Carnivorous waterwheel plants, new research

This 2015 video is called Closure of a trap of Aldrovanda vesiculosa (waterwheel plant), a carnivorous plant.

From the University of Freiburg in Germany:

Carnivorous plants: How the waterwheel plant snaps

May 15, 2018

Summary: Biologists and civil engineers have analyzed the rapid movement of the snap-trap with which the carnivorous plant catches its prey.

The midrib of the leaf (which has been transformed into a snap trap) bends slightly downwards in a flash, the trap halves fold in, and the water flea can no longer escape — as part of an interdisciplinary team Anna Westermeier, Dr. Simon Poppinga and Prof. Dr. Thomas Speck from the Plant Biomechanics Group at the Botanic Garden of the University of Freiburg have discovered how this snapping mechanism, with which the carnivorous waterwheel (Aldrovanda vesiculosa) catches its prey, works in detail.

The study was carried out in the Collaborative Research Centre “Biological Design and Integrative Structures: Analysis, Simulation and Implementation in Architecture.” In addition to the Freiburg biologists, experts from the Institute of Structural Analysis and Structural Dynamics (IBB) at the University of Stuttgart and from the Institute of Botany at the Czech Academy of Sciences were also involved. The team has published its results in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) and the far less known aquatic waterwheel are the only carnivorous plants with snap traps. While intensive research on the Venus flytrap has been going on for a long time, the ten times faster underwater snap traps of the waterwheel have so far been little studied. The team led by the Freiburg biologists has now deciphered the underlying movement principle using experiments and computer simulations. The researchers found that the waterwheel snaps shut its trap, which is only three millimetres in size, by actively changing the internal pressure in the cells of the leaf, which leads to the midrib bending, and also by releasing internal prestress, which apparently results in an acceleration effect. The Venus flytrap, on the other hand, employs a hydraulic mechanism to change the curvature of its leaf halves which results in rapid trap closure. Although both plants share many similarities, the mechanics of the traps differ considerably. This finding may not only help understanding the development of snap traps from an evolutionary perspective, but also the adaptation to different habitats — in a terrestrial habitat with the Venus flytrap, under water with the waterwheel.

The team also published a biomimetic implementation of the waterwheel trap movement principle as part of the Collaborative Research Centre at the beginning of 2018 — together with other colleagues from the IBB and the Institute for Load-bearing Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart and the German Institutes for Textile and Fibre Research (DITF). The facade shading Flectofold© shows the same opening and closing movement as its biological inspiration, the waterwheel, and can also be attached to complex building shells.


‘Amazon, source of Latin American biodiversity’

This 2016 video says about itself:

National Geographic – Strange Things In the Amazon Forest – BBC wildlife animal documentary

The Amazon rainforest (Portuguese: Floresta Amazônica or Amazônia; Spanish: Selva Amazónica, or usually Amazonia; French: Forêt amazonienne; Dutch: Amazoneregenwoud), also known in English as Amazonia or the Amazon Jungle, is a moist broadleaf forest that covers most of the Amazon basin of South America. This basin encompasses 7,000,000 square kilometres (2,700,000 sq mi), of which 5,500,000 square kilometres (2,100,000 sq mi) are covered by the rainforest.

From Harvard University in the USA:

American tropics, Amazon origins

Study finds Amazonian rainforests gave birth to the world’s most diverse tropical region

May 14, 2018

A new study is suggesting many of the plants and animals that call Latin America home may actually have their roots in the Amazon.

The study, co-authored by Harvard Visiting Scholar Alexandre Antonelli and an international team of researchers, found that a dynamic process of colonization and speciation led to the formation of the American tropics, which is today the most species-rich region on the planet. The study is described in a May 14 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We were astonished to detect so much movement across such different environments and over such large distances,” said Antonelli, the study’s lead author. “Up until now, these natural dispersal events were assumed to be quite rare. Our results show how crucial these events have been in the formation of tropical America’s unique and outstandingly rich biodiversity.”

Over tens of millions of years, thousands of species have naturally made their way to new regions, where some of them survived and adapted to new conditions. These adaptations added up, and when the offspring were sufficiently different from earlier generations, new species were formed.

Over time, this dynamic process occurred so many times in the American tropics that the area became the exceptionally diverse region we see today.

To understand that process, Antonelli and colleagues used information on the evolutionary relationships, distribution, and timing of the origin of thousands of tropical species to calculate how often species dispersed into new regions or new environments. Much of this information comes from natural history collections, including specimens at Harvard University Herbaria and the Museum of Comparative Zoology, where Antonelli is currently working.

What they found, he said, is that while all regions in the American tropics have exchanged species with one another, Amazonia stood out as the main source.

“Two main factors seem to explain the key role of Amazonia in exporting so much diversity: its huge area, and the large amount of time that species have existed there. Together, these have increased the chances of species dispersing into new habitats and regions,” says Antonelli.

For all the groups researchers examined — from plants to birds to … mammals, and even frogs, snakes and lizards — Antonelli said that pattern remained essentially the same, suggesting that biotic movements are important for generating diversity among all life forms.

“Most evolutionary research focuses on how new species form. But we want to understand how whole ecosystems evolve, and what makes some regions much more species-rich than others. This is important because it shows us how plants and animals deal with new environments and what factors determine biodiversity”, Antonelli concludes.

This study highlights the far-reaching importance of tropical regions — comprising rainforests, savannas and mountain ecosystems, among others — in sustaining the world’s biodiversity. Most tropical ecosystems are now threatened due to human activities, and many species are on the edge of extinction, further highlighting the need for immediate and widespread protection.

“This study brings together a truly massive amount of data and distills it down in a way that gives crucial insights into the history of biodiversity in the tropics”, said Kyle Dexter, Senior Lecturer in the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh and Research Associate at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.” The previous paradigm in the tropics focused on local evolution when explaining high tropical diversity, but clearly there is a shift happening to acknowledge the importance of dispersal, and this study contributes decisively to this shift.”

Going forward, Antonelli hopes to continue to examine the dynamic processes that drive the distribution and evolution of species, especially in tropical regions. To this end, his group is combining data and techniques from several disciplines, from fossils to genomes and from fieldwork to software development.

“Biodiversity is the dark matter of our planet: we know there must be millions of species that we haven’t found yet. Finding, understanding, and protecting this diversity is probably humanity’s toughest but most important challenge.”

Fungi and conservation in the USA

This 2016 video says about itself:

You might see some of these 11 bizarre and creepy looking fungi around the world; here are what they’re called and if they are edible.

6. The Bitter Oyster Mushroom. This mushroom is found in the local regions of North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia where it grows in clusters located mostly on oak, birch, and beech trees. Bitter oysters happen to be one of the manly bioluminescent mushrooms that exist and it’s only the eastern North American strain that is able to glow, unlike the Pacific strain. It’s thanks to this species of mushroom that the term foxfire was coined by the early settlers. Fun fact: This mushroom is classified as being bioremediation as it has the power to absorb the toxins from environmental pollutants and is able to break down lignin.

5. Stemonitis fusca. This is a species of slime mold that isn’t actually a fungus, however, it was at one point classified in the same kingdom. Sometimes they’re still grouped together as a means of convenience. These eukaryotic organisms are able to live as single cells but combine into multicellular reproductive structures. This type of slime mold can be found in small groups forming on dead wood. It’s recognized by its slender stalks that hold up the sporangia that only grows to a height of around 6 to 20 millimeters tall. There’s over 900 documented species of slime mold that exist all over the world.

4. The Blue Milk Mushroom. The more common name for this edible mushroom is the indigo milk cap and it can be found in several different areas of the world including East Asia, Central America, and eastern North America, which is why they’re most often found in Chinese, Mexican, and Guatemalan food dishes. When the mushroom is cut open or broken it leaks an indigo milk or as it’s referred to “latex” and the mushroom begins to change into a green color once exposed to oxygen. This species of mushroom is definitely considered to be one of the most beautiful, yet, weird species in the world.

3. The False Morel Mushroom. Also known as the brain mushroom and you can see why the false morel will definitely prove to be fatal if ingested raw and not properly prepared. A good number of people have died. False morels are actually considered as a famous delicacy in areas such as Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and in the regions of the Great Lakes of North America. In certain places in the world, it’s illegal to sell, in others, it must come with a warning label. The safety of its consumption has been recently brought into question as it’s been noted that even if properly prepared, toxins in the mushroom can still remain and quite a number of people have developed acute toxicity. So, there could very well be some long-term health effects related to this mushroom.

2. The Bleeding Tooth Fungus. Hydnellum peckii is an interesting looking inedible mushroom that is definitely not something you want to try and eat. What you see in the following photo is a young bleeding tooth fungus that is secreting a red liquid. It’s not blood or anything, even though it does resemble it. It’s really just a liquid that is filled with anticoagulant properties. That means it’s capable of preventing blood clots. When the fungus ages it turns brown and looks unrecognizable compared to its youth. They’re most common in North America but are also found in other parts of the world.

1. The Amanita muscaria. More commonly referred to as the fly agaric, this mushroom is very famous for its psychoactive properties. Not only that, but this mushroom is also considered to be highly poisonous, that is, if it’s eaten raw and not properly detoxified first. Careful, though, there’s no antidote but there are several methods as far as treatment goes. Under several different laws and ordinances, the Amanita muscaria is illegal in The United Kingdom, Australia, and The Netherlands. This fungus also happens to be quite famous in pop culture what with being featured in the Super Mario Bros. franchise and in the Alice in Wonderland book to name a few.

From Washington State University in the USA:

Fungi may help restore native plant populations

Symbiotic relationship helps stabilize soil, conserve water, provide habitat

May 14, 2018

Transplanting fungi to restore native plant populations in the Midwest and Northwest is the focus of efforts by a team of WSU Tri-Cities researchers.

Mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with many plant roots, which helps stabilize the soil, conserve water and provides a habitat for many birds and insects, said Tanya Cheeke, assistant professor of biology. Some native plant species are more dependent on mycorrhizal fungi than invasive plant species. So, when that fungi is disturbed, native plants may not be able to compete as well with invasive species, disrupting the natural ecosystem of the environment and inhibiting many natural processes, she said.

Inoculate seedlings with microbes

“One way to improve native plant survival and growth in disturbed environments may be to inoculate seedlings with native soil microbes, which are then transplanted into a restoration site”, Cheeke said. “We’ve been doing prairie restoration in Kansas for the past two years. Now, we’re also doing something similar in the Palouse area in Washington.”

Cheeke is working with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to complete the research. A group of her undergraduate students recently presented their project during the WSU Tri-Cities Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition. Those students include Catalina Yepez, Jasmine Gonzales, Megan Brauner and Bryndalyn Corey.

The undergraduate team spent the past semester analyzing the spread of fungi from an inoculated soil environment in Kansas to see how far the fungi had spread into a restoration area. One year after planting, soil samples were collected at 0.5 meter, 1 meter, 1.5 meters, and 2 meters from the site of the inoculation in each plot. The samples were then tested for the presence of fungal DNA to see if the inoculated mycorrhizal species had reached the various distances from the inoculation points.

“The results will be used to inform ecological restoration efforts aimed at improving the survival and growth of native plants in disturbed ecosystems,” undergraduate student Megan Brauner said.

Disturbed vs. pristine environments

Cheeke said they also are looking at how microbes change across gradients of disturbed environments compared to pristine environments.

“We want to determine the microbes that are present in pristine environments, but are missing from disturbed sites,” she said.

Eventually, Cheeke said they would like to develop soil restoration strategies that other people can implement in their own environments.

Scarlet lily beetles mate on flowering plant

This 8 May 2018 video shows scarlet lily beetles mating on a snake’s head fritillary flowering plant.

Wim Bender in the Netherlands made this video.

Orchid in Florida, USA, video

This video from the USA says about itself:

29 March 2018

A rare native Florida Orchid, I believe the Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata) suddenly appeared in the Backyard in a protected semi-shaded drier area. It is unusual to spot native orchids in Florida out in the bush because of the density of other plants and brush. This one somehow managed to grow from wind-borne seeds as an isolated plant under a growing palmetto tree among lava rock ground cover – Go Figure. You will notice it has aphids at the new growth at the tip of the main flower. I love it when I spot an unusual bit of Nature that might otherwise be overlooked.

New mushroom species discovery in the Netherlands

This 2014 video from Spain is about the Morchella vulgaris fungus.

A mushroom species, new for the Netherlands, has been discovered.

It is Morchella vulgaris, a species related to, and superficially looking like, the well-known yellow morel.

In the Netherlands, Morchella vulgaris had been wrongly seen as yellow morel for a long time. But now, Dutch mycologists know it lives in their country as well.

Seaweed and other natural history news

This 16 March 2018 video from Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands says about itself:

Naturalis Newsroom: Seaweed special

This is episode #20 of Naturalis Newsroom, flash videos filmed in Naturalis on recent discoveries, new articles and other interesting stuff happening in Naturalis Biodiversity Center.