Ravens, from two species to one?


This video says about itself:

Ravens in wintertime

Winter 2015-2016, Belarus.

From the University of Washington in the USA:

Two species of ravens nevermore? New research finds evidence of ‘speciation reversal’

March 2, 2018

Summary: A new study almost 20 years in the making provides some of the strongest evidence yet of the ‘speciation reversal’ phenomenon — where two distinct lineages hybridize and eventually merge into one — in two lineages of common ravens.

For over a century, speciation — where one species splits into two — has been a central focus of evolutionary research. But a new study almost 20 years in the making suggests “speciation reversal” — where two distinct lineages hybridize and eventually merge into one — can also be extremely important. The paper, appearing March 2 in Nature Communications, provides some of the strongest evidence yet of the phenomenon, in two lineages of Common Ravens.

“The bottom line is [speciation reversal] is a natural evolutionary process, and it’s probably happened in hundreds or almost certainly thousands of lineages all over the planet”, said Kevin Omland, professor of biological sciences at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and co-author on the new study. “One of our biggest goals is to just have people aware of this process, so when they see interesting patterns in their data, they won’t say, ‘That must be a mistake’, or, ‘That’s too complicated to be correct.'”

“We examined genomic data from hundreds of ravens collected across North America”, said Anna Kearns, the study’s first author and a former postdoctoral fellow at UMBC, who is now a postdoc at the Smithsonian Center for Conservation Genomics. “Integrating all of the results across so many individuals, and from such diverse datasets, has been one of the most challenging aspects of this study. Next-generation genomic techniques are revealing more and more examples of species with hybrid genomes.”

When Omland initially began work on this project in 1999, Common Ravens were considered a single species worldwide. He thought further research might uncover two distinct species — perhaps an “Old World” and “New World” raven — but the real story is much more complicated. Omland reported the existence of two Common Raven lineages in 2000, one concentrated in the southwestern United States dubbed “California”, and another found everywhere else (including Maine, Alaska, Norway and Russia) called “Holarctic.”

Since then, the plot has thickened. Two undergraduates in Omland’s lab, Jin Kim and Hayley Richardson, analyzed mitochondrial DNA from throughout the western United States and found the two lineages are extensively intermixed. In 2012, the Norwegian Research Council provided major funding for the project and Kearns spent a year at the University of Oslo analyzing nuclear genome data.

The best explanation based on the team’s analysis is that the California and Holarctic lineages diverged for between one and two million years, but now have come back together and have been hybridizing for at least tens of thousands of years.

“The extensive genetic data reveals one of the best supported examples of speciation reversal of deeply diverged lineages to date”, said Arild Johnsen, professor of zoology and evolutionary biology at University of Oslo and another leader of the study. “The biggest thing is the degree to which we’ve caught them in the act.”

How does this relate to people? Humans are also a product of speciation reversal, Omland notes, with the present-day human genome including significant chunks of genetic material from Neanderthals and Denisovans, another less well-known hominid lineage. Recent genetic studies have even indicated a mysterious fourth group of early humans who also left some DNA in our genomes.

“Because speciation reversal is a big part of our own history”, Omland said, “getting a better understanding of how that happens should give us a better sense of who we are and where we came from. These are existential questions, but they are also medically relevant as well.”

Next steps in the current avian research include analyzing genetic data from ravens who lived in the early 1900s to investigate the potential role of humans in the speciation reversal process. “Getting genomic data out of such old, degraded specimens is challenging,” Kearns said, “and all work must be done in a special ‘ancient DNA‘ lab at the Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation Genomics.”

If those ravens have a similar distribution of genes from the Holarctic and California lineages as the ravens living today, it’s unlikely changes in human civilization over the last century played a role.

Co-author John Marzluff, professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington, summed up the experience of being part of the study: “It is fascinating to me that this complex history of raven speciation has been revealed. For decades my students and I held and studied ravens throughout the West and never once suspected they carried evidence of a complex past,” he said. “Thanks to collaborations among field workers and geneticists, we now understand that the raven is anything but common.”

Advertisements

Skylark in blizzard in Belarus


This 24 January 2018 video is about a skylark in a blizzard in Belarus.

The three Nature’s Heroes chosen by Akhova Ptushak Batskaushchyny (APB—BirdLife Belarus) can be considered heroes in a more conventional sense. One climbs to dizzying heights to study the nests of raptors, with only a few old canvas straps to keep him from falling. The second confronted and defeated a horde of foreign hunters intent on killing the breeding ducks and other wildlife for which he is responsible. The third challenged a poacher and was shot and permanently disabled; but though no longer able to work as a protected area manager, has established a new career as one of Belarus’s most respected wildlife photographers, and inspires many people to become conservationists: here.

Great egrets in winter in Belarus


This video says about itself:

Great egrets. Feeding birds in winter river.

January 2018, Belarus.

Belarus greater spotted eagle migration online


This video is called Juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle in Qatari Farm, February 2016.

From BirdLife:

4 Dec 2017

Fly with Greater spotted eagles!

By Anna Trofimtchouk

Eight Greater spotted eagles tagged in southern Belarus started their autumn migration in September. Now you can watch them online!

“Where do birds go in winter?” – as children, all of us probably asked our parents this question. Now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the answer is but a click away. This year, APB-BirdLife Belarus invites you to fly alongside – not one, not two…but eight – Greater spotted eagles throughout their autumn migration.

This is part of a new Estonian-Belarusian project to fill the knowledge gap in the ecology and protection of this globally threatened species.[1] The project has two main objectives: firstly, to investigate migration routes, wintering areas, and both per-day and per-season activity information (with the help of satellite transmitters); and secondly, to establish how often hybrid couples of Greater spotted eagle and Lesser spotted eagle can be found in Belarus, using genetic methods.

All over the map

Belarus, after Russia, is the second most important country in the world for Greater spotted eagles with some 120-160 pairs. This summer, a group of Estonian and Belarusian ornithologists caught and tagged eight adult Greater spotted eagles with GPS-GSM satellite tags in several Belarusian IBAs (Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas), including the Mid Prypiac reserve and Belavezhskaia Puschcha national park.[2] The data for all eight birds is now available on APB’s website which is regularly updated with the most recent movements. We can see now that our feathered friends have already reached their wintering grounds in Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Sudan.

Picking favourites

Each bird has a name and its very own story. Blond, for example, is named after its distinctive light “hairstyle” – very unusual for a Greater spotted eagle. Meanwhile, Tur is a proper home-town boy, named after the town of Turau. We’ve already noticed that many APB members, following the birds’ progress on our website, are picking their favourite bird to cheer on.

Record-setting ringers!

This tracking project is just one of many national initiatives to protect this iconic species. At the ‘Save the eaglet’ event this year, ornithologists inspected nests and ringed nestlings all over Belarus – setting a new record of 22 ringed nestlings. This high amount of nestlings is very promising as it shows that 2017 was a successful breeding year. It is now hoped that the ringing will help us gain more information about the movements of young birds and not only adults.

The BIG question

Our scientists are closely watching the birds’ movements in the hope of finally finding the answer to an age-old question: why do Greater Spotted Eagles, nesting in the vast swamps of Central Paliessie, arrive almost a month earlier than their “colleagues” from northern Belarus.

Stay tuned for the answer!

Anna Trofimtchouk – Deputy Director, APB – BirdLife Belarus

[1] The ‘Scientific conservation of the globally endangered Greater spotted eagle in Belarus’ project is a joint initiative conducted by the Estonian University of Life Sciences, APB-BirdLife Belarus, the Eagle Club (Estonia) and the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. The project is funded by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

[2] APB-BirdLife Belarus would like to thank Phil Atkinson from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) for arranging the donation of two satellite transmitters used in the project.

Record-breaking 120,000 ruffs in Belarus


This May 2016 video is about the the ruffs of Turau Meadow in Belarus. The video is by Dmitriy Yakubovich.

From BirdLife:

8 May 2017

Record-breaking 120,000 Ruffs counted in Belarus

Birdwatchers were delighted by the thousands of Ruffs that gathered at the end of April in Turau Meadow, Belarus. While the area is usually an important stopover for the species, this time the impressive numbers broke records in the country.

By Victoria Tereshonok & APB team

Despite the cold weather, bird migration is in full swing. Millions of birds have started moving from their wintering grounds in Africa, stopping over in the cold tundra of Eurasia.

At this time of the year, Turau Meadow in Belarus becomes a paradise for nature lovers – as many as 150,000 Eurasian Wigeon Mareca Penelope and 20,000 Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa can gather in these plains, sometimes in a single day.

But this year, it’s the Ruff Calidris pugnax that gave birdwatchers the most joy, when thousands of these long-necked birds blanketed the skies.

While this site is currently the largest stopover site for the species during their spring migration across Europe, this year the numbers were a surprise to everyone.

A group of ornithologists, including researchers from APB (BirdLife Belarus), registered a record number of 120,000 Ruffs in a single day, which hadn’t been reported since the observations began in Turau Meadow back in 1997.

Turau Meadow is an open floodplain in the middle of Pripyat River and one of Europe’s most essential nesting and stopover areas for more than 50 migratory wading bird species such as Black-tailed Godwit, Great Snipe Gallinago media and Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus – the three of them classified as Near Threatened by BirdLife for the IUCN Red List. And these species don’t only stop there – this is where they nest.

For this reason, the floodplains were categorized as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by BirdLife and, since 2008, it has been recognized as a locally significant wildlife sanctuary by the Belarussian authorities.

This recognition has helped Ruff populations, whose range and populations have shrunk significantly in Belarus in the last 30-40 years. While listed as Least Concern by BirdLife, global populations are thought to have been decreasing as a result of habitat loss, intensive agriculture and climate change. It comes as no surprise then that they have been added to Belarus’ Regional Red List, which means the species is excluded from the list of huntable species and their nesting area needs to be protected by the government.

Banding data shows that these birds nest across a territory that spans Scandinavia to Yakutia. Migration is often a difficult time for all birds, and stopover sites such as Turau Meadow, where they can relax and gather energy, are critical so they can reach their final destination.

Unfortunately, stopovers like this meadow are now few and far between in Europe. Birds are reportedly staying in the floodplain for up to a month, taking the opportunity to feed on the invertebrates and grain available on the surrounding fields – almost doubling their weight in the process. This energy is vital for them to continue their journey to the next site.

Seeing how many birds depend on this habitat along the Pripyat River remind us of how important it is to conserve these vital ecosystems so we can save these birds from disappearing.

“The Pripyat River floodplain is such a vital place. It’s important to protect it and leave it unchanged,” says Pavel Pinchuk, Head of the Belarusian Center for Bird Ringing.

Since 2007, APB rents the area of Turau Meadow and has created a management plan for the local authorities. Both parties agreed on how to best safeguard this unique landscape and every year APB organizes volunteer camps to clean the area of overgrowing bushes while also managing the closing of the hunting season within the floodplains. They also participate in the surveying of the area and record bird population trends.

In March 2014, ornithologists recorded the largest number of birds in Turau Meadow ever. As many as 200,000 birds were counted within one square kilometer of the sanctuary. A similar number of migrating birds had not been recorded anywhere in Belarus up to that point.

With continued protection, we expect the area will continue to surprise everyone with record-breaking numbers of birds for many years to come.

This 2017 video shows an aerial view of the meadow at the beginning of April, preceding the mass arrival of the Ruff.

Crane feeds like woodpecker in Belarus


This video says about itself:

Common Crane. Unconventional way of feeding

One very cold April morning, when the water and the earth froze in the marsh, a flock of cranes began to look for food in very unexpected places – under the bark of dry trees, like woodpeckers!

19.04.2017. Belarus, Grodno region.

Especially a young crane (no red on its head, unlike adults) feeds like a woodpecker in this video.