Roe deer and flowers


This 12 September 2017 video shows a roe deer amidst colourful flowers.

Robert-Jan Asselbergs made this video in the Brabantse wal area in North Brabant province in the Netherlands.

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New tree species discovery in Peru


Incadendron esseri, photo K. Wurdack and W. Farfan-Rios

From Wake Forest University in the USA:

Hidden Inca treasure: Remarkable new tree genus discovered in the Andes

September 7, 2017

Hidden in plain sight — that’s how researchers describe their discovery of a new genus of large forest tree commonly found, yet previously scientifically unknown, in the tropical Andes.

Researchers from the Smithsonian and Wake Forest University detailed their findings in a study just released in the journal PhytoKeys.

Named Incadendron esseri (literally “Esser’s tree of the Inca”), the tree is a new genus and species commonly found along an ancient Inca path in Peru, the Trocha Unión. Its association with the land of the Inca empire inspired its scientific name.

So how could a canopy tree stretching up to 100 feet tall and spanning nearly two feet in diameter go undetected until now?

“Incadendron tells us a lot about how little we understand life on our planet. Here is a tree that ranges from southern Peru to Ecuador, that is abundant on the landscape, and yet it was unknown. Finding this tree isn’t like finding another species of oak or another species of hickory — it’s like finding oak or hickory in the first place,” said Miles Silman, the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Presidential Chair in Conservation Biology at Wake Forest.

“This tree perplexed researchers for several years before being named as new. It just goes to show that so much biodiversity is unknown and that obvious new species are awaiting discovery everywhere — in remote ecological plots, as well as in our own backyards,” said Kenneth Wurdack, a botanist with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The tree belongs to the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae — best known for rubber trees, cassava, and poinsettias — and like many of its relatives, when damaged also bleeds white sap, known as latex, that serves to protect it from insects and diseases.

Its ecological success in a difficult environment suggests more study is needed to find the hidden secrets that are often inherent in newly discovered and poorly known biodiversity.

Currently the Incadendron is common in several research plots under intensive study as part of the Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group, an international Andes-to-Amazon ecology program co-founded by Silman.

For nearly 25 years, Silman has worked to gain greater understanding of Andean species distributions, biodiversity, and the response of forest ecosystems to climate and land use changes over time.

“While Incadendron has a broad range along the Andes, it is susceptible to climate change because it lives in a narrow band of temperatures. As temperatures rise, the tree populations have to move up to cooler temperatures,” said Silman.

One of the study’s co-authors, William Farfan-Rios, is a Wake Forest graduate student researching tropical forest dynamics and responses to changing environments along the Andes-to-Amazon elevational gradient. Discovering the Incadendron hits particularly close to home for the Cusco, Peru-native. Not only is the new genus vulnerable to climate change, but it is also threatened by deforestation in nearby areas.

“It highlights the imperative role of parks and protected areas where it grows, such as Manu National Park and the Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park,” he said. “Hopefully our ongoing study of the Incadendron and the intensive long-term forest monitoring will contribute to best practices in reforestation and forest management.”

Bees pollinating flowers, new research


This video says about itself:

People, Plants and Pollinators | Nat Geo Live

19 September 2011

Emerging Explorer Dino Martins says that from long-tongued bees to hawk moths, pollinators are the hidden workers that keep the planet running.

By Maria Temming:

Pollen hitches a ride on bees in all the right spots

Hard-to-groom zones line up with where flower reproductive parts touch the insects

2:00pm, September 6, 2017

Bee bodies may be built just right to help pollen hitch a ride between flowers.

For the first time, scientists have identified where and how much pollen is left behind on bees’ bodies after the insects groom themselves. These residual patches of pollen align with spots on bees’ bodies that touch flowers’ pollen-collecting reproductive parts, researchers report online September 6 in PLOS ONE.

Typically, when honeybees and bumblebees visit flowers for nectar, they brush much of the pollen that powders their bodies into pocketlike structures on their legs to carry home for bee larvae to eat. In fact, bees are so good at stashing pollen that less than 4 percent of a flower’s pollen grains may reach the pollen-receiving parts of a second flower of the same species. Given bees’ pollen-hoarding prowess, researchers wondered how they came to play such a significant role in plant reproduction.

So biologist Petra Wester and colleagues put buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) and European honeybees (Apis mellifera) into jars containing pollen grains. As the bees whizzed around, they stirred up the pollen, evenly coating themselves in just a few minutes. When placed in clean jars, the insects groomed themselves. Even after a half hour of grooming, the insects still had pollen caked on some areas of their bodies, including the tops of their heads, thoraxes and abdomens.

“They cannot reach these spots so easily,” says Wester, of Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf in Germany, “similar to the fact that people cannot reach their back so easily.”

Wester and colleagues placed other bees in cages with flowers whose pollen-producing anthers and pollen-collecting stigmas had been stained with fluorescent dyes. When the researchers later examined these bees, they found dye smeared on the same ungroomed areas. These findings suggest that these “safe sites” for pollen on bees’ bodies play an important role in pollination.

Carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin, part two


Carnivorous plants, 11 August 2017

As I wrote in the first part of this report, on 11 August 2017, before we went to the carnivorous plants exhibition in the botanical garden, we went to a lecture in Leiden University about carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin. The lecture was by Norbert Peeters. The title of the lecture was Darwin’s little shop of horrors.

All photos on this blog post, of slides shown during the lecture, are cell phone photos. The slide the photo of which is on top of this blog post describes carnivorous plants as ‘living flypaper‘.

Carnivorous plants through a microscope, 11 August 2017

In his book on carnivorous plants, Darwin also included pictures of plant details as seen through a microscope.

Sundew leaf, on 11 August 2017

Like this enlarged picture of a sundew leaf.

Drosera leaves, 11 August 2017

In a letter to botanist Hooker, Darwin wrote that sundew (Drosera) ‘leaves are first rate chemists’.

Darwin to Lyell, 11 August 2017

Darwin acknowledged that carnivorous plants should make people question the rigid hierarchical separation between plants and animals, which, as we saw, Linnaeus and others had advocated. In a letter to Charles Lyell, he wrote: ‘By Jove I sometimes think Drosera is a disguised animal!’

Utricularia, 11 August 2017

Darwin studied the aquatic carnivorous plant Utricularia (bladderwort) as well. In that, his correspondence with United States botanist Mary Lua Adelia Davis Treat (1830-1923) helped.

Mary Treat, 11 August 2017

Venus flytrap

Darwin also studied the Venus fly-trap.

Nepenthes, 11 August 2017

And Nepenthes pitcher plants. Frenchman Étienne de Flacourt had described Nepenthes pitcher plants for the first time in 1658. He thought the pitchers were flowers. Georg Everhard Rumphius (1627-1702), a German Dutch East India Company employee staying on Ambon island corrected that, noting the pitchers were leaves. In fact, carnivorous plants’ flowers are often at a distance from their prey catching leaves, to prevent the plants from eating their own pollinating insects.

Rumphius called Nepenthes in Dutch kannekes kruyd, little jug plants.

Rumphius did not know yet the insectivorous function of the pitchers. He did note that a small crustacean species lived in them, staying alive. This was forgotten: in 1987 two zoologists claimed they had discovered that crustacean’s lifestyle for the first time. In 2004, Rumphius’ earlier description was rediscovered.

In 1874 Hooker, advised to do so by Darwin, did experiments with Nepenthes plants, establishing they were carnivorous; just in time for Darwin’s 1875 Insectivorous plants book.

Sarracenia, 11 August 2017

Darwin did not experiment with Sarracenia pitcher plants, but wrote he suspected they were carnivorous as well.

Sarracenia minor, 11 August 2017

Darwin’s United States correspondent Mary Treat wrote:

From all appearance the terrible Sarracenia was eating its victim alive. And yet, perhaps, I should not say ‘terrible,’ for the plant seems to supply its victims with a Lethe-like draught before devouring them.

The Lethe, in ancient Greek mythology, was a river in the underworld making those who drank from it forget everything.

Evolution, 11 August 2017

Norbert Peeters concluded his lecture with a quote by Theodosius Dobzhansky:

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

Norbert Peeters, 11 August 2017

Peeters’ last slide was about his own presence on the Internet.

Amazon rainforest, 381 new wildlife species discovered


This 31 August 2017 video is called Amazon study discovers 381 new species in two-year period.

Right-wing coup president Temer of Brazil had a plan to destroy the Amazon rainforest. Fortunately, a judge has stopped that plan, at least for the moment.

From WWF:

381 new species discovered in the Amazon

31 August 2017

  • New report reveals that, between 2014-2015, a new plant or animal species was discovered in the Amazon every 2 days – the fastest rate this century;
  • New species include a fire-tailed titi monkey, honeycomb patterned stingray, pink river dolphin, a yellow-moustached lizard and a bird named after former US president Barack Obama;
  • WWF is calling for urgent action to protect the forest, following a recent presidential decree in Brazil aiming to abolish an Amazonian reserve the size of Switzerland.

Sao Paolo, 31 August 2017 – A new WWF and Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development report, released on 30 August, reveals that a new animal or plant species is discovered in the Amazon every 2 days, the fastest rate to be observed this century. The findings come as huge parts of the forest are increasingly under threat, sparking further concern over the irreversible – and potentially catastrophic – consequences unsustainable policy and decision-making could have.

New Species of Vertebrates and Plants in the Amazon 2014-2015 details 381 new species that were discovered over 24 months, including 216 plants, 93 fish, 32 amphibians, 20 mammals (2 of which are fossils), 19 reptiles and 1 bird.

The latest 2014-2015 survey indicates the highest rate of discovery yet, with a species identified every 1.9 days. The average number of new species found in the Amazon in WWF’s 1999-2009 report was 111 a year, or one new species every three days, while the 2010-2013 report revealed that at least 441 were discovered, which works out at a rate of one new species every 3.3 days.

A great enigma

Ricardo Mello, coordinator of WWF-Brazil Amazon Programme, says that life within this biome is still a great enigma: “We’re in 2017, verifying the existence of new species and even though resources are scarce, we are seeing an immense variety and richness of biodiversity. This is a signal that we still have much to learn about the Amazon”.

Mello also states that the new findings should compel decision-makers, both public and private, to think about the irreversible impacts caused by large-scale projects such as roads and hydroelectric dams in the Amazon.

“This biodiversity needs to be known and protected. Studies indicate that the greatest economic potential of a region such as the Amazon is the inclusion of biodiversity in the technological solutions of a new development model, including development of cures for diseases, relying on new species for food purposes, such as superfoods. ”

The report comes the week after Brazil’s government passed a decree allowing mining in the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca), a huge protected area the size of Switzerland which encompasses nine protected areas. Opening protected areas of the forest up for deforestation and mining could be disastrous for wildlife and local cultures and indigenous communities. …

Informing conservation strategies

For João Valsecchi do Amaral, technical and scientific director at the Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development, the new knowledge brought by this report will help to identify areas or species that are reeling under pressures, to monitor this biodiversity and establish new strategies of conservation.

“For the conservation of species, it is necessary to know what they are, how many there are and their distribution. These are key details to ensure that ecological and evolutionary processes are understood and maintained to ensure the species survival”, he explained.

Protected areas

The creation of protected areas is among the strategies cited in the report to lessen the negative impact of the development that the Amazon is and will continue to be subject to.

The description of new species and the dissemination of scientific results can help raise public awareness and understanding on the importance of the Amazon and the need for greater and more comprehensive knowledge of its biodiversity. They can also form the basis for strategies related to the establishment of protected areas and public conservation policies.

Due to its vast size, variety of species and diversity of habitats, the gaps in scientific knowledge about the Amazon are still enormous. The majority of species recordings are based on observations and collections made along the main rivers, near big cities and in the few protected areas most frequently studied. As a result, new studies on the Amazon’s biodiversity, particularly those conducted in the forest’s most remote areas, continue to reveal large numbers of species that are as yet unknown to science – and humanity.

New species discovered

As well as recording the new species of vertebrates and plants discovered in the Amazon between January 2014 and December 2015, the report also includes an update on species identified in a previous 2010- 2013 report.

The report, which consolidates the findings from a number of different researchers, highlights some of the most fascinating finds, including:

  • A new species of pink river dolphin (Inia araguaiaensis) – Estimated to have a population of around 1,000 individuals, the species is under threat from the construction of hydroelectric dams, and industrial, agricultural and cattle ranching activities. Pink river dolphins are an important part of the local culture around the Amazon, with a number of myths and legends around them.
  • Fire-tailed titi monkey (Plecturocebus miltoni) – This striking monkey from the southern Amazon owes its name to its long bright orange tail. The species is under threat from deforestation.
  • A bird that pays tribute to the Brazilian rubber tapper (Zimmerius chicomendesi) – Discovered after its unknown call attracted attention, this bird’s name – Chico’s Tyrannulet – is a tribute to the rubber tapper and environmentalist Francisco Alves Mendes Filho. Better-known as Chico Mendes, he was a leader of the rubber tapping communities, and played a key role in opening the world’s eyes to the problems faced by the Amazon.
  • A bird named after former US President Barack Obama and found in a huge area between Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador (Nystalus obamai);
  • Another bird named after the famous anthropologist and explorer Marechal Cândido Rondon, found in the South of Amazonas (Hypocnemis rondoni);
  • A stingray which has “honeycombs” on its surface, registered in Rondônia, in the region of Alto Madeira (Potamotrygon limai);
  • A bird found at the south of Amazonas, in the Sucunduri region, where WWF-Brazil maintains conservation projects (Tolmomyias sucunduri).

The Amazon contains nearly a third of the earth’s remaining tropical rainforests and, despite covering only around 1 per cent of the planet’s surface, it is estimated to be home to 10 per cent of the earth’s known species. Globally, it is estimated that 80 per cent of species are yet to be identified.

The current rate of human-related extinction of species is between 1,000 and 10,000 times that of the natural rate of extinction. Knowing the total number of species in the region provides a baseline to monitor current and future biodiversity losses. The discovery of new species is important for environmental and natural resource management, and can guide the establishment of protected areas to safeguard wildlife and the communities that depend on these resources.

This video from Brazil is about the new discoveries.

Carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin, lecture report


Norbert Peeters, 11 August 2017

On 11 August 2017, before we went to the carnivorous plants exhibition in the botanical garden, we went to a lecture in Leiden University about carnivorous plants and Charles Darwin. The lecture was by Norbert Peeters, on the left of this photo. The title of the lecture was Darwin’s little shop of horrors.

All photos on this blog post, mainly of slides shown during the lecture, are cell phone photos.

Today, Darwin’s best known book is On the Origin of Species. However, Peeters said, during Darwin’s life his best sold book was his 1875 Insectivorous plants.

Before Darwin, people either thought carnivorous plants did not exist; or they looked at them with fascination often mixed with exaggeration of how big carnivorous plants’ prey was.

In 1768, for the first time live Venus flytrap plants were brought from North America to England. In a 1770 book, John Ellis described them. He named the genus Dionaea, a Greek name for the goddess of beauty Aphrodite (Venus in Latin).

Venus fly-trap from Ellis' description

Ellis strongly suspected Venus flytraps were carnivorous. He wrote so to the most famous naturalist of the eighteenth century, Carolus Linnaeus, sending dried specimens with his letter.

However, Linnaeus did not believe that carnivorous plants existed.

Linnaeus, 11 August 2017

In support of that view, Linnaeus quoted the Bible, Genesis 1:30:

And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

So, Linnaeus interpreted the Bible as saying that animals eat plants, not the other way round.

In this, Linnaeus was in a tradition, as pictured in this 17th century book, of seeing reality as a hierarchical ladder. God on top, humans below God. On the lower end, stones, etc. Plants one step below animals, forever unable to catch up with them.

Hierarchy, 11 August 2017

Linnaeus made tremendous contributions to systematic biology, still relevant today. However, comparable to earlier naturalists like Scheuchzer, he was still what would now be called a ‘creationist‘. He opposed the idea of evolution, in his own eighteenth century advocated in rudimentary form by Buffon, and later elaborated by Darwin, including as an explanation for the origin of carnivorous plants, as we shall see.

The poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852) reacted to the newly discovered Venus flytrap with the lines:

The Lord deliver us!
Think of a vegetable being “carnivorous!”

Venus flytrap, 11 August 2017

Now, from denial to fascination mixed with exaggeration.

Tree eating humans, 11 August 2017

In Victorian England, there were fictional stories, as well as stories claiming to be non fictional, about plants eating people; like a tree in Madagascar supposedly feeding on humans.

Today, we know that the biggest animals eaten by carnivorous plants are mice. And even that size is too much for most of today’s about 680 carnivorous plant species.

This video from the USA says about itself:

20 January 2017

While the carnivorous cravings of most flesh-eating plants are limited to small insects, one exception is the pitcher plant. It can consume anything that fits in its mouth–including a mouse!

However, Peeters said, twentieth century films like The Little Shop of Horrors and The Day of the Triffids continued the nineteenth century stories of carnivorous plants being dangerous to humans.

The little shop of horrors, 11 August 2017

Though about 1800 much was still unknown about carnivorous plants, they fascinated many people. Empress Josephine of France and President Thomas Jefferson of the USA owned Venus flytraps.

Since Darwin’s 1860s-1870s experiments with carnivorous plants, we know much more about the Venus flytrap.

Peeters illustrated that by playing this 2009 BBC video.

The video says about itself:

Life – Venus Flytraps: Jaws of Death – BBC One

Hungry Venus flytraps snap shut on a host of unfortunate flies. But, despite its name, flies aren’t the flytrap’s only meal. As long as its prey is roughly the right size and touches two of its hairs within twenty seconds, the plant will dine on any insect or spider that comes its way. Glands in the lobes then secrete enzymes that break the dinner down into a digestible soup. Ten days later, the trap pops open to reveal nothing but a dried out husk.

Thanks to Darwin and others, we now know more about the European carnivorous plant sundew than centuries ago.

Sundew has liquid droplets on it. Many other plants have dew droplets on them early in the morning. These evaporate as the sunshine gets stronger. In sundew, they don’t evaporate. People thought the sundew droplets were a peculiar kind of dew resistant to warmth; hence the plant’s name ‘sundew’.

Erasmus Darwin, 11 August 2017

In the late eighteenth century, Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, said the sundew droplets were not dew. He correctly thought they had to do with insects. He did not know yet they had to do with eating these insects though.

Insectivorous plants, 11 August 2017

Erasmus Darwin’s grandson Charles experimented with carnivorous plants. In 1875, the results of these experiments were published in his Insectivorous plants. Why did plants become carnivorous? Because they grew in soils with few nutrients, Charles Darwin pointed out. They needed other sources of nutrients. In the course of evolution, carnivorous plants developed mechanisms to lure, catch and digest arthropod prey.

Sundew leaf, 11 August 2017

Like this specialized sundew leaf from Darwin’s book.

Carnivorous plants' traps, 11 August 2017

Peeters pointed out there are three kinds of carnivorous plants’ traps. Traps snapping tight, glue traps and pitcher traps.

The sequel of this will come on this blog. So, stay tuned!

‘Darwin’s Backyard’ chronicles naturalist’s homespun experiments. Breeding pigeons, growing orchids and other hands-on work provided evidence for the theory of evolution. By Sid Perkins, 10:00am, August 24, 2017.

Nepenthes carnivorous plants in Leiden botanical garden


This video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Nepenthes at Hortus botanicus Leiden (English subtitles)

15 August 2017

The botanical gardens of Leiden are home to many exotic and rare plants. Among these are the carnivorous Nepenthes or Pitcher plants which form one of our key collections. But why do we grow them and do all of them really eat animals?