Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab still in prison

This 21 October 2014 video says about itself:

Jailed for a Tweet: Interview with Nabeel Rajab

Nabeel Rajab is a human rights activist awaiting trial in Bahrain, one of the West’s favorite dictatorships. Three years after the Arab Spring, protests there are still being violently repressed, and Rajab now faces up to three years in jail — for a tweet. VICE News spoke to him a few weeks before his latest arrest.

Read More: Bahrain’s Human Rights Activist Faces Jail Time — for a Tweet.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain today:

BAHRAIN: The Court of Appeal yesterday upheld human rights defender Nabeel Rajab’s five-year jail sentence for social media posts critical of the regime.

Mr Rajab was jailed after he tweeted his opposition to the Saudi-led coalition air strikes on Yemen and made allegations of widespread torture in a notorious Bahrain prison.

He has been convicted in two separate trials and faces seven years in prison. Mr Rajab has a third stage of appeal.

Bahraini Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Ali Salman acquitted of spying. But dissident will stay in jail anyway on another dodgy charge: here.

A MAN entered his second week of hunger strike outside the Bahraini embassy in London today, over his elderly father’s treatment in prison in the Gulf kingdom, where he is being denied vital medical treatment. Ali Mushaima began his eighth day of his hunger strike when the Star visited him outside the building, where he sleeps on wooden boards, covered with blankets: here.

American red-shafted, yellow shafted flickers

This video from the USA says about itself:

Woodpecker Pecking and Calling : Northern Flicker, Red-shafted Flicker

5 March 2015

This is the western, red-shafted form of the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). Taken along the Clackamas River in Oregon in March. It is probably more interested in finding a mate than in finding food.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office in the USA:

For flickers, looks can be deceiving

June 6, 2018

The North American woodpeckers known as “flickers” stand out for their distinctive wing and tail feathers of bright reds or yellows, and for their rampant interbreeding where these birds of different colors meet in the Great Plains. Despite the obvious visual differences between the Red-shafted Flicker of the west and the Yellow-shafted Flicker of the east, scientists have never before found genetic differences between them. A new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances uses data from thousands of regions across the genome to distinguish these birds molecularly for the first time.

Stepfanie Aguillon and her colleagues at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology explored patterns across the genomes of these birds and find them to be incredibly similar at the molecular level. In spite of the strong similarity, they still have the ability to distinguish the western Red-shafted Flickers from the eastern Yellow-shafted Flickers for the first time through the use of new genomic methods. Genomic technology is advancing at such a rapid rate that genetic sequence differences that were undetectable in the 1980s using (then) cutting-edge methods are now readily apparent using next-generation sequencing techniques.

Flickers have intrigued ornithologists and naturalists at least as far back as Audubon, but only recently has it become possible to understand these birds genomically”, says lead author Stepfanie Aguillon. “I was unsure what we would find, given how much trouble previous researchers have had with these birds. I was surprised — and excited — by how similar we found them to be since we now had thousands of markers across the genome. I think this paper underlies a theme that has become more and more apparent over the last few years — even when two birds look very different, they may not be very different genetically.”

“The hybrid zone between the yellow- and red-shafted flickers is particularly striking, but despite very apparent morphological and ecological differences, genetic studies beginning in the late 1980s found few differences between these two ‘subspecies'”, adds flicker expert William S. Moore, a Wayne State University professor who was not involved with this research. “Hybrid zones are often described as “natural laboratories” for studies on speciation. Despite the low level of genetic divergence across the flicker hybrid zone, it is certain that selection is operating on genes involved in plumage divergence and ecological adaptation. Aguillon’s study will be a foundation stone for studies that identify the adapted genes and will bring us to a new understanding of the processes of speciation.”

Starling nests helped by aromatic herbs

This video from England is called Starling nest building 4/3/2015. But see what happens next.

From North Carolina State University in the USA:

Aromatic herbs lead to better parenting in starlings

June 6, 2018

For European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), the presence of aromatic herbs in the nest leads to some improved parenting behaviors, according to a new study. Specifically, birds whose nests incorporate herbs along with dried grasses were more likely to attend their nests, exhibited better incubation behavior for their eggs, and became active earlier in the day.

For the study, researchers replaced 36 natural starling nests in nest boxes with artificially made nests. Each nest retained the female’s clutch of eggs. Half of the artificial nests included dry grass and a combination of herbs commonly found in starling nests. The other half of the nests had only dry grass. The herbs included were yarrow, or milfoil, (Achillea millefolium); hogweed (Heracleum spondyleum); cow parsley (Anthriscus silvestris); black elder (Sambucus niger); goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria); and willow (Salix alba).

The researchers also placed a “dummy” egg in each nest, which monitored temperature in the nest.

“Egg temperatures and nest attendance were higher in herb than nonherb nests — particularly early in the incubation period”, says Caren Cooper, co-author of a paper on the work and a research associate professor in North Carolina State University’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources.

“In addition, egg temperatures dropped less frequently below critical thresholds in nests that contained herbs, and those parents started their active day earlier”, says Cooper, who is also the assistant head of the biodiversity research lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

The percentage of eggs that hatched successfully was the same for both herb and nonherb nests. However, hatchlings in the herb nests showed signs of developing more rapidly in the egg than their nonherb peers, and nestlings in herb nests were more successful in gaining body mass after hatching.

“While the data indicate that these herbs influenced incubation behavior in a positive way, it’s not entirely clear how that’s happening,” Cooper says.

“It’s possible that one or more of the herbs have pharmacological effects on the parents”, says Helga Gwinner of the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology, who is a first author of the paper.

“We had previously observed that young from nests that are rich in herbs have improved health indicators”, Gwinner adds. “Starlings select particular herbs for decorating their nests. Intriguingly, some of these herbs are also used in folk medicine. Their known sedative effects might influence incubation behavior by inducing higher nest attendance and reduce exposure of eggs to low ambient temperature.”

The study highlights the importance of the nesting environment for developing nestlings and the wisdom of avian parents.

“Use of volatile herbs is observed in many species”, Cooper says. “More recently, birds have also started to include human objects in their nests. Their benefits and harm should be carefully observed.”

British Conservative broken promises to Grenfell disaster survivors

Jeremy Corbyn comforts a local resident last June at St Clement's Church in west London where volunteers provided shelter and support for people affected by the fire at Grenfell Tower

By Will Stone in Brighton, England:

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Corbyn: Broken promises to Grenfell survivors show the Tories’ ‘heartless contempt for working-class people’

BROKEN government promises to Grenfell tower survivors are a “national scandal” that show “a heartless contempt for working-class people”, Jeremy Corbyn said yesterday.

Addressing the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) annual conference, the Labour leader launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Theresa May for presiding over a litany of failures to Grenfell families.

He reminded delegates of Ms May‘s pledge to rehouse “everyone within a year.”

Yet a week before the anniversary of the “horrendous and heart-breaking tragedy”, which left 72 dead, well over half of the survivors are still waiting for a home.

“All the while Kensington and Chelsea suffers from a plague of empty homes“, Mr Corbyn said. “Luxury property used as investments for the super-rich, instead of as homes for local residents who are stuck in hotels and B&Bs.

“There can be no clearer sign of the total disregard this government has for those that were made homeless by the terrible fire nearly a year ago.

The people living in the tower were failed before the fire … and they are being failed again now.

“Because austerity has always had a class bias.

“At the same time as they have been cutting the fire service, axing police and taking money out of schools, they have found billions in tax cuts for the super-rich and big business.

Tax breaks for the rich and austerity for everyone else.

“There can be no more insulting excuses for inaction.”

Instead of the Grenfell tragedy forcing the government to value public and emergency services, Tory MPs continued to vote to keep firefighters‘ pay down.

“If that doesn’t highlight the gap between this government’s rhetoric and its actions, then I don’t know what does”, he said.

People are still angry, and rightly so, about the government’s failure to act.

“Where is the necessary overhaul of fire safety regulations that is so clearly needed?

Where is extra funding for the Fire and Rescue Service?

“Where is the action on dangerous cladding on other buildings?

“After the Lakanal House fire [in 2009], the 2013 coroners’ report recommended sprinklers be installed in tower blocks and this government failed to act.

“But even now, in the wake of 72 dead at Grenfell, it still ignores the advice of the Fire Brigades Union, the National Council of Fire Chiefs and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

“The Houses of Parliament are about to be renovated. The current plans include sprinklers being fitted. If it’s good enough for MPs, it’s good enough for the people we represent.”

Addressing fire service cuts, he vowed a Labour government would recruit 3,000 new firefighter jobs with a full review of staffing levels.

A statutory duty for firefighters to respond to flooding in Britain would also be implemented by Labour.

Praising Mr Corbyn‘s leadership, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “There are not many Labour MPs who have got such a consistent support for firefighters.

“We have never seen the level of engagement [with] trade unions from other Labour party leaders than we’ve seen from Jeremy Corbyn during his time as leader.”

He added that it was always a “no-brainer” that the FBU should get behind Mr Corbyn, with the union reaffiliating to Labour after he became party leader in 2015.

FBU Conference ’18: Firefighters launch anti-cuts campaign to ‘stop the rot’ in the fire service: here.

Sea cucumbers, essential for ecosystems

This video says about itself:

Seeking shelter up a sea cucumber’s bottom – World’s Weirdest Events: Episode 5 – BBC Two

The oceans are a hostile place, and you’re going to need some good shelter if you want to survive. The pearl fish has found a rather inventive way to keep away from predators…by hiding up a sea cucumber‘s bottom.

From the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Study in Fiji finds that removing sea cucumbers spells trouble for shallow coastal waters

June 5, 2018

Summary: The sea cucumber’s unimpressive appearance belies the outsized role these creatures play in converting decomposing organic matter into recyclable nutrients and keeping coastal ecosystems healthy and clean, and overfishing them can have negative impacts on coastal marine environments, according to a new study focusing on a species of sea cucumber called a sandfish.

The lowly sea cucumber strikes observers as a simple sausage-like creature, one that is far less interesting than brightly colored reef fish or color-changing octopi that share its coastal habitat.

The sea cucumber’s unimpressive appearance belies the outsized role these creatures play in converting decomposing organic matter into recyclable nutrients and keeping coastal ecosystems healthy and clean, and overfishing them can have negative impacts on coastal marine environments, according to a new study focusing on a species of sea cucumber called a sandfish in the journal PeerJ.

The authors of the study titled “Effects of sandfish (Holothuria scabra) removal on shallow-water sediments” are: Steven Lee of the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research and the University of Bremen; Amanda K. Ford of the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research and the University of Bremen; Sangeeta Mangubhai of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society); Christian Wild of the University of Bremen; and Sebastian C.A. Ferse of Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research and the University of Bremen.

In a sense, sea cucumbers are the vacuum cleaners of coastal marine environments. Since these invertebrates are also the target of a growing demand from Asian markets — dried sea cucumbers are known as “bêche-de-mer” — the authors of the study sought to examine the ecological implications of removing them from tropical coastal areas.

“Our study was designed to determine exactly how the removal of these organisms is impacting coastal ecosystems, which in this case was a coral reef flat in Fiji“, said lead author Steven Lee.

The experiment focused on a specific species of sea cucumber known as the sandfish (Holothuria scabra), and was conducted along a wide reef flat along the coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji for several months between September 2015 and February 2016. After conducting a standard survey of the site in order to determine the density of sandfish on the sea bottom, the researchers created 16 square plots with four “treatments” containing different densities of sea cucumbers, all of which were designed to ascertain the implications of harvesting, and overharvesting, sea cucumbers from the reef.

The research team found that, in plots with high densities of sea cucumbers, oxygen conditions within the sediment stayed relatively stable, even under elevated sea surface temperatures experienced during the 2015/2016 El Niño event. In plots where all sea cucumbers had been removed, the penetration of oxygen into surface sediments decreased substantially, by 63 percent.

Overall, the researchers found that a reef’s ability to handle increases in organic matter inputs from rainfall and flooding inland was diminished by the removal of sea cucumbers.

“Our findings suggest that overharvesting of sandfish and other sea cucumber species could have lasting effects on the marine ecosystems of small Pacific islands such as those in Fiji, resulting in changes that could limit the productivity of shallow water ecosystems”, said Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai, Director of WCS’s Fiji Program. “Hopefully these results will help inform management decisions that will conserve moderate to high densities of sea cucumbers and protect these ecosystems in the interest of safeguarding coastal livelihoods and food security.”

“Sea cucumbers are an important source of livelihood for many tropical coastal communities and are heavily fished throughout the tropical belt, but so far we didn’t have a good understanding of the wider ecological implications of harvesting them” said Dr. Sebastian Ferse of the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Bremen, who collaborated with WCS in conducting this study as part of a project that looks into the social and ecological resilience of coral reefs in the South Pacific. “The results of this study fill an important knowledge gap and are timely for the management of an important resource for coastal communities.”

This work was supported by: the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT); WCS; University of Bremen; the University of the South Pacific; and the residents of Natuvu village who permitted the study within their traditional fishing ground.

2018 has been designated by the International Coral Reef Initiative as the third International Year of the Reef. This is a great opportunity to come together to strengthen awareness on the plight of coral reefs, to step up and initiate conservation efforts.