How burrowing owls help desert plants


This 2014 video says about itself:

We are on the vast plains of Venezuela. Burrowing owls are fond of lizards, rats and frogs, but they’ll hunt just about anything as long as it’s not too big.

From Science News today:

Burrowing birds create pockets of rich plant life in a desert landscape

Mounds of sand dug out by nest-digging birds are microhabitats where seeds can germinate

In the rain-starved deserts of coastal Peru, tiny patches surprisingly rich in plant life dot the landscape. Burrowing birds may be responsible, scientists say.

Mounds of sand shoveled out by nest-digging burrowing owls and miner birds harbor more seedlings and exclusive plant varieties compared with surrounding undisturbed soils, researchers from the National University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru report in the October Journal of Arid Environments. Although the mounds hold fewer seeds, the structures may provide a sheltered and moist germination environment at the start of the growing season — unlike adjacent crusty soils carpeted with cyanobacteria, lichen, moss and algae.

“The ability of seeds to germinate in the desert is a daunting task,” says Jayne Belnap, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist based in Moab, Utah, who wasn’t involved in the study, “especially if you have a crust.”

That crust inhibits seed growth in two ways. Seeds stranded on top are exposed to the harsh environment, and may not be able to sprout at all. And the crust itself can act as a barrier for water to reach buried seeds, and for seedlings to emerge.

But when burrowing birds break the crust and dig up sand, seeds can mix into the sand, and water may pool between the tossed sand and crust, the researchers say. That allows seeds to become buried and accumulate moisture needed to germinate.

While it’s known that burrowing mammals can break compacted soils and create nutrient-rich hot spots ideal for plant establishment, this study is the first to document similar ecosystem engineering done by dryland birds.

In 2016, Maria Cristina Rengifo-Faiffer, an ecologist now at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, collected soils in the National Reserve of Lachay in Peru. The area lies in a part of the Atacama Desert (SN: 2/27/18) where lomas, or mist oases, exist. It rarely rains there and most plants rely on three months of winter fog to complete their life cycle.

Samples came from 61 mounds dug up by three bird species — burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), coastal miner (Geositta peruviana) and greyish miner (G. maritima) — as well as from adjacent undisturbed areas. She watered the soil and allowed seeds to sprout in a greenhouse, using that as a proxy for how many viable seeds there were in the soils.

The bird mounds, on average, held 1,015 seeds per square meter, while the same-sized soil crust areas housed 2,740 seeds, Rengifo-Faiffer and ecologist Cesar Arana found.

But a catalog of natural germination out in the desert found that the bird-tossed soil was much more fertile than the crust: On average, 213 seedlings sprouted out of the bird mounds compared with 176 that emerged from adjacent crusty soils.

The team also found that five plant species appear exclusively in the bird-disturbed areas, including Amaranthaceae and Malvaceae species. These “microhabitats” created by burrowing birds are important to maintain plant diversity, Rengifo-Faiffer says.

“To me, that’s the coolest part of this study,” Belnap says. “You’re facilitating the presence of other species by having this burrowing happen.”

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CIA, FBI not good alternatives to Trump


This 24 March 2016 video says about itself:

The Dark Prison: The Legacy of the CIA Torture Programme | Fault Lines

“In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.”

It’s been more than a year since US President Barack Obama admitted that the CIA tortured prisoners at its interrogation centres.

While the CIA has long admitted the use of waterboarding, which simulates drowning by pouring water into a person’s nose and mouth, a truncated and heavily redacted report by the Senate Intelligence Committee in December 2015 detailed other abuses that went beyond previous disclosures.

Reading like a script from a horror film, some of the techniques involved prisoners being slapped and punched while being dragged naked up and down corridors, being kept in isolation in total darkness, subject to constant deafening music, rectal rehydration and being locked in coffin-shaped boxes.

Critical to the development of the CIA’s brutal interrogation programme was a legal memo that said the proposed methods of interrogation were not torture if they did not cause “organ failure, death or permanent damage”.

Despite failing to produce any useful information about imminent terrorist attacks, the CIA meted out these and other brutal treatments for years after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

And with dozens of people having since been released without charge, and at least a quarter of them officially declared to have been “wrongfully detained”, the effects of torture live on with the victims, burned into their minds.

In this episode of Fault Lines, we explore the plight of these men struggling to overcome their harrowing experiences of torture since leaving CIA-run black sites.

By Barry Grey in the USA:

“Meet the Press” anchor Chuck Todd grills senator: “You don’t trust the FBI and CIA?”

8 October 2019

An exchange on Sunday between NBC News’ “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd and Senator Ron Johnson (Republican from Wisconsin) sums up the right-wing basis on which the Democratic Party and its media allies are conducting their impeachment drive against President Trump.

In the interview, Johnson refused to condemn Trump for withholding military aid in order to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the role of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in his son Hunter’s business dealings with a Ukrainian oligarch, the central issue in the impeachment inquiry.

The senator, who cosponsored a bipartisan bill to send arms to the right-wing anti-Russian regime, also sought to defend Trump’s demand that Kiev investigate collaboration between the 2016 Clinton election campaign and Ukraine in depicting Trump as a stooge of Russian President Vladimir Putin and charging Moscow with hacking Democratic Party emails.

At the beginning of 2017, in advance of Trump’s inauguration, the CIA and the rest of the US intelligence agencies officially adopted the fabricated narrative of Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election and Trump campaign collusion. This became the basis for a secret FBI counterintelligence investigation into the Trump White House, which then morphed into the nearly two-year investigation by Special Council Robert Mueller. The current impeachment drive is an extension of this CIA-driven campaign.

When Johnson evaded Todd’s questions concerning Trump’s bullying of Ukraine to advance his personal electoral chances, and instead repeatedly raised the Clinton campaign’s collaboration with Ukrainian officials against Trump, Todd exclaimed as though in exasperated disbelief:

“Do you not trust the FBI? You don’t trust the CIA?” …

Nothing could more clearly reveal the role of the Democratic Party and its media allies in fronting for the intelligence agencies than this exchange between the “liberal” news analyst and the right-wing Republican defender of Trump. The Democrats’ alternative to Trump’s efforts to establish a form of presidential dictatorship and create a fascist movement based on anti-immigrant racism and extreme nationalism is to install a government directly run by the CIA and the Pentagon. …

They evidently believe that the public is infinitely gullible and suffering from collective memory loss.

These, after all, are the organizations that justified the war in Iraq on the basis of the Big Lie of “weapons of mass destruction”. They created the fraudulent narrative of the “war on terror” to justify aggressive wars in Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa that killed millions and destroyed entire societies. Meanwhile, in Libya and Syria, they funded and collaborated with Al Qaeda-linked terrorist militias in wars for regime-change.

The CIA has engineered coups and installed military dictatorships and far-right regimes all over the world. It would take many volumes to detail all of the lies and crimes of these pillars of the “deep state” against the people of the United States and the entire world. …

It is crucial that working people not allow their opposition to Trump to be channeled behind the CIA-Democratic impeachment drive. The working class must conduct the struggle against Trump independently of all sections of the ruling class and both capitalist parties. Its methods are those not of palace coup, but class struggle, which must be expanded to embrace all sections of workers and youth both in the US and internationally in the fight against the capitalist system, the source of inequality, war and dictatorship.

Amphibians of Texel island


This 2015 video is about a male moor frog. He is blue during the mating season.

On 8 October 2019, wildlife warden Anne Sprenkeling wrote about amphibians of Texel island in the Netherlands.

Moor frows are rare in the coastal sand dunes of the Netherlands: they live there only on Texel, and on Schouwen in Zeeland province.

Natterjack toads are rather common on Texel.

Until about 1980, edible frogs were absent on Texel. After that, people introduced them, and they now live in most areas of the island.

Also, common frogs and common newts live on Texel.

Right-wing YouTube, left-wing YouTube


This June 2019 video from the USA is called HOW BREADTUBE CAN BEAT THE ALT-RIGHT.

Translated from Dutch ‘liberal’ monthly Vrij Nederland, by Pim van den Berg:

YouTube facilitates extreme right-wing radicalization. This was demonstrated, eg, in a study earlier this year by de Volkskrant daily and De Correspondent that charts radicalization on the social video platform. The radicalization of the right appears to be much more extensive than on the left and with a few mouse clicks you can end up from a ‘neutral’ front page to the places of YouTube where climate denialists, homophobes and transphobes, racists, anti-Semites and haters of women make their daily living by publishing countless hours of footage.

Out of frustration with the continued popularity of the extreme right on YouTube, more and more left-wing video makers are now taking matters into their own hands. They turn directly to popular, right-wing YouTubers to combat the radicalization of their (young) viewers and to put alternative ideas against it. They are trying to capture YouTube back from the right-wing radicals who got it.

An interesting article, though I have some criticism.

The article suggests that the far right is more popular than the left on YouTube. It does not mention one of the reasons why this might be so: YouTube, like its parent corporation Google and other internet corporations, censors anti-fascist content. While the Dutch Nederlandse Volks-Unie Adolf Hitler admirers, German neo-nazis, etc. are not removed.

Still, there is more left-wing content on YouTube than this article mentions. The article basically limits itself to the Anglo-Saxon part of YouTube. While in Germany, videos against the climate denialism of the extreme right AFD party, and the climate laziness of the ‘centre-right’ CDU-CSU and the ‘centre-left’ SPD in their coalition government, attracted over four million, respectively over sixteen million, views. The videos called on YouTube watchers not to vote for these three parties.

These left-wing YouTubers have been named “BreadTube”, a socialist word joke that refers to the 1892 book The Conquest of Bread by the Russian anarcho-communist writer Peter Kropotkin. In the book, “conquering bread” is a metaphor for claiming what is necessary for a worthy and secure existence.

Many of the first fans of left YouTubers were anarchists. Which one of them was the first to use the term “BreadTube” is unclear, but it is no longer anarchist. BreadTube is not an official collective, nor is there an organization behind it: it is above all a useful term to label the popular movement.

The Alt-Right Playbook

Ian Danskin is part of it. On his channel Innuendo Studios, he makes videos about politics, philosophy and pop culture, especially games, for his 200,000 subscribers. Last year he started a video series entitled “The Alt-Right Playbook”, in which he gradually explains the beliefs, strategies and rhetorical pitfalls of the political right, portrayed by endearing, simple cartoon figures on a grey background.

This video is called “Death of A Euphemism”.

In “Death of A Euphemism”, for example, he explains how Trump’s racist views and policies are not necessarily new, it was previously just not acceptable to openly propagate them. The fact that Trump can speak so openly about “rapists and murderers” from “shithole countries” indicates that those statements have found sufficient support in American society.

“I do not have concrete goals like “de-radicalize fascists” or “turn people to the left”, but I hope a little that they do,” says Danskin via email. “With “The Alt-Right Playbook” I mainly try to understand complex political problems and to share what I gradually learn. Hopefully, I have some solutions at the end, and my audience will then use them.” …

This video is called The Alt-Right Playbook: The Card Says Moops.

Theatrical jacket

BreadTubers are aware of the dusty, pedantic image of the left. Some video makers therefore put the theory in a theatrical look. In her video “The Left”, ContraPoints – real name Natalie Wynn – performs as two speakers, each played by Wynn herself. The first one is a fascist, certain of his cause, propagating the threat of a crippled and destroyed white man’s world crystal clearly and passionately. Then she plays a left-wing activist, an uncomfortable figure dressed as a human-cat, including ears, who protrudes through the squeaking feedback from the microphone about the metaphysical views of Hegel.

Wynn films long monologues on topics such as Jordan Peterson and incels – young men who have not had sex yet and gather on forums and social media to blame women for everything that bothers them. Topics that concern young, right-wing people. But in the first place she is compassionate and understanding of the reasons that her potential (radical) right-wing viewers have for their hateful views. Bathed in pastel light, dressed in baroque costumes and armed with humour, she takes the sharp edges off her subjects and brightens up the philosophical theory with which she substantiates her arguments. …

The British YouTuber Oliver Thorn has made it his trademark under the name “Philosophy Tube”. With his theater background, he goes further in the decoration than Wynn and Danskin: in “Abortion & Ben Shapiro” he changes his elegant British accent to play a parody of American right-wing influencer Ben Shapiro. …

In his video “Climate Denial: A Measured Response”, Harris Brewis (“Hbomberguy”) responds to Shapiro’s statement that if the sea level will rises meters in the coming century, then people can safely sell their houses and move, nothing to worry about.

After a short zoom on Shapiro’s self-satisfied face, the image shifts to the floral wallpaper of Brewis’s empty studio. Suddenly a hatchet blasts through the back wall. Moaning and roaring, Brewis chops a hole with multiple blows, through which he sticks his head through as Jack Nicholson in The Shining. He shouts straight into the camera: “One small problem: SELL THEIR HOUSES TO WHOM, BEN? FUCKING AQUAMAN?!”

The humour, theoretical foundation and beautiful decoration convince and work contagiously, but it takes more time and effort to make than the videos of many right-wing YouTubers, who often talk randomly to the camera about the conspiracies of imaginary enemies of the so-called superior, white, western society. …

A YouTuber like Danskin only releases a video once a month. It is the flip side of care and nuance, and one of the reasons that the radical right thrives on YouTube. The more videos you can release, the more advertising revenue you can get and the less you depend on crowdfunding and sponsors.

Left YouTube is marginal in the Netherlands. Cherry Baguette, with her analyzing of the views of Baudet and Wilders, or Oscar and the Anticapitalista Podcast, which recently published a refutation of a video by [right-winger] Jensen, attracts a few hundred views at most.

In the case of Oscar and the Anticapitalista Podcast, I cannot check whether Vrij Nederland is right about a ‘few hundred views’. As it has been removed from YouTube. YouTube censorship? Self-censorship?

But even though BreadTube is structurally at a disadvantage, it seems to be growing faster than YouTube on the right.

Bernhard Rieder conducts research into the history and politics of algorithms and software, including at the University of Amsterdam and at the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI). The aforementioned research by De Correspondent and the Volkskrant was conducted with the data tools that he developed with the DMI. …

Due to the higher quality of their videos and stronger arguments, they also remain relevant for longer. “Yes, Ben Shapiro publishes many more videos, but if you compare the total number of views on his channel with that of ContraPoints, you see that she is not far behind. And her videos are also a lot longer, so viewers spend a lot longer with those videos. ”

“I don’t know how much is right about the numbers,” says Danskin. “But if they are correct, that confirms the suspicion that I have been around for a while: BreadTube is growing while conservative YouTube has reached its ceiling.”

Last woolly mammoths, 4,000 years ago


This August 2014 video from London, England says about itself:

The last of the mammoths | Natural History Museum

Why did the woolly mammoth go extinct? Museum mammoths expert Professor Adrian Lister discusses what his research reveals about the cause. Find out more about Museum research into the last major extinction of large mammals.

From the University of Helsinki in Finland:

The last mammoths died on a remote island

October 7, 2019

The last woolly mammoths lived on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean; they died out 4,000 years ago within a very short time. An international research team from the Universities of Helsinki and Tübingen and the Russian Academy of Sciences has now reconstructed the scenario that could have led to the mammoths‘ extinction. The researchers believe a combination of isolated habitat and extreme weather events, and even the spread of prehistoric man may have sealed the ancient giants’ fate. The study has been published in the latest edition of Quaternary Science Reviews.

During the last ice age — some 100,000 to 15,000 years ago — mammoths were widespread in the northern hemisphere from Spain to Alaska. Due to the global warming that began 15,000 years ago, their habitat in Northern Siberia and Alaska shrank. On Wrangel Island, some mammoths were cut off from the mainland by rising sea levels; that population survived another 7000 years.

The team of researchers from Finland, Germany and Russia examined the isotope compositions of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and strontium from a large set of mammoth bones and teeth from Northern Siberia, Alaska, the Yukon, and Wrangel Island, ranging from 40,000 to 4,000 years in age. The aim was to document possible changes in the diet of the mammoths and their habitat and find evidence of a disturbance in their environment. The results showed that Wrangel Island mammoths’ collagen carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions did not shift as the climate warmed up some 10,000 years ago. The values remained unchanged until the mammoths disappeared, seemingly from the midst of stable, favorable living conditions.

This result contrasts with the findings on woolly mammoths from the Ukrainian-Russian plains, which died out 15,000 years ago, and on the mammoths of St. Paul Island in Alaska, who disappeared 5,600 years ago. In both cases, the last representatives of these populations showed significant changes in their isotopic composition, indicating changes in their environment shortly before they became locally extinct.

Earlier aDNA studies indicate that the Wrangel Island mammoths suffered mutations affecting their fat metabolism. In this study, the team found an intriguing difference between the Wrangel Island mammoths and their ice age Siberian predecessors: the carbonate carbon isotope values indicated a difference in the fats and carbohydrates in the populations’ diets. “We think this reflects the tendency of Siberian mammoths to rely on their reserves of fat to survive through the extremely harsh ice age winters, while Wrangel mammoths, living in milder conditions, simply didn’t need to,” says Dr. Laura Arppe from the Finnish Museum of Natural History Luomus, University of Helsinki, who led the team of researchers. The bones also contained levels of sulfur and strontium that suggested the weathering of bedrock intensified toward the end of the mammoth population’s existence. This may have affected the quality of the mammoths’ drinking water.

Why then did the last woolly mammoths disappear so suddenly? The researchers suspect that they died out due to short-term events. Extreme weather such as a rain-on-snow, i.e. an icing event could have covered the ground in a thick layer of ice, preventing the animals from finding enough food. That could have led to a dramatic population decline and eventually to extinction. “It’s easy to imagine that the population, perhaps already weakened by genetic deterioration and drinking water quality issues could have succumbed after something like an extreme weather event,” says professor Hervé Bocherens from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen, a co-author of the study.

Another possible factor could have been the spread of humans. The earliest archaeological evidence of humans on Wrangel Island dates to just a few hundred years after the most recent mammoth bone. The chance of finding evidence that humans hunted Wrangel Island mammoths is very small. Yet a human contribution to the extinction cannot be ruled out.

The study shows how isolated small populations of large mammals are particularly at risk of extinction due to extreme environmental influences and human behavior. An important takeaway from this is that we can help preserve species by protecting the populations that are not isolated from one another.

Stick insect evolution, birds and mammals


This 8 October 2019 video says about itself:

These Giant Leaf Insects Will Sway Your Heart | Deep Look

Giant Malaysian leaf insects stay still – very still – on their host plants to avoid hungry predators. But as they grow up, they can’t get lazy with their camouflage. They change – and even dance – to blend in with the ever-shifting foliage.

From the University of Göttingen in Germany:

Was early stick insect evolution triggered by birds and mammals?

October 7, 2019

Stick and leaf insects are a diverse and strikingly bizarre group of insects with a worldwide distribution, which are more common in tropical and subtropical areas. They are famous for their impressively large body size, compared to other insects, and their remarkable ability to camouflage themselves as twigs, leaves or bark in order to hide from potential predators. A team of international researchers led by the University of Göttingen has now generated the first phylogenomic tree of these insects. The results have been published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

“Previously the relationships between stick insects were inferred based on just a handful of genes. This is the first study in which more than 2,000 genes were analysed for each species,” explains Dr Sven Bradler from the University of Göttingen and senior author of the study. 38 species of stick and leaf insects from all over the world were investigated by the researchers of the 1KITE project (1,000 Insect Transcriptome Evolution). “Previous studies were unable to explain the early evolution of these insects. This has now changed with the new and much more extensive dataset that can even reconstruct the origin of the oldest lineages,” adds Dr Sabrina Simon, first author of this study from the University Wageningen.

The most surprising finding is that the relationships between the early emerging groups of stick and leaf insects largely disprove the earlier assumptions. In fact, the genealogy reflects more the geographic distribution than the anatomical similarity of the animals. The authors revealed a New World lineage of purely North and South American species and a group of Old World origin that comprises species from Africa to New Zealand.

The biogeographic history was reconstructed by Sarah Bank, PhD student at the University of Göttingen and coauthor of the study, which resulted in further unexpected results: “The flamboyant stick insects of Madagascar, for instance, descended from a single ancestral species who colonised the island approximately 45 million years ago.”

The age estimation of the phylogenetic tree suggests that most of the old lineages emerged after the dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago. Thus, the remarkable camouflage of stick and leaf insects most probably evolved afterwards as adaptation against predatory mammals and birds.

“Stick insects become more and more important as model organisms for evolutionary research. The new comprehensive molecular dataset won’t be exhaustively analysed for quite some time and will provide exciting insights into the function of the numerous detected genes,” explains Bradler with regard to future studies.