Galapagos finches and Charles Darwin


This video says about itself:

Galapagos Finch Evolution — HHMI BioInteractive Video

26 August 2014

The Galápagos finches remain one of our world’s greatest examples of adaptive radiation. Watch as evolutionary biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant detail their 40-year project to painstakingly document the evolution of these famous finches. Their pioneering studies have revealed clues as to how 13 distinct finch species arose from a single ancestral population that migrated to the islands 2 million to 3 million years ago.

Use this video as a supplementary resource for lesson plans centered on teaching evolution. The video expertly illustrates the effects of natural selection on Galápagos finch populations.

Free classroom resources supporting this short film can be found here.

By Frank Nicholas, The Conversation:

April 3, 2015

Darwin’s finches highlight the unity of all life

When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in October 1835, he and his ship-mates on board HMS Beagle collected specimens of birds, including finches and mockingbirds, from various islands of the archipelago.

At the time, Darwin took little interest in the quaint , making only a one-word mention of them in his diary. As painstakingly shown by Frank Sulloway and more recently by John Van Whye, it wasn’t until two years later that the finches sparked Darwin’s interest.

By then he had received feedback from the leading taxonomist of the time, John Gould, that the samples comprised 14 distinct species, none of which had been previously described! Gould also noted that their “principal peculiarity consisted in the bill [i.e. beak] presenting several distinct modifications of form”.

So intrigued was Darwin by this variation in size and shape of beaks that in the second (1845) edition of Journal of Researches he included illustrations of the distinctive variation between species in the size and shape of their beaks. He added a comment that:

Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.

Unfortunately for Darwin, the closer he examined the available evidence on Galapagos finches, the more confusing the picture became. This was partly because the specimens available to him were not sufficiently labelled as to their island of collection.

Presumably, it was his doubt about the available evidence that resulted in Darwin making no mention of Galapagos finches in any edition of Origin of Species.

Why, then, do people now label them as “Darwin’s finches”, and why are these finches now regarded as a classical textbook example of his theory of evolution by natural selection?

Paragons of evolution

Despite not mentioning Galapagos finches, Darwin did make much use of evidence from other Galapagos species (especially mockingbirds) in Origin of Species.

As the influence of Origin of Species spread, so too did the evolutionary fame of the Galapagos Islands. Increasingly, other biologists were drawn into resolving the questions about finches that Darwin had left unanswered.

By the end of the 19th century, Galapagos finches were among the most studied of all birds. By the mid-20th century, there was abundant evidence that Galapagos finches had evolved to fill the range of ecological niches available in the archipelago – a classic example of evolution by adaptive radiation.

Beak size and shape were key attributes in determining adaptation to the different types of food available. In the second half of the 20th century, classic research by Princeton University’s Peter and Rosemary Grant provided evidence of quite strong natural selection on beak size and shape.

Under the hood

New light has also been shed on the evolution of Darwin’s finches in a paper recently published in Nature. In this latest research, the entire genomes of 120 individual birds from all Galapagos species plus two closely related species from other genera were sequenced.

The work was done by a team led by Swedish geneticist Leif Andersson, with major input from Peter and Rosemary Grant, who are still leading experts on the finches.

Comparison of sequence data enabled them to construct a comprehensive evolutionary tree based on variation across the entire finch genome. This has resulted in a revised taxonomy, increasing the number of species to 18.

The most striking feature of the genome-based tree is the evidence for matings between different populations, resulting in the occasional joining of two branches of the tree. This evidence of “horizontal” gene flow is consistent with field data on matings of finches gathered by the Grants.

A comparison of whole-genome sequence between two closely related groups of finches with contrasting beak shape (blunt versus pointed) identified at least 15 regions of chromosomes where the groups differ substantially in sequence.

Unity of life

The most striking difference between the two groups was observed in a chromosomal region containing a regulatory gene called ALX1. This gene encodes a peptide that switches other genes on and off by binding to their regulatory sequences.

Like other such genes, ALX1 is crucially involved in embryonic development. Indeed, mutations in ALX1 in humans and mice give rise to abnormal development of the head and face.

It is an extraordinary illustration of the underlying unity of all life on Earth that Leif Andersson and his colleagues have shown that the ALX1 gene also has a major effect on beak shape in finches, and that this gene has been subject to natural selection during the evolution of the Galapagos finches.

If Darwin were alive today, he would be astounded at the power of genomics tools such as those used in generating the results described in this paper. He would also be delighted to see such strong evidence not only in support of evolution but also in support of one of its major forces, .

Butterfly history of Somerset, England


This video from the Czech republic says about itself:

Large CopperLycaena dispar (Haworth, 1803) – male

27 May 2009

Large Copper – Lycaena dispar (Haworth, 1803) is quite common in SE Moravia where I live and expands from there to the North and also to the West.

From dispar journal in Britain:

A History of the British Large Copper Lycaena dispar dispar and the Scarce Copper Lycaena virgaureae in Somerset

Peter Andrews

Abstract: It has been over twenty years since the late Roger Sutton published information regarding the specimens of the British Large Copper Lycaena dispar dispar and the Scarce Copper Lycaena virgaureae in the Taunton Museum collections. This paper reevaluates these historic specimens, which are now held at the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton. Further information is also provided on the Somerset collectors that are thought to have encountered both of those Lycaena species on the Somerset Levels. The paper also mentions the further discovery of early specimens of Large and Scarce Coppers that may have originated in Somerset.

Introduction

In the collections of the Taunton Heritage Centre are the remains of five specimens of the British Large Copper Lycaena dispar dispar that are said to have been caught in the marshes at Langport in the Somerset Levels during the early part of the 19th century. The collections also contain a specimen of the Scarce Copper Lycaena virgaureae said to be taken at Langport.

The status of the Large Copper and Scarce Copper in Britain

The Large Copper was once found in a number of colonies in the fens of Eastern England but became extinct in the middle of the 19th century when the fens were drained (Salmon, 2000).

The Scarce Copper was considered a British species by the early Aurelians. William Lewin was one of the few early Aurelians to correctly identify the Scarce Copper as L. virgaureae. He wrote “In the month of August I once met with two of these butterflies, settled on a bank in the marshes, the sun at that time being very hot on them; they were exceedingly shy and would not suffer me to approach them” (Lewin, 1795). On the continent this species is not normally found in a fenland habitat but it is possible that this extinct butterfly flew in the drier areas in such localities in Britain. There are also records of the Scarce Copper from the East Anglian Fens (Salmon, 2000). In the Dalean collection at Oxford there is a male specimen of L. virgaureae that is labelled with a location of the Isle of Ely. Unfortunately, the activities of unscrupulous 19th century dealers who imported numbers of L. virgaureae from the European continent and sold them as British specimens have caused much confusion (Allan, 1966).

Collaboration between British MI5 and Hitler’s Gestapo


This video says about itself:

Gestapo, Hitler’s Secret Police

3 November 2013

The Geheime Staatspolizei (German for Secret State Police, abbreviated “Gestapo”) was the secret police of Nazi Germany, and its main tool of oppression and destruction, which persecuted Germans, opponents of the regime, and Jews. It later played a central role in helping carry out the Nazi’s “Final Solution.”

The Gestapo was formally organized after the Nazis seized power in 1933. Hermann Göring, the Prussian minister of the interior, detached the espionage and political units of the Prussian police and proceeded to staff them with thousands of Nazis. On April 26, 1933, Göring became the commander of this new force that was given power to shadow, arrest, interrogate, and intern any “enemies” of the state. At the same time that Goring was organzing the Gestapo, Heinrich Himmler was directing the SS (Schutzstaffel, German for “Protective Echelon“), Hitler’s elite paramilitary corps. In April 1936, he was given command of the Gestapo as well, integrating all of Germany’s police units under Himmler.

By Conrad Landin in Britain:

Did MI5 join Gestapo to hunt reds?

Monday 30th March 2015

COLLABORATION between MI5 and the Gestapo was crucial to surveillance of Communist Party members in Britain including historian Eric Hobsbawm, an explosive new analysis reveals.

This video from Britain says about itself:

Professor Eric Hobsbawm is interviewed on the so called ‘Responsible capitalism.’

Eric Hobsbawm fled nazi Germany in the 1930s. Being a Jew, that very probably saved him from Hitler’s Holocaust.

The Conrad Landin aricle continues:

Historians yesterday blasted British governments for double standards as they attacked Eastern bloc states over surveillance while using similar tactics on an industrial scale.

The first sections of Mr Hobsbawm’s MI5 file were opened to public access at the National Archives last autumn, and reveal that British security services first took an interest after he corresponded with journalist and International Brigades member Hans Kahle.

Investigating the late Mr Hobsbawm’s file for the London Review of Books, historian Frances Stonor Saunders concludes it is “likely” some of Mr Kahle’s file “came from MI5’s liaison with the Gestapo” as it included “close knowledge” on his activity in the German Communist Party.

Ms Stonor Saunders argues that a “crucial liaison” was established between MI5 deputy counter-espionage chief Guy Liddell and Rudolf Diels, head of nazi spying bureau Abteilung 1A, which soon became the Gestapo, in 1933.

“MI5’s prewar liaison with Hitler’s political police was built on the promise of reciprocity, so it is reasonable to fear that there was two-way traffic in blacklists between Berlin and London,” she wrote in an article to be published next month.

“How long this arrangement lasted is a matter of speculation.

“What is known is that both MI5 and MI6 had information that must have come from a German source concerning the political activities of the left-wing refugees who sought sanctuary in Britain from 1933 onwards.

“If they didn’t already have a personal file, most of them acquired one within days of arriving at a British port.”

In the months immediately following the end of the war in 1945, “fresh traces on suspected communists were being received daily from British intelligence outposts in the defeated territories of the Third Reich,” Ms Stonor Saunders notes.

There is no evidence that Mr Hobsbawm’s own file included direct imports from Germany, but it is possible that files handed over included information on the Sozialistischer Schuelerbund, the communist-affiliated organisation of school students of which Hobsbawm was a member.

Communist Party of Britain history group convenor Graham Stevenson said the confirmation came as “no surprise.

“Anyone reading the Daily Worker in the 1930s would see it was going to efforts every day to highlight how Britain was working with Germany to undermine the Soviet Union,” he told the Star.

Mr Stevenson said the same criticisms made of socialist governments in Eastern Europe could be made of Britain’s surveillance tactics.

“You see the hypocrisy, the comparison with the Stasi, when you see the level of intrusion in these files.”

It come days after it was revealed the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch hold files on 10 serving Labour MPs.

Labour MP Mike Gapes labelled Special Branch “the Stasi’s British equivalent” in a debate about their surveillance in Parliament on Thursday.

Northern lights, in history and now


This video says about itself:

Night of the Northern Lights

On 25th February 2014 Sun produced X4.9 flare which on 27th February caused G2 (KP 6) geomagnetic storm on Earth. It was the brightest aurora display so far during this solar maximum which I could witness with auroral displays overhead in the far north of Scotland. This short movie illustrates what has been seen from latitude 58.3 degrees north.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Heavenly treat

Friday 27th March 2015

As natural phenomena go few come more spectacular or mysterious than the northern lights. PETER FROST dons his astronomer’s hat to reveal their provenance

They saw them in Scotland, in Northumberland, on the Isle of Man and as far south as north Norfolk. It was some of the best British sightings of the aurora borealis, the famous northern lights, in living memory.

Hundreds of people all over Britain braved the freezing late night and early mornings but declared the experience one well worth getting frozen for.

Those lucky enough to see them described spectacular waves, streaks or curtains of pale green and pink, but shades of red, yellow, blue and violet were also spotted.

It’s rare for northern lights to be seen from anywhere in Britain and when they are visible it is usually from Shetland, Orkney or the north of Scotland.

Last week however, good sightings could be had from all over the country as far south as Norfolk. These amazing multicoloured ethereal light displays are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter into the earth’s atmosphere.

They are more common much further north and British tourists normally need to take cruises or air holidays to northern latitudes if they want to see the amazing spectacle.

Polar lights — the aurora polaris — are a natural phenomenon found in both the northern and southern hemispheres. The northern versions are called aurora borealis while the southern lights aurora australis.

They were first named by two great early astronomers Pierre Gassendi and Galileo Galilei both of whom witnessed a spectacular display in September 1621. They jointly named the phenomena aurora borealis — the northern dawn.

Much earlier, a thousand years ago, Gregory of Tours, Gallo-Roman historian, scientist and later saint looked into the night sky over France and saw a light “… so bright that you might have thought that day was about to dawn.”

We now know the origin of the aurora starts on the surface of the sun when solar activity ejects a cloud of gas. If one of these reaches Earth it collides with its magnetic field two or three days after leaving the sun.

Our planet’s magnetic field is invisible but if it could be seen it would make Earth look like a comet with a long magnetic tail stretching a million miles behind us away from the sun.

When a coronal mass ejection — as the stream of cloud of gas from the sun’s surface is more properly named — collides with the magnetic field it causes complex changes to happen to the magnetic tail region.

These changes generate currents of charged particles, which then flow along lines of magnetic force towards the Earth’s poles.

The particles are boosted in energy in Earth’s upper atmosphere and when they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms they produce the dazzling light shows that are the aurora.

Beautiful they may be but the invisible flows of particles and magnetism can damage electrical power grids and also affect satellites operating in space.

The lights can be in place day and night but are not bright enough to be visible in daylight. For the same reason in cities or towns with lots of light pollution you are unlikely to get good viewing.

Auroras tend to be more frequent and spectacular during high solar sunspot activity and these cycle over periods of approximately 11 years. That is what is happening now.

Some displays are particularly spectacular and make the headlines. This happened in August-September 1859, in February 1958, which I remember seeing as a London schoolboy, and in March 1989 the last time really good sightings were possible in southern England.

Last February produced spectacular solar activity and a few relatively clear nights again gave some lucky stargazers a chance to see the spectacular and colourful light show.

This year has been even better and there is a good chance that the shows aren’t over. Keep your eyes on those northern skies.