Moths benefited from warm autumn

This video from the Netherlands says about itself (translated):

November 28 2015

Never before there were so late in the year (first week of October) still oak processionary moths found in pheromone traps. Nearly a month later than normal.

This was because of the mild autumn weather, which is over now.

Black widow spider web DNA, new reaearch

This video says about itself:

Deadly Mates: Black Widow Spider

13 February 2008

If you think the dating world of humans is tough, check out the love life of black widows, where one misstep can lead to a lethal end.

From the BBC:

Black widow spider web gives up DNA secrets

By Helen Briggs

26 November 2015

Spiders can be identified from the DNA they leave on webs, say US scientists.

Analysis of genetic material stuck to spiders’ webs also reveals what they have eaten weeks after catching their prey.

The research may have future uses in monitoring endangered species or tracking down spider pests, experts report in the journal Plos One.

The study looked at black widow spiders kept in a zoo.

If the technique works on other types of spider, it could have widespread practical uses, say experts from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Lead researcher, Charles Xu, extracted mitochondrial DNA from the webs of black widow spiders kept at Potawatomi Zoo in Indiana.

He found that both the spider species and its prey – in this case crickets – can be identified from DNA spider web samples.

Spider webs can potentially be used to collect DNA without having to capture the spiders themselves, he says.

“In the past, identification of spiders has relied on morphology, especially looking at the genitalia of spiders because they’re very different between different species of spider,” he told BBC News.

“But there are a lot of errors associated with these kinds of methods and now with the advent of new genetic technologies we can more accurately identify these species.

“The really cool part about our study is that we used non-invasive samples – so these web samples – where we don’t even have to directly observe or capture these spiders to get their DNA.”


The experts say DNA analysis of spiders’ webs may be useful for monitoring and conservation purposes.

For example, DNA “fingerprinting” of spiders’ webs could be used to find out where a poisonous spider is living or to map the locations of endangered species.

Spider webs have been used in the past by citizen scientists to assess spider biodiversity by examining the structure of webs.

Web DNA samples collected by citizen scientists around the world might also have potential in this area, say the researchers.

“Spider web DNA as a proof-of-concept may open doors to other practical applications in conservation research, pest management, biogeography studies, and biodiversity assessments,” they report in Plos One.

Black widow

Black widow spiders, found in temperate regions around the world, are feared for their venomous bite.

The female black widow spider can be twice as big as the male and will, on occasion, kill and eat the male after mating.

The spiders spin large webs in which females suspend a cocoon with hundreds of eggs.

They also use their webs to trap prey such as flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars.

Pre-Cambrian marine animal Tribrachidium, new research

This video says about itself:

Bizarre Ancient Sea Creature Was Well Armed for Feeding

29 November 2015

Tribrachidium, a bizarre sea creature that lived some 550 million years ago, is unlike any modern organism. New research suggests it fed on particles suspended in the water.

By Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor:

Bizarre Ancient Sea Creature Was Well-Armed for Feeding

November 28, 2015 11:46am ET

A bizarre creature that looks like nothing alive on Earth today probably used its unique shape to collect drifting particles from the ocean to feed on, new research finds.

Tribrachidium was a denizen of the shallow seas about 550 million years ago, during the late Ediacaran period. It looked like a disc with three tentaclelike arms protruding from its flat top. Oddly, Tribrachidium had three-fold symmetry, meaning three segments were mirror images of each other. For comparison, humans have two-fold, or bilateral, symmetry, and starfish have five-fold symmetry. Nothing alive today has three-fold symmetry.

“Because we have no obvious modern comparison, that’s made it really hard to work out what this organism was like when it was alive — how it moved, if it moved, how it fed, how it reproduced,” said Imran Rahman, a research fellow at the University of Bristol, in the United Kingdom, who led the study.

Now, Rahman and his colleagues have used fluid dynamics to show that Tribrachidium probably was a suspension feeder, meaning it ate floating organic particles out of the water. Modern suspension feeders include brittle stars, many crustaceans and bivalves.

Tribrachidium lived about 40 million years before the Cambrian explosion, when life on Earth expanded and diversified relatively rapidly. Scientists once thought Ediacaran organisms were very simple, Rahman told Live Science, but the new findings paint a more complex picture of this time period. It’s possible that Tribrachidium even altered its environment. [See Images of the Wacky Creatures of the Cambrian Period]

Suspension feeding “mobilizes organic material that was being carried around in the water column,” Rahman said. “It can increase passage of sunlight through water and potentially increase oxygenation, as well.”

There’s no evidence that Tribrachidium could move around, so researchers thought perhaps it fed by osmotrophy, or absorbing dissolved nutrients from the water. Alternatively, it could have captured and digested larger particles by suspension feeding.

To demystify Tribrachidium‘s feeding habits, Rahman and his colleagues created a 3D digital model of the organism based on a cast of a fossil from south Australia. (Tribrachidium fossils have also been found in Russia and Ukraine.) They then subjected this digital model to virtual currents mimicking what would have existed in its shallow seafloor environment.

The currents slowed as they hit Tribrachidium, and then eddied in the organism’s wake. These eddies served to recirculate the water back toward Tribrachidium, directing it into the nooks between its three symmetrical arms. It’s very likely that gravity then settled out any waterborne particles into these crevices, allowing Tribrachidium to snag the particles and chow down.

“This is really exciting, because we didn’t really have any good evidence of suspension feeding in organisms of this time period previously,” Rahman said.

Other Ediacaran creatures remain mysterious, with equally weird body designs. Some, like Tribrachidium, are disc-shaped, Rahman said. Others look like fronds. He said he’d like to use similar models of fluid dynamics to figure out how those creatures might have fed.

“This approach has been really valuable for us to try to understand these highly mysterious and enigmatic organisms,” Rahman said.

The research is detailed in the Nov. 27 issue of the journal Science Advances.

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.

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.