Parakeets and greenfinches in the botanical garden


Today, it is winter.

In the city, much of yesterday’s snow has succumbed to freezing, thawing, cars, bicycles or pedestrians.

Still, especially in gardens and on trees, still snow. And treacherous icy spots on roads.

Blackbird male, botanical garden, 8 December 2012

In the botanical garden, a male blackbird looks for food between the snow.

One of the biggest and oldest trees in the botanical garden is a Taxus baccata L. Its name in English is European yew tree.

The L. behind the Latin name means this is a special tree species. The L. stands for Carolus Linnaeus, the famous eighteenth century Swedish naturalist. Linnaeus designed the scientific names system for living organisms still in use now. But Linnaeus named only a small minority of species known today. The European yew tree is one species of that special minority.

Linnaeus visited this botanical garden in the eighteenth century. Did he see this tree, then a lot smaller, and did it inspire him to give its species a name?

I don’t know the exact age of this specimen, I don’t know whether it already was there in the eighteenth century. But I can certainly see it is old, and much taller than average yew trees.

Ring-necked parakeet female, botanical garden, 8 December 2012

The big yew tree has many red berries. They attract many birds. Blackbirds. Song thrushes. Ring-necked parakeets (see the female on the two photos).

Ring-necked parakeet female, yew tree, botanical garden, 8 December 2012

A collared pigeon.

There is ice on the canal. The ice is still thin. A passing passenger boat breaks it, pushing it aside. No need of an icebreaker for that yet.

The small pond near the source of the brook is frozen. So is the big carp pond, where the brook flows into. The brook itself is not frozen, it streams.

A group of six great cormorants flying overhead.

Greenfinches, botanical garden, 8 December 2012

In the rose garden, two greenfinches.

In the smaller yew trees in the garden of the old university library, not so many birds today.

Newly discovered species, a summary


From Arizona State University in the USA:

18-Jan-2012

Insects top latest inventory of newly discovered species

Annual ‘State of Observed Species’ report released by International Institute for Species Exploration

TEMPE, Ariz. – More than half of the 19,232 species newly known to science in 2009, the most recent calendar year of compilation, were insects – 9,738 or 50.6 percent – according to the 2011 State of Observed Species (SOS) report released Jan. 18 by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.

The second largest group in the 2009 numbers was vascular plants, totaling 2,184 or 11.3 percent. Of the 19,232 in the total count, seven were birds, 41 were mammals and 1,487 were arachnids – spiders and mites.

And, according to this latest report, there was a 5.6 percent increase in new living species discovered in 2009, compared to 2008.

The annual SOS report card on the status of human knowledge of Earth’s species summarizes what is known about global flora and fauna. The 19,232 species described as “new” or newly discovered during calendar year 2009 represent about twice as many species as were known in the lifetime of Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who initiated the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications more than 250 years ago, said the report’s author, Quentin Wheeler, an ASU entomologist and founding director of the species institute.

“The cumulative knowledge of species since 1758 when Linnaeus was alive is nearly 2 million, but much remains to be done,” Wheeler said. “A reasonable guess is that 10 million additional plant and animal species await discovery by scientists and amateur species explorers.”

Additionally, recent macrogenomic surveys of DNA from terrestrial and marine environments have revealed “enormous and previously unsuspected levels of genetic diversity that corresponds in some not-yet-understood way to species diversity,” explained Wheeler.

“It has been speculated, for example, that marine microbial species alone could number 20 million,” he said.

With those staggering numbers as a backdrop, statistics, or “species bites,” from the latest report note that:

Almost 24 percent of the new vascular plant species discovered in 2009 were in the monocot order Asparagales, which includes orchids, hyacinths, irises, daffodils, amaryllis, allium, aloe and, of course, asparagus.

Year to year, the largest order of newly discovered insects is the beetles, and, 2009 was no exception. Overall, 3,485 new beetle species (Coleoptera) were officially described including rove beetles (568), ground beetles (421), long-horned beetles (369), leaf beetles (356) and scarabs (288).

Only 41 new living mammal species were officially described in 2009 and of those, 83 percent were either bats (44 percent) or rodents (39 percent).

Almost 90 percent (133) of the new living amphibian species described in 2009 were frogs.

There was almost five times more fossil bird species (34) newly described in 2009 than living birds (seven).

Typical of most years, the largest number of new fish species was in the order Perciformes and 29 percent of those were in the families Gobiidae (22) and Cichlidae (11). Gobies include some of the tiniest fish on Earth, and the cichlids include some of the most popular aquarium fish, including the angelfish and damselfish.

Of the 626 newly described living crustacean species, 224 (31.8 percent) were in the order Decapoda, which includes crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns and shrimp.

The Colubridae is the largest family of snakes and in 2009, almost 65 percent of the newly described living snakes were colubrids. In addition to 31 new snakes, new reptile species (living) included 38 lizards, 29 geckos, 12 iguanas, five chameleons and two turtles.

More than 13 percent of the new fungus species (living) described in 2009 were gilled mushrooms in the order Agaricales (178). Of the mushrooms, more than one-fifth (21.3 percent) were in the family Marasmiaceae, which includes shiitake mushrooms.

In addition to the living species discovered during 2009, there were 1,905 fossil species, with insects and spiders accounting for 25.6 percent.

See also here.

Biology and classification in the museum


This is a Dutch video about the natural history museum.

As I said, the exhibition on biology and classification in the museum starts with the seventeenth century, and the eighteenth century of Linnaeus and Buffon.

It ends with new developments in subjects like DNA research, which also led to the museum finding out some clouded leopards in their collection were in fact Bornean clouded leopards, recently discovered to be a separate species.

In between, many interesting points on animals.

The oldest holotype animal in the collection of the museum is from 1758.

It was described by Linnaeus himself, though he saw only a drawing of the animal, not the stuffed animal itself.

It is a gray four-eyed opossum from Latin America.

Linnaeus’ name is still behind this species’ name. However, between (brackets); as Linnaeus put this opossum in the genus Didelphis, while later science did not do that any more; though it still is in the family Didelphimorphia.

Another holotype at this exhibition is from Madagascar.

It is a Northern Giant Mouse Lemur (Mirza zaza).

The animal had been in a formaldehyde bottle in the museum for a long time, before it was discovered in 2005 that it was a separate species.

When new animal species are discovered, they are often called after people whom the discoverers know.

In this way, there were six animal species exhibited, named after Willem Vervoort, former director of the museum.

They are a soft coral, Dendronephtya vervoorti; another soft coral, Sindonia vervoorti; a candy coral, Distichopora vervoorti; sea firs, Eudendrium vervoorti; a copepod, Pseudochiella vervoorti; and a jewel damselfly, Watuwila vervoorti.

Of the estimated five thousand parasitic wasp species in the Netherlands, almost three thousand are present in the museum. Most are smaller than three millimeter; the ones exhibited here were bigger species.

The museum has a big collection of plant and animal fossils from the Carboniferous age. In the coal mines which used to be in Limburg province, 75,000 fossils were found. Including insect wings.

Recently, in 2003, an insect which had been considered extinct, was re-discovered in Zuid Holland province: the chequered history diving beetle Graphoderus bilineatus; see also here. This species depends on unpolluted water.

The Classification of Life: From Aristotle to Woese: here.

Linnaeus, Buffon, and classification in biology


This video from the Philippines is called Linnaeus 300 years in Manila part I.

At the natural history museum, the biggest of three exhibits now is about classification in biology.

In the seventeenth century in Europe, people who could afford them often had cabinets of curiosity: rooms or chests of drawers with antique or pseudo antique coins, art objects, and natural objects, to impress visitors.

During the “Enlightenment” in the eighteenth century, the idea arose there should be systematic order in those collections. Natural objects were separated from human made objects in special collections, eventually giving rise to natural history museums.

In this, the “System of nature” by Carolus Linnaeus, dividing plants and animals into classes, orders, and species with binomial Latin names, helped.

As Linnaeus was born three hundred years ago, the classification exhibition is to remember him.

And also to remember another important biologist, born in the same year 1707: Frenchman Buffon.

Buffon was in many respects different from, and a rival to, Linnaeus.

Buffon had a more “dynamic” approach to nature and its species, while Linnaeus’ was more “static”.

Buffon defined a species as: if there is interbreeding with a different species, then offspring will be unable to procreate itself. A definition still often used today.

Against Linnaeus’ System of Nature, Buffon and his supporters said that nature did not have a system.

In the systemic part of the botanical garden, there is now a sculpture of Linnaeus; but also plant beds and signs indicating that DNA and other recent research have found that many plants which Linnaeus and later botanists thought were related, are not related; while plants they thought were unrelated, are in fact related.

However, Linnaeus’ idea of one Latin genus name plus one species name still stands.

It made things much easier for biologists since pre-Linnaeus times, when about every author about nature promoted his own nomenclature.

Linnaeus’ system implies various species are related.

He did not draw the conclusion from this that species may evolve from common ancestors (which would have upset many eighteenth century Christian believers; Linnaeus was one himself).

That would mainly be done by nineteenth century scientists like Charles Darwin (see also here).

Still, one might say Linnaeus played a part in preparing the ground for the idea of evolution.

One might say Buffon prepared the ground here even more. More skeptic on religion than Linnaeus, he strove to refute the ideas of biblical literalist “creationist” eighteenth century “Diluvians” like Scheuchzer, who believed that the earth was only a few thousand years old, and fossils were the results of the biblical deluge (see also here).

Buffon had an experiment with a hot iron ball, which he let cool off till it was normal temperature. He calculated from this that the earth was certainly older than the six thousand or something years calculated from the bible; seventy-five thousand years, Buffon said. So, still far shorter than in later science, but in the right direction compared to his contemporaries.

Supporters of Buffon and Linnaeus clashed also during the French revolution. Somewhat paradoxically, contrary to what one might expect of political revolutionaries being more attracted to Buffon’s dynamic theories than to Linnaeus’ ‘conservative’ ones, that was not the case.

One of the paradoxes of biology in the eighteenth century, when Voltaire, often considered a paragon of the Enlightenment, refused to believe in fossils; while the “creationist” Scheuchzer did. Though getting both the species and age of Andrias scheuchzeri wrong, Scheuchzer’s questionable work did give an impetus to the rise of palaeontology.

In 1911 the discovery that the world was billions of years old changed our view of the world for ever: read article here.

Carl Linnaeus Invented The Index Card: here.

Baby axolotls and Linnaeus


This video shows an axolotl being fed.

Apart from the moth research, many other things were happening during the 21 June night in the botanical garden.

Like pondskaters in the brook.

Like a choir singing in Swedish to honour that Linnaeus was born 300 years ago; Linnaeus, who in 1737 advised on expanding this botanical garden.

While they sang, ring-necked parakeets flew overhead, calling.

Later, swifts would call.

In one of the three aquariums in the hothouses, thirty baby axolotls had hatched from the eggs.

Axolotls in Mexico: here. And here.