Duck-billed dinosaurs, new research


This 2018 video is called Hadrosaurs Size Comparison.

From the University of Bristol in England:

Chewing versus sex in duck-billed dinosaurs

Evolutionary bursts led to weird and wonderful head crests

May 2, 2019

The duck-billed hadrosaurs walked the Earth over 90 million years ago and were one of the most successful groups of dinosaurs. But why were these 2-3 tonne giants so successful? A new study, published in Paleobiology, shows that their special adaptations in teeth and jaws and in their head crests were crucial, and provides new insights into how these innovations evolved.

Called the ‘sheep of the Mesozoic’ as they filled the landscape in the Late Cretaceous period, hadrosaurs walked on their hind legs and were known for their powerful jaws with multiple rows of extremely effective teeth. They also had hugely varied head display crests that signalled which species each belonged to and were used to attract mates. Some even trumpeted and tooted their special call, using nasal passages through the head crests.

Researchers from the Universities of Bristol and the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona used a large database describing morphological variety in hadrosaur fossils and computational methods that quantify morphological variety and the pace of evolution.

Dr Tom Stubbs, lead author of the study and a researcher from Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, said: “Our study shows that the unique hadrosaur feeding apparatus evolved fast in a single burst, and once established, showed very little change. In comparison, the elaborate display crests kept diversifying in several bursts of evolution, giving rise to the many weird and wonderful shapes.”

Professor Mike Benton, the study’s co-author from Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, added, “Variation in anatomy can arise in many ways. We wanted to compare the two famous hadrosaur innovations, and by doing so, provide new insights into the evolution of this important dinosaur group. New numerical methods allow us to test these kinds of complex evolutionary hypotheses.”

“Our methods allowed us to identify branches on the hadrosaur evolutionary tree that showed rapid evolution in different parts of the skeleton,” said co-author Dr Armin Elsler. “When we looked at the jaws and teeth, we only saw fast evolution on a single branch at the base of the group. On the other hand, the bones that form the display crests showed multiple fast rate branches.”

Dr Albert Prieto-Márquez, co-author and world-leading expert on hadrosaurs from the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona, added: “Our results suggest that evolution can be driven in different ways by natural selection and sexual selection. Hadrosaurs apparently fixed on a feeding apparatus that was successful and did not require massive modification to process their food. On the other hand, sexual selection drove the evolution of more complex crest shapes, and this is reflected by multiple evolutionary bursts.”

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Scientology cult endangers Caribbean people’s health


This 2 May 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Why The Government Just SHUT DOWN Scientology‘s Cruise Ship

Scientology‘s ship and spiritual retreat, Freewinds, was shut down and quarantined for measles on the island of St. Lucia. As an ex-Scientologist, I discuss their stance which may have led to the measles outbreak. I give you all of the details on everything you need to know about the Freewinds and what happened. Then, I discuss my mental health and give an update on my cult recovery therapy sessions.

From British daily The Guardian, 3 May 2019:

Scientology cruise ship leaves St Lucia after measles quarantine

According to Reuters Eikon shipping data, a Panamanian-flagged cruise liner identified as SMV Freewinds had been docked in port near Castries on Thursday. It was at sea and expected to arrive at Curaçao on Saturday.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

The Curaçao government is calling on residents who have been in the vicinity of the Freewinds cruise ship to report to the medical service. A crew member of the ship, owned by the Scientology movement, has gotten measles.

The ship was off the coast of Curaçao last week, where it is located more often. It also serves as an entertainment ship for onshore residents, says correspondent Dick Drayer. “When they are in the harbour, concerts are also done, and a few dozen people come to that.”

This video says about itself:

The Freewinds Measles Ship Seen in Aruba

When we were on an 11 day Caribbean Cruise from Tampa to New York in April 2019 we came across the MS Freewinds in port in Oranjestad, Aruba at the same time as our ship, the Norwegian Pearl.

There are some rather famous anti-vaccine celebrities who are Scientologists, such as Jenna Elfman, Kirstie Alley, and some others: here.

According to Dutch NOS TV, Scientology opposes mandatory vaccination.

Dinosaur age millipede discovery in amber


This 2 May 2019 Burmanopetalum inexpectatum – a 99-million-year-old millipede trapped in amber.

From ScienceDaily:

Dwarfs under dinosaur legs: 99-million-year-old millipede discovered in Burmese amber

A 3D reconstruction of the fossil allowed for the description of an entirely new suborder

May 2, 2019

Summary: An 8.2-millimeter fossil millipede was discovered in Burmese amber. Having used new-age 3D X-ray microscopy, a research team confirmed this is the first fossil millipede of the entire order. The new species, despite having lived alongside the Cretaceous megafauna, is smaller than any of the extant members of its group. Because of its extraordinary morphology, it is described as a new suborder.

Even though we are led to believe that during the Cretaceous the Earth used to be an exclusive home for fearsome giants, including carnivorous velociraptors and arthropods larger than a modern adult human, it turns out that there was still room for harmless minute invertebrates measuring only several millimetres.

Such is the case of a tiny millipede of only 8.2 mm in length, recently found in 99-million-year-old amber in Myanmar. Using the latest research technologies, the scientists concluded that not only were they handling the first fossil millipede of the order (Callipodida) and also the smallest amongst its contemporary relatives, but that its morphology was so unusual that it drastically deviated from its contemporary relatives.

As a result, Prof. Pavel Stoev of the National Museum of Natural History (Bulgaria) together with his colleagues Dr. Thomas Wesener and Leif Moritz of the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (Germany) had to revise the current millipede classification and introduce a new suborder. To put it in perspective, there have only been a handful of millipede suborders erected in the last 50 years. The findings are published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

To analyse the species and confirm its novelty, the scientists used 3D X-ray microscopy to ‘slice’ through the Cretaceous specimen and look into tiny details of its anatomy, which would normally not be preserved in fossils. The identification of the millipede also presents the first clue about the age of the order Callipodida, suggesting that this millipede group evolved at least some 100 million years ago. A 3D model of the animal is also available in the research article.

Curiously, the studied arthropod was far from the only one discovered in this particular amber deposit. On the contrary, it was found amongst as many as 529 millipede specimens, yet it was the sole representative of its order. This is why the scientists named it Burmanopetalum inexpectatum, where “inexpectatum” means “unexpected” in Latin, while the generic epithet (Burmanopetalum) refers to the country of discovery (Myanmar, formerly Burma).

Lead author Prof. Pavel Stoev says:

We were so lucky to find this specimen so well preserved in amber! With the next-generation micro-computer tomography (micro-CT) and the associated image rendering and processing software, we are now able to reconstruct the whole animal and observe the tiniest morphological traits which are rarely preserved in fossils. This makes us confident that we have successfully compared its morphology with those of the extant millipedes. It came as a great surprise to us that this animal cannot be placed in the current millipede classification. Even though their general appearance have remained unchanged in the last 100 million years, as our planet underwent dramatic changes several times in this period, some morphological traits in Callipodida lineage have evolved significantly.

Co-author Dr. Thomas Wesener adds:

“We are grateful to Patrick Müller, who let us study his private collection of animals found in Burmese amber and dated from the Age of Dinosaurs. His is the largest European and the third largest in the world collection of the kind. We had the opportunity to examine over 400 amber stones that contain millipedes. Many of them are now deposited at the Museum Koenig in Bonn, so that scientists from all over the world can study them. Additionally, in our paper, we provide a high-resolution computer-tomography images of the newly described millipede. They are made public through MorphBank, which means anyone can now freely access and re-use our data without even leaving the desk.”

Leading expert in the study of fossil arthropods Dr. Greg Edgecombe (Natural History Museum, London) comments:

“The entire Mesozoic Era — a span of 185 million years — has until now only been sampled for a dozen species of millipedes, but new findings from Burmese amber are rapidly changing the picture. In the past few years, nearly all of the 16 living orders of millipedes have been identified in this 99-million-year-old amber. The beautiful anatomical data presented by Stoev et al. show that Callipodida now join the club.”

Alaska lake seals unique, new research


This 2018 video is called Hidden Seals Of Siberia [Fresh Water Seal Documentary] | Wild Things.

From the University of Washington in the USA:

Chemical records in teeth confirm elusive Alaska lake seals are one of a kind

May 1, 2019

Summary: Lifelong chemical records stored in the canine teeth of an elusive group of seals show that the seals remain in freshwater their entire lives and are likely a distinct population from their relatives in the ocean. Their home territory, Iliamna Lake, is in the heart of the proposed Pebble Mine project.

Hundreds of harbor seals live in Iliamna Lake, the largest body of freshwater in Alaska and one of the most productive systems for sockeye salmon in the Bristol Bay region.

These lake seals are a robust yet highly unusual and cryptic posse. Although how the seals first colonized the lake remains a mystery, it is thought that sometime in the distant past, a handful of harbor seals likely migrated from the ocean more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) upriver to the lake, where they eventually grew to a consistent group of about 400. These animals are important for Alaska Native subsistence hunting, and hold a top spot in the lake’s diverse food web.

Scientists now know these “colonizing” seals must have found the lake suitable enough to stay and raise their offspring. Generations later, the lake-bound seals appear to be a genetically distinct population from their ocean-dwelling cousins — even though they are still managed as part of the larger Eastern Pacific harbor seal population.

But if the lake seals are distinct and show signs of local adaptation to their unique ecological setting, this would mean that their conservation — especially in the face of the rapidly changing climate of western Alaska and proposed industrial developments — should differ from that of nearby marine populations.

Lifelong chemical records stored in their sequentially growing canine teeth show that the Iliamna Lake seals remain in freshwater their entire lives, relying on food sources produced in the lake to survive. In contrast, their relatives in the ocean are opportunistic feeders, moving around to the mouths of different rivers to find the most abundant food sources, which includes a diverse array of marine food items in addition to the adult salmon returning to Bristol Bay’s nine major watersheds. These findings are described in a paper published online in March in Conservation Biology.

“We clearly show these seals are in the lake year-round, throughout their entire lives,” said lead author Sean Brennan, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “This gives us critical baseline information that can weigh in on how we understand their ecology, and we can use that information to do a better job developing a conservation strategy.”

This new study comes at a time when federal agencies are considering whether to permit mining activities in Bristol Bay, a region teeming with wildlife, including Alaska sockeye salmon. Iliamna Lake, and the seals and other animals that live there, is located in the heart of the proposed Pebble Mine project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this spring released a draft environmental impact statement that analyzes the project’s proposal, presents alternative plans and gives the public a chance to comment. Ultimately, the document will help decide whether the controversial mine is approved.

Because of their current conservation status, the Iliamna Lake harbor seals aren’t assessed as a distinct and ecologically significant population in the project’s draft environmental impact analysis. If the seals are determined to be a distinct population, that has important implications for how the Iliamna Lake system is managed, the study’s authors said. The lake and its resident fishes would then be considered critical habitat for seals.

Separately, federal regulators have considered whether the lake seals should be named a distinct population, but scientists have been unable to agree on whether the seals are both distinct, and ecologically and evolutionarily significant, mainly because little is known about their ecology — including whether adult lake seals potentially migrate to the ocean to feed each year.

Brennan was a doctoral student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks when he heard about early efforts to evaluate whether the lake seals were a distinct population. Chemical tracing methods he was using to track the life patterns of salmon could also work for the seals, he realized.

“The light just went off in my head,” Brennan said. “What I was doing for salmon was directly applicable to this population of seals.”

Brennan and collaborators at the UW, University of Utah and University of Alaska Anchorage looked at the chemical signatures present in the teeth of lake seals during each year of their life to better understand where they moved and what they ate. Specifically, the scientists drilled into the growth lines of the seals’ canine teeth, then measured the ratio of heavy and light isotopes of carbon, oxygen, and strontium present in each growth layer.

Because of the young bedrock geology of the Kvichak (QUEE-jak) River watershed, which encompasses Iliamna Lake, strontium isotope levels in the ocean are consistently much higher than in the lake. Unlike other elements, strontium signatures in mammal teeth directly reflect what animals assimilate from their environment, in particular, what they eat. Therefore, by looking at the strontium isotope ratios over the course of a seal’s life, the researchers saw that the ratios were consistent with lake signatures — meaning these seals only live in Lake Iliamna, depend principally on fish produced within the lake, and do not migrate to the ocean.

They also determined that young seals eat very little adult sockeye salmon. But later in life, the seals shift to supplement their diets with the seasonally abundant sockeye salmon that return each summer to the lake.

The researchers say this method could be used to better understand the life patterns of other elusive mammals around the world, such as river dolphins in the Amazon or the Mekong Basin. Broadly, marine mammals in coastal regions are among the most endangered animals on Earth, Brennan said.

“In terms of the broader picture of aquatic mammal conservation across the globe, I think we show that strontium isotopes can be really powerful because they collapse a lot of uncertainty. This method is completely underutilized across the world,” Brennan said.

Free Julian Assange rallies, worldwide


Freedom for Assange Group at Taipei, Taiwan May Day march

From Taiwan:

Taipei, May 1, 2019: “Julian Assange has won many supporters in Taiwan”, declared Linda Arrigo, a key human rights activist working to support the free Julian cause at today’s Taiwan’s Labor Day march.

In spite of constant rain more than 5,000 workers blanketed the streets of Taipei in the nation’s annual Labor Day demonstration. The marchers began at Ketagalan Blvd in front of the Presidential Office and marched past the Ministry of Labor, Control Yuan and Legislative Yuan.

Some of the London, England protesters supporting Assange outside the court

London, England protesters oppose US extradition proceedings against Julian Assange: here.

“Today’s protest is a symbol of the fight for freedom”. French Yellow Vests join Assange extradition protest in London: here.

SEP (Sri Lanka) May Day meeting demands freedom for Assange and Manning: here.

“We need to save his life. That’s how serious it is”, Pamela Anderson and WikiLeaks editor-in-chief visit Julian Assange in prison: here.

In a historic assault on the freedom of the press, the US Justice Department announced Thursday that WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange had been indicted on 17 counts under the Espionage Act. Assange is being persecuted by the US government for carrying out journalistic activities protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The indictment alleges that Assange, “having unauthorized possession of, access to, and control over documents relating to the national defense, willfully and unlawfully caused and attempted to cause such materials to be communicated, delivered, and transmitted to persons not entitled to receive them… by publishing them on the Internet.” The new charges supersede a previous indictment against Assange released in April, related to alleged computer hacking and carrying no more than five years in prison. These charges were simply a fig leaf to give Ecuadorian government cover for ejecting Assange from its embassy in London: here.

Denisovans, first hominins of Tibetan Plateau


This 2 May 2019 video is called Tibetan Monk Finds 160,000 Year-Old DENISOVAN Mandible,

From the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany:

First hominins on the Tibetan Plateau were Denisovans

Denisovan mandible likely represents the earliest hominin fossil on the Tibetan Plateau

May 1, 2019

Summary: So far Denisovans were only known from a small collection of fossil fragments from Denisova Cave in Siberia. A research team now describes a 160,000-year-old hominin mandible from Xiahe in China. Using ancient protein analysis the researchers found that the mandible’s owner belonged to a population that was closely related to the Denisovans from Siberia. This population occupied the Tibetan Plateau in the Middle Pleistocene and was adapted to this low-oxygen environment long before Homo sapiens arrived in the region.

Denisovans — an extinct sister group of Neandertals — were discovered in 2010, when a research team led by Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) sequenced the genome of a fossil finger bone found at Denisova Cave in Russia and showed that it belonged to a hominin group that was genetically distinct from Neandertals. “Traces of Denisovan DNA are found in present-day Asian, Australian and Melanesian populations, suggesting that these ancient hominins may have once been widespread,” says Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Department of Human Evolution at the MPI-EVA. “Yet so far the only fossils representing this ancient hominin group were identified at Denisova Cave.”

Mandible from Baishiya Karst Cave

In their new study, the researchers now describe a hominin lower mandible that was found on the Tibetan Plateau in Baishiya Karst Cave in Xiahe, China. The fossil was originally discovered in 1980 by a local monk who donated it to the 6th Gung-Thang Living Buddha who then passed it on to Lanzhou University. Since 2010, researchers Fahu Chen and Dongju Zhang from Lanzhou University have been studying the area of the discovery and the cave site from where the mandible originated. In 2016, they initiated a collaboration with the Department of Human Evolution at the MPI-EVA and have since been jointly analysing the fossil.

While the researchers could not find any traces of DNA preserved in this fossil, they managed to extract proteins from one of the molars, which they then analysed applying ancient protein analysis. “The ancient proteins in the mandible are highly degraded and clearly distinguishable from modern proteins that may contaminate a sample,” says Frido Welker of the MPI-EVA and the University of Copenhagen. “Our protein analysis shows that the Xiahe mandible belonged to a hominin population that was closely related to the Denisovans from Denisova Cave.”

Primitive shape and large molars

The researchers found the mandible to be well-preserved. Its robust primitive shape and the very large molars still attached to it suggest that this mandible once belonged to a Middle Pleistocene hominin sharing anatomical features with Neandertals and specimens from the Denisova Cave. Attached to the mandible was a heavy carbonate crust, and by applying U-series dating to the crust the researchers found that the Xiahe mandible is at least 160,000 years old. Chuan-Chou Shen from the Department of Geosciences at National Taiwan University, who conducted the dating, says: “This minimum age equals that of the oldest specimens from the Denisova Cave.”

“The Xiahe mandible likely represents the earliest hominin fossil on the Tibetan Plateau,” says Fahu Chen, director of the Institute of Tibetan Research, CAS. These people had already adapted to living in this high-altitude low-oxygen environment long before Homo sapiens even arrived in the region. Previous genetic studies found present-day Himalayan populations to carry the EPAS1 allele in their genome, passed on to them by Denisovans, which helps them to adapt to their specific environment.

“Archaic hominins occupied the Tibetan Plateau in the Middle Pleistocene and successfully adapted to high-altitude low-oxygen environments long before the regional arrival of modern Homo sapiens,” says Dongju Zhang. According to Hublin, similarities with other Chinese specimens confirm the presence of Denisovans among the current Asian fossil record. “Our analyses pave the way towards a better understanding of the evolutionary history of Middle Pleistocene hominins in East Asia.”