Birds, mushrooms and big wasp, Terschelling island

Hornet attacks ant, 23 September 2019

After 22 September 2019 on Terschelling island came 23 September. Early in the morning, not far from Doodemanskisten lake, this hornet attacked this ant.

A coal tit. A firecrest. Two great tits. And a female blackcap.

As we walked through the woodland, false death cap fungi.

Clustered brittlestem.

Blusher mushrooms.

Gymnopus dryophilus.

Melanoleuca brevipes, 23 September 2019

And these Melanoleuca brevipes fungi.

Common rustgill, 23 September 2019

And these common rustgill mushrooms.

A great spotted woodpecker. A robin sings.

Saffron milk cap, 23 September 2019

Saffron milk cap.

Some of many Jersey cow mushrooms we saw today.

A slug feeding on one of them.

Yellow stagshorn, 23 September 2019

These yellow stagshorn fungi.

Horse mushrom, 23 September 2019

Horse mushroom.

Common roll-rim.

Young shaggy ink caps.

Sticky bun fungus, 23 September 2019

Sticky bun present as well.

Sticky bun fungi, 23 September 2019

Sulphur tuft.

Penny bun, 23 September 2019

Penny bun.

Collybia confluens.

Smooth puffball, 23 September 2019

Smooth puffball.

Common puffball.

Lactarius glaucescens.

A jay calls.

Velvet roll-rim fungi on 23 September 2019

Velvet roll-rim.

Beefsteak polypore, 23 September 2019

And, as last fungus photo of that day, this beefsteak polypore.

When we are back at Doodemanskisten lake, two grey herons. A teal. A wigeon. A female migrant hawker dragonfly.

Stay tuned for more on Terschelling wildlife!

Dinosaur age pollinating insects, new research

Ecological reconstruction of tumbling flower beetles Angimordella burmitina. These beetles are feeding on eudicot flowers. The color and morphology of flowers are artistic only. Image credit: Ding-hau Yang / Bao et al, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1916186116

From Indiana University in the USA:

New fossil pushes back physical evidence of insect pollination to 99 million years ago

November 11, 2019

A new study co-led by researchers in the U.S. and China has pushed back the first-known physical evidence of insect flower pollination to 99 million years ago, during the mid-Cretaceous period.

The revelation is based upon a tumbling flower beetle with pollen on its legs discovered preserved in amber deep inside a mine in northern Myanmar. The fossil comes from the same amber deposit as the first ammonite discovered in amber, which was reported by the same research group earlier this year.

The report of the new fossil will be published Nov. 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The fossil, which contains both the beetle and pollen grains, pushes back the earliest documented instance of insect pollination to a time when pterodactyls still roamed the skies — or about 50 million years earlier than previously thought.

The study’s U.S. co-author is David Dilcher, an emeritus professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science and a research affiliate of the Indiana Geological and Water Survey. As a paleobotanist studying the earliest flowering plants on Earth, Dilcher has conducted research on the process of amber fossilization.

The co-lead author on the study is Bo Wang, an amber fossil expert at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, where the specimen was procured and analyzed.

According to Dilcher, who provided a morphological review of the 62 grains of pollen in the amber, the shape and structure of the pollen shows it evolved to spread through contact with insects. These features include the pollen’s size, “ornamentation” and clumping ability.

The grains also likely originated from a flower species in the group eudicots, one of the most common types of flowering plant species, he said.

The pollen was not easy to find. The powdery substance was revealed hidden in the insect’s body hairs under a confocal laser microscopy. The analysis took advantage of the fact that pollen grains glow under fluorescence light, contrasting strongly with the darkness of the insect’s shell.

The insect in the amber is a newly discovered species of beetle, which the study’s authors named Angimordella burmitina. It’s role as a pollinator was determined based upon several specialized physical structures, including body shape and pollen-feeding mouthparts. These structures were revealed through an imaging method called X-ray microcomputed tomography, or micro-CT.

“It’s exceedingly rare to find a specimen where both the insect and the pollen are preserved in a single fossil,” said Dilcher. “Aside from the significance as earliest known direct evidence of insect pollination of flowering plants, this specimen perfectly illustrates the cooperative evolution of plants and animals during this time period, during which a true exposition of flowering plants occurred.”

Prior to this study, the earliest physical evidence of insect pollination of flowering plants came from Middle Eocene. The age of the new fossil was determined based upon the age of other known fossils in the same location as the fossilized beetle’s discovery.

See also here.

Ötzi the Iceman and prehistoric plants

This 2017 video is called Ötzi The Iceman. Film documentary.

From PLOS:

Alongside Ötzi the Iceman: A bounty of ancient mosses and liverworts

Frozen flora holds clues to the ancient Alps ecosystem and to the Iceman’s final journey

October 30, 2019

Buried alongside the famous Ötzi the Iceman are at least 75 species of bryophytes — mosses and liverworts — which hold clues to Ötzi’s surroundings, according to a study released October 30, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by James Dickson of the University of Glasgow, UK and colleagues at the University of Innsbruck.

Ötzi the Iceman is a remarkable 5,300-year-old human specimen found frozen in ice approximately 3,200 meters above sea level in the Italian Alps. He was frozen alongside his clothing and gear as well as an abundant assemblage of plants and fungi. In this study, Dickson and colleagues aimed to identify the mosses and liverworts preserved alongside the Iceman.

Today, 23 bryophyte species live the area near where Ötzi was found, but inside the ice, the researchers identified thousands of preserved bryophyte fragments representing at least 75 species. It is the only site of such high altitude with bryophytes preserved over thousands of years. Notably, the assemblage includes a variety of mosses ranging from low-elevation to high-elevation species, as well as 10 species of liverworts, which are very rarely preserved in archaeological sites. Only 30% of the identified bryophytes appear to have been local species, with the rest having been transported to the spot in Ötzi’s gut or clothing or by large mammalian herbivores whose droppings ended up frozen alongside the Iceman.

From these remains, the researchers infer that the bryophyte community in the Alps around 5,000 years ago was generally similar to that of today. Furthermore, the non-local species help to confirm the path Ötzi took to his final resting place. Several of the identified moss species thrive today in the lower Schnalstal valley, suggesting that Ötzi traveled along the valley during his ascent. This conclusion is corroborated by previous pollen research, which also pinpointed Schnalstal as the Iceman’s likely route of ascent.

Dickson adds, “Most members of the public are unlikely to be knowledgeable about bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). However, no fewer than 75 species of these important investigative clues were found when the Iceman (aka Ötzi) was removed from the ice. They were recovered as mostly small scraps from the ice around him, from his clothes and gear, and even from his alimentary tract. Those findings prompted the questions: Where did the fragments come from? How precisely did they get there? How do they help our understanding of the Iceman?”

South African flowers and bacteria, new research

This 201 video says about itself:

Into the Fynbos: Conserving Biodiversity in the Cape Floristic Region

A Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development Project in South Africa’s Western Cape Province encourages landowners to be stewards of their holdings, so that the rich biodiversity in this World Heritage Site has a place to thrive, and the region has a chance to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

From Stellenbosch University in South Africa:

New evidence that bacteria drive biodiversity in the Cape Floral Region

October 30, 2019

Botanists from Stellenbosch University (SU) have come one step closer to unraveling the mystery of the Cape Floral Region’s extraordinary levels of biodiversity.

To date at least some of this remarkable diversity has been attributed to plants’ ability to adapt to micro-niches, created by factors such as a stable palaeo climate, reliable winter rainfall, geographical gradients and diverse soil types.

Now botanists from SU’s Department of Botany and Zoology have found evidence that the largest Cape geophyte genus, Oxalis, has developed a unique association with the bacterial genus Bacillus, that help it to fix nitrogen from the air and to perform extraordinary feats of germination.

Furthermore, they proved that the Bacillus bacteria are so integrated into this symbiotic relationship that they are even inherited from mother plant to seed. The results of the study was published in the journal BMC Plant Biology recently, with the title “Nitrogen-fixing bacteria and Oxalis — evidence for a vertically inherited bacterial symbiosis.”

Prof Léanne Dreyer, a leading expert on Southern African Oxalis at SU and one of the authors, says this is the first report of such a system of vertical inheritance of endophyte bacteria for geophytes.

The Cape is known for the most diverse geophyte flora in the world, with 2 100 species from 20 families, but the factors driving this remarkable diversity are still poorly understood. This diversity is even more remarkable if one takes into account that it occurs in an environment that measures some of the lowest nitrogen and phosphorus levels globally.

How does this symbiotic relationship work?

From previous work, Dreyer’s research group established that 60% of Oxalis species have recalcitrant seeds. This means they cannot tolerate desiccation and have to germinate immediately after being shed.

But even more unique in these species is the incidence of inverse germination, where the seed leaves and the first foliar leave unfurl within the first 24 to 48 hours, without any support of a radicle or roots.

It was in the process of trying to figure out this extraordinary feat of germination that one of Dreyer’s postgraduate students, Dr Michelle Jooste, found evidence of an assemblage of bacteria and fungi in the vegetative and reproductive organs of six Oxalis species.

“We found that the bacteria and fungi inhabit the mucilage surrounding the base of recalcitrant Oxalis seedlings. The mucilage is a thick gluey substance that is excreted by the seed upon germination. Some of the bacteria and fungi we found in the mucilage were recruited from the surrounding soil, but others were provided via inheritance by the seed itself,” Jooste explains.

These bacteria are hosted within the plant body, quite possibly in specialized structural cavities, where they feed on oxalate — an organic acid produced by plants as a byproduct of photosynthesis.

Nine of the most abundant species of bacteria identified in the study were from the genus Bacillus, and three of these have the capacity to utilise oxalates as their only and often preferred source of carbon.

“We think this unusual relationship must have evolved over millions of years, helping Oxalis to make the most of a very predictable winter rainfall season, giving it just enough time to spurt enough growth above ground to also form a bulb underground in order to survive until the next winter’s first rains. Indeed a Russian roulette of germination strategies!” Dreyer explains.

But there are still many more questions than answers in this story.

How the mucilage is formed and what it consists of are the foci of a current study, while another postgraduate student is devising microscopic techniques to pinpoint whether these endophytic bacteria do, in fact, dwell in the unusual cavities that traverse all organs of most recalcitrant Oxalis species. The extremely rapid mode of bulb formation is also under investigation.

“In comparison with other Mediterranean environments, the biodiversity of the Cape Floral Region is off-the-chart. But why that is so, is still one of the greatest mysteries that botanists are trying to unravel,” Dreyer concludes.

Fern fossils and the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction

This video from the USA says about itself:

(9/27/2003) Host Steve Owens gives a tour of the Prehistoric Theme garden at the studio gardens, and talks a little about the ancient plants featured in it.

From Aarhus University in Denmark:

Mutated ferns shed light on ancient mass extinction

October 28, 2019

Most researchers believe that the mass extinction 201 million years ago was caused by release of CO2 by volcanism with global warming as a consequence. Now, new data from fern spores suggest there might have been more to it than that.

At the end of the Triassic around 201 million years ago, three out of four species on Earth disappeared. Up until now, scientists believed the cause of the catastrophe to be the onset of large-scale volcanism resulting in abrupt climate change. Now, new research suggest there might be several factors in play.

An international research team led by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) show that increased concentrations of the toxic element mercury in the environment contributed to the mass extinction. They recently published their finds in Science Advances.

“By looking at fern spores in sediments from the mass extinction, it was evident that these ferns were negatively affected by the mercury levels. Since mercury is accumulated in the food chain, it seems likely that other species have suffered as well,” says lead scientist Sofie Lindström.

“These results suggest that the end-Triassic mass extinction was not just caused by greenhouse gases from volcanoes causing global climate change, but that they also emitted toxins such as mercury wreaking havoc,” she says.

The mercury-volcano link

One of the co-authors of the study, Professor Hamed Sanei from Aarhus University, has previously demonstrated increased mercury levels from volcanism in a Large Igneous Province (LIP) during the most severe mass extinction known, the end-Permian crisis, where perhaps as much as 95% of life on Earth disappeared. Volcanic activity in LIPs is thought to be responsible for four of the five largest mass extinctions during the last 500 million years.

“Prior to industrialism, volcanic activity was the major release mechanism of large amounts of mercury from the Earth’s crust. That makes it possible to use mercury in sediments to trace major volcanic activity in the Earth’s past and in extent tie the extinctions of fossil organisms to LIP volcanism,” Hamed Sanei explains.

Other previous studies have shown elevated mercury concentrations in Triassic-Jurassic boundary sediments over a very large area stretching from Argentina to Greenland and from Nevada to Austria and that made the team curious about the impact on the end-Triassic event.

“We decided to examine whether mercury could have played a role,” Hamed Sanei says.

Fern spores as indicators

When looking at fern spores from core samples dating from 201 million years ago at the end of the Triassic the team indeed saw a link between increased mercury levels and mutations in the spores.

“During the mass extinction the mutated spores become increasingly common, and in turn the mutations get more and more severe. In some of my counts I found almost only mutated spores and no normal ones, which is very unusual,” Sofie Lindström explains.

This rise in mutations happened during a period of increased volcanic activity in a LIP called the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) leading to rising mercury levels. Since mercury is a mutagenic toxin, its’ increased distribution from the volcanic activity could help to explain the sudden deterioration of the ecosystem. Therefore, the fern spores could serve as indicators of increased mercury poisoning.

“This could hint to that the whole food chain might have been negatively affected,” says Sofie Lindström.

Previous studies have found increased amounts of malformed pollen during the end-Permian mass extinction 252 million years ago, which like the end-Triassic crisis is blamed on volcanism. These studies have suggested that the mutations during the end-Permian crisis were caused by increased UVB radiation, due to thinning of the ozone layer from the volcanism.

“This could also be a possible explanation for the mutations that we see during the end-Triassic crisis,” explains co-author Bas van de Schootbrugge from Utrecht University. “However, in our study we found only low amounts of mutated pollen, and during the end-Permian crisis spores do not appear to exhibit the same types of malformations registered during the end-Triassic mass extinction. This may indicate different causes for the plant mutations at the two events.”

Not a simple explanation

However, it is important not to lock on to just one cause when looking at a global crisis such as the end-Triassic event, says Sofie Lindström:

“Generally, we prefer simple explanations to mass extinctions such as meteorite impacts or climate change, but I don’t think it’s that simple. As our study suggests there could very well be a cocktail effect of CO2 and global warming, toxins like mercury, and other factors as well.”

Most of the prehistoric mass extinctions have indeed come in the wake of LIP volcanism, causing climate change and emitting toxic substances, Sofie Lindström says.

“Still, it is very difficult to say how big the importance of one factor is, because mass extinctions like this are very likely very complex events. Our study shows that mercury affected the ferns and likely also other plants, and it may also have had an impact on the entire food chain.”

Present pollution looks like past volcanism

The researchers point out that their study of the end-Triassic mass extinction in many ways draws parallels to the current global situation.

“Our global society emits a lot of the same substances and greenhouse gases as these huge volcanic provinces did during these mass extinctions. Therefore, studies in what happened back then might help us to prevent it from happening again,” says Sofie Lindström.

Sanderlings, mushrooms, flowers of Terschelling island

Sanderling and crab, Terschelling, 21 September 2019

After we had arrived on the North Sea beach of Terschelling island on 21 September 2019, there were sanderlings, like this one with this crab.

Sanderling and crab, on Terschelling, 21 September 2019

We left the beach.

Dune brittlestem, Terschelling, 21 September 2018

In the sand dunes bordering on the Noordvaarder sandy plain, these mushrooms grew. They are dune brittlestem fungi.

Groene Strand, Terschelling 21 September 2019

We continued along the west side of the Groene Strand valley. A marshy area.

Grass-of-Parnassus, 21 September 2019

Grass-of-Parnassus flowers.

Common fleabane, 21 September 2019

And these common fleabane flowers.

Water, Terschelling, 21 September 2019

Kilometres further, we had to make a detour to get around water.

Plants, Terschelling 21 September 2019

These plants grew there.

Sea aster, 21 September 2019

With these sea aster flowers between them.