Trump diverts veterans’ money to border wall


This 1 June 2016 video from the USA says about itself:

Vet rips Donald Trump: ‘He’s only interested in himself

Army veteran Perry O’Brien says Donald Trump has been using veterans groups as “political props” and says the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s comments will make the U.S. less safe.

From Vote Vets in the USA today:

As if plunging the U.S. into a national security crisis at home and abroad wasn’t enough, this week Trump announced his plan to divert an additional seven billion dollars in Pentagon funds toward his racist and ineffective wall.

Time and again Trump made campaign promises about “Mexico paying for the wall” but all he’s done since taking office is force military families to foot the bill.

His monument to racism has come at the cost of military families and veterans every single time. …

The Team at VoteVets

So, not only Puerto Rican survivors of the Hurricane Maria disaster get money diverted by Trump for building his border wall.

SEGMENT OF BORDER WALL BLOWS OVER A segment of Trump’s signature border wall fell over in California and onto some trees on the Mexican side amid high winds. No one was injured in the incident at Calexico, California, about 100 miles east of San Diego. [HuffPost]

Rare fungi discovery in Dutch Drenthe


Peziza subviolacea, photo by Ronald Morsink

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

New mushroom species have been discovered in the Drents-Friese Wold National Park. The nature reserve had to deal with a major fire in 2018, during which 75 hectares were destroyed. That fire also yielded new nature.

For a year and a half, research was carried out on heathland mushrooms in the Dolsummerveld area . …

The research yielded various rare species, such as Peziza subviolacea, Pyronema omphalodes and Pholiota highlandensis. A new species was also discovered, which was also found two weeks earlier in Enschede. It is Myrmaecium rubricosum. …

Quick recovery

The Dolsummerveld recovers surprisingly quickly from the fire, according to the Drenthe conservation organisation. “It is barely visible where the fire has raged. The hope is that the heather will return to the area,” the foundation writes. It will take a few more years for the snake and butterfly population to be back up, writes RTV Drenthe. Many animals died during the fire, such as grass snakes, adders and slow worms.

Mali people demonstrate against French Mali war


This 15 January 2020 video from Kenya says about itself:

WOW!! Malians TELL French Army to LEAVE! #WakeUpAfrica

As Macron was summoning 5 African presidents to France, Malians held HUGE demonstrations demanding a withdrawal of French troops from the country!

Naturalis museum video


This 15 January 2020 video from Leiden in the Netherlands says about itself:

We are Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Through our impressive collection, knowledge and data, we record all life on Earth. This is important, as our future depends on biodiversity. Everything in nature is connected, and balance is vitally important for its continued existence. Naturalis has a passion for nature. We research nature in order to preserve biodiversity. This is how we contribute to solutions for major, global issues involving climate, living environment, food supply and medicine.

Trump preaches violence against Iran, US opponents


This 14 March 2016 video from the USA says about itself:

All the Times Trump Has Called for Violence at His Rallies

After he canceled a rally at a Chicago university Friday night due to safety concerns, Donald Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon “I certainly don’t incite violence.”

Trump, however, has a history of calling for violent acts against those who protest at his events that goes back until at least August of last year.

By Barry Grey in the USA:

Trump exploits Iran war crisis to incite violence against political opponents

15 January 2020

On Monday, Trump retweeted a photoshopped image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a hijab and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer in a turban, superimposed on an Iranian flag with the caption “the corrupted Dems trying their best to come to the Ayatollah’s rescue.”

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham gave a prepared statement in an appearance on Fox News in which she doubled down on the provocation. “I think the president is making clear that the Democrats have been parroting Iranian talking points and almost taking the side of terrorists and those who were out to kill the Americans,” she said. “I think the president was making the point that the Democrats seem to hate him so much that they’re willing to be on the side of countries and leadership of countries who want to kill Americans.”

Given the fact that Trump had just ordered the murder of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, considered the second-highest-ranking official in Iran, the tweet and the subsequent statement were nothing less than an incitement of violence against his political opponents.

Trump’s latest provocations come amidst bitter factional conflicts within the state apparatus, with the House of Representatives expected to vote today to formally send articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate for trial. Alongside the divisions within the ruling class, there are growing class tensions and broad-based hostility to inequality and war. Under these conditions, Trump is engaged in a campaign to criminalize domestic opposition to war and attack the nominal opposition party as “radical left” and “socialist”.

In a fascistic speech last Thursday in Toledo, Ohio, Trump mocked the constitutional requirement that the president obtain congressional authorization for military intervention. He told his supporters that he could not give Congress advance notice of the attack on Suleimani because the Democrats would have leaked the information to the “fake news” media in order to thwart the strike and protect the Iranian leader.

This branding of the Democrats as traitors goes hand in hand with Trump’s illegal invocation of a national emergency to build his border wall with Mexico, his deployment of troops to assist in the incarceration of immigrants in concentration camps, his talk of “civil war” in response to the impeachment inquiry, his repeated “jokes” about remaining in office past the constitutional two-term limit, and his efforts to build a far-right base among police, soldiers and immigration agents.

The character of the Democrats’ opposition, however, only enables Trump. Their response to his increasingly authoritarian and fascistic pronouncements is characterized by fecklessness and complicity.

Not a single prominent Democrat … has denounced the murder of Suleimani as a war crime and breach of US and international law, nor have the Democrats suggested making this crime or his other multiple attacks on democratic rights grounds for impeachment. …

The impeachment crisis itself is the product of a bitter conflict within the ruling class over foreign policy, in which the Democrats are aligned with disaffected sections of the military, intelligence and foreign policy establishment, which consider Trump to be insufficiently aggressive in confronting Russia.

Making clear their orientation, the central demand of Democrats in relation to the upcoming Senate trial is that Republicans allow Trump’s fired national security adviser, John Bolton, to testify. Bolton, a notorious warmonger who has long advocated war against Iran and North Korea, opposed Trump’s withholding of military aid from Ukraine as a concession to Russia.

The Democrats have centered their own denunciations of Trump on neo-McCarthyite allegations that Trump himself is an agent of Putin, a campaign that has been utilized to suppress free speech, censor the internet and persecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning for exposing US war crimes. On Sunday, Pelosi repeated this absurd allegation, declaring that “all roads lead to Putin”, and suggesting that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is an “accomplice”. Each of America’s major bourgeois parties is accusing the other of “treason”.

The working class must take Trump’s threats as a warning. As the Political Committee of the Socialist Equality Party (US) stated last October:

American democracy has come to a historic crossroads. As it seeks to maintain power, the Trump presidency will assume an increasingly illegal, authoritarian and violent character. The removal of this administration from power is a political necessity. But by whom and through what methods this objective is achieved is a life-and-death question… So long as the conflict is confined to the divisions within the ruling class, there can be no democratic or progressive outcome. (“No to American fascism! Build a mass movement to force Trump out!”)

Both the drive to war against Iran—and beyond Iran, Russia and China—and the moves toward dictatorship arise from the historic crisis and decay of American capitalism. Nearly three decades of continuous war in the Middle East, waged in an attempt to counter American capitalism’s economic decline, have produced one disaster after another, intensifying Washington’s geopolitical crises.

Ever more staggering levels of social inequality at home, and a parasitic economy totally dependent on unlimited supplies of money-printing by the central bank, are fueling a growth of class struggle and anti-capitalist sentiment. The ruling oligarchy personified by Trump, haunted by the specter of socialist revolution, turns to war and dictatorship to defend its power and property.

It is the growing social and political struggle of the working class, in the US and internationally, that provides the basis for defeating the drive to war and defending democratic rights. The critical question is to provide this rising movement with a conscious revolutionary and internationalist program and strategy to take power and put an end to capitalism, the source of war and dictatorship.

Britain: Conservative activist sentenced to jail for threatening Labour’s Yvette Cooper had ‘his heart in the right place,’ Tory MP says: here.

Not even water bears survive global warming


This December 2018 video says about itself:

Tardigrades are the most resilient animals in the universe, and there’s probably one within a stone’s throw from you right now.

From the Faculty of Science – University of Copenhagen in Denmark:

High temperatures due to global warming will be dramatic even for tardigrades

January 13, 2020

Summary: A research group has just shown that tardigrades are very vulnerable to long-term high temperature exposures. The tiny animals, in their desiccated state, are best known for their extraordinary tolerance to extreme environments.

Global warming, a major aspect of climate change, is already causing a wide range of negative impacts on many habitats of our planet. It is thus of the utmost importance to understand how rising temperatures may affect animal health and welfare.

A research group from Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen has just shown that tardigrades are very vulnerable to long-term high temperature exposures. The tiny animals, in their desiccated state, are best known for their extraordinary tolerance to extreme environments.

In a study published recently in Scientific Reports, Ricardo Neves and Nadja Møbjerg and colleagues at Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen present results on the tolerance to high temperatures of a tardigrade species.

Tardigrades, commonly known as water bears or moss piglets, are microscopic invertebrates distributed worldwide in marine, freshwater and terrestrial microhabitats.

Ricardo Neves, Nadja Møbjerg and colleagues investigated the tolerance to high temperatures of Ramazzottius varieornatus, a tardigrade frequently found in transient freshwater habitats.

“The specimens used in this study were obtained from roof gutters of a house located in Nivå, Denmark. We evaluated the effect of exposures to high temperature in active and desiccated tardigrades, and we also investigated the effect of a brief acclimation period on active animals,” explains postdoc Ricardo Neves.

Rather surprisingly the researchers estimated that for non-acclimated active tardigrades the median lethal temperature is 37.1°C, though a short acclimation periods leads to a small but significant increase of the median lethal temperature to 37.6°C. Interestingly, this temperature is not far from the currently measured maximum temperature in Denmark, i.e. 36.4°C. As for the desiccated specimens, the authors observed that the estimated 50% mortality temperature is 82.7°C following 1 hour exposures, though a significant decrease to 63.1°C following 24 hour exposures was registered.

The research group used logistic models to estimate the median lethal temperature (at which 50% mortality is achieved) both for active and desiccated tardigrades.

Approximately 1300 tardigrade species have been described so far. The body of these minute animals is barrel-shaped (or dorsoventrally compressed) and divided into a head and a trunk with four pairs of legs. Their body length varies between 50 micrometers and 1.2 millimeters. Apart from their impressive ability to tolerate extreme environments, tardigrades are also very interesting because of their close evolutionary relationship with arthropods (e.g., insects, crustaceans, spiders).

As aquatic animals, tardigrades need to be surrounded in a film of water to be in their active state (i.e., feeding and reproducing). However, these critters are able to endure periods of desiccation (anhydrobiosis) by entering cryptobiosis, i.e., a reversible ametabolic state common especially among limno-terrestrial species. Succinctly, tardigrades enter the so-called “tun” state by contracting their anterior-posterior body axis, retracting their legs and rearranging the internal organs. This provides them with the capacity to tolerate severe environmental conditions including oxygen depletion (anoxybiosis), high toxicant concentrations (chemobiosis), high solute concentration (osmobiosis) and extremely low temperatures (cryobiosis).

The extraordinary tolerance of tardigrades to extreme environments includes also high temperature endurance. Some tardigrade species were reported to tolerate temperatures as high as 151°C. However, the exposure time was only of 30 minutes. Other studies on thermotolerance of desiccated (anhydrobiotic) tardigrades revealed that exposures higher than 80°C for 1 hour resulted in high mortality, with almost all specimens dying at temperatures above 103°C. It remained, yet, unknown how anhydrobiotic tardigrades handle exposures to high temperatures for long periods, i.e., exceeding 1 hour.

“From this study, we can conclude that active tardigrades are vulnerable to high temperatures, though it seems that these critters would be able to acclimatize to increasing temperatures in their natural habitat. Desiccated tardigrades are much more resilient and can endure temperatures much higher than those endured by active tardigrades. However, exposure-time is clearly a limiting factor that constrains their tolerance to high temperatures,” says Ricardo Neves.

Indeed, although tardigrades are able to tolerate a diverse set of severe environmental conditions, their endurance to high temperatures is noticeably limited and this might actually be the Achilles heel of these otherwise super-resistant animals.

Repression, not aid after Puerto Rican earthquake


This 12 January 2020 video says about itself:

Two years after the devastations of Hurricane Maria, many in Puerto Rico are struggling to get back on their feet. Now, after being hit with another earthquake, thousands are in shelters, fearful for the future. CGTN’s Nitza Soledad Perez reports.

By Andrea Lobo:

As refugees from earthquakes increase, Puerto Rican authorities prioritize repressive measures

15 January 2020

After two weeks of tremors in Puerto Rico, peaking on January 7 with a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings and left at least one dead, heavy seismic activity and warnings continue. With thousands losing or fleeing their homes, afraid that they will collapse, the response by local authorities and US government has been marked by callous austerity and fears of social unrest.

The island’s Secretary of State, Elmer Román, announced Tuesday that there are 8,023 refugees in “official” camps administrated by the government or NGOs, while “many” more are sleeping in smaller camps and on sidewalks.

The authorities said they will stop providing shelter locally, while the aftershocks continue to cause structural damage, and federal authorities estimate a 17 percent chance of an earthquake of 6.4 magnitude or greater in the next 30 days. Even though experts have warned against mass relocations due to costs for refugees, pushing them to take risks, and a slower recovery process, Román announced that the government will not provide aid unless people travel to five “base camps” set up only until this week by the National Guard.

Puerto Ricans on the island and supporters in the continental US have taken their own initiative to provide staple goods and other aid, with hundreds of volunteers driving to the most affected towns.

The administration of acting governor Wanda Vázquez, who was installed last August after mass demonstrations involving up to 1 million people forced the resignation of two governors, has prioritized the preparedness for another social upheaval over preparedness for another natural disaster.

Beyond the deployment of the local 8,500 National Guard troops, all local police have been called back to duty from vacations and Washington will send 300 security officials from special task forces. Vázquez signed an executive decree so that the latter are immediately sworn in as “agents of peace”, with special enforcement powers. The local legislature introduced a bill this week to request the deployment of Special Forces from the US military.

Another bill requests “financial institutions and telecommunication companies to create deferred systems of payments, without interest, to those affected,” and a third orders a publicity campaign on legal issues for those who lost their homes “without limiting that insurance companies, financial institutions, banks and law firms in Puerto Rico organize their legal departments and personnel and reach out to camps themselves.”

After a power outage across the entire island on January 7, power had been restored to most of the island by Tuesday, but 11,000 people were still without electricity in the Arecibo region and 15,000 without running water. Major repairs were still being carried out to the two main power plants of the island.

Last week, the Trump administration approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, but doubts have been raised that even the meager $5 million made available through the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) will be delivered after the scandalous response of the Trump administration to Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The estimated costs for rebuilding the island after Hurricane Maria surpassed $100 billion, but the White House has only released $1.5 billion of the $8 billion approved in federal aid. A Housing and Urban Development official told the Washington Post last week that Puerto Rico has only spent $5.8 million, citing “strong financial controls” by the federal government.

Puerto Rican National Guard Major General José Juan Reyes declared this week that their relief operations have been affected by the fact that out of the $550 million approved for the Puerto Rican National Guard in response to Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration reassigned $420 million to build the border wall with Mexico.

With trillions assigned for war by overwhelming bipartisan majorities since Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration is preparing a devastating war against Iran as it starves the US territory of funds.

The corporate press has stressed the surprise factor of the earthquakes, claiming that “generations have not felt such an earthquake.” However, the alarm was raised by experts repeatedly, but was dismissed. The extent of the destruction and suffering this week is the result of official negligence by a government that places the profit interests of Wall Street above social needs.

A 6.0 earthquake on September 23 last year—50 miles off the coast compared to less than 10 miles during the recent tremors—raised alarms across the island, just like the 6.4 earthquake in January 2014, located 17 miles north of the coastline.

Shortly after the September 2019 earthquake, Christa Von Hillebrandt-Andrade, the former head of the island’s seismic network, warned: “The island of Puerto Rico is surrounded by faults that could generate very strong earthquakes, and other faults cross it that could lead to major earthquakes and a significant impact. One can expect an earthquake above magnitude 8… Puerto Rico has to be ready for an earthquake and tsunami, 100 percent 24/7.”

This week, Von Hillebrandt told AP, “For decades, scientists and people like me have been informing and alerting communities and the government of Puerto Rico of the physical threat,” denouncing that “not much action was taken.”

Moreover, while the immediate structural integrity of the schools is being assessed, officials are entirely silent about making the necessary renovations or reconstructions to guarantee the safety of students.

The president of the Puerto Rican Association of Engineers, Juan Alicea, said last October in response to a new study that found that 1,000 of the 1,200 schools in the country have not been subject to any of the necessary renovations to abide by 1987 anti-seismic building codes, “The worst thing is that we know what to do and how to do it, but it must be carried out.” This week, Alicea told AP that 200,000 homes are not built to code: “If we don’t take action, this is going to cost us a lot of money and a lot of lives.”

PUERTO RICO’S EMERGENCY SERVICES DIRECTOR FIRED People in a southern Puerto Rico city discovered a warehouse filled with bottled water, cots and other unused emergency supplies, then set off a social media uproar when they broke in to retrieve goods as the area struggles to recover from a strong earthquake. [AP]

Trump administration to illegally divert an additional $7.2 billion to border wall construction: here.

Anger mounts in Puerto Rico as workers discover warehouse full of unused aid: here.

Fifteen new South American wasp species discovered


This 2009 video says about itself:

A parasitic wasp has injected her eggs into a caterpillar — and now they’re ready to hatch.

From the University of Turku in Finland:

New parasitoid wasp species discovered in the Amazon — can manipulate host’s behavior

January 14, 2020

A research group from the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku studies the diversity of parasitoid insects around the world. Parasitoid wasps (Hymenoptera) are one of the most species-rich animal taxa on Earth, but their tropical diversity is still poorly known. In the latest study, the group discovered 15 new, sizeable species that parasitise spiders in the lowland rainforests of the Amazon and the cloud forests of the Andes.

The researchers from the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku have studied the diversity of tropical parasitoid insects for almost 20 years already. During their research, they have discovered large numbers of new species from different parts of the world. In the newest study, the research group sampled parasitoid wasps of the genus Acrotaphus, which parasitise spiders. The diversity of the insects was studied in e.g. the tropical Andes and the lowland rainforest areas of the Amazon. The research was conducted in cooperation with the Brazilian INPA (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia) research unit.

Acrotaphus wasps are fascinating because they are very sizeable parasitoids. The largest species can grow multiple centimetres in length and are also very colourful. Previously, only 11 species of the genus were known, so this new research gives significant new information on the diversity of insects in rain forests, tells postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the new study Diego Pádua, who has worked both for the INPA and the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku.

The parasitoid Acrotaphus wasps parasitise on spiders. A female Acrotaphus attacks a spider in its web and temporarily paralyses it with a venomous sting. After this, the wasp lays a single egg on the spider, and a larva hatches from the egg. The larva gradually consumes the spider and eventually pupates.

The Acrotaphus wasps we studied are very interesting as they are able to manipulate the behaviour of the host spider in a complex way. During the time period preceding the host spider’s death, it does not spin a normal web for catching prey. Instead, the parasitoid wasp manipulates it into spinning a special web which protects the developing pupa from predators. Host manipulation is a rare phenomenon in nature, which makes these parasitoid wasps very exciting in terms of their evolution, tells Ilari E. Sääksjärvi, Professor of Biodiversity research from the University of Turku.

The University of Turku and INPA continue to study the diversity of the parasitoid wasps in collaboration in the west Amazon area and in the Andes. On each research trip, the researchers discover many new species with unknown habits.

Police brutality in France


This 12 January 2020 French video from daily Le Parisien says about itself (translated):

They received a tear gas canister in their apartment

Emma and her friends filmed a demonstration on Saturday afternoon in Lyon from their apartment on the fourth floor of a building when they received a tear gas canister. The young woman tells about the scene.

This 9 January 2020 French video is called (translated) A riot policeman deliberately trips a woman in Toulouse.

Orchid bees’ smell, new research


This 2013 video from the USA says about itself:

Euglossa viridissima. Neotropical orchid bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Euglossini) – part 1

During the summer of 2003, several male Euglossa viridissima Friese 1899 were trapped around Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by USDA employees in the fruit fly monitoring program and sent to the Florida State Collection of Arthropods for identification. To date, more than 50 males and several females have been reported. Neither the exact location of the introduction nor the current distribution in Florida is known. However, observations point to an accidental introduction around Butterfly World, Coconut Creek, Broward County–likely as a nest inside a wooden object (shipping pallet, bamboo furniture etc.)–followed by a southward spread to Dade County in 2004.

This video is the sequel.

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

A single gene for scent reception separates two species of orchid bees

January 13, 2020

Summary: Orchid bees are master perfumers. Males collect chemicals to concoct perfumes unique to their specific species. Researchers link the evolution of sexual signaling in orchid bees to a single gene shaped by species’ perfume preferences.

A male orchid bee zips around the rainforest, a flash of iridescent green against an equally emerald background. The bee stops at various flowers, fungi and dead trees, collecting fragrant particles and storing them in pockets in its hind legs. Then, it perches on a tree trunk. But the bee doesn’t rest. Instead, it flitters about, using its wings to disperse a bouquet of perfumes into the air.

The aromatic efforts are all for the sake of attracting a mate.

“We know that many animals produce pheromones and they usually produce them through some metabolic pathway,” said Associate Professor Santiago Ramirez, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology. “But orchid bees are unique in that the majority of their pheromones are actually collected from plants and other sources like fungi.”

Orchid bees are master perfumers, and research suggests that the perfumes males concoct are unique to their specific species. For years, Ramirez, a member of the UC Davis Center for Population Biology, and recent Ph.D. graduate student Philipp Brand, Population Biology Graduate Group, have studied orchid bee mating behaviors, unraveling the complex chemicals responsible for successful procreation. The research has given them an unprecedented view into the formation of new species. And the driver of divergence: environmental perfumes.

In a study appearing in Nature Communications, Brand, Ramirez and their colleagues link the evolution of sexual signaling in orchid bees to a gene that’s been shaped by each species’ perfume preferences.

“Our study supports the hypothesis that in the orchid bee perfume communication system, the male perfume chemistry and the female preference for the perfume chemistry can simultaneously evolve via changes in a single receptor gene,” said Brand, whose thesis was the basis for the study.

“Imagine you have an ancestral species that uses certain compounds to communicate with each other,” said Ramirez. “If you have a chemical communication channel and then that chemical communication channel splits into two separate channels, then you have the opportunity for the formation of two separate species.”

A fragrant, front row seat to evolution

Of the 250 orchid bee species, Brand’s and Ramirez’s research focused on Euglossa viridissima and Euglossa dilemma, two separate species previously classified under a single scientific name. They diverged roughly 150,000 years ago. Physically and genetically, these two species are almost indistinguishable, but luckily, they primarily live in non-overlapping ranges in Central America and South America, with some overlap in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

“This is a neat distribution for the study of species formation because it reveals that the variation we observed is not just the product of geographic variation, and when the two species coexist, they still remain as separate species, even though they experienced hybridization in the recent past,” said Ramirez. “Each species is occupying a unique niche in chemical space.”

E. viridissima and E. dilemma are actually easier to tell apart by the chemical differences of their perfumes. Using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, the researchers separated and analyzed each chemical compound in a male orchid bee’s enticing perfume. Between the perfumes of E. viridissima and E. dilemma, the difference came down to two molecules. E. viridissima’s perfume contains a molecule called 2-hydroxy-6-nona-1,3-dienylbenzaldehyde (HNDB), and E. dilemma’s contains a lactone called L97.

“We found the bees grouped into two clouds based on the presence of these major compounds, which strongly suggest that each of these corresponds to a separate species of orchid bee,” said Ramirez.

According to Ramirez, this means that these pheromone-like perfumes aren’t just different between the species but that they likely influenced their original divergence.

“It makes sense, right?” said Ramirez. “If you have a chemical signal that is different and therefore you’re not going to mate with those who have a different signal, then that will help maintain species separate from each other.”

Scent signals — follow your antennae

After analyzing the genomes of E. viridissima and E. dilemma, Ramirez and his colleagues highlighted differences in a cluster of olfaction-related genes. In orchid bees, these genes are expressed in their antennae, allowing them to detect airborne molecules. The researchers identified olfactory receptor gene 41 (OR41) as being different between the two species.

“That gene has accumulated a lot of changes between these two species, suggesting that those changes are responsible for the collection of different perfume compounds,” said Ramirez. “The idea here is that as these olfactory genes evolve and accumulate new mutations, they’re more sensitive to different molecules and therefore enable the bees to collect or not collect certain compounds.”

According to Brand, such differences in a single gene is extremely rare. “Usually divergent genetic regions — also called ‘genomic islands of divergence’ — include tens to hundreds of genes and it is very hard to pinpoint the gene under selection,” he said.

It’s the bee’s knees (or genes)

To figure out what molecules the two species of orchid bees detect using OR41, Brand and Ramirez used another airborne insect, the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster).

“We created these transgenic flies expressing orchid bee genes and it’s an ideal setup for dissecting exactly what the function of this gene is,” said Ramirez.

The team tested each species’ variant OR41 against single odors and blends of odors commonly found in the orchid bees’ environment.

When the team tested odors against E. viridissima’s OR41 variant, they found it responded to perfume mixtures found in waxes used for brood cell construction by females and to “several medium to long-chain fatty-acids” common in waxes. The variant didn’t respond to single compound odors.

E. dilemma’s OR41 variant responded consistently to the species-specific HNDB compound and E. dilemma perfume mixtures containing HNDB.

“The OR41 variant in E. dilemma evolved to become a highly specific receptor responding exclusively to its major species-specific perfume compound,” said Brand. “It is plausible that E. dilemma gained the ability to discriminate HNDB from other chemicals because of this.”

Brand has continued exploring insect chemosensory systems as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Associate Professor Vanessa Ruta, of The Rockefeller University. He’s working “to identify key genetic and neural mechanisms underlying the evolution of behavior.”

“I am focusing on reproductive behaviors such as courtship and mating and how these evolve and contribute to the origin and maintenance of novel species,” said Brand

“To me, fully integrating the traditionally separated fields of neurobiology and evolutionary biology is the next big step to learn how behaviors diverge and give rise to novel species,” he added.

Ramirez has also established the first-ever breeding population of orchid bees at a research facility at the University of Florida’s Ft. Lauderdale campus. Ramirez hopes to use the facility to continue studying bee behaviors and see if orchid bees are a viable option for in-depth research in chemical communication, animal behavior and pollination biology.