Woodpeckers’ drumming, new research


This 2016 video from the USA says about itself:

World’s Loudest Woodpecker Drumming and Pecking! Northern Flickers use real man-made steel drums – metal chimney caps – that makes them intelligent “tool-users” and likely among the loudest woodpecker drummers in the world. But loud doesn’t begin to describe what the 15-minute long drumming and calling sessions sound like inside the house whose chimney top is used as a drum. Enjoy this short documentary and imagine what this sounds like at the break of dawn as a male Northern Flicker defends his territory, mate and nest box!

From the University of Zurich in Switzerland:

Woodpeckers’ drumming: Conserved meaning despite different structure over the years

October 2, 2020

Summary: How do animals produce and perceive biological information in sounds? To what extent does the acoustic structure and its associated meaning change during evolution? An international team has reconstructed the evolutionary history of an animal communication system, focusing on drumming signals of woodpeckers.

Animal acoustic signals are amazingly diverse. Researchers from the University of Zurich and the University of Saint-Etienne, together with French, American and Dutch collaborators, explored the function and diversification of animal acoustic signals and the mechanisms underlying the evolution of animal communication systems.

To this end, they used Shannon & Weaver’s ‘Mathematical Theory of Communication’ originally applied to telecommunications in 1949, which has transformed the scientific understanding of animal communication. This theory allows the amount of information in a signal to be quantified. The researchers were the first to use this framework within an evolutionary perspective to explore the biological information encoded in an animal signal.

How drumming structure evolves over time

In deciding which biological model to choose, the researchers selected the woodpeckers’ drumming as their ideal candidate. This bird family is known for rapidly striking their beaks on tree trunks to communicate. The team combined acoustic analyses of drumming from 92 species of woodpeckers, together with theoretic calculations, evolutionary reconstructions, investigations at the level of ecological communities as well as playback experiments in the field.

“We wanted to test whether drumming has evolved to enhance species-specific biological information, thereby promoting species recognition,” says lead author Maxime Garcia of the UZH Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies.

Constant amount of information for 22 million years

Results demonstrate the emergence of new drumming types during woodpeckers evolution. Yet, despite these changes in drumming structure, the amount of biological information about species identity has remained relatively constant for 22 million years. Selection towards increased biological information thus does not seem to represent a major evolutionary driver in this animal communication system. How then can biological information be concretely maintained in nature? Analyses of existing communities around the globe show that ecological arrangements facilitate the efficiency of drumming signals: Communities are composed of only a few species, which distribute their drumming strategies to avoid acoustic overlap. “The responses to different drumming structures seen in our experimental approach show the ability of individuals to recognize their own species based on acoustic cues about species identity found in drumming signals,” says Garcia. This way, biological information about species identity can be maintained without necessarily inducing a strong evolutionary pressure on drumming signals.

The present study shows that random and unpredictable changes in the structure of communication signals over time can occur while maintaining the signals overall informative potential within and across species. This work leads the way to further investigate the evolution of meaning associated with communicating through multiple communication channels.

‘Trump Hitler-like’, 100-year-old Holocaust survivor says


Ruth Nussbaum with her son, right, and two grandsons. Photo by Ruth Nussbaum

By Steve North in the USA, 30 September 2020:

100-year-old Holocaust survivor compares Trump to Hitler

I’d like to say a few words about Adolf Hitler, Donald Trump, and Ruth Nussbaum.

Let’s start with Ruth, who is marking her 100th birthday on September 30th, and isn’t overly thrilled with the occasion. As she told me a few weeks ago, “I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody”.

Ruth Rozanski was born in Offenbach, Germany, a few miles from Frankfurt. By the age of five she’d learned how to knit, an activity in which she finds enjoyment and meaning to this day. After her father’s untimely death when she was 11, she lived with her mother Henriette and younger sister Ellen in a building owned by an aunt; her mom and aunt managed a small store downstairs from their apartment.

An exceptionally bright teenager, Ruth worked for three years as an apprentice bookkeeper until Kristallnacht in November 1938. During that nationwide anti-Jewish orgy of violence, death and destruction, Nazi thugs ransacked her family’s store and residence.

Several months later, fearing what the ominous future might hold for German Jews, Henriette made the wrenching decision to send Ellen to safety in England on the now-legendary Kindertransport.

Ruth, however, was already past the 17-year age limit; it took another year of desperate attempts – and the help of the refugee organization HIAS – to make her escape from Nazi Germany, leaving her mother behind.

In late 1940, the 20-year-old, with only the clothes on her back, got on a train that rumbled through Russia for days, made her way to Japan, and boarded a ship that eventually docked in Seattle. Literally penniless, it took her some time to raise the one cent needed to send a postcard to relatives in New York City, who arranged through HIAS to bring her east.

In New York, Ruth was reunited with her fiancé Norbert (later Norman) Nussbaum. The couple met at a dancing school in 1935 when he was 17 and she 15; he fled Germany separately, and they married in 1942.

I am familiar with Ruth’s saga because Norman was my mother’s cousin, and our two families lived near each other for decades in Queens, NY.

After World War II ended, Ruth discovered that her 55-year-old mother Henriette had been murdered in Treblinka.

In 1956, tragedy struck again, when the older of Ruth and Norman’s two sons died of leukemia at the age of nine. Although never fully recovered from that heartbreak, the Nussbaums carried on, moving to Delray Beach, Florida in the 1980s; Norman passed away in 1993.

In the years since being widowed, Ruth has kept busy by knitting blankets and hats for hospitalized children with cancer. Still living alone in her own home, she creates a blanket a day, and has been recognized several times for her remarkable charity work. She enjoys visits from her surviving son and two grandsons, as well as the children and grandchildren of her sister Ellen, who died in 2018.

One might think Ruth could look back with some sense of contentment and comfort at a lifetime of triumph over tragedy, but that’s not the case. In our recent conversation, she lamented the nation’s current crises, saying “I’ve seen a lot in my 100 years, but I don’t know why I had to stick around for all of this. It’s awful”.

Her pessimism has grown since 2016, when we met at an Italian restaurant for dinner during the presidential election campaign. After sharing joyful memories of my parents’ wedding and gossip about various relatives, Ruth turned to politics.

The woman who was forced to listen daily to Adolf Hitler’s lunatic rants on the radio for seven years in the 1930s was blunt: “When I hear Trump speak, I hear Hitler again. When I see his rallies, it’s like what I saw in Nazi Germany”.

I pushed back against Ruth’s emotional comments. As a journalist who has interviewed dozens of survivors and reported extensively on Holocaust-related topics, and as the son of a mother who escaped the Nazis and a father whose aunts, uncles and ten first cousins were murdered by them, I have long believed that nobody and nothing can or should be compared to Hitler and Nazism.

The slaughter of six million Jews has been used and abused far too often by those who have no concept of its mechanized magnitude, … to evangelical Christians on the extreme right. Its unfathomable evil has been cheapened by pop culture references to “soup Nazis” and sitcom jokes about Anne Frank.

So I told Ruth in 2016 I thought she was exaggerating, that the Holocaust was an event unique in its horror, that the unhinged diatribes of Donald Trump, as racist and moronic as they might be, were not equivalent to genocide.

Four years later, I’ve come to realize Ruth is right. Donald Trump still is not the Adolf Hitler of 1944. But he legitimately can be compared to the Hitler of 1934 – and that, perhaps, is by design. Legal filings from Trump’s first divorce revealed he owned and studied a book of the Führer’s early speeches. A new analysis by prominent civil liberties attorney Burt Neuborne cites twenty ways Trump’s words and actions are similar to those of Hitler in the early years of the Third Reich, from the attacks on mainstream media and objective truth to huge rallies, mass detention, ultranationalism and demonization of all opponents.

In recent weeks, as early voting begins, Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses in November. This is no surprise to Ruth, who told me earlier this month that “Trump is like a dictator. He’s crazy like Hitler was”.

Despite the barbed wire and caged children, a detention center in Texas is not Dachau in Bavaria. But when an eyewitness such as Ruth Nussbaum with a century of wisdom and lived experience warns us of the similarities, we ignore her at our own peril.

For Holocaust survivors, Trump’s refusal to concede is a bad memory.

Ice Age Texas, USA manatees?


This 2018 video is called Manatees Are the “Sea Cows” of the Coasts | National Geographic Wild.

From the University of Texas at Austin in the USA:

Ice Age manatees may have called Texas home

October 1, 2020

Manatees don’t live year-round in Texas, but these gentle, slow-moving sea cows are known to occasionally visit, swimming in for a “summer vacation” from Florida and Mexico and returning to warmer waters for the winter.

Research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found fossil evidence for manatees along the Texas coast dating back to the most recent ice age. The discovery raises questions about whether manatees have been making the visit for thousands of years, or if an ancient population of ice age manatees once called Texas home somewhere between 11,000 and 240,000 years ago.

The findings were published in Palaeontologia Electronica.

“This was an unexpected thing for me because I don’t think about manatees being on the Texas coast today,” said lead author Christopher Bell, a professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. “But they’re here. They’re just not well known.”

The paper co-authors are Sam Houston State University Natural History Collections curator William Godwin, SHSU alumna Kelsey Jenkins (now a graduate student at Yale University), and SHSU Professor Patrick Lewis.

The eight fossils described in the paper include manatee jawbones and rib fragments from the Pleistocene, the geological epoch of the last ice age. Most of the bones were collected from McFaddin Beach near Port Arthur and Caplen Beach near Galveston during the past 50 years by amateur fossil collectors who donated their finds to the SHSU collections.

“We have them from one decade to another, so we know it’s not from some old manatee that washed up, and we have them from different places,” Godwin said. “All these lines of evidence support that manatee bones were coming up in a constant way.”

The Jackson Museum of Earth History at UT holds two of the specimens.

A lower jawbone fossil, which was donated to the SHSU collections by amateur collector Joe Liggio, jumpstarted the research.

“I decided my collection would be better served in a museum,” Liggio said. “The manatee jaw was one of many unidentified bones in my collection.”

Manatee jawbones have a distinct S-shaped curve that immediately caught Godwin’s eye. But Godwin said he was met with skepticism when he sought other manatee fossils for comparison. He recalls reaching out to a fossil seller who told him point-blank “there are no Pleistocene manatees in Texas.”

But examination of the fossils by Bell and Lewis proved otherwise. The bones belonged to the same species of manatee that visits the Texas coast today, Trichechus manatus. An upper jawbone donated by U.S. Rep. Brian Babin was found to belong to an extinct form of the manatee, Trichechus manatus bakerorum.

The age of the manatee fossils is based on their association with better-known ice age fossils and paleo-indian artifacts that have been found on the same beaches.

It’s assumed that the cooler ice age climate would have made Texas waters even less hospitable to manatees than they are today. But the fact that manatees were in Texas — whether as visitors or residents — raises questions about the ancient environment and ancient manatees, Bell said. Either the coastal climate was warmer than is generally thought, or ice age manatees were more resilient to cooler temperatures than manatees of today.

The Texas coast stretched much farther into the Gulf of Mexico and hosted wider river outlets during the ice age than it does now, said Jackson School Professor David Mohrig, who was not part of the research team.

“Subsurface imaging of the now flooded modern continental shelf reveals both a greater number of coastal embayments and the presence of significantly wider channels during ice age times,” said Mohrig, an expert on how sedimentary landscapes evolve.

If there was a population of ice age manatees in Texas, it’s plausible that they would have rode out winters in these warmer river outlets, like how they do today in Florida and Mexico.

‘Mild’ COVID-19 infection is not mild


This 2 October 2020 video by the Washington Post in the USA says about itself:

Before Trump tested positive for coronavirus, Boris Johnson almost died after his diagnosis

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for the coronavirus in March and spent time in intensive care before telling the public he nearly died. Read more here.

‘Covid-19 has left me a shadow of my former self – here’s what lies in store for Boris’; from the British Conservative Daily Telegraph.

From the New York Times in the USA:

For Boris Johnson, a Grim Premiership That No One Foresaw

“What on earth happened to the freedom-loving, twinkly-eyed, Rabelaisian character I voted for,” asked one columnist.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

Many patients who have recovered from coronavirus appear to still have problems after almost six months. The Longfonds [Lung Fund] and Maastricht University have followed more than a thousand patients since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

“More than half of them have six or more complaints,” said Michael Rutgers, director of the Longfonds, in the NOS Radio 1 Journaal. “And nine out of ten are not yet free of complaints. That is quite alarming. It is not the case that everyone who has had coronavirus will keep these complaints. It concerns this specific group.”

Good guidance

Rutgers mentions complaints such as fatigue, muscle pain, shortness of breath and headache. Most of the participants in the study (94 percent) were not in hospitals: they had mild complaints. The average age of the respondents is 48 years and 86 percent of them said they were in good health before the coronavirus infection.

“It still needs to be investigated further, we are far from there yet. I would conclude that we should not be too frivolous about the period after the acute coronavirus complaints. It may be that you end up with misery for a long time. I think that those people need to be properly guided.”