Saving endangered Mexican plants

This video says about itself:

The creation of the Baja California chapter of the California Native Plant Society

4 February 2015

A talk at the 2015 Conservation Conference by César García Valderrama.

By Michael Way, of Kew Gardens in London, England:

Saving the endemic and endangered flora of Baja California, Mexico

23 November 2015

Michael Way describes the importance of an integrated plant conservation strategy for the Baja California peninsula in Mexico.

For many visitors, the Baja California peninsula and the Sea of Cortés are renowned for their rich marine wildlife, providing the chance to encounter sea lions and the grey whales that breed in these warm waters each winter. So how do the terrestrial habitats compare? Actually the 1,200km length of the Baja California peninsula is remarkably varied in geology, climate, and landform, and may support as many as 4,000 native plant taxa, many of which are still the focus of botanical exploration.

This research is vital because some of the ecosystems of the region are under continuing threat: for example the development of housing and vineyards in the north of the peninsula, and expansion of coastal resorts in the south, could affect the habitat of species not yet fully evaluated for conservation. As part of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, Kew cooperates with local botanists to urgently safeguard seed from these endemic and threatened plants.

Why is the plant diversity of Baja California so precious?

The starting point is an array of igneous rocks which forms a spine along the length of the peninsula, and these formations are complemented by a range of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks that provide a diversity of soil conditions and opportunities for specialised plants. Interestingly, at the shoreline it appears that the extensive shell deposits left from shellfish harvesting by indigenous communities have added a strong calcareous influence, as well as contributing to local flora diversity.

The peninsula extends across ten degrees of latitude, (comparable to the distance from London to Madrid), and spans temperate and tropical climates with contrasting temperature and rainfall regimes. Either side of the US border, the Californian Floristic Province (with Mediterranean climate, and winter rainfall) encompasses one forest type and several shrub communities. The mid zone of the peninsula, centred on the massive Vizcaino Desert, has a Sonoran desert climate. Further south, the Cape receives summer rain storms more typical of the tropics. In combination, 13 ecological regions have been delimited (Rebman & Roberts, 2012) and it is possible that the adjacent cool and stable Pacific Ocean may have facilitated speciation by extending the growth and flowering season for native plants (Vanderplank & Excurra, 2015).

How much progress has been made so far in protecting the flora?

As development has expanded in recent decades, so has the determination of local biologists to preserve and protect key wildlife habitats for future generations to value and enjoy. Some fifteen areas have been given formal protection by Federal government (Excurra in Rebman & Roberts, 2012). These cover over 50% of the land area of the peninsula and islands, and will protect wildlife from some of the most extreme future land-use changes. I fear that the presence of introduced goats and other non-natives on off-shore islands will need an urgent response if the threats are to be confronted. There are encouraging initiatives such as the establishment of the NGO ‘Native Plants of the Californias’ to inform and educate the next generation.

We cannot afford to delay action, and we have therefore been expanding our plant conservation efforts on the peninsula with our partners at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Since January 2014, our fieldwork has accelerated with support of the Marisla Foundation: I am pleased that by working closely with local botanists at the Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC), and with advice from collaborators from San Diego Natural History Museum, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and Botanical Research Institute of Texas, we have already secured 200 collections of seed from the peninsula for long term conservation at UNAM and the Millennium Seed Bank.

The islands of the Sea of Cortes: a fragile paradise

I had the chance in October to join a trip to one of the best preserved islands in the Gulf of California, Isla Espiritu Santo, and to see for myself a wonderful diversity of native plants set in the most dramatic landscapes. On landing at Bonanza beach by a local ‘panga’ boat, we climbed the dunes where Dr Jon Rebman drew our attention to a curious plant Proboscidea althaeifolia in the Martiniaceae family that produces ‘devils claw’ fruits. These have evolved to attach to the lower leg of large animals and thus disperse its seed. Visitors to the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst may have seen massive models of an African ‘devils claw’ species that disperses seed in a similar manner.

Further exploration beyond the coastal mangrove thickets and amongst wind-sculpted rock formations on the sister island of Partida revealed a diversity of cacti: for example, Stenocereus gummosus which produces edible ‘pitahaya’ fruits and the majestic organ pipe cactus Stenocereus thurberi.

What more needs to be done?

Although I am alarmed that many habitats continue to be lost and fragmented on the mainland, my short visit to Isla Espiritu Santo demonstrated the importance of achieving World Heritage Site protection of these fragile environments in 2005. The efforts of the protected area managers combined with the high standards of the eco-tourism operators appear to be effective at present, but continued investment will be needed to control non-native species and to manage appropriate use of the islands in the face of increasing recreational pressure.

On the peninsula and islands, we will continue to target habitats at greatest risk of change, including vernal pools and coastal dunes, and will work alongside NGOs and University collaborators to share botanical information and achieve greatest combined impact of our work. I am pleased that our seed collecting effort will also complement the ‘California Endangered Plant Rescue programme’ which Kew is supporting in the USA through the Center for Plant Conservation.

Through these projects, we can also help mitigate the longer term threats from global climate change and invasive species, specifically by building expertise and ex situ collections that could be part of a targeted response. I am already planning my next visit to this precious region.

I’d like to thank Kew’s partners and my colleagues Dr Tiziana Ulian and Dr Wolfgang Stuppy for their important roles in this project, as well as the Marisla Foundation for providing funding.

New Suriname bird book, ruff not yet included

This video says about itself:

22 January 2013

Small birds in Suriname, Amazonia. This is a collection of footage of “small” birds in our part of Suriname (South America). 99% of the footage has been made in our own yard. I excluded the hummingbirds, parrots/parakeets, birds of prey, and pterodactylae, because I want to make separate videos about them.

Very recently, a new book, Field Guide to the Birds of Suriname, was published. Its publisher writes about it:

Suriname, located on the Atlantic coast of northeastern South America, is a relatively small country compared to most other South American countries. It nevertheless has a rich avifauna. By the end of 2014, 746 species (including 760 subspecies) were known to occur in Suriname. Most of the land area of Suriname is still covered with tropical rainforest and the country should be a must-visit for birdwatchers. Suriname is even mentioned as being the best country to spot certain neotropical species. Surprisingly, few birders visit Suriname. The main reason given is the lack of a handy pocket guide that can easily be carried in a backpack.

The Field Guide to the Birds of Suriname (with its 107 color plates) tries to fill this gap. In addition to species accounts, data on topography, climate, geology, geomorphology, biogeography, avifauna composition, conservation, and hotspots for bird watching are given. So, why delay your trip to this beautiful and friendly country any longer.

An electronic version of part of the book is here.

Arie Spaans, one of the authors, was interviewed this morning on Dutch radio.

He confessed the book was not completely up to date. As the book was already being printed, a ruff, usually an Eurasian bird not present in the Americas, landed on a ship near the coast of Suriname. Too late to be included.

This video is about ruff mating season in Europe.

Swift migration biology

This video is about migration of swifts from the Netherlands to African countries like Mozambique.

Dutch swifts fly 280,000 kilometer a year, more than seven times the circumference of planet earth.

Biologist Raymond Klaassen studies their migration by providing the birds with geo loggers.

He recently won a Dutch prize for ornithology for his research about various bird species.

Egyptian Queen Nefertiti buried in Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb?

This video says about itself:

25 March 2014

Queen Nefertiti – Greatest Mystery of Ancient Egypt (History Documentary)

LOVED BY A KING. HATED BY AN EMPIRE. ERASED FROM HISTORY. SHE COULD BE THE BIGGEST FIND SINCE KING TUT. Has the famed Egyptian beauty, Queen Nefertiti, been found in a secret chamber deep in the Valley of the Kings? A Discovery Channel Quest expedition, led by Dr. Joann Fletcher and a team of internationally renown scientists from the University of York Mummy research Team, hopes to find out.

If they’re right, the finding will be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries since Nefertiti’s stepson – King Tutankhamen – was discovered in 1922. “Great Royal Wife” of the “renegade” pharaoh Akhenaten, Nefertiti was a mother of six who helped lead a religious revolution that changed Egypt and the world forever. Yet after her death, her enemies destroyed all evidence of Nefertiti’s life.

Now, drawing on 13 years of research, Fletcher and her team bring Nefertiti’s turbulent reign to life as never before using cutting-edge computer animations to recreate ancient Egypt’s great temples; x-rays to reveal the telltale signs of foul play on her mummy; and forensic graphics to recreate the mummy’s face. Have they found the ancient world’s greatest beauty?

From the Egyptian Streets site:

’90 Percent Chance’ King Tutankhamun’s Tomb Holds a Hidden Chamber: Egypt’s Antiquities Minister

November 28, 2015

There is a 90 percent chance a hidden chamber lies behind King Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Damaty announced at a Saturday press conference in Luxor.

According to Damaty, the scans, conducted by Japanese radar specialist Hirokatsu Watanabu, covered the southern, western and northern sides of the pharaoh’s burial chamber.

“The primary results of the scan gave us very positive results, very good results,” Damaty said. “We have here something behind the west and the north walls…We believe that there could be another chamber.”

The findings, which lend credence to British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves’ theory that Queen Nefertiti’s tomb is hidden behind that of King Tutankhamun, may lead to “one of the most important finds of the century,” Damaty said.

However, these findings are only preliminary and need more work to yield accurate results, the minister stressed. Damaty said the scans will be sent to Japan for further analysis, which will take around one month to complete.

Reeves had publicized his hypothesis in July, after which the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities invited him to Egypt to present his theory to antiquities officials.

In October, the panel of experts approved using radars to search inside King Tutankhamun’s tomb for a hidden chamber.

Based on the detailed scans and photographs of Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor which were published last year by Factum Arte, a Spanish specialist in art and replication, Reeves noted that beneath the layers of paint, the texture of walls revealed cracks which may suggest the presence of two doors leading to passageways.

While the first door likely leads to a storage room which has already been discovered, the other passageway situated at the north wall of the burial chamber is speculated to lead to a bigger room which may be Nefertiti’s tomb.

The archaeologist also believes Tutankhamun’s tomb and death mask were originally made for Nefertiti, who is strongly believed to be his stepmother. According to Reeves, Tutankhamun’s sudden death likely resulted in his “hurried” burial in a mausoleum that had not been intended for him.

Not only was Nefertiti famous for her beauty, which remains evident through her world-renowned 3,300-year-old painted limestone bust housed at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, but she was also the Great Royal Wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten and his chief consort.

Nefertiti’s burial site has long been a mystery as archaeologists have so far failed to find the queen’s tomb.

King Tutankhamun’s tomb was found in 1922 under the supervision of another British archaeologist and Egyptologist, Howard Carter.

Whales and their parasites, new study

This video from the USA says about itself:

Parasite Found In House Cats Showing Up In Arctic Whales

15 February 2014

Researchers believe an influx of house cats to the Arctic is responsible for the spread of Toxoplama gondii to whales.

From Parasitology Research:

23 November 2015

Endoparasite survey of free-swimming baleen whales (Balaenoptera musculus, B. physalus, B. borealis) and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) using non/minimally invasive methods

Carlos Hermosilla, Liliana M. R. Silva, Sonja Kleinertz, Rui Prieto, Monica A. Silva, Anja Taubert


A number of parasitic diseases have gained importance as neozoan opportunistic infections in the marine environment. Here, we report on the gastrointestinal endoparasite fauna of three baleen whale species and one toothed whale: blue (Balaenoptera musculus), fin (Balaenoptera physalus), and sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) from the Azores Islands, Portugal. In total, 17 individual whale fecal samples [n = 10 (B. physalus); n = 4 (P. macrocephalus); n = 2 (B. musculus); n = 1 (B. borealis)] were collected from free-swimming animals as part of ongoing studies on behavioral ecology.

Furthermore, skin biopsies were collected from sperm whales (n = 5) using minimally invasive biopsy darting and tested for the presence of Toxoplasma gondii, Neospora caninum, and Besnoitia besnoiti DNA via PCR. Overall, more than ten taxa were detected in whale fecal samples. Within protozoan parasites, Entamoeba spp. occurred most frequently (64.7 %), followed by Giardia spp. (17.6 %) and Balantidium spp. (5.9 %). The most prevalent metazoan parasites were Ascaridida indet. spp. (41.2 %), followed by trematodes (17.7 %), acanthocephalan spp., strongyles (11.8 %), Diphyllobotrium spp. (5.9 %), and spirurids (5.9 %).

Helminths were mainly found in sperm whales, while enteric protozoan parasites were exclusively detected in baleen whales, which might be related to dietary differences. No T. gondii, N. caninum, or B. besnoiti DNA was detected in any skin sample. This is the first record on Giardia and Balantidium infections in large baleen whales.

Dinosaur age fossil snake discovery

This video says about itself:

Lizards, Snakes and Legs (Evolution)

27 September 2008

David Attenborough explaining how lizards lost their legs.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Ancient snake skull found in Argentina could reveal why the reptiles have no legs

The research challenges the theory that snakes originally became limbless as they began to live in the sea

John von Radowitz

27 November 2015

A fossilised snake skull found in Argentina may have solved the mystery of how the animals lost their legs.

Rather than shed them to become better swimmers as they began to inhabit aquatic environments, the skull, from 90 million years ago, suggests legs became an evolutionary disadvantage as the ancestors of modern snakes wriggled into increasingly narrow burrows in pursuit of prey.

The research challenges the theory that snakes originally became limbless as they began to live in the sea. The secret of the lost limbs was revealed by an examination of the inner ear of Dinilysia patagonica, a two-metre long relative of the modern snake.

Using Computed Tomography (CT), scientists found a distinctive structure in its bony canals and cavities that was also turned out to be present in modern burrowing snakes and lizards.

But the structure, which may assist with the detection of prey and predators, was missing from snakes that live in water or above ground. Lead scientist Dr Hongyu Yi, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “How snakes lost their legs has been a mystery to scientists but it seems this happened when their ancestors became adept at burrowing.

“The inner ears of fossils can reveal a remarkable amount of information and are very useful when the exterior of fossils are too damaged or too fragile to examine.”

The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, confirm Dinilysia patagonica as the largest burrowing snake ever known.

Co-author Dr Mark Norell, from the American Museum of Natural History, said: “This discovery would not have been possible a decade ago. CT scanning has revolutionised how we can study ancient animals.

“We hope similar studies can shed light on the evolution of more species, including lizards, crocodiles and turtles.”

A CT scan is an advanced form of X-ray that generates detailed 3D images of organs and skeletal structures.

See also here.