Saving butterflies with computer games


This 26 June 2014 video from the USA says about itself:

UF/IFAS entomologists are trying to save an endangered butterfly found only in Florida by breeding a captive colony of Schaus’ Swallowtail Butterflies. The goal is release these captive butterflies back into wild to breed and help bring this insect back from the brink of extinction.

From ScienceDaily:

Living room conservation: Gaming and virtual reality for insect and ecosystem conservation

Players explore and search for butterflies using knowledge gained through gameplay

April 18, 2019

Gaming and virtual reality (VR) could bridge the gap between urban societies and nature, thereby paving the way to insect conservation by the means of education, curiosity and life-like participation.

This is what Florida International University’s team of computer scientist Alban Delamarre and biologist Dr Jaeson Clayborn strive to achieve by developing a VR game dedicated to insect and plant species. Focused on imperiled butterflies, their innovative idea: Butterfly World 1.0, is described in the open-access journal Rethinking Ecology.

This February 2019 video is called Butterfly World 1.0 Intro Video.

Butterfly World 1.0 is an adventure game designed to engage its users in simulated exploration and education. Set in the subtropical dry forest of the Florida Keys (an archipelago situated off the southern coast of Florida, USA), Butterfly World draws the players into an immersive virtual environment where they learn about relationships between butterflies, plants, and invasive species. While exploring the set, they interact with and learn about the federally endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly, the invasive graceful twig ant, native and exotic plants, and several other butterflies inhabiting the dry forest ecosystem. Other nature-related VR experiences, including conservation awareness and educational programs, rely on passive observations with minimal direct interactions between participants and the virtual environment.

According to the authors, virtual reality and serious gaming are “the new frontiers in environmental education” and “present a unique opportunity to interact with and learn about different species and ecosystems.”

The major advantage is that this type of interactive, computer-generated experience allows for people to observe phenomena otherwise impossible or difficult to witness, such as forest succession over long periods of time, rare butterflies in tropical dry forests, or the effects of invasive species against native wildlife.

“Imagine if, instead of opening a textbook, students could open their eyes to a virtual world. We live in a time where experiential learning and stories about different species matter, because how we feel about and connect with these species will determine their continued existence in the present and future. While technology cannot replace actual exposure to the environment, it can provide similar, near-realistic experiences when appropriately implemented,” say the scientists.

In conclusion, Delamarre and Clayborn note that the purpose of Butterfly World is to build knowledge, reawaken latent curiosity, and cultivate empathy for insect and ecosystem conservation.

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Young nuthatches help baby siblings


This is a 2014 brown-headed nuthatch video from the USA.

From Florida State University in the USA:

Why fly the coop? With shortage of mates, some birds choose to help others raise offspring

March 14, 2019

It’s not uncommon for young adults to pitch in and help out with the care of younger siblings. But it turns out that sometimes birds choose to become avian au pairs rather than raise their own brood.

After a five-year experiment, researchers from Florida State University and the Tallahassee-based Tall Timbers Research Station found that when fewer mates were available for brown-headed nuthatches, these small pine-forest birds opted to stay home and help their parents or other adults raise their offspring.

The study is published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

Associate Professor of Biological Science Emily DuVal and Jim Cox, a vertebrate ecologist from Tall Timbers and a courtesy faculty member at FSU, had long been interested in how these tiny birds showed cooperation — that is often having non-breeding young adults hang out and help raise chicks. After all, bypassing the chance to reproduce is not typically how nature works.

Researchers have often thought that a shortage of males might be one reason for this behavior. To test this idea, they manipulated the ratio of adult males and females throughout Tall Timbers to see exactly how that might affect breeding and cooperation.

Aided by graduate student Jessica Cusick, Cox and DuVal swapped the chicks among 72 nests to create two areas that had an overabundance of either male or all female nuthatches. They also left some areas in between untouched. After two years of observation, they had a year with no manipulation and then reversed the treatments for each area and drove the ratio of males and females in the opposite direction.

“We’re trying to understand cooperation from perspective of mate limitations,” DuVal said. “Cooperative breeding is a complex social interaction. The idea that you could change such a complex social behavior with a relatively simple manipulation was something we wanted to explore.”

The team found that in these areas where the potential mating population was skewed by the manipulation, more of these birds opted to become helpers rather than live on their own or disperse to the buffer zone where there may be more potential mates.

The helper bird engages in activities such as feeding the young or helping feed the mother while she is nesting. The helper might also help defend the nest.

Typically, male birds are more likely to function as a helper in raising chicks, but in the population affected by the manipulation, researchers found an uptick in cooperation by both sexes.

“We saw a slight increase in female helpers,” said Cox, who is the study’s first author. “It didn’t look like a good year for finding mates when young females emerged from their nests and encountered lots of other females nearby. Instead, they stayed and helped out the birds who did mate.”

This was the first large-scale, experimental evidence that the sex ratio of males and females could affect cooperative breeding, the researchers said.

Not all birds breed cooperatively, but it is commonly found among crows and jays. Birds with such complex social behavior are often long-lived, and this work built on nearly a decade of careful population monitoring by Cox and his Tall Timbers Research Station team to identify nests and breeding pairs.

The researchers also found that many of the nests took on additional helpers. While there is usually only one bird acting as a helper each year, in this case, some nests had three.

This research was funded primarily by donations to Tall Timbers, with additional support from the Florida State University Brenda Weems Bennison and Robert B. Short Scholarships.

Children in hellish Florida, USA prison for immigrating


This 17 February 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Children Confined In Inhumane Detention Center

Trump doubled the capacity of this center. Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down.

“At a detention center in Homestead, Florida, a group of immigrant teens are packed into cold rooms that can hold 70 to 250 kids, given a substandard education and detained for more than six months, according to interviews done by five legal and child psychology experts.

On Feb. 6 and 7, the team spoke with roughly two dozen children to assess the Homestead shelter’s compliance with the Flores settlement, the 1997 agreement in a landmark lawsuit that outlines child welfare standards in government-run detention centers. They told HuffPost the conditions inside the ‘temporary’ shelter at Homestead are troubling and not suitable for any child, especially over a long period of time. ‘These children are in perhaps the most restrictive and least family-like setting possible,’ said Neha Desai, the director of immigration at the National Center for Youth Law, in an email to HuffPost. ‘I spoke with youth that slept in rooms with 100 other kids at night. Some of them have been there for months on end, with no freedom of movement, no privacy, no human contact.'”

Read more here.

“An excessive amount of violence, sexual abuse, and prisoner deaths”. Federal report exposes horrific levels of abuse in Alabama prisons: here.

Colourful birds in Florida, USA


This 9 February 2019 video from Florida in the USA says about itself:

Male Northern Cardinal and Painted Buntings maxing out on primary colors and getting along and the Blue Jays and Squirrels playing mind games with each other – it is a good day in the Backyard!

Limpkins in Florida, USA, video


This 3 February 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

A group of Limpkin birds just being Limpkins. A classic Florida bird they mostly eat snails using their long beaks and specially adapted snail shell cleaning claws. This video shows the challenges of getting (or not getting) quality video shooting right into the morning sun – nearly impossible, but sometimes that’s where the animals are.

I was privileged to see this species in Cuba, in Costa Rica and in Suriname.

River otters in Florida, USA


This 17 December 2018 video from Florida in the USA says about itself:

Wild River Otter Encounter

A pair of River Otters frolicking and rolling on the bank of a marsh. It’s mating season now, so these two may be a couple. Most glimpses of otters are as they cross roadways as in the thumbnail and sadly many get killed by cars so it is a delight to see these amazing creatures living safely in their natural environment. Special bird moment for those who watch until the end!