Tyrannosaur discovery in Utah, USA


This 2015 video from the USA says about itself:

“Teratophoneus” is a genus of carnivorous tyrannosaurid theropod dinosaur which lived during the late Cretaceous period in what is now Utah, USA. It is known from an incomplete skull and postcranial skeleton recovered from the Kaiparowits Formation. “Teratophoneus” was named by Thomas D. Carr, Thomas E. Williamson, Brooks B. Britt and Ken Stadtman in 2011 and the type species is “T. curriei”. The generic name is derived from Greek “teras”, “monster”, and “phoneus”, “murderer”. The specific name honors Philip J. Currie.

From the University of Utah in the USA:

New tyrannosaur fossil is most complete found in Southwestern US

Researchers are amazed to find nearly complete skeleton with many bones in life position

October 19, 2017

A remarkable new fossilized skeleton of a tyrannosaur discovered in the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in southern Utah was airlifted by helicopter Sunday, Oct 15, from a remote field site, and delivered to the Natural History Museum of Utah where it will be uncovered, prepared, and studied. The fossil is approximately 76 million years old and is most likely an individual of the species Teratophoneus curriei, one of Utah‘s ferocious tyrannosaurs that walked western North America between 66 and 90 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period.

“With at least 75 percent of its bones preserved, this is the most complete skeleton of a tyrannosaur ever discovered in the southwestern US,” said Dr. Randall Irmis, curator of paleontology at the Museum and associate professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah. “We are eager to get a closer look at this fossil to learn more about the southern tyrannosaur’s anatomy, biology, and evolution.”

GSENM Paleontologist Dr. Alan Titus discovered the fossil in July 2015 in the Kaiparowits Formation, part of the central plateau region of the monument. Particularly notable is that the fossil includes a nearly complete skull. Scientists hypothesize that this tyrannosaur was buried either in a river channel or by a flooding event on the floodplain, keeping the skeleton intact.

“The monument is a complex mix of topography — from high desert to badlands — and most of the surface area is exposed rock, making it rich grounds for new discoveries, said Titus. “And we’re not just finding dinosaurs, but also crocodiles, turtles, mammals, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, and plant fossils — remains of a unique ecosystem not found anywhere else in the world,” said Titus.

Although many tyrannosaur fossils have been found over the last one hundred years in the northern Great Plains region of the northern US and Canada, until relatively recently, little was known about them in the southern US. This discovery, and the resulting research, will continue to cement the monument as a key place for understanding the group’s southern history, which appears to have followed a different path than that of their northern counterparts.

This southern tyrannosaur fossil is thought to be a sub-adult individual, 12-15 years old, 17-20 feet long, and with a relatively short head, unlike the typically longer-snouted look of northern tyrannosaurs.

Collecting such fossils from the monument can be unusually challenging. “Many areas are so remote that often we need to have supplies dropped in and the crew hikes in,” said Irmis. For this particular field site, Museum and monument crews back-packed in, carrying all of the supplies they needed to excavate the fossil, such as plaster, water and tools to work at the site for several weeks. The crews conducted a three-week excavation in early May 2017, and continued work during the past two weeks until the specimen was ready to be airlifted out.

Irmis said with the help of dedicated volunteers, it took approximately 2,000-3,000 people hours to excavate the site and estimates at least 10,000 hours of work remain to prepare the specimen for research. “Without our volunteer team members, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish this work. We absolutely rely on them throughout the entire process,” said Irmis.

Irmis says that this new fossil find is extremely significant. Whether it is a new species or an individual of Teratophoneus, the new research will provide important context as to how this animal lived. “We’ll look at the size of this new fossil, it’s growth pattern, biology, reconstruct muscles to see how the animal moved, how fast could it run, and how it fed with its jaws. The possibilities are endless and exciting,” said Irmis.

During the past 20 years, crews from the Natural History Museum of Utah and GSENM have unearthed more than a dozen new species of dinosaurs in GSENM, with several additional species awaiting formal scientific description. Some of the finds include another tyrannosaur named Lythronax, and a variety of other, plant-eating, dinosaurs — among them duck-billed hadrosaurs, armored ankylosaurs, dome-headed pachycephalosaurs, and a number of horned dinosaurs, such as Utahceratops, Kosmoceratops, Nasutoceratops, and Machairoceratops. Other fossil discoveries include fossil plants, insect traces, snails, clams, fishes, amphibians, lizards, turtles, crocodiles, and mammals. Together, this diverse bounty of fossils is offering one of the most comprehensive glimpses into a Mesozoic ecosystem. Remarkably, virtually all of the dinosaur species found in GSENM appear to be unique to this area, and are not found anywhere else on Earth.

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Saber-toothed cat evolution, new research


This 2017 video from the USA is called Prehistoric Predators – Sabertooth.

From ScienceDaily:

Ancient DNA offers new view on saber-toothed cats‘ past

October 19, 2017

Researchers who’ve analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from ancient samples representing two species of saber-toothed cats have a new take on the animals’ history over the last 50,000 years. The data suggest that the saber-toothed cats shared a common ancestor with all living cat-like species about 20 million years ago. The two saber-toothed cat species under study diverged from each other about 18 million years ago.

“It’s quite crazy that, in terms of their mitochondrial DNA, these two saber-toothed cats are more distant from each other than tigers are from house cats,” says Johanna Paijmans at the University of Potsdam in Germany.

Paijmans and colleagues reconstructed the mitochondrial genomes from ancient-DNA samples representing three Homotherium from Europe and North America and one Smilodon specimen from South America. One of the Homotherium specimens under investigation is a unique fossil: a 28,000-year-old mandible recovered from the North Sea.

“This find was so special because Homotherium is generally believed to have gone extinct in Europe around 300,000 years ago, so [this specimen is] over 200,000 years younger than the next-to-youngest Homotherium find in Europe,” Paijmans explains.

The new DNA evidence confirmed that this surprisingly young specimen did indeed belong to a Homotherium. The discovery suggests that the saber-toothed cats continued to live in Europe much more recently than scientists previously thought.

“When the first anatomically modern humans migrated to Europe, there may have been a saber-toothed cat waiting for them,” Paijmans says.

The finding raises new questions about how and why the saber-toothed cats went extinct. Paijmans says they are now interested in studying DNA from other samples of saber-toothed cats. Although it will be technically challenging, they also hope to recover and analyze DNA from much older Homotherium specimens.

This project received funding from the European Research Council, the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development, and demonstration and the Lundbeck Foundation.

Great tit evolution adapting to birdfeeders


This 2015 video from Britain shows great tits and blue tits at a feeder.

From the University of East Anglia in England:

Evolution in your back garden: Great tits may be adapting their beaks to birdfeeders

October 19, 2017

A British enthusiasm for feeding birds may have caused UK great tits to have evolved longer beaks than their European counterparts, according to new research.

The findings, published in Science, identify for the first time the genetic differences between UK and Dutch great tits which researchers were then able to link to longer beaks in UK birds.

Using genetic and historical data, the research team also found that the differences in beak length had occurred within a relatively short time frame. This led them to speculate that there may be a link with the relatively recent practice of putting out food for garden birds.

The research is an international collaboration involving researchers from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and the Universities of Wageningen, Oxford, Exeter, East Anglia, Sheffield.

The findings are part of a long term study being carried out on populations of great tits in Wytham Woods, and in Oosterhout and Veluwe, in the Netherlands. The team screened DNA from more than 3000 birds to search for genetic differences between the British and the Dutch populations. These differences indicate where natural selection might be at work.

The specific gene sequences which had evolved in the British birds were found to closely match human genes known to determine face shape. There were also strong similarities with genes identified with beak shape in Darwin’s study of finches — one of the best-known examples of how physical traits have adapted to different environments in the wild. This led the researchers to think that great tit beaks were evolving by natural selection in British great tits, perhaps in response to the widespread use of bird feeders.

Researchers at Oxford University have been studying the Wytham Woods great tit population in Oxfordshire for 70 years and so the team had access to a wealth of historical data which clearly showed that the British great tits’ beaks were getting longer over time. They were also able to access data from electronic tags fitted to some of the Wytham Woods birds, which enabled them to track how much time was spent at automated bird feeders.

“Between the 1970s and the present day, beak length has got longer among the British birds. That’s a really short time period in which to see this sort of difference emerging,” says Professor Jon Slate, of the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield.

“We now know that this increase in beak length, and the difference in beak length between birds in Britain and mainland Europe, is down to genes that have evolved by natural selection.”

The team also found that birds with genetic variants for longer beaks were more frequent visitors to the feeders than those birds which did not have that genetic variation.

“In the UK we spend around twice as much on birdseed and birdfeeders than mainland Europe — and, we’ve been doing this for some time. In fact, at the start of the 20th century, Punch magazine described bird feeding as a British national pastime,” says Dr Lewis Spurgin, of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

“Although we can’t say definitively that bird feeders are responsible, it seems reasonable to suggest that the longer beaks amongst British great tits may have evolved as a response to this supplementary feeding.”

The team carried out further investigations into the gene with the strongest association with beak length and confirmed that British birds with the longer-beaked gene variants were more successful at reproducing in the UK but not in the Netherlands, giving even more evidence that natural selection is at work in the UK population.

“It’s certainly true that birds who have adapted to better access food will be in better condition generally, and so better able to reproduce and outperform others without that adaptation,” said Dr Spurgin.

The researchers have already started to follow up the study by looking at DNA samples from great tit populations across Europe and their initial evidence suggests that the longer beak genetic variants are specific to the UK.

Dr Mirte Bosse, of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and Wageningen University, and co-first author of the paper, explains: “The way we’ve detected evolutionary differences in the wild is unique. It was the genome that led the way. That this is possible for a trait influenced by so many genes, holds many promises for future discoveries.”

The research is funded by the European Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council and supported by the Edward Grey Institute, University of Oxford.

See also here.

New butterflyfish discovery in the Philippines


Roa rumsfeldi, Credit: © 2017 Luiz Rocha and the California Academy of Sciences

From the California Academy of Sciences in the USA:

Surprise new butterflyfish from the Philippine ‘twilight zone’

October 19, 2017

A newly described species of brown-and-white Philippine butterflyfish — the charismatic Roa rumsfeldi — made a fantastic, 7,000-mile journey before surprising scientists with its unknown status. Live specimens collected from 360 feet beneath the ocean’s surface in the Philippine’s Verde Island Passage escaped special notice until a single black fin spine tipped off aquarium biologists back in San Francisco. Deep-diving researchers from the California Academy of Sciences’ Hope for Reefs team — with genetic sequencing help from a parent-son team — share their discovery of a fifth species of Roa this week in ZooKeys.

“We named this reef fish Roa rumsfeldi because, as

former United States Secretary of ‘Defence’ War, torture enabler and Iraqi archaeological treasures looting enabler

Donald Rumsfeld once said, some things are truly ‘unknown unknowns‘”, says senior author Dr. Luiz Rocha, Academy curator of ichthyology and co-leader of its Hope for Reefs initiative to research, explore, and sustain global reefs. “This fish caught us completely off-guard. After traveling from the deep reefs of the Philippines to our aquarium in San Francisco, former Academy aquarium biologist and co-author Matt Wandell noticed a black fin spine that looked different from other known Roa we’ve collected in the past. It was a light bulb moment for all of us.”

Butterflyfish — which sport bold patterns — are iconic coral reef species. Because this group’s taxonomy is relatively well understood, scientists didn’t expect to find an unknown species on a recent expedition.

Under pressure

Roa rumsfeldi and its close relatives are only know to live in mesophotic “twilight zone” reefs — a place where sunlight is scarce and divers with traditional scuba gear cannot safely visit. In the narrow band between the light-filled shallow reefs and the pitch-black deep sea, these little-known mesophotic reefs, located 200 to 500 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, are home to fascinatingly diverse and previously-unknown marine life. As part of its Hope for Reefs initiative, specially trained Academy scientists are exploring these relatively unknown frontiers with the help of high-tech equipment like closed-circuit rebreathers, which take extensive training and allow them to extend their research time underwater.

As part of their expedition-driven research, Rocha and his Academy colleagues sometimes collect live fish they believe to be unknown species in order to study their behavior (making for more robust research) and inspire the public to connect with beautiful and unique reef life during aquarium visits.

“Our human bodies are not really compressible,” says Bart Shepherd, Director of Steinhart Aquarium and co-leader of the Academy’s Hope for Reefs initiative, “but fish have swim bladders for buoyancy that can’t make the journey from twilight zone depths to the surface. We gently moved this Roa to a special lightweight decompression chamber designed just for fish, brought it to the surface, and attentively cared for it through the flight back to San Francisco and into our aquarium.”

A family affair

“The team effort between our museum’s scientists and aquarium biologists helped add a new fish to the tree of life,” says Rocha, adding that the collaboration isn’t the only reason this fish discovery feels particularly special. “My teenage son Gabriel helped sequence its genes during a summer internship — his mother and I helped show him how to use complicated genomic processes to take a closer look at the fish’s DNA. This is part of how we prove a species is distinct, and it’s always a pleasure to share that learning with young people.”

Gabriel Rocha, a high school sophomore at the time, helped sequence the mitochondrial DNA cytochrome oxidase I gene, also known as the “barcode” gene. The process from DNA extraction to amplification and sequencing takes just a few days — an ideal project for short, in-depth internships. After the sequence is obtained, the work moves from the lab to the virtual world: Major online databases contain thousands of sequences of this gene for known species, and are a great comparison tool.

New discoveries and Hope for Reefs

Considered the “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs are some of the most biologically diverse, economically valuable, beautiful, and threatened ecosystems on Earth. They cover less than 0.1% of the ocean but contain more than 30% of marine species. Coral reefs provide critical habitat to vast marine communities — from the tiny coral polyps that make up the reef’s foundation to the colorful fishes and sharks that live among them. Coral reefs are integral to the livelihoods and well-being of hundreds of millions of people worldwide, providing protection from erosion and generating income through ecotourism and fishing.

In response to coral reef threats, the Academy launched the Hope for Reefs initiative in 2016 to explore, explain, and sustain the world’s coral reefs by making fundamental breakthroughs in coral reef biology; developing new conservation solutions and restoration techniques with partners like SECORE International and The Nature Conservancy; and sharing what we know through innovative exhibits and educational programs.

Every Academy expedition yields new understanding and surprising discoveries, and the public can see new and rare species, many of which have never been displayed in a public aquarium, at Steinhart Aquarium. Explore the great unknown alongside our scientists as they uncover the secrets of our world’s critically important reefs. Visitors to the Academy’s aquarium can take a closer look at many mesophotic marine creatures from around the world — and discover why they deserve protection — in Twilight Zone: Deep Reefs Revealed.

Albatrosses eat jellyfish, new research


This video says about itself:

8 April 2014

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic guests land at Steeple Jason Island in the Falklands to see the impressive wildlife, including the world’s largest colony of black-browed albatross. Video by Mark Coger.

From the University of Tasmania – Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Australia:

DNA tests on albatross excrement reveal secret diet of top predator

October 18, 2017

A study that used DNA tests to analyse the scats of one of the world’s most numerous albatrosses has revealed surprising results about the top predator’s diet.

DNA analysis of 1460 scats from breeding sites around the Southern Ocean has shown that the diet of black-browed albatrosses contains a much higher proportion of jellyfish than previously thought.

The finding, in a study led by IMAS researcher Julie McInnes and published in the journal Molecular Ecology, is important because top predators such as the albatross are used as indicators of the health of the broader marine ecosystem.

Ms McInnes said jellyfish have traditionally been regarded as an unlikely food source due to their poor nutritional value, although sightings of albatross eating jellyfish are occasionally made.

“We need to understand what albatross eat so we can identify how marine ecosystems might be changing in response to pressures such as climate change or fishing,” Ms McInnes said.

“Past studies of albatross diets relied largely on analysis of their stomach contents, with jellyfish found in less than one in five samples and then only in low volumes of around 5 per cent of the total.

“In contrast, our study found that in fact jellyfish are a common prey of black-browed albatrosses and the closely related Campbell albatross.

“While there was large variation between breeding colonies, jellyfish were present at seven of the eight sites sampled and in 37 per cent of the scats tested, comprising 20 per cent of the DNA sequences identified.

“We were also surprised to find jellyfish in the diet of chicks, as we had expected adults would prefer fish to low energy value jellyfish when feeding their offspring.

“The failure of previous studies to detect jellyfish in albatross stomach contents can be explained by the speed with which they are digested and the lack of hard parts, such as fish bones or squid beaks, that might be retained in the birds’ stomachs for days or weeks.

Ms McInnes said the study showed the value of new DNA metabarcoding technology in the study of seabird diets.

“Ongoing monitoring of the diet and foraging behaviour of top marine predators will help scientists to understand the future impacts of environmental change and fisheries, with climate change predicted to have a significant impact on the abundance and distribution of species across the world’s oceans,” she said.

The research was in collaboration with the Australian Antarctic Division and DPIPWE, as well as a number of international researchers. The work was funded by an Australian Antarctic Science grant and the Winifred Violet Scott Charitable Trust.

Insects decline in Germany


This video says about itself:

5 September 2017

Due to a reduction in biodiversity, insect populations have declined in Europe by as much as 80%. Educators in South Africa predict the same fate for their country.

From PLOS one:

More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas

Published: October 18, 2017

Abstract

Global declines in insects have sparked wide interest among scientists, politicians, and the general public. Loss of insect diversity and abundance is expected to provoke cascading effects on food webs and to jeopardize ecosystem services. Our understanding of the extent and underlying causes of this decline is based on the abundance of single species or taxonomic groups only, rather than changes in insect biomass which is more relevant for ecological functioning.

Here, we used a standardized protocol to measure total insect biomass using Malaise traps, deployed over 27 years in 63 nature protection areas in Germany (96 unique location-year combinations) to infer on the status and trend of local entomofauna.

Our analysis estimates a seasonal decline of 76%, and mid-summer decline of 82% in flying insect biomass over the 27 years of study. We show that this decline is apparent regardless of habitat type, while changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics cannot explain this overall decline. This yet unrecognized loss of insect biomass must be taken into account in evaluating declines in abundance of species depending on insects as a food source, and ecosystem functioning in the European landscape.

Brazilian beetles threatened by climate change


This 2014 video says about itself:

Macraspis bivittata (Scarabaeidae – Rutelinae – Rutelini) scarabs or scarab beetles, Santo Amaro da Imperatriz, Santa Catarina, Brazil.

From the University of York in England:

Tropical beetles face extinction threat

October 17, 2017

Climate change is putting many tropical high altitude beetles at risk of extinction, warn an international team of scientists.

Research by the University of York, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and the Federal University of Goiás has found that two plant-eating beetle groups — weevils and leaf beetles — are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

The researchers surveyed a number of insect groups at different altitudes in the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest, an area known for its high diversity of plant and animal species.

They found that a large proportion of species, mostly from the diverse herbivorous beetle groups, are only found at higher altitude. This puts these species at high risk of extinction as they have nowhere to go when the climate gets warmer.

Dr Peter Mayhew, of the University of York’s Department of Biology, one of the investigators, said: “Previous research has shown that species are moving uphill as the climate warms and that tropical mountain species may be particularly vulnerable because they will become restricted to smaller and smaller areas in a warming planet.

“Our study showed that the most diverse herbivorous beetle groups — the weevils and leaf beetles — are highly specialised to high altitudes, which means their favoured temperatures may disappear in a warmer world. This puts them at high risk of extinction.”

The study was carried out in the Serra dos Órgãos National Park in the state of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and the results published in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity.

Insects make up the most diverse group of species in rainforests, but until now little was known about how various insects might be affected by climate change.

Professor Margarete Macedo, one of the research leaders at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), said: “Almost nothing is known about elevational specialisation in tropical rainforest insects and our aim was to see how different insect groups varied. This in turn may indicate their risk of extinction from climate change.”

The researchers sampled 697 species of insects, using many different trapping techniques such as sticky traps, pitfall traps and tent-like ‘Malaise’ traps. They discovered that 32 per cent of the species sampled were only found in the highest vegetation zones.

Dr Vivian Flinte, from UFRJ, did much of the collecting, sorting and identification. She said: “It has been a huge team effort over many years to get the data we have now, but we have only just skimmed the surface of what is out there.”

Dr Mayhew added: “Even though the area we studied is in a national park, the species in it are not protected from climate change. Because most of these species are poorly known, their extinction may largely go undocumented, but we will have lost them nonetheless. It makes it all the more important to limit future climate change as much as possible.”