Berlin bats and light pollution


This 26 July 2018 video from Germany says about itself:

Bats in bedroom @4 am in the middle of Berlin!!!

My friend left the window in his bedroom open and some bats decided to visit!

From Forschungsverbund Berlin in Germany:

How light from street lamps and trees influence the activity of urban bats

A complex relationship

March 27, 2019

Summary: A study sheds new light on how exactly ultraviolet (UV) emitting and non-UV emitting street lamps influence the activity of bats in the Berlin metropolitan area and whether tree cover might mitigate any effect of light pollution.

Artificial light is rightly considered a major social, cultural and economic achievement. Yet, artificial light at night is also said to pose a threat to biodiversity, especially affecting nocturnal species in metropolitan areas. It has become clear that the response by wildlife to artificial light at night might vary across species, seasons and lamp types. A study conducted by a team led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) sheds new light on how exactly ultraviolet (UV) emitting and non-UV emitting street lamps influence the activity of bats in the Berlin metropolitan area and whether tree cover might mitigate any effect of light pollution. The study is published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Natural sunlight sets the pace of day and night on our planet. Over millions of years, wildlife and people have adapted to the rhythm of the natural photoperiod. As creatures of daytime, humans have expanded their ecological niche into night-time by inventing and using artificial light. Yet nocturnal animals such as bats may suffer from the detrimental effects of artificial light generated by street lamps, a phenomenon now recognised as light pollution. As it turns out, bat responses to light pollution were complex. “We observed a higher activity of two pipistrelle bat species, the common pipistrelle and Nathusius’ pipistrelle, in areas with high numbers of UV emitting street lamps”, explains Tanja Straka, scientist at the IZW’s Department of Evolutionary Ecology and first author of the study. These opportunistic species may feed on insects that are attracted to UV emitting lamps. “However, all other species were less active at and even repelled by the lamps, irrespective of whether the light they emitted did or did not contain UV light”. adds Straka.

The novelty of this study is that these effects were considered in relation to tree cover. Not only do trees provide bats with shelter during daytime, trees may also provide shade for bats in illuminated areas. “Our goal was to determine whether and how tree cover influences any responses of bats to artificial light”, says Straka.

The team found that the response of bats to artificial light was intensified in areas with high tree cover. For example, the attraction of Pipistrellus pipistrellus to UV light was more pronounced when many trees were present, probably because UV light attracted insects from the vegetation. On the other hand mouse-eared bats (Myotis spp.) were less frequently recorded in areas with a high number of street lamps (irrespective of UV or no UV emission) and lots of trees. Mouse-eared bats seem to be particularly light-sensitive and avoid illuminated areas even when these include trees or shrubs. The team also found that high-flying insectivorous bats were more active in areas when the light emission from LED street lanterns was dampened by a high tree coverage than in areas with many LED lanterns and no trees.” LED lights do not attract large numbers of insects and therefore they are not attractive as foraging grounds for high-flying bats; they might even be repelled by light spillover from LED lamps. Tree cover seems to reduce light spillover, which enables high-flying bats to fly in the shadow of the tree canopy,” Straka explains.

These results are based on the analysis of more than 11,000 bat calls recorded during three months at 22 sites in the Berlin city area. Bat calls were identified by species and the activity of bats was calculated for each species and site. These data were compared with features of the landscape, such as tree cover and the intensity of light pollution as estimated by remote sensing (i.e. satellite-based data). In addition, the exact location of street lamps and information on UV light emission was used to estimate the level of light pollution in the study area.

“The bottom line is that for bats the relation between artificial light and vegetation is complex and it varies between species, yet overall artificial light at night has negative consequences for bats,” concludes Christian Voigt, the Head of Department. “Even those species that may hunt at street lamps opportunistically will suffer on the long run from the constant drain of insects dying at street lamps. Trees are important for urban bats, not only as a shelter but also as a source for prey insects. Hence artificial light should be avoided in habitats with many trees.” Adding trees in highly lit areas or turning off lights when the area is not in use could substantially contribute to the conservation of bats and possibly also other nocturnal wildlife, because trees provide shade and refuge that bats urgently need.

Artificial light influences the behaviour of many nocturnal animals such as bats, which are very sensitive to all types of lighting. Particularly critical is the illumination of natural caves in which bats roost. Cave illumination is widespread in tourist areas worldwide and disturbs the animals in their resting places. Researchers of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPIO) have now investigated how the illumination of bat caves affects the animals’ behaviour and whether the colour of light makes a difference on their flight and emergence activity. Although red light irritates the small mammals somewhat less than white light, from the researchers’ point of view neither the entrance nor the interior of bat caves should be illuminated if bats are present. The results are published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation: here.

Light at night is harmful for amphibians, new research shows. Exposure to light at night has potential to make amphibians more susceptible to additional stressors: here.

A new study demonstrates that the ears of bats come with a ‘built-in ambulance’ that creates the same physical effect as the sound of an ambulance passing by. Researchers think the study of ear-generated Doppler shifts in bat biosonar could give rise to new sensory principles that could enable small, yet powerful sensors: here.

Light pollution may be increasing West Nile virus spillover from wild birds: here.

‘European Union condemning refugees to death’


This 15 November 2018 video says about itself:

🇮🇹 🇱🇾 Rescue at Sea: Migrants in the Mediterranean | People and Power

As long as there is war, poverty and insecurity in Africa and the Middle East, migrants and refugees will try and seek a better life in Europe.

For many years now, one of the principle transit routes has been the dangerous sea crossing over the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy. Images of anxious people crammed into small and manifestly unsafe boats … have become sadly familiar around the world, as have the stories of sinkings and drownings that tragically are regularly attendant on these journeys. As a result, and against a background of hardening anti-migrant sentiment in Europe, the problem of how to best respond to and control this phenomenon – and reduce the number of fatalities – has become ever more hotly debated.

For the last five years, EU navies have maintained a presence in the area to discourage people from making the journey. And since 2017, the Libyan coastguard, with the active support of the Italian government, has also become more active, mounting aggressive patrols off its long coastline. … their methods, focused mainly on deterrence, policing and security are increasingly at odds with those of other groups operating in the area since 2014 – NGOs running maritime search and rescue (SAR) missions to aid migrants in peril.

In August 2017, Italy asked all NGOs working in the area to sign a code of conduct, which in effect put strict legal and logistical constraints on their ability to operate. As a result, by mid-2018, only four NGOs were left pursuing SAR missions in the Mediterranean and there had been a number of highly charged stand-offs with the authorities.

In March for example, after a tense altercation between Libyan coastguards and a vessel from Proactiva Open Arms involving 218 migrants and refugees, the NGO’s ship was impounded in a Sicilian port for a month, with the crew held under investigation by the Italian authorities for allegedly “conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration”.

Then in June 2018, Italy refused to let the Aquarius – a ship run by SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) – disembark 600 rescued migrants in Italian ports. When Malta also declined to accept them it became a Europe-wide dispute. Eventually, the migrants were off-loaded in Spain, but this and other incidents had a chilling effect on NGOs and for a time left the Libyan coastguard as almost the only rescue option in Central Mediterranean waters.

Much of the opposition to the NGOs’ activities seems to stem from a belief that their presence encourages migrants to embark on journeys they would otherwise avoid, or even, in the words of Italy’s controversial new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, that they act as a “taxi service”.

The NGOs reject this claim entirely, but it highlights the fundamental differences between humanitarian groups seeking to save lives on the open seas and those focused on trying to dissuade people from making the treacherous crossing in the first place.

It also raises serious questions about the way that long-standing international maritime norms on nautical rescue are allegedly being ignored – with sometimes fatal consequences. What is clear is that when no-one is available to help those in peril, lives will be lost.

In November 2018, the UNHCR said that more than 2,000 refugees and migrants have died on the Mediterranean route this year and that the number of drownings has escalated sharply. In September alone, the refugee agency said one of every eight people making the dangerous journey towards Italy had been killed.

This, it said, was due in part to the “legal and logistical restrictions that have been placed on a number of NGOs wishing to conduct search and rescue (SAR) operations.” … it added that any vessel with the capability should be allowed to come to the aid of those in need. Moreover, anyone rescued in international waters should not be taken back to Libya where conditions are not safe. With access to both sides, we sent filmmaker Paula Palacios to investigate the background to this complex debate and what may happen next.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Stopping rescuing boat migrants is “very disturbing news”, says Sea-Watch

Sea-Watch rescue organization is concerned about the fate of boat migrants who will soon make the crossing from Libya to Europe. “The chance of death increases for them”, says spokesperson Jelle Goezinnen.

It was announced today that the European Union will no longer pick up migrants from the Mediterranean from Monday on. The two ships that are still part of Operation Sophia are going back to the port. A few helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft will remain available to search for smugglers from the air.

The only question is who the crew should then notify if a migrant boat in trouble is spotted. There is nothing about this in the new mission agreements. “They can’t call anyone, so people are going to drown. Something else is not possible”, Goezinnen expects.

“Libya does not have capacity”

He strongly rejects the suggestion that the Libyan coast guard can help. “I always call it the ‘so-called’ coast guard.

It is more like a corrupt paramilitary gang, extorting, torturing and killing refugees and selling them into slavery.

In a country like Libya, where there is no central authority, you can’t speak of a real coast guard. They also have no capacity at all.” In addition, the circumstances under which migrants are jailed in Libya are terrible.

Private organizations such as Sea-Watch also have too few options to save more migrants, Goezinnen admits. “We will do what we can, but this is really an issue for the European Union.”

According to UN refugee organization UNHCR, more than 2,200 people drowned in the Mediterranean last year. Goezinnen: “That is 2,200 too many. Quite the contrary, much more rescue capacity must come from the EU.”

An additional problem is that there are hardly any aid organizations active on the Libyan coast. Currently it is only one: the Sea-Eye ship Alan Kurdi

called after the Syrian refugee little boy drowned near the Turkish coast

has been in the area since yesterday. There, the rescue workers look for the 41 people on a rubber boat from whom nothing has been heard for three days.

Sea-Watch would also like to leave for the area again, but according to Goezinnen the Dutch government does not allow that. He says that the Sea-Watch 3, which sails under the Dutch flag, cannot sail due to new rules announced by Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen. …

Sea-Watch would also like to leave for the area again, but according to Goezinnen this is not allowed by the Dutch government. He says that the Sea-Watch 3, which sails under the Dutch flag, cannot sail due to new rules announced by Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen.

Merchant ships are left for possible rescue at sea. According to international maritime law, captains are obliged to save people in need or people who are drowning. But there is not that much shipping traffic off the Libyan coast, trackers show on the internet. Also, ships regularly pass by migrants deliberately, Médecins Sans Frontières said last year, because they are not sure that they can land the people in Europe.

Soldiers in military fatigues with machine guns, balaclavas and bulletproof vests stride across the deck of the tanker El Hiblu 1. They confront frightened, unarmed migrants, including women and children, whose only possessions are what they can carry. This description of the tanker arriving at port in the Maltese capital La Valletta paints in graphic detail the inhumanity of the merciless European migration policy, which uses violence against refugees and makes their lives hell: here.

Antlion traps, new research


This 26 March 2019 video, recorded in Guernsey, says about itself:

Time-lapse recording of pit construction by an antlion (Euroleon nostras).

The pit was constructed in a tub of size 120x120x80mm filled with beach sand and with a constraining circular acetate ring with a 100mm diameter. Still images were recorded at 0.5fps with a Canon 5D MK II camera. The behaviour of the antlion over 25min was converted into 26s of time lapse video at 29fps. Note there is a reversal in the direction of spiral digging at 4s from the start, a short period of digging at the bottom of the pit between 23 and 26s and also that the throwing range declines with time as the pit gets deeper (credit: Nigel R Franks, University of Bristol)

From the University of Bristol in England:

‘Nightmarish’ antlions’ spiral digging techniques create effective and deadly traps

March 26, 2019

A team of biologists and physicists, led by the University of Bristol, have uncovered new insights into how antlions — one of the fiercest and most terrifying predators in the insect kingdom — build their deadly pit traps.

Antlions — with their nightmarish fish-hook sharp jaws which can drain the bodily fluids of its victims within minutes — are iconic within entomology and they have been studied for 200 years.

It was known that they make pits lined with fine sand grains and that they throw large debris out of the pit.

But during their field work, the researchers were amazed at how thorough this is — so much so that even slightly larger sand grains are ejected.

They performed an experiment in which they gave antlions a mixture of large and small sand grains and captured and separated all of the grains thrown out of the pit.

Vastly more large sand grains were thrown out than would ever have occurred in the volume of sand that could have occupied the space that became the pit.

Professor Nigel Franks from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “It is almost like a conjuring trick — many more large grains are ejected than seems possible.

“One answer is that the antlion is “interrogating” much more sand to find and eject large grains than just the volume of sand that has to be removed to form the final pit.”

How this is achieved lies is some physical processes that were only discovered a couple of decades ago.

The research team consulted physicists Kim Christensen and Max Falkenberg at Imperial College, London, who have unrivalled expertise when it comes to the strange properties of granular mixtures.

Together they formulated a computational model, mimicking an antlion digging in granular mixtures, to gain insight into the processes and the reasons why they employ spiral digging.

Professor Franks added: “This technique is a superbly efficient time-saving method that literally enables antlions to plough through a large volume of sand such that the small avalanches they create cause large sand grains differentially to cascade to the bottom of the construction trench where they can be preferentially ejected during pit construction.”

Most animal traps use silk as in spider webs. But spider silk is secreted whereas antlions only use materials they find in their environment. Nevertheless, spider webs and antlion pits are both superb examples of extended phenotypes.

They can be seen as an extension of their builder’s body optimised by natural selection. What this research has shown is that extended phenotypes produced purely from found materials can be not only efficiently constructed but extremely efficient in operation.

By lining their pits with fine slippery sand grains, the antlions make their pits extremely avalanche-prone.

Professor Franks added: “Any prey item that ventures into the pit will ride an avalanche down to the deadly antlion at the bottom of the pit. Such pits are an intriguing example of the ever-present force of natural selection that shapes biology.”

Tony Blair’s wife’s anti-African racism


This 27 March 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Cherie Blair said ‘African women‘s first sexual experience is rape’

Some self-styled ‘centrist‘ politicians are emulating the xenophobia of far-right politicians like Donald Trump.

In November 2018, United States Democratic politician Hillary Clinton made ‘Trump-lite’ statements against immigrants.

Donald Trump said about Mexicans: ‘They are rapists’.

And now, Cherie Blair, the ‘centrist‘ wife of Blairitecentrist‘ ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Ms Blair says in fact about African men in general, tarring all of them with the same brush: ‘They are rapists’.

From the Daily Mail in Britain (itself often not free of racism) today:

Cherie Blair causes storm after telling pupils that ‘most African women’s first sexual experience is rape‘ during school talk

Reportedly made the remark to pupils during a talk at London secondary school

By Mary O’Connor

Cherie Blair has claimed that rape is the first sexual experience of ‘most African ladies’.

She is reported to have made the remark during a talk about women and leadership to pupils at a London secondary.

In this case: misleadership.

But an audience member accused the wife of former prime minister Tony Blair of making unsubstantiated claims.

Giving her name only as Caitlin, she said: ‘No one seemed to react and I was shocked because I felt like she was in a position of authority and should take responsibility for saying things like that without any evidence to support it.’

Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP who chairs the all-party group for Africa, said: ‘Mrs Blair should enable African women to speak for themselves instead of usurping their voice and their experience.’

She accused Mrs Blair of reinforcing harmful stereotypes, adding: ‘Violence against women is a huge problem in many African countries – as it is here.

‘But to characterise African women’s sexual experience as rooted in rape undermines the hard work of many to tackle this issue while playing to and indeed stoking stereotypes of sexually aggressive African men and passive women.’

She urged Mrs Blair, 64, to fund the flights and visas for a group of African women to come to the UK to speak about their own experiences. She said this would ‘undo the insult and injury’ her comments had caused.

Caitlin sent a written complaint to the Cherie Blair Foundation, a charity that supports women and girls in developing countries build their own businesses.

Cherie Blair kissing Bush

This photo shows Cherie Blair kissing United States Iraq war president George W. Bush. Apparently, it is easy, if you are right-wing on waging bloody wars in Iraq and all over the world, to then become right-wing on xenophobia as well.

Grizzly bears eating huckleberries, new research


This 1 August 2013 video from Montana in the USA says about itself:

Grizzly bear was eating huckleberry in Glacier National Park.

From the University of Washington in the USA:

New tool maps a key food source for grizzly bears: huckleberries

March 26, 2019

Summary: Researchers have developed a new approach to map huckleberry distribution across Glacier National Park that uses publicly available satellite imagery. Tracking where huckleberry plants live can help biologists predict where grizzly bears will also be found.

Grizzly bears depend on huckleberries as a critical food source to fatten up before winter hibernation. When berries reach peak ripeness in mid-July, they make up about half of the diet for the hundreds of grizzly bears that live in and around Montana’s Glacier National Park.

Despite the importance of huckleberries to grizzly bears, listed as threatened in the lower 48 states, there is no comprehensive way to know where the shrubs are located across the park’s vast terrain. Tracking where huckleberry plants live now — and where they may move under climate change — would help biologists predict where grizzly bears will also be found.

The University of Washington and U.S. Geological Survey have developed an approach to map huckleberry distribution across Glacier National Park that uses publicly available satellite imagery. Their new method is described in a recent paper in the International Journal of Remote Sensing.

“The inspiration behind the research was to map huckleberry patches to identify and protect areas of prime grizzly bear habitat. Grizzlies depend on huckleberries as a main source of food in late summer, and huckleberry distribution may be shifting with climate change”, said lead author Carolyn Shores, a doctoral student in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences who also works as a caribou biologist for British Columbia’s fish and wildlife agency.

Huckleberry plants are an important cultural and economic resource for people, as well, particularly indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada. Given the significance this plant plays in the life history of people, bears and dozens of other species, biologists need to be able to map and assess changes to the distribution of huckleberries to learn how to conserve them, said senior author Tabitha Graves, a research ecologist with U.S. Geological Survey who is based in the national park.

“This tool will be combined with future models of the timing and productivity of berries to inform managers of options for protecting food for bears, birds, pollinators, small mammals and humans,” Graves said.

While Glacier National Park was used as a test site for mapping huckleberries, this approach could be used around the world to map other important shrub and tree communities, or track the progression of disease or insect outbreaks, the authors said.

The research team used satellite and aerial imagery from two different sources — NASA’s Landsat images and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Imagery Program — to examine patterns in huckleberry plants that turn a brilliant red color each fall. Those plants’ bright, distinguishable color makes it possible to pick it out seasonally among other plants in the landscape.

Landsat satellites have taken regular photos of the Earth’s surface down to 30 meters (100 feet) resolution for more than four decades. These aerial images helped the research team pick out the unique visual patterns of huckleberries in areas where the plants are known to live, then use modeling to predict their distribution across the entire park.

The National Agriculture Imagery Program images were taken less frequently, but at a higher resolution of 1 meter (3 feet). Researchers used these images to train a computer to recognize huckleberries, then map the entire park with that learned information. Both methods rely on the bright red color in autumn that distinguishes huckleberries from most other plants.

The team tested the accuracy of each approach by hiking to areas in Glacier National Park where huckleberries live, making sure that the plants were in fact living where the aerial photos showed they were. In total, their mapping techniques were about 80 percent accurate, they found. The methods worked less well for mapping huckleberry plants that are under tree cover, but the plants are often in open areas.

This technique will also help to answer questions about the impacts of wildfire or other disturbances on huckleberry distribution, the researchers said.

“Our approach is the first we know of that attempts to distinguish an individual understory species based on color change”, Shores said. She noted that satellite imagery has been used to identify taller species, such as trees killed by beetles in Canada.

During the mapping project, they found that most huckleberry plants in Glacier National Park are more than 100 meters (328 feet) away from hiking trails, which bodes well for grizzly bears to be able to feed with little disturbance from humans, Shores said.

While this study focused on mapping the distribution of huckleberry shrubs in the national park, the next step is to complete several other studies aiming to understand the huckleberry lifecycle and predict the timing of berries. That information will help grizzly bear managers consider where human-bear conflicts might occur and work to minimize them.

“My vision is to have a real-time prediction of potential human-bear conflict areas,” Graves said.

Grizzly bears spend many months in hibernation, but their muscles do not suffer from the lack of movement. Researchers report on how they manage to do this. The grizzly bears’ strategy could help prevent muscle atrophy in humans as well: here.

British secret soldiers help Saudi war on Yemen


This 12 March 2019 video says about itself:

Aftermath Of Saudi-Led Coalition Strikes In Yemen | TIME

Local tribesmen said strikes by the Saudi-led coalition … have killed 22 people, including children, in the country’s north.

By Phil Miller in Britain:

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Investigation to launch into the shooting of British secret soldiers in Yemen

REPORTS that British special forces are taking part in “gun battles” in Yemen alongside Saudi-funded militias who use child soldiers will be the subject of an internal investigation, the government claimed today.

Foreign Office Minister Mark Field came under pressure from Labour and Conservative MPs who were alarmed by a report in last weekend’s Mail on Sunday (MoS).

The newspaper claimed that five members of Britain’s ultra-secret Special Boat Service — the SAS’s naval counterpart — have been shot while serving in Yemen, although Britain is not officially at war with that country.

The casualties had to be evacuated back to Britain, but dozens of commandos remain on the ground, including some “forward air controllers” who direct Saudi air strikes, the newspaper said.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry asked in an urgent Commons question whether “the government still stands by its long-running statement that Britain is not a party to this conflict?”

She added: “Given everything we already do know about our support for the Saudi air force and our supply of billions in arms to the Saudi coalition, if we now discover our forces are in actual ‘gun battles’ with Houthi rebels, then if all that doesn’t constitute being a party to the conflict, I really don’t know what does.”

“One especially disturbing allegation in the MoS report was that our forces are providing support to locally recruited Saudi-funded militia where many of the fighters, up to 40 per cent it was alleged, are children as young as 13 years old.”

If the MoS report is true, “it would confirm that our forces are not just a party to this conflict but witnesses to war crimes”, Ms Thornberry pointed out.

In response, Mr Field pledged that the government “will investigate [the allegations] as a matter of urgency.”

The minister said that claims about British troops fighting in Yemen were “very serious” and that “any engagement that relates to bringing child soldiers on board would be appalling.”

However, he refused to confirm or deny the deployment of British special forces, with such matters being exempt from freedom of information requests and parliamentary oversight.

Tory MP Alan Duncan echoed Labour’s concerns, saying the allegation that “serving British military personnel have been wounded in operations in Yemen … flies in the face of assurances that have been given from the dispatch box on countless occasions.”

However, the deployment of British special forces in Yemen has long been suspected and former SAS soldier Ben Griffin told the Morning Star it would be “business as usual.”

The tussle in Parliament came as Yemen entered its fifth year of an armed conflict that has led to the country, the poorest in the Middle East, suffering famine and the death of over 60,000 people, many of them children who starved.

Britain has licensed almost £5 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi forces since the start of the war, a policy that campaigners will challenge at the Court of Appeal next month.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world.

“No matter how bad the situation has become, Jeremy Hunt and his colleagues have put arms company profits ahead of the rights and lives of Yemeni people.”

Stop the War Coalition vice-chair Chris Nineham said: “It is shameful that Britain is not just supporting but participating in a war that has created the biggest humanitarian crisis on Earth.”

Young spoonbills born, see them on webcam


This 2014 video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Nest of Eurasian spoonbill or common spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) containing eggs and chicks.

Author: Natuur Digitaal (Marc Plomp); Stichting Natuurbeelden

In Dutch nature reserve Nieuwkoopse Plassen, the first young spoonbills of this year’s nesting season have hatched.

You can see them on a webcam, here.

You will probably also see and hear black-headed gulls close to them.

Let refugees drown, European Union decides


This 3 July 2015 British ITV TV video says about itself:

The migrant baby saved from death in the Mediterranean

ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy spends three days saving migrants from the sea with a privately funded rescue operation.

That was three years ago. Since then, Italian governments, both the present far-right one and the preceding ‘centrist’ one, and the other European Union governments, have branded privately funded rescue ships in the Mediterranean as supposedly ‘criminal’ and have forcibly stopped them.

And now …

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Europe stops picking up refugees in the Mediterranean

The European Union is no longer going to save refugees in the Mediterranean. The so-called Operation Sophia will be temporarily stopped. The decision still needs to be approved by the member states today. The current agreement will expire on 1 April. …

Operation Sophia started in the summer of 2015, after a large number of rickety boats had sunk at sea in a short time. The EU intervened at the time, because the Italians had stopped their own rescue operation (Mare Nostrum) because of the high costs (€ 9 million per year).

€ 9 million.

Total government spending in Italy then was € 82355 million.

So, 0,01% of total government spending for saving the lives of the refugees from the NATO regime change wars. That seemed to be too much … really?!

Operation Sophia was primarily intended to disrupt human smuggling. Boats had to be confiscated and destroyed. Later on the training of the Libyan coast guard was added, so that the refugees would no longer leave the African continent. ….

So that the Libyan coast guard, of one of the rival governments in Libya killing each other’s paramilitary men and civilians, would be able to kill, torture and/or sell into slavery the refugees.

France has doubts about scaling down the operation and the Netherlands is also not enthusiastic about stopping the patrols at sea. However, it is expected that nobody will object now, because they have been difficult negotiations.

A few months ago, there was already a hint that this would happen.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV, 23 January 2019:

There are a different opinions within the European Union about the ‘Sophia’ military mission, which is intended to stop the smuggling routes in the Mediterranean. It was the idea that warships, in addition to rescuing shipwrecked people, would gather information about the networks of human smugglers and possibly disable their equipment. In practice, according to the Germans, very little of this happens and the ship is mainly used for picking up migrants.

According to international law, all ships, warships or civilian, are obliged to rescue human beings from drowning. The German government illegally sabotages this.

Stefan Liebrich, member of the Die Linke [Left] party, calls the recent German decision a tragedy. “As long as Sophia is not replaced by another mission, it will mean more people drowning.” …

The German frigate that was supposed to replace the [frigate] Augsburg will soon be used for NATO war games, according to the Germans more important work than sailing the Mediterranean.

Yeah, right. Preparing to kill all life on earth in World War III is SO much more important than saving refugees from drowning [sarcasm off].

Carrion crows, hooded crows, different or similar?


This 2017 video from the Czech republic is about hooded crows and carrion crows.

From the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Germany:

Speciation: Birds of a feather…

March 26, 2019

Carrion crows and hooded crows are almost indistinguishable genetically, and hybrid offspring are fertile. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich biologists now show that the two forms have remained distinct largely owing to the dominant role of plumage color in mate choice.

Crows have divided Europe between them. Western Europe is the realm of the soot-black carrion crow, while the eastern half of the continent is home to the hooded crow with its grayish black plumage. The boundary between the two populations — or more precisely, the hybrid zone where the two meet — is only 20-50 km wide, and in Germany it essentially follows the course of the River Elbe. This is the only stretch of territory in which both of these species are found and sucessfully mate with each other. The plumage of the fertile offspring of these pairings is intermediate in color between those of their parents. The sharp demarcation between the two populations, however, clearly indicates that gene flow across the hybrid zone is restricted, which implies that hybrids are at a selective disadvantage. “Defining speciation as the buildup of reproductive isolation, carrion crows and hooded crows are in the process of speciation”, says LMU evolutionary biologist Jochen Wolf. He and his research team have now analyzed the genetic basis for the division of European crows into two populations. Indeed, the results of the study demonstrate that the old saying “birds of a feather flock together” really does apply in this instance: The only genes that differ significantly between the two variants are those involved in determining the color of the plumage. This suggests that each form preferentially mates with partners of the same color as themselves. The new findings appear in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Europe’s crows once formed a single population. This is thought to have been broken up repeatedly during the last glacial maxima over the last tens to hundreds of thousand years ago, during which the crows retreated from Central Europe to milder refuges in Spain and the Balkans. At the end of the last Ice Age, they returned to their old haunts. But they had changed during the period of their isolation. “Most probably, a mutation had arisen in the easterly population, which endowed its carriers with a lighter colored, gray plumage”, says Wolf. Then carrion and hooded crows came into contact once again and formed a narrow hybrid zone. However, the genetic mechanisms responsible for maintaining the distinction between the two populations have remained unclear.

In order to identify these mechanisms, Wolf and his colleagues first sequenced the genomes of both carrion crows and hooded crows. “We found that the genomes of both forms are almost identical, and that the few genetic loci that differentiate gray from black crows are likely to be involved in determining the color of their plumage”, Wolf says. “We have now carried out a more detailed analysis and determined the degree of genetic mixing between the two populations. Using a technique known as admixture mapping we pinned down the genetic basis of their divergence.” To do so, his team examined the variant loci in the genomes of more than 400 birds — from within the hybrid zone and from the regions in which one or other of the two forms is endemic.

In this way, it was possible to identify the genes responsible for the difference in coloration between hooded and carrion crows. “The distinction can largely be explained by variation in just two genetic factors. In addition, we showed that these two loci interact with each other”, Wolf explains. In other words, these two factors together determine the color of the plumage. Further analyses confirmed that the rest of the genome can be freely exchanged between the two populations — and is common to carrion crows in Western Europe and the hooded crows in the eastern half of the continent. “Only two major effect genes which together encode the feather color differ sharply on either side of the hybrid zone — the gray alleles are not found to the west of the zone and the black allele is absent in the eastern region,” says Wolf. “That’s a very strong indication that there is rigorous selection on the basis of color.”

According to the authors of the study, these findings convincingly show that the hybrid zone along the Elbe represents an example of early-stage speciation followed upon secondary contact between the two emerging species. The classical biological definition of species — which is based on the concept of reproductive isolation, i.e. on the premise that the hybrid offspring of crosses between ‘true’ species are sterile — obviously does not apply in this case. Nevertheless, gene flow is locally restricted in the genome, because each form preferentially mates with individuals of the same color. This in turn means that hybrids with an intermediate color are less likely to reproduce. But the two populations are not yet fully isolated genetically from each other, since hybridization still occurs. “We are now using a mathematical model to work out the level of hybridization in the hybrid zone as it now stands,” says Wolf. “The initial indications suggest that it is very low, on the order of a few percentage points.”

The findings show that trained carrion crows (Corvus corone), songbirds of the corvid family, can exert control over their calls in a goal-directed manner. In a detection task, three male carrion crows rapidly learned to emit calls in response to a visual cue (colored squares) with no inherent meaning (“go-trials”), and to withhold calls in response to another cue. Two of these crows were then trained on a task with the cue colors reversed, in addition to being rewarded for withholding vocalizations to yet another cue (“nogo-trials”): here.

Saudi women persecuted for driving cars


This 13 March 2019 video says about itself:

🇸🇦 Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to stand trial

Saudi activist Loujain Al-Hathloul is set to face trial in Riyadh on Wednesday. She has been in detention for almost a year without charge. Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall reports.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

They fought for the right to drive, but now Saudi women are on trial

Ten Saudi women who fought for the right to drive and the abolition of male custody are in court. They are accused of undermining the Saudi kingdom.

Among the women are prominent bloggers and scientists. The indictment was formulated two weeks ago, at the first session that attracted a lot of international media attention. Today women may tell their side of the story for the first time.

Sisters in Belgium

One of the women became the face of the activists. The 29-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul became known by sitting behind a car wheel in 2013 with her father. Later she also took other actions. Her two sisters live in Brussels.

One of them, Lina, tells the NOS that the family is very concerned. “One of the charges against Loujain is that she had contact with human rights organizations, diplomats of Western allies of Saudi Arabia and foreign journalists. And that she fought for women’s rights. In principle, that is not prohibited by law”, says Lina. “But they can formulate it in a way that it falls under something that is forbidden.”

The family has been living in a nightmare for a year. “From May to August, the women were locked up in a hotel. None of us were allowed to speak to Loujain, but when my parents first saw her in September, they were shocked. She had red marks on her face and she was tortured. Eg, cold wind was blown into her room.”

Death threats

An action group of British lawyers and MPs confirms these stories and also talks about death threats, sleep deprivation and sexual harassment. The Saudi government contradicts these allegations.

Since September al-Hathloul can receive her parents once a month and call once a week. Her sister emphasizes how important it is for her parents to do that. “A lot of women think just like Loujain, but they are not supported by their familis. Loujain was supported and is still supported by my parents.”

Lina also talked to her sister over the phone. Those were emotional conversations, but since the trial started, her sister is no longer allowed to call family abroad.

Closed doors

So Lina, her other sister and their brother who lives in Canada, try to get as much attention as possible for the case. “We are not from a powerful family, we are an ordinary Saudi family. No one expected this.”

The Saudi crown prince has been carrying out a number of apparently progressive reforms for the past two years, such as the abolition of the driving ban for women, which Al-Hathloul fought for. Lina: “We really don’t understand it.” …

What Loujain will say exactly later, Lina does not know, because the case takes place behind closed doors. She does have good hope for her sister. “In the end, I also think the majority of Saudis are behind her, but they can’t say it freely.”