New sea sponge species discovery off Canada

Desmacella hyaline. Image credit: Sally Leys

From the University of Alberta in Canada:

Scientists identify new species of sea sponge off the coast of British Columbia, Canada

Newly discovered sea sponge wields influence over reef function and ecosystem health

July 16, 2020

Summary: A research team has published a study on the discovery of a new sponge that is abundant in the region, making up nearly 20 per cent of the live sponges in the reefs off the coast of British Columbia. The new species — called Desmacella hyalina — was discovered using an underwater robot that traveled along the ocean floor, surveying reefs and collecting samples.

Deep in the inky ocean abyss off the coast of British Columbia, reefs made of glass sea sponges cover hundreds of kilometres of the ocean floor. The sponges form multi-storied habitats, their glass skeletons stacked on top of one another to create intricate reefs. And while their description may sound otherworldly, these reefs are home to creatures with whom we are very familiar, including halibut, rockfish, and shrimp.

In February 2017, Fisheries and Oceans Canada designated this region — including Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound — a marine protected area in order to preserve the delicate, glass reefs. But to effectively manage conservation efforts, scientists must develop a better understanding of the lifeforms that are already there.

“One of the most important reasons for studying the diversity of sea sponges in our oceans is for conservation management,” explained Lauren Law, who conducted this research as part of her graduate studies with Sally Leys, professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Biological Sciences. “Many studies in the protected area have focused on describing the crustaceans and fish living in the reefs, but non-reef forming sponges remain overlooked.”

Now, the UAlberta research team has published a study on the discovery of a new sponge that is abundant in the region, making up nearly 20 per cent of the live sponges in the reefs off the coast of British Columbia. The new species — called Desmacella hyalina — was discovered using an underwater robot that travelled along the ocean floor, surveying reefs and collecting samples.

“Our findings show Desmacella comprise a surprisingly large amount of live sponge cover in the reefs and can have potential major influence on reef function, recruitment, and overall ecosystem health,” said Law, who is now a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada Pacific Region. “While we have discovered a new species, we have yet to determine its relationship with glass sponges in the area.”

The researchers recommend further investigation to better understand the role of Desmacella in the ecosystem, as well as more ecological assessment of glass sponge habitat focused on surveying non-reef forming sponges.

“Properly knowing the components of an environment and the linkages between them — here this new species Desmacella hyalina and the reef sponges it lives on — is a major step forward in understanding the ecosystem services and function of the sponge reefs,” added Leys. “This is the information we need for concrete management strategies.”

Sponges are filter feeders that live on particulate matter — but they can also ingest microscopic fragments of plastics and other pollutants of anthropogenic origin. They can therefore serve as useful bioindicators of the health of marine ecosystems: here.

COVID-19 disaster in Trump’s USA getting worse

This 21 July 2020 video from California in the USA says about itself:

Alameda County Highland Hospital Workers Fight Covid, Privatization, Bullying & Union Busting

Workers and supporters of Highland Hospital in Alameda county protested the failure to protect workers and patients from Covid-19 and the privatization of Alameda County healthcare system.

They also discussed the systemic bullying and targeting of whistleblowers at the hospital.

COVID-19 cases reach 15 million worldwide with 4 million in the US alone. By Benjamin Mateus, 22 July 2020. The United States is in the unique position of being the only developed nation to face such a disastrous and expanding outbreak.

TURNS OUT MASS DEATH IS BAD FOR THE ECONOMY In March, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli fleetingly suggested that everyone get coronavirus, as “in a month it would be over.” He later apologized, but by May, Fox host Pete Hegseth was encouraging viewers to go out and intentionally contract the disease as Trump insisted “we have to get our country open.” Astoundingly, this reckless narrative also took hold with many Democratic mayors and governors. The results have been horrific. Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that the state was going back into lockdown after premature reopening led to a catastrophic rush of COVID-19 infections and deaths. [HuffPost]

MISSOURI GOV. SAYS SCHOOLKIDS WILL CATCH COVID-19 AND ‘GET OVER IT’ The Republican governor of Missouri is pushing for children to return to school while acknowledging that doing so is likely to result in the mass spread of COVID-19. Gov. Mike Parson’s controversial comments align with the message coming from the White House, which ignores the risk of children infecting teachers and adult family members at home. “If they do get COVID-19, which they will — and they will when they go to school — they’re not going to the hospitals,” Parson told radio host Marc Cox on KFTK. “They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it.” [HuffPost]

DEMOCRATIC BILL LINKS UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS TO WORKPLACE SAFETY Some Senate Democrats want to update eligibility standards so that people don’t get cut off for refusing to work in unsafe conditions. Each state has its own definition of “suitable work,” and workers lose eligibility for benefits if they turn down a job offer that meets the definition. Legislation introduced Tuesday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would give state workforce agencies $10 billion to promote workplace safety if they update their laws to say that work isn’t suitable if the conditions aren’t up to federal standards for reducing exposure to the coronavirus. [HuffPost]

BIG TRUMP DONORS REAPED AT LEAST $41 MILLION IN PPP AID As the coronavirus ravaged America this spring, 15 business leaders gave President Donald Trump and the Republican Party $1.4 million in big checks while their businesses collected at least $41 million in federal assistance. William Scott, CEO of railroad contractor Trans-Global Solutions, donated $150,000 to the Trump Victory committee in the weeks after his company received as much as $10 million from the Paycheck Protection Program on April 14. Alfred Hendrickson donated $41,100 to Trump’s Make America Great Committee on April 27, the same day his Florida dealership received a PPP loan worth up to $5 million. [HuffPost]

Workplace temperature checks aren’t enough. Here’s what else we need.

Report exposes crisis in American university health care systems as coronavirus cases skyrocket. By Joe Williams, 22 July 2020. The response of university administrators over the poor state of health care on college campuses is to seek immunity from any legal accountability.

Asian Americans are “not a virus,” new PSA from director Alan Yang declares.

Machismo not good for cichlid fish

This 2013 video says about itself:

Astatotilapia burtoni (mouthbreeder).

Astatotilapia burtoni incubating fish eggs.

New study by researchers from the University of Konstanz, the co-located Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (both in Germany) and the University of Texas at Austin finds that groups led by subordinate males outperform those led by dominant and aggressive males

Being the strongest, biggest and most aggressive individual in a group might make you dominant, but it doesn’t mean you make all the decisions.

A new study of fish behaviour published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that dominant individuals can influence a group through force, but passive individuals are far better at bringing a group to consensus. The study, published by an international team from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, the University of Konstanz and the University of Texas at Austin, overturns assumptions that dominant individuals also have the greatest influence on their groups, and sheds light on the potential of domineering individuals to obstruct effective communication in organisations.

“The same traits that make you powerful in one context can actively reduce your influence in others, especially contexts in which individuals are free to choose who to follow,” says senior author Alex Jordan, a group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and at the University of Konstanz’s Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour.”

“Dominant individuals can force their will on the group by being pushy, but that also makes them socially aversive. When it comes to bringing peers to consensus during more sophisticated tasks, it is the least aggressive individuals that exert the greatest influence. Our results illustrate that although domineering individuals most often ascend to positions of power, they can in fact create the least effective influence structures at the same time.”

Separating dominance and influence

To disentangle the effects of dominance and influence, the researchers studied groups of a social cichlid fish, Astatotilpia burtoni. “This species form groups with strict social hierarchies, in which dominant males control resources, territory, and space,” says Mariana Rodriguez-Santiago, co-first author on the study and a doctoral student in the lab of co-corresponding author Hans Hofmann at UT Austin.

“We ask if the colourful dominant males, which are aggressive, central in their social networks, and control resources, are most influential? Or if drab subordinate males wield the greatest influence, despite being passive, non-territorial, and having little or no control over resources.”

The researchers separated the effects of social dominance from social influence by examining how information flows between either dominant or subordinate males and their groups in two different contexts: routine social behaviour, or a more complex social learning task. In the more complex social learning task, dominant or subordinate male fish were trained that a certain coloured light on one side of the tank meant food would soon arrive at that location. These “informed” individuals were then placed into new groups of uninformed individuals and researchers asked which group — those with informed dominant or subordinate males — more quickly learned to associate a coloured light with food.

The cost of being domineering

The researchers observed the movement of the fish and found that in routine social interactions the dominant males exerted the greatest influential by chasing and pushing the group around. But in the more complex task, where influence was not forced on the group, but rather individuals had a choice about who to follow, it was subordinate males who wielded the greatest influence in their social groups. In groups with a subordinate male as demonstrator, fish quickly came to a consensus about which light to follow, moving together as a coherent unit to succeed in the task. With a dominant male as the informant, groups were far slower to reach consensus, if they did at all.

Breaking down behaviour with machine learning

By using additional machine-learning based animal tracking, employing cutting edge techniques developed in the computer sciences, researchers were able to break down the behavioural differences between dominant and subordinate males: dominant males were central in behavioural social networks (they frequently interacted with others) but they occupied peripheral locations in spatial networks (they were avoided by others). The technology provided insights never before available, revealing the mechanisms of influence as well as the outcome.

“By capturing behavioural data that are impossible to be measured with the naked eye, our automated tracking methods revealed that it was not the difference in social position between dominant and subordinate per se, but rather in the way they moved and interacted with others,” says co-first author Paul Nührenberg, a doctoral student at the Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” at the University of Konstanz. “These behavioural differences lead directly to differences in social influence.”

Rethinking leadership

This result touches on the evolution of animal societies as well as leadership structures in organisations. “In many societies, whether animal or human, individuals in positions of power all possess a similar suite of traits, which are aggression, intimidation and coercion,” says Jordan. “But effective communication requires the presence of a diversity of voices, not just the loudest. Our results from a natural system show that allowing alternative pathways to positions of power may be useful in creating stronger advisory, governmental, and educational structures.”


  • A new study of fish behaviour conducted by researchers from the University of Konstanz, the co-located Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and the University of Texas at Austin shows that dominant individuals can influence a group through force, but passive individuals are far better at bringing a group to consensus.
  • Using the social cichlid, Astatotilpia burtoni, which forms strict social hierarchies of dominant and subordinate males, the study separated the effects of social dominance from social influence by examining groups in two different contexts: routine social behaviour, or a more complex social learning task.
  • The study used additional machine-learning based animal tracking, employing cutting edge techniques developed in the gaming and graphics industries, to break down the behavioural differences between dominant and subordinate males.
  • Researchers include scientists from the Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” at the University of Konstanz and the co-located Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany, and the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Funded by the National Science Foundation BEACON, the DFG Cluster of Excellence 2117 “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” (ID: 422037984).

Donald Trump’s USA becoming fascist?

Donald Trump's stormtroopers in Portland, USA

By John Wojcik in the USA, :

With secret police, Trump is practising fascism in the streets of US cities

In Portland and elsewhere, peaceful protesters are being kidnapped and held by sinister unidentified troops. JOHN WOJCIK reports

WHAT started out as the use of dogwhistles to racists and fascists early in the administration and soon graduated to trumpets is now unfolding as the actual practice of fascism on the streets of United States’ cities.

There were clear signs of the direct use of fascist tactics last month as the nation and the world viewed the horrific actions of militarised police forces during the protests against the murder of George Floyd.

Then, first in Washington DC, there were reports of unidentified camouflaged troops showing up to instigate violent attacks on peaceful demonstrators.

At first, some thought they could be right-wing militias doing the authorities’ dirty work, but it quickly became obvious that they were unidentified secret military-type police dispatched by the Trump administration.

Now the administration admits that it has sent into Portland nameless, unidentifiable troops from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to kidnap and jail Black Lives Matter and other peaceful demonstrators.

Furthermore, Trump threatened on Monday that his secret police could be on their way to Chicago, New York and other cities across the nation. “We’re not going to let anarchy take over our American cities,” he said on MSNBC.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon quickly responded that he wished “President Trump would be attacking the coronavirus the way he is attacking civil liberties.”

This latest turn to open fascism by the Trump administration is widely seen as the most dramatic turn in that direction since his election.

The Trump secret police have been driving around Portland in unmarked vans since at least July 14.

Personal accounts of people on the streets, news reporters and many videos posted online confirm that they have been driving up to people, kidnapping them off the streets and providing no information to them about why they are being detained.

The vans drive off with the victims, who often wake up in jail cells, the location of which they have no idea. The blindfolded victims are then often dumped back out on the street with no explanation of why they were detained.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley have condemned the actions of the secret police and demanded their removal from the city.

They say that peaceful demonstrations that had actually been dwindling in number, have now, in reaction to the fascist patrols, ramped up all over again. Merkley has called for a federal-level investigation.

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf has refused to “remove all federal officers from our streets,” which Brown has demanded, claiming falsely that Portland “has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob.”

Brown has declared that the Trump administration “is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes.

“He is putting both Oregonians and local law-enforcement officers in harm’s way.

“This, coming from the same president who used tear gas to clear out peaceful protesters in Washington DC, to engineer a photo opportunity.”

One of Trump’s secret policemen shot a Portland protester in the head, fracturing his skull. The protester had to be hospitalised with a tube inserted into his skull to drain the bleeding from his brain.

The shooting is what prompted both Merkley and his counterpart, Senator Wyden, to demand an investigation.

Another man, Mark Pettibone, was walking in downtown Portland when he saw the secret police, whom he could not identify as either police or right-wing militia because of their unmarked uniforms.

They kidnapped him off the street and detained him.

“I just happened to be wearing black on a sidewalk in downtown Portland at the time. And that, apparently, is grounds for detaining me.”

Juniper Simonis, a volunteer medic, told Buzzfeed News that he was with a friend when the secret police grabbed them, forcing them into custody, separating them from their service dog.

The two were accused of using chalk on a sidewalk. After they were grabbed, they were “punished” by being sprayed at close range with OC gas (pepper spray).

“They jumped me and assaulted me without any legal or verbal communication to me about being under arrest or telling me to stop. They’re snatching people and asking questions later.”

The New York Times reported that it was told by a demonstrator: “One of the officers said: ‘It’s OK, it’s OK,’ and just grabbed me and threw me into the van. Another officer pulled my beanie down so I couldn’t see. I was terrified.

“It seemed like it was out of a horror-sci-fi like a Philip K Dick novel. It was like being preyed upon.”

The paper further reported: “The tactical agents deployed by Homeland Security include officials from a group known as Bortac, the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a Swat team, a highly trained group that normally is tasked with investigating drug-smuggling organisations as opposed to protesters in cities.”

Bortac is also the same outfit tasked with supporting immigration & customs enforcement (ICE) agents in immigration sweeps.

Merkley said on Saturday that he will introduce an amendment prohibiting the Trump administration from deploying federal law enforcement in the streets of US cities.

In a related matter on Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon sued the DHS and the US Marshals Service on behalf of recently assaulted legal observers and journalists.

Interim legal director Kelly Simon stated in a press release: “This is a fight to save our democracy.

“Under the direction of the Trump administration, federal agents are terrorising the community, risking lives and brutally attacking protesters demonstrating against police brutality. This is police escalation on top of police escalation.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has followed suit, suing DHS, the US Marshals Service, Customs & Border Protection and the Federal Protection Service for illegally detaining citizens without probable cause.

Fascism is not something that takes hold overnight. Even in the days of Hitler’s ascension to power, the process was often gradual. In Germany, for example, the resistance in what Hitler called “Red Berlin” held on longer than in other parts of the country.

Racist dogwhistles, racist trumpets, militarised police, attacks on journalists and legal observers, new rounds of vote suppression and secret police on the streets are all progressive steps that gradually accustom US citizens to a push towards fascism in this country.

Some are asking whether the use of secret police in US cities by Trump could portend a declaration of martial law or worse if he loses the election in November. When we see how quickly Trump went from dogwhistles to secret-police patrols, it is not then an unreasonable question.

The fascist-like push by Republicans to crank up the stripping of voters from the rolls is underway at full steam now and parallel to the deployment of secret police.

Regardless of Trump’s ultimate plans, however, the forces in the US that would be happy with a police state are dangerously positioned to increase their influence.

A massive rejection of Trump and Trumpism on November 3 will be needed to put them in their place — far from any position they can use for their work of destroying democracy altogether.

This article appeared at

Trump turns to neo-Nazi symbols to attract racist votes: here.

How deep-sea black fish become invisible

This video says about itself:

Deep Sea Creatures [National Geographic Documentary 2017 HD]

Deep sea creature refers to organisms that live below the photic zone of the ocean. These creatures must survive in extremely harsh conditions, such as hundreds of bars of pressure, small amounts of oxygen, very little food, no sunlight, and constant, extreme cold. Most creatures have to depend on food floating down from above.

These creatures live in very demanding environments, such as the abyssal or hadal zones, which, being thousands of meters below the surface, are almost completely devoid of light. The water is between 3 and 10 degrees Celsius and has low oxygen levels. Due to the depth, the pressure is between 20 and 1,000 bars. Creatures that live hundreds or even thousands of meters deep in the ocean have adapted to the high pressure, lack of light, and other factors.

The depths of the ocean are festooned with the most nightmarish creatures imaginable. You might think you’re safe, because these critters live thousands of feet down in a cold dark abyss, but the vampire squid, which looks like a nightmare umbrella, and the frilled shark—a literal living fossil—will live on in the recesses of your mind long after you’ve clicked away. Enjoy these deep sea horrors and try to have a relaxing day afterwards.

From Duke University in the USA:

Ultra-black skin allows some fish to lurk unseen

Packed pigment granules help them blend in without blowing their cover

July 16, 2020

Summary: Scientists report that at least 16 species of deep-sea fish have evolved ultra-black skin that absorbs more than 99.5% of the light that hits them, making them nearly impossible to pick out from the shadows. These fish owe their disappearing act to tiny packets of pigment within their skin cells called melanosomes. The melanosomes of ultra-black fish are differently shaped and arranged on a microscopic level, compared with regular black fish, says a new study.

If there were a stagehand of the sea, wearing black to disappear into the darkness backstage, it might be the dragonfish. Or the common fangtooth.

These fish live in the ocean’s inky depths where there is nowhere to take cover. Even beyond the reach of sunlight, they can still be caught in the glow of bioluminescent organisms that illuminate the water to hunt. So they evade detection with a trick of their own: stealth wear.

Scientists report that at least 16 species of deep-sea fish have evolved ultra-black skin that absorbs more than 99.5% of the light that hits them, making them nearly impossible to pick out from the shadows.

These fish owe their disappearing act to tiny packets of pigment within their skin cells called melanosomes. The melanosomes of ultra-black fish are differently shaped and arranged, on a microscopic level, compared with regular black fish, says a study led by Duke University and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The researchers say the work could lead to new light-trapping materials for use in applications ranging from solar panels to telescopes.

For the paper, to be published July 16 in the journal Current Biology, the team used a trawl net and a remotely operated vehicle to scoop up 39 black fish swimming up to a mile deep in the waters of Monterey Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, and bring them up to a ship to study.

Using a spectrometer to measure the amount of light reflected off the fishes’ skin, the researchers identified 16 species that reflected less than 0.5% of light, making them some 20 times darker and less reflective than everyday black objects.

“Ultra-black arose more than once across the fish family tree,” said first author Alexander Davis, a biology Ph.D. student in Sonke Johnsen’s lab at Duke.

The darkest species they found, a tiny anglerfish not much longer than a golf tee, soaks up so much light that almost none — 0.04% — bounces back to the eye. Only one other group of black animals, the birds-of-paradise of Papua New Guinea with their ultra-dark plumage, are known to match them.

Getting decent photos of these fish onboard the ship was tough; their features kept getting lost. “It didn’t matter how you set up the camera or lighting — they just sucked up all the light,” said research zoologist Karen Osborn of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The team found that, when magnified thousands of times under electron microscopes, normal black skin and ultra-black skin look very different. Both have tiny structures within their cells that contain melanin — the same pigment that lends human skin its color. What sets ultra-black fish apart, they say, is the shape and arrangement of these melanosomes.

Other cold-blooded animals with normal black skin have tiny pearl-shaped melanosomes, while ultra-black ones are larger, more tic-tac-shaped. And ultra-black skin has melanosomes that are more tightly packed together, forming a continuous sheet around the body, whereas normal black skin contains unpigmented gaps.

The researchers ran some computer models, simulating fish skin containing different sizes and shapes of melanosomes, and found that ultra-black melanosomes have the optimal geometry for swallowing light.

Melanosomes are packed into the skin cells “like a tiny gumball machine, where all of the gumballs are of just the right size and shape to trap light within the machine,” Davis said.

Their ultra-black camouflage could be the difference between eating and getting eaten, Davis says. By being blacker than black, these fish manage to avoid detection even at six-fold shorter ranges.

Donald Trump’s United States stormtrooper violence

Donald Trump's stormtroopers attack in Portland, USA

From daily The Morning Star in Britain, 21 July 2020:

Oregon clashes with Trump over ‘secret police’ abducting citizens

DEMONSTRATORS against US President Donald Trump’s deployment of camouflaged federal agents to crack down on Black Lives Matter protests were driven away from the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, on Monday night with flash-bang grenades.

State and local authorities have filed a lawsuit against the president’s action in sending out the unidentified enforcers without local consent.

State attorney-general Ellen Rosenblum has submitted to the court that masked federal officers are arresting people on the street with “no probable cause” and whisking them away in unmarked cars.

But Mr Trump says he will extend the programme to other cities. “We’re going to have more federal law enforcement, I can tell you,” he declared on Monday.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown said: “We cannot have secret police abducting people in unmarked vehicles. I can’t believe I have to say that to the president of the United States.”

But the Department of Homeland Security tweeted that “Portland is rife with violent anarchists assaulting federal officers and federal buildings … these are federal crimes.”

Even for corporate ‘centrist‘ Democrat politician Nancy Pelosi this is too much. She speaks about ‘stormtroopers’:

Stormtroopers, in a narrow sense, is the English name for Adolf Hitler’s nazi paramilitary force, the Sturmabteilung (SA).

Trump’s ‘anti-anarchist’ new stormtrooper force was founded in June 2020 by presidential decree. It is called PACT: Protecting American Communities Taskforce. Trump originally intended it to protect statues of pro-slavery Confederate generals of the 19th century United States civil war, and then expanded it to more tasks.