Mandarin ducks and spring trees


Tree, 28 March 2017

Today, spring in the Netherlands really started with a warm day. Benefiting, eg, this tree.

Mandarin ducks, 28 March 2017

And these mandarin ducks (also near ‘s-Gravenland village).

New plant species discovered in Romania


This video from England says about itself:

Flora (Romania) – FFI Conservation Circle Dinner with Paul Hotham

6 July 2015

A talk about FFI’s project work in Romania presented by FFI Director of the Eurasia Programme Paul Hotham.

From BirdLife:

22 Mar 2017

Discovery! New plant species in Romania

By Ovidiu Bufnila

Introducing Ferula mikraskythiana (Apiaceae), a whole new species of flowering plant recently discovered in Romania.

Ladies and gentlemen! SOR/BirdLife Romania is proud to present the latest cellular sensation to hit the botanical world – Ferula mikraskythiana! That’s right, scientists have now confirmed that a brand new species of flowering plant has been discovered in Romania.

The new discovery is a member of the Apiaceae family – a large family of mostly aromatic flowering plants, counting more than 3,700 species and including culinary favourites such as celery, carrot, parsley, coriander, cumin, dill and fennel. The specific epithet of this new member refers to the ancient Greek name of the historical region Scythia Minor or Lesser Scythia (Mikrá Skythia or Μικρὰ Σκυθία) where this species was found. A region known today as Dobrogea. Its closest relative is Eriosynaphe longifolia, a rare species from the Pontic-Caspian steppe of Ukraine, southern Russia, and western Kazakhstan. It was previously thought that the latter was alone in its genus, but this discovery shows that, in fact, both species belong to a broader Ferula genus.

The species was discovered in 2014, when biologists Mátis Attila and Havadtői Krisztina were conducting field-work for a SOR/BirdLife Romania project. At first, they thought the species was only new to the Romanian flora, but after some research, found nothing similar in the neighbouring Bulgarian flora. And so, they collected some leaves and tried to identify the plant. No luck. Step in bio-nanoscience expert Bartha László from the Babeș Bolyai University (UBB) of Cluj who, following genetic investigations, concluded that this mysterious plant was indeed a new species of ‘Ferula’. Then, the university’s phytogeography expert, Alexandru S. Bădărău, suggested a connection with Eriosynaphe longifolia. All that remained was to obtain samples of the latter (provided by Sramkó Gábor, a Hungarian colleague conveniently doing field-work in Russia) and the mystery was solved!

Subsequent research shows this species to be endemic to Romania, with a very small population (172 individuals in 2015) restricted to a few steppe grassland enclaves within Dumbrăveni Forest Nature Reserve. The species should therefore be classified as ‘Endangered’ according to the IUCN. Indeed, the reason the species managed to survive is because it was protected in a remote and isolated nature reserve. Across most of Dobrogea, similar steppe habitats have long since disappeared due to destructive effects of overgrazing livestock.

So let us hope that this discovery – and the genuine excitement it has elicited across Romania in the media – teaches us a valuable lesson about the importance of protecting our natural habitats.

Ovidiu Bulfina is Head of Communications for SOR/BirdLife Romania

To read more about the science of this exciting discovery, check out Mátis Attila’s article in the journal Phytotaxa.

Dinosaur age fungi discovery


This video says about itself:

23 February 2016

Here are 10 extraordinary fossils that have been found preserved in amber. Amber certainly makes beautiful jewelry, but its clarity and longevity have also proven it to be a great preservation medium. Here are 10 extraordinary fossils that have been found in the solidified resin.

Number 10. Ancient hierarchical civilizations. Thanks to some well-preserved remains, researchers now believe arthropod social structures have been around longer than anyone ever imagined. The encased specimens of ants and termites recently studied date back roughly 100 million years.

Number 9. A possible early version of the bubonic plague. The disease is well known as a Middle Ages mass killer, and its power may have been building since before the dawn of man. Traces of very similar bacteria were found on a 20-million-year-old flea trapped in amber.

Number 8. First carnivorous plant. Dating back some 40 million years, the specimen, which has gooey, insect-trapping tentacles shooting off of its leaves, still contains traces of its last meal. The fossil was found in what is now Russia.

Number 7. 52-million-year-old parasitic beetle. The creature’s prey of choice was ants, and it was somehow able to dupe the hard workers into letting it live in their nest. While there, the beetle would likely eat the ants’ young and exploit their resources.

Number 6. Elusive male stinging scorpion. There are many holes in the history and development of the Miocene scorpion, as very few remains of the ancient ones have been found. Except for this one, a very rare, fully-grown male discovered in Mexico.

Number 5. A daddy long legs with an erect penis. With a 400-million-year history of existence, that the arachnids mate isn’t surprising. However this particular one, estimated to be about 99 million, is the oldest known to have been preserved in such a state.

Number 4. A flower on the verge of being fertilized. Had it not been for the flow of resin that engulfed this bud 100 million or so years ago, the bloom likely would have spread viable seed far and wide. Instead, it was fossilized right as pollen tubes were about to make contact with flower’s stigma.

Number 3. A spider on the brink of an attack. This roughly 110-million-year-old, 8-legged predator missed out on getting a last meal by a sliver of time. The would-be nibble was a wasp that had become ensnared in the web.

Number 2. Dinosaur feathers. Many experts have suggested the prehistoric beasts were covered in them, and this particular piece of amber certainly lends support to the idea. It was discovered in Canada and created some 78 million years ago.

Number 1. Ancient Caribbean lizards. Even though they are 20 million years old, the reptiles inside the golden stones were not found to differ from their contemporary counterparts in any significant way. Scientists attribute the rarity to stable ecological surroundings.

Which amber-encased fossil do you find most fascinating?

From Xinhua news agency in China:

Scientists find earliest intact mushroom fossils

NANJING, March 17 — Paleontologists from China, New Zealand and the United States have found four intact mushroom fossils, sources with the Chinese Academy of Sciences said Friday.

The four, well preserved in Burmese amber for at least 99 million years, are the earliest complete mushroom fossils ever found.

The findings represent four species of mushroom. A stalk and a complete cap containing distinct gills are visible in most of the mushrooms, which are two to three millimeters long.

The research team led by Prof. Huang Diying from Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported the finding after researching more than 20,000 pieces of Burmese amber collected over 10 years.

The team also found three kinds of rove beetle, which feed on mushrooms, in pieces of amber 125 million years old. The discovery highlights the palaeo-diversity of mushrooms, pushing back the presence of agaric mushrooms by at least 25 million years.

Mushrooms are common and morphologically diverse fungi. Their bodies are soft and ephemeral and therefore extremely rare in fossils. Until the recent discovery, only five species of mushrooms were known exclusively from amber. Among the previous five species, one was found in a 99-million-year-old piece of damaged Burmese amber, another in a 90-million-year-old piece of New Jersey amber and the three remaining species in 20-million-year-old Dominican amber.

Bullfinch eats maple fruits, video


In this 7 March 2017 video from the Netherlands, a male bullfinch eats helicopter-shaped maple fruits.

Michael de Vries from Dutch Gelderland province made this video.

Except more blog posts soon, now that I am back!

World’s oldest fossils discovery in Canada


This video says about itself:

2 March 2017

Remains of microorganisms at least 3,770 million years old have been discovered by an international team led by UCL scientists, providing direct evidence of one of the oldest life forms on Earth.

Tiny filaments and tubes formed by bacteria that lived on iron were found encased in quartz layers in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB), Quebec, Canada.

From University College London in England:

World’s oldest fossils unearthed

March 1, 2017

Remains of microorganisms at least 3,770 million years old have been discovered by an international team led by UCL scientists, providing direct evidence of one of the oldest life forms on Earth.

Tiny filaments and tubes formed by bacteria that lived on iron were found encased in quartz layers in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB), Quebec, Canada.

The NSB contains some of the oldest sedimentary rocks known on Earth which likely formed part of an iron-rich deep-sea hydrothermal vent system that provided a habitat for Earth’s first life forms between 3,770 and 4,300 million years ago. “Our discovery supports the idea that life emerged from hot, seafloor vents shortly after planet Earth formed. This speedy appearance of life on Earth fits with other evidence of recently discovered 3,700 million year old sedimentary mounds that were shaped by microorganisms,” explained first author, PhD student Matthew Dodd (UCL Earth Sciences and the London Centre for Nanotechnology).

Published today in Nature and funded by UCL, NASA, Carnegie of Canada and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the study describes the discovery and the detailed analysis of the remains undertaken by the team from UCL, the Geological Survey of Norway, US Geological Survey, The University of Western Australia, the University of Ottawa and the University of Leeds.

Prior to this discovery, the oldest microfossils reported were found in Western Australia and dated at 3,460 million years old but some scientists think they might be non-biological artefacts in the rocks. It was therefore a priority for the UCL-led team to determine whether the remains from Canada had biological origins.

The researchers systematically looked at the ways the tubes and filaments, made of haematite — a form of iron oxide or ‘rust’ — could have been made through non-biological methods such as temperature and pressure changes in the rock during burial of the sediments, but found all of the possibilities unlikely.

The haematite structures have the same characteristic branching of iron-oxidising bacteria found near other hydrothermal vents today and were found alongside graphite and minerals like apatite and carbonate which are found in biological matter including bones and teeth and are frequently associated with fossils.

They also found that the mineralised fossils are associated with spheroidal structures that usually contain fossils in younger rocks, suggesting that the haematite most likely formed when bacteria that oxidised iron for energy were fossilised in the rock.

“We found the filaments and tubes inside centimetre-sized structures called concretions or nodules, as well as other tiny spheroidal structures, called rosettes and granules, all of which we think are the products of putrefaction. They are mineralogically identical to those in younger rocks from Norway, the Great Lakes area of North America and Western Australia,” explained study lead, Dr Dominic Papineau (UCL Earth Sciences and the London Centre for Nanotechnology).

“The structures are composed of the minerals expected to form from putrefaction, and have been well documented throughout the geological record, from the beginning until today. The fact we unearthed them from one of the oldest known rock formations, suggests we’ve found direct evidence of one of Earth’s oldest life forms. This discovery helps us piece together the history of our planet and the remarkable life on it, and will help to identify traces of life elsewhere in the universe.”

Matthew Dodd concluded, “These discoveries demonstrate life developed on Earth at a time when Mars and Earth had liquid water at their surfaces, posing exciting questions for extra-terrestrial life. Therefore, we expect to find evidence for past life on Mars 4,000 million years ago, or if not, Earth may have been a special exception.”

See also here. And here.

Life on Earth may have begun as dividing droplets. Shape-shifting blobs of chemicals could split to reproduce, simulations show. By
Emily Conover, 7:00am, March 21, 2017: here.

Swans and botanical garden flowers


Mute swan, 18 February 2017

On 18 February 2017, we went to the botanical garden. Before arriving there, we passed a canal with this young mute swan swimming.

Mute swans, 18 February 2017

There were two more mute swans: another youngster and an adult.

Mute swan youngster, 18 February 2017

On the canal bank, feral pigeons.

When we arrived at the botanical garden, there were of course not yet as many flowers as later in the year, it officially still being winter. Yet, already purple crocus.

Winter aconites, 18 February 2017

And quite some winter aconites were already present.

Wintersweet, 18 February 2017

And so were these wintersweet flowers.

Snowdrops, 18 February 2017

And, of course, snowdrops, as one might expect at this time of the year.

Snowdrops on 18 February 2017

A great tit calls. Blackbirds. Ring-necked parakeets.

On the other side of the canal, grazing coots and moorhens.

A blue tit drinking from the botanical garden stream.

Snowmen, parakeets and blackbirds


Snow on plants, 12 February 2017

Today, a snowy day, we went to the botanical garden. Much snow on our way, eg, on these plants.

Snowman, 12 February 2017

When we had nearly arrived at the botanical garden, this snowman. His nose was a carrot, like traditionally with snowmen. However, his eyes were untraditional: Coca-Cola bottle caps.

Yesterday, on a park bench, we had seen another snowman (with a snowchild next to him); with Amstel beer bottle caps as eyes. Snowmen’s eyes used to be coal. However, now there is no longer coal in most homes.

After this photo, the battery of the cell phone was empty. So, no more photos today.

A pity, as in the botanical garden there was lots of beautiful snow on branches. Green ring-necked parakeets on snowy white branches. Blackbirds in the snow, and more.

At the astronomical observatory, someone tried to make a snow telescope. However, that turned out to be not easy.