Caribbean-Dutch Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, world cycling champion


This 31 January 2019 video says about itself:

Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado grew up in a small town in the Caribbean [Cabrera, in the Dominican Republic]. Now [meanwhile of Dutch nationality], she’s regarded as the most promising young talent in CX, firmly focused on bringing home the rainbow jersey at the 2019 Cyclocross World Championships in Denmark.

But who is this young woman, widely touted as one of the world’s biggest and most exciting talents? We caught up with her to bring you a glimpse into her life, from early beginnings to the CX racing stage.

That was last year, when she was riding in the junior Cyclocross World Championships, and won the bronze medal.

Today, Ms Alvarado rode in the adult women category of the Cyclocross World Championships. According to her age, she still would have had the right to start in the junior race, but she prefered the senior category.

When the last round started, three Dutch cyclists were riding ahead, including Ceylin. The Dutch TV commentator thought she would not become world champion, as the other two Dutch riders had better reputations in sprint finishing.

Nevertheless, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado won the gold medal; with silver and bronze for the two other Dutch women.

Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado with her gold medal, Belga photo

Shirin van Anrooij, juniors woeld champion, Belga photo

Seventeen-years-old Dutch Shirin van Anrooij won the juniors’ world championship on the track in Dübendorf in Switzerland.

Invertebrate fossils discovery in Dominican Republic amber


Sialomorpha dominicana

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Meet the ‘mold pigs,’ a new group of invertebrates from 30 million years ago

October 8, 2019

Fossils preserved in Dominican amber reveal a new family, genus and species of microinvertebrate from the mid-Tertiary period, a discovery that shows unique lineages of the tiny creatures were living 30 million years ago.

The findings by George Poinar Jr. of the Oregon State University College of Science give a rare look at a heretofore unknown clade of invertebrates, along with their fungal food source and other animals that lived in their habitat.

Poinar, an international expert in using plant and animal life forms preserved in amber to learn more about the biology and ecology of the distant past, informally calls the new animals “mold pigs” for their resemblance to swine, and their diet. Scientifically, they are Sialomorpha dominicana, from the Greek words for fat hog (sialos) and shape (morphe).

Invertebrate means not having a backbone, and invertebrates account for roughly 95 percent of animal species.

“Every now and then we’ll find small, fragile, previously unknown fossil invertebrates in specialized habitats,” Poinar said. “And occasionally, as in the present case, a fragment of the original habitat from millions of years ago is preserved too. The mold pigs can’t be placed in any group of currently existing invertebrates — they share characteristics with both tardigrades, sometimes referred to as water bears or moss pigs, and mites but clearly belong to neither group.”

The several hundred individual fossils preserved in the amber shared warm, moist surroundings with pseudoscorpions, nematodes, fungi and protozoa, Poinar said.

“The large number of fossils provided additional evidence of their biology, including reproductive behavior, developmental stages and food,” he said. “There is no extant group that these fossils fit into, and we have no knowledge of any of their descendants living today. This discovery shows that unique lineages were surviving in the mid-Tertiary.”

The Tertiary period began 65 million years ago and lasted for more than 63 million years.

About 100 micrometers long, the mold pigs had flexible heads and four pairs of legs. They grew by molting their exoskeleton and fed mainly on fungi, supplementing that food source with small invertebrates.

“No claws are present at the end of their legs as they are with tardigrades and mites,” Poinar said. “Based on what we know about extant and extinct microinvertebrates, S. dominicana appears to represent a new phylum. The structure and developmental patterns of these fossils illustrate a time period when certain traits appeared among these types of animals. But we don’t know when the Sialomorpha lineage originated, how long it lasted, or whether there are descendants living today.”

Dominican Republic lizards, climate change and deforestation


This November 2017 video says about itself:

Lizard battle in Dominican Republic

Epic fight of two male lizards; in the end the loser flees like a bullet!

From the University of Toronto in Canada:

Elevation matters when it comes to climate change, deforestation and species survival

February 25, 2019

Summary: A study examining the impact of deforestation on lizard communities in the Dominican Republic demonstrates differing outcomes at different elevations. In the lowlands, deforestation reduces the number of individuals, but not which species occur in an area. In the highlands, it’s the opposite. When the forest is cut down at higher elevations, the newly created pastures become filled with species found in the warmer lowlands. But locally adapted mountain lizards cannot survive as temperature rises.

University of Toronto student George Sandler was shocked to see the rainforest floor suddenly come to life around him, as if in a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.

“The forest floor started rustling around me,” says Sandler, “as dozens of crabs emerged from holes and crevices. Some were huge, the size of dinner plates. I even spotted a hermit crab climbing up a tree, lugging its heavy shell along with it.”

But Sandler wasn’t in the field to study crabs. He was in the Dominican Republic to take a census of the region’s Anolis lizard species for a study on the effects of deforestation being conducted by researchers Luke Mahler, Luke Frishkoff and collaborators. In the Caribbean nation, deforestation is the main form of natural habitat loss as residents cut down rainforest in order to produce charcoal, as well as create pastures for livestock and farmland for crops.

It is no surprise that deforestation has a profound effect on biodiversity; scientists have been studying this problem around the globe for decades. What is surprising is the difficulty they still face in making detailed predictions about which species survive, especially in relation to other factors such as climate change and natural local conditions.

Now, using the data collected in the census, the research team has discovered details about how Anolis lizards are being affected by the loss of their habitat.

“When it comes to predicting the effects of deforestation,” says Mahler, “elevation matters.”

Mahler is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto. Frishkoff led the research while he was a postdoctoral fellow in Mahler’s lab at U of T and is lead author of the paper describing their findings, published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution; he is currently an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Sandler and researchers from the National Museum of Natural History in Santo Domingo were also co-authors.

Mahler and Frishkoff analyzed populations of lizards in both lowland and highland regions affected by deforestation. Generally, the lowlands are warmer than the highlands due to altitude; also, forest canopy blocks direct sunlight, making forests at any altitude cooler than their immediate surroundings.

“It turns out that deforestation changes lizard communities in fundamentally different ways in the lowlands as compared to the highlands,” says Mahler. “In the lowlands, deforestation reduces the number of individuals, but not which species occur in an area. In the highlands, it’s the opposite.”

“When the forest is cut down at higher elevations,” says Frishkoff, “the newly created high elevation pastures become filled with species we saw down in the warmer lowlands. But, the locally adapted mountain lizards cannot survive.”

The invasion into the highlands by lowland-dwelling lizards was made possible by a combination of human activity and natural factors; i.e. deforestation and elevation respectively. Thanks to the altitude, the temperature of deforested fields in the highlands was comparable to the temperature of forested lowlands.

As it is in many regions around the world, the problem of deforestation in the Dominican Republic is dire. In 2016, Mahler announced the discovery of a previously unknown chameleon-like Anolis lizard on the island of Hispaniola. In the paper describing the discovery, Mahler and his co-authors recommended that the new species, dubbed Anolis landestoyi, be immediately classified as critically endangered because the lizard was threatened by illegal clear-cutting in the region.

Unlike the crabs that crowded around Sandler in the rainforest, the lizards were more elusive and difficult to survey. In order to obtain accurate counts, the students employed a technique known as mark-resight.

“We hiked out to our designated plots,” says Sandler, who was an undergraduate student while conducting the field work and is currently an EEB graduate student at U of T. “Then we walked around looking for lizards. We carried a paint spray gun filled with a non-toxic, water soluble paint — a different colour for each of the six observation periods. If we saw a lizard we would note the species, if it had any paint on it already, and the colour of the paint. Then we would spray the lizard with the paint gun we were carrying, a task that was a little tricky with some of the more skittish species!”

Paint on a lizard indicated that it had already been counted; and the number of unpainted lizards that were observed during each period allowed the researchers to calculate how many lizards were going uncounted.

“It’s not your typical summer job,” says Mahler. “Each survey is essentially a game in which you try to find all the lizards in an area and zap them with paint. It’s a messy affair, but we get great data from it.”

“Our results help us better understand the likely consequences of climate change and how it will interact with human land-use,” says Frishkoff.

For lowland forest Anolis lizards, deforestation just means a decline in abundance or relocating to the highlands. But for highland species, the situation is more critical. Unlike their lowland cousins, they have reached high ground already and in the face of deforestation have nowhere to go — a situation facing more and more species around the world.

“Our data suggest that while many lowland Anolis species might not be seriously affected by deforestation and the gradual warming brought about by climate change,” says Frishkoff, “the opposite is true for the unique mountain lizard species which do not tolerate land-use change well, and which are already on the top of the island.

“Land-use and climate change are a double whammy for these species. If we cut down the mountain forests these lizards have nowhere left to go. Gradual warming might push species up slope, but when you’re already at the top of the mountain, you can’t move any higher.”

First Dominican speed skater to Winter Olympics?


This 8 October 2018 video shows Manuel Leito, a speed skater born in the Dominican Republic, now living in the Netherlands, at a 500 meter race in Thialf stadium in Heerenveen.

Today, Dutch NOS TV reports on Manuel Leito.

Manuel Leito wants to become the first ever Dominican participant in winter Olympics, at the 2022 Beijing games.

Leito started speed skating when he was almost 30 years old, his third season has only started now.

Leito is trying to learn a lot to catch up with other speed skaters who started much earlier. During his first year as skater, his 500 meter was in 40,41 seconds. Now his personal best is 38:56. To qualify for the World Cup, he needs a time below 38 seconds.

Dominican Republic women fight for their rights


This video says about itself:

16 May 2018

Women in the Dominican Republic have gathered at the National Congress calling for the decriminalization of abortion.

Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Dominica


This video says about itself:

23 September 2017

Puerto Rico faces the threat of energy privatization in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma devastation.

10 NUMBERS THAT EXPLAIN THE DEVASTATION IN PUERTO RICO Between 80 to 90 percent of homes are destroyed in certain areas.

Already reeling from a bankruptcy crisis and demands of Wall Street for debt repayments, Puerto Rican society has now been devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria: here.

TRUMP FINALLY TWEETED ABOUT PUERTO RICO And bashed the U.S. territory’s debt and lack of infrastructure. Needless to say, Twitter was appalled. [HuffPost]

This video says about itself:

22 September 2017

Hurricane Maria pounded parts of the Dominican Republic with heavy rain on Thursday causing severe flooding especially in eastern parts of the country.

This video says about itself:

Dominica‘s Supply Shortage After Hurricane Maria

23 September 2017

This is the harsh reality Dominica is living through after being hit by a destructive hurricane.

Fossil monkey blood discovery in Dominican Republic amber


This video from the USA says about itself:

25 July 2014

Nature and science documentarian David Attenborough describes the effort to screen a newly rediscovered collection of amber from the Dominican Republic and the tiny grasshopper found in 20-million-year-old amber that was named for him. Researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois are scouring more than 160 pounds (72 kg) of the Dominican amber for ancient fossils. When their work is completed, they will have the largest unbiased amber fossil collection in the world. The most valuable specimens will be digitized and made freely available on a website. The amber was collected by INHS entomologist Milton Sanderson in the late 1950s. Sanderson died in 2012.

For more information about the pygmy locust discovery: here.

For more information about the researchers’ work on the amber collection: here.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Monkey business produces rare preserved blood in amber fossils

April 3, 2017

Summary: Two monkeys grooming each other about 20-30 million years ago may have helped produce a remarkable new find – the first fossilized red blood cells from a mammal, preserved so perfectly in amber that they appear to have been prepared for display in a laboratory.

Two monkeys grooming each other about 20-30 million years ago may have helped produce a remarkable new find — the first fossilized red blood cells from a mammal, preserved so perfectly in amber that they appear to have been prepared for display in a laboratory.

The discovery, published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, also describes the only known fossils of a type of parasite that still exists today, Babesia microti, which infects the blood cells of humans and other animals.

Two small holes in the back of a blood-engorged tick, which allowed blood to ooze out just as the tick became stuck in tree sap that later fossilized into amber, provide a brief glimpse of life in a tropical jungle millions of years ago in what is now the Dominican Republic.

“These two tiny holes indicate that something picked a tick off the mammal it was feeding on, puncturing it in the process and dropping it immediately into tree sap,” said George Poinar, Jr., professor emeritus in the College of Science at Oregon State University, author of the study and an international expert on plant and animal life forms found preserved in amber.

“This would be consistent with the grooming behavior of monkeys that we know lived at that time in this region. The fossilized blood cells, infected with these parasites, are simply amazing in their detail. This discovery provides the only known fossils of Babesia-type pathogens.”

The fossil parasites add to the history of the Order Piroplasmida, of which the Babesiidae is one family. In humans, the parasite B. microti can cause babesiosis, a disease with symptoms that resemble malaria and can be fatal. A related parasite in cattle can cause Texas cattle fever, which has been a historic problem in the plains states, and just this spring is causing another outbreak that has led to quarantines on more than 500,000 acres of land in Texas.

“The life forms we find in amber can reveal so much about the history and evolution of diseases we still struggle with today,” Poinar said. “This parasite, for instance, was clearly around millions of years before humans, and appears to have evolved alongside primates, among other hosts.”

Part of what makes these fossils unique, Poinar said, is the clarity by which the parasites and blood cells are preserved, almost as if they had been stained and otherwise treated in a laboratory for inspection. The parasites were different enough in texture and density to stand out clearly within the red blood cells during the natural embalming process for which amber is famous.

See also here. And here.

A salamander found preserved in amber from the Dominican Republic is the first-ever fossil of its kind, and also shows that salamanders once lived in the Caribbean region, where they now are all extinct: here.