Dinosaurs extinct, buckthorn flowers survived

Two fossilized flowers next to each were discovered in shales of the Salamanca Formation in Chubut Province, Patagonia, Argentina. Credit: Nathan Jud, Cornell University

From Cornell University in the USA:

Oldest buckthorn fossilized flowers found in Argentina

May 11, 2017

Summary: Around 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, a giant asteroid crashed into the present-day Gulf of Mexico, leading to the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. How plants were affected is less understood, but fossil records show that ferns were the first plants to recover many thousands of years afterward. Now, a team reports the discovery of the first fossilized flowers from South America, and perhaps the entire Southern Hemisphere, following the extinction event.

Around 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, a giant asteroid crashed into the present-day Gulf of Mexico, leading to the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. How plants were affected is less understood, but fossil records show that ferns were the first plants to recover many thousands of years afterward.

Now, a team including Cornell researchers reports the discovery of the first fossilized flowers from South America, and perhaps the entire Southern Hemisphere, following the extinction event. The fossils date back to the early Paleocene epoch, less than one million years after the asteroid struck. They were discovered in shales of the Salamanca Formation in Chubut Province, Patagonia, Argentina.

The researchers identified the fossilized flowers as belonging to the buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae). Today, the family is found worldwide.

The study was published May 10 in the online journal PLOS One. “The fossilized flowers provide a new window into the earliest Paleocene communities in South America, and they are giving us the opportunity to compare the response to the extinction event on different continents,” said Nathan Jud, the paper’s first author and a postdoctoral researcher in Maria Gandolfo’s lab, a senior research associate at the L.H. Bailey Hortorium and a co-author of the paper.

The finding also helps resolve an ongoing debate in the field of paleobotany on the origin of the Rhamnaceae plant family. Scientists have argued about whether early buckthorns originated in an ancient supercontinent called Gondwana, which later split and includes most of the Southern Hemisphere landmasses today; or whether the family originated in another supercontinent called Laurasia that accounts for most of today’s Northern Hemisphere landmasses.

“This, and a handful of other recently-discovered fossils from the Southern Hemisphere, supports a Gondwanan origin for Rhamnaceae in spite of the relative scarcity of fossils in the Southern Hemisphere relative to the Northern Hemisphere,” Jud said.

Fossils found in Colombia and Southern Mexico offer evidence that plants from the Rhamnaceae family first appeared in the Late Cretaceous epoch shortly before the extinction event, Jud said.

Though there was likely some extinction when the asteroid struck, especially near the crater where everything was destroyed by impact-generated wildfires, he added.

One scenario is that Rhamnaceae first appeared in the tropics of Gondwana, but survived the extinction in Patagonia, and then spread from there after the extinction event as plants re-colonized the most affected areas, Jud said.

The Salamanca Formation is among the most precisely-dated sites from that era in the world. The age of the fossils was corroborated by radiometric dating (using radioactive isotopes), the global paleomagnetic sequence (signatures of reversals of Earth’s magnetic field found in the samples), and fossil correlations (age of other fossils).

“These are the only flowers of Danian age [an age that accounts for about 5 million years following the extinction event] for which we have good age control,” said Jud. Researchers have discovered other fossilized flowers in India and China from around the Danian age, but their dates are not as precise, he said.

To determine that the fossilized flowers from Argentina belonged to the Rhamnaceae family, the authors noticed that the organization of the petals and stamens in the fossil is found in Rhamnaceae and a few other families. They found examples of 10 of the 11 living Rhamnaceae tribes in the L.H. Bailey Hortorium Herbarium at Cornell University, which then were compared with morphological features in the fossil flowers to identify them.

Nun, priests arrested for abusing deaf children

This video says about itself:

6 February 2017

Two priests in Argentina are being held by police, accused of raping and molesting children with hearing disabilities.

The attacks allegedly took place at the Antonio Provolo Institute in Mendoza province.

At least 24 victims have so far come forward seeking justice.

Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo reports from Mendoza.

From Associated Press:

Argentina: Nun arrested for allegedly abusing deaf children

By Almudena Calatrava

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — May 5, 2017, 7:00 PM ET

A Roman Catholic nun from Japan has been arrested and charged on suspicion of helping priests sexually abuse children at a school for youths with hearing disabilities in Argentina, authorities said.

Kosaka Kumiko was also charged with physically abusing the students at the Antonio Provolo Institute for children with hearing impairment in northwestern Mendoza province.

Local media showed the 42-year-old nun in handcuffs and wearing her habit and a bullet-proof vest as she was escorted by police to a court hearing. Kumiko, who was born in Japan but has Argentine citizenship, denied any wrongdoing during the eight-hour hearing late Thursday.

Authorities say that Kumiko lived at the Provolo Institute from 2004-2012. She had been on the run for about a month before she turned herself in this week.

The case against the nun was launched after a former student accused of making her wear a diaper to cover up a hemorrhage after she was allegedly raped by priest Horacio Corbacho.

Corbacho, fellow priest Nicola Corradi and three other men were arrested last year after they were charged with sexually abusing at least two dozen students at the Provolo Institute. They are being held at a jail in Mendoza and have not spoken publicly since the arrest. If found guilty, the accused face 10 to 50 years in prison.

Corradi had earlier been accused in Italy of abusing students at the Provolo Institute in Verona, a notorious school for the deaf where hundreds of children are believed to have been sexually assaulted over the years by two dozen priests and religious brothers.

Advocates for [sic; against] clerical sex abuse have expressed anger that Corradi wasn’t sanctioned by the Vatican and allegedly went on to abuse children in Pope Francis‘ native Argentina.

Victims and prosecutors say the anal and vaginal rapes, fondling and oral sex allegedly committed by the priests took place in the bathrooms, dorms, garden and a basement at the school in Lujan de Cuyo, a city about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) northwest of Buenos Aires.

A Vatican investigative commission recently visited Mendoza to learn more about the case against the priests.

Birds of Argentina, new app

This 27 April 2017 video, in Spanish, is about the new app on birds in Argentina.

From BirdLife:

9 May 2017

Discover the birds of Argentina with this new free app

Planning a trip to Argentina but don’t know their birds yet? Aves Argentinas has got your back. Their new free mobile app has just been launched and will make it easier than ever to identify birds through a variety of filters.

It’s another sunny day in Costanera Sur, the best know nature reserve in Buenos Aires. For the third time today, the same unidentified bird is perching in a tree in front of you. About time you found out what you’re looking at. You tap on your “Aves Argentinas” app and put on the filters: brown colour, medium size, found in parks. There it is: a Checkered Woodpecker, Veniliornis mixtus.

As of last week, when travelling around Argentina, you don’t need to worry about taking your weighty bird guide with you. Two taps away, birders living in the country will be able to easily identify 365 of the most common and emblematic birds.

The app “Aves Argentinas” is available for Android and iOS users and contains more than 1500 photos, songs, information and maps of the 365 most common and emblematic bird species of the country. Once downloaded you don’t even need an internet connection, since the guide has been developed so that travellers can take it to remote places.

Through different search filters like province, size, colour, season of the year and habitat type, among many others, one can find and identify the species that are seen in gardens, balconies, parks or urban reserves.

Download the app for free (in Spanish): Android or iOS.

For each species there are photos, songs, a distribution map and a complete listing with the description, the most common names, scientific name and name in English, habitat, food, behaviour and their migrations – an invaluable educational tool so that the youngest can get to know and value their natural heritage and a comprehensive guide for those who want to dive into the fascinating world of birdwatching.

In the app section “The World of Birds” you will find an introduction about the life and behaviours of our feathered friends, information about their classification, the problems that affect them, the plans to protect them and recommendations on how and where to observe them.

This application is a collaborative tool made by dozens of photographers, authors and sound artists from Aves Argentinas (BirdLife in Argentina), the oldest environmental organization in Latin America. With 100 years of experience and more than 3000 supporters, the organization works to save wild birds and the nature of this richly biodiverse country while seeking to inspire people to feel passionate about birds.

The app was developed by Aves Argentinas to celebrate their centenary, with the support of the Ministry of Tourism of the Nation and the National Park Administration.

Frogs’ fluorescence, why?

This video says about itself:

17 March 2017

A group of Argentine and Brazilian researchers has discovered the first case of natural fluorescence in amphibians, in a species of tree frog that is frequently found in South America.

From Science News:

First fluorescent frogs might see each others’ glow

Natural Day-Glo may play a role in amphibian’s fights and flirtations

By Susan Milius

10:00am, April 3, 2017

Could fluorescence matter to a frog? Carlos Taboada wondered. They don’t have bedroom black lights, but their glow may still be about the night moves.

Taboada’s question is new to herpetology. No one had shown fluorescence in amphibians, or in any land vertebrate except parrots, until he and colleagues recently tested South American polka dot tree frogs. Under white light, male and female Hypsiboas punctatus frogs have translucent skin speckled with dark dots. But when the researchers spotlighted the frogs with an ultraviolet flashlight, the animals glowed blue-green. The intensity of the glow was “shocking,” says Taboada of the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” in Buenos Aires.

And it is true fluorescence. Compounds in the frogs’ skin and lymph absorb the energy of shorter UV wavelengths and release it in longer wavelengths, the researchers report online March 13 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But why bother, without a black bulb? Based on what he knows about a related tree frog’s vision, Taboada suggests that faint nocturnal light is enough to make the frogs more visible to their own kind. When twilight or moonlight reflects from their skin, the fluorescence accounts for 18 to 30 percent of light emanating from the frog, the researchers calculate.

Polka dot frogs, common in the Amazon Basin, have plenty to see in the tangled greenery where they breed. Males stake out multilevel territories in vast floating tangles of water hyacinths and other aquatic plants. When a territory holder spots a poaching male, frog grappling and wrestling ensues. Taboada can identify a distinctive short treble bleat “like the cry of a baby,” he says, indicating a frog fight.

Males discovering a female give a different call, which Taboada could not be coaxed to imitate over Skype. The polka dot frogs’ courtship is “complex and beautiful,” he says. For instance, a male has two kinds of secretion glands on the head and throat. During an embrace, he nudges and presses his alluring throat close to a female’s nose. If she breaks off the encounter, he goes back to clambering in rough figure eights among his hyacinths, patrolling for perhaps the blue-green ghost of another chance.

New national parks in Argentina

This 2014 video, in Spanish, is called Mar Chiquita, Miramar Córdoba.

From BirdLife:

14 March 2017

Argentina will have two new National Parks

At the stroke of a pen, the largest saltwater lake of South America, Mar Chiquita, and the nearby Estancia Pinas are now set to become National Parks.

Clouds of up to half a million phalaropes cover the sky, almost blocking the sun. The horizon then turns pink with over 100,000 Chilean flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis living and nesting there. The gold of the grasslands, protecting the enigmatic maned wolf Chrysocyon brachyurus, is so bright it makes your eyes squint. The water covers everything as far as the eye can see, but the sounds and colours of the birds stand in a festival for the senses capable of moving any human being: Mar Chiquita is a true “sea of ​​nature”.

This is the daily life at Mar Chiquita and the Dulce River, the largest salt lake in South America, a Wetland of International Importance according to the Ramsar convention and one of the five Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in danger of Argentina.

A few years ago Aves Argentinas (BirdLife in Argentina) set out to work to achieve the effective conservation of many of its IBAs, especially those categorized as “in danger”. This was the case 3 years ago with Buenos Aires Lake, fundamental for the future of the Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi, which today is largely covered by Patagonia National Park.

The time has now come for Mar Chiquita. Although currently listed as a Multiple Use Reserve it has several problems of forest clearing, unplanned use of water resources and tourism, and illegal hunting that affect it negatively. This is why Aves Argentinas, with the objective of turning it into a National Park, began work in the area, identifying fiscal areas that could be joined to the protected area and getting donors for eventual land purchases. Local actors, researchers, environmental educators, the Bird Watchers Club and villagers were all involved in the process. Little by little, the idea of a National Park took shape and strength.

The provincial and national governments then became enthusiastic about the project. The National Park Administration gave its approval and on Monday March 6 all parties signed an agreement to begin work on the creation of the new National Park – which could exceed 700,000 hectares and so will become the largest National Park in Argentina.

It will become one of the most important national protected areas as it includes some of the most densely populated sites for birds in the country. It will undoubtedly become a favourite for birdwatching tourism in particular – which today attracts more than 40,000 foreigners each year to Argentina.

In a region that has been left behind, the new National Park is also a possibility for economic development. Within the framework of this agreement, Aves Argentinas integrates an advisory committee together with the local organization Yaku Sumaq and representatives of the Austral University.

Undoubtedly it might bring as well an auspicious future for migratory birds: shorebirds such as the Wilson’s Phalarope Phalaropus tricolor, Red Knot Calidris canutus, Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica or the American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica congregate there in large numbers.

In the northern grasslands there are rare and little-known species such as Dot-winged Crake Porzana spiloptera, Sickle-winged Nightjar Eleothreptus anomalus or Bay-capped Wren-spinetail Spartonoica maluroides.

In the few pieces of the Chaco plains that remain on the southern and eastern edges of the lagoon – the areas most affected by the advance of agriculture – there are still birds threatened by wildlife traffic such as the Ultramarine Grosbeak Cyanoloxia brissonii and even some of the rarer Yellow Cardinal Gubernatrix cristata.

In addition to the big news, the agreement signed between the national government and the province brought another round of good news as it also establishes the joint work for the creation of another new National Park in Estancia Pinas, a 100,000 hectare site of dry chaco plains in the west of the Córdoba province (central Argentina).

In this site we can find populations of Chaco Eagle Buteogallus coronatus, among many other bird species, and the last populations of guanacos Lama guanicoe of the province. Furthermore, populations of the recently discovered Chacoan peccary Catagonus wagneri, an endangered species that was believed extinct until decades ago.

As Aves Argentinas celebrates its centenary, the BirdLife community rejoices the good news – the result of years of hard work. Without a doubt, great news for people, birds and nature.

Conserving the natural grasslands of South America. As agriculture, forestry, roads and urbanization brought economic development to the vast grasslands of South America, the area of this important ecosystem was reduced by half. Luckily, ranchers and conservationists are joining forces to save these vital lands: here.