Australian dingoes differ from dogs


This 2013 video says about itself:

Australia’s wild dog, the dingo, is surrounded by mystery and controversy.

To some people it’s a vicious outlaw, deserving a price on its head. To others it’s creature symbolising wilderness. What is the dingo? Dog or wolf? Native or exotic animal? The documentary Wild Dog Dingo takes a factual look at this remarkable animal and its natural behaviour. Three years in the making, it is the most comprehensive film ever produced on the dingo.

From Flinders University in Australia:

Australian dingo is a unique Australian species in its own right

March 5, 2019

Since the arrival of British settlers over 230 years ago, most Australians have assumed dingoes are a breed of wild dog. But 20 leading researchers have confirmed in a new study that the dingo is actually a unique, Australian species in its own right.

Following previous analyses of dingo skull and skin specimens to come to the same conclusion, these latest findings provide further evidence of specific characteristics that differentiate dingoes from domestic dogs, feral dogs, and other wild canids such as wolves.

The finding that a dingo is a dingo, and not a dog, offers an opposing view compared to a another recent study that the Government of Western Australia used to justify its attempt to declare the dingo as ‘non-fauna’, which would have given more freedom to landowners to kill them anywhere without a license.

Co-author Professor Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in South Australia says the classification of dingoes has serious consequences for the fragile ecosystems they inhabit, and state governments are required to develop and implement management strategies for species considered native fauna.

“In fact, dingoes play a vital ecological role in Australia by outcompeting and displacing noxious introduced predators like feral cats and foxes. When dingoes are left alone, there are fewer feral predators eating native marsupials, birds and lizards.”

“Dingoes can also increase profits for cattle graziers, because they target and eat kangaroos that otherwise compete with cattle for grass in semi-arid pasture lands”, says Professor Bradshaw.

Lead author, Dr Bradley Smith from Central Queensland University, says the scientific status of the dingo has remained contentious, resulting in inconsistency in government policy.

“The dingo has been geographically isolated from all other canids, and genetic mixing driven mainly by human interventions has only been occurring recently,” Dr Smith says.

“Further evidence in support of dingoes being considered a ‘wild type’ capable of surviving in the absence of human intervention and under natural selection is demonstrated by the consistent return of dog-dingo hybrids to a dingo-like canid throughout the Australian mainland and on several islands.”

“We have presented scientifically valid arguments to support the ongoing recognition of the dingo as a distinct species (Canis dingo), as was originally proposed by Meyer in 1793.”

Dr Smith says little evidence exists to support the notion that any canid species are interchangeable with dingoes, despite the fact that most canids can successfully interbreed.

“There is no historical evidence of domestication once the dingo arrived in Australia, and the degree of domestication prior to arrival is uncertain and likely to be low, certainly compared to modern domestic dogs.”

“We show that dingoes have survived in Australia for thousands of years, subject to the rigours of natural selection, thriving in all terrestrial habitats, and largely in the absence of human intervention or aid.

“The dingo is without doubt a native Australian species,” concludes Professor Bradshaw.

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How sea snakes avoid predators


This 2015 video says about itself:

Many people don’t realize that there are snakes that live in the ocean. And believe it or not, they’re actually considerably more venomous than land snakes! Jonathan travels to Australia and the Philippines to find these marine reptiles, and learns why they are almost completely harmless to divers.

From the University of Adelaide in Australia:

‘Seeing’ tails help sea snakes avoid predators

February 15, 2019

New research has revealed the fascinating adaptation of some Australian sea snakes that helps protect their vulnerable paddle-shaped tails from predators.

An international study led by the University of Adelaide shows that several species of Australian sea snakes can sense light on their tail skin, prompting them to withdraw their tails under shelter. The study has also produced new insights into the evolution and genetics of this rare light sense.

The researchers found that olive sea snakes (Aipysurus laevis) and other Aipysurus species move their tail away from light. They believe this is an adaptation to keep the tail hidden from sharks and other predators.

“Sea snakes live their entire lives at sea, swimming with paddle-shaped tails and resting at times during the day under coral or rocky overhangs,” says study lead author Jenna Crowe-Riddell, PhD candidate in the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences. “Because sea snakes have long bodies, the tail-paddle is a large distance from the head, so benefits from having a light-sense ability of its own.

“The olive sea snake was the only reptile, out of more than 10,000 reptile species, that was known to respond to light on the skin in this way.”

The researchers tested for light-sensitive tails in eight species of sea snakes, but found that only three species had the light-sense ability. They concluded the unique ability probably evolved in the ancestor of just six closely related Australian species.

“There are more than 60 species of sea snake so that’s less than 10% of all sea snakes,” says Ms Crowe-Riddell. “We don’t know why this rare sense has evolved in just a few Aipysurus species.”

The researchers used RNA sequencing to see what genes are active in the skin of sea snakes. They discovered a gene for a light-sensitive protein called melanopsin, and several genes that are involved in converting light into information in the nervous system.

“Melanopsin is used in a range of genetic pathways that are linked to sensing overall light levels around us. It is even used by some animals, including humans, for regulating sleep cycles and in frogs to change their skin colour as a camouflage,” says Ms Crowe-Riddell.

Lead scientist Dr Kate Sanders, ARC Future Fellow at the University of Adelaide, says: “We’ve confirmed the ability of olive sea snakes to sense light in their tails and found the same ability in two other species. We’ve identified a shortlist of genes that are likely to be involved in detecting light. But further study will be needed to target these genes before we can really understand the genetic pathways involved in this fascinating behaviour.”

Australia’s right-wing anti-refugee government’s defeat


This 11 February 2019 video says about itself:

Government on verge of historic defeat | Nine News Australia

The Morrison Government appears set for a historic defeat on a bill which would release asylum seekers from off-shore detention on medical advice. The Prime Minister says Labor’s support of the bill proves it is a threat to border security.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Historical defeat of Australian government on asylum legislation

The Australian government has suffered a historic defeat in the House of Commons. For the first time in 78 years, the opposition has defeated the government in an important vote.

The House of Commons voted on a law that provides asylum seekers in detention camps on two islands in the Pacific with improved access to medical assistance. The law would make it easier for them to be transferred to the Australian mainland for treatment.

The minority [right-wing] government of Prime Minister Morrison, which pursues a harsh anti-immigration policy, is fiercely opposed to the amendment of the law. …

Since 2013, Australia refuses to accept migrants who come to the country with boats. The refugees are sent to detention centers on the islands of Nauru and Manus in the Pacific Ocean. The Australian government says it wants to discourage the practices of human smugglers in Asia.

However, in practice the Australian government works hand in glove with human smugglers in attacking refugees, paying the people smugglers with Australian taxpayers’ money.

There have been protests against the detention camps for years, because the conditions are very bad. Doctors say that the medical facilities are not sufficient and the United Nations has called the situation in the camps inhuman.

Final decision

The new law would make it easier for migrants who are stuck in the camps to get medical help on the Australian mainland. In the old situation, the Minister of Home Affairs determined who was eligible; [in the new law] a medical committee would make the final decision.

In recent years, some 500 people have been transferred to Australia for medical reasons.

Senate

The Senate will vote on the amendment later this week. It is expected that a majority of parliamentarians there will also support the adjustment.

Prime Minister Morrison has already said that he does not intend to resign if the law would be finally passed. Elections were already planned for this spring.

The federal Liberal-National Coalition government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison suffered a blow on Tuesday, when it lost a vote on legislation amending the Migration Act in the House of Representatives. The Senate passed the laws the following day: here.

Last weekend, less than three months before a general election must be held, two more cabinet ministers announced their departures from Australia’s Liberal-National Coalition government. That took to six the number of top-level ministers or ex-ministers who have made similar declarations in the past month that they will not contest the looming election. The corporate media depicted the resignations as simply “more rats deserting a sinking ship,” pointing to media polls predicting the government’s defeat. More fundamentally, however, the desertions point to an intensifying breakup of the Liberal and National parties and a deep crisis of the entire Australian political establishment: here.

The in-fighting tearing apart the city-based Liberal Party within Australia’s governing Liberal-National Coalition visibly spread to the regional-based National Party this week: here.

Tortured Bahraini footballer returns to Australia


This 11 February 2019 video says about itself:

Hakeem al-Araibi returns to Australia after two months in Thai prison | ABC News

Australian footballer and refugee Hakeem al-Araibi has arrived home in Melbourne after being freed from the Thai prison where he was held awaiting an extradition hearing.

Read more here.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

After a few scary months in Thailand, Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi is back home in Australia. Hundreds of fans and friends were waiting for him at Melbourne Airport.

The 25-year-old Araibi was arrested in November during his honeymoon because he was wanted via Interpol. Bahrain had an international arrest order outstanding to Araibi.

Araibi used to play in the national team of Bahrain. He fled the country in 2014 after being indicted in connection with protests against the government during the Arab Spring in 2011. In Australia he plays for Pascoe Vale in the second division.

At the airport, the footballer showed that he was happy to be back. “Australia is my country,” Araibi said. “I do not have the nationality yet, but this is my country, I love Australia.” …

The FIFA world football association and various football professionals had expressed criticism of the arrest.

Hakeem Al-Araibi, a football player and refugee with permanent residency in Australia, was freed by authorities in Thailand yesterday after they dropped court proceedings to extradite him to Bahrain, where he faced politically-motivated charges. Al-Araibi flew to his home in Melbourne, Australia overnight. The release of Al-Araibi is undoubtedly a welcome development. Had the 25-year-old been extradited to his native Bahrain, Al-Araibi would have faced abuse, imprisonment and possibly worse at the hands of the despotic US-backed Middle Eastern regime: here.

Imprisoned Kurdish-Iranian refugee wins Australian literary prize


This 31 January 2019 video says about itself:

‘A victory for humanity’: Behrouz Boochani’s literary prize speech in full

Behrouz Boochani wins Australia’s richest literary prize

Asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani has accepted the $125,000 Victorian premier’s literary prize via video link from Manus Island where he has been held for six years.

‘I would like to say that this award is a victory. It is a victory not only for us but for literature and art and above all it is victory for humanity’, the writer said. ‘It is a victory against the system that has reduced us to numbers. This is a beautiful moment. Let us all rejoice tonight in the power of literature’.

Translated from Knack magazine in Belgium, 1 February 2019:

Iranian-Kurdish asylum seeker on Manus island wins major Australian literature prize

The Iranian-Kurdish writer and journalist Behrouz Boochani, an asylum seeker who has been imprisoned for years on the Papuan New Guinean Manus island by Australia, has won one of the most important literary awards Down Under. Boochani wrote the book via text messages.

On Thursday in Melbourne, Boochani won the Victorian Prize for Literature, the literary prize of the state of Victoria, with its 100,000 Australian dollars (approximately € 63,500) the highest-rated literature prize in the country. But Boochani could not accept the prize himself. He can not leave Manus island, where he lives since 2013.

The asylum seeker received the prize for his book ‘No friend but the mountains: writing from Manus prison’.

‘No friend but the mountains’ is a Kurdish proverb about governments oppressing Kurds.

His debut also received the prize for best non-fiction book, worth 25,000 dollars (about 16,000 euros). Boochani wrote the book according to his publisher with text messages that he sent from Manus to helpers in Australia.

Australia since 2012 has imprisoned on Manus asylum seekers who tried to reach Australia with boats. Doctors and refugee workers have already sued the government because of the precarious situation there several times. Australia also gets a lot of criticism internationally.

In the absence of Boochani, his translator Omid Tofighian received the prize. Boochani himself spoke in an interview with the newspaper The Age of ‘paradoxical feelings’. “I don’t want to celebrate this achievement while I still see many innocent people suffering around me.”, he said. “I demand freedom, give us freedom. We have committed no crime, we are only seeking asylum.” He accused Australia of a “barbaric policy.”

Boochani lived for years with hundreds of other refugees and migrants behind a steel fence in an asylum center on Manus. After the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court decided their detention was illegal, they were transferred to another, open center on the small island in the Pacific.

According to his publisher Boochani has a degree in political science, which he obtained in Tehran. He calls himself journalist, writer and filmmaker.

Why, Australian right-wing government, do you imprison Mr Boochani? Did he murder? Did he abuse children? Did he steal one Australian dollar? Did he steal one Australian dollar cent? No, no, no and no!

Australian lungfish, new research


This a 2010 Australian lungfish video.

From the Australian National University:

Riddle of a unique fish solved

January 31, 2019

A great mystery around a unique fish species has been solved by researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Scientists knew Lungfish shared some traits with humans — such as the ability to breathe air through lungs — but a new study proves they also have a similar life span, potentially up to 80 years.

Dr Stewart Fallon from the Research School of Earth Sciences said Lungfish have been on the threatened species list in Australia for decades, but this new research could help change that.

“One of the main issues is no one knew their longevity,” Dr Fallon said.

“A lot of fish have what’s called an Otolith — basically a solid stone in their inner ear. As the fish grows, the stone grows as well and there’s usually little annual marker bands on there, so we can count them and know how old the fish is — but the lungfish doesn’t have that stone.

The other main issue is that to get an ear stone you usually have to kill the fish — so obviously you wouldn’t want to do that to a threatened species.”

Dr Fallon and his team, in collaboration with Griffith University, Seqwater, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, came up with a new approach.

Their technique involves measuring the amount of Carbon 14 in Lungfish scales to pinpoint how old the fish is.

The group discovered they were able to place the fish on the “bomb curve,” which is used to chart the amount of carbon 14 in the atmosphere.

The curve has a distinct shape, starting to rise in the mid-50s with the advent of nuclear weapons and peaking in 1963, when the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty came into effect.

“That carbon’s been basically mixing in with all the carbon in the Earth since then,” Dr Fallon said.

“So we have this distinct curve, and when we tested the fish we were able to reproduce that curve, and tell when the fish was born.”

The ANU team did around 1200 radio carbon measurements over several years and found fish aged from around three years to 78.

It’s an important breakthrough, as previously researchers had struggled to find any evidence of juvenile fish, leading to concerns there was an ageing population and the fish would eventually just disappear.

“People have been doing research on these fish for 80 years or more. There’s anecdotes about some of the fish in the Brisbane River being translocated from one of the other rivers in the early 1900s because they were already worried about the population then,” Dr Fallon said.

Dr Fallon and his colleagues also noticed there were long time periods where no fish were born at all.

“For example in the Mary River in the 1970s and 80s we didn’t see many fish born.”

“I actually don’t know how they’ve survived in Australia for so long. They like to lay their eggs in the shallow parts of the river where there are plants for the eggs to cling onto. Whenever we have big floods it just wipes everything away, so in these time periods we may find there were big floods just beforehand, and then it takes several years for the plants to grow back.

“If you’re trying to understand a certain population this kind of information is pretty critical and gives us a whole nice background of information that wasn’t there before.”

Birds-of-paradise new genome research


This video is called National Geographic Documentary: Amazing BIRDS OF PARADISE 2016.

From GigaScience:

Birds-of-paradise genomes target sexual selection

New genomic data from 5 birds-of-paradise reveal genes that are shaped by selection and help explain the origin of their spectacular plumage

January 28, 2019

Summary: Researchers provide genome sequences for 5 birds-of-paradise species: 3 without previous genome data and 2 with improved data. Birds-of-paradise are classic examples of extreme sexual selection due to generations of females choosing mates based on ‘attractiveness’. The result is unparalleled species radiation with males exhibiting vast differences in behavior and an array of exotic feathers. Analyses identified genes potentially involved in feather characteristics, and the sequences will serve as a rich resource for evolution studies.

A new study published in the open access journal GigaScience explores the genomes of a fascinating group of birds, birds-of-paradise, with work providing genome sequences from 5 birds-of-paradise species: 3 that did not have available genome sequences. Birds-of-paradise, with their elaborate and colorful feathers as well as complex courtship displays, have a special place in natural history. They serve as a school-book example of sexual selection, which is the outcome of generations of female mate choice of males that have “attractive” features. The result is an unparalleled radiation of species where males exhibit extreme morphological features and behaviors with no other evolutionary meaning than to attract females for mating. However, very little is known about the genetic variants that distinguish the lavishly colored birds-of-paradise from their less conspicuous relatives, such as the collared flycatcher. Whole genome availability of multiple species provides a rich resource for molecular evolutionary to identify genes that came under the influence of sexual selection, and a way to assess how these genes transformed the males’ plumage into a colorful asset for mating purposes.

The famous evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) once said about the birds-of-paradise: “Every ornithologist and birdwatcher has his favourite group of birds. Frankly, my own are the birds of paradise and bowerbirds. If they do not rank as high in world-wide popularity as they deserve it is only because so little is known about them.”

Taking on the task of addressing the limited amount of information available for these exotic birds were researchers from the Swedish Museum of Natural History, American scientists, and first author Stefan Prost from the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt. They selected three species that did not yet have available genomes sequences: the paradise crow (Lycocorax pyrrhopterus) from Obi Island in Indonesia; the paradise riflebird (Ptiloris paradiseus) from New South Wales, Australia; and the huon astrapia (Astrapia rothschildi) from Papua New Guinea. They further provided new genome sequence data to improve currently available genomic information for two other birds-of-paradise species from Papua New Guinea: the King of Saxony bird-of-paradise (Pteridophora alberti) and the red bird-of-paradise (Paradisaea rubra).

Martin Irestedt, senior curator at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said that “Birds-of-paradise constitute one of the most famous examples on how sexual selection has driven the evolution of male plumage ornamentation and mating behaviors to its extreme. It is thus extremely exciting that we are able to present genomic data that provide the first glimpse to how genomic evolution is linked to the extraordinary phenotypic variation found in this fascinating group of birds.”

Using these five bird-of-paradise datasets, Prost and colleagues identified genes that show signs of past influence of selection and evolution, some of which appear to be important for coloration, morphology, and feather and eye development. For example, they identified a gene called ADAMTS20 that is potentially involved in producing the exquisite birds-of-paradise colorful feathers. ADAMTS20 is known to influence the development of melanocytes, specialized cells for the production of pigmentation patterns.

Thanks to modern genomics and the availability of these new datasets in the GigaScience DataBase, GigaDB, we are about to learn much more about these fascinating animals.