Fieldfare in Sweden eats apple, video


This video shows a fieldfare in Sweden eating an apple.

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Ancient fossil bird discovery in New Zealand


This 18 September 2019 video from New Zealand says about itself:

Fossil of ancient bony-toothed bird found in Canterbury

One of world’s oldest bird species has been found in North Canterbury.

Bony-toothed birds, an ancient family of huge seafaring birds, were thought to have evolved in the Northern Hemisphere – but that theory has been upended by the discovery of the family’s oldest, but smallest member in New Zealand.

At 62 million-years-old, the newly-found Protodontopteryx ruthae is rewriting the history of the seabird family.

And as Eleisha Foon reports, while the discovery was made last year, it’s taken until now for experts to determine exactly what it was.

From the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand:

One of world’s oldest bird species found in Waipara, New Zealand

September 17, 2019

The ancestor of some of the largest flying birds ever has been found in Waipara, North Canterbury. …

It lived in New Zealand soon after the dinosaurs died out.

While its descendants were some of the biggest flying birds ever, with wingspans of more than 5 metres, ‘Protodontopteryx’ was only the size of an average gull. Like other members of its family, the seabird had bony, tooth-like projections on the edge of its beak.

The seabird fossil was identified by the same team that recently announced the discovery of a 1.6 metre-high giant penguin from the same site.

Amateur palaeontologist Leigh Love found the partial ‘Protodontopteryx’ skeleton last year at the Waipara Greensand fossil site. The bird was named ‘Protodontopteryx ruthae’ after Love’s wife Ruth. Love wanted to thank her for tolerating his decades-long passion for palaeontology.

Fellow amateur Alan Mannering prepared the bones, and a team comprising Love, Mannering, Canterbury Museum Curators Dr Paul Scofield and Dr Vanesa De Pietri and Dr Gerald Mayr of Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, described ‘Protodontopteryx’.

Dr Scofield says the age of the fossilised bones suggests pelagornithids evolved in the Southern Hemisphere. “While this bird was relatively small, the impact of its discovery is hugely significant in our understanding of this family. Until we found this skeleton, all the really old pelagornithids had been found in the Northern Hemisphere, so everyone thought they’d evolved up there.”

“New Zealand was a very different place when ‘Protodontoperyx’ were in the skies. It had a tropical climate — the sea temperature was about 25 degrees so we had corals and giant turtles”, he adds.

Dr Mayr says the discovery of ‘Protodontopteryx’ was “truly amazing and unexpected. Not only is the fossil one of the most complete specimens of a pseudotoothed bird, but it also shows a number of unexpected skeletal features that contribute to a better understanding of the evolution of these enigmatic birds.”

Later pelagornithid species evolved to soar over oceans with some species measuring up to 6.4 metres across the wings. ‘Protodontopteryx’s’ skeleton suggests it was less suited for long-distance soaring than later pelagornithids and probably covered much shorter ranges. Its short, broad pseudoteeth were likely designed for catching fish. Later species had needle-like pseudoteeth which were likely used to catch soft-bodied prey like squid.

Dr De Pietri says “because ‘Protodontopteryx’ was less adapted to sustained soaring than other known pelagornithids, we can now say that pseudoteeth evolved before these birds became highly specialised gliders.”

The last pelagornithid species died out around 2.5 million years ago, just before modern humans evolved.

The Waipara Greensand site where the ‘Protodontopteryx’ skeleton was found has yielded several important scientific discoveries in recent years, including ancient penguins and the world’s oldest tropicbird fossil.

Some of these discoveries, including the ‘Protodontopteryx’ fossil, will be displayed in an exhibition about ancient New Zealand at the Museum later this year.

This research was funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund.

All penguin species’ genomes sequenced now


This June 2018 video is called All Penguin Species.

From GigaScience:

March of the multiple penguin genomes

September 17, 2019

Published today in the open-access journal GigaScience is an article that presents the first effort to capture the entirety of the genomic landscape of all living penguin species. The Penguin Genome Consortium — bringing together researchers from China, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, the UK, the US, France and Germany — has produced 19 high-coverage penguin genome sequences that, together with two previously published genomes, encompass all surviving penguin species. This extensive study provides an unparalleled amount of information that covers an entire biological order, which will promote research in a wide variety of areas from evolution to the impact of human activities and environmental changes.

Penguins are a diverse order of species that span the Southern hemisphere, ranging from the Galápagos Islands on the equator, to the oceanic temperate forests of New Zealand, to the rocky coastlines of the sub-Antarctic islands, finally reaching the sea-ice around Antarctica. This iconic bird group have transitioned from flying seabirds to powerful, flightless marine divers. With their specialized skin and feathers and an enhanced thermoregulation system they are able to inhabit environments from the extreme cold Antarctic sea ice to the tropical Galápagos Islands.

These birds also serve as the figurative “canary in a coal mine”; warning of environmental and climate change. Many penguin populations have experienced rapid declines in recent decades, some having extreme population drops, such as the crash of the King penguin population, which has declined by 88% in just 3 decades. And more penguin species are predicted to decline in the near future. The dwindling populations have been linked to climate warming, environmental degradation, exploitation of the marine environment, fisheries bycatch, pollution, and the introduction of exotic predators. Penguins have thus become the focus of many ecosystem monitoring studies. Having high-quality genomes sequences of all extant penguin species serves as an outstanding new resource for understanding the specific reasons for species population loss.

Author Theresa Cole from the University of Otago in New Zealand says of this work: “The population history of different penguin species can be seen in their genome. We will provide new insights into the population history of all penguins over dramatic climate events, to predict population trends under future climate change scenarios. This research will help us understand how future climate change may affect other species, to help us develop conservation strategies.”

As with the work done on Darwin’s finches, studying the radiation of the 20 penguin species provides similar enlightening case study for researching unique penguin morphological and physiological adaptations. The consortium are also sequencing the genomes of recently extinct penguin taxa, as well as undertaking population genomic studies using multiple genomes per species.

Senior author Guojie Zhang from the University of Copenhagen, BGI, and Kunming Institute of Zoology says of this: “The penguin ancestor experienced rapid radiation leading to the current approximate 20 extant species, accompanied by many ancient lineages that are now extinct. The radiation of penguin thus provides an excellent example for the study of speciation.”

There were logistical challenges to get hold of high-quality specimens for all of these species as many come from some of the most inhospitable and far-flung corners of the globe. However, an additional challenge was cultural rather than technical. The process by which this consortium handled these sensitive issues serves as a model for building trust and collaboration with cultures that have equally important links to other native species.

Co-author Bruce McKinlay from the New Zealand Department of Conservation highlights this, saying: “Genome research in New Zealand is currently moving into novel cultural contexts, especially for penguins, which are Taonga or treasured possessions in M?ori culture. As such, our consortium have undertaken rigorous indigenous consultation to sequence the genomes from six New Zealand Taonga species. We believe these genomes will be important for a cultural context.”

The goal of the first stage of the Penguin Genome Consortium project was purely to sequence high-quality genomes, but initial validation studies have demonstrated these genomes are already producing valuable insight into evolutionary history of the penguin tree of life and the evolutionary patterns of their adaptation to Antarctica. For example, an initial phylogenetic tree presented in this study demonstrates that penguins have adapted to Antarctica on multiple occasions.

This and further comparative and evolutionary genomic analyses are currently being carried out, and the penguin genome consortium welcomes new members interested in joining the open consortium and contributing to this work. While this work is still underway early access to the 19 penguin genomes data has been provided, while the researchers ask groups intending to use this data for similar cross-species comparisons to follow the long running Fort Lauderdale and Toronto rules.