Malaysian seagrass, important for dugongs, fish


This video says aout itself:

Dugongs Eating, Swimming, and Serving as Seagrass “Mascots” | One Minute Dive with Pew

18 February 2015

Perhaps best known for inspiring mermaid folklore in the Pacific, the rotund, graceful dugongs—close relatives of manatees—are stars of Malaysia’s shallow ocean meadows. See dugongs eating and swimming. Plus, learn more facts about the unique relationship between vulnerable coastlines and these loveable, but critically endangered, seagrass “mascots.”

As a developing nation, Malaysia’s coast is undergoing rapid, large-scale development, putting pressure on the region’s sensitive seagrass meadows and the many animals that call them home. Seagrass beds are essential to the survival of a wide variety of species. But no other animals are more directly dependent on these meadows than the dugong, which have developed unique adaptations to seagrass life over the centuries.

This Pacific cousin to the manatee is critically endangered in Malaysia, and it relies solely on seagrass for its food and habitat. Pew marine fellow Louisa Ponnampalam is working off the coast of Johor, Malaysia, to identify habitats that are crucial for one of the country’s last remaining populations of dugongs.

From the University of Malaya in Malaysia:

Seagrass meadows: Critical habitats for juvenile fish and dugongs in the east coast Johor islands

July 21, 2017

Scientists at University of Malaya, Malaysia, have found that the seagrass meadows in Johor harbor three times more juvenile fish than coral reefs. They also found that the dugong herds there prefer certain types of meadows over others.

Seagrass, the world’s oldest living thing, is a marine flowering plant that forms vast underwater meadows throughout all the oceans of the world, except in the Antarctic. These flowering plants first appeared in fossil records 100 million years ago and are the key to the survival of our seas, by providing oxygen, filtering out pollutants and bacteria, and capturing large stores of carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate warming. Despite these, seagrasses do not enjoy as high a public profile as coral reefs and mangroves. A team of researchers at the University of Malaya is motivated to raise the profile of seagrass by studying how these plants contribute to something that is naturally compelling to most people — as a rich, productive habitat and a source of food.

The researchers began their project by documenting the types and numbers of fish life in the seagrass meadows around the islands of Johor, and did the same in coral reefs as a way of juxtaposing the two ecosystems. The usual way of doing this kind of study is to drag a trawl net to dredge up all the marine life on the sea-bed. However, the researchers wanted to avoid destructive sampling as they were working in marine parks. As such, GoPro underwater cameras were deployed in a series of 2 x 2 m plots within the seagrass beds and coral reefs to view the types of fishes that visited the ecosystems, and how they utilized the space. The method was painstaking, because it took roughly one day to collect just three samples in the field, and they needed at least sixty! After eighteen months of sampling across different seasons and locations, Nina Ho Ann Jin, MSc student of the project, found three times more juvenile fishes than adult fishes in the seagrass video recordings. She also noted that fishes in the seagrass meadows spent most of their time feeding, while those in the adjacent coral reefs were more occupied by defending their territory. Clearly, the two ecosystems have very different roles from the viewpoint of the average fish: seagrasses are nursery and feeding areas, whereas coral reefs are the home of adult fish. These two ecosystems complement each other in supporting the survival needs of marine organisms at different parts of their life cycle. Thus, seagrasses are no less important than coral reefs in providing us with marine resources, and deserve much more public attention than they have currently received.

Recently, the researchers turned their attention to studying the feeding ecology of dugongs because they depend almost entirely on seagrass as a food source. These shy ‘sea cows’ have great popular appeal, and by showing the public how closely linked their fates are with that of their seagrass habitats, the profile for seagrass conservation is also raised. There is a thriving dugong population in the researchers’ long-term study area in the Johor islands. The researchers tracked the feeding patterns of dugongs by mapping out their feeding trails across different seasons. Feeding trails are sinuous, bare tracks left behind by dugongs when they graze by ripping the seagrass up from the roots upward. Using the geographical approach, Harris Heng Wei Khang, MPhil student, was able to identify dugong feeding hotspots within the meadows, where dugongs return to feed on preferentially over and over again. Harris Heng is now focusing on finding out why these locations are preferred over others, and has a hypothesis that plant nutrient content may be the key factor. As a result of this work, the researchers’ local NGO collaborator has been able to zone the meadows for different levels of protection, based on whether the dugongs use them consistently as feeding grounds or not. This information has also been used to present a persuasive case for establishing a State-sanctioned dugong sanctuary in the area.

Bee on cornflower


This 18 July 2017 video shows a bee on a cornflower, in the Heemtuin garden in Hengelo in Overijssel province in the Netherlands.

Monique Loman made this video.

Origin of life on land, not in the sea?


This video says about itself:

2 May 2017

3.5 billion year old fossils hint life evolved in pond, not sea

It’s the age-old question: where do we come from? New fossil evidence suggests the first spark of life may have occurred in a hot spring on land rather than a hydrothermal vent in the deep sea.

Charles Darwin proposed in 1871 that life originated in a “warm little pond”. But the dominant theory nowadays is that primitive microorganisms first assembled in hot, chemical-rich water at hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean.

One reason for favouring this marine model is that fossil evidence of early land-based microbial life has been lacking. Until recently, the oldest evidence of life on land was only 2.8 billion years old, whereas the oldest evidence from the sea was 3.7 billion years old.

Now, a team led by Tara Djokic at the University of New South Wales in Australia has discovered fossils of land-based microorganisms. They were found in 3.5-billion-year-old rocks in an extinct volcano in the Dresser Formation in the hot, dry, remote Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The fossils include stromatolites – layered rock structures created by microorganisms – and circular holes left in the rock by gas bubbles that look like they were once trapped by sticky microbial substances. Both types of structures are preserved in geyserite, a type of rock that is only found in and around freshwater hot springs in volcanic areas on land.

Land-based launch pad?

The findings suggest that microbes were present on land and in the ocean around the same time, says Djokic. The question is – which came first?

“There are now a number of converging lines of evidence that point to terrestrial hot springs over hydrothermal vents for the origin of life,” says Djokic.

Small bodies of water like hot springs may have been more conducive to the formation of life because they can evaporate and concentrate the building blocks of life, says Djokic. “In hot springs, you’ve also got a nutritious concoction of elements because hot fluids circulate through the underlying rocks and bring up different minerals,” she says.

Recent research suggests that the element mix in ancient hot springs would have been more likely to give rise to life than that of deep sea vents.

Primitive microorganisms formed in the springs could have then spread to the sea, where they could have adapted and continued to evolve, Djokic says.

The findings are compelling, says Gregory Webb at the University of Queensland in Australia. “There are lots of microbes that live in terrestrial hot springs today, so it’s not a stretch to believe that an ancient hot spring could have accommodated life,” he says.

Then again, making assertions about life on early Earth is tricky, says Webb. “Microbial life isn’t easy to see, even today, so rocks that preserve evidence of ancient bacteria are hard to find and hard to study.” He is not ruling out the deep sea model of the origin of life.

Ancient life on Mars

Djokic and her colleagues believe the research could have implications for the search for ancient life on Mars. Earth and Mars both formed around 4.5 billion years ago and had volcanoes and hot springs dotted across their surfaces.

“If life can be preserved in hot springs so far back in Earth’s history, then there is a good chance it could be preserved in Martian hot springs too,” says Djokic.

One of the three potential landing sites for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission is Columbia Hills, a rocky formation that is thought to have once been a hot spring environment.

From the University of California – Santa Cruz in the USA:

Did life begin on land rather than in the sea?

A paradigm-shifting hypothesis could reshape our idea about the origin of life

July 18, 2017

Summary: A new discovery pushes back the time for the emergence of microbial life on land by 580 million years and also bolsters a paradigm-shifting hypothesis that life began, not in the sea, but on land.

For three years, Tara Djokic, a Ph.D. student at the University of New South Wales Sydney, scoured the forbidding landscape of the Pilbara region of Western Australia looking for clues to how ancient microbes could have produced the abundant stromatolites that were discovered there in the 1970s.

Stromatolites are round, multilayered mineral structures that range from the size of golf balls to weather balloons and represent the oldest evidence that there were living organisms on Earth 3.5 billion years ago.

Scientists who believed life began in the ocean thought these mineral formations had formed in shallow, salty seawater, just like living stromatolites in the World Heritage-listed area of Shark Bay, which is a two-day drive from the Pilbara.

But what Djokic discovered amid the strangling heat and blood-red rocks of the region was evidence that the stromatolites had not formed in salt water but instead in conditions more like the hot springs of Yellowstone.

The discovery pushed back the time for the emergence of microbial life on land by 580 million years and also bolstered a paradigm-shifting hypothesis laid out by UC Santa Cruz astrobiologists David Deamer and Bruce Damer: that life began, not in the sea, but on land.

Djokic’s discovery — together with research carried out by the UC Santa Cruz team, Djokic, and Martin Van Kranendonk, director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology — is described in an eight-page cover story in the August issue of Scientific American.

“What she (Djokic) showed was that the oldest fossil evidence for life was in fresh water,” said Deamer, a lanky 78-year-old who explored the region with Djokic, Damer, and Van Kranendonk in 2015. “It’s a logical continuation to life beginning in a freshwater environment.”

The model for life beginning on land rather than in the sea could not only reshape our idea about the origin of life and where else it might be, but even change the way we view ourselves.

The right conditions for life

For four decades, ever since the research vessel Alvin discovered deep-sea hydrothermal vents that were habitats for specialized bacteria and worms that looked like something out of a science-fiction novel, scientists have theorized that these mineral- and gas-pumping vents were just what was needed for life to begin.

But Deamer, who describes himself as a scientist who loves playing with new ideas, thought the theory had flaws. For instance, molecules essential for the origin of life would be dispersed too quickly into a vast ocean, he thought, and salty seawater would inhibit some of the processes he knew are necessary for life to begin.

Deamer had spent the early part of his career studying the biophysics of membranes composed of soap-like molecules that form the microscopic boundaries of all living cells. Later, given a piece of the Murchison meteorite that had landed in Australia in 1969, Deamer found that the space rock also contained soap-like molecules nearly 5 billion years old that could form stable membranes. Still later, he demonstrated that membranes helped small molecules join together to form longer information-carrying molecules called polymers.

Trekking to volcanoes from Russia to Iceland and hiking through the Pilbara desert, Deamer and his colleagues observed volcanic activity that suggested the idea that hot springs provided the right environment for the beginning of life. Deamer even built a machine that simulated the heat, acidity, and wet-and-dry cycles of hot springs and installed it in his lab on the UC Santa Cruz campus.

“I think, every once in awhile, you have to be brave enough and bold enough to try new ideas,” Deamer said. “Of course, some of my colleagues think even ‘foolish enough.’ But that’s the chance you take.”

Rethinking the timeline

In Deamer’s vision, ancient Earth consisted of a huge ocean spotted with volcanic land masses. Rain would fall on the land, creating pools of fresh water that would be heated by geothermal energy and then cooled by runoff. Some of the key building blocks of life, created during the formation of our solar system, would have fallen to Earth and gathered in these pools, becoming concentrated enough to form more complex organic compounds.

The edges of the pools would go through periods of wetting and drying as water levels rose and fell. During these periods of wet and dry, lipid membranes would first help stitch together the organic compounds called polymers and then form compartments that encapsulated different sets of these polymers. The membranes would act like incubators for the functions of life.

Deamer and his team believe the first life emerged from the natural production of vast numbers of such membrane-encased “protocells.”

While there is still debate about whether life began on land or in the sea, the discovery of ancient microbial fossils in a place like the Pilbara shows that these geothermal areas — full of energy and rich in the minerals necessary for life — harbored living microorganisms far earlier than believed.

The search for life on other planets

According to Deamer and his colleagues, this discovery and their hot-springs-origins model also have implications for the search for life on other planets. If life began on land, then Mars, which was found to have a 3.65-billion-year-old hot spring deposits similar to those found in the Pilbara region of Australia, might be a good place to look.

For Damer, the new “end-to-end hypothesis” of how life began on land offers something else: that the origin of life was not just a simple story of individual, competing cells. Rather that a plausible new vision of life’s start could be a communal unit of protocells that survived and evolved through collaboration and sharing of innovation rather than strict competition.

“That,” he said, “is a fundamental shift that might impact how we think of our world, ourselves, and our future: as dependent on collaboration as much as being driven by competition.”

Sitting in his fourth-floor office on campus, Deamer smiled as he recounted the letter Charles Darwin wrote to a friend in 1871, which speculated that life might have begun in “some warm little pond.”

That’s not far off the mark, Deamer said, “except we call ours ‘hot little puddles.'”

Conventional scientific wisdom has it that plants and other creatures have only lived on land for about 500 million years, but a new study is pointing to evidence for life on land that is four times as old — at 2.2 billion years ago and almost half way back to the inception of the planet: here.

The earliest example of an organism living on land — an early type of fungus — has been identified. The organism, from 440 million years ago, likely kick-started the process of rot and soil formation, which encouraged the later growth and diversification of life on land: here.

Beavertail cactus flowers in the USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

Stunning Beavertail prickly pear or Beavertail cacti in bloom (Opuntia basilaris) filmed in the Mojave Desert and Death Valley National Park in mid-April.

Flat, grayish-green, leafless, jointed stems in a clump, lack large spines and have vivid rose or reddish-lavender flowers on upper edge of joint. Beaver-tail cactus is a low-growing prickly pear, 6-12 in. high, with brilliant, magenta flowers. The pads of this cactus lack the long, straight spines of other prickly pears but are covered with miniscule, gray-blue bristles with barbed tips.

The gray-green stems, low growth, and brilliant flowers, which often nearly cover the plant, make this a popular ornamental in hot, dry climates. It need not be dug up; a joint broken from a plant will quickly root in dry sand. Opuntia with flat joints are called prickly pear; in the Southwest, if the fruits are juicy and edible, they are called tuna by people of Spanish-American heritage.

Many new underwater fungi species discovered in coral reef


This video is about a mushroom coral moving. It is not a fungus; it is coral.

This video from the USA says about itself:

This short film introduces one of the coral fungi (Family Clavariaceae, genus Ramaria) which is found in mixed hardwood and coniferous forests in autumn. Filmed at the Rydell NWR, Erskine, Minnesota (10 September 2016).

Coral fungi are fungi that look like coral, but are not coral.

Now, to organisms that are neither marine mushroom coral nor land-living coral fungi: to marine fungi.

This 27 September 2016 video is called ASPERGILLUS & COMMENTS ON MARINE FUNGI.

From the University of Hawaii at Manoa:

Botanists discover hundreds of species of fungi in deep coral ecosystems

July 12, 2017

Summary: Hundreds of potentially new species of fungi have been discovered in the deep coral ecosystem in the ‘Au’au channel off Maui, Hawai’i. These mesophotic coral ecosystems are generally found at depths between 130 – 500 feet and possess abundant plant (algal) life as well as new fish species.

Researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (UHM) Department of Botany have discovered hundreds of potentially new species of fungi in the deep coral ecosystem in the ‘Au’au channel off Maui, Hawai’i. Mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCE) are generally found at depths between 130 — 500 feet and possess abundant plant (algal) life as well as new fish species. The mysteries of these reefs are only recently being revealed through technological advances in closed circuit rebreather diving. Previously overlooked — being too precarious for conventional SCUBA and too shallow to justify the cost of frequent submersible dives — mesophotic reefs continuously disclose breathtaking levels of biodiversity with each dive, yielding species and behavioral interactions new to science.

The UHM Hawai’i Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) used the Pisces V submersible to collect native algae from the mesophotic reefs in the ‘Au’au channel. Using the DNA sequencing facility at the UHM Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, Benjamin Wainwright, lead author of the study and UHM Botany postdoctoral researcher, and colleagues determined which species of fungus were associated with the native algae.

Fungi have been documented in almost all habitats on Earth, although marine fungi are less studied in comparison to their terrestrial counterparts. Scientists have found fungi in deep and shallow water corals, marine sponges and other invertebrates. The recently discovered fungi, however, were found living in association with algae.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first documented evidence confirming fungi in MCEs,” said Wainwright.

Additionally, the research team discovered that 27% of the species detected in these deep dark environments are also found on terrestrial rainforest plants in Hawai’i.

“Finding such high overlap of fungal diversity on terrestrial plants was surprising. Mesophotic reefs are as dark as it gets where photosynthesis is still possible, so to find the same species of fungi on forest plants illustrates the remarkable ability of some fungi to tolerate, and thrive, in extremely different habitats,” said Anthony Amend, senior author of the study and UHM associate professor of botany. “This ecological breadth is something that seemingly sets fungi apart from other organisms.”

Plant-associated fungi provide many benefits to society. For example, Taxol, a chemotherapy medication used to treat cancers, is produced by a fungus found inside tree bark and leaves. Additionally, research has shown that fungi are useful in bioremediation efforts (for example, oil spill and industrial waste treatment) and capable of breaking down plastic waste.

It is currently not known whether the newly discovered fungal species are pathogens, helpful symbionts or unimportant to their algae hosts.

“Further, we don’t currently know what metabolic capabilities they have that may prove to have medical or environmental applications,” said Wainwright. “We know other undiscovered species are present in these ecosystems. Unfortunately, if we do not look now we may miss our opportunity to benefit from them and conserve them.”

Deep reefs, like those in the ‘Au’au channel, may act as a refuge as Earth’s climate changes, providing habitat for any marine creatures that can take advantage of this deeper habitat. If this is indeed the case, understanding how this habitat functions and how the corals, algae and fungi interact with one another will be vital to preserving the refuge in the deep.

The results of this research are published here.

Fern evolution, new study


This video says about itself:

Immortalized Fossil Fern Reveals Evolutionary Standstill

A remarkably preserved, 180-million-year-old fossilized fern has been unearthed in Sweden.

The fern was in such pristine condition that its tiny cellular parts were intact, according to a study detailed today (March 20 2017) in the journal Science.

And it turns out, not much has changed for the family of ferns in the last 180 million years.

“The genome size of these reputed living fossils has remained unchanged over at least 180 million years — a paramount example of evolutionary stasis,” the authors wrote in the paper.

Ferns are some of the most primeval plants; they first appeared in the fossil record nearly 360 million years ago. But many modern ferns got their start in the Cretaceous Period, when flowering plants emerged.

The newfound Jurassic Period fossil fern was uncovered in Korsaröd, Sweden, in a bed of volcanic rock. The specimen, which measures 2.3 inches (5.8 centimeters) long and 1.6 inches (4.1 cm) wide, was so exquisitely preserved that its cytoplasm (the gel-like substance that fills a cell), nuclei and chromosomes were still intact and visible under a microscope. The plant cells were in different stages of cell division.

The fossilized plant was likely preserved when minerals in the superheated, salty water oozing from a crack in the earth, called a hydrothermal brine seep, rapidly crystallized, freezing the plant in time while it was still alive.

By measuring the delicate subcellular parts, the team found the nuclei of the ancient plants were virtually the same size as those in a modern living relative, Osmundastrum cinnamomeum, or the cinnamon fern. The number of chromosomes and the DNA content also seemed to match closely with the modern fern.

The findings suggest this ancient fern hasn’t lost or gained much genetic material over the last 180 million years, a remarkably long period to go without much evolutionary change, the authors wrote.

According to Live Science.

From the University of Turku in Finland:

Fern fossil data clarifies origination and extinction of species

July 6, 2017

Throughout the history of life, new groups of species have flourished at the expense of earlier ones and global biodiversity has varied dramatically over geologic time. A new study led by the University of Turku, Finland, shows that completely different factors regulate the rise and fall of species.

“Previously, the debate has been about whether biodiversity is regulated mainly by the interaction between species or the external environment,” explains researcher and leader of the study Samuli Lehtonen from the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku.

In order to test these competing views, Lehtonen compiled a group of top researchers from Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. The researchers focused on the diversity of ferns and the factors that influenced it during the past 400 million years. Ferns have survived no less than four mass extinctions and during their extremely long evolutionary history, the dominant fern groups have changed repeatedly.”

“Thanks to the rich fern fossil data and a large amount of DNA information from living species, we were able to test multiple competing evolutionary models for the first time by using new analytical methods,” says Professor Alexandre Antonelli from the Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre (GGBC) who participated in the study.

The observed variation in the fern diversity was compared with the variation in other groups of plants and in the environment, such as continental drift and climate changes. The results show that changes in the environment strongly influence extinctions but surprisingly not the origination of new diversity. Instead, the formation of new fern species is accelerated when the fern diversity is low (e.g. after mass extinctions). The study suggests that origination of new species is mainly a neutral process in which the probability of speciation increases when diversity is low.

“Factors affecting extinction and origination of species are surprisingly different, with past climate change having the highest impact on extinction but not on originations,” notes researcher Daniele Silvestro from the GGBC who developed the mathematical model used in the study.

The old competing hypotheses seem to explain different sides of the same problem, making arguing about them pointless, unless extinctions and originations are studied separately.