New plant, animal species discoveries in 2019


This 10 October 2019 video says about itself:

Today we’re exploring 10 new species discovered around the world, within the last year.

From the California Academy of Sciences in the USA:

Scientists at the California Academy of Sciences describe 71 new species in 2019

December 5, 2019

Summary: From geckos to goblin spiders, flowering plants, and Mediterranean ants — spanning five continents and three oceans — these 71 new species described by Academy scientists grow Earth’s tree of life.

In 2019, researchers at the California Academy of Sciences added 71 new plant and animal species to our family tree, enriching our understanding of Earth’s complex web of life and strengthening our ability to make informed conservation decisions. The new species include 17 fish, 15 geckos, eight flowering plants, six sea slugs, five arachnids, four eels, three ants, three skinks, two skates, two wasps, two mosses, two corals, and two lizards. More than a dozen Academy scientists — along with many more international collaborators — described the new species discoveries.

Proving that our vast and dynamic planet still contains unexplored places, the scientists discovered these new plants and animals across five continents and three oceans — venturing into Croatian caves, diving to extreme ocean depths, and surveying savanna forests. Their results help advance the Academy’s mission to explore, explain, and sustain life.

“Despite decades of tirelessly scouring some of the most familiar and remote places on Earth,” says Shannon Bennett, PhD, and Academy Chief of Science, “biodiversity scientists estimate that more than 90% of nature’s species remain unknown. A rich diversity of plants and animals is what allows life on our planet to thrive: the interconnectedness of all living systems provides collective resilience in the face of our climate crisis. Each newly discovered species serves as an important reminder of the critical role we play in better understanding and preserving these precious ecosystems.”

Below are highlights from the 71 new species described by the Academy in 2019.

Flowering plants in need of protection

Emeritus Curator of Botany Frank Almeda, PhD, described a rare white-blossomed plant Trembleya altoparaisensis this year based on several specimens collected over 100 years ago by the famous 19th-century botanist Auguste Francois Marie Glaziou. As rare now as it was then, the plant proved difficult to find in the wild. “People don’t think plants move,” says Ricardo Pacifico, a PhD student working with Almeda and visiting researcher at the Academy, “but they do.” When an environment changes, plants will move to areas that better suit them. For botanists like Pacifico — who sometimes relies on a single museum specimen collected decades ago to track down a plant’s current whereabouts in the field — these migrations can be both challenging and rewarding. Luckily, on a recent expedition to the lush canyons of Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park in Brazil, Pacifico was able to track down a living specimen of Trembleya altoparaisensis to inform Almeda’s species description.

Almeda emphasizes the importance of Pacifico’s fieldwork to document exactly where these plants thrive in the wild. “Sure, national parks are protected,” he says, “but we must ensure we know what grows in the parks.” He says that finding and documenting species such as T. altoparaisensis and Gravesia serratifolia — another new species from a national park in Madagascar described by Almeda and his former student, Heritiana Ranarivelo — is crucial for effective management of the parks in the event of wildfires or other disasters.

A long-snout skate with potentially high stakes for steaks

Thanks to a discovery by Ichthyology Research Associate David Ebert, PhD, the Falkland Islands have welcomed a new-to-science skate. Since the 1970s, the Falkland Island fisheries have been one of the largest distributors of skates — cartilaginous ray-like fish that live at depths of up to almost 2000 feet (600 meters). The fish are particularly popular in Korea, where they are fermented or filleted into steaks. Through their research, however, Ebert and his team have shown that some of the skates on the market might not be Dipturus chilensis as previously thought, but are instead the newly described species Dipturus lamillai. Ebert urges fisheries to reevaluate their sustainability and surveying practices in order to prevent overfishing of the newly described species before its population status can be fully evaluated — and to ensure the wrong skate doesn’t end up as a steak on a dinner plate.

A menagerie of microendemic and critically endangered reptiles

Academy Research Associate Aaron Bauer, PhD, has described more than 205 reptiles during his career, and this year he adds another 15 mottled day geckos, three island-dwelling skinks, an ostentatiously orange lizard, and a high-altitude girdled lizard to the tree of life. Bauer recommends that many of these reptiles be listed as critically endangered due to their microendemism — a term used to describe species only found in an extremely small geographic range. This restricted distribution means these animals are particularly susceptible to any sort of disturbance, such as deforestation. In the case of the newly described skink Kuniesaurus albiauris, invasive fire ants already threaten its restricted, native habitat in New Caledonia. Bauer says that finding these microendemic species is crucial for conservation. “If we don’t explore isolated habitats, like mountaintops,” he says, “we would miss a huge part of the biodiversity that’s unique to these regions.”

Californian corals make a case for conservation

Despite being less than 60 miles off the coast of San Francisco, much of the biodiversity in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary remains a mystery. This is especially true of deeper-dwelling species. “We know the intertidal zone, but the deep sea is out of sight, out of mind,” says Invertebrate Zoology Curator Gary Williams, PhD, who described two new California coral species this year. Williams says that deep-sea surveys using remotely operated vehicles — like the 2018 expedition led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that collected a new lemon-yellow octocoral Chromoplexura cordellbankensis — are increasingly important for informing the expansion of marine protected areas and protecting the beautiful biodiversity thriving in the unexplored depths of our own backyard.

A fleet of fish (including a cat-eyed cardinalfish and a fish named C. wakanda)

From the purple, armor-like scales of the vibranium fairy wrasse Cirrhilabrus wakanda to the scintillating stare of the cat-eyed cardinalfish Siphamia arnazae, Academy researchers described 17 stunning new species of fish this year. Many of the colorful creatures come from tropical reefs — ecosystems known for both their biodiversity and their vulnerability to climate change. As the oceans continue to warm, the species that depend on the reef’s abundant resources are jeopardized. Efforts to document these species, such as those by Academy researchers and their collaborators, helps to ensure that conservationists, policymakers, local communities, and beyond better understand what is at stake.

Cave-dwelling and ant-loving arachnids

As you move east from the Pyrenees Mountains on the border of Spain and France to the Balkan Mountains outside Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia, a group of related cave-dwelling harvestmen (organisms related to spiders) becomes more adapted to life in the dark. This gradient of traits — known in biology as a character cline — helps researchers better understand the process of how a new species branches off on the tree of life. There is now a new link in this character cline chain thanks to the description of the cave-dwelling harvestman Lola konavoka from Croatia by Academy Curatorial Assistant of Entomology Darrell Ubick.

This year Ubick also co-describes the first — and only — species in a new family of “ant-worshipping” spiders. These curious arachnids spend most of their time underground in ant mounds, although scientists aren’t sure why. “The only way to see what they’re doing,” says Ubick, “is to dig them up. But then they’re no longer in their natural state.” It wasn’t until a recent expedition to Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert — the spider’s namesake — that scientists were first able to witness the species in the wild. But since they were found scattered around the surface of a collapsed ant nest, their underground behavior remains a mystery.

A stunning assortment of sea slugs

Academy Curator of Invertebrate Zoology Terry Gosliner, PhD, has described about one quarter of colorful sea slug species known to science, but these masquerading marine invertebrates still find ways of surprising him. Parts of Madrella amphora — one of six new species Gosliner describes this year — closely resemble the snail eggs that tend to surround their habitat. “We recently confirmed through genetics that sea slugs mimic the colors of other species” says Gosliner, “but it’s rare to see sea slugs mimic other animals entirely.” Two of the other new-to-science sea slugs are notable for being unusually small members of a group of typically large nudibranchs known as sea hares — named for two appendages on their head that resemble bunny ears.

Endangered lizard conservation in California, USA


This 2014 video from the USA is called Blunt-nosed leopard lizard, endangered species project.

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

Detection dogs and DNA on the trail of endangered lizards

Noninvasive scat sampling could strengthen reptile conservation

October 30, 2019

Detection dogs trained to sniff out the scat of an endangered lizard in California’s San Joaquin Valley, combined with genetic species identification, could represent a new noninvasive sampling technique for lizard conservation worldwide. That is according to a study published today from the University of California, Davis, in partnership with the nonprofit Working Dogs for Conservation, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Scientists have used trained conservation dogs to locate scat and collect DNA samples for everything from bears and foxes to gorillas and whales. But the technique had not been used for reptiles until this study, for which scientists developed a novel approach to identify the presence of the blunt-nosed leopard lizard in the Panoche Hills Recreation Area and Carrizo Plain National Monument, both managed by BLM.

They developed new methods to recover DNA from feces and genetically identify lizard species in the same area. The study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, is a proof of concept for a host of reptiles.

“So many reptilian species have been hit so hard,” said lead author Mark Statham, an associate researcher with the Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “A large proportion of them are endangered or threatened. This is a really valuable way for people to be able to survey them.”

NO DIRECT CONTACT NEEDED

Current methods for surveying lizard species typically rely on live capture or visual surveys. Scat sampling allows biologists to study elusive, rare or dangerous animals without the need for direct contact. In addition to informing about the presence, habitat and genetics of an animal, scat can also be analyzed to inform researchers about diet, hormones, parasites and other health factors.

Using the new method, the authors genetically identified specific species for 78 percent of the 327 samples collected by dog-handler teams across four years. Most (82 percent) of those identified were confirmed as being from blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

To meet regulatory monitoring requirements, more research is needed to assess the viability of using detection dogs to recover usable DNA at larger scales. But the research highlights the broad potential this method holds for surveying and monitoring reptiles.

Study co-authors include Deborah A. Woollett, Alice Whitelaw and Ngaio L. Richards of Working Dogs for Conservation; Susan Fresquez, Jerene Pfeiffer and Benjamin Sacks from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Jonathan Richmond from the U.S. Geological Survey; and Michael F. Westphal of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Funding was provided by the Bureau of Land Management.

United States police killed Isiah Murrietta-Golding, RIP


This 23 October 2019 video from California in the USA says about itself:

Fresno Police Fatally Shoot Unarmed Teenager in the Back

By Tom Carter in the USA:

The police murder of Isiah Murrietta-Golding

26 October 2019

Shock and outrage continue to reverberate around the world following the release Wednesday of a video showing the police murder of Isiah Murrietta-Golding in Fresno, California in April 2017.

It was a sunny Saturday, and the video shows the 16-year-old boy scrambling over a low fence and taking a few steps onto an empty preschool lawn. Then, in a moment that jars horribly with the bright green and pristine surroundings, the boy suddenly collapses to the ground and curls into a fetal position—his brain pierced by a single bullet fired by police officer Ray Villalvazo, who was crouched on the other side of the fence.

An audio recording of the shooting indicates that immediately after the boy’s body drops to the ground, another officer shouts, “Good shot!” The expression and tone of voice suggest that the officers are on a hunting safari, and someone has just bagged a prize animal.

Something truly awful is suggested about the state of American society by the footage of another officer jogging up to the boy’s limp body, hoisting it up by one arm, kicking it over, and then handcuffing the wrists together—a rote action simultaneously brutal and absurd.

The video explodes the official account of the shooting, according to which the boy had “reached into his waistband several times,” prompting the officer to shoot him in self-defense because he was afraid for his life.

According to the available accounts, Isiah was a good student at his school, where he was in the 10th grade. He has been described as a “small boy”, standing 5 foot 4 inches tall and weighing 109 pounds. He died several days later at the hospital, his grief-stricken mother at his side.

His alleged involvement in an incident that led to a fatal car crash with his older brother the previous day remains murky. He may just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But even if he was in some way culpable, as a minor he would have been subject to confidential juvenile proceedings and efforts at rehabilitation, not summary assassination by a police officer acting as judge, jury and executioner.

When he was stopped by the police, Isiah initially complied with instructions. He was unarmed, never threatened anyone, and never attempted to hurt anyone. He simply tried to run away. One cannot help imagining the boy’s final, terrified moments.

According to a lawsuit filed by the boy’s parents, the officers delayed calling for medical assistance following the shooting. When the ambulance arrived, the police refused a paramedic’s request to take the handcuffs off the body, even though the boy was in a coma.

The American military refuses to do “body counts” overseas, and the US government similarly avoids gathering statistics on the use of deadly force by the police within the country’s borders. Nevertheless, a Washington Post database indicates that around a thousand people are killed by police each year, with 717 killed as of this writing in 2019. This figure likely understates the true number, omitting those killings that are covered up by the police as drug overdoses, suicides, or deaths from “natural causes” or “excited delirium.”

The number of deaths from industrial accidents in the US every year, which is in the thousands, is dwarfed by the number of nonfatal accidents and illnesses, which is in the millions. Similarly, while hundreds of people are killed by the police each year, the number of nonfatal injuries caused by the police each year must be orders of magnitude higher, in the tens or hundreds of thousands: broken jaws and teeth, lost eyes, flesh shredded by police dogs, concussions, permanent nerve damage, traumatic brain injuries, broken legs, backs, shoulders and necks.

In the wake of each episode of police brutality, victims and their families watch as the entire state closes ranks behind the perpetrator.

An “internal investigation”, conducted in secret by the police, almost invariably results in a determination that the officers were acting “within policy”, a determination bolstered in turn by vague policies designed to permit the broadest range of violence.

Meanwhile, in order to help shield officers from accountability, the local prosecutor will often bring charges against the victim, including for such vague crimes as “resisting, delaying, or obstructing” a police officer. In other cases, someone bitten by a police dog will be charged with “battery to a police dog”.

In Fresno, the results of the internal investigation into the shooting of Isiah Murrietta-Golding were announced in March of last year: “Sgt. Villalvazo’s actions were within department policy.”

As late as 1985, in the case of Tennessee v. Garner, the US Supreme Court wrote: “Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect. A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead.”

However, even after the release of the video, The Fresno Bee reports that the Fresno Police Officers Association “is in full support of the sergeant and says its members believe the shooting to be justified.”

As part of his fascistic appeal to law enforcement, President Trump has gone out of his way to incite the police against the population, famously telling a crowd of police officers in New York in 2017 that he likes watching footage of “rough” treatment of “thugs”. “Please don’t be too nice”, Trump intones, drawing cheers from the assembled cops.

At a recent rally in Minnesota, Trump appeared flanked by police officers wearing “Cops for Trump” shirts featuring an American flag and the shapes of police badges. Trump had evidently wanted the officers to appear in uniform, a prohibited form of political endorsement.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, for all their posturing and expressions of concern, preside over cities infamous for police brutality like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. The Obama administration, for its part, repeatedly intervened on the side of the police in civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, invoking the authoritarian doctrine of “qualified immunity”.

In schools and neighborhoods across the US, the population is seething with anger over the mounting number of victims and the belligerent intransigence of the authorities. Certain political conclusions must be drawn from this state of affairs.

Vladimir Lenin, in his treatise State and Revolution, describes how Friedrich Engels draws “the attention of the class-conscious workers to what prevailing philistinism regards as least worthy of attention, as the most habitual thing, hallowed by prejudices that are not only deep-rooted but, one might say, petrified.”

“The state,” Engels writes, “has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies that did without it, that had no idea of the state and state power. At a certain stage of economic development, which was necessarily bound up with the split of society into classes, the state became a necessity owing to this split.”

The state, therefore, “is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of ‘order’; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state.”

Lenin asks, “What does this power mainly consist of?” It consists mainly of “special bodies of armed men”, together with prisons and other forms of repression. Quoting Engels, Lenin explains that this power becomes more forceful in proportion as class antagonisms become more acute.

In the United States, the institution of the police did not exist on a significant scale until the middle of the 19th century. The development of many of the municipal police departments into their present centralized form in the late 19th century coincided with a massive wave of labor unrest. Modern police departments emerged onto the scene as “special bodies of armed men” that could be deployed against demonstrations of workers, often with extreme violence, and also to make mass arrests of workers for violations of “public order”.

With this social and historical framework in mind, the phenomenon of escalating police violence in the 21st century must be understood in the first instance as a function of the acute crisis of the whole social order. The decades-long social counterrevolution, skyrocketing social inequality, the endless wars for plunder abroad, the paralysis and collapse of democratic institutions, and the resurgence of open struggles by the working class around the world all constitute aggravating factors in the equation.

The reign of arbitrary police terror also functions to condition the population and the police themselves to extreme violence, in preparation for future campaigns of mass repression.

Racism does play a role in many individual episodes of police brutality, and anger over the persistence of such prejudices is legitimate. …

In the final analysis, the epidemic of police brutality in the US, which enjoys the full backing of the state, is a product of a social and economic system in deep crisis.

California condor chick fledges, video


This video from the USA says about itself:

California Condor Chick #980 Fledges! – Oct. 14, 2019

Big news! At just over 6 months of age, the young condor nestling #980 has fledged after 187 days. Watch the young condor confidently take wing on October 14. After making a sustained flight out of view, the fledgling returns to perch on its favorite rock in the nesting cave. Way to fly #980!

Watch live at www.allaboutbirds.org/condors

This condor nest, known as the Pole Canyon nest, is located in a remote canyon near the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. The parents of the chick in the Pole Canyon nest are mom #563 and dad #262. Dad #262 was laid in 2001 and was the first viable egg laid in the wild since the reintroduction program began. He was actually one of two eggs laid to a trio (male #100 and females #111 and #108) but was brought into captivity to ensure proper incubation. He hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo and was released back to the wild a year later in 2002. Mom #563 hatched at the Oregon Zoo in 2010. This is their first nesting attempt together but both have nested previously with mates who are now deceased. A single egg was laid in this nesting cavity, and the chick hatched on April 10, 2019.