Bees like strawberry fields, new research

This video from Britain says about itself:

Customer testimonial from S&A, UK – Strawberry pollination. S&A have been using Natupol bees for more than 15 years and can no longer envisage producing a successful crop of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries without pollination of Koppert bumblebees. We all know that the number of naturally occurring bees is dropping and that it has become increasingly necessary to produce commercial bumblebees and other pollinators to meet the needs for food production worldwide. Research confirmed that bumblebees were more efficient pollinators than honeybees or any other previously used methods.

From the University of Göttingen in Germany:

Dance of the honey bee reveals fondness for strawberries

January 24, 2020

Bees are pollinators of many wild and crop plants, but in many places their diversity and density is declining. A research team from the Universities of Göttingen, Sussex and Würzburg has now investigated the foraging behaviour of bees in agricultural landscapes. To do this, the scientists analysed the bees’ dances, which are called the “waggle dance.” They found out that honey bees prefer strawberry fields, even if they flowered directly next to the oilseed rape fields. Only when oilseed rape was in full bloom were fewer honey bees observed in the strawberry field. Wild bees, on the other hand, consistently chose the strawberry field. The results have been published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.

A team from the Functional Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology groups at the University of Göttingen established small honey bee colonies next to eleven strawberry fields in the region of Göttingen and Kassel. The scientists then used video recordings and decoded the waggle dances. Honey bees dance to communicate the direction and distance of attractive food sources that they have visited. In combination with satellite maps of the landscape, the land use type that they preferred could be determined. The team also studied which plants the bees used as pollen resources and calculated the density of honey bees and wild bees in the study fields.

Their results: honey bees prefer the strawberry fields, even when oilseed rape is flowering abundantly in the area. However, honey bees from the surrounding landscapes are less common in the strawberry fields when oilseed rape is in full bloom. “In contrast, solitary wild bees, like mining bees, are constantly present in the strawberry field,” says first author Svenja Bänsch, post-doctoral researcher in the Functional Agrobiodiversity group at the University of Göttingen. “Wild bees are therefore of great importance for the pollination of crops,” emphasizes Professor Teja Tscharntke, Head of the Agroecology group.

“With this study, we were able to show that small honey bee colonies in particular can be suitable for the pollination of strawberries in the open field. However, our results also show that wild bees in the landscape should be supported by appropriate management measures”.

Arthropod animals evolution, new research

This July 2019 video is called Evolution of early Arthropods.

From the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics:

Unravelling arthropod genomic diversity over 500 million years of evolution

January 23, 2020

Summary: The evolutionary innovations of insects and other arthropods are as numerous as they are wondrous, from terrifying fangs and stingers to exquisitely colored wings and ingenious feats of engineering. DNA sequencing allows us to chart the genomic blueprints underlying this incredible diversity that characterizes the arthropods and makes them the most successful group of animals on Earth.

An international team of scientists report in the journal Genome Biology results from a pilot project, co-led by Robert Waterhouse, Group Leader at the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics and University of Lausanne, to kick-start the global sequencing initiative of thousands of arthropods. Comparative analyses across 76 species spanning 500 million years of evolution reveal dynamic genomic changes that point to key factors behind their success and open up many new areas of research.

Friends and foes, arthropods rule the world

Arthropods make up the most species-rich and diverse group of animals on Earth, with numerous adaptations over 500 million years of evolution that have allowed them to exploit all major ecosystems. They play vital roles in the healthy ecology of our planet as well as being both beneficial and detrimental to the success of humankind through pollination and biowaste recycling, or destroying crops and spreading disease. “By sequencing and comparing their genomes we can begin to identify some of the key genetic factors behind their evolutionary success,” explains Waterhouse, “but will the impact of human activities in modern times bring an end to their rule, or will their ability to adapt and innovate ensure their survival?”

The i5k pilot project: kick-starting arthropod genome sequencing

The i5k initiative to sequence and annotate the genomes of 5000 species of insects and other arthropods, was launched in a letter to Science in 2011. From the outset, the initiative aimed to support the development of new genomic resources for understanding the molecular biology and evolution of arthropods. Since then, the i5k has grown into a broad community of scientists using genomics to study insects and other arthropods in many different contexts from fundamental animal biology, to effects on ecology and the environment, and impacts on human health and agriculture2. To kick-start the i5k, a pilot project was launched at the Baylor College of Medicine led by Stephen Richards to sequence, assemble, and annotate the genomes of 28 diverse arthropod species carefully selected from 787 community nominations.

Large-scale multi-species genome comparisons

“The identification and annotation of thousands of genes from the i5k pilot project substantially increases our current genomic sampling of arthropods,” says Waterhouse. Combining these with previously sequenced genomes enabled the researchers to perform a large-scale comparative analysis across 76 diverse species including flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, ants, wasps, true bugs, thrips, lice, cockroaches, termites, mayflies, dragonflies, damselflies, bristletails, crustaceans, centipedes, spiders, ticks, mites, and scorpions. PhD students Gregg Thomas from Indiana University, USA, and Elias Dohmen from the University of Münster, Germany, used the annotated genomes to perform the computational evolutionary analyses of more than one million arthropod genes.

Dynamic gene family evolution — a key to success?

The team’s analyses focused on tracing gene evolutionary histories to estimate changes in gene content and gene structure over 500 million years. This enabled identification of families of genes that have substantially increased or decreased in size, or newly emerged or disappeared, or rearranged their protein domains, between and within each of the major arthropod subgroups. The gene families found to be most dynamically changing encode proteins involved in functions linked to digestion, chemical defence, and the building and remodelling of chitin — a major part of arthropod exoskeletons. Adaptability of digestive processes and mechanisms to neutralise harmful chemicals undoubtedly served arthropods well as they conquered a wide variety of ecological niches. Perhaps even more importantly, the flexibility that comes with a segmented body plan and a dynamically remodellable exoskeleton allowed them to thrive by physically adapting to new ecosystems.

Innovation through invention and repurposing

Newly evolved gene families also reflect functions known to be important in different arthropod groups, such as visual learning and behaviour, pheromone and odorant detection, neuronal activity, and wing development. These may enhance food location abilities or fine-tune species self-recognition and communication. In contrast, few changes were identified in the ancestor of insects that undergo complete metamorphosis: the dramatic change from the juvenile form to the fully developed adult (like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly). This has traditionally been thought of as a major step in the evolution of insects from the original state of developing through gradual nymph stages until finally reaching the adult stage. “These findings support the idea that this key transition is more likely to have occurred through the rewiring of existing gene networks or building new networks using existing genes, a scenario of new-tricks-for-old-genes” explains Waterhouse.

Genomic insights into arthropod biology and evolution

Several detailed genomic studies of individual i5k species have focused on their fascinating biological traits such as the feeding ecology and developmental biology of the milkweed bug, insecticide resistance, blood feeding, and traumatic sex of the bed bug, horizontal gene transfer from bacteria and fungi and digestion of plant materials by the Asian long-horned beetle, and parasite-host interactions and potential vaccines for the sheep blowfly. The combined analyses reveal dynamically changing and newly emerged gene families that will stimulate new areas of research. “We can take these hypotheses into the lab and use them to directly study how the genome is translated into visible morphology at a resolution that cannot be achieved with any other animal group,” says co-lead author, Ariel Chipman, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. The new resources substantially advance progress towards building a comprehensive genomic catalogue of life on our planet, and with more than a million described arthropod species and estimates of seven times as many, there clearly remains a great deal to discover!

Next steps in arthropod genomics and beyond

More effective and cost-efficient DNA sequencing technologies mean that new ambitious initiatives are already underway to sequence the genomes of additional arthropods. These include the Global Ant Genome Alliance and the Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance, as well as the Darwin Tree of Life Project that is targeting all known species of animals in the British Isles, and the global network of communities coordinated by the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) that aims to sequence all of Earth’s eukaryotic biodiversity7. The EBP’s goals also include benefitting human welfare, where the roles of arthropods are clear and the hidden benefits are likely to be substantial, as well as protecting biodiversity and understanding ecosystems, where alarming reports of declining numbers make arthropods a priority. “The completion of the i5k pilot project therefore represents an important milestone in the progress towards intensifying efforts to develop a comprehensive genomic catalogue of life on our planet,” concludes Richards.

Shiny jewel beetles’ camouflage, new research

This Augustus 2019 video says about itself:

Jewel beetle, Metallic wood-boring beetle, Buprestid

Adult jewel beetles mainly feed on plant foliage or nectar, although some species feed on pollen and can be observed visiting flowers.

From ScienceDaily:

Jewel beetles’ sparkle helps them hide in plain sight

January 23, 2020

Bright colors are often considered an evolutionary tradeoff in the animal kingdom. Yes, a male peacock‘s colorful feathers may help it attract a mate, but they also make it more likely to be seen by a hungry jungle cat. Jewel beetles (Sternocera aequisignata) and their green, blue, and purple iridescent wing cases may be an exception to the rule, researchers report January 23 in the journal Current Biology. They found that the insects’ bright colors can act as a form of camouflage.

“The idea of ‘iridescence as camouflage’ is over 100 years old, but our study is the first to show that these early ignored or rejected ideas that ‘changeable or metallic colors are among the strongest factors in animals’ concealment’ have traction,” says first author Karin Kjernsmo, an evolutionary and behavioral ecologist at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom. “Both birds and humans really do have difficulty spotting iridescent objects in a natural, complex, forest environment.”

Similar to an abalone shell or holographic trading card, iridescent objects change color depending on the angle from which they’re viewed, creating a flashy, rainbow-like effect. This effect has made jewel beetles a staple in insect jewelry due to their vibrant color.

The researchers placed iridescent and dull-colored (green, purple, blue, rainbow, and black) wing cases attached to mealworms onto various plants in a natural field setting and then observed how often birds attacked each group. This was followed by a human detection test, where respondents searched for the wing cases in the field.

Despite their gleam, Kjernsmo and her team found that the iridescent wing cases outpaced equally sized dull-colored wing cases at avoiding detection from birds and humans. Using both humans and birds is useful, Kjernsmo says, as with birds “you never know whether they can’t see a prey item or if they see it but choose to ignore it. With human participants, you know exactly where the effects lie.” Surprisingly, in both scenarios, the iridescent wing cases performed best (even beating leaf-colored green) at remaining undetected.

In addition, the ability to remain hidden became even more pronounced when the iridescent wing cases were placed against a glossy leaf background — adding “visual noise.” Kjernsmo says that the masking ability of iridescence may be the result of “dynamic disruptive camouflage,” which creates the illusion of inconsistent features and depth, confusing potential predators.

These results suggest that camouflage may be a primary function of iridescent structures in some species, reframing our current understanding behind its evolution and role in nature. “We don’t for a minute imagine that the effect is something unique to jewel beetles; indeed, we’d be disappointed if it was,” say Kjernsmo. “If we found that these beetles could be concealed by their colors, it increases the chances that many iridescent species could be using their colors this way.”

Next, Kjernsmo will use artificial intelligence to get a better understanding of the evolution of camouflage in the wild. She is working with senior author Innes Cuthill, a behavioral ecologist, and Nick Scott-Samuel, an experimental psychologist, both at the University of Bristol, using machine learning to evolve the optimal camouflage patterns for different environments and comparing those to real animal colors.

Walking With Dinosaurs and Mesozoic marine paleontology

This 19 January 2020 video says about itself:

The Scientific Accuracy of Walking With Dinosaurs – Episode 3: Cruel Sea

20 years on, how accurate is the third episode of Walking With Dinosaurs? From the giant Liopleurodon to the seal-like Cryptoclidus and baby Ophthalmosaurus, what did this episode get right or wrong about these prehistoric animals?

Loggerhead turtles, research and conservation

This 2016 video says about itself:

Intensive in-water surveys in Laganas bay, Zakynthos, Greece, revealed the existence of two aggregation hotspots for loggerhead sea turtles.

The first one, a cleaning station, was occupied primarily by female turtles during their interesting period. The second, a small reef in the shallows, served as a foraging area. The solitary and the social behaviour of the turtles between these two spots was very different.

At the cleaning station, female turtles did not involve in any fights, generally tolerating the presence of one another while being cleaned by fish and performing self-cleaning activities. In the foraging spot, on the other hand, which was used mainly by resident males, aggressive fights took place quite often as soon as one turtle was at the vicinity of the other.

From the University of Exeter in England:

Turtle tracking reveals key feeding grounds

January 23, 2020

Loggerhead turtles feed in the same places year after year — meaning key locations should be protected, researchers say.

University of Exeter scientists used satellite tracking and “stable isotope ratios” — a chemical signature also used by forensic scientists — to track female loggerheads from two rookeries (nesting beaches) in the Mediterranean.

The study identified three main feeding areas — the Adriatic region, the Tunisian Plateau and the eastern Mediterranean.

“We show where the majority of nesting female turtles spend the most of their life, meaning that in addition to their nesting beaches we can also protect important marine habitats where they feed,” said lead author Julia Haywood, of the University of Exeter.

“Nearly half of the Cyprus nesting population feeds on the Tunisian Plateau, an area known to have some of the highest turtle bycatch (accidental catch by humans fishing) in the world.

“Therefore, we support recommendations that this area should be conserved.”

The study tracked turtles from rookeries in Greece and Cyprus using data from 1993 to 2018.

“By studying these turtles for so long we show these females stay in the same feeding area over decades, which means if these habitats are damaged or have high fishing activities then the turtles will unfortunately not move,” Haywood said.

“This work shows the importance of combining satellite tracking and stable isotopes to help understand these elusive animals.”

The work was carried out in collaboration with the local conservation groups: the Society for the Protection of Turtles in North Cyprus (SPOT) and ARCHELON, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece.

Robin Snape, of SPOT, said: “Mediterranean loggerheads lay their nests in the European Union, just at the time of year when hundreds of thousands of European tourists arrive on holiday.

“For the rest of the year, many female loggerheads are growing and foraging in the waters off Africa, where mortality in industrialised fisheries and even direct consumption of turtles are still big concerns.

“Each year at least 10,000 turtles die as accidental bycatch off North Africa, while illegal trade in turtle meat persists.

“This research allows prioritisation of conservation resources to specific threats in specific areas.”

How oviraptor dinosaur eggs hatched, new research

This 2013 video says about itself:

Oviraptorid Fights to Protect Nest | Planet Dinosaur | BBC Earth

A female Oviraptorid guards her nest from attackers large and small, but can do nothing about the threat of nature itself.

From the University of Bonn in Germany:

Neutron source enables a look inside dino eggs

Did oviraptorid chicks hatch at the same time? Researchers provide presumptive evidence

January 22, 2020

Did the chicks of dinosaurs from the group oviraptorid hatch from their eggs at the same time? This question can be answered by the length and arrangement of the embryo’s bones, which provide information about the stage of development. But how do you look inside fossilized dinosaur eggs? Paleontologists from the University of Bonn used the neutron source of the Technical University of Munich at the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum (MLZ) in Garching. This showed that oviraptorids developed at different speeds in their eggs and that they resemble modern birds in this respect. The results have been published in the journal Integrative Organismal Biology.

Until now, researchers have assumed that the two-legged dinosaurs known as oviraptorids, which lived in Central Asia during the Upper Cretaceous (from 88 to 66 million years), should be placed between modern crocodiles and birds with regard to their reproductive biology. Crocodiles bury their eggs and the offspring hatch at the same time. With birds, however, hatching in the nest often happens at different times.

Together with scientists from Taiwan, Switzerland and the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum in Garching, paleontologists from the University of Bonn have now investigated how differently the development of embryos in three 67 million years old oviraptorid egg fossils from the Ganzhou Basin of Jiangxi Province in China had progressed. “Oviraptorid eggs are found relatively frequently in Central Asia, but most of them are removed from the context of their discovery,” says Thomas Engler from the Institute for Geosciences at the University of Bonn. Often it is then no longer discernible whether the eggs are from a single clutch.

Important find in China

“This is different with the fossils we’ve examined: We found a pair of eggs and another egg together embedded in a block of rock,” reports Dr. Tzu-Ruei Yang, who discovered the unusual find during an excavation near the city of Ganzhou in China. This led the researchers to conclude that the 7-inch (18cm) eggs were laid almost at the same time by a female oviraptorid. Yang completed his doctorate at the Institute for Geosciences at the University of Bonn and now works as a researcher at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Taiwan.

The researchers tried to estimate whether the baby dinosaurs would have hatched at the same time or at different times based on the developmental stage of the embryos in the three eggs. The length of the bones in the egg plays an important role here. “The embryo with comparatively longer bones is more developed,” explains Yang. Another indication is the extent to which the bones are connected to each other. A more strongly connected skeleton suggests a higher developmental stage of the dinosaur embryo.

A look inside the dinosaur egg

But how is it possible to determine the position of bones inside a fossilized dinosaur egg? The paleontologists at the University of Bonn initially tried to do this with the institute’s own X-ray microcomputer tomograph. “Unfortunately, it was not possible to distinguish the bones from the surrounding rock,” says Engler. For this reason, the researchers took the dinosaur eggs to the research neutron source of the Technical University of Munich at the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum (MLZ) in Garching. “The high penetration depth of the neutrons at the NECTAR and ANTARES facilities made it possible to visualize the internal structures,” says Dr. Malgorzata Makowska, who was in charge of measurements and analyses at the MLZ and is now carrying out research at the Swiss neutron source PSI.

The length and position of the embryo bones led the researchers to conclude that the single egg must have been laid earlier than the pair of eggs in the same clutch. However, the embryos of the pair were also at different developmental stages. Thin sections confirm these results. The researchers used these to measure the thickness of the eggshells. The developing embryo absorbs part of the shell because it needs calcium for its growing skeleton. “The more material is removed from the eggshell, the more advanced the embryo’s development,” explains Yang.

On the basis of these indications, the scientists conclude that the reproductive biology of oviraptorids were similar to that of modern birds, whose chicks hatch at different times. The results argue against the strategy of crocodiles or turtles, which all emerge from their eggs at the same time. This has brought the researchers one step closer to the life of the long-extinct oviraptorids, who roamed Central Asia on two legs. “Furthermore, the study shows that exploring fossils with neutrons yields novel scientific results,” says Engler.