Wood-boring clams discovery in deep sea

A wood-boring clam inside of a piece of wood. Credit: (c) Jenna Judge

From the Field Museum in the USA:

New species of wood-munching clams found at the bottom of the ocean

April 2, 2019

Summary: Wood-boring clams are tiny clams that eat (and live in) sunken wood at the bottom of the ocean, and they have long, tube-shaped organs that they use to breathe called siphons sticking out of their shells. Scientists have just updated the wood-boring clam family tree, adding a new species and three new genus groups.

When a tree falls in a forest, regardless of whether anyone hears it, it sometimes becomes clam food. Wood that finds its way from rivers into the ocean can eventually become waterlogged and sink to the sea floor, sometimes to great depths. There, tiny clams bore into the wood, eating the wood shavings and living the rest of their lives head down in the holes they made. In a new paper in the Journal of Molluscan Studies, researchers have updated the deep-sea wood-boring clam family tree with three new genus groups and one new species.

All clams are aquatic animals with two shells covering a soft, squishy body. Wood-boring clams have a special feature — since they bury themselves deep in sunken pieces of wood, they have long, tube-like organs called siphons that extend out from their shells into the ocean water, so they can pull in water and extract oxygen from it with their gills. But it’s the clams’ diets that make them really unique. They’re able to flex their muscles and rock their shells against the wood, scraping off little bits. The clams then eat this sawdust and digest it with help from special bacteria in their gills. Along with termites and shipworms, they’re some of the only animals on Earth that can eat wood. And, as the new study revealed, there are a lot more fundamentally different kinds of them than originally thought.

“There’s not just one tree-cleaner-upper in the ocean, they’re really diverse,” says Janet Voight, Associate Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Field Museum and the study’s lead author. “Imagine living at the bottom of the ocean as a tiny swimming clam; you either have to find a sunken piece of wood or die. You wouldn’t think there’d be that many kinds of clams doing this. But we’ve now found that there are six different groups, called genera, and around sixty different species.”

When a new organism, whether it’s a clam or a frog or a tree, is discovered by scientists, they classify it with a name that tells where it belongs in its family tree. Just like we can give more and more specific locations by going from continent to country to state to city to street, scientists place animals into increasingly specific categories of order, family, genus, and species. In this paper, Voight and her colleagues examined a wide variety of members of the deep-sea wood-eating clam family. By looking at the clams themselves and studying their DNA, the researchers determined that there are at least six different genera (plural of “genus”) that make up the family. Three of these genera are described for the first time in this paper. The researchers also determined that there was one previously undiscovered species lurking in museum collections of these clams.

The importance of the physical differences between the groups aren’t immediately apparent. To help confirm the grouping suggested by the animals’ physical characteristics, the researchers ran a DNA analysis of the specimens. “You think, am I seeing everything that’s there, are there cryptic species, am I over-splitting them and going crazy? It’s really scary checking yourself against the DNA, but the results matching what I found gave me a lot of confidence,” says Voight.

The new genera are named Abditoconus (“hidden cone,” a reference to how hard it was to find the cones that cover the clams’ siphons within the wood), Spiniapex (“spiny tip,” for the barb at the tip of the clam’s siphon), and Feaya, in honor of the Feay family, who supported Voight’s scientific research at the Field Museum. The new species, gilsonorum, is a reference to the Gilsons, who have invented scientific tools and supported the museum’s efforts.

While the clams are tiny (some have shells smaller than a pea even as adults), they can settle in massive numbers, making the clams an important factor in the health of their deep-sea ecosystems. “We have no idea how much wood is at the bottom of the ocean, but there’s probably a lot more than we think,” says Voight. “After big storms, we estimate that millions of tons of wood are washed out to sea. What if these clams weren’t there to help eat it? Think how long it would take the wood to rot. The clams contribute to the cycling of carbon, they play an integral part in making the wood into something that the other animals at the bottom of the ocean can get energy from. It could even affect sea level rise. It blows me away.”

See also here.

Big anti-global warming demonstration in Berlin

This 29 March 2019 video is about the Fridays for Future demonstration in Berlin, Germany.

By Iason Stolpe in Germany:

Germany: Tens of thousands demonstrate against climate change

2 April 2019

Tens of thousands of school pupils, parents and students took to the streets of Berlin last Friday, under the slogan “Fridays for future”, to demonstrate against climate change. The protests began last August and have since mobilised increasing numbers of young people. On March 29 around 25,000 demonstrated in Berlin alone. The main speaker in Berlin was the initiator of the protests, Greta Thunberg from Sweden.

The front of the demonstration

The mood at the demonstration was political and militant. Many participants had brought homemade anti-capitalist banners. “The problem is capitalism”, one read. “System change, not climate change” stated another.

“The issue of climate protection is very topical today, because it’s about more than just the emission of pollutants. The situation has now progressed to the point where people who are not really radical are taking to the streets demanding radical solutions”, Anke said.


Anke was convinced that the current radicalisation would intensify as more people protest in opposition to the right wing and far right and the growth of militarism: “Just take a look at the US. What is lacking is education and enlightenment, but nobody is doing that. If you explain questions to people and motivate them, then they will become much more radical.”

A banner at the rally

Like many other demo participants, Anke had no confidence in the established parties or the big business elites. “We cannot wait until political and business leaders agree on any compromise. The broad masses have to come up with a solution, in opposition to the current policy.”

Manuel travelled with friends from the West German state of Schleswig-Holstein to participate in the demonstration. “I am standing here today to ensure that the climate goals are finally met”, he said. “There are big concerns everywhere, which receive lots of money from the state and then go onto produce extreme levels of CO2.”


To implement these goals, however, it is important to work together internationally and not against one another, he added.

Another demonstrator commented, “We can all connect to the internet today. This protest was also organised over the internet. Unlike in the past, we are no longer restricted to one city, but can organise across Europe as we are doing today.”

Kim and Lian also saw international cooperation as a prerequisite for a successful climate policy. The major powers invested billions in military and trade war, while companies were adopting anti-climate policies, e.g. in the US, they said.

“We all have to work together internationally, no matter where we come from, irrespective of skin color, religion or origin. This is the only way to oppose trade wars.”

Part of the protest

This was view was echoed by two pupils passing by with a poster saying, “Tomorrow was yesterday”. They had made the banner to criticise current policies and politicians, they explained. “We deliberately left the wording open to provide food for thought for those who are not only concerned about the climate, but also about a policy to secure peace or social equality.”

Blue stick insects discovery in Madagascar

Living specimens of the newly described species of Achrioptera. (A) A. fallax, adult male, captive-bred, reared from eggs of a female from Ankarana (FGZC 1853); (B) A. fallax, mating couple from Daraina (Bekaraoka) (photo by Louis Nusbaumer); (C) A. fallax, adult female with exposed wings from Ankarana National Park (FGZC 1853); (D) A. manga, adult male paratype (FGZC 1334) from Foret d'Orangea; (E) A. manga, adult female; (F) A. spinosissima, adult male reared from eggs collected at Marofandilia, near the type locality in west Madagascar (photo by Bruno Kneubühler); (G) A. maroloko sp. nov., adult male paratype (FGZC 4052) reared from eggs collected at Montagne des Français in dorsolateral view; (H) A. maroloko, adult female paratype (FGZC 4055), bred in captivity from ancestors of Montagne des Français (photo by Moritz Grubenmann)

From Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution:

Love Island: Flamboyant males get the girls on Madagascar

In two new species of rare giant stick insects, males turn livid blue or multicolored at sexual maturity — but why?

April 2, 2019

Summary: Scientists have discovered two new species of giant stick insect on Madagascar, whose males become dazzling blue or multicolored at sexual maturity. The researchers describe their rare and exciting findings, and wonder at the reproductive success of the least stick-like stick insects on the planet.

Biodiversity hotspot Madagascar is one of the world’s biggest islands, and home to some of its biggest insects. Now German scientists have discovered two new species of giant stick insect, living only in the dry forests of Madagascar’s northernmost tip.

One giant female measures a whopping 24cm — but it is the smaller males that are most striking. At sexual maturity these daredevils abandon their stick-like camouflage for dazzling blue or many-colored shining armor.

Writing in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the researchers describe their rare and exciting findings, and wonder at the reproductive success of the least stick-like stick insects on the planet.

When two become four

“Nearly all of the 3000+ known species of stick insects try to be inconspicuous and just look like twigs,” says senior author Dr. Sven Bradler of the University of Göttingen, Germany. “There are a very few, very large exceptions — and we have just discovered a couple more of them.”

The authors re-examined specimens they’d previously identified as odd-looking examples of two existing giant stick insect species, whose adult males remarkably are bright blue or multicolored.

“These were similar in size — 15 to 24cm — but generally less spiny and a bit differently colored than typical examples of their kind,” explains Bradler. “Now genetic tests confirm that the quirky individuals are in fact two new species, distinct from the original two but part of the same group.” explains Bradler.

Bradler’s reclassification places members of this group of species as close evolutionary relatives to other Madagascan stick insects, rather than cousins from overseas as previously thought. This is a potentially major finding, as it challenges the prevailing view that sticks insects colonized Madagascar multiple times.

He who dares, wins

The discovery also prompted the researchers to wonder: what reproductive advantage do these males gain from their bright colors, that is worth exposing themselves to predators?

The first author Dr. Frank Glaw of the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich, and colleagues bred the new giant stick insect species in captivity to observe their behavior.

“Males of one species started mating attempts only when they achieved their bright blue color.”

This might suggest that the males use their bright coloring to attract a mate. However, it is hard to believe the males could find a mate before being eaten — unless their bright coloring acts as a deterrent to predators.

“Males searching for a mate have to move about more, so pretending to be a stick becomes tricky. Better perhaps to plump for the opposite: a brightly colored warning.”

Bright colors — suggestive of toxicity — keep safe vivid members of other typically camouflaged species, like lividly colored Madagascan frogs.

“In support of this, all stick insects have neck glands that [produce] repellant substances, and these are typically well-developed in brightly colored species. Alternatively, like the Madagascan frogs some giant stick insects may have developed the ability to accumulate toxins from their food.”

But testing these hypotheses will be tough, admits Glaw.

Bradler adds “More than one factor may have played a role in the evolution of this remarkably conspicuous coloration. So even with more data on mate selection, habits, predators, natural food plants, toxins produced by defense glands and possible accumulation of toxins among giant stick insects, finding evidence for these ideas may prove difficult.”

Colorful stick insects have a bright future

Whatever its function, the splendid coloring of the male giant stick insects could make them a strong flagship species to promote the unique biodiversity of Madagascar, and the need for its protection.

“Already the once-uncertain future of these two new species seems secured, with their forest habitat in northern Madagascar a hotspot for conservation priorities”, says Glaw. “It is vital to maintain awareness and motivation to keep logging at bay. This precious area also harbors the highest density of critically endangered reptiles in Madagascar and is home of one of the most threatened primate species in the world, the lemur Lepilemur septentrionalis.”

Marine reserves save fish, other wildlife

This 2015 video says about itself:

Goat Island marine reserve, New Zealand

A great example of how effective marine reserves are. If you haven’t been here, take the time to check it out as the sea life is simply outstanding. This is what I managed to see in the 1.5hrs that I was there, but Im sure there is still a lot more to be seen.

From the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the USA:

Marine protected reserves do more than restore fish

UMass Amherst, Smithsonian, Florida research reports wider ecological benefits

April 1, 2019

In a new analysis of the effectiveness of marine protected areas worldwide, University of Massachusetts Amherst marine ecologist Brian Cheng and colleagues report that reserves not only replenish target fish populations, they also restore ecological functioning. However, not all reserves performed equally well.

Ecological functioning is a measure of the activities that maintain life, Cheng points out. In this case, it involves rates of predation and herbivory, or when animals eat other animals or plants, he adds. Without these activities, these ocean habitats would be radically different, providing fewer benefits to society.

Analyzing field experiments from across the globe, he and collaborators at the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Florida say their findings reveal that marine reserves increase predation rates by protecting predators that were once heavily fished by humans, allowing their numbers to thrive. Their study appears online in the current issue of Ecology, the flagship journal of the Ecological Society of America.

In turn, these predators have greater impacts on their prey. For example, at less effective reserves, the odds that a predator consumed prey species was 1-to-1, just an even chance, the researchers note. In contrast, at highly effective reserves, the odds of a prey species being preyed upon skyrockets to 49-to-1. “You would not want to be a prey species in these reserves”, Cheng notes.

He likens the creation of a marine protected area to rebuilding a village, which means bringing back many different types of workers to do varied jobs: teachers, police officers, firefighters, shopkeepers and carpenters, for example. Without teachers, students would have no school, he points out, and having no firefighters would be dangerous.

“We are trying to rebuild many, many communities like this in the ocean”, Cheng says. “We have historically removed many of the fish and other species that have important jobs as predators and herbivores, just like the teachers and firefighters. Imagine trying to rebuild these communities without paying attention to this. Our research points out that these rebuilt ocean communities are not all the same, and we need to pay attention to the different kinds of jobs each species does in order to rebuild in an effective and sustainable way.”

Results of this work highlight an important gap in scientific knowledge about marine reserves, Cheng says. “Past efforts have mainly focused on quantifying the abundance and diversity of fished species inside reserves. This is a critical first step, but it doesn’t give us information on how communities within reserves are altered by protected status. If you remove a species, will another take on its role or function, or not?”

“Marine reserves can really work well to restore part of the ocean, but one of our conclusions is that they are not all equally effective,” Cheng points out. “We need to ensure that our existing reserves are well supported in addition to building new reserves,” Cheng says.

He and co-authors also point out that humans have removed an estimated two-thirds of the oceans’ total fish biomass. To protect and restore biodiversity, people have created marine protected areas where harvesting fish is reduced or not allowed. The number of marine protected areas has grown exponentially over the past 50 years, they point out. Although this growth is encouraging, only four percent of the ocean surface is protected from harvest.

While many studies have evaluated the effects of reserves on biodiversity, there has been “no broad assessment to determine their influence on ecological processes such as predation and herbivory,” the authors point out.

They hope that this work, which was supported by the Tennenbaum Marine Observatory Network, the Smithsonian Institution and Smithsonian Johnson Funds, will help stakeholders who manage and promote marine reserves and scientists who design and research reserves, along with residents of coastal communities near protected areas.

A study published July 17 in the Journal of Applied Ecology is the first description of how to use data collected before and after a protected area is implemented to measure its effectiveness. Data collected beforehand can help predict how much fish populations are expected to increase. Then scientists can compare it to data collected after the MPA is in place to help determine whether adjustments are needed, such as changing the size or enforcement levels of an MPA: here.

Stop deporting refugees, German demonstrators demand

This 6 October 2018 music video from Bochum in Germany shows local musicians at a big Seebrücke Bochum demonstration against governmental anti-refugee xenophobia and other racism.

From the World Socialist Web Site in Germany:

Thousands protest against German government’s brutal deportation policy

By our reporters

2 April 2019

In Berlin and other German cities, including Nuremberg and Cologne, more than 5,000 people protested on Saturday against Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s plans to further deprive refugees of their rights, treat them like criminals and criminalize their supporters. At the same time, they demanded the resumption of maritime rescues.

The demonstration had been called by the pan-European initiative “Seebrücke” (“Sea bridge”). Its petition against Seehofer’s bill “No ‘Orderly Return Law’ but Seehofer’s resignation!” has already received more than 15,000 signatures.

The demonstrators made their protest against these right-wing politics clear with self-made posters. “Stop deportations”, “Deport Seehofer”, “Life-saving is not a crime, but failing to is!” and “Refugees Welcome” were some of the slogans.

Part of the rally in Berlin

The so-called orderly return law provides for legal penalties if rejected asylum seekers and refugees given a temporary stay do not prove the veracity of their identity information and actively participate in their own deportation.

Asylum seekers, whose deportation is not possible for the time being according to the authorities, should not receive a temporary stay, but an “invitation to leave”. Linked to this are harsher work prohibitions and the exclusion of integration possibilities. Only accommodation, food and toiletries should be provided.

At the same time, the European Union decided last week to end its “Operation Sophia” in the Mediterranean.

At the start of the demonstration in Berlin, WSWS reporters spoke with Kathrin, who, as head of operations on the “Iuventa”, a ship that is part of the “Jugend Rettet” (“Youth saves”) initiative, actively participated in the rescue of refugees on the Mediterranean.

The “Iuventa” had saved around 14,000 people from distress between 2016 and 2017, reported Kathrin. The ship was seized in Italy in 2017 and has since been held in the port of Trapani in Sicily. The 10 crew members confront a criminal investigation in Italy for “aiding illegal immigration,” and face up to 20 years’ imprisonment.


Kathrin condemned the prosecution as a “bureaucratic legal measure” that serves to “condemn men to death with open eyes”. Although “only a handful are being charged, it affects us all. It is something that endangers the freedom of democratic society.”

The Italian investigation into the crew of the “Iuventa” had not started under Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (Lega), infamous for his refugee policy begun in mid-2018, Kathrin clarified. Months before, a bug had been installed on the ship, telephone calls had been intercepted, and undercover agents had been deployed on other ships.

The escalation of reprisals against refugee aid workers is not a national phenomenon. “In fact, this strategic criminalization of solidarity and humanitarian aid is currently happening across Europe”, Kathrin said. Everywhere, people are prosecuted, for example those who had helped refugees with a place to sleep, something to eat or a shower. “Providing life-sustaining measures is to be penalized if it is given to those with the wrong passport”, she said.

Kathrin was participating in the protests because “this inhuman policy is supported by the German government.” To date, the government had still not made a statement on the charges against the crew. On the contrary, “Seehofer was one of those who demanded that the crew of the rescue boats should be prosecuted.”

Ruben, a maritime rescuer for Sea Watch, also stressed that anti-refugee politics were a European problem.


Not only right-wing, but also supposedly left-wing governments, were implementing this policy, according to Ruben. “For example, you can see it in Spain, where the so-called socialists rule and Sanchez also prevents rescue ships from leaving port.”

Referring to the ending of “Operation Sophia”, Ruben noted that the European Union was deliberately deploying Libya to do their “dirty work”. “They know you can’t take people back to Libya with their own warships, because it’s clear human rights crimes are commonplace there. There are court rulings prohibiting European ships from returning people there.” Therefore, he said, the Libyan militia were used, which could not be held legally responsible for its actions.

Asked by the WSWS reporters about his perspective for the fight against right-wing government policies, Ruben replied, “We are building a solidary Europe from below.” 50 cities had already joined the sea-bridge movement and declared themselves to be safe havens.

Ruben found it particularly interesting that “suddenly people no longer talk only about migration, but also about climate change and article 13.” Since all these topics are being discussed, “the [neofascist] AfDis falling in the polls”. he said.

SGP candidate Markus Klein with Arnoud at the SGP's stall

Arnoud, who is visiting Berlin for several weeks, discussed the current developments in EU policy and parallels between Germany and France with Markus Klein, a Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei (Socialist Equality Party, SGP) candidate for the European elections. In France, too, the asylum laws are being tightened up.

At the same time, popular resistance is growing in the form of the yellow-vest movement. Arnoud explained how Macron was increasingly trying to suppress the protests and to mobilize the military against them.

Asked about the need for an international policy against this turn to the right, Arnoud agreed: “In times of globalization, this seems to be the only option.”

United States cities, dangerous for migrating birds

This 2010 video from the USA says about itself:

For thousands of years and countless generations, migratory birds have flown the same long-distance paths between their breeding and feeding grounds. Understanding the routes these birds take, called flyways, helps conservation efforts and gives scientists better knowledge of global changes, both natural and man-made.

QUEST heads out to the Pacific Flyway with California biologists to track the rhythm of migration.

From Cornell University in the USA:

Chicago tops list of most dangerous cities for migrating birds

April 1, 2019

An estimated 600 million birds die from building collisions every year in the U.S., and research from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers one explanation for it.

A team led by Kyle Horton, a Rose postdoctoral fellow at the lab, ranked metropolitan areas where, due to a combination of light pollution and geography, birds are at the greatest risk of becoming attracted to and disoriented by lights and crashing into buildings.

Among their findings: While migration routes vary depending on the season, the same three large cities in the central U.S. — Chicago, Houston and Dallas — top both the spring and autumn lists of most dangerous for migrating birds.

“Those three cities are uniquely positioned in the heart of North America’s most trafficked aerial corridors. This, in combination with being some of the largest cities in the U.S., makes them a serious threat to the passage of migrants, regardless of season”, Horton said.

Research associate Andrew Farnsworth is senior author of “Bright Lights in the Big Cities: Migratory Birds’ Exposure to Artificial Light,” published April 1 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The work combines satellite data showing light pollution levels with weather radar data measuring bird migration density.

Because many birds alter their migrations routes between spring and fall, rankings of the most dangerous cities change slightly with the seasons. During spring migration, billions of birds pass through the central U.S. between the Rockies and the Appalachians, so cities primarily in the middle of the country comprise the most-dangerous list for that season. Heavy spring migration bird traffic along the West Coast also puts Los Angeles on the spring most-dangerous list.

Fall bird migration tends to be intense along the heavily light-polluted Atlantic seaboard, which is why four eastern cities make the list in autumn.

Although bird migration in spring and fall lasts for months, the heaviest migratory activity occurs during the span of just a few days. For example, a top-ranked light-polluting city can expect half of its bird migration traffic to pass through over seven nights spaced out during the season; these nights are unique for each city and depend upon wind conditions, temperature and timing.

Campaigns such as Audubon’s Lights Out encourage cities to reduce lights from building windows on heavy migration nights to reduce bird mortality.

“Now that we know where and when the largest numbers of migratory birds pass heavily lit areas, we can use this to help spur extra conservation efforts in these cities,” said study co-author Cecilia Nilsson, also a Rose postdoctoral fellow at the Lab of Ornithology. “For example, Houston Audubon uses bird migration forecasts from the Lab’s BirdCast program to run ‘lights out’ warnings on nights when big migratory movements are expected over the city.”

Horton also notes that, because an estimated quarter-million birds die from collisions with houses and residences every year, even homeowners in these most dangerous metro areas for migrating birds can play an important role. “If you don’t need lights on, turn them off,” Horton said. “It’s a large-scale issue, but acting even at the very local scale to reduce lighting can make a difference.”

Birds that produce faint chirps called flight calls during nighttime migration collide with illuminated buildings much more often than closely related species that don’t produce such calls, according to a new analysis of a 40-year record of thousands of building collisions in the Midwest: here.