Siberian Ice Age horned lark discovery

This video from the USA says about itself:

A video portrait of a singing Horned Lark, gathered just before sunset near Columbia, Missouri at the University’s Bradford Farm Experimental Station. The male has a high-pitched tinkling song that cascades to a jumble at the end. At the end of the video, the male sings a more complex, extended song that goes on for nearly ten seconds before ending with the typical jumble.

© 2010 Lang Elliott

From Stockholm University in Sweden:

Frozen bird turns out to be 46,000-year-old horned lark

February 21, 2020

Scientists have recovered DNA from a well-preserved horned lark found in Siberian permafrost. The results can contribute to explaining the evolution of subspecies, as well as how the mammoth steppe transformed into tundra, forest and steppe biomes at the end of the last Ice Age.

In 2018, a well-preserved frozen bird was found in the ground in the Belaya Gora area of north-eastern Siberia. Researchers at the Centre for Palaeogenetics, a new research center at Stockholm University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History, have studied the bird and the results are now published in the scientific journal Communications Biology. The analyses reveals that the bird is a 46,000-year-old female horned lark.

“Not only can we identify the bird as a horned lark. The genetic analysis also suggests that the bird belonged to a population that was a joint ancestor of two subspecies of horned lark living today, one in Siberia, and one in the steppe in Mongolia. This helps us understand how the diversity of subspecies evolves,” says Nicolas Dussex, researcher at the Department of Zoology at Stockholm University.

The result has significance on another level as well. During the last Ice Age, the mammoth steppe spread out over northern Europe and Asia. The steppe was home to now extinct species such as the woolly mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros. According to one theory, this ecosystem was a mosaic of habitats such as steppe, tundra and coniferous forest. At the end of the last Ice Age, the mammoth steppe was divided into the biotopes we know today — tundra in the north, taiga in the middle and steppe in the south.

“Our results support this theory since the diversification of the horned lark into these subspecies seems to have happened about at the same time as the mammoth steppe disappeared,” says Love Dalén, Professor at the Swedish Museum of Natural History and research leader at the Centre for Palaeogenetics.

In the slightly longer term the researchers´ ambition is to map the complete genome of the 46,000-year-old lark and compare it with the genomes from all subspecies of horned larks.

“The new laboratory facilities and the intellectual environment at the Centre for Palaeogenetics will definitely be helpful in these analyses,” says Love Dalén.

The researchers at the Centre for Palaeogenetics have access to plenty of samples from similar findings from the same site in Siberia, including the 18,000-year-old puppy called “Dogor” which the researchers are are studying to determine if it is a wolf or a dog. Other findings include the 50,000-year-old cave lion cub “Spartak” and a partially preserved woolly mammoth.

Syrian women footballers overcome prejudice

This 21 February 2020 video says about itself:

Syrian female footballers beat the odds

Criticism from her family and neighbors only made footballer Samar Sheikh more determined to overcome social and gender prejudice.

A bit like women footballers in Sudan.

New snail species named after Greta Thunberg

This 20 February 2020 video says about itself:

Greta Thunberg snail

A new to science species of land snail was discovered by a group of citizen scientists working together with scientists from Taxon Expeditions, a company that organizes scientific field trips for teams consisting of both scientists and laypeople. Having conducted a vote on how to name the species, the expedition participants and the local staff of the National Park together decided to name the mollusk Craspedotropis gretathunbergae. The species name honors the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg for her efforts to raise awareness about climate change. The study is published in the open access journal Biodiversity Data Journal.

This tiny snail was discovered in Kuala Belalong rainforest, Brunei in Borneo island.

Thunberg told she was “delighted” that the snail had been named after her.

Earlier, a newly discovered small Kenyan beetle species had been named after Ms Thunberg.

This video from Britain is called Beetle named after climate activist Greta Thunberg (1) (UK/Global) ITV & BBC News 25/26 October 2019.

Stop Antwerp, Belgium harbour militarisation

This December 2019 video in German says about itself, translated:

The United States troops with their war equipment and military units from other NATO countries are to be transported between April and May by air, water and the chronically overloaded road and rail systems in the Federal Republic of Germany. In its answer, the government lists the affected airports, seaports and inland ports and also lists the planned axes for the transfer of soldiers across the road, which lead to Poland in the north via Frankfurt (Oder) and Görlitz.

The relocation of thousands of soldiers and heavy military equipment by the Federal Republic demonstrably goes hand in hand with an enormous additional emission of CO2 and other environmental pollution. In times of increased environmental awareness, officially declared fight against CO2 emissions and “climate emergencies“, RT German editor Florian Warweg wanted to know at the federal press conference how the Federal Environment and Defense ministries evaluate the ecological footprint of the major Defender 2020 manoeuvre in Germany.

Translated from Veronique Couteur of the peace movement in Belgium today:

Defender2020: No Belgian participation in the NATO war games

This weekend a US ship calls at the port of Antwerp to unload a first load of material for the largest NATO war game of the last 25 years Defender2020. We do not wish them a warm welcome. Are you coming to the port this Saturday? Give a call to or via 0473/287673. #stopnato

Black-throated blue warbler migration, new research

This 2017 video says about itself:

Black-throated blue Warbler

Although fairly common in northeastern North America (Appalachians) in deciduous and mixed undergrowth it was a challenge to film. The male as shown here singing is clean cut with blue, black, and white. Its black throat, cheeks and sides contrast with the white underparts. It has a blue-gray back and a bold white patch on its dark wings.

The female and Immature is more drab. They have brownish-olive upperparts with buffy underparts. There is a white eyebrow stripe and a small whitish wing patch.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office:

Fifty years of data show new changes in bird migration

February 20, 2020

A growing body of research shows that birds’ spring migration has been getting earlier and earlier in recent decades. New research from The Auk: Ornithological Advances on Black-throated Blue Warblers, a common songbird that migrates from Canada and the eastern U.S. to Central America and back every year, uses fifty years of bird-banding data to add another piece to the puzzle, showing that little-studied fall migration patterns have been shifting over time as well.

Loyola Marymount University’s Kristen Covino and her colleagues used data housed at the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory on migrating Black-throated Blue Warblers between 1965 and 2015. Across the United States, researchers working with this program safely capture migrating birds, collect data on them, and fit them with metal leg bands with unique codes that allow them to be identified if they’re captured again. Analyzing almost 150,000 individual records, Covino and her colleagues found that the timing of the birds’ spring migration has advanced over the last fifty years, with early migrants passing through banding sites approximately one day earlier each decade. Crucially, their data also covered fall migration, which has been less well-studied, and found that while the timing of the peak of fall migration hasn’t changed, fall migration takes longer today than it did fifty years ago.

The North American Bird Banding Program is one of the most expansive historical datasets on migratory birds, including records for over 38 million songbirds banded since 1960. “My coauthor Sara Morris and I were already working together on another paper on Blackpoll Warblers using data we’d requested from banding stations across North America. We wanted to take a similar large-scale approach for this study, but we wanted to demonstrate that we could do this approach with data that is completely available from the Bird Banding Lab,” says Covino. “We selected Black-throated Blue Warblers because it’s relatively straightforward to determine their age and sex, which means that the data this species generates are both accurate and powerful.”

Although the researchers emphasize that their findings can’t be explicitly linked to climate change without incorporating climate or environmental data, they believe similar methods could be useful for tracking the effects of climate change on birds. “The protraction of fall migration means that the season is getting longer overall, but it could also mean that the breeding season may be shifting, ending earlier for some individuals but later for others. To determine what this means in the context of breeding season shifts in timing, additional studies that incorporate both arrival on the breeding grounds and, importantly, departure from them are needed,” says Covino. “More studies of these patterns of fall migration timing and, even more so, both spring and fall migration timing across years are needed to gain the complete picture of how species are changing migration timing.”

Hanau massacre by German Trump-supporting nazi

Candles and flowers placed on the floor during a vigil for victims of last night’s shooting in the central German town Hanau, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, February 20, 2020. Credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

By Peter Schwarz in Germany:

After the massacre in Hanau

Stop the right-wing terror in Germany!

21 February 2020

A right-wing extremist terrorist shot and killed nine people in the German city of Hanau in the state of Hesse Wednesday night. He injured a further six people, one of them seriously. The massacre occurred in two hookah bars overwhelmingly frequented by immigrants. Police officers later found the gunman and his mother dead in his apartment.

The alleged gunman is Tobias R, a 43-year-old who grew up in Hanau and studied [business] economics in Bayreuth. In a 24-page document acknowledging his guilt, which he published online prior to the attack, R. displayed “a deeply racist outlook”, investigating federal prosecutor Peter Frank told the press.

In the text, the author declared himself to be a supporter of US President Donald Trump.

In his manifesto, nazi Tobias R advised Trump to escalate his conflict with China even further.

He considers whether the “total destruction” of entire states in a future war would be legitimate. He speculates on what share of Germans are “purebred and valuable”, and develops plans for genocide that go even further than Adolf Hitler. He lists over two dozen states whose populations he thinks should be wiped out, including half of Asia, various peoples in North Africa, and Israel.

In terms of the number of victims, the Hanau massacre is the largest terrorist attack in Germany since the 1980 Octoberfest bombing, which was also carried out by right-wing extremists. It is only the latest in a series of murderous right-wing extremist attacks in Germany:

  • Last weekend, the police detained twelve men accused of planning simultaneous massacres at mosques throughout the country.

Representatives of the government and parliamentary parties stated their horror and disbelief at the attack. What hypocrisy! The same politicians who shed crocodile tears over this attack have created the ideological and political climate for right-wing extremist terrorism. If the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party functions as the political arm of the right-wing terrorists, then the domestic intelligence service functions as its state arm, enabled by the grand coalition government. The attack in Hanau occurred just two weeks after a Minister President was put in power in the neighbouring state of Thuringia for the first time since the Second World War with the votes of a far-right party, the AfD.

As even the New York Times remarked, this represented an “outstanding victory” for the far-right. “Centrists and the far right share talking points on immigration. They share what they perceive as a common enemy in the left. And now, for the first time in decades, they even share a governor,” commented the newspaper.

Unlike during the last years of the Weimar Republic, there is no mass base of support in Germany today for a fascist movement. The overwhelming majority of the population, above all the youth, view the AfD politicians with disdain and outrage. The right-wing extremist party relies all the more on strong support from the military, police, and the state apparatus, from which many of their voters and members are drawn, and from the established parties, from which the majority of the AfD leadership came. Its rise to the dominant party in German politics is the outcome of a political conspiracy involving the ruling elite.

With its decision to continue the grand coalition in 2017, the SPD consciously chose to make the AfD the official opposition, even though it won only 12.6 percent of the vote at the last federal election. Ever since, the far-right party has been fully integrated into the work of parliament, including being appointed to lead several key parliamentary committees. The grand coalition has adopted the AfD’s refugee policy and is pursuing an agenda of militarism and attacks on social spending and workers’ living standards that can only be imposed with fascist methods, i.e. with the support of the AfD to break the population’s resistance.

At the same time, the AfD receives support and advice from the intelligence agencies. The former president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz), Hans-Georg Maassen, is now an open AfD supporter. The Verfassungsschutz directs and finances, with the assistance of a network of informants, far-right networks with ties to the military and police. Several dozen of these informants were active in the milieu around the NSU alone.

While the grand coalition and its intelligence agencies encourage the growth of the far-right and give it free rein, they wage a bitter struggle against the left. Since 2018, the grand coalition’s Verfassungsschutz Report has listed the Socialist Equality Party (Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei) as an “object of surveillance” because it wages an irreconcilable struggle against the AfD, German imperialism and its political parties, and advocates an anti-capitalist, socialist programme.

Ideologically, the way has been paved for the AfD and other far-right networks by the systematic rewriting of history at the universities and the trivialisation of the Nazis’ crimes. A central role in this has been played by Humboldt University Professor Jörg Baberowski, who claimed that Hitler “was not vicious” and that he “didn’t want to know anything about Auschwitz.” Baberowski is himself part of a right-wing extremist network, praises dictatorships as “alternative orders”, and describes terrorist attacks against refugees as “comparatively harmless.”

Three weeks ago, Baberowski physically attacked a university student after he spotted the professor tearing down election placards for the International Youth and Students for Social Equality. Although the incident was documented on video, the president of Humboldt University, Sabine Kunst (SPD), defended the right-wing extremist professor and even said she found his behaviour understandable. The federal government has also backed Baberowski. Under these conditions, right-wing extremist terrorist attacks like in Hanau are not only possible, but inevitable. They are the product of anti-refugee agitation and the vicious anticommunism and militarism spearheaded by the grand coalition and supported by all parties. Their goal is to reestablish fascism as a political force in Germany once again, so as to suppress the growing social and political resistance among the population.

The official mantra that the Hanau gunman is a “lone wolf” is absurd. The far-right networks enjoy close ties to the police, army, and intelligence agencies, maintain death lists with tens of thousands of names, and can operate virtually unhindered.

Following the Lübcke murder, the theory of a lone wolf served to suppress the extent of far-right terrorist activities. It is now known that the alleged murderer, Stefan Ernst, a neo-Nazi with a criminal record, and his accomplice Markus H., were involved in far-right politics for several years and had close contact with the Verfassungsschutz. The files that could bring clarity on this have been locked away for 40 years.

Following the events in Thuringia, the WSWS warned in its perspective, “Sound the alarm! Political conspiracy and the resurgence of fascism in Germany”: “The political situation in Germany demands the attention of the European, American and international working class. In the light of the history of the 20th history, it is impossible to adopt a complacent attitude toward the resurgence of neo-Nazism in Germany.”

This warning has been confirmed in a matter of days. The Hanau attack confirms the conclusion we drew that “throughout the world, a process of political radicalization is underway in Germany. The events in Thuringia, which have shocked the public, will accelerate this process.” The Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei calls for the protests against the far-right to be expanded and armed with a clear political perspective. It is high time to put an end to the political conspiracy of the grand coalition, the state apparatus, and the far-right. The Verfassungsschutz must be dissolved and the surveillance and persecution of left-wing groups must immediately stop. Stop Germany’s return to an aggressive militarist foreign policy! For a socialist programme against fascism and war!

The author also recommends:

Sound the alarm! Political conspiracy and the resurgence of fascism in Germany
[14 February 2020]

A socialist perspective against the return of fascism in Europe
[8 May 2019]

Sperm whales disturbed by earthquakes

This 2015 video from the USA says about itself:

At 598 meters (1,962 ft) below the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, ROV Hercules encountered a magnificent sperm whale. The whale circled Hercules several times and gave our cameras the chance to capture some incredible footage of this beautiful creature. Encounters between sperm whales and ROVs are incredibly rare.

From the University of Otago in New Zealand:

Earthquakes disrupt sperm whales’ ability to find food

February 20, 2020

Otago scientists studying sperm whales off the coast of Kaikōura discovered earthquakes affect their ability to find food for at least a year.

The University of Otago-led research is the first to examine the impact of a large earthquake on a population of marine mammals, and offers new insight into how top predators such as sperm whales react and adapt to a large-scale natural disturbance.

Changes in habitat use by a deep-diving predator in response to a coastal earthquake, has recently been published in Deep Sea Research Part I.

Earthquakes and aftershocks can affect sperm whales in several ways, the study explains.

The whales depend on sound for communication, detection of prey and navigation and are also highly sensitive to noise.

Earthquakes produce among the loudest underwater sounds which can induce injuries, hearing damage, displacement and behavioural modifications.

While earthquakes and other extreme natural events are rare occurrences, they can really shift the state of ecosystems by wiping out animals and plants, lead author and Marine Sciences Teaching Fellow Dr Marta Guerra says.

“Understanding how wild populations respond to earthquakes helps us figure out their level of resilience, and whether we need to adjust management of these populations while they are more vulnerable.”

The fatal 7.8 magnitude Kaikōura earthquake on November 14, 2016 produced strong ground shaking which triggered widespread underwater mudslides in the underwater canyon off the coastline.

This caused what’s known as ‘canyon flushing’, which in the case of the Kaikōura earthquake, involved high-energy currents flushing 850 tonnes of sediment from the underwater canyon into the ocean.

The Kaikōura canyon is an important year-round foraging ground for sperm whales, which have an important ecological role as top predators and are a key attraction for the local tourism industry — the main driver of the town’s economy.

Just why the canyon is important to sperm whales is “a piece of the puzzle we are still trying to nut out,” says Dr Guerra.

“But it’s likely related to the immense productivity of the canyon’s seabed, and a combination of how the currents interact with the steep topography of the submarine canyon.”

Scientists examined data collected on the behaviour of 54 sperm whales between January 2014 and January 2018 — a timeframe which allowed an opportunity to determine any significant changes in pre and post-earthquake whale foraging behaviour.

“We really didn’t know what to expect, as there is so little known about how marine animals react to earthquakes,” Dr Guerra says.

The researchers found clear changes in the whales’ behaviour in the year following the earthquake: most noticeably whales spent about 25 per cent more time at the surface — which potentially meant they needed to spend more effort searching for prey, either by diving deeper or for longer times

There are two main reasons the whales may have expanded their search effort, the study explains.

Firstly, benthic invertebrate communities which lived in the upper canyon may have been removed by the canyon flushing event, resulting in sparser prey and reduced foraging abilities.

Secondly, sediment deposition and erosion may have required sperm whales to ‘re-familiarise’ with a modified habitat, increasing the effort to navigate and locate prey whose location may have changed.

“The flushing of almost 40,000 tonnes of biomass from the canyon’s seabed probably meant that the animals that normally fed on the seabed had a short supply of food, possibly moving away,” Dr Guerra says.

“This would have indirectly affected the prey of sperm whales (deep-water fish and squid), becoming scarce and making it harder for the whales to find food.”

Scientists were particularly surprised by how clear the changes were, especially in terms of where the sperm whales were feeding.

“The head of the Kaikōura canyon, where we used to frequently find sperm whales foraging, was quiet as a desert,” Dr Guerra says.

Although earthquakes happen relatively frequently in areas where marine mammals live, this study was the first to document the impact on a population, thanks to a long-term monitoring programme which has been in place since 1990.

Globally, there have been punctual observations, such as a fin whale displaying an ‘escape response’ after an earthquake on the Gulf of California, or particularly low sightings of humpback whales coinciding with the months following an earthquake off Alaska, Dr Guerra says.

“Deep-sea systems are so out of sight that we rarely consider the consequences of them being disturbed, whether by natural of human impacts.

“I think our results emphasise how far-reaching the impacts to the sea bed can be, affecting even animals at the top of the food chain such as sperm whales.”

The study found the whales’ behavioural changes lasted about a year after the 2016 earthquake and returned to normal levels in the summer of 2017-18.

Dr Guerra believes this study also highlights the importance of long-term monitoring of marine wildlife and ecosystems, without which scientists wouldn’t be able to detect changes that occur after marine mammals are exposed to disturbance.

A better pregnancy test for whales. New measurements will help biologists understand a changing ocean: here.