North Sea slugs discovery


Flabellina verrucosa snail, photo by Daniel Hershman

During recent marine biologists‘ research in the Dutch part of the North Sea near Dogger Bank, two sea slug species, new for the Netherlands were discovered, Dutch Vroege Vogels radio reported today.

They are Flabellina verrucosa and Tenellia viridis.

This Dutch NOS TV report names a third sea slug species new for the Netherlands: Diaphorodoris luteocincta.

Turkish regime bans evolution science from schools


This video from the USA says about itself:

But Bruh, Evolution is Just a Theory…Happy Darwin Day!

12 February 2017

Out of 34 surveyed countries, guess where the United States ranked in the public acceptance of evolution?

Correction at the 3-minute and 19-second mark: I said 32 European countries, Turkey, and the US. I meant to say 31 European countries, Japan, Turkey, and the US.

The USA is 33rd out of 34 countries in that survey.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Turkey eliminates ‘controversial and complex’ evolution science in schools

Turkey has removed evolution science from school programs throughout the country. …

Evolution science used to be part of third-grade biology courses in secondary schools in Turkey. …

The measure had been announced before and led to criticism from Turkish academics. They pointed out to the government in Ankara that strictly religious Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where evolution science is not taught.

Though the Erdogan regime in Turkey is in a proxy war in Libya with the Saudi absolute monarchy, and is on the brink of a military conflict with the Saudi regime about Qatar, that still does not seem to stop Erdogan from emulating Saudi anti-science fanaticism. Or maybe Erdogan emulates the party of ex-South Korean president, creationist and dictator’s daughter Ms Park, impeached because of her corruption.

Or maybe it is influence of the Turkish millionaire businessman known as “Harun Yahya” (real name: Adnan Oktar).

“Harun Yahya” may sound somewhat less anti-science than many Christian creationists, as he does not attack scientific evidence that some fossils of animals or plants are hundreds of millions years old; while Christian creationists tend to claim that life on earth is just a few thousand years old. Nevertheless, “Yahya” is as anti-evolution as American fellow creationism. In Saudi Arabia, important ally of the USA, and theocratic dictatorial monarchy, teaching evolution is illegal.

In Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad of 20 March 2010, Dirk Vlasblom and others argue that neither “Harun Yahya” nor the Saudi state represent the mainstream of Islamic thought on evolution since Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species.

Translated from Vlasblom’s article; about late 19th century Muslim scholars Al-Afghani and Hussein Al-Jisr, quoting Mohammed M. Ghaly, a contemporary Islamic scholar:

Al-Jisr was much better informed about evolution theory than Al-Afghani, Ghaly says:

“Al-Afghani said that evolutionists believe that a flea in the course of centuries can transform itself into an elephant. Al-Jisr said that according to this theory, humans, like other animals, have evolved via natural selection and that it is not impossible that humans and apes have a common ancestor. He gave the evolution theory the benefit of the doubt and concluded that it does not conflict with the Qur’an, as long as space remains within the theory for God as the ultimate Creator. The creation story in the Qur’an is quite brief, said Al-Jisr, and is intended to affirm belief in God, not for scientific information.

This religious opinion (fatwa) was taken over by scholars from Turkey, from Syria and throughout the Arabic speaking world.”

SUPERIOR

Al-Jisr wanted his “approval” of Darwin to show that Islam as a rational religion is the ally of all true science, and that Islamic belief is superior to, in his eyes, dogmatic Christianity. That position was welcomed by the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid

Sultan Abdul Hamid II

who wanted progress for his empire like in other countries. He gave Al-Jisr an important award in 1891.

Al-Afghani changed his mind as well. In his book Khatirat (ideas), he wrote around 1900 that evolution theory is indeed compatible with Islam.”

The article says that Al-Jisr’s views are still the mainstream view among Muslims, though conservatives attack them.

Rare pond bats research


This 23 June 2017 Dutch video shows pond bats, rare in the Netherlands, being freed by biologist Anne-Jifke Haarsma after transmitters have been affixed to their backs for research.

American pine martens, new research


This 2015 video from the USA is called The Ever-Adorable Pine Marten.

From The University of Montana in the USA:

Previously unknown pine marten diversity discovered

June 22, 2017

The elusive American pine marten, a little-studied member of the weasel family, might be more diverse than originally thought, according to new research published by a University of Montana professor.

A study by Natalie Dawson, research professor in UM’s Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences and director of UM’s Wilderness Institute, suggests that the forests of northwest North America may harbor not one, but two distinct species of the mammal. The research, published in a recent edition of the Journal of Mammology</em>, also points to the presence of hybrid marten populations in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, where the two species converge.

Dawson, whose work builds on previous research conducted in the 1950s by late UM Professor Philip Wright, examined hundreds of DNA samples to differentiate between the separate populations. She said her findings are exciting because hybridization in different species of mammals is still relatively new, especially in natural ecosystems.

“This is one of the few cases where there has been long-term hybridization between species that still maintain their distinctiveness in their respective localities,” she said. “This research also illustrates the importance of historical climate change as a driver for biological diversity in the mountains and landscapes of Montana, as well as throughout the rest of North America.”

Currently, Dawson is furthering her research by examining historical pine marten skulls housed in UM’s Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum in hopes of understanding the morphological, or physical, characteristic differences between the two species.

African leopards, new study


This 2015 documentary video is about leopards in Africa.

From the University of California – Santa Cruz in the USA:

African leopards revealed: Study documents minute-to-minute behavior of elusive cats

Results illuminate the energetic ‘cost’ of their drive to kill and pave the way for greater understanding of the ecosystem impacts of predation

June 21, 2017

The elusive behavior of the African leopard has been revealed in great detail for the first time as part of a sophisticated study that links the majestic cat’s caloric demands and its drive to kill.

A team led by Chris Wilmers, associate professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, produced an unprecedented picture of this carnivore’s predatory and reproductive behaviour by outfitting the cats with high-tech wildlife tracking collars equipped with GPS technology and an accelerometer to measure energy output.

“This is the first time we’ve had really detailed energetic data from a wild terrestrial mammal over an extended period,” said Wilmers, lead author of a new paper, “Energetics-informed Behavioral States Reveal the Drive to Kill in African Leopards,” which appears today (June 21, 2017) in the online edition of the journal Ecosphere.

The team gathered data from five animals over two months: one adult male; one adult female with one cub; one adult female without cubs; one yearling male cub; and a young “dispersal-aged” male ready to establish his own territory. “The sample size is small, but we got lucky with the diversity of age and sex,” noted Wilmers.

Information gleaned from the collars allowed Wilmers’ team to match the leopards‘ behavior with time and place, enabling them to assess the energetic “costs” of reproductive behavior — dispersal and territorial patrol for males; parenting for females.

The study revealed that for male African leopards, territorial patrol activities account for 26 percent of their daily caloric intake; for females, parenting a one-year old offspring consumes 8 percent of their calories.

“Energetics is the ultimate currency for an animal’s survival,” said Wilmers. “To survive, an animal needs to balance the calories it’s expending with the calories it’s taking in. If it wants to reproduce, it has to run an energetic surplus.”

Wilmers, a wildlife ecologist who studies animal behavior and its cascading effects on ecosystems, continued: “Based on what the leopards are doing, they run up different energetic budgets, which in turn influence their drive to kill. They might kill more prey, bigger prey, or go after more desirable prey in more dangerous places — closer to humans, for example.”

One of the most striking behaviors described in the study was a kill by the adult male leopard. The data document him approaching a small village in a meandering fashion. He attacks and kills a goat inside a pen, then spends five minutes dragging the goat across the river to a spot where vegetation gives him the cover he needs to begin feeding.

“It gives us incredible insight into their behavior to see where they are moving and what they’re doing on such a fine time scale,” said Wilmers. “This allows us to see these cryptic animals moving through their environment.”

Another example details the behavior of the adult female with a yearling cub. She kills an aardwolf (a small insect-eating [hyena-like] mammal), feeds a bit, then meanders and rests for a few hours until she kills an impala (a medium-sized antelope that is common prey for African leopards). She feeds briefly, then walks directly back to her cub, guiding it first to the aardwolf and then the impala.

Additionally, Wilmers was able to calculate and then compare the energetics of the mother and her son as they traveled together, concluding that the cub expended 12 percent more energy to travel the same distance.

African leopards are among the most elusive mammals on the planet — more so than African lions or cheetahs. “Their whole strategy is to be elusive,” said Wilmers. “People get glimpses of them, but that’s all. Looking at this data is like going on a safari for the first time and seeing an animal you’ve only seen in captivity before.”

These fine-grained energetics data open the door to understanding the ecological consequences of the leopard’s predatory drive. Knowing the African leopard’s energetic needs allows researchers to evaluate where they hunt, what they hunt, and to estimate the level of risk they might be willing to take in pursuit of attractive prey. In combination, these factors have implications for humans and the livestock that often share habitat with African leopards.

The placement of a fence, for example, could have energetic “costs” for leopards if they have to travel farther — expending more energy — to patrol territory, hunt, and provide for their offspring. Those costs would increase their drive to kill. “They might take bigger risks, they might catch larger prey like impala, and that could effect the impala population and what they feed on,” said Wilmers, outlining the “cascade” of ecosystem effects that could follow human changes to the landscape.

“To be able to link behavior to energetics to ecological effects is an important conceptual advance,” said Wilmers. “Once you understand how that circle works, we can assess how our actions will impact the animals, and how those effects will play out on the ecosystem.”

Fish to amphibian evolution, new research


This video says about itself:

The Evolution of Amphibians

23 January 2016

The first major groups of amphibians developed in the Devonian period, around 370 million years ago, from lobe-finned fish which were similar to the modern coelacanth and lungfish.

These ancient lobe-finned fish had evolved multi-jointed leg-like fins with digits that enabled them to crawl along the sea bottom. Some fish had developed primitive lungs to help them breathe air when the stagnant pools of the Devonian swamps were low in oxygen. They could also use their strong fins to hoist themselves out of the water and onto dry land if circumstances so required.

Eventually, their bony fins would evolve into limbs and they would become the ancestors to all tetrapods, including modern amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Despite being able to crawl on land, many of these prehistoric tetrapodomorph fish still spent most of their time in the water. They had started to develop lungs, but still breathed predominantly with gills.

From the University of Calgary in Canada:

Fossil holds new insights into how fish evolved onto land

‘It’s like a snake on the outside, but a fish on the inside’

June 21, 2017

The fossil of an early snake-like animal — called Lethiscus stocki — has kept its evolutionary secrets for the last 340 million years.

Now, an international team of researchers, led by the University of Calgary, has revealed new insights into the ancient Scottish fossil that dramatically challenge our understanding of the early evolution of tetrapods, or four-limbed animals with backbones.

Their findings have just been published in the research journal Nature. “It forces a radical rethink of what evolution was capable of among the first tetrapods,” said project lead Jason Anderson, a paleontologist and Professor at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM).

Before this study, ancient tetrapods — the ancestors of humans and other modern-day vertebrates — were thought to have evolved very slowly from fish to animals with limbs.

“We used to think that the fin-to-limb transition was a slow evolution to becoming gradually less fish like,” he said. “But Lethiscus shows immediate, and dramatic, evolutionary experimentation. The lineage shrunk in size, and lost limbs almost immediately after they first evolved. It’s like a snake on the outside but a fish on the inside.”

Lethicus’ secrets revealed with 3D medical imaging

Using micro-computer tomography (CT) scanners and advanced computing software, Anderson and study lead author Jason Pardo, a doctoral student supervised by Anderson, got a close look at the internal anatomy of the fossilized Lethiscus. After reconstructing CT scans its entire skull was revealed, with extraordinary results.

“The anatomy didn’t fit with our expectations,” explains Pardo. “Many body structures didn’t make sense in the context of amphibian or reptile anatomy.” But the anatomy did make sense when it was compared to early fish.

“We could see the entirety of the skull. We could see where the brain was, the inner ear cavities. It was all extremely fish-like,” explains Pardo, outlining anatomy that’s common in fish but unknown in tetrapods except in the very first. The anatomy of the paddlefish, a modern fish with many primitive features, became a model for certain aspects of Lethiscus’ anatomy.

Changing position on the tetrapod ‘family tree’

When they included this new anatomical information into an analysis of its relationship to other animals, Lethiscus moved its position on the ‘family tree’, dropping into the earliest stages of the fin-to-limb transition. “It’s a very satisfying result, having them among other animals that lived at the same time,” says Anderson.

The results match better with the sequence of evolution implied by the geologic record. “Lethiscus also has broad impacts on evolutionary biology and people doing molecular clock reproductions of modern animals,” says Anderson. “They use fossils to calibrate the molecular clock. By removing Lethiscus from the immediate ancestry of modern tetrapods, it changes the calibration date used in those analyses.”

From dinosaur age mammal to human, new research


Placental mammal family tree

Numbers on red branches from the first eutherian ancestor to Homo sapiens are the numbers of breakpoints in reconstructed ancestral chromosome fragments. Breakpoints are locations where a chromosome broke open, allowing for rearrangements. The number of breakpoints per million years is in parentheses. A total of 162 chromosomal breakpoints were identified between the eutherian ancestor and the formation of humans as a species.
Credit: Harris Lewin, UC Davis

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

Reconstruction of ancient chromosomes offers insight into mammalian evolution

June 21, 2017

Summary: Researchers have gone back in time, at least virtually, computationally recreating the chromosomes of the first eutherian mammal, the long-extinct, shrewlike ancestor of all placental mammals.

What if researchers could go back in time 105 million years and accurately sequence the chromosomes of the first placental mammal? What would it reveal about evolution and modern mammals, including humans?

In a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have gone back in time, at least virtually, computationally recreating the chromosomes of the first eutherian mammal, the long-extinct, shrewlike ancestor of all placental mammals.

“The revolution in DNA sequencing has provided us with enough chromosome-scale genome assemblies to permit the computational reconstruction of the eutherian ancestor, as well as other key ancestors along the lineage leading to modern humans,” said Harris Lewin, a lead author of the study and a professor of evolution and ecology and Robert and Rosabel Osborne Endowed Chair at the University of California, Davis.

“We now understand the major steps of chromosomal evolution that led to the genome organization of more than half the existing orders of mammals. These studies will allow us to determine the role of chromosome rearrangements in the formation of new mammal species and how such rearrangements result in adaptive changes that are specific to the different mammalian lineages,” said Lewin.

The findings also have broad implications for understanding how chromosomal rearrangements over millions of years may contribute to human diseases, such as cancer.

“By gaining a better understanding of the relationship between evolutionary breakpoints and cancer breakpoints, the essential molecular features of chromosomes that lead to their instability can be revealed,” said Lewin. “Our studies can be extended to the early detection of cancer by identifying diagnostic chromosome rearrangements in humans and other animals, and possibly novel targets for personalized therapy.”

Descrambling chromosomes

To recreate the chromosomes of these ancient relatives, the team began with the sequenced genomes of 19 existing placental mammals — all eutherian descendants — including human, goat, dog, orangutan, cattle, mouse and chimpanzee, among others.

The researchers then utilized a new algorithm they developed called DESCHRAMBLER. The algorithm computed (“descrambled”) the most likely order and orientation of 2,404 chromosome fragments that were common among the 19 placental mammals’ genomes.

“It is the largest and most comprehensive such analysis performed to date, and DESCHRAMBLER was shown to produce highly accurate reconstructions using data simulation and by benchmarking it against other reconstruction tools,” said Jian Ma, the study’s co-senior author and an associate professor of computational biology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

In addition to the eutherian ancestor, reconstructions were made for the six other ancestral genomes on the human evolutionary tree: boreoeutherian, euarchontoglires, simian (primates), catarrhini (Old World monkeys), great apes and human-chimpanzee. The reconstructions give a detailed picture of the various chromosomal changes — translocations, inversions, fissions and other complex rearrangements — that have occurred over the 105 million years between the first mammal and Homo sapiens.

Rates of evolution vary

One discovery is that the first eutherian ancestor likely had 42 chromosomes, four less than humans. Researchers identified 162 chromosomal breakpoints — locations where a chromosome broke open, allowing for rearrangements — between the eutherian ancestor and the formation of humans as a species.

The rates of evolution of ancestral chromosomes differed greatly among the different mammal lineages. But some chromosomes remained extremely stable over time. For example, six of the reconstructed eutherian ancestral chromosomes showed no rearrangements for almost 100 million years until the appearance of the common ancestor of human and chimpanzee.

Orangutan chromosomes were found to be the slowest evolving of all primates and still retain eight chromosomes that have not changed much with respect to gene order orientation as compared with the eutherian ancestor. In contrast, the lineage leading to chimpanzees had the highest rate of chromosome rearrangements among primates.

“When chromosomes rearrange, new genes and regulatory elements may form that alter the regulation of expression of hundreds of genes, or more. At least some of these events may be responsible for the major phenotypic differences we observe between the mammal orders,” said Denis Larkin, co-senior author of the study and a reader in comparative genomics at the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London.

The chromosomes of the oldest three ancestors (eutherian, boreoeutherian, and euarchontoglires) were each found to include more than 80 percent of the entire length of the human genome, the most detailed reconstructions reported to date. The reconstructed chromosomes of the most recent common ancestor of simians, catarrhini, great apes, and humans and chimpanzees included more than 90 percent of human genome sequence, providing a structural framework for understanding primate evolution.