Beautiful flowers and butterflies, photos


Rammelwaard, July 2018

The early July 2018 photos in this blog post are from the Rammelwaard nature reserve (shown on this photo) in the Veluwe region, near the IJssel river in the Netherlands.

Grass rush, Rammelwaard, July 2018

There were many beautiful flowers in the Rammelwaard. Like these grass rush flowers.

Grass rush, in the Rammelwaard, July 2018

Chamomile fowers, Rammelwaard, July 2018

And like these chamomile flowers.

Chamomile fowers, in the Rammelwaard, July 2018

Brimstone, in the Rammelwaard, July 2018

These beautiful flowers attracted beautiful butterflies. Like this male brimstone on a purple lythrum flower.

Common blue male, in the Rammelwaard, July 2018

And this male common blue butterfly, also on a purple lythrum flower.

Common blue butterflies mating, Rammelwaard, July 2018

These two blue butterflies were mating. Usually, it is difficult to photograph butterflies, as they move often and fast. However, these two stayed at the same spot for half an hour. Still, it was not easy to tell which species this male (left) and female (right) were: common blue or brown argus? Common blue, I think after all. The photo shows fluid passing between the bodies of these two butterflies.

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Puerto Rico’s forests and Hurricane Maria


This NASA video says about itself:

NASA Surveys Hurricane Damage to Puerto Rico’s Forests

11 July 2018

From NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in the USA:

NASA surveys hurricane damage to Puerto Rico’s forests

July 11, 2018

On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria barreled across Puerto Rico with winds of up to 155 miles per hour and battering rain that flooded towns, knocked out communications networks and destroyed the power grid. In the rugged central mountains and the lush northeast, Maria unleashed its fury as fierce winds completely defoliated the tropical forests and broke and uprooted trees. Heavy rainfall triggered thousands of landslides that mowed over swaths of steep mountainsides.

In April a team of NASA scientists traveled to Puerto Rico with airborne instrumentation to survey damages from Hurricane Maria to the island’s forests.

“From the air, the scope of the hurricane’s damages was startling”, said NASA Earth scientist Bruce Cook, who led the campaign. “The dense, interlocking canopies that blanketed the island before the storm were reduced to a tangle of downed trees and isolated survivors, stripped of their branches.”

NASA’s Earth-observing satellites monitor the world’s forests to detect seasonal changes in vegetation cover or abrupt forest losses from deforestation, but at spatial and time scales that are too coarse to see changes. To get a more detailed look, NASA flew an airborne instrument called Goddard’s Lidar, Hyperspectral and Thermal Imager, or G-LiHT. From the belly of a small aircraft flying one thousand feet above the trees, G-LiHT collected multiple measurements of forests across the island, including high-resolution photographs, surface temperatures and the heights and structure of the vegetation.

The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and NASA provided funding for the airborne campaign.

The team flew many of the same tracks with G-LiHT as it had in the spring of 2017, months before Hurricane Maria made landfall, as part of a study of how tropical forests regrow on abandoned agricultural land. The before-and-after comparison shows forests across the island still reeling from the hurricane’s impact.

Using lidar, a ranging system that fires 600,000 laser pulses per second, the team measured changes in the height and structure of the Puerto Rican forests. The damage is palpable. Forests near the city of Arecibo on the northern side of the island grow on limestone hills with little soil to stabilize trees. As a result, the hurricane snapped or uprooted 60 percent of the trees there. In the northeast, on the slopes of El Yunque National Forest, the hurricane trimmed the forests, reducing their average height by one-third.

Data from G-LiHT is not only being used to capture the condition of the island’s forests; it is an important research tool for scientists who are tracking how the forests are changing as they recover from such a major event.

“[Hurricane] Maria pressed the reset button on many of the different processes that develop forests over time”, said Doug Morton, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and G-LiHT co-investigator. “Now we’re watching a lot of those processes in fast-forward speeds as large areas of the island are recovering, with surviving trees and new seedlings basking in full sunlight.”

Among the areas that the team flew over extensively was El Yunque National Forest, which Hurricane Maria struck at full force. The U.S. Forest Service manages El Yunque, a tropical rainforest, as well as its designated research plots, which were established in the late 1930s. University and government scientists perform all manner of research, including measuring individual trees to track their growth, counting flowers and seeds to monitor reproduction, and analyzing soil samples to track the nutrients needed for plant growth.

One important assessment of a tree’s health is its crown, which comprises the overall shape of a treetop, with its branches, stems and leaves. Hurricane winds can heavily damage tree crowns and drastically reduce the number of leaves for creating energy through photosynthesis.

“Just seven months after the storm, surviving trees are flushing new leaves and regrowing branches in order to regain their ability to harvest sunlight through photosynthesis”, Morton said, while also noting that the survival of damaged trees in the years ahead is an open question.

While it’s difficult to assess tree crowns in detail from the ground, from the air G-LiHT’s lidar instrument can derive the shape and structure of all of the trees in its flight path. The airborne campaign over Puerto Rico was extensive enough to provide information on the structure and composition of the overall forest canopy, opening up a range of research possibilities.

“Severe storms like Maria will favor some species and destroy others”, said Maria Uriarte, an ecologist at Columbia University who has studied El Yunque National Forest for 15 years and is working with the NASA team to validate flight data with ground observations. “Plot level studies tell us how this plays out in a small area but the damage at any particular place depends on proximity to the storm’s track, topography, soils and the characteristics of each forest patch. This makes it hard to generalize to other forests in the island.”

But with G-LiHT data scientists can study the storm impacts over a much larger area, Uriarte continued. “What’s really exciting is that we can ask a completely different set of questions,” she said. “Why does one area have more damage than others? What species are being affected the most across the island?”

Understanding the state of the forest canopy also has far-reaching implications for the rest of the ecosystem, as tree cover is critical to the survival of many species. For example, birds such as the native Iguaca parrot use the canopy to hide from predator hawks. The canopy also creates a cooler, humid environment that is conducive to the growth of tree seedlings and lizards and frogs that inhabit the forest floor. Streams that are cooled by the dense shade also make them habitable for a wide diversity of other organisms.

Yet by that same token, other plants and animals that were once at a disadvantage are now benefiting from changes brought about by the loss of canopy.

“Some lizards live in the canopy, where they thrive in drier, more sunlit conditions”, said herpetologist Neftali Ríos-López, an associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Humacao Campus. “Because of the hurricane those drier conditions that were once exclusive to the canopy are now extended down to the forest floor. As a result, those animals are better adapted to those conditions and have started displacing and substituting animals that are adapted to the once cooler conditions.”

“Who are the winners and losers in this new environment? That’s an important question in all of this”, said NASA’s Doug Morton. During the airborne campaign, he spent several days in the research plots of El Yunque taking three-dimensional images of the forest floor to complement the data from G-LiHT. He said it’s clear that the palms, which weathered the hurricane winds better than other broad-leafed trees, are among the current beneficiaries of the now sun-drenched forest. And that’s not a bad thing.

“Palm trees are going to form a major component of the canopy of this forest for the next decade or more, and in some ways they’ll help to facilitate the recovery of the rest of this forest”, Morton said. “Palms provide a little bit of shade and protection for the flora and fauna that are recolonizing the area. That’s encouraging.”

The implications of this research extend beyond the forest ecosystem, both in time and space, said Grizelle Gonzalez, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service and project lead for the research plots in El Yunque. As an example, she pointed out that the hurricane caused the mountain streams to flood and fill with sediment that ultimately flowed into the ocean. Sediment can negatively impact the quality of the drinking water as well as the coral communities that fisheries depend on for both subsistence and commerce.

“It’s beautiful to see that so many federal agencies came together to collaborate on this important work because forests play a key role in everything from biodiversity and the economy to public health”, Gonzalez said.

G-LiHT data also has global implications. In July, the team heads to Alaska to continue surveying the vast forestland in the state’s interior to better understand the impacts of accelerated Arctic warming on boreal forests, which, in turn, play a key role in cooling Earth’s climate by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. “G-LiHT allows us to collect research data at the scale of individual trees across broad landscapes,” Morton said. “Forests from Alaska to Puerto Rico are constantly changing in response to climate warming and disturbances such as fire and hurricanes.”

Ocean wildlife, ten hour BBC video


This video says about itself:

Sea Forests: 10 Hours of Relaxing Oceanscapes | BBC Earth

13 June 2018

Sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful greens of mangroves, seagrasses and kelp forests as we take you on a journey through some of the prettiest green hues of our blue planet with this 10 hour loop.

Starling nests helped by aromatic herbs


This video from England is called Starling nest building 4/3/2015. But see what happens next.

From North Carolina State University in the USA:

Aromatic herbs lead to better parenting in starlings

June 6, 2018

For European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), the presence of aromatic herbs in the nest leads to some improved parenting behaviors, according to a new study. Specifically, birds whose nests incorporate herbs along with dried grasses were more likely to attend their nests, exhibited better incubation behavior for their eggs, and became active earlier in the day.

For the study, researchers replaced 36 natural starling nests in nest boxes with artificially made nests. Each nest retained the female’s clutch of eggs. Half of the artificial nests included dry grass and a combination of herbs commonly found in starling nests. The other half of the nests had only dry grass. The herbs included were yarrow, or milfoil, (Achillea millefolium); hogweed (Heracleum spondyleum); cow parsley (Anthriscus silvestris); black elder (Sambucus niger); goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria); and willow (Salix alba).

The researchers also placed a “dummy” egg in each nest, which monitored temperature in the nest.

“Egg temperatures and nest attendance were higher in herb than nonherb nests — particularly early in the incubation period”, says Caren Cooper, co-author of a paper on the work and a research associate professor in North Carolina State University’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources.

“In addition, egg temperatures dropped less frequently below critical thresholds in nests that contained herbs, and those parents started their active day earlier”, says Cooper, who is also the assistant head of the biodiversity research lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

The percentage of eggs that hatched successfully was the same for both herb and nonherb nests. However, hatchlings in the herb nests showed signs of developing more rapidly in the egg than their nonherb peers, and nestlings in herb nests were more successful in gaining body mass after hatching.

“While the data indicate that these herbs influenced incubation behavior in a positive way, it’s not entirely clear how that’s happening,” Cooper says.

“It’s possible that one or more of the herbs have pharmacological effects on the parents”, says Helga Gwinner of the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology, who is a first author of the paper.

“We had previously observed that young from nests that are rich in herbs have improved health indicators”, Gwinner adds. “Starlings select particular herbs for decorating their nests. Intriguingly, some of these herbs are also used in folk medicine. Their known sedative effects might influence incubation behavior by inducing higher nest attendance and reduce exposure of eggs to low ambient temperature.”

The study highlights the importance of the nesting environment for developing nestlings and the wisdom of avian parents.

“Use of volatile herbs is observed in many species”, Cooper says. “More recently, birds have also started to include human objects in their nests. Their benefits and harm should be carefully observed.”

Red spruce comeback in American forests


This video from the USA says about itself:

Restoring Red Spruce in the Southern Appalachians

10 November 2015

Sue Cameron from the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service’s Asheville Field Office recently joined staff from the Southern Highlands Reserve collecting red spruce cones on Pisgah National Forest, near Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the Eastern United States. The cone collection is the first step in a multi-year process to restore red spruce to areas where it was found before the extensive logging and burning at the turn of the 20th century.

The Southern Appalachians are home to the highest peaks in the eastern United States and red spruce is a key part of the forests on those mountain-top areas. Unfortunately, the amount of red spruce found there today is a fraction of what stood 150 years ago. These forests were decimated by logging, which was followed by intensive fires which burned the thick layer of organic material the spruce needed to re-establish themselves, allowing a northern hardwood forest, with trees like maple and birch, to expand into new areas.

The collected cones will be divided among partners who will then extract the seeds and begin growing new trees, which will eventually be planted on public lands where red spruce once grew. Planting efforts will also be focused on connecting patches of red spruce.

In addition to helping conserve red spruce trees themselves, this effort will benefit wildlife, as high-elevation conifer trees are important sources of food and shelter for a variety of animals, including the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel.

From the USDA Forest Service – Northern Research Station in the USA:

Surprising resurgence of red spruce likely result of cleaner air and warmer winters

June 5, 2018

Summary: When scientists found a resurgence of red spruce in northeastern forests, they had a lot of questions. Fifty years ago, red spruce was the equivalent of a canary in the coalmine signaling the effects of acid rain on forests. Researchers have identified two factors behind the tree’s surprising recovery: reduced inputs of acid rain and warmer fall, winter and spring temperatures.

Red spruce, for decades the forest equivalent of the canary in the coal mine signaling the detrimental effects of acid rain on northeastern forests, is making a comeback. New research by a team of scientists from the USDA Forest Service and the University of Vermont suggests that a combination of reduced pollution mandated by the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act and changing climate are behind the resurgence.

The study, “The surprising recovery of red spruce growth shows links to decreased acid deposition and elevated temperature” by lead author Alexandra Kosiba of the University of Vermont with co-authors Paul Schaberg of the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and University of Vermont researchers, was published this week in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

The research team assessed the relationship between red spruce growth and factors that may influence growth such as tree age and diameter, stand dynamics, plot characteristics (elevation, slope, aspect, geographical position), and environmental variables including temperature, precipitation, a suite of climate indices, and sulfur and nitrogen pollution deposition that cause acid deposition. In a study that encompassed 658 trees in 52 plots spanning five states, they found that more than 75 percent of red spruce trees and 90 percent of the plots examined in the study exhibited increasing growth since 2001.

“Our research suggests that the reductions we’ve seen in acid rain are making a difference to forests in the Northeast”, said Schaberg. “Acid rain decline has helped red spruce recover, as well as higher temperatures in the fall, winter, and spring. Higher temperatures help some species and hurt others — right now, red spruce are benefiting, but they could be vulnerable to change in the future.”

Red spruce have unique characteristics that make them particularly susceptible to acid rain. For example, they have little genetic variation and they have only moderate tolerance to the cold. But they are also able to “wake up” and photosynthesize during warm interludes of the dormant season, a characteristic that may better position the species to take advantage of recent climate shifts that extend the functional growing season. Yet the study notes that future changes in habitat suitability may not be as favorable to red spruce as those already experienced — it will likely depend on how extreme future changes are.

Scientists are confident that their research represents the state of red spruce in the entire region, according to Kosiba. “Our study included a broad range of tree ages and sizes as well as a variety of plot locations and characteristics,” she said. “We are confident that we are capturing the regional status of red spruce forests, not just a snapshot of a specific location.”

“More broadly our work demonstrates the importance of using research to identify ecosystem problems that inform policy to mitigate those issues, and result in biological recovery”, noted Kosiba.

Dinosaur age dinoflagellates discovery in Australia


This 2015 video from the USA says about itself:

Dino Pet is a clear plastic dinosaur figure [toy] that houses living organisms called dinoflagellates that come from the ocean. For full review and shopping info: here.

Product Info: The dinoflagellates photosynthesize during the day and glow blue at night when shaken. This is called bioluminescence and is a naturally occurring process seen in many sea creatures. The Dino Pet’s instruction booklet provides more information on the science behind bioluminescence.

From the University of Adelaide in Australia:

Red tide fossils point to Jurassic sea flood

June 5, 2018

Dinosaur-age fossilised remains of tiny organisms normally found in the sea have been discovered in inland, arid Australia — suggesting the area was, for a short time at least, inundated by sea water 40 million years before Australia’s large inland sea existed.

The fossils are the egg-like cysts of microorganisms known as dinoflagellates, best known for producing red tides or algal blooms that can turn the sea water blood red. The cysts rest on the sea floor before hatching new dinoflagellates.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide, in collaboration with geological consultancy MGPalaeo, discovered these microfossils in Jurassic rocks of south-western Queensland, near the town of Roma.

Described in the journal Palynology, the fossils have been dated to the late Jurassic period, 148 million years ago. This is a time when Australia was joined to Antarctica, and where dinosaurs roamed across ancient rivers, floodplains and swamps.

“We have plenty of evidence from the 110 million-year-old vast inland Eromanga Sea, which covered a large swathe of central, eastern Australia during the Cretaceous period (following on from the Jurassic)”, says Dr Carmine Wainman, Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Adelaide’s Australian School of Petroleum.

“We’ve seen the opalised fossils sold in Adelaide’s Rundle Mall, and the spectacular ancient marine reptiles on display in the South Australian Museum — all from the later Cretaceous period.

“However, this new microfossil evidence from the same region suggests there was a short-lived precursor to this sea 40 million years earlier.”

Dr Wainman believes these microfossils must have been brought inland by an incursion of sea water and then evolved quickly to adapt to the freshwater or brackish conditions as the sea waters slowly receded.

“There is no other feasible explanation for how they managed to reach the interior of the Australian continent when the ancient coastline was thousands of kilometres away,” Dr Wainman says.

“It was probably a result of rising sea levels during a time of greenhouse conditions before the establishment of the Eromanga Sea. With further investigations, we may find more of these microorganisms or even fossilised marine reptiles that uncover untold secrets about how this part of the world looked in the Jurassic.”

Redstarts, other birds in Wolong, China


This 2008 video says about itself:

Join Animal Planet for Pandamonium, a brand new series that lets us experience the incredible lives of the giant pandas of the Wolong Panda Reserve in China.

The centre is now opening up its remarkable work to the world, giving us the chance to meet the dedicated team that works tirelessly to ensure the survival of this highly endangered species.

Pandas can have a hard time starting a family, so extraordinary efforts are being made to help them breed, using artificial insemination as well as encouraging natural mating.

Watch as tiny panda cubs are born and follow their progress. Each birth is vital to the survival of the species and often hits the headlines around the globe. Thanks to the pioneering research of their scientists, the Wolong Centre has brought 16 cubs into the world over the past year.

But what will the future hold for these unique and lovable black and white bears?

Very soon after this video was recorded, there was the catastrophic May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake; which hit the Wolong Panda Reserve and its surroundings particularly hard.

This video says about itself:

Wolong Earthquake Video from Pandas International

A brief but touching documentary of the damage done to the Wolong Reserve in China after the devastating earthquake of May 2008.

The panda reserve had to move to Gengda, 23 kilometers away.

This January 2013 video is called Crew travels up the long, bumpy road from Chengdu to Wolong.

Though there has been reconstruction at Wolong village, there are still ruins from the 2008 earthquake.

This is a 2007 video about the bridge at Wolong village. The bridge and the river are still there.

After arriving in Wolong from our journey from Chengdu on 7 April 2018, we walked to the bridge at 17:25.

There were rosy pipits there.

This is a 2012 video about a rosy pipit (at one point disturbed by a yellow wagtail).

Then, we saw a blue-fronted redstart.

This is a 2016 blue-fronted redstart video from Thailand.

A rufous-breasted accentor in Wolong.

This is a 2014 rufous-breasted accentor video.

This video shows a Daurian redstart male.

We saw a Daurian redstart in Wolong too.

And its relative, a white-capped water redstart.

This is a 2015 white-capped water redstart video from Thailand.

More Wolong birds; a brown-breasted bulbul.

This is a 2013 brown-breasted bulbul video from Thailand.

We walked along the pond, which used to be part of the panda sanctuary before the 2008 earthquake. Now, there are many pondskaters.

Stay tuned, as there will be more: on the mountains above Wolong and their wildlife!