Woolly mammoths, why extinct?


This video says about itself:

18 November 2016

What caused woolly mammoths to die-off so quickly? New evidence suggests an unfavorable climate may have contributed to a loss of grazing habitats, which eventually drove them to extinction.

From: MAMMOTHS: GIANTS OF THE ICE AGE.

Malaysian coral reefs need more protection


This 2009 video says about itself:

In a vast, turquoise-blue corner of this Earth, the forces of nature have crafted a truly amazing underwater tapestry of corals. This is the Coral Triangle – ‘nursery of the seas’.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Most species-rich coral reefs are not necessarily protected

Published on 22 November 2016

Coral reefs throughout the world are under threat. After studying the reefs in Malaysia, Zarinah Waheed concluded that there is room for improvement in coral reef conservation. PhD defence 22 November.

One-third of the corals of the Great Barrier Reef are dead. This was the sombre conclusion drawn by Australian scientists six months ago. Pollution, shipping and climate change are destroying the world’s largest continuous reef, and other coral reefs seem to be facing the same fate.

Home country

PhD candidate Zarinah Waheed studied coral reefs in her home country Malaysia over recent years. She looked specifically at the coral diversity of these reefs and also at the connectivity between the reef locations. She found that the areas with the highest numbers of coral species are not necessarily protected.

94 species

During her research, Waheed examined how many species of three coral families – Fungiidae, Agariciidae and Euphylliidae – occur in different reefs spread throughout Malaysia. She made a number of diving trips in the region, together with her co-supervisor and coral expert Dr Bert W. Hoeksema of Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden. Before the diving trips, she first examined all specimens of the target species in the extensive coral collection held by Naturalis.

Coral Triangle

‘The eastern part of Malaysian Borneo is part of the so-called Coral Triangle,’ Waheed explained. ‘This is a vast area that is home to the highest diversity of corals in the world. Scientists have long suggested that diversity diminishes the further away you get from this Coral Triangle. This hypothesis had never been thoroughly examined as far as Malaysia is concerned. My research shows that this holds true based on the coral species we examined.’

Paradise for divers

Waheed discovered, for example, that Semporma, a paradise for divers in the eastern part of the country, has a total of 89 species of coral of the three families she studied. If you go further west – that is, further away from the Coral Triangle – the number of species drops to only 33 in Payar on the west coast of the Malaysian mainland.

Interconnected

Finally, Waheed investigated how the different Malaysian reefs are connected to one another. She did this by establishing how one species of mushroom coral (Heliofungia actiniformis), the blue starfish (Linckia laevigata) and the boring giant clam that goes by the name of Tridacna crocea are genetically related within each of their populations.

Water circulation pattern

The three model species Waheed studied exhibit different levels of connectivity among the coral reefs. She suspects that this may well be due to the effect of water circulation patterns in the research area. ‘The larvae of the coral, the starfish and the clam can survive for a while before they have to settle on the reef. In the meantime they are carried by the currents and may settle in other coral reefs from where the originate.’

Coral reef conservation

Surprisingly enough, reef areas that have the greatest diversity are not necessarily the best protected. For example, only a limited part of the coral reefs in Semporna are protected under a marine park. ‘Reefs outside the park boundary are not protected. During our diving trips we regularly heard dynamite explosions. Blast fishing is an illegal practice and it causes enormous damage to the coral reef but it is nonetheless a way of catching fish.’ Blast fishing occurs not only in Semporna, but also in other coral reef areas of Sabah, Malaysia, and the Coral Triangle.

Butterfly leaves cocoon, video


This video says about itself:

11 November 2016

The transition from caterpillar to butterfly is a process that consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Observe one caterpillar as it develops into a gorgeous winged insect.

From: MICRO MONSTERS WITH DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Courtship.

New mosquito species discovery in the Netherlands


Culiseta bergrothi

From Nature Today, 14 November 2016 (translated):

During a European study on diversity and dynamics of mosquitoes, a mosquito species new for the Netherlands was found. The discovery of the mosquito Culiseta bergrothi brings the total number of mosquito species known in the Netherlands to 40. Whether the new species is actually established in the Netherlands should be examined further.

From July 2014 to July 2015 monthly mosquitoes were caught near Wageningen for a European study. The aim of the study was the identification of insect diversity on farms, wetlands and urban fringe in three European countries (Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy). In total, in the Netherlands were caught 14 types of mosquito species, amongst whom Culex pipiens and Culiseta annulata were the most common.

Unknown species

In June 2015 on the organic farm Veld en Beek in Doorwerth were found some mosquitoes that did not look immediately like a well-known species. After identification and verification in collaboration with the Centre for Monitoring of vectors (CMV) of the NVWA, they turned out to be a new mosquito species for the Netherlands: Culiseta bergrothi (Edwards, 1921). In the same study, this species was also found on farms in Sweden. It is a relatively unknown species which has been found so far mainly in northern parts of Japan, Russia and Europe such as Norway and Sweden. The catch in the Netherlands is remarkable, as with increasing temperatures more southern species are expected.

As far as is known, Culiseta bergrothi does not transmit diseases.

Jellyfish in Iraq for first time


Catostylus perezi

From BirdLife:

Jellyfish species sighted for first time in Iraq

By Laith Ali Al-Obeidi and Majd Abu Zaghlan, 15 Nov 2016

Life continues to return to Iraq’s historic marshlands – and in some cases, species that have never been recorded before in the country. In July, a species of jellyfish Catostylus perezi was discovered at the Main Outfall Drain (MOD) channel and in southern part of Hammar Marshes of southern Iraq. This is the first Iraqi record for this species.

The discovery came to the attention of Nature Iraq (BirdLife in Iraq) when they were informed by a fisherman that he saw a jellyfish in the MOD channel. Nature Iraq then began a field survey, monitoring the MOD and Southern side of East Hammar and West Hammar Marshes searching for the jellyfish and in August recovered a specimen for relevant scientific studies.

After few months’ collaboration with a jellyfish expert from Brazil to develop this finding, it seems that the jellyfish species is a Scyphomedusae and identified as Catostylus perezi, which belongs to the Family Catostylidae and to Order Rhizostomeae. This would be the first record of Catostylus perezi for Iraq.

Of note, both the East Hammar Marshes and West Hammar Marshes are connected to the MOD canal from the south side and then to the port of Khor Al-Zubair and then to the Arabian Gulf. These parts of marshes are influenced by the tidal effect of the sea through the connection and this leads to the upward movement of such species to the marshes. The occurrence of this species is an evidence of the change in the water salinity of the area.

The distribution of this species indicates that it occurs in the southern coast of the Peninsula and the Gulf as it was recorded in the Iranian coast in 1956 near Kharj and in Pakistan.

The Iraqi Marshlands, also known as the Al-Ahwar Marshlands is a group of water surfaces, which cover the low lands situated in the south of the Iraqi plain. As part of Iraq’s efforts since 2003 to put Al-Ahwar on the World Heritage List, UNESCO has approved the inscription of the marshes and to add it to the list on July 2016.

With UNESCO’s “world heritage site” title, the marshlands are now secured from further damage and it will help the government in establishing plans to protect and enhance the site.

“The Iraqi marshlands – are unique, as one of the world’s largest inland delta systems, in an extremely hot and arid environment,” UNESCO said. They describes the site as a “refuge of biodiversity and the relict landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities.”

The marshlands are home to many bird species and are a spawning ground for fish of the Gulf.

Lichens, indicators of forest health


This video from the USA says about itself:

Climate Change and the Mosses and Lichens in the Columbia River Gorge

9 June 2011

A short look at the mosses and lichens in the gorge and the effects climate change may have on them. This video was created by the Gifford Pinchot Task Force for the Multnomah County climate change short films series, thanks for viewing!

From Science News in the USA:

Lichens are an early warning system for forest health

Scientists tap symbiotic lichens as sentinels of air quality, and now, climate problems

By Amy McDermott

5:30am, November 15, 2016

View the slideshow

Ecologist Linda Geiser works her way through thick undergrowth on the steep hills of the Bull Run Watershed just outside of Portland, Ore. Every step in her heavy boots is deliberate. It would be easy to break an ankle here, or worse. A dense sea of ferns and berry bushes hides deep pits and sharp fallen branches.

This treacherous slope is a U.S. Forest Service 
field site, one of many in the United States, recognizable by its bright orange flagging fluttering from the trees. Geiser has patrolled terrain like this for 30 years. As manager of the Forest Service’s 
air-quality program, she’s tasked with monitoring pollution. So she has come here, not to check sophisticated equipment, but to find lichens.

Fringed and fuzzy, or as slick as a coat of paint, lichens are mosaics of fungi partnered with algae or cyanobacteria that speckle tree bark and dangle from the canopy (SN: 11/7/09, p. 16). In those precarious perches, lichens absorb their food from fog, wind and rain. With no roots but very absorbent tissue, lichens are exquisitely vulnerable to gases released from burning fossil fuels and other 
pollutants carried by the wind and rain. That sensitivity makes lichens powerful sentinels of forest health.

“Where there is pollution, there is a predictable effect on lichens,” Geiser says. Rare and delicate lichen species that are highly specialized to their habitat are some of the first to die out as air quality falls. Less-sensitive, generalist lichens hang on longer and, in some cases, even survive and expand. Both can signal problems to come.

In the presence of high levels of excess nitrogen, moderately sensitive wolf lichens (Letharia vulpine, left) languish while candleflame lichens (Candelaria pacifica, right) thrive.

Jason Hollinger/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0); J-DAR/MUSHROOM OBSERVER (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A 2014 study linked an abundance of the nitrogen-loving lichen Candelaria pacifica in Yosemite National Park with hot spots of excess nitrogen blown over from the sprawling farmlands of 
California’s Central Valley. Nitrogen becomes a pollutant at very high concentrations. A 2015 study in Washington State tied an area of heavy metal pollution, detected in lichen tissues in the Colville National Forest, to a zinc and lead smelter just across the border with Canada.

Pollution builds up inside lichen tissues in proportion to its concentration in the wider environment. Anything poisoning lichens is also accumulating more broadly in the forest. Lichens and other supersensitive species begin to shift first, but the same contaminants may hit hardier plants and animals next.

That’s why Geiser is hiking in the shadow of Mount Hood. She jots down the name and abundance of every lichen species she finds at Bull Run to track changes in the lichen census since the last survey of this plot, 10 years ago. Geiser carries a large, clear bag in her pack and fills it with a seafoam green lichen called Platismatia glauca. In a lab at the University of Minnesota, researchers will dissolve the P. glauca in acid to measure levels of 24 air pollutants. Other tests measure sulfur, nitrogen and mercury.

The Forest Service has used lichens to track air quality since the 1980s. What began as a few pilot studies has expanded into a national program, with thousands of lichen-monitoring plots across the country. The information collected at those sites is cataloged in a database, used by the Forest 
Service to track changes in the lichen landscape. Until now, that database has not been publicly available. But in 2017, it will be released — along with an atlas of lichen distributions nationwide — so anyone can track this early warning system.

The timing is good, because while these fungal mélanges have been counted on as air monitors for decades, they have now also begun to show their worth as sentinels of climate change in the Lower 48 states and, increasingly, in the Arctic.

Environmental watchdogs

Far from the rain-drenched forests of the Pacific Northwest, on the gray streets of 1860s Paris, a botanist named William Nylander noticed a peculiar pattern. More lichen species grew in the oasis of the Luxembourg Garden than elsewhere in the city. The park was less polluted than the rest of Paris. Nylander inferred a connection: Better air quality meant higher lichen diversity.

Proof that lichens respond to air quality came about a century later. Studies in the 1950s found that lichen diversity fell as sulfur dioxide rose. In 1958, botanist Erik Skye found that airborne sulfur dioxide, emitted from a Swedish oil works, killed lichens surrounding the factory. The sulfur 
dioxide acidified the lichens’ cells, disrupting metabolism and photosynthesis. Other pollutants, like nitrogen dioxide, can also kill some lichen species by overfertilizing them. Without protective structures common in plants, such as a waxy cuticle and pores that can close to keep out unwanted substances, lichens are especially vulnerable to environmental vagaries.

By the 1980s, most large cities in Central Europe monitored lichens to track air quality, says biologist Christoph Scheidegger of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research in Birmensdorf. What’s appealing, he says, is the tight relationship between lichen diversity and pollution levels. When the number of sensitive lichen species goes down, it reveals areas where pollution levels are going up.

In the United States, lichens help the Forest Service and National Park Service set pollution targets and identify areas where those targets are being exceeded. Those agencies don’t have the authority to set pollution laws. Instead, they make recommendations to state governments and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the amount of pollution an ecosystem can withstand before falling into decline.

To figure out how much pollution is too much, government scientists look to lichens, as well as alpine plants, trees, grasses and other parts of the ecosystem, says ecologist Tamara Blett of the National Park Service, which also monitors air quality. Many field studies show that lichens “start to disappear at a lower amount of air pollution than other species,” Blett says. Other organisms “aren’t affected until the pollution is higher.”

That means lichens set the high bar for pollution standards. Protect them, and everything else is safe. Once pollution thresholds are established, U.S. scientists can use lichens to identify hot spots that exceed recommended limits. It works like this: Scientists like Geiser hike into forest field sites to collect lichen tissues and survey the number and abundance of lichen species. In the lab, the tissues are analyzed for concentrations of nitrogen, sulfur and other potential pollutants. From the results, ecologists make a map that reveals “red zones,” “orange zones” and “green zones,” where pollution thresholds are met or exceeded across the landscape, Blett says.

Fluffy, green wolf lichen (Letharia vulpina) collected in 2011 along a major road in California’s Sierra Nevada had nitrogen levels exceeding recommended pollution limits. In Wyoming’s Wind River Range, an area plagued by air pollution, nitrogen concentrations were twice as high in lichens growing near natural gas drilling operations as those growing farthest away, researchers reported in 2013; concentrations decreased exponentially with distance from drilling sites.

Machines and nature

The lichens are “like teeny living instruments,” Blett says. Studying them is an order of magnitude cheaper than installing human-made air-quality monitors. Each lichen plot costs $150 to $500, says Forest Service lichenologist Sarah Jovan, who leads the lichen program with Geiser.

Measuring pollutants directly, using a human-made air-quality monitor, would cost $3,000 to $20,000 a year, Jovan says, depending on the instrument and pollutants measured. “It’s an incredible savings,” she says.

Plus, Geiser adds, lichens can provide evidence of ecological harm, while chemical and physical methods tell only what’s in the air or precipitation. “They don’t tell you if that level is harmful to living things.”

While lichens have a huge cost advantage, they also have limitations as indicators. In general, Jovan says, the content of lichen tissues today points to pollution over the last six to 12 months. They don’t offer the same time frame precision as pricier instruments.

Agencies navigate these pros and cons by using lichens in combination with other monitors. In places where the source of pollution isn’t clear, it doesn’t make sense to install expensive instruments across the landscape.

Instead, lichen studies are a first step to identify pollution hot spots, Blett and Jovan explain. Then more expensive monitors are installed at heavily polluted sites. “Using the two approaches together creates incredible efficiency,” Jovan says, “and cost savings.”

When the EPA and the Forest Service set out to track regional environmental health in the early 1990s, they called on lichenologist Bruce McCune, of Oregon State University in Corvallis. The agencies asked McCune to design pilot studies using lichens to assess air pollution. That early work grew into the same lichen census that brought Geiser to Bull Run.

The Forest Service has almost 25 years of lichen data from more than 6,000 sites nationwide. “It’s unprecedented to have this scale of information,” says Jovan, who created the atlas over the last decade. “This is the first time all of the data we’ve ever had has come together.” Federal 
agencies including the Forest Service, the Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management are all interested in lichens as environmental sentinels, she says. “Now all of a sudden, everyone and their mom wants to use lichens.”

When these data are released publicly in 2017, she says, they will set a baseline for lichen distributions nationwide. In 10 years, or in 50, scientists will be able to track large-scale changes over time.

Climate ups and downs

Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions presents its own kind of air-quality problem. And lichens may help keep an eye out for climate changes, too.

Small differences in temperature and moisture mean big changes in the number and diversity of lichens in the landscape. Lichen diversity in 
Sweden and Alaska dropped with rising temperature, and lichens were more sensitive to change than vascular plants, according to a study published in 2012.

Earlier work in western Europe found that drought-tolerant lichens become more common in response to warming, while acid-loving species decline. In the Netherlands, Hyperphyscia adglutinata increased in abundance substantially from 1995 to 2001. During the same period, Lecanora conizaeoides declined by more than 60 percent.

By tracking which species increase or decrease with changing temperature and rainfall, ecologists are learning to read the climate story lichens are telling. The idea, Geiser says, is to use lichens to understand the on-the-ground realities of climate change.

The value of the lichens data trove will only increase with time, McCune says. Today, decades of lichen data offer a national snapshot that “contains priceless information on air quality and a basis for comparison in the future,” he says. “Can you imagine 50 years from now,” when “we’ve got thousands of plots in the U.S. with data from way back in 2000 or something like that? It’s going to be fantastic to see the difference between 2050 and 2000.”

In the meantime, the lichens of the Northwest that Geiser walks among will keep growing and changing in step with the changing planet. They’ll breathe in the mountain air and soak up water as it drips down the trees. These and other lichens will stand as a beacon of what’s to come.

Narwhal echolocation, new research


This 2014 video says about itself:

Narwhal Whale – Fun Fact Series EP43

The Narwhal whale is unique among whale species and has a long ivory tusk that extends from the upper left side of its jaw.

The tusks measure 7 to 10 feet in length.

Narwhals swim belly up and lie motionless for several minutes and this has earned them the name, “corpse whale.”

Narwhals use their forehead to feel sound waves and hear each other as they bounce through water.

From Science News:

Narwhals are really, really good at echolocation

by Helen Thompson

11:33am, November 11, 2016

Narwhals use highly targeted beams of sound to scan their environment for threats and food. In fact, the so-called unicorns of the sea (for their iconic head tusks) may produce the most refined sonar of any living animal.

A team of researchers set up 16 underwater microphones to eavesdrop on narwhal click vocalizations at 11 ice pack sites in Greenland’s Baffin Bay in 2013. The recordings show that narwhal clicks are extremely intense and directional — meaning they can widen and narrow the beam of sound to find prey over long and short distances. It’s the most directional sonar signal measured in a living species, the researchers report November 9 in PLOS ONE.

The sound beams are also asymmetrically narrow on top. That minimizes clutter from echoes bouncing off the sea surface or ice pack. Finally, narwhals scan vertically as they dive, which could help them find patches of open water where they can surface and breathe amid sea ice cover. All this means that narwhals employ pretty sophisticated sonar.

The audio data could help researchers tell the difference between narwhal vocalizations and those of neighboring beluga whales. It also provides a baseline for assessing the potential impact of noise pollution from increases in shipping traffic made possible by sea ice loss.