In the formal consultation that preceded yesterday’s announcement, the group called for the inquiry to look at how councils respond to large-scale emergencies and ensure that communities are listened to.

But Prime Minister Theresa May accepted the recommendations of its chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to ignore these concerns.

In a letter to the PM, the retired Court of Appeal judge said such issues would “raise questions of a social, economic and political nature” that are “not suitable” for a judge-led inquiry.

Instead, the focus should be on the causes of the fire, the design, construction and refurbishment of the building and the “adequacy” of regulations, he said.

Ms May also announced a separate review of social housing, to be carried out by Housing Minister Alok Sharma, whose wife is a private landlord.

Labour MP Emma Dent Coad, whose Kensington constituency covers the site of the fire, branded the government’s stance a “complete betrayal,” and “precisely what we feared.

“We were told: ‘No stone would be left unturned,’ but instead are being presented with a technical assessment which will not get to the heart of the problem: what effects, if any, the lack of investment into social housing had on the refurbishment project.

“We have no confidence whatever in the ability of Alok Sharma and a few politically compromised individuals to take on the task of answering this most important question.”

The scope of the probe was announced less than two weeks after the public consultation closed, having receiving 550 submissions, leading Ms Dent Coad to ask: “How can the community possibly have faith in an inquiry with terms of reference so hastily determined by the Prime Minister and her government?

“Clearly, the government is running scared.”

The probe will, however, examine the actions of authorities before the inferno, including Tory-controlled Kensington and Chelsea Council, and how the aftermath was handled by both the local council and central government in the aftermath.

Justice4Grenfell spokeswoman Yvette Williams said that Mr Moore-Bick “is not looking at the broader social issues for one, which we think is majorly central to this situation.”

And she warned: “If he goes on with no community advisory rep, we would have a lot to say about that.”

A spokesperson for the Radical Housing Network campaign group said: “Prime Minister May pays lip service to ‘broad questions on social housing policy’ and yet these very questions are excluded from the inquiry terms.

“Investigators should be looking at the social policies which allowed such a tragedy in 21st-century Britain and the way these have created a housing system in which some people matter more than others.”

Shadow housing secretary John Healey reacted to the news on Twitter, saying: “Deeply unsatisfactory for the Prime Minister to set Grenfell inquiry terms of reference to exclude housing policy failings — closing off criticism of government policy.”

The first hearing is scheduled to take place on September 14, with an initial report due next Easter.

Justice4Grenfell Campaign’s response to the Terms of Reference publication: here.

Sedge warbler, marsh harrier, plants

Sedge warbler, 1 August 2017

After our first full day in Weerribben national park in the Netherlands, on 31 July 2017, came our second full day, also by boat, on 1 August. That day we saw this sedge warbler.

Before that, a chaffinch singing early in the morning.

A great cormorant flying. A red admiral butterfly.

A female blue-tailed damselfly sits on water plants. The lower part of her body is under water to deposit eggs.

Then, we saw the sedge warbler.

Ten great cormorants fly past.

Pondskaters on the water.

Flowers, 1 August 2017

Flowers which have stopped flowering on the bank.

Edible frog sound.

Lesser bulrush, 1 August 2017

Lesser bulrush on the bank. We are now on meandering old river, east of Kalenberg village.

Black-tailed skimmer, 1 August 2017

A male black-tailed skimmer dragonfly lands on our boat.

Branched bur-reed, 1 August 2017

Branched bur-reed.

Branched bur-reed, on 1 August 2017

Its female flowers are below, the smaller male flowers above.

Marsh harrier, 1 August 2017

Then, a marsh harrier flies past.

Young mallards swimming.

Water soldier, 1 August 2017

Water soldier flowers.

There will be more on that day in the Weerribben on this blog. So, stay tuned!

Against Charlottesville, USA nazi murder, Dutch Amsterdam solidarity tomorrow

This video from the USA says about itself:

Historian: Trump Defends White Supremacy to Maintain Elite Power Structure

16 August 2017

Gerald Horne says Trump‘s comments seek to disperse the culpability of white nationalists in the murder of Heather Heyer.

The anti-racist demonstration against the August 12 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was the most frightening I have ever been to. Yes, I was in the crowd when a car—driven by a man who had been marching in uniform with a neo-Nazi group—slammed into the crowd, killing one and injuring at least 19. But that was only part of it: here.

Amsterdam Charlottesville solidarity demonstration

From Facebook in the Netherlands:


Spui, 1012 XA Amsterdam

This Thursday there will be a demonstration in Amsterdam in solidarity with anti-fascists in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. Last Saturday, a neo-nazi drove his car into an anti-fascist protest against one of the biggest ever nazi demonstrations in the US, which took place on the same day. This resulted in multiple serious injuries. 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed. Solidarity with all anti-fascists in Charlottesville, Heather’s bereaved, and with everybody affected by extreme right violence.

Last Saturday, a large group of neo-nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, various Alt-Right groups and the National Socialist Movement wanted to come together in Charlottesville under the name “Unite the Right”, in order to protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, Confederate general and a symbol of racism and segregation in the US. Already on Friday night, the day before the demonstration, a large group of extreme right activists gathered in Charlottesville. Armed with shields, bats, and torches, they shouted racist chants and attacked a small group of counter-demonstrators.

The following day, the extreme-right already flooded the city in the state of Virginia hours before their planned demonstration. There was a large amount of extreme-right militia members with automatic firearms in attendance. There were also massive counter demonstrations. The day resulted in many fights, and sometime after 12:30 PM, a neo-nazi drove his car into a crowd at an anti-fascist protest resulting in several serious injuries and the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

We would like to express our sympathy and our anger in the streets. Anti-fascism is and will always be necessary and is always legitimate. Come on Thursday to Amsterdam, 20:00, Spui!

AFA Nederland
AFA Amsterdam
AFA Den Haag
AFA Noordbrabant
Antifa Utrecht

See also here.

Bulwer’s petrel nest discovery on Azores islet

This video says about itself:

Bulwer’s Petrel on its nest. Madeira, 2009.

From BirdLife:

14 Aug 2017

The mystery of the seabird that barks like a dog

Tânia Pipa from SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) shares news of a very happy discovery on the tiny islet of Baixo off the ‘White Island’ of Graciosa in the Azores.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’ – and so our story begins, back on a sunny June day in 2015 on the tiny Portugeuse islet of Baixo,…with a bark rather than a squawk. Not so surprising you might think, but this bark didn’t come from a dog – it came from a bird! The Bulwer’s petrel Bulweria bulwerii to be exact, named for the Scottish naturalist James Bulwer who first identified the species while living in Madeira.

Though this little petrel, with its remarkably long wingspan (an impressive 78-90cm for a body length under 30cm), is already known to frequent the Azores islets of Praia and Baixo off the beautiful ‘White Island’ of Graciosa, the distinctive ‘woof, woof, woof’ we heard that day was a very welcome ‘bark’ out of the blue. And for the simple reason that this sound – like the bark of a small dog – is only made by young petrels in the nest. Yet, until then, the only known colony of Bulwer’s petrel to have a breeding population was on the islet of Vila.

We were on Baixo that day to analyse the status of the Monteiro’s Storm-petrel Hydrobates monteiroi as part of SPEA’s work under LIFE EuroSAP – a three year collaborative project across ten countries, launched in 2015 to halt the population decline of sixteen iconic European bird species on a continental scale. Little did we know, we were about to make an unexpected discovery – but there it was, a Bulwer’s petrel right there on the rocks. However, at the time, we could not completely verify the presence of breeding pairs; although the barking surely endorsed suggestions put forward by researchers at the Portuguese Department of Oceanography and Fisheries (DOF).

Finally, this year, we were able to find more conclusive answers. As part of two new projects – MISTIC SEAS II (a continuation of our work for LIFE EuroSAP) and LuMinAves (to mitigate light pollution affecting seabirds in the Macaronesian archipelagos) – we returned to the islet, determined to solve the mystery of ‘The seabird that barks like a dog’.

Once again, the Monteiro’s storm-petrels showed us the way. We decided to change strategy and place our mist-net at the site of our first happy ‘accident’ in 2015. Within one hour, we heard a ‘bark’ and spotted our first nest and two birds on the net. We began imitating the call, and over the following nights we found 13 more nests. Upon closer inspection, we found Bulwer’s petrel eggs – finally confirming their breeding presence on the islet.

Now, we must wait for the chicks to hatch (any day now!) and watch them venture out into the ocean come late September and hopefully returning to the colony with three years. In the meantime, this exciting discovery will hopefully inspire a new impetus to protect a species which is rare in Europe.

Tânia Pipa is responsible for the conservation and management actions of SPEA’s After-LIFE Project on Corvo Island.

With special thanks to the the Natural Park of Graciosa for their support and collaboration, and also the researchers (DOP, Luís Monteiro, Joel Bried and Verónica Neves, amongst others) who have generously shared their expertise in contributing to our greater understanding of the species of the Azores.

Beautiful bird courtship videos

This video from Cornwall says about itself:

The Most Beautiful Peacock Dance Display Ever – Peacocks Opening Feathers and Bird Sound HD

Peacocks are large, colorful pheasants typically blue and green and known for their iridescent tails. Many people ask if peacocks are birds of paradise, to which the answer is no – a bird of paradise belongs to a totally seperate family of birds. These tail feathers of the peacock, or coverts, spread out in a distinctive train that is more than 60 percent of the birds total body length and boast colorful “eye” markings of blue, gold, red, and other hues. The large train is used in mating rituals and courtship displays. It can be arched into a magnificent fan that reaches across the bird’s back and touches the ground on either side. Females are believed to choose their mates according to the size, color, and quality of these outrageous feather trains.

The term “peacock” is commonly used to refer to birds of both sexes. Technically, only male bird is a are peacock. Females are peahens, and together, they are called peafowl.

Suitable males may gather harems of several females, each of which will lay three to five eggs. In fact, wild peafowl often roost in forest trees and gather in groups called parties.

Peacocks are ground feeders that eat insects, plants, and small creatures. There are two familiar peacock species. The blue peacock lives in India and Sri Lanka, while the green peacock is found in Java and Myanmar (Burma). A more distinct and little-known species, the Congo peacock, inhabits African rain forests.

Peacocks can be noisy, they have a very loud high-pitched meow like sound. They call a lot during the mating season. Dawn and late evening is a favourite time for this.

Filmed at Trevarno Gardens on 18th April 2010.

Video Produced by Paul Dinning – Wildlife in Cornwall

From BirdLife:

16 Aug 2017

7 stunning bird courtship displays that’ll make you swoon

Before sex, first comes the courtship period – and few know how to catch the eye quite like birds. Male birds have evolved an array of dazzling displays designed to attract females, strengthen pair bonds and prove they’re made of the right stuff to raise their would-be partner’s young. Here are seven that caught our eye.

By Alex Dale

The Eyes Have It

Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus (video at top of blog post)

In most bird species, the males are the flamboyant sex, and the females are the ones who do the choosing. This arrangement has come about because the process of producing eggs involves a great amount of energy on the female’s part, so she is extra careful to ensure that these efforts aren’t expended on a male who will produce weak offspring.

Females take the business of selecting a mate seriously, scrutinising their calls and their plumage for any hints that can tell her about his strength, health or vigour – traits, after all, that will be passed on to his young. Thus, to maximise their chances of spreading their genes, in some species the males have developed flashy courtship displays to show off their charms in the best possible light, and woo females away from their rivals.

Traits preferred by the female of the species are exaggerated over time. There is no better, or more famous, illustration of the evolutionary cost of this process for the male than of the peacock – encumbered, thanks to many generations of sexual selection, with an impossibly ornamental tail, which it flares in spectacular fashion in its attempt to court a peahen.

This video is called A male capercaillie on a lekking place in the south of Norway.

Flash mob

Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus

In species where the male plays little or no part in raising the young, females can afford to be extra picky, and males will often gather to forest clearings – or ‘leks’, to engage in a communal mating display. This competitive behaviour is known as ‘lekking’.

One of the most famous lekkers, peacock aside, is the Western Capercaillie, a grouse that calls the conifer forests of Eurasia its home. The male, twice the size of the female, expends an incredible amount of effort trying to attract a mate during lekking season, puffing its chest out, fanning its tail into a semi-circle and extending its neck high in the air.

These displays serve to determine the pecking order, and since the spoils go to the alpha male, capercaillie gents go to great lengths to assert their dominance, with many dying as a result of fighting wounds, or simply collapsing from exhaustion.

This video says about itself: ‘Move over, James Brown. When looking for a mate, the male red-capped manakin snaps his wings and dances on a branch to catch a female’s eye.’

Man-akin in the Mirror

Red-capped Manakin Ceratopipra mentalis

While lekking is most commonly associated with Galliformes, the behaviour can be observed in many different bird species, from waders to hummingbirds. They are not always social gatherings, such as with the Indian Peafowl. In ‘exploded leks’, the males remain out of the line of sight of their competitors (but within earshot), calling out to try to entice a female into evaluating his display.

Exploded leks tend to be more elaborate than classical leks, as males work to develop ever-more intricate displays in an attempt to persuade females that he’s got the goods. In the case of many species of manakins – small forest birds found in the American tropics – the ‘goods’ the ladies are looking for are acrobatics and motor co-ordination – signs the male can pass down genes to their offspring that will aid them in evading predators.

The Red-capped Manakin of Central and South America has one of the more eye-popping displays – it snaps its wings and shimmies up and down its branch, moving its feet at such a pace it gives the illusion that it is performing Michael Jackson’s trademark move, the moonwalk.

This video is called Japanese Crane Dance.

The snow ballerinas

Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis

For some species, displays and mating dances are an opportunity to strengthen pair bonds, and to stake their claim on a nesting territory. The Red-crowned Crane of East Asia mates for life, and in Japan it is seen as a sacred symbol of fidelity and longevity.

To maintain their bond, crane pairs perform an elaborate, synchronised dance, which is rather freeform, but usually begins with the pair throwing back their heads and letting out a loud bugle-like call. They then bound and skip around each other in energetic fashion, periodically stopping to bow to each other. Although this ritual is most commonly seen during breeding season, it is performed all year round, with the sight of this Endangered crane prancing in the soft snow in their wintering grounds being particularly iconic.

This is a western grebe video.

Walking on water

Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis

The grebe family is notoriously fussy when it comes to choosing a mate. Before agreeing to pair up, potential couples put each other through the paces in a series of complex courtship rituals to determine whether their amore’s stamina matches up to expectations. One of the Western Grebe’s trials is particularly biblical: they sprint across the water at a distance of up to 65 feet (20 metres), keeping themselves above the surface by slapping their feet against it at a rate of around 20 steps a second.

This is a bald eagle video.

Rough and tumble

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Despite being an American icon of freedom, the Bald Eagle is pretty keen on the ol’ ball and chains – they mate for life, with an estimated ‘divorce rate’ of less than 5%. But they only tie the knot after tying their talons together and engaging would-be suitors in a death-defying test of strength. Potential pairs soar up to high altitude, lock talons, and then go into freefall, clutching each other in a death grip as they cartwheel towards Earth. It’s a (sometimes deadly) game of cat and mouse, as the pairs test each other’ fitness and bravery, only breaking off the grip at the last possible second.

This video is called Mating dance of lesser flamingos.

The pink parade

Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor

Although flamingos are socially monogamous, pairs only stay together for the duration of a single breeding season. Which means when next year swings around, it’s time to put yourself back on the market all over again. And that means reaching for your dancing shoes. The only problem: you’re two-stepping in competition against the entire flock.

What follows is one of the more mesmerising – and amusing – sights the Avian Kingdom has to offer, as groups of 50-100 flamingos, of both sexes, stretch out their necks and form an impromptu marching band, strutting around as one as they jerk their heads from side to side in an attempt to catch someone’s eye.

Research suggests that the dance moves play a similar role in sexual selection as a songbird’s song. The birds that perform the most complex dance manoeuvres are more likely to convince others that they have accrued the experience and ability to raise their hatchlings – in the same way that a songbird with a wider variety of tunes shows that it has the skills to hold down its territory.

For years, people assumed most birds were monogamous. This idyllic image was blown apart when research revealed lifestyles of polygamy, polyandry, marathon mating sessions and sperm competition. Welcome to the secret reproductive life of birds. Shocked? Blame it on natural selection: here.