Bees like strawberry fields, new research


This video from Britain says about itself:

Customer testimonial from S&A, UK – Strawberry pollination. S&A have been using Natupol bees for more than 15 years and can no longer envisage producing a successful crop of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries without pollination of Koppert bumblebees. We all know that the number of naturally occurring bees is dropping and that it has become increasingly necessary to produce commercial bumblebees and other pollinators to meet the needs for food production worldwide. Research confirmed that bumblebees were more efficient pollinators than honeybees or any other previously used methods.

From the University of Göttingen in Germany:

Dance of the honey bee reveals fondness for strawberries

January 24, 2020

Bees are pollinators of many wild and crop plants, but in many places their diversity and density is declining. A research team from the Universities of Göttingen, Sussex and Würzburg has now investigated the foraging behaviour of bees in agricultural landscapes. To do this, the scientists analysed the bees’ dances, which are called the “waggle dance.” They found out that honey bees prefer strawberry fields, even if they flowered directly next to the oilseed rape fields. Only when oilseed rape was in full bloom were fewer honey bees observed in the strawberry field. Wild bees, on the other hand, consistently chose the strawberry field. The results have been published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.

A team from the Functional Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology groups at the University of Göttingen established small honey bee colonies next to eleven strawberry fields in the region of Göttingen and Kassel. The scientists then used video recordings and decoded the waggle dances. Honey bees dance to communicate the direction and distance of attractive food sources that they have visited. In combination with satellite maps of the landscape, the land use type that they preferred could be determined. The team also studied which plants the bees used as pollen resources and calculated the density of honey bees and wild bees in the study fields.

Their results: honey bees prefer the strawberry fields, even when oilseed rape is flowering abundantly in the area. However, honey bees from the surrounding landscapes are less common in the strawberry fields when oilseed rape is in full bloom. “In contrast, solitary wild bees, like mining bees, are constantly present in the strawberry field,” says first author Svenja Bänsch, post-doctoral researcher in the Functional Agrobiodiversity group at the University of Göttingen. “Wild bees are therefore of great importance for the pollination of crops,” emphasizes Professor Teja Tscharntke, Head of the Agroecology group.

“With this study, we were able to show that small honey bee colonies in particular can be suitable for the pollination of strawberries in the open field. However, our results also show that wild bees in the landscape should be supported by appropriate management measures”.

Freshly burned longleaf pine forests have more than double the total number of bees and bee species than similar forests that have not burned in over 50 years, according to new research from North Carolina State University. For many forests, fire is as essential as rainfall. But while several studies have outlined the benefits of human-controlled prescribed burns on forest ecosystems, little was understood about how prescribed burns, or fires in general, may impact pollinators: here.

THE CLIMATE CRISIS THREATENS BEES. THIS IS HELPING TO SAVE THEM. Bees are part of a severe biodiversity crisis, which could see a million species go extinct over the next decade because of human actions. To solve it, we must rapidly decrease emissions, slash pollution and protect land. From paying residents to grow pollinator lawns to banning pesticides, here are five reasons to have some hope for the future of bees. [HuffPost]

Trump’s war on pregnant women, students


This 23 January 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Trump administration brutally targets pregnant women. John Iadarola breaks it down on The Damage Report.

“People are going to die because of this”. Trump administration to deny visas to pregnant women: here.

Iranian student deported from Boston by Customs and Border Protection despite court order: here.

Arthropod animals evolution, new research


This July 2019 video is called Evolution of early Arthropods.

From the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics:

Unravelling arthropod genomic diversity over 500 million years of evolution

January 23, 2020

Summary: The evolutionary innovations of insects and other arthropods are as numerous as they are wondrous, from terrifying fangs and stingers to exquisitely colored wings and ingenious feats of engineering. DNA sequencing allows us to chart the genomic blueprints underlying this incredible diversity that characterizes the arthropods and makes them the most successful group of animals on Earth.

An international team of scientists report in the journal Genome Biology results from a pilot project, co-led by Robert Waterhouse, Group Leader at the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics and University of Lausanne, to kick-start the global sequencing initiative of thousands of arthropods. Comparative analyses across 76 species spanning 500 million years of evolution reveal dynamic genomic changes that point to key factors behind their success and open up many new areas of research.

Friends and foes, arthropods rule the world

Arthropods make up the most species-rich and diverse group of animals on Earth, with numerous adaptations over 500 million years of evolution that have allowed them to exploit all major ecosystems. They play vital roles in the healthy ecology of our planet as well as being both beneficial and detrimental to the success of humankind through pollination and biowaste recycling, or destroying crops and spreading disease. “By sequencing and comparing their genomes we can begin to identify some of the key genetic factors behind their evolutionary success,” explains Waterhouse, “but will the impact of human activities in modern times bring an end to their rule, or will their ability to adapt and innovate ensure their survival?”

The i5k pilot project: kick-starting arthropod genome sequencing

The i5k initiative to sequence and annotate the genomes of 5000 species of insects and other arthropods, was launched in a letter to Science in 2011. From the outset, the initiative aimed to support the development of new genomic resources for understanding the molecular biology and evolution of arthropods. Since then, the i5k has grown into a broad community of scientists using genomics to study insects and other arthropods in many different contexts from fundamental animal biology, to effects on ecology and the environment, and impacts on human health and agriculture2. To kick-start the i5k, a pilot project was launched at the Baylor College of Medicine led by Stephen Richards to sequence, assemble, and annotate the genomes of 28 diverse arthropod species carefully selected from 787 community nominations.

Large-scale multi-species genome comparisons

“The identification and annotation of thousands of genes from the i5k pilot project substantially increases our current genomic sampling of arthropods,” says Waterhouse. Combining these with previously sequenced genomes enabled the researchers to perform a large-scale comparative analysis across 76 diverse species including flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, ants, wasps, true bugs, thrips, lice, cockroaches, termites, mayflies, dragonflies, damselflies, bristletails, crustaceans, centipedes, spiders, ticks, mites, and scorpions. PhD students Gregg Thomas from Indiana University, USA, and Elias Dohmen from the University of Münster, Germany, used the annotated genomes to perform the computational evolutionary analyses of more than one million arthropod genes.

Dynamic gene family evolution — a key to success?

The team’s analyses focused on tracing gene evolutionary histories to estimate changes in gene content and gene structure over 500 million years. This enabled identification of families of genes that have substantially increased or decreased in size, or newly emerged or disappeared, or rearranged their protein domains, between and within each of the major arthropod subgroups. The gene families found to be most dynamically changing encode proteins involved in functions linked to digestion, chemical defence, and the building and remodelling of chitin — a major part of arthropod exoskeletons. Adaptability of digestive processes and mechanisms to neutralise harmful chemicals undoubtedly served arthropods well as they conquered a wide variety of ecological niches. Perhaps even more importantly, the flexibility that comes with a segmented body plan and a dynamically remodellable exoskeleton allowed them to thrive by physically adapting to new ecosystems.

Innovation through invention and repurposing

Newly evolved gene families also reflect functions known to be important in different arthropod groups, such as visual learning and behaviour, pheromone and odorant detection, neuronal activity, and wing development. These may enhance food location abilities or fine-tune species self-recognition and communication. In contrast, few changes were identified in the ancestor of insects that undergo complete metamorphosis: the dramatic change from the juvenile form to the fully developed adult (like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly). This has traditionally been thought of as a major step in the evolution of insects from the original state of developing through gradual nymph stages until finally reaching the adult stage. “These findings support the idea that this key transition is more likely to have occurred through the rewiring of existing gene networks or building new networks using existing genes, a scenario of new-tricks-for-old-genes” explains Waterhouse.

Genomic insights into arthropod biology and evolution

Several detailed genomic studies of individual i5k species have focused on their fascinating biological traits such as the feeding ecology and developmental biology of the milkweed bug, insecticide resistance, blood feeding, and traumatic sex of the bed bug, horizontal gene transfer from bacteria and fungi and digestion of plant materials by the Asian long-horned beetle, and parasite-host interactions and potential vaccines for the sheep blowfly. The combined analyses reveal dynamically changing and newly emerged gene families that will stimulate new areas of research. “We can take these hypotheses into the lab and use them to directly study how the genome is translated into visible morphology at a resolution that cannot be achieved with any other animal group,” says co-lead author, Ariel Chipman, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. The new resources substantially advance progress towards building a comprehensive genomic catalogue of life on our planet, and with more than a million described arthropod species and estimates of seven times as many, there clearly remains a great deal to discover!

Next steps in arthropod genomics and beyond

More effective and cost-efficient DNA sequencing technologies mean that new ambitious initiatives are already underway to sequence the genomes of additional arthropods. These include the Global Ant Genome Alliance and the Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance, as well as the Darwin Tree of Life Project that is targeting all known species of animals in the British Isles, and the global network of communities coordinated by the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) that aims to sequence all of Earth’s eukaryotic biodiversity7. The EBP’s goals also include benefitting human welfare, where the roles of arthropods are clear and the hidden benefits are likely to be substantial, as well as protecting biodiversity and understanding ecosystems, where alarming reports of declining numbers make arthropods a priority. “The completion of the i5k pilot project therefore represents an important milestone in the progress towards intensifying efforts to develop a comprehensive genomic catalogue of life on our planet,” concludes Richards.

Shiny jewel beetles’ camouflage, new research


This Augustus 2019 video says about itself:

Jewel beetle, Metallic wood-boring beetle, Buprestid

Adult jewel beetles mainly feed on plant foliage or nectar, although some species feed on pollen and can be observed visiting flowers.

From ScienceDaily:

Jewel beetles’ sparkle helps them hide in plain sight

January 23, 2020

Bright colors are often considered an evolutionary tradeoff in the animal kingdom. Yes, a male peacock‘s colorful feathers may help it attract a mate, but they also make it more likely to be seen by a hungry jungle cat. Jewel beetles (Sternocera aequisignata) and their green, blue, and purple iridescent wing cases may be an exception to the rule, researchers report January 23 in the journal Current Biology. They found that the insects’ bright colors can act as a form of camouflage.

“The idea of ‘iridescence as camouflage’ is over 100 years old, but our study is the first to show that these early ignored or rejected ideas that ‘changeable or metallic colors are among the strongest factors in animals’ concealment’ have traction,” says first author Karin Kjernsmo, an evolutionary and behavioral ecologist at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom. “Both birds and humans really do have difficulty spotting iridescent objects in a natural, complex, forest environment.”

Similar to an abalone shell or holographic trading card, iridescent objects change color depending on the angle from which they’re viewed, creating a flashy, rainbow-like effect. This effect has made jewel beetles a staple in insect jewelry due to their vibrant color.

The researchers placed iridescent and dull-colored (green, purple, blue, rainbow, and black) wing cases attached to mealworms onto various plants in a natural field setting and then observed how often birds attacked each group. This was followed by a human detection test, where respondents searched for the wing cases in the field.

Despite their gleam, Kjernsmo and her team found that the iridescent wing cases outpaced equally sized dull-colored wing cases at avoiding detection from birds and humans. Using both humans and birds is useful, Kjernsmo says, as with birds “you never know whether they can’t see a prey item or if they see it but choose to ignore it. With human participants, you know exactly where the effects lie.” Surprisingly, in both scenarios, the iridescent wing cases performed best (even beating leaf-colored green) at remaining undetected.

In addition, the ability to remain hidden became even more pronounced when the iridescent wing cases were placed against a glossy leaf background — adding “visual noise.” Kjernsmo says that the masking ability of iridescence may be the result of “dynamic disruptive camouflage,” which creates the illusion of inconsistent features and depth, confusing potential predators.

These results suggest that camouflage may be a primary function of iridescent structures in some species, reframing our current understanding behind its evolution and role in nature. “We don’t for a minute imagine that the effect is something unique to jewel beetles; indeed, we’d be disappointed if it was,” say Kjernsmo. “If we found that these beetles could be concealed by their colors, it increases the chances that many iridescent species could be using their colors this way.”

Next, Kjernsmo will use artificial intelligence to get a better understanding of the evolution of camouflage in the wild. She is working with senior author Innes Cuthill, a behavioral ecologist, and Nick Scott-Samuel, an experimental psychologist, both at the University of Bristol, using machine learning to evolve the optimal camouflage patterns for different environments and comparing those to real animal colors.

Clerical child abuse and American football


This 25 January 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

NFL’s Saints fight to shield emails in Catholic abuse crisis

The New Orleans Saints are going to court to keep the public from seeing hundreds of emails that allegedly show team executives doing public relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese to help it contain the fallout from a burgeoning sexual abuse crisis.

Attorneys for about two dozen men suing the church say in court filings that the 276 documents they obtained through discovery show that the NFL team, whose owner is devoutly Catholic, aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Friday, January 24, 2020

American Football: Saints allegedly involved in Catholic abuse scandal

NFL franchise the New Orleans Saints are going to court to keep the public from seeing hundreds of emails that allegedly show team executives doing public relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese to help it contain the fallout from a burgeoning sexual abuse crisis.

Lawyers for about two dozen men suing the church say in court filings that the 276 documents they obtained through discovery show that the NFL team, whose owner is devoutly Catholic, aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”

“Obviously, the Saints should not be in the business of assisting the archdiocese, and the Saints’ public relations team is not in the business of managing the public relations of criminals engaged in paedophilia,” the lawyers wrote in a court filing. “The Saints realise that if the documents at issue are made public, this professional sports organisation also will be smearing itself.”

Saints lawyers, in court papers, disputed any suggestion that the team helped the church cover up crimes, calling such claims “outrageous.” They further said that the emails, exchanged in 2018 and 2019, were intended to be private and should not be “fodder for the public.” The archdiocese is also fighting the release of the emails.

The NFL, which was advised of the matter by plaintiffs’ lawyers because the Saints’ emails used the team’s nfl.com domain, has not commented on the case. NFL policy says everyone who is a part of the league must refrain from “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the NFL.

A court-appointed special master is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential.

The Associated Press filed a motion with the court supporting the release of the documents as a matter of public interest.

Ties between local church leaders and the Saints include a close friendship between New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Gayle Benson, who inherited the Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team when her husband, Tom Benson, died in 2018. The archbishop was at Gayle Benson’s side as she walked in the funeral procession.

Gayle Benson has given millions of dollars to Catholic institutions in the New Orleans area, and the archbishop is a regular guest of hers at games and charitable events for the church.

Lawyers for the men suing the church say “multiple” Saints personnel, including senior vice-president of communications Greg Bensel, used their team email to advise church officials on “messaging” and how to soften the impact of the archdiocese’s release of a list of clergy members “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

“The information at issue bears a relationship to these crimes because it is a continuation of the archdiocese’s pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behaviour,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote. “And the Saints joined in.”

A Saints spokeswoman said yesterday that team officials had no comment.

Lawyers for the Saints acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in its publishing of the credibly accused clergy list, but said that was an act of disclosure — “the opposite of concealment.”

The fight over the emails is part of a flurry of claims filed against the archdiocese over its employment of George F Brignac, a long-time schoolteacher and deacon who was removed from the ministry in 1988 after a seven-year-old boy accused him of fondling him at a Christmas party. That accusation followed claims that Briganc abused several other boys, including one case that led to his acquittal in 1978 on three counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile.

Church officials permitted Brignac, 85, to act as a lay minister until local news accounts of his service in 2018 prompted his removal and an apology from the archdiocese. Last year Associated Press reported that Brignac, despite his supposed defrocking, also maintained access to schoolchildren and held leadership roles as recently as 2018 in the Knights of Columbus.

Following a new wave of publicity — in which Brignac told a reporter he had touched boys but never for “immoral purposes” — Brignac was indicted last month on a rape charge that could land him behind bars for the rest of his life. The prosecution came more than a year after a former altar boy told police that Brignac repeatedly raped him beginning in the late 1970s. Police said the abuse began when the boy was seven and continued until he was 11.