Ducks, roe deer, squirrel and mushrooms


This November 2019 video shows red-crested pochard ducks, a roe deer with a fawn, a red squirrel and mushrooms in Berkheide nature reserve near Katwijk in the Netherlands.

Australian bushfire survivors interviews


This 16 January 2020 video says about itself:

Prehistoric Wollemi pines saved by firefighters from Australia’s bushfires

Australia’s Wollemi pines survived the dinosaurs and now firefighters have nursed them through the country’s unprecedented bushfire season to live another day. When seen from above – among acres of charred, native forest – there’s a thin trail of green. Firefighters were winched in by helicopter to activate irrigation systems, while other aircraft dropped water and retardant along the flames’ edge to minimise their impact. The giant trees were thought to be extinct until 1994, when authorities found 200 of them in a national park near the Blue Mountains, north-west of Sydney

AUSTRALIA’S ENDANGERED ‘DINOSAUR’ TREES SAVED A stand of trees with ancestors that date back 200 million years was saved from a series of devastating bushfires, a rare glimmer of good news amid the ongoing disaster. A team of firefighters was deployed to a remote part of the Blue Mountains, about 120 miles northwest of Sydney, as a massive bushfire approached. [HuffPost]

From the World Socialist Web Site in Australia:

Australia: NSW bushfire victims condemn inadequate planning and government responses

By our reporters

16 January 2020

Reporters from the World Socialist Web Site recently spoke to residents from northern towns of New South Wales (NSW) affected by the ongoing bushfire crisis. The region has been experiencing a drought since 2017, which has exacerbated the spread and intensity of the fires. Most areas are still under level-four water restrictions, the most severe, since the WSWS reported a month ago.

Across the country, the fires have resulted in at least 26 deaths, the destruction of more than 2,100 homes and the decimation of millions of hectares of bush and pastoral land. Broad swathes of the NSW coast have been devastated by blazes unprecedented by their size and intensity.

The crisis has revealed the immense growth of social inequality, and the failure of successive governments to put in place measures to mitigate the impact of annual fires. It has also underscored the criminal refusal of the political establishment to address climate change, which is a major contributing factor.

Reg and Usha are retirees living near Taree, 300 kilometres north of Sydney. Usha said: “These fires have unraveled the lie that the economy is separate from the environment. How does the economy work if you can’t grow your own produce? They are very much integrated.

“The drought is in large part due to deforestation and all sorts of anti-environmental policies extending way back to the start of white settlement. It’s all coming back to haunt us. You can’t have infinite growth of this economic system, it’s unsustainable.”

Reg added: “The problem is that the fossil fuel industry is so entrenched in the economy, and politicians are cowards who just want to stay in office as long as possible. I can’t remember the last time a courageous independent thinking person was preselected by the two major parties. The regime is totally corrupt.”

Reg and Usha

Usha pointed to broader political issues, stating: “We’ve come to a position where we have the prime minister openly speaking about crushing environmental activists. I think it all started from the war on terrorism almost 20 years ago. The censorship laws that have built up since have made politicians arrogant enough to be more authoritarian in their approach.

“There could not have been a Peter Dutton or a Scott Morrison before. This has an absolute connection to the persecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the state of politics today. They feel free from public sentiment and scrutiny. Australians like to think we live in a free society but we’re definitely not.”

One member of the Rural Fire Service, the volunteer force that has had to tackle many of the blazes, told the WSWS: “The ferocity of the fires has led to a lot of fatigue-related accidents, with instances of people rolling their trucks. I’ve come to a scene where a fire tornado had picked up a truck weighing 10–13 tonnes and tossed it over a farm fence. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen two dead bodies, severe burns. I’ve become numb to it now.

“Fires have been starting overnight, running 40km in one instance. One travelled 5km in one hour. Traditional, 100-foot containment lines have been helpless. I often joke that the only thing that’s going to stop these fires is the Great Eastern Firebreak. People ask, ‘What’s that?’ I say: It’s the Pacific Ocean.

“No white man has seen a drought this bad before. I had 70 head of cattle and I’m down to 30. Most have been lost due to hunger and misadventure in search of food. The cattle have been using the dried-up Manning River like it’s a highway in search of food.

“There are a whole number of factors coming together to create this fire season, and it’s not simply a lack of funding. The RFS is good for rapid response but reacting to this crisis is too late. The fuel load and conditions for severe and widespread fires have been building for a long time.

“One of the issues is that people are not as wealthy as they were 40 or 50 years ago. Gone are the days of single-income homes. Now everyone is trying to outdo each other. We are up to our eyeballs in debt. Living costs are so high that many people are uninsured.

“Most RFS members in the past were farmers, but there has been a massive shift in the last 20 years with a loss of experience and knowledge. Volunteers are dwindling in numbers and the average age is increasing. You can’t go flogging these people for 11 weeks of fire-fighting.

“There has been a widespread failure in the duty of private landowners, the council and National Parks to manage properties for fire risk. There needs to be far more resources devoted to mitigation. Funding for social services such as the National Parks and State Forest (NPSS) has been reduced, with limited staff available for hazard reduction burns.

“A large amount of crown land was signed over in the 1990s by Bob Carr’s Labor government to the NPSS when their 99-year leases ran out. This virtually doubled its jurisdiction in size, but without the corresponding funding to deal with it. So they just locked it up, creating a highly flammable forest.”

Matthew

Matthew is a resident of Gloucester, about 100km west of Taree, who owns a nursery. He said: “They’ve run out of water here. They should have gone on water restrictions a lot earlier, it’s not been well planned. There’s got to be a certain amount of water in the river before they go on restrictions. You can see the river’s not running at the moment. It’s as dry as I’ve seen it, and I’m forty-five.

“The fires didn’t reach where I live, I’ve been lucky. But for the environment and for the wildlife, there’s millions and millions of animals dead. If anything had survived you would think it would be in the small bits that hadn’t burned, but there’s nothing there either, the fires are that hot.

“My brother used to work in the national parks, and the federal and state governments have cut their funding. Over the last four or five there’s been about 130 less jobs. With less jobs and less funding, there’s less people to do back-burning. They need more funding for people to do the burning-off.

“With this drought, some of the fire-fighters have said that even with the burning-off it wouldn’t have stopped the fires. And there are places, like up near Tenterfield, or at Wollemi National Park, where you can’t really burn-off safely any time of year. Every year it’s worse. So climate change is having an effect, and I still think that we need to respond to it.

“I think the government isn’t funding the national parks or the firefighters because it would cost them money, and then they’d have to admit that climate change is real and that they haven’t done anything about it. It’s like the state government who’ve said they’re putting money in and they’ve bought two more water bombers. That’s nowhere near enough, and it doesn’t matter how many water bombers you have, it does nothing to prevent fires in the first place.”

Paul

Paul, a farmer at the Gloucester markets, said: “The bushfires near Taree were right up close to us because our property joins up with the Coopernook forest. They had to bring in a lot of resources, including aircraft, that weren’t there at the start.

“There’s been a lot of trouble with the way things are set up. They couldn’t even get water close to here and some of the helicopters had to refuel as far away as Williamtown which is 100km away. They’re getting some salt-water out of the rivers for fighting fires but they are trucking in town water here at Gloucester now because there’s nothing. At our place we’re just relying on dams and wells.

“I also think that those volunteer firefighters should be paid. They are putting their life on the line to save others. We’ve had three or four of them lose their lives.”

Paul noticed the WSWS reporter’s “Free Assange” t-shirts and commented:

“I think Assange should be freed, he’s been set up. The Swedish allegations were false, I’ve known that for a long time. He’s a good fellow from what I know of him. He told the truth. And when the truth is exposed, shit hits the fan as they say. It’s the same all over the world. The truth is, if the people who write for the Sydney Morning Herald or the [Rupert Murdoch owned] Daily Telegraph published what Assange has published, they’d lose their jobs. It’s the same with these bushfires, they don’t want the truth to get out.”

Australian fires have incinerated the habitats of up to 100 threatened species. Scientists warn of an ecological catastrophe as crucial habitats of rare plants and animals burn: here.

Rare fungi discovery in Dutch Drenthe


Peziza subviolacea, photo by Ronald Morsink

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

New mushroom species have been discovered in the Drents-Friese Wold National Park. The nature reserve had to deal with a major fire in 2018, during which 75 hectares were destroyed. That fire also yielded new nature.

For a year and a half, research was carried out on heathland mushrooms in the Dolsummerveld area . …

The research yielded various rare species, such as Peziza subviolacea, Pyronema omphalodes and Pholiota highlandensis. A new species was also discovered, which was also found two weeks earlier in Enschede. It is Myrmaecium rubricosum. …

Quick recovery

The Dolsummerveld recovers surprisingly quickly from the fire, according to the Drenthe conservation organisation. “It is barely visible where the fire has raged. The hope is that the heather will return to the area,” the foundation writes. It will take a few more years for the snake and butterfly population to be back up, writes RTV Drenthe. Many animals died during the fire, such as grass snakes, adders and slow worms.

Dinosaur age slime mold discovery in amber


This 2015 video says about itself:

Amazing slime mold. Time-lapse of slime mold (mould) behaviour. First, we see the phase where it is actively looking for food and following chemical cues from potential food items. Lastly, we see a phase that somewhat resembles fungoid in nature, ie sporulation. When food has run out or a change in environmental conditions is encountered, these things can trigger sporulation to occur.

Slime molds (moulds) are NOT related to fungi although originally classified within this group but are now placed within the Amoebazoa.

From the University of Göttingen in Germany:

100 million years in amber: Researchers discover oldest fossilized slime mold

Team from Göttingen, Helsinki and New York gets new insights into the evolution of myxomycetes

January 8, 2020

Most people associate the idea of creatures trapped in amber with insects or spiders, which are preserved lifelike in fossil tree resin. An international research team of palaeontologists and biologists from the Universities of Göttingen and Helsinki, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York has now discovered the oldest slime mould identified to date. The fossil is about 100 million years old and is exquisitely preserved in amber from Myanmar. The results have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Slime moulds, also called myxomycetes, belong to a group known as ‘Amoebozoa’. These are microscopic organisms that live most of the time as single mobile cells hidden in the soil or in rotting wood, where they eat bacteria. However, they can join together to form complex, beautiful and delicate fruiting bodies, which serve to make and spread spores.

Since fossil slime moulds are extremely rare, studying their evolutionary history has been very difficult. So far, there have only been two confirmed reports of fossils of fruiting bodies and these are just 35 to 40 million years old. The discovery of fossil myxomycetes is very unlikely because their fruiting bodies are extremely short-lived. The researchers are therefore astounded by the chain of events that must have led to the preservation of this newly identified fossil. “The fragile fruiting bodies were most likely torn from the tree bark by a lizard, which was also caught in the sticky tree resin, and finally embedded in it together with the reptile”, says Professor Jouko Rikkinen from the University of Helsinki. The lizard detached the fruiting bodies at a relatively early stage when the spores had not yet been released, which now reveals valuable information about the evolutionary history of these fascinating organisms.

The researchers were surprised by the discovery that the slime mould can easily be assigned to a genus still living today. “The fossil provides unique insights into the longevity of the ecological adaptations of myxomycetes,” explains palaeontologist Professor Alexander Schmidt from the University of Göttingen, lead author of the study.

“We interpret this as evidence of strong environmental selection. It seems that slime moulds that spread very small spores using the wind had an advantage,” says Rikkinen. The ability of slime moulds to develop long-lasting resting stages in their life cycle, which can last for years, probably also contributes to the remarkable similarity of the fossil to its closest present-day relatives.

Prehistoric South Africans cooked vegetables


This 2015 video says about itself:

What Did Prehistoric Humans Actually Eat?

Ancient humans existed thousands of years ago, and they were very different than humans today! What did they eat?

Read more here. And here.

From the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa:

Early modern humans cooked starchy food in South Africa, 170,000 years ago

The discovery also points to food being shared and the use of wooden digging sticks to extract the plants from the ground

January 2, 2020

“The inhabitants of the Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the Kwazulu-Natal/eSwatini border were cooking starchy plants 170 thousand years ago,” says Professor Lyn Wadley, a scientist from the Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa (Wits ESI). “This discovery is much older than earlier reports for cooking similar plants and it provides a fascinating insight into the behavioural practices of early modern humans in southern Africa. It also implies that they shared food and used wooden sticks to extract plants from the ground.”

It is extraordinary that such fragile plant remains have survived for so long,” says Dr Christine Sievers, a scientist from the University of the Witwatersrand, who completed the archaeobotanical work with Wadley. The underground food plants were uncovered during excavations at Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains (on the border of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, and eSwatini [formerly Swaziland]), where the team has been digging since 2015. During the excavation, Wadley and Sievers recognised the small, charred cylinders as rhizomes. All appear to belong to the same species, and 55 charred, whole rhizomes were identified as Hypoxis, commonly called the Yellow Star flower. “The most likely of the species growing in KwaZulu-Natal today is the slender-leafed Hypoxis angustifolia that is favoured as food,” adds Sievers. “It has small rhizomes with white flesh that is more palatable than the bitter, orange flesh of rhizomes from the better known medicinal Hypoxis species (incorrectly called African Potato).”

The Border Cave plant identifications were made on the size and shape of the rhizomes and on the vascular structure examined under a scanning electron microscope. Modern Hypoxis rhizomes and their ancient counterparts have similar cellular structures and the same inclusions of microscopic crystal bundles, called raphides. The features are still recognisable even in the charred specimens. Over a four-year period, Wadley and Sievers made a collection of modern rhizomes and geophytes from the Lebombo area. “We compared the botanical features of the modern geophytes and the ancient charred specimens, in order to identify them,” explains Sievers.

Hypoxis rhizomes are nutritious and carbohydrate-rich with an energy value of approximately 500 KJ/100g. While they are edible raw, the rhizomes are fibrous and have high fracture toughness until they are cooked. The rhizomes are rich in starch and would have been an ideal staple plant food. “Cooking the fibre-rich rhizomes would have made them easier to peel and to digest so more of them could be consumed and the nutritional benefits would be greater,” says Wadley.

Wooden digging sticks used to extract the plants from the ground

“The discovery also implies the use of wooden digging sticks to extract the rhizomes from the ground. One of these tools was found at Border Cave and is directly dated at circa 40,000 years ago,” says co-author of the paper and co-director of the excavation, Professor Francesco d’Errico, (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Université de Bordeaux, France and University of Bergen, Norway). Dr Lucinda Backwell (Instituto Superior de Estudios Sociales, ISES-CONICET, Tucumán, Argentina) also co-authored the paper and was a co-director of the excavation.

The plants were cooked and shared

The Hypoxis rhizomes were mostly recovered from fireplaces and ash dumps rather than from surrounding sediment. “The Border Cave inhabitants would have dug Hypoxis rhizomes from the hillside near the cave, and carried them back to the cave to cook them in the ashes of fireplaces,” says Wadley. “The fact that they were brought back to the cave rather than cooked in the field suggests that food was shared at the home base. This suggests that the rhizomes were roasted in ashes and that, in the process, some were lost. While the evidence for cooking is circumstantial, it is nonetheless compelling.”

Discoveries at Border Cave

This new discovery adds to the long list of important finds at Border Cave. The site has been repeatedly excavated since Raymond Dart first worked there in 1934. Amongst earlier discoveries were the burial of a baby with a Conus seashell at 74,000 years ago, a variety of bone tools, an ancient counting device, ostrich eggshell beads, resin, and poison that may once have been used on hunting weapons.

The Border Cave Heritage Site

Border Cave is a heritage site with a small site museum. The cave and museum are open to the public, though bookings are essential [Olga Vilane (+27) (0) 72 180 4332]. Wadley and her colleagues hope that the Border Cave discovery will emphasise the importance of the site as an irreplaceable cultural resource for South Africa and the rest of the world.

About Hypoxis angustifolia

Hypoxis angustifolia is evergreen, so it has visibility year-round, unlike the more common deciduous Hypoxis species. It thrives in a variety of modern habitats and is thus likely to have had wide distribution in the past as it does today. It occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, south Sudan, some Indian Ocean islands, and as far afield as Yemen. Its presence in Yemen may imply even wider distribution of this Hypoxis plant during previous humid conditions. Hypoxis angustifolia rhizomes grow in clumps so many can be harvested at once. “All of the rhizome’s attributes imply that it could have provided a reliable, familiar food source for early humans trekking within Africa, or even out of Africa,” said Lyn Wadley. Hunter-gatherers tend to be highly mobile so the wide distribution of a potential staple plant food would have ensured food security.