Pioneer all-women punk band Lou’s biography updated


In this live music video, pioneer all-women punk band the Lou’s play No escape, in July 1978 in the Olympia in Paris, as support band of John Lydon (aka Rotten)’s band Public Image Ltd (PIL).

PIL liked the Lou’s so well that they also played twice with them in the Rainbow Theatre in London in December 1978.

Other bands with whom they played: eg, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sham 69, the Mekons and Subway Sect.

The Lou’s were three French women and Dutch drummer Saskia aka Sascha aka Syama de Jong.

In 1979 two of the Lou’s, Ms de Jong on drums and Raphaelle Devins on saxophone, joined London band Conflict. They played many concerts for Rock Against Racism.

In 1980 Sascha and Raphaelle went to Leiden in the Netherlands. Sascha de Jong founded the all-women Miami Beach Girls. Raphaelle joined the mixed-gender band Cheap ‘n’ Nasty.

The biography of the Lou’s on Last.fm was updated today.

Bahamas bonefish dive deep for spawning


This September 2015 video from the United States Virgin Islands says about itself:

Bonefish, (Albula vulpes); Lackland Marine Sanctuary U.S.V.I.

From Florida Atlantic University in the USA:

Stunning discovery reveals bonefish dive 450 feet ‘deep’ into the abyss to spawn

December 7, 2020

Summary: Using active acoustic telemetry and sonar data, a study provides the first detailed documentation of a shallow-water fish diving 450 feet deep to spawn. Prior research has shown that bonefish dive about 164 feet to spawn, but this new and unprecedented study reveals that they reached depths of 450 feet, and moved below 325 feet for two hours before spawning in a rush upward to 220 feet deep.

A new study provides the first detailed documentation of a shallow-water fish diving 450 feet deep to spawn. Uncovering this very rare spawning behavior in bonefish (Albula vulpes) is unprecedented. Using active acoustic telemetry and sonar data along the southern shore of Abaco, The Bahamas, a team of scientists led by Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in collaboration with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and University of Massachusetts Amherst, has discovered that although bonefish live in shallow waters less than 6 feet, they dive “deep” into the abyss to spawn.

While prior research in 2013 showed that bonefish descended approximately 164 feet to spawn, this new scientific finding reveals that bonefish descended to depths reaching 450 feet, and moved below 325 feet for two hours before spawning in a rush upward to 220 feet deep. Findings from the study, published in the journal Marine Biology, will be instrumental for conservation efforts for this economically and culturally important fish species.

“We were stunned by this discovery because the bonefish moved out beyond the incredibly abrupt and steep shelf drop off into the Providence Channel in Abaco,” said Steven Lombardo, first author and a Ph.D. candidate who works with Matt Ajemian, Ph.D., senior author, an assistant research professor at FAU’s Harbor Branch and head of the Fisheries Ecology and Conservation (FEC) Lab. “Data from our acoustic telemetry tags showed us in real time that bonefish were capable of handling extreme pressures. When they reached 334 feet in the first dive, we were floored, and 45 minutes later when they reached 450 feet deep, we were absolutely astonished.”

Active acoustic telemetry enabled the scientists to observe the spawning movements and is a method that employs small pill-like tags that are surgically implanted into the fish’s abdominal cavity, emitting an ultrasonic ping every three seconds. Researchers listened for the pings emitted from the tags using a boat-mounted directional hydrophone, using the strength of the signal communicated from the tag to the hydrophone to determine what direction to move the boat and follow the fish. Each ping transmitted by the tag inside the fish relayed data to the scientists, informing them of the depth of the fish’s location and the water temperature.

The researchers spent four days from sunrise to sunset observing the bonefish pre-spawning aggregation in hopes that they would move offshore to spawn. At sunset on the final scheduled night of their research cruise, bonefish began “porpoising,” where they gulped air at the surface, and then proceeded to move offshore following the edge of the continental shelf. The successful observation of bonefish spawning capped an 18-hour shift on the water, spanning two days.

“Following the bonefish on their offshore spawning migration was a marathon for the science team as well as the fish,” said Aaron Adams, Ph.D., co-author, senior scientist at FAU’s Harbor Branch and director of science and conservation at Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. “Most importantly for conservation, now that we know the conditions bonefish require to spawn we can better focus our efforts for habitat conservation.”

When many species of coastal marine fish spawn, they spawn in groups known as spawning aggregations, which are mixed males and females. These fishes follow a process known as “broadcast spawning” in which the males and females eject sperm and eggs into the open water where the eggs are fertilized. The eggs hatch in about a day, and the tiny larvae that hatch from the eggs live in the open ocean as plankton for days to months, depending on the species, before finding shallow water and becoming juveniles. Adults of many of these species migrate long distances from their home ranges to spawning locations, often spawning on the edges of reefs adjacent to deep water.

Unlike other coastal marine fishes, the bonefish partakes in a unique three-point spawning migration, traveling up to 70 miles from shallow water home flats to form nearshore pre-spawning aggregations before moving offshore to reproduce. Once at the pre-spawning location, they gather in large groups often numbering anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 bonefish.

“Despite their economic and cultural importance, there are concerns about the long-term health of the bonefish fishery. Because of habitat loss and harvest in some locations, bonefish are classified as ‘Near Threatened,’ therefore information on their reproduction is critical to conservation efforts,” said Ajemian. “We are continuing our work on the offshore spawning movements of bonefish. We will be observing more spawning events at different locations and also will characterize what larval bonefish may be feeding on at these great depths.”

This research will support the ongoing efforts of the Bonefish Reproduction Research Project at FAU’s Harbor Branch, informing techniques used to rear captive spawned bonefish larvae through the feeding phase of development and beyond.

Australian greater gliders three species, not one


This 2017 video from Australia is called Greater Glider (Petauroides volans), gliding possum, Strathbogie State Forest 1.

From James Cook University in Australia:

Greater glider species triple

One of Australia’s best-loved marsupials is actually three different species

November 21, 2020

A team of researchers from James Cook University (JCU), The Australian National University (ANU), the University of Canberra and CSIRO analysed the genetic make-up of the greater glider — a possum-sized marsupial that can glide up to 100 metres.

JCU’s PhD student Denise McGregor and Professor Andrew Krockenberger were part of a team that confirmed a long-held theory that the greater glider is actually multiple species.

As a part of her PhD project to understand why greater gliders varied so much across their range, Ms McGregor discovered that the genetic differences between the populations she was looking at were profound.

“There has been speculation for a while that there was more than one species of greater glider, but now we have proof from the DNA. It changes the whole way we think about them,” she said.

“Australia’s biodiversity just got a lot richer. It’s not every day that new mammals are confirmed, let alone two new mammals,” said Professor Krockenberger.

“Differences in size and physiology gave us hints that the one accepted species was actually three. For the first time, we were able to use Diversity Arrays (DArT) sequencing to provide genetic support for multiple species,” he said.

Greater gliders, much larger than the more well-known sugar gliders, eat only eucalyptus leaves and live in forests along the Great Dividing Range from northern Queensland to southern Victoria. Once common, they are now listed as ‘vulnerable’, with their numbers declining.

Dr Kara Youngentob, a co-author from ANU, said the identification and classification of species are essential for effective conservation management.

“This year Australia experienced a bushfire season of unprecedented severity, resulting in widespread habitat loss and mortality. As a result, there’s been an increased focus on understanding genetic diversity and structure of species to protect resilience in the face of climate change,” she said.

The division of the greater glider into multiple species reduces the previous widespread distribution of the original species, further increasing conservation concern for that animal and highlighting the lack of information about the other greater glider species,”said Dr Youngentob.

She said there have been alarming declines in greater glider populations in the Blue Mountains, NSW and Central Highlands, Victoria and localised extinctions in other areas.

“The knowledge that there is now genetic support for multiple species, with distributions that are much smaller than the range of the previously recognised single species, should be a consideration in future conservation status decisions and management legislation,” Dr Youngentob said.

Bromeliad plants and hummingbirds, new research


This 1 December 2020 video says about itself:

Bromeliads: the explosive plant family

The Linnean Society of London publishes three peer-reviewed scientific journals in biology, botany and zoology. The journals cover original scientific papers and studies.

Extinct walrus species discovery in California, USA


This July 2020 video says about itself:

The rise and fall of ancient walruses, and how modern ones got their tusks, is a story that spans almost 20 million years. And while there are parts of the story that we’re still trying to figure out, it looks like tusks didn’t have anything to do with how or what these animals ate.

From ScienceDaily:

Paleontologists uncover three new species of extinct walruses in Orange County, California

Study gives insight to tusk evolution of the marine mammal

November 16, 2020

Millions of years ago, in the warm Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California, walrus species without tusks lived abundantly.

But in a new study, Cal State Fullerton paleontologists have identified three new walrus species discovered in Orange County and one of the new species has “semi-tusks” — or longer teeth.

The other two new species don’t have tusks and all predate the evolution of the long iconic ivory tusks of the modern-day walrus, which lives in the frigid Arctic.

The researchers describe a total of 12 specimens of fossil walruses from Orange, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz counties, all estimated to be 5 to 10 million years old. The fossils represent five species, with two of the three new species represented by specimens of males, females and juveniles.

Their research, which gives insights on the dental and tusk evolution of the marine mammal, was published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Geology graduate Jacob Biewer, and his research adviser James F. Parham, associate professor of geological sciences, are authors of the study, based on fossil skull specimens.

Parham and Biewer worked with Jorge Velez-Juarbe, an expert in marine mammals at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, who is a co-author of the paper. Velez-Juarbe is a former postdoctoral scholar in Parham’s lab and has collaborated on other CSUF fossil research projects. Parham is a research associate at the museum, which provides research opportunities for him and his students.

The researchers teamed to study and describe the anatomy of the specimens, most of which are part of the museum’s collection.

“Orange County is the most important area for fossil walruses in the world,” said Biewer, first author of the paper who conducted the research for his master’s thesis. “This research shows how the walruses evolved with tusks.”

Extinct Walrus Species Get Names

Today, there is only one walrus species and its scientific name is Odobenus.

For the new species found in Orange County, the researchers named the semi-tusked walrus, Osodobenus eodon, by combining the words Oso and Odobenus. Another is named Pontolis kohnoi in honor of Naoki Kohno, a fossil walrus researcher from Japan. Both of these fossils were discovered in the Irvine, Lake Forest and Mission Viejo areas.

Osodobenus eodon and Pontolis kohnoi are both from the same geological rock layer as the 2018 study by Parham and his students of another new genus and species of a tuskless walrus, Titanotaria orangensis, named after CSUF Titans. These fossils were found in the Oso Member of the Capistrano Formation, a geological formation near Lake Forest and Mission Viejo.

The third new walrus species, Pontolis barroni, was found in Aliso Viejo, near the 73 Toll Road. It is named after John Barron, a retired researcher from the U.S.Geological Survey and world expert on the rock layer where the specimens were found, Parham said.

Analysis of these specimens show that fossil walrus teeth are more variable and complex than previously considered. Most of the new specimens predate the evolution of tusks, Parham said.

“Osodobenus eodon is the most primitive walrus with tusk-like teeth,” Parham said. “This new species demonstrates the important role of feeding ecology on the origin and early evolution of tusks.”

Biewer explained that his work focused on getting a better understanding of the evolutionary history of the walrus in regards to its teeth.

“The importance of dental evolution is that it shows the variability within and across walrus species. Scientists assumed you could identify certain species just based on the teeth, but we show how even individuals of the same species could have variability in their dental setup,” said Biewer, who earned a master’s degree in geology in 2019.

“Additionally, everyone assumes that the tusks are the most important teeth in a walrus, but this research further emphasizes how tusks were a later addition to the history of walruses. The majority of walrus species were fish eaters and adapted to catching fish, rather than using suction feeding on mollusks like modern walruses.”

Biewer, now a paleontologist in the Modesto area, also examined whether climate changes in the Pacific Ocean had an impact on ancient walruses. His work suggests that a rise in water temperature helped to boost nutrients and planktonic life, and played a role in the proliferation of walruses about 10 million years ago, which may have contributed to their diversity.

Background

For the fossil walrus research project, geology graduate Jacob Biewer spent hours in the lab measuring and describing the walrus bones.

“I sat many hours with a handy caliper taking notes on the lengths of teeth and width of skulls, among many other measurements,” he said. “Describing bones is much more in-depth and meticulous than it sounds. There are traits that the bones of each walrus species have — the size, shape and number of teeth. I recorded how the bones are different from, or similar to, other extinct walrus species.”

Biewer, a paleontologist who lives in Modesto, noted that despite the pandemic, he and Parham worked on the scientific paper with 300 miles of social distancing.

Completing his first journal publication, based on his master’s work, and conducting the research project helped him to understand scientific methods and techniques that he now uses in his career, where he monitors construction sites for paleontological resources. He also teaches undergraduate geology courses at Cal State Stanislaus, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in geology, and is considering pursuing a doctorate.

“The experiences I had in conducting this research, especially the presentations at national paleontological conferences, led to a big increase in my confidence in my scientific abilities,” Biewer said. “I credit my time working with Dr. Parham directly to the achievements in my current employment — from the skills he imparted to the doors he helped open.”

Cougars and foxes in Chile, new research


This 2017 video from Ecuador is called Andean Fox (Culpeo)!

From Virginia Tech university in the USA:

What does the fox say to a puma?

Predators form an unusual coexistence in the central Chilean Andes

November 13, 2020

Summary: Researchers have found that in the Chilean Andes, two predator species — the puma and the culpeo fox — can successfully share a landscape and hunt for food over the same nighttime hours because they are, in essence, ordering from different menus.

In the high plains of the central Chilean Andes, an ecosystem consisting of only a few animal species is providing researchers with new insights into how predators coexist in the wild.

“The puma and the culpeo fox are the only top predators on the landscape in the Chilean Andes,” said Professor Marcella Kelly, of the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “And there isn’t a wide range of prey species, in part because the guanacos [closely related to llamas] aren’t typically found in these areas anymore due to over-hunting. With such a simplified ecosystem, we thought we could really nail down how two rival predators interact.”

Kelly worked with Christian Osorio, a doctoral student in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and researchers from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile to chart the locations of and potential interactions between pumas and foxes in central Chile. They focused on three axes of interaction: spatial (where the animals are on the landscape), temporal (the timing of specific activities on a given landscape), and dietary (what each species is eating).

To understand the interplay between pumas and foxes, researchers deployed 50 camera stations across two sites in central Chile, one in the Rio Los Cipreses National Reserve and another on private land where cattle and horses are raised. They also collected scat samples at both locations to analyze the diets of pumas and foxes.

The team’s findings, published in the journal Diversity, showed that while pumas and foxes overlapped significantly where they lived and what time they were active, there was little overlap in what they were eating, with the puma diet consisting primarily of a large hare species introduced from Europe, while the culpeo foxes favored smaller rabbits, rodents, and seeds. The two predator species can successfully share a landscape and hunt for food over the same nighttime hours because they are, in essence, ordering from different menus.

“It is likely that foxes have realized that when they try to hunt hares, they might run into trouble with pumas,” Osorio explained. “If they are hunting smaller mammals, the pumas don’t care, but if the foxes start targeting larger prey, the pumas will react.”

How predator species interact is a crucial question for ecologists trying to understand the dynamics that inform ecosystem balances. And while the puma has been designated a species of least concern, the animal’s populations are declining and continue to be monitored by conservationists.

“Least concern does not mean no concern,” Osorio noted. “We have laws in Chile that protect the species, but the data we have to make a conservation designation are very scattered. As we accumulate more consistent and reliable data, the puma may be reclassified as vulnerable or even endangered.”

The hares that comprise approximately 70 percent of the biomass in the puma’s diet are a nonnative species, introduced to the area by European settlers. With guanacos absent from the landscape, the puma has had to adapt its diet to survive.

With some land managers and conservationists campaigning for the removal of the introduced hare species as a way to restore the area’s native ecosystem, Kelly and Osorio note that it is important to understand that pumas would be significantly impacted by a reduction in their primary food source.

A further concern, which the two are currently researching, is the interplay between wildlife and humans. The national reserve increasingly sees visitors eager to witness big cats and foxes in their natural environment, while the sheep and cattle industries are increasingly using remote terrain for livestock cultivation.

“Pumas do occasionally kill livestock, which is a challenge we’re looking into right now,” said Kelly, an affiliate of Virginia Tech’s Fralin Life Sciences Institute. “The government would like to preserve the puma, but there are competing challenges of what kind of threat they pose to livestock and what kind of threat cattle or sheep farming poses to them.”

Understanding how two predatory species can come to coexist has the potential to provide conservationists and ecologists with better ideas for how humans and wild animals can share a landscape.

Permian-Triassic mass extinction and volcanoes, new research


This 2017 video is called Fireball Earth: The Permian Extinction – History Documentary.

From Tohoku University in Japan:

Large volcanic eruption caused the largest mass extinction

November 10, 2020

Researchers in Japan, the US and China say they have found more concrete evidence of the volcanic cause of the largest mass extinction of life. Their research looked at two discrete eruption events: one that was previously unknown to researchers, and the other that resulted in large swaths of terrestrial and marine life going extinct.

There have been five mass extinctions since the divergent evolution of early animals 450 — 600 million years ago. The third was the largest one and is thought to have been triggered by the eruption of the Siberian Traps — a large region of volcanic rock known as a large igneous province. But the correlation between the eruption and mass extinction has not yet been clarified.

Sedimentary mercury enrichments, proxies for massive volcanic events, have been detected in dozens of sedimentary rocks from the end of the Permian. These rocks have been found deposited inland, in shallow seas and central oceans, but uncertainty remains as to their interpretation. Mercury can be sourced from either direct atmospheric deposition from volcanic emissions and riverine inputs from terrestrial organic matter oxidation when land/plant devastation — referred to as terrestrial ecological disturbance — occurs.

The largest mass extinction occurred at the end of the Permian — roughly 252 million years ago. This mass extinction was marked by the transition from the divergence of the Paleozoic reptiles and marine animals like brachiopods and trilobites to Mesozoic dinosaurs and marine animals such as mollusks. Approximately 90% of species disappeared at the end of the Permian.

Current professor emeritus at Tohoku University, Kunio Kaiho led a team that looked into possible triggers of the largest mass extinction. They took sedimentary rock samples from two places — southern China and Italy — and analyzed the organic molecules and mercury (Hg) in them. They found two discrete coronene-Hg enrichments coinciding with the first terrestrial ecological disturbance and the following mass extinction in both areas.

“We believe this to be the product of large volcanic eruptions because the coronene anomaly was formed by abnormally high temperature combustion,” says professor Kaiho. “High temperature magma or asteroid/comet impacts can make such a coronene enrichment.

From the volcanic aspect, this could have occurred because of the higher temperature combustion of living and fossil organic matter from lava flows and horizontally intruded magma (sill) into the sedimentary coal and oil. The different magnitude of the two coronene-mercury enrichments shows that the terrestrial ecosystem was disrupted by smaller global environmental changes than the marine ecosystem. The duration between the two volcanic events is tens of thousands of years.”

Huge volcanic eruptions can produce sulfuric acid aerosols in the stratosphere and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which causes global climate changes. This rapid climate change is believed to be behind the loss of land and marine creatures.

Coronene is a highly condensed six-ring polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, which requires significantly higher energy to form as compared to smaller PAHs. Therefore, high temperature volcanic combustion can cause the coronene enrichments. This means that high temperature combustion of hydrocarbons in the sedimentary rocks by lateral intrusion of magmas formed CO2 and CH4 causing high pressure and eruption to induce global warming and the mass extinction. The coronene-mercury concentration firstly evidenced that volcanic hydrocarbon combustion helped contribute to the extinction through global warming.

Kaiho’s team is now studying other mass extinctions in the hopes of further understanding the cause and processes behind them.

Four gentoo penguin species, not one?


This 2019 video says about itself:

Gentoo Penguins Build Love Nests! | Penguin Post Office | BBC Earth

Why have a rock on your finger when you can have them in a nice neat pile? These Gentoo penguins have the right idea.

From the University of Bath in England:

Gentoo penguins are four species, not one, say scientists

November 3, 2020

Gentoo penguins should be reclassified as four separate species, say scientists at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, after analysing the genetic and physical differences between populations around the southern hemisphere.

The researchers say that counting them as four separate species will aid in their conservation because it will make it easier to monitor any decline in numbers.

Gentoo penguins, with the Latin name Pygoscelis papua, live in a range of latitudes in the southern hemisphere and are currently split into two subspecies, P. p. ellsworthi and P. p. papua.

The researchers suggest these two subspecies should be raised to species level and two new species created, which they have named P. poncetii after the Australian seabird conservationist Sally Poncet, and P. taeniata in recognition of a former proposal for this name dating to the 1920s.

Their study, published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, looked at the genomes of populations living in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean, the South Shetland Islands in the Antarctic and Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean.

They used genome data to create an evolutionary tree to understand the relationship between the different populations. When they combined these data with measurements of museum specimens from each of the populations, they found clear morphological (physical) and genetic differences between the four populations.

Dr Jane Younger, Prize Fellow from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, led the study. She said: “For the first time, we’ve shown that these penguins are not only genetically distinct, but that they are also physically different too.

“Gentoos tend to stick close to their home colonies, and over hundreds of thousands of years have become geographically isolated from each other to the point where they don’t interbreed with each other, even though they could easily swim the distance that separates them.

“The four species we propose live in quite different latitudes — for example P. ellsworthi lives on the Antarctic continent whereas P. poncetii, P. taeniata and P. papua live further north where conditions are milder, and so it’s not that surprising that they have evolved to adapt to their different habitats.”

PhD student Josh Tyler said: “They look very similar to the untrained eye, but when we measured their skeletons we found statistical differences in the lengths of their bones and the sizes and shape of their beaks.

“It’s a similar story to giraffes, which were revealed in 2016 to be four genetically distinct species.”

The scientists say that regarding the four populations as separate species, gives conservationists a better chance of protecting their diversity because if there’s a decline in one of them it will change the threat status as defined by the IUCN Red List.

Dr Younger said: “Currently gentoo penguins are fairly stable in numbers, however, there is some evidence of the northern populations moving further south as the climate gets warmer, so we need to watch them closely.”

The proposed changes to the classification of gentoos will be reviewed by an international committee of scientists which will assess all the evidence in the scientific literature before the new taxonomy is accepted.

The study was funded by the American Ornithological Society, Linnean Society, American Museum of Natural History and the Evolution Education Trust. The research team was a collaboration led by the University of Bath (UK) with scientists from Loyola University Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Minnesota (USA).

Dinosaur age mammals’ social life, new research


An artistic reconstruction of a social group of Filikomys primaevus in a burrow while dinosaurs roam above. Image credit: Misaki Ouchida

From the University of Washington in the USA:

New study finds earliest evidence for mammal social behavior

November 2, 2020

A new study led by paleontologists at the University of Washington and its Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture indicates that the earliest evidence of mammal social behavior goes back to the Age of Dinosaurs.

The evidence, published Nov. 2 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, lies in the fossil record of a new genus of multituberculate — a small, rodent-like mammal that lived during the Late Cretaceous of the dinosaur era — called Filikomys primaevus, which translates to “youthful, friendly mouse.” The fossils are the most complete mammal fossils ever found from the Mesozoic in North America. They indicate that F. primaevus engaged in multi-generational, group-nesting and burrowing behavior, and possibly lived in colonies. Study co-authors — including lead author Luke Weaver, a UW graduate student in biology, and senior author Gregory Wilson Mantilla, a UW professor of biology and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Burke Museum — analyzed several fossils, all about 75.5 million years old, and extracted from a well-known dinosaur nesting site called Egg Mountain in western Montana.

Fossil skulls and skeletons of at least 22 individuals of F. primaevus were discovered at Egg Mountain, typically clustered together in groups of two to five, with at least 13 individuals found within a 30 square-meter area in the same rock layer. Based on how well preserved the fossils are, the type of rock they’re preserved in, and F. primaevus’ powerful shoulders and elbows — which are similar to today’s living burrowing animals — Weaver, Wilson Mantilla and co-authors hypothesize these animals lived in burrows and were nesting together. Furthermore, the animals found were a mixture of multiple mature adults and young adults, suggesting these were truly social groups as opposed to just parents raising their young.

“It was crazy finishing up this paper right as the stay-at-home orders were going into effect — here we all are trying our best to socially distance and isolate, and I’m writing about how mammals were socially interacting way back when dinosaurs were still roaming the Earth!” said Weaver. “It is really powerful, I think, to see just how deeply rooted social interactions are in mammals. Because humans are such social animals, we tend to think that sociality is somehow unique to us, or at least to our close evolutionary relatives, but now we can see that social behavior goes way further back in the mammalian family tree. Multituberculates are one of the most ancient mammal groups, and they’ve been extinct for 35 million years, yet in the Late Cretaceous they were apparently interacting in groups similar to what you would see in modern-day ground squirrels.”

Previously, scientists thought social behavior in mammals first emerged after the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs, and mostly in the Placentalia — the group of mammals humans belong to, which all carry the fetus in the mother’s uterus until a late stage of development. But these fossils show mammals were socializing during the Age of Dinosaurs, and in an entirely different and more ancient group of mammals — the multituberculates.

“These fossils are game-changers,” said Wilson Mantilla. “As paleontologists working to reconstruct the biology of mammals from this time period, we’re usually stuck staring at individual teeth and maybe a jaw that rolled down a river, but here we have multiple, near-complete skulls and skeletons preserved in the exact place where the animals lived. We can now credibly look at how mammals really interacted with dinosaurs and other animals that lived at this time.”

New gall wasp species discovery


Allorhogas gallifolia is a new species of wasp discovered in live oak trees. First collected in 2014 by students in the lab of Rice evolutionary biologist Scott Egan, A. gallifolia is one of four new wasp species described in the study. (Credit: Ernesto Samacá-Sáenz/UNAM)

From Rice University in the USA:

Discovery adds new species a lab’s ghoulish insect menagerie

October 26, 2020

A horrifying insect soap opera with vampires, mummies and infant-eating parasites is playing out on the stems and leaves of live oak trees every day, and evolutionary biologist Scott Egan found the latest character — a new wasp species that may be a parasite of a parasite — within walking distance of his Rice University lab.

Egan, an associate professor of biosciences at Rice, studies gall wasps, tiny insects that cast a biochemical spell on live oaks. When gall wasps lay their eggs on oak leaves or stems, they chemically program the tree to unwittingly produce a tumor-like growth, or gall, which first shelters the egg and then feeds the larval wasp that hatches from it.

Egan describes the wasps as “ecosystem engineers,” because their galls are attractive morsels that harbor a supporting cast of opportunistic ne’er-do-wells, thieves and killers. It’s a great setting to study how competition for resources drives evolution, and Egan and his students have spent more than a decade documenting the eerie, interspecies who’s-eating-who drama.

The latest species they discovered at Rice, Allorhogas gallifolia (al-UHROH’-guhs GAHL’-ihf-ohl-eeuh), is one of four new wasp species from the genus Allorhogas that Egan and collaborators Ernesto Samaca-Saenz and Alejandro Zaldivar-Riveron at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City described in a study this month in Insect Systematics and Diversity.

“They lay their egg in another wasp’s gall,” Egan said of A. gallifolia, which his group first hatched in 2014. “They’re using the gall as a resource, and we’re still not certain how, but I think they’re attacking herbivorous caterpillars that are feeding on the gall tissue, and the wasp larva are eating those caterpillars after they hatch.”

He said more than 50 species of Allorhogas have been found in Central America and Mexico, but only two species were previously documented in the United States, one at the University of Maryland campus in 1912 and another some years later in Arizona.

The A. gallifolia found at Rice was collected as part of an effort to describe the community of natural enemies for one species of gall wasp, Belonocnema treatae (behl-uh-NAHK’-nee-muh TREE’-tee). In that study and others like it that Egan’s lab has published for other gall species, thousands of galls are collected across the southeastern United States, and everything that emerges from the galls is studied and cataloged. Egan describes the operation, which runs almost 365 days per year, as a “factory of discovery,” and A. gallifolia was one of many mysterious specimens it has produced.

“It did not match any of the previously described species, so we documented that in our 2016 paper and raised the hypothesis that this might be a new species,” Egan said. “A year or two went by and lead author Ernesto Samaca-Saenz contacted us and offered to collaborate on determining if this lineage was, in fact, a new species.”

Samaca-Saenz is a graduate student in the UNAM lab of Zaldivar-Riveron, an expert in Allorhogas and similar predatory wasps, which can be used by farmers as biological controls for crop pests. By the time Samaca-Saenz reached out about the 2016 paper, Egan’s lab had collected a number of other undescribed specimens that they also suspected were new species of Allorhogas. The email kicked off a close collaboration that has taken Rice researchers on a number of trips to Mexico to conduct field work and science outreach in remote village schools.

While the jury is still out on exactly how A. gallifolia interacts with other species on the galls of B. treatae, Egan said he, Samaca-Saenz and Zaldivar-Riveron have discussed a number of hypotheses.

“They think it could be phytophagous, meaning it’s actually just eating plant material, or that it could be a gallmaker itself,” Egan said. “But I’m convinced that these guys are predators of caterpillars that live inside the Belonocnema galls and eat the gall plant material. I think the larval wasp eats the caterpillar and then emerges out of the side of the gall.”

Egan said it will take more research to determine whether that hypothesis is true. If it is, it would be “a whole new way of life that would be unknown to this entire genus.” But it would not be the first — or the creepiest — interaction between species that Egan and his colleagues have found.

Take 2018’s discovery, for example, that the parasitic vine Cassytha filiformis (kuh-SIHTH’-uh FIHL’-ih-form-ihs), commonly known as the love vine, targets B. treatae galls and sucks so many nutrients out of them that it mummifies the larval wasps inside. That marked the first observation of a parasitic plant attacking a gall-forming wasp, but it could not match the ghoulish weirdness of the crypt-keeper wasp they discovered in 2017.

Euderus set (yoo-DEHR’-uhs SEHT’) is so diabolical that it was named for Set, the Egyptian god who trapped, murdered and dismembered his brother in a crypt. E. set — which Egan discovered on a family vacation in Florida and later found on a tree in his front yard — lays its egg inside the gall of the Bassettia pallida (buh-SEHT’-eeuh PAL’-ih-duh) wasp. Both eggs hatch and the larvae live side by side, maturing inside the gall. When the pair are large enough to emerge as adults, E. set manipulates its step-sibling into trying to escape before its emergence hole is finished. When B. pallida’s head gets stuck in the undersized hole, E. set begins eating. Starting from the tail, it devours a tunnel through its roommate, emerging through the head to take its place in the world outside.

There are more than 1,400 known species of gall-forming wasps, and Egan said he believes there are many more species waiting to be discovered in their plant/bug-eat-bug-eat-plant corner of the world.

“We’ve focused on the gall former Belonocnema a lot, and that’s where we initially found this first Allorhogas,” he said. “When we reared out that entire community and tried to key out each of the members, A. gallifolia was one of those things where we could not narrow it down to a species. Nothing fit the description.

“Twenty-five percent of all the things we reared out of Belonocnema fit that same type of uncertainty,” Egan said. “We can’t find anything that’s ever been described like them before. Some of those, including one I have on my desk right now, are also mostly likely new species. Considering there are 90 oak species in the United States, and I have studied only three of them, this is the tip of the biodiversity iceberg.”

The research was supported by the UNAM Directorate General for Academic Personnel Affairs (IN201119) and the UNAM General Directorate of Computing and Information and Communication Technologies (LANCADUNAM-DGTIC-339).