Coronavirus kills London bus drivers, tribute

This 16 April 2020 video from London, England says about itself:

Trade unionists pay their respects to the two bus drivers who have already died at Holloway Garage.

Press statement:

‘Following the death of two bus workers based there, a small group of local trade unionists from unions including the RMT, UNISON, TSSA and the UCU held a dignified and socially responsible protest outside Holloway garage from 12 noon today to:

. Pay respects to our departed brothers
. Call on Mayor Sadiq Khan immediately to provide adequate PPE and other protective measures for all transport workers
. Express full support for NHS workers in their growing campaign for real and effective protection
. Demand the Tory Government stop putting profit before people and start to put people before profit – mass testing

Dancing peacock spiders made arachnophobe into arachnologist

One of seven newly described peacock spiders, Maratus azureus, from the southwestern region of the state of Western Australia, was named for the deep blue color on its flashy abdomen. Photo by Joseph Schubert

By John Pickrell, April 15, 2020:

Dancing peacock spiders turned an arachnophobe into an arachnologist

Not yet a college graduate, Joseph Schubert has described 12 of 86 known peacock spider species

Joseph Schubert spends hours at a time lying in the dirt of the Australian outback watching for tiny flickers in the sparse, ground-hugging foliage. The 22-year-old arachnologist is searching for flea-sized peacock spiders, and he admits, he’s a little obsessed.

But it wasn’t always so. Schubert grew up fearing spiders, with parents who were “absolutely terrified” of the eight-legged crawlers. “I was taught that every single spider in the house was going to kill me, and we should squish it and get rid of it,” he says.

Then Schubert stumbled across some photographs of Australia’s endemic peacock spiders, a group named for the adult males’ vivid coloring and flamboyant dance moves aimed at wooing a mate (SN: 9/9/16; SN: 12/8/15). And he was hooked.

“They raise their third pair of legs and dance around and show off like they are the most amazing animals on the planet, which in my eyes they are.” He decided to pursue a career in arachnology. And despite not quite having completed his undergraduate degree in biology, he’s begun working part-time at Museums Victoria in Melbourne, and has already made a mark.

Of the 86 known peacock spider species — each just 2.5 to 6 millimeters in length — 12 have been described by Schubert, including seven named in the March 27 Zootaxa. Those seven were found at a range of sites across Australia, including the barren dunes and shrublands of Victoria state’s Little Desert and the red rocks and arid outback gorges of Kalbarri National Park, north of Perth.

“It’s a fantastic feeling to be able to document these species and empower them with names” that offer scientific recognition as well as a chance for legislated protections if needed, Schubert says. “I am very lucky to work in this field. I get to pull out my microscope and observe things that nobody has ever documented before.”

Sometimes, Schubert finds a peacock spider by looking for draglines of silk glimmering in the sunlight. As these tiny spiders from the genus Maratus leap from leaf to leaf in search of insect prey, they extend these safety lines behind them to catch them in case they fall.

If he’s really lucky, Schubert will catch a male spider mid-boogie, lifting its iridescent abdomen and vigorously waggling its legs in the air as it jerks back and forth in an arachnid tribute to the moonwalk. That usually happens during the Australian springtime in about September and October, as the males become sexually mature towards the end of their lives and take on brightly colored forms.

Those wild colors inspired some interesting names. Schubert’s dubbed one bright blue species with yellow spots Maratus constellatus, because it reminded him of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night. And last year, he called a striking black-and-white jumping spider that is a relative of peacock spiders Jotus karllagerfeldi for the late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld.

Schubert admits he’s had a lot of help from many Australian photographers, amateur enthusiasts and citizen scientists who send pictures of these miniature spiders to Schubert or share them on social media. Without that vital help, “just a handful of us scientists would be looking … as opposed to thousands [of enthusiasts] uploading via Facebook,” Schubert says.

He still hasn’t entirely gotten over his arachnophobia, though he’s grateful that peacock spiders, while venomous to their tiny insect prey, are harmless to humans. He’s handled hundreds of the spiders and suspects their mouthparts are too small to puncture human skin, even if they wanted to take a bite.

Less charismatic spiders are sometimes still a challenge for Schubert’s nerves, though. In the Little Desert last year, while putting a 5-centimeter-long wolf spider into a container, the spider pushed the lid aside and crawled up Schubert’s arm. “I screamed,” he says, laughing. “But if I can prepare and mentally tell myself that a spider is not looking to hurt me, and even if it does bite me, it’s not going to do anything, then I can put myself in the mental position to handle it.”

The bushfires that swept vast areas of Australia between September and February (SN: 1/13/20) could potentially have burned through the tiny ranges of several peacock spider species found in Victoria’s alpine regions. Nobody has yet been able to check, and future field work is currently on hold amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As soon as Schubert can get out again, he will — whether on a research trip or on his next holiday. The only problem, he says, is that “it’s sometimes difficult to find other people who want to spend personal time looking for spiders.”

Cribellate spiders spin thousands of tiny nanofibers into sticky threads. To keep from getting caught in their own webs, these spiders use a nonstick comb on their back legs. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Applied Nano Materials have patterned an antiadhesive nanostructure inspired by this comb onto a foil surface, creating a handy tool to control sticky lab-made nanomaterials for medical, smart textile and other applications: here.

Coronavirus crisis, Europe

This 7 April 2020 French video is called (translated) Crowd, inhabitants pressed together, non-respect of spatial distancing: Macron in Seine-Saint-Denis (Pantin).

France summons Chinese ambassador after embassy criticizes “herd immunity” policy. By Alex Lantier, 16 April 2020. Paris called in Chinese Ambassador to France Lu Shaye on Monday to criticize his embassy’s statements that European countries abandoned “their citizens to face the viral onslaught”.

French President Macron announces a premature end to quarantine in the interests of the financial elite. By Alex Lantier, 16 April 2020. Emmanuel Macron delivered a televised address to the French public on Monday night to defend his government’s disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Royal Mail’s putting profits before safety results in deaths of UK postal workers. By Paul Lee and Richard Tyler, 16 April 2020. Even now, as postal workers are dying and the danger of infection is massive, the Communication Workers Union refuses to pull the whole workforce out on strike until Royal Mail can guarantee their safety.

Thousands of UK care home residents dead in COVID-19 pandemic. By Robert Stevens, 16 April 2020. For the ruling elite, the elderly are viewed as a drain on resources and a burden on the further accumulation of personal wealth and corporate profit.

Germany: Munich tram drivers speak out on dangerous conditions during coronavirus pandemic. By our reporters, 16 April 2020. Reports from two tram drivers illustrate the irresponsible actions of the MVG management putting workers at increased risk of infection and death.

Bezos profits, workers die in coronavirus USA

This 16 April 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

COVID-19 is Taking a Toll on Rideshare Drivers | NowThis

From lower demand for rides to higher risk of exposure, here’s what it’s like to work as an older rideshare driver in the midst of a pandemic.

In US news and current events today, drivers for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft regularly allow strangers into their cars. As the coronavirus rapidly spreads across the U.S. and beyond, many drivers are taking extra precautions.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos cashes in on coronavirus pandemic, adding $24 billion to his fortune. By Jacob Crosse, 16 April 2020. Never letting a good crisis go to waste, the financial oligarchy has used the COVID-19 pandemic to enrich itself at the expense of society.

Jeff Bezos and his girlfriend (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool, File)

Amazon cracks down on rebellious workers as first COVID-19 fatality is reported. By Tom Carter, 16 April 2020. Amazon fired three workers who challenged the company’s failure to ensure safe working conditions during the pandemic.

Breana Avelar, a processing assistant, holds a sign outside the Amazon DTW1 fulfillment center in Romulus, Michigan April 1, 2020 (AP Photo slash Paul Sancya)

“Production costs do not equal the cost of a human life”. Outrage grows as Amazon workers die for Bezos’ profits. By Nick Barrickman, 16 April 2020. Workers across the US spoke denounced Bezos’ fortune and the company’s unsafe practices which are leading to increasing sickness and death in its facilities.

Working-class immigrants terrorized by Trump administration avoid COVID-19 testing, treatment. By Meenakshi Jagadeesan, 16 April 2020. Reports from doctors, immigration lawyers and community organizations reveal that a significant number of immigrants, despite showing symptoms associated with COVID-19, have avoided getting tested.

By Zach Carter in the USA today:

The Rich Are Having Themselves A Fine Coronavirus

Thank President Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress

Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell quietly said something outrageous. Asked whether the biggest banks in the country would continue making cash payments to their shareholders amid the worst economic breakdown in recorded history, Powell said yes.

“That’s a perfectly normal thing in our capitalist system”, he told David Wessell, a former Wall Street Journal reporter turned monetary policy guru at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution.

The world stands at the brink of financial catastrophe. Congress has passed a massive corporate bailout, and Powell himself has initiated the most aggressive financial rescue operation ever contemplated by the American central bank. These things do not happen when the banking system is hunky-dory.

And yet Powell continues to let the biggest banks in the country cut checks to their shareholders ― aka “rich people”, in the parlance of our times ― as a matter of routine. Almost half of all dividend income flows to the top 1% of income-earning households, while less than 8% of households in the bottom 60% earn any dividend income at all. And when the terms of the emergency coronavirus legislation were being debated in Congress last month, nobody lifted a finger to halt this miscarriage of capital ― not Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Ky.), not House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democratic-Calif.).

As COVID-19 spreads through ranks, Pentagon stages show of force against China. By Bill Van Auken, 16 April 2020. With COVD-19 plaguing its carrier battle groups, the US military staged an “elephant walk” of B-52s and other warplanes on Guam as a demonstration of firepower against China.

World-famous Mayo Clinic cuts pay, furloughs employees amidst COVID-19 pandemic. By Matt Rigel, 16 April 2020. To date, 117 hospitals and hospital chains have imposed cuts.

Mahogany tree origin in dinosaur age

This 2018 video says about itself:

Swietenia mahagoni, commonly known as American mahogany, Cuban mahogany, small-leaved mahogany, and West Indian mahogany, is a species of Swietenia native to southern Florida in the United States and islands in the Caribbean including the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Haiti. It is the species from which the original mahogany wood was produced.

Swietenia mahagoni is listed as “Threatened” in the Preservation of Native Flora of Florida Act. It is the national tree of the Dominican Republic.

The earliest recorded use of S. mahagoni was in 1514. This date year was carved into a rough-hewn cross placed in the Catedral de Santa María la Menor in Santo Domingo, the capital of what is now the Dominican Republic, at the beginning of the building’s construction. Completed about 1540, it is the oldest church in the West Indies, and its interior was ornamented with carved mahogany woodwork that is still in almost perfect condition after 500 years in the tropics.

Before the American revolution, botanists from Europe had explored and described the flora of the Carolinas, Florida, and the Bahamas. Fifty-six years before naturalist and illustrator John James Audubon was born, Volume Two of Mark Catesby‘s folio sized natural history was published in 1729. Catesby’s hand-colored plate of the mahogany tree, along with a description in English and French (not Latin as might have been expected), was the basis for Linnaeus using his new binomial nomenclature to name it. When Linnaeus’ description was published in 1758 as Cedrela mahagoni, mahogany had been well known for more than 200 years to the lumber and woodworking trades. Two years later, Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin reclassified it and placed the West Indies Mahogany Tree into his newly created genus, Swietenia. His classification still stands.

Fifty years after Argentinean revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara visited Sri Lanka, the Mahogany tree that he planted still stands tall. Che visited the Yahala Kele rubber estate in Horana to study rubber planting methods during his brief stay in the country and planted the Mahogany tree on August 7, 1959.

From the University of Kansas in the USA:

Mahogany tree family dates back to last hurrah of the dinosaurs

April 15, 2020

You might own something made from mahogany like furniture, paneling or a musical instrument.

Mahogany is a commercially important wood, valued for its hardness and beauty. The United States is the world’s top importer of the tropical timber from leading producers like Peru and Brazil. Unfortunately, mahogany is harvested illegally a lot of the time.

For science, mahogany is important, too — the fossil presence of the mahogany family is a telltale of where tropical forests once stood. Until recently, paleobotanists had only found evidence the mahogany family extended back to the Paleocene (about 60 million years ago).

Now, a new paper written by University of Kansas researcher Brian Atkinson in the American Journal of Botany shows the mahogany family goes back millions of years more, to the last hurrah of the dinosaurs, the Cretaceous.

“For understanding when many of the different branches of the tree of life evolved, we’re primarily dependent on the fossil record,” said Atkinson, an assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and curator in the Biodiversity Institute’s Division of Paleobotany. “In this case, Meliaceae, the mahogany family, is an ecologically and economically important group of trees. A lot of researchers have used this group as a study system to better understand the evolution of tropical rainforests. This work is the first definitive evidence that the tropically important trees were around during the Cretaceous period, when we first start to see the modernization of ecosystems and modern groups of plants.”

Atkinson’s new work pushes back the fossil record for Meliaceae by 15 to 20 million years, the Campanian stage of the Late Cretaceous, from between 72-79 million years ago. The well-preserved mahogany specimen Atkinson analyzed was discovered just off Vancouver Island in Canada.

“The rock that contained the specimen was collected by a local fossil collector, Graham Beard, who is the director of the Qualicum Beach Museum of Natural History,” Atkinson said. “He collected it years ago, but I was actually interested in the rock that has this fossil in it for something else. And as I kept preparing this rock, more for the other fossils were in there, this thing showed up by surprise. So, it was kind of found by accident.”

To pinpoint the fossil’s identity, Atkinson carefully studied the structure of the fossilized fruit and also analyzed phylogenetic information to figure out its relationship to other species in the mahogany family.

“I combined the molecular data from living representatives of the mahogany family with the morphology of the fossil, as well as the morphology of living species,” he said. “And then I subjugated that combined dataset to phylogenetic analyses, which allows us to reconstruct evolutionary relationships. Based on this analysis, we found the fossil is closely related to this genus called Melia, which is living today.”

The KU researcher gave the oldest-known mahogany fossil the scientific name Manchestercarpa vancouverensis — the species name signifies where the specimen was discovered, and the genus is named after an esteemed colleague in the field.

“I named it after a prolific paleobotanist who’s really improved our understanding of the evolution of flowering plants through the fossil record,” Atkinson said. “So, I named it in honor of Steve Manchester, who’s at the University of Florida Museum of Natural History.”

While it’s noteworthy that Atkinson has pushed back the origin story of mahogany, he stressed it also helps improve our understanding of the rate of early flowering plant evolution and, in turn, our grasp of larger modern ecosystems.

“They’re our most diverse group of plants on Earth, and so there’s a whole lot to explore,” he said. “And there are some cool things you can do methodologically that you might not be able to do with other groups of plants. I can really ask some exciting paleontological and general evolutionary questions with this group.”

Coronavirus disaster news, USA

This 16 April 2020 video says about itself:

President Trump said Tuesday he will stop U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, an announcement that follows weeks of increased criticism of the United Nations public health body. Paul O’Brien, who leads Oxfam’s coronavirus response, says Trump is trying desperately to shift blame for his own disastrous handling of the viral outbreak.

But cutting funding to the WHO will hurt those in developing countries the most, O’Brien says, noting that 80% of workers on the planet have no health insurance. “We have an economic crisis that is potentially coming along with the health crisis that is going to be profoundly harmful for many people,” he says.

DOJ TO INSPECT PRISONS AS INMATES FALL SICK The Justice Department’s inspector general will conduct remote inspections of Bureau of Prisons facilities to ensure they are following best practices to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus after hundreds of federal inmates tested positive for the virus. The review comes as the federal prison system struggles with a growing number of coronavirus cases and complaints from inmates, advocacy groups and correction officers about how officials are handling the pandemic among their 122 facilities. [AP]

SENATE DEMS TELL TRUMP: YOU FAILED TO MANAGE STOCKPILE More than a dozen Senate Democrats sent a letter to Trump slamming what they described as a failure to properly manage the Strategic National Stockpile amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Democrats, led by Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Patty Murray of Washington, urged Trump to explain why the federal stockpile was nearly depleted of critically needed personal protective equipment as the pandemic continued to worsen. [HuffPost]

PASTORS SUE CALIFORNIA GOV. FOR LIMITING GATHERINGS Pastors from three California churches are suing Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and several local officials for restricting religious gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that their congregations can worship in person … In a federal lawsuit, the evangelical Christian plaintiffs insist it’s unconstitutional for the state to allow some businesses to stay open ― such as grocery stores ― while houses of worship are forced to close. [HuffPost]

On Sunday, March 29, the coronavirus death count in the U.S. had reached 2,622 and churches around the country were already worshipping online to keep their congregants safe. But at The River Clermont, a nondenominational charismatic Christian church in Lake County, Florida, a praise and worship band was warming up the crowd as if there was no pandemic. Congregants raised their hands in the air and swayed and sang, much closer together than six feet: here.

32 residents die of coronavirus at 2 Massachusetts Jewish living facilities.

Jewish group launches page to report COVID-related hate crimes against Jews, Asian-Americans.

Logging threatens Canadian endangered caribou

This 2011 video from Canada says about itself:

Woodland caribou numbers are declining across Canada. Five key threats have been identified for populations found in the mountain national parks of Banff, Glacier, Jasper and Mount Revelstoke. Parks Canada is working hard to reduce these threats and keep woodland caribou on the mountain landscapes.

From the University of Guelph in Canada:

Logging threatening endangered caribou

April 15, 2020

Summary: Researchers found habitat and food web changes from forestry are encouraging more wolf packs to prey on caribou. Researchers attached video and GPS-tracking radio collars to caribou and wolves to monitor foraging and movements, including signs wolves had killed a caribou. Overs 6 years they collected and compared data from a site with extensive logging and a site untouched by forestry and found caribou in the disturbed site were not self-sustaining.

Cutting down forests means we’re also cutting down woodland caribou, says a pioneering study by University of Guelph ecologists showing that logging in Ontario’s extensive boreal stands threatens populations of the elusive but iconic herbivore.

In what integrative biology professor John Fryxell calls the first comprehensive study looking at the status of endangered woodland caribou across Ontario, the team found habitat and food web changes caused by forestry are encouraging more wolf packs to prey on caribou. Labelling the study a “clarion call” for conservation measures, he said the new paper shows how human activity, particularly logging, is upsetting food webs and habitat involving caribou, wolves and moose.

“It’s death by a million cuts,” said Fryxell. “Woodland caribou are an iconic species in Indigenous culture, integral to our historical development and a cornerstone in the functioning of boreal food webs. I think of the caribou as a canary in the coal mine for the long-term sustainability and quality of the boreal forest to protect other wildlife.”

Published recently in the Journal of Wildlife Management, the study entailed attaching video collars to 30 caribou to monitor their foraging. The researchers also outfitted about 120 caribou and 50 wolves with regular GPS-tracking radio collars to monitor the animals’ movements, including signs that wolves likely had killed a caribou.

Ontario’s woodland caribou number several thousand animals. An officially endangered species, woodland caribou live below the tree line across most of Canada except the Atlantic provinces.

Logging has moved northward in Ontario over recent decades. As cut forests regrow, their mix of new trees and shrubs attracts moose. Higher moose populations in turn attract wolves, placing caribou at risk of being hunted as well.

Those caribou could move farther north, said Fryxell, but perhaps not soon enough to sustain their numbers.

Over six years, the team studied two sites in northern Ontario spanning about 23,000 square kilometres in all.

One site in Nakina, located about 160 kilometres north of Lake Superior, has been logged extensively since 1970. Regenerating forests contain more deciduous trees such as poplar and willow as well as thicker undergrowth.

The Pickle Lake site, dominated by stands of jack pine, is located about a seven-hour drive from Thunder Bay, beyond the northern limit for forestry. That made for a perfect natural experiment for the researchers to compare conditions in both locations.

To see what caribou might be eating, they sampled kinds of plants growing in each site and analyzed the footage collected from the video collars, or “critter cams”. Caribou eat mostly lichen on the ground and growing on trees.

The researchers also analyzed the information collected from the GPS-tracking radio collars on wolves. Multiple pings from a single spot over an extended period “usually means they’re eating something,” said Fryxell.

Team members then visited those sites to verify what prey had been eaten.

The researchers entered their information into computer models that estimate whether a caribou population will produce enough young to sustain itself or not. They found that caribou in the disturbed site were not self-sustaining, unlike healthier populations at Pickle Lake.

Fryxell said the results likely would apply farther north in Ontario and in other parts of Canada where woodland caribou are endangered by resource extraction.

He said forestry companies need to consider the long-term effects of their operations on plants and animals. Companies should practice rotation cutting to prevent clear-cutting and allow forests to regenerate, said Fryxell.

More immediately, resource managers might need to consider … hindering [wolves’] movements by turning old logging roads back into forest.

He said there’s no evidence that either wolves or moose are threatened.

With plans for further development of Northern Ontario communities, Fryxell hopes to see governments, conservationists, Indigenous groups, industry and others work together to address threats to woodland caribou. “We have an opportunity to learn from what was done in the past to manage better in the future.”