Pokémon-like card game teaches about biodiversity


This October 2017 video says about itself:

How to play PHYLO: The Ecosystem Trading Card Game

Video by Kristina Balse and Shannon Percival-Smith.

Using the Beaty Biodiversity Museum PHYLO deck, Kristina and Shannon show you how to play the ecosystem game! More details about the game (including lots of free downloadable decks and cards) can also be found at http://phylogame.org/.

From the University of British Columbia in Canada:

Pokémon-like card game can help teach ecology

July 17, 2019

Playing a Pokémon-like card game about ecology and biodiversity can result in broader knowledge of species and a better understanding of ecosystems than traditional teaching methods, like slideshows, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

An open-source project launched in 2010 by UBC biologist David Ng and collaborators, the Phylo Trading Card Game works similarly to Pokémon trading cards, but uses real organisms and natural events instead of imaginary characters. While the Phylo project has proven immensely popular around the world, this is the first study to have tested its efficacy as a teaching and learning tool.

Researchers examined how people who played the game retained information about species and ecosystems, and how it impacted their conservation behavior. They compared the results to people who watched an educational slideshow, and those who played a different game that did not focus on ecosystems.

“Participants who played the Phylo game weren’t just remembering iconic species like the blue whale and sea otter, but things like phytoplankton, zooplankton and mycorrhizal fungi“, said lead author Meggie Callahan, a PhD candidate in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. “They would say things like, ‘I really needed this card because it was the base of my ecosystem,’ or, ‘When my partner destroyed my phytoplankton it killed all of my chain of species.’ Obviously, the game is sending a strong message that is sticking with them.”

Participants in both the Phylo Game group and slideshow group improved their understanding of ecosystems and species knowledge, but those who played the Phylo Game were able to recall a greater number of species. They were also more motivated to donate the money they received to preventing negative environmental events, such as climate change and oil spills. (Study participants were rewarded with a toonie [$2] or a loonie [$1], and were given options to donate the money toward different causes.)

“The message for teachers is that we need to use all possible ways to engage the public and get them interested in and caring about the issues of species extinctions and ecosystem destructions,” said Callahan. “Something as simple as a card game can be adapted to any environment, from classrooms to field-based workshops, in any location. Our study shows that this can be a really beneficial way of learning about species, and their ecosystems and environments.”

Researchers used a deck created for the Beaty Biodiversity Museum that focused on British Columbia’s ecosystems, but there are many other versions of the Phylo cards circulating the world. A global community of artists, institutions, scientists and game enthusiasts have created numerous iterations of the game — including decks featuring west coast marine life, dinosaurs, microbes, and even a Women in Science version created by Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science and Technology.

“We have 20 to 30 decks and more coming every year,” said Ng. “Games have a way of enticing anybody.”

All Phylo decks are open-source and can be downloaded for free from the Phylo website. The Beaty deck, used in the study, is also available at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum gift shop.

Donald Trump’s fascist strategy


This 17 July 2019 video from United States Congresswoman and Democratic party presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard says about itself:

Trump again shows his willingness to sacrifice the interests of our country—the principles of equality and freedom of speech—for his own political gain.

By Eric London in the USA:

17 July 2019

Donald Trump extended his fascist attacks on four freshmen Democratic congresswomen yesterday, tweeting that Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley are “horrible anti-Israel, anti-USA, pro-terrorist.” Denouncing the “Radical Left” and calling the congresswomen “communists”. Trump added, “If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!”

On Sunday, Trump initiated the provocation by tweeting that the four congresswomen—all of whom are US citizens—should “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.” Equating social opposition in general and socialism in particular with support for “terrorism”, he tweeted, “We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country.”

In an editorial board statement yesterday, the New York Times called Trump’s statements a “gambit to distract from his policy fiascoes, his court losses, his political failures.” At a press conference Monday afternoon, the four targeted congresswomen made similar remarks, referring to Trump’s rant as a “distraction”.

This was contradicted by the fact that photographers captured images of written “talking points” Trump used during a Monday press conference. “It’s actually DANGEROUS—because it seems like they hate America,” the prepared notes read. “They want America to be SOCIALIST.”

Extrapolating from these notes, Trump referred to the “love they have for Al Qaeda” … When asked by a reporter whether it concerned him that “white nationalists” are ecstatic over his tweets, Trump replied, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.”

Trump is proceeding according to a deliberate political strategy worked out with the White House’s fascist brain trust, including Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s crackdown on immigrants. He is attacking the four congresswomen with a high level of consistency, repeating political themes common to fascist and far-right political movements.

He equates opposition to his administration and criticism of his personal rule with support for terrorism, paving the way for the criminalization of free speech and critical thought. Trump states that his opponents are “dangerous” and “hate” the nation, suggesting that “complaining” about the policies of the government is treasonous. He presents socialism and communism as foreign ideologies directed against the American people.

These are ideas developed by Nazi theorists such as the jurist Carl Schmitt, who authored the conception of a “state of exception” to justify Nazi totalitarian rule. Lurking behind Trump’s assertion that those who are “not happy” and “want America to be socialist” should “leave” the US is the suggestion that if they fail to do so voluntarily, the government will be justified in rounding them up by force.

The calculated, strategic character of Trump’s statements is underscored by the context in which they are being made. Yesterday, Trump denounced the “far left” for asserting that the administration is detaining immigrants—including children—in unsanitary concentration camps. “They’re not concentration camps, they’re really well run”, he said.

Millions of immigrants—significant portions of the working class in 10 targeted cities—are living in fear of impending raids announced by Trump earlier this month. Last week, he threatened to violate a Supreme Court decision barring him from including a question on citizenship status on the 2020 census. On Monday, the administration imposed a new federal regulation effectively barring Central Americans from seeking asylum in the US—a clear violation of international law.

These actions follow his deployment of thousands of active-duty troops to the US-Mexican border and his declaration of a state of emergency to override Congress and allocate Pentagon funds to build his border wall.

With each of these measures, Trump has used anti-immigrant xenophobia as the tip of the spear to violate basic constitutional norms and establish rule by decree.

Trump and his advisors are attempting to build an extra-constitutional movement linking fascist elements within the state—including tens of thousands of agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—with the minority of voters who support his reactionary policies.

… The Democratic leadership announced yesterday that it opposes calls from within the caucus to formally censure Trump for his remarks, opting instead to chide Trump with a mild, non-binding resolution upholding Ronald Reagan as an icon of American democracy.

The Democratic Party has mounted no serious opposition to Trump’s dictatorial moves, and voted last month to give him an additional $4.6 billion to fund his war on immigrants.

The Trump government is a government of perpetual crisis, hated and despised by a large majority of the population. It fears above all the growth of working class opposition within the US, initially expressed in the wave of teachers’ strikes and other struggles.

That does not make it less dangerous. …

The Socialist Equality Party fights for a class response to the threat of fascism. Billions of people across the world are horrified by recent developments in the United States. There is no mass support in the US for jailing children in cages and rule by executive fiat. …

The chief task is to harness the social power of workers of all races and nationalities in a common, international fight for social equality. …

The president’s fascist vitriol does not originate in the mind of Trump the individual. It is the outlook of a significant section of the capitalist class, which is looking to dictatorship to protect its wealth. The fight against fascism requires a fight against its root source—the capitalist system.

Smallest African monkey fossil discovered in Kenya


This 16 July 2019 video says about itself:

Researchers working in Kenya have found a 4.2 million-year-old fossil of a miniature monkey which only weighed one kilogram.

From the University of Arkansas in the USA:

Fossil of smallest old world monkey species discovered in Kenya

Research team discovered Nanopithecus browni near Kanapoi, Kenya, far from the habitat of other guenons

July 15, 2019

Researchers from the National Museums of Kenya, University of Arkansas, University of Missouri and Duke University have announced the discovery of a tiny monkey that lived in Kenya 4.2 million years ago.

Nanopithecus browni was the same size as a modern talapoin monkey, the smallest living Old World monkey species that weighs only 2 to 3 pounds, about the size of a cottontail rabbit. Talapoins are part of a large group of monkeys called guenons, which are commonplace and widespread across Africa today. Most species are several times larger in size than Nanopithecus browni.

Guenon evolution is poorly understood but thought to be driven by changes in forest habitats, with the distribution of modern species reflecting the breakup and re-convergence of ancient forests. Talapoins live only in West Central Africa, are confined to tropical forests, and are thought to be dwarfed from a larger ancestor in response to life in woody, swampy habitats.

Nanopithecus browni, though, was found in Kenya on the eastern side of the continent, at a site called Kanapoi. The Kanapoi habitat was dry and covered with grasslands and open forests — a very different place from the tropical forests of Cameroon and Gabon in West Central Africa. It is also at Kanapoi where remains of some of the earliest human ancestors, Australopithecus anamensis, have been found and would have lived alongside Nanopithecus browni.

Nanopithecus browni is the second oldest guenon found so far, just younger than the guenon single tooth found 10 years ago on the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient date, combined with a habitat so different and so far away from that of modern talapoins, reveals a much more complex evolution of guenon monkeys than previously thought. This new enigmatic member of the primate family reveals that dwarfing occurred far longer ago than scientists suspected and may have happened more than once, and in very different habitats perhaps for different reasons.

Nanopithecus browni was discovered by the West Turkana Paleo Project, led by Fredrick Kyalo Manthi of the National Museums of Kenya, with project co-leaders Carol Ward of the University of Missouri and Michael Plavcan of the University of Arkansas. The fossils were analyzed in collaboration with Richard Kay of Duke University.

The fossil is housed at the National Museums of Kenya. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Human Evolution.

“The discovery of Nanopithecus browni reaffirms Kenya’s contribution to understanding the evolution and diversity of Pliocene fauna and the environmental contexts in which they lived,” said Manthi. “Environmental changes during the Plio-Pleistocene may have influenced the present-day distribution of guenons.”

Nanopithecus browni is named after the late Francis Brown of the University of Utah for his contribution to understanding the geological history of the Omo-Turkana Basin within which the Kanapoi site is located.

Dutch racists smear excrement on mosque


Veenendaal mosque smeared with excrement and sanitary napkin, photo by Yasin Makineli

Translated from Dutch regional broadcasting organisation RTV Utrecht today:

Nasser Mosque in Veenendaal has been the target of vandalism. Walls and doors were daubed and smeared on Sunday night. Poop and sanitary napkins were used for this.

Similar to what French rascists did earlier to a mosque.

The mosque board says it has informed the police. Camera images have also been provided to the police, who are now investigating.

You can also see pictures of the smeared mosque on Twitter.

“Of course it is terrible that this has happened, but let’s not panic unnecessarily and let the police do their work,” writes the mosque executive on Facebook.

Climate change threatens American Joshua trees


This 2012 video from the USA is called Joshua Tree National Park.

From the University of California – Riverside in the USA:

Joshua trees facing extinction

July 16, 2019

They outlived mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. But without dramatic action to reduce climate change, new research shows Joshua trees won’t survive much past this century.

UC Riverside scientists wanted to verify earlier studies predicting global warming’s deadly effect on the namesake trees that millions flock to see every year in Joshua Tree National Park. They also wanted to learn whether the trees are already in trouble.

Using multiple methods, the study arrived at several possible outcomes. In the best-case scenario, major efforts to reduce heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere would save 19 percent of the tree habitat after the year 2070. In the worst case, with no reduction in carbon emissions, the park would retain a mere 0.02 percent of its Joshua tree habitat.

The team’s findings were published recently in Ecosphere. Project lead Lynn Sweet, a UCR plant ecologist, said she hopes the study inspires people to take protective environmental action. “The fate of these unusual, amazing trees is in all of our hands,” she said. “Their numbers will decline, but how much depends on us.”

To answer their questions about whether climate change is already having an effect, a large group of volunteers helped the team gather data about more than 4,000 trees.

They found that Joshua trees have been migrating to higher elevation parts of the park with cooler weather and more moisture in the ground. In hotter, drier areas, the adult trees aren’t producing as many younger plants, and the ones they do produce aren’t surviving.

Joshua trees as a species have existed since the Pleistocene era, about 2.5 million years ago, and individual trees can live up to 300 years. One of the ways adult trees survive so long is by storing large reserves of water to weather droughts.

Younger trees and seedlings aren’t capable of holding reserves in this way though, and the most recent, 376-week-long drought in California left the ground in some places without enough water to support new young plants. As the climate changes, long periods of drought are likely to occur with more frequency, leading to issues with the trees like those already observed.

An additional finding of this study is that in the cooler, wetter parts of the park the biggest threat other than climate change is fire. Fewer than 10 percent of Joshua trees survive wildfires, which have been exacerbated in recent years by smog from car and industrial exhaust. The smog deposits nitrogen on the ground, which in turn feeds non-native grasses that act as kindling for wildfires.

As a partner on this project, the U.S. Park Service is using this information to mitigate fire risk by removing the invasive plants.

“Fires are just as much a threat to the trees as climate change, and removing grasses is a way park rangers are helping to protect the area today,” Sweet said. “By protecting the trees, they’re protecting a host of other native insects and animals that depend on them as well.”

UCR animal ecologist and paper co-author Cameron Barrows conducted a similar research project in 2012, which also found Joshua tree populations would decline, based on models assuming a temperature rise of three degrees. However, this newer study considered a climate change scenario using twice as many variables, including soil-water estimates, rainfall, soil types, and more. In addition, Barrows said on-the-ground observations were essential to verifying the climate models this newer team had constructed.

Quoting the statistician George Box, Barrows said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Barrows went on to say, “Here, the data we collected outdoors showed us where our models gave us the most informative glimpse into the future of the park.”

For this study, the UC Riverside Center for Conservation Biology partnered with Earthwatch Institute to recruit the volunteer scientists. Barrows and Sweet both recommend joining such organizations as a way to help find solutions to the park’s problems.

“I hope members of the public read this and think, ‘Someone like me could volunteer to help scientists get the kind of data that might lend itself to concrete, protective actions,'” Barrows said.

The more CO2 we emit from burning coal and oil and gas, the more we heat our climate — this sounds simple, and it is. Different analyzes have come up with different estimates of how much CO2 humankind can still emit if we want to hold global warming to the internationally agreed 1.5 and well below 2 degrees Celsius limits, but a lack of clarity of the reasons causing these variations has created unnecessary confusion, a new study shows: here.

Planting trees could buy more time to fight climate change than thought: here.

A total of 55 animal species in the UK have been displaced from their natural ranges or enabled to arrive for the first time on UK shores because of climate change over the last 10 years (2008-2018) — as revealed in a new study: here.